Riding on a tour differs significantly from riding in city. One has to be well prepared in the technicalities of riding, if he wants to enjoy the riding completely. A free non-technical ride gives a great feeling, but the feeling that one gets by technical riding is unmatched. Each turn and each incline and each ghaat becomes your playground, and you long to stay on the road rather than checking-in.
One must have a good idea about the speeds to be observed on a long tour. A good thumb rule is, on highway, you should travel about 75-80% of your bike’s maximum speed. Thus for an 110CC bike, the good cruising speed on a highway is about 75 KMPH, for a 150 CC, 80-85 KMPH, and so on. This ensures that the engine is not over stressed, and combined with regular breaks, the motorcycle will go further in same amount of petrol than ridden otherwise.
When you are riding in ghaats, the speed equation changes. It is no longer the speedometer you should watch, it is the tachometer. In ghaats, always keep the RPMs in the range of 3.5k to 4.5-5k. Above the limit will mean you are overusing that gear, and under the limit means the bike will soon struggle to go on, thus increasing the load of engine. Always keep the bike in torque when you are in ghaats. Distance can be covered up in plains; it is the torque that is the king of ghaat roads. When you have the machine at perfect RPM well near its range of maximum torque, you are gliding smoothly in the curvy roads, and that feeling is heavenly. In flat roads, we are taught to ride in the highest gear possible. In ghaats, the gear should be the one where bike is within its torque range. For bikes or scooters without RPM meter, pay attention to your motorcycle’s sound. If it is increasing and speed is constant, you are above limit. If you are increasing the throttle and yet speed is decreasing, you are below the limit. Reduce a gear and move on smoothly.
We pass many villages en route. The best speed in village at any time of the day is less than 40 KMPH. You may think that it is pretty late in night and no one will be on the roads. But there will be some late comer or early riser around that will catch you surprised. Though the crowds will be very less, the ones present on roads will have great urgency of their own; otherwise they won’t be on the roads at those wee hours. And in case of any village crash, you are always at fault if it is the villager you have crashed on. No matter if he is lying on the roads. Your vehicle hit him, and thus you are liable. So better be safe than sorry, and ride well below the speed that you can control the bike at.
An extension of such village riding is proper breaking technique. Some very experienced and well educated riders are of the firm opinion that front break is evil’s work, so they stomp on the rear break alone to stop. Well, it may work in city, but on a fast ride you have to use both the breaks. In fact, use the front break more, as it has maximum stopping power, and when the rear starts fishtailing that is dancing around like fish’s tail, press the rear break to stabilize the bike. Breaking is a topic of continuous learning, and it truly needs to be learnt precisely.
Cornering is another aspect where traditional reflexes need to be tamed down. When we enter a corner too fast, and realize that we are not going to make it, what do we do? We brake and try to steer the bike. But it doesn’t steer, and keeps on continuing on the same path slowing down! So we keep pressing the break lever, almost come to halt at the corner’s end, and with a sigh open accelerator again to finish the corner. Why did this happen? Why did the bike continue the same path when you wanted it to turn around the corner? This is because when you pressed the brakes, the weight of the bike is shifted at front, thus making it front-heavy. It will not turn in any direction unless this weight is taken off. How do we make it rear-heavy? Simple, accelerate! This may seem very contradictory to the situation. Am I telling you to actually release brake and give accelerator where in fact the bike is heading for crashing on the outer wall of the corner? Yes, I am! When you give throttle, the bike’s weight is shifted to rear, thus making it easy to steer.
Another interesting phenomenon is counter steering. This is something you will be argued a lot, especially older riders. It basically says that above certain speed, when you want to go left, turn the handle right, and vice versa. Unbelievable! But it is true. I am totally incompetent to explain the physics of it, but it is beautiful when you take on that corner with ease and at safe speed when most others are slowing down.
The above topics, proper braking, cornering and counter steering are parts of ‘technical riding’. If this intrigues you, I will recommend the book ‘Twist of the Wrist II’ for learning more about it. Searching these terms on net too will give many meaningful results. It is not necessary to learn technical riding, as it is not necessary to learn proper swimming. But there is a vast difference between just floating and blobbing around in water in no form Vs swimming gracefully in learnt form with much ease, there is a vast difference between riding without a thought and technical riding. Every minute you invest in learning this will give you returns for many years, each time you ride.
Sometimes, we have to travel at night. In fact, riding in ghaats in night is much safer than in day, as you can see the headlights of approaching vehicles well in advance, and there are no nasty surprises. In night riding, upgrade to a 55W bulb or preferably a HID is a life saver. Sometimes on a busy highway like Mumbai – Goa one, vehicles drive to kill, and it is scary to ride when the cars and trucks drive in your lane towards you in full speed. At such time, swallow your pride, and hunt for a big vehicle, such as a tempo or a mini bus or an empty truck to follow. If you try to follow a car, most probably he will shake you off. Don’t even think of following the local transport buses, because they stop at slightest moment, and their brakes work much better than their brake-lights. Select a vehicle that is going at your comfortable speed, and follow it keeping a safe distance. Even better option is to actually ask a jeep driver to let you follow him. This is a sure shot way to get to your destination safely.
When you are travelling from afternoon to night, avoid the dusk time, the time when sun has set but darkness is not fully there. This is the time when your HIDs are useless, and switching the headlight ON or OFF makes almost no difference to visibility. Many vehicles’ headlamps are not yet lit up, but they are mostly invisible now because of low light. Probability of accidents is high in these 20-30 minutes. Take a break, have quick snack. It will be pitch dark in a couple of minutes. Then the road is waiting for you.
Night riding AND rain is a killer combination, but if at all you have to encounter it, prepare yourself to endure, and not to run away. It is understandable, that we are riding for 2 hours, destination is still 50-100 kilometers away, and damn rain is playing havoc. So we think: let’s wring the throttle and get away as quickly as possible, where a warm bed is waiting for us. But this greatly increases the probability of accident. Rather than that, just prepare yourself to endure come what may, select a speed 10KMPH less than what you are comfortable, and ride, singing loudly under the helmet. Trust me; you will even dream the same ride in that night’s sleep.
If it has started raining, and you need to take out your dry bike, take the first few kilometers lightly. The road and the tires have to be in the same condition in order to have good grip. If one is wet while other is dry, the probability of the bike slipping is high. Wait till the tires are wet enough, and then open the throttle – though preferably not as much as you would in dry season.