The advantage of being an O4 is that you get more attention, if that’s what you want and the disadvantage is that you get more attention, if that’s what you don’t want.
This is a small essay about my rather impromptu decision to participate in my first ‘big bike’ race, and technically my second (after the 150CC Gixxer Cup).
Racing. It is an addictive, expensive and apparently dangerous genre of motorcycling. And I consciously don’t want to get sucked in. I want to have the money, time and most importantly all my body parts intact to motorcycle through 49 more countries and see that magical figure of 100! But who knows, this is crazy. Two voices in my head battling it out. The tourer is the more logical of it, or so it seems. It can go 500 kms a day, for a month, it can do 1700 kms plus in a day. The right index finder always stays on the front brake, the objective is to stay alive. To soak in the environs and to capture and shoot the beauty of motorcycle travel. You try and put the maximum on a bike for your travels. Take the uncharted route.
The other voice says your are nuts. It makes you go around that same charted piece of tarmac a thousand times over. Fingers off the brake! Well, most of the time but when they are on, ther are ON! The primary objective is not to stay safe, it is to go faster, beat the clock, beat yourself. You do not discover your environment, you discover yourself. You do not shoot the landscapes or the bike, you shoot and aim for that apex, that perfect line through every damn corner. You try and make the bike lighter and lighter. And faster.
Touring is like writing a poem about love, it can rhyme or it can be just wacky. It is subjective. Racing is like writing a damn mathematical equation that better be solvable. It is as objective as it can get.
But when do the two worlds merge? The moment I strap on the helmet, I close my eyes. Imagine that perfect winding road leading into the gorge or over that mountain pass. Imagine that perfect corner I take on the track leaning further and further while keeping my head up and my eyes focused on where I want to go. It is in the mountains where the two voices sing in unison. You motorcycle because you love the curves. You race because you love the curves. Here is where the answer lies. Both old veteran tourers and the young raring racer in me love taking that ribbon of tarmac, those sinuous pieces of roads. That’s where it starts and where it ends.
A few words of respect for all the people who take track racing as a serious hobby and sport. It is not child’s play by any stretch of imagination, requiring not only the passion but intense focus and the mind of a scientist, improving oneself and treating the bike as a living entity responding to each change you make – be it tyre pressure, the suspension set up, the mapping and so on. Together the rider and the machine amalgamate to become one entity created to go around a string of beautifully crafted tarmac by equally amazing engineers in the minimum amount of time possible. It is a deadly game which leaves the weak ones behind and the strongest and fastest ones on the podium.
Helmets Off to you, and may you lean deeper, may you go faster, and never fall…
The first thing I did when I came to know about the JK Championship’s BIC round was to check my calendar, which is never fixed beyond five odd days, to see if I will be in Delhi. Not even I could tell (was meant to sound like ‘not even God could tell’). Nevertheless, I went ahead and coaxed the right people (in no illegal way, I might add! ) to get an entry into the cup since I was a little late to the party. Having set that ball into motion, it was time to take another one in hand – which bike? A very crucial question indeed. You can pretty much take any bike while touring, but take the wrong bike on the track and you could suffer from wrong likes and horrible times unless you are a pro and have been eating and sleeping on tracks.
I had mentioned recently on one of my face book posts on the amusing coincidence where I started touring by choosing the ‘wrong breed’ of bike and that I saw a similar situation happening for my entry into the motorcycling sub-genre of racing, to which I was a newcomer.
Here I replicate that post :
“9 years ago I started touring on ‘big’ motorcycles. The bike in question was not quite the correct ‘breed’ for the purpose – the race bred #HondaFireblade1000RR. In 2006, I circumnavigated India on the golden quadrilateral for 10000 kms along with a queer assortment of scooters and bikes during the #TheGreatIndianRoadtrip (Krishnendu Kes). Didnt break my back. Did it once again in 2009 on an even more potent machine – the Yamaha R1 for 13000 kms. Didn’t quite break my back completely their either (Parikshit Bhattacharyya ;)).It was akin to having an Husky in New Delhi (@Manan Chaturvedi ;-)), or Carl Lewis in the Iron Man Triathlon or maybe a Cheetah on a cross country migration – you get my point. Practical touring big bikes were a rarity until a couple odd years ago in India. Fully faired superbikes ruled because of their ‘coolness quotient’ and resale value.
And then not too long ago everything changed. With the introduction of adventure bikes in India and the jewel of India – Buddh International Circuit, both the breeds chose their playgrounds, the long distance mile munchers took on the roads unknown and cross country with the adventure bikes and finally, FINALLY, the superbikes found their proving ground in the BIC. The tightly knit motorcycling community at large is privy to the growth in racing culture and knowledge, especially in north India and the rise of the ‘flying Sikhs’. Most of the top times at the BIC have been done by the the Singhs – fearless and fast, and if I am not wrong, Simran King, all of 19 years of age, holds the record for two wheels on the circuit at 2.04. I was lucky to be at the circuit that day. Which brings me to my side of the story. Having ‘born and bred’ as a motorcycle tourer, I have tried to adapt to the clinical racing culture and science. In the past couple of weeks I have been exposed to track ‘racing’, which is completely different than ‘riding hard’ on the road. The insane amount of dedication I have seen in some of the people, including the flying Sikhs has taught me a lot. You need to have everything in place to get a good time and to ‘race’ – the right tools, the right mentors, the right amount of practice, the right bike and most importantly the right attitude. This genre of a motorcycling is a whole new world which is similar and completely opposite to touring in various ways. I shall delve deeper with an article on this soon on xBhp.
For me it had been a fantastic journey so far (and a short one too!) with many people giving me cues about a lot of things, things have heated up on the track, misunderstandings, incorrect lines et al. But that’s what happens when you try to take a crash course in racing (thankfully, not literally!). It is equivalent to ‘memorizing’ mathematics. You just cannot! My hiatus from the touring side and being dormant in Delhi led me into this season of their side of ‘madness’ which would culminate for me (at least temporarily) with then upcoming #JKChampionship (thanks to Ikjot Singh Bhasin, the evergreen entertainer, helpful ‘bhaiya’ I have #JaiHo.) I would be riding in the second race of my life, the second grid start, but once again, with a bike as inappropriate as it can be, like the Yamaha R1 was for touring, (but nevertheless mad fun!) – A DSK Benelli India 1130R! Yes a few more BHP (135) and punchier than the Benelli 899 (120) that I have, coupled with the #Pirelli Super Corsa 2 V2 tyres and just the right touch by the singhs (@RedlineRacingStore) should give me a time of 2.25 or so I reckoned. Not quite appropriate running with the 200+ Bhp, race bred machines in the 1000 CC category – but nevertheless I was excited about it! I had immense respect to all the fastest guys out there, and was looking forward to having a weekend dipped in adrenaline and mad fun, light hearted banter and some healthy competition and back bitching (which us north Indians are top notch at, oops!) wink emoticon Here are a few photos by Asif Zubairi a week ago on one of the practice track days of me on the beautiful and madly fun TNT899. What a looker and goer!”
Here is the Honda Fireblade that I took around India in 2006 on The Great Indian Roadtrip.
The Castrol Power1 Yamaha R1 for the Passion Hunt 2009. Photo: Sunil G.
A slight back problem after the riding the R1 for thousands of kms with a 10 kg plus back pack rang alarm bells in my head and urged me to get a more practical bike. This was 2009. There was no BIC, nor was there any inclination to go on any track. As far as I remember I had not been on any track thus far!
I was also never a big fan of Superbikes in the wholistic sense (besides their insane and addictive power) because I was essentially a tourer. If asked, the most appealing bikes to me are naked street fighters. I like their brawny and exposed look coupled with the torque and pull they provide along with flickability. Of course they are a handful at higher speed when the wind blast reminds one of the obvious impermeability of the human body. But the lack of availability of legal bikes made it well nigh on impossible for me to source one for my rides.
Coming back to the point and back to the present. There were two categories in the JK Championship I could register myself in – the 600 Cc which would allow bikes from 600 – 750 and the litre class ( 750 onwards and below 1200 ).
I was stuck with the garage I had. I couldn’t race the Hayabusa since it was way above at 1340 Cc ( notwithstanding the fact that it is heavy, but I like it even on the track!). And the Benelli TNT 899 which came in the 1000 cc category but I knew it would be too slow to compete with the 200+ Bhp race bred ultra light Superbikes. (The TNT 899 is 120 Bhp and 220 kgs wet compared to say a stock Bmw s1000rr with 197 Bhp and 173 kgs ).
I made a shameless appeal on my Facebook and few calls to try and get a 600 cc racing bike (which essentially in India is only one as of right now – Triumph Daytona 675 / R ). But of no avail. Anyone who had a Daytona and was remotely interested in racing was already participating. Tough luck. I had no option but to battle it out with a commercial jetliner against fighter jets. I’ll do my best, I said, I am doing this for fun and experience, I further taught my logical side of the brain, not to win.
So I took a deep breath and registered myself with the Benelli 899. I so discovered that most of the people used to say that’s an awesome bike to race on because they thought it was the Ducati Panigale 899! I could use the Yamaha FZ1 that I also have but since I had put it up on sale I thought it would be prudent not to mess with it lest I should fall on the track.
Interjecting here, I would like you to make no mistake, this bike had been one of my dream bikes since ages, ever since I first saw in some motorcycle magazines and one in flesh in Wollongong, Australia on The Great Australian Roadtrip in 2007. I love how it looks and now after finally buying one how it rides on the street. Pay particular heed to ‘on the street’, which is a-one way street. But oh boy, I will be on the track on this and Lord push me a little bit more to shave off a few seconds I thought.
The first Benelli I saw ever in flesh (2007, Australia).
Here is when I reached out to Gurvinder Singh Matharu of Redline Racing Store who is a hero of sorts for me and genuinely nice person by heart. This father and son duo ( Gurvinder and Simran ) are two of the fastest on the circuit in India today. I might also add at this point that I had bought my first Superbike from him, in 2006, the Honda Fireblade 1000RR, that was used in The Great Indian Roadtrip 2006, was delivered to me by Gurvinder at his west Delhi home garage.
He did what he could with the 899TNT, which is pretty basic and raw. Stiffened the suspension and lost some weight by removing the pillion pegs and number plate assembly. That was about it. The numbers of things you can do to set up a stock racing bike like the ZX10R or the Panigale are insane.
Nevertheless, I bought the 899 TNT over to the track for a couple of practice sessions to see how I go with it. It was handling just fine. I was adapted to riding a heavy naked bike like that on the track. I didn’t know what I was missing or I could do with a Superbike because I didn’t have one. They say ignorance is bliss, but in my case I had to do with what I had, and I was enjoying, which is what mattered ! I wouldn’t (even if could) go and buy 13 lacs plus rupees Sportsbikes for a one-off race but I would not back off.
In the practice session I went off line a few times, came in between a lot of faster riders and scrapped the footpegs while wrestling the behemoth. It pissed off a few people but all was well in the end. I was slow but I knew I could be one of the fastest with the right amount of practice and the right bike. You just cannot go on the track with this kind of bike twice a year and expect wonder results from yourself! But I was not the one to back out. Read on…
On the second practice session day I chipped of the flesh of my left toe. I was shifting the gears too hard, too fast and too much for a street bike. And my shoe was someone eating into it. It also ate into my timing, even on the straights I couldn’t change gears without cringing in my helmet. That’s just one small issue but it taught me to take care of my health as well.
I was trying hard but I couldn’t go over 228 kph or so on the main 1.2 kms long back straight and each time I would do that my neck and arms would struggle to hold in the wind blast. That was like standing still when the superbikes passed me by evaporating that bit of sweat on my exposed neck with their wind streams.
At the end of the straight and pretty much every corner I had to brake hard and precisely, there was no ABS and I had to use engine braking too. But the rear would lock up as the bike’s gearing , the absence of a slipper clutch and engine character have it too much engine braking. If I downshifted too much the bike would lock and slide, if I didn’t the bike won’t have any power go launch out of the corner with its 120 Bhp and the weight.
I learnt how to use the right amount of downshifting, braking, engine braking and clutching to overcome these issues with the naked 899TNT, but it was putting too much energy into something which would have been effortless on a superbike.
Then I discovered the tyre pressure was too much and I reduced that. Front 29 and rear 25 under the hot Delhi sun. Another thing learnt. I had to learn things soon, some obvious some not so. It was fun.
After this I had second thoughts of using the 899TNT. It was fantastic bike but the S1000Rs and Zx10Rs would eat it alive, Rip it apart. As it is I was ‘slow’ on the track but on this I would be slower. As brilliant as it was for the road, it would blow my ego and self esteem to smithereens. But there was no option than to go do the race. Perhaps someone else with a bit more sense would have backed out, but not me.
The DSK Benelli TNT 899 practice track day on stock tyres. Photo: Asif Z.