I left the clutch in a hurry, and twisted the accelerator. The 100cc bike’s front wheel flew upwards, and it rose like you see in action movies. Except, this had an anti-climax, and I fell along with the bike, with my dad rushing to pick me up. This happened almost 6 or 7 years ago, but I still try to avoid grabbing those handlebars lest I repeat the stunt.
To ride a Royal Enfield? No chance. Don’t you know how heavy they are said to be? I cannot embarrass myself, especially after the government has officially licensed me to ride a two-wheeler.
Fast forward to early April 2018. I got an opportunity to be a part of Royal Enfield’s #OneRide tour in Goa. This tour was a global event where Royal Enfield (RE) riders across the globe came out to ride together at the same time. It sounded exciting and I was on board.
Go Goa Geared
Landing in Goa is, almost always, akin to landing in a huge sauna with the humidity hitting you with a gust of air. This was my second trip to the state, yet it took me by surprise.
I was staying close to the Baga beach, and thus very far from the airport. My cab driver, Mr Rajesh, made sure to guide me through the various Bollywood shoot locations, casino cruise ships – ‘where rich Delhi people come to gamble’, and how to access them with ease. I didn’t realise I spent almost an hour in that vehicle.
I hurried through the hotel check-in, rushed through the usual starters and immediately went to the main course – getting a bike. The new Royal Enfield Thunderbird X 350.
Kicking Up a Storm
I got the bike around 5.30 pm. The sunset was scheduled for 6.45 pm. This was the only shot I had with the bike, and to get a couple of photographs before the sunset takes away the light, and with it some of my navigation capabilities in the unknown roads.
The new Royal Enfield Thunderbird X sells alongside the already existing Thunderbird. The flat handle bar has been lowered from the standard variant, which provides a eased-out posture suitable for city riding. There’s a certain comfort which engulfed me, even though I was sitting on a bike after almost 2 years. Co-incidentally, the last time I rode a bike was in Goa too, where I was riding the then newly launched RE Himalayan. Deja Vroom.
I started the engine, gave it a rev, and made sure I do the drill as required – without any stutter or splutter – lest it made it apparent that a novice is in control. I managed.
There was minimal vibration from the engine, and handling was quite a breeze, even on those curvy coastal roads. It responded well, even in lower gears with no apparent jerks while shifting up or down. But there was no gear indicator which, I think, would help especially if this is a cruiser bike made for the urban commuter.
And since we are talking about gear changes, getting this into neutral was usually a task. It would get stuck either on the first or the second gear, making it a trial-and-error process to get it in neutral, which is in the middle of the two gears. This meant at every traffic junction, I was ‘kicking up a storm’. Well, almost.
Also, there’s no ABS on the bike which makes the braking performance a bit underwhelming for this segment.
I planned to ride it to Vagator beach, to catch the sunset. But since I was riding solo, and clicking pictures en route, the sun called it a day before I could reach a suitable vantage point. I chose to turn back and find a new destination.
The Local Flavour
It was Saturday, and Goa has these makeshift ‘Saturday Night Market’ tents, which I found to be worth exploring. I parked my bike in a large ground, with rows and rows of two-wheelers – most of them with commercial number plates, indicating tourists have hired them from local rental shops.
Inside, the shops had Russian hoardings, French menu, and international tourists. Is this a sort of an expat party which I’ve crashed? I looked around and found Indian shopkeepers speaking fluent Russian to sell their wares.
I saw a blank-faced man playing Djembe (Yes, I had to ask around, and search online for the exact name of the instrument). I walked up to him, and asked his name. “Rafatullah,” he replied, and stopped playing the instrument. I asked him about his home. “Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh,” he told me. “Arey, that’s next to Bahraich, where I was born,” I exclaimed and bonded over the proximity of our roots, in a place both of us were in because of work.
“The market management takes Rs. 6,000 per week for setting up a stall here. The season is almost over now. I shift to other small-time work when it’s off-season (of tourism),” Rafatullah told me. “I know Russian, French, German, Hindi, and Marathi. Initially, I only knew Hindi. Rest of them I’ve learned on the job. It helps”
It was almost midnight, and I took leave from the place. I realised I’ve only slept for four hours in the last 36 hours.
For the short #OneRide road trip, I was riding the RE Himalayan (which still gets uncomfortably hot between the thighs). Among the other riders there were a few who stood out. For instance, Gregory, a French national who moved to India in 2005 ‘because of his ex-wife’, was riding a rusty Bullet.
We rode to a shack, somewhere in Arambol and back. It had rained earlier in the morning, and I had premonitions of slipping with the bike somewhere in a ditch. But I survived, without a hitch.
Watch: @royalenfield riders #RideAsOne, thumping down the streets of Goa. Music to ears. How many RE models could you spot?— Aaqib Raza Khan (@aaqibrk) April 8, 2018
More stories coming up on @TheQuint.#EnfieldGarageCafe #REOneRide #RideAsOne pic.twitter.com/RDOudD71bQ
The ride ended with a lunch and debriefing session at the Garage Cafe, which also houses a Royal Enfield museum and showroom.
Shortly after the lunch, I was out again with a resolve to catch the setting sun this time. I rode to the Vagator beach, navigating through the overflowing Sunday tourists, and found a corner to see the sea, just when it was meant to be. Kaafi poetic naa?
With the sunset, my trip also came to end. I was happy to have rediscovered the joy of riding a bike, and facing the wind on my face. I feel a lot more confident in grabbing those handle-bars, and hopefully wouldn’t crash it in front of my dad again. Or maybe I should just let this be a happy memory, until the next opportunity.
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