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Southern Souls

Motorcycles, they make our world go round.

Truly, these two-wheeled machines have made me marvel at their form and function, right since I’ve been conscious enough to understand the feeling of wind hitting my skin in tandem with the twist of a throttle. What motorcycles have given me, in return for living with them, maintaining them and fueling them, cannot be quantified. But what I can do is share how they’ve made a huge impact on my life, the type of people I meet and how I meet them.

MOTORCYCLE FRIENDSHIP

Ever had a friend who you’ve never met, never ridden alongside, never even spoken to on the phone but your connect is super strong – as if you were siblings? That’s what MK and I share – all because of our motorcycles!

I had just bought my dream machine – the BMW R1250GS.

It was surreal, bringing this behemoth home and like any true motorcyclist, I was itching to ride the living daylights out of it! As if on cue, my friend who I’d never spoken to, MK, sent me a text saying he was on his way back to India in December. (He stays in Dubai most of the year). He was returning to his village home in Kerala – in the heart of South India!

Since we’d never met, yet, were two passionate motorcyclists – passionate about motorcycles, accessories, riding gear et al, this was a golden opportunity for us to finally ride together after years of WhatsApp friendship! MK, like myself, rode a plethora of motorcycles and had a penchant for quality.

MK and I got to know each other because both of us were part of a motorcycle (messaging) group that owned Kawasakis – The Versys 650 to be exact. We both loved the V650s as they made for fantastic, practical and fast machines that were very accessory friendly. As it happens on such groups, discussing accessories and dealing with weirdos who always had a point to prove, MK and I found our opinions chiming in unison more than a few times. This led to us deciding that, as and when we’d get the chance, we’d ride together.

You know what they say, great friends are hard to come by. So I take them when I get them and hold on as tight as the brotherhood allows.

DISTANCE

The reality was that MK’s home was a thousand miles away from my home – one way. I’d have to cross 5 states, ride through mountain ranges, alongside India’s West Coast and cover decent highway distances to reach Kerala.

2000 miles ahead!

I convinced my usual motorcycling partner in crime, Vaishali, to join me on this multi state ride across western India. She’s the best pillion I’ve ever had on a motorcycle. Always in sync, always ready to pull her weight (and the bikes! If need be 😜). Vaishali has been a constant companion on quite a few motorcycle rides. Most importantly, she doesn’t mind me giving most of my attention to my motorcycle when on a ride, especially with my cameras.

Vaishali, flanked by the GS and I. #helmethair #forthewin

WELL BEGUN IS HALF DONE

Well, the ride didn’t begin all that well.

Being a Creative Director, leading my own advertising and production teams, I’m always jumping from one shoot to the other and the night before the ride was the same, it got real late. We started the ride a full 6 hours behind schedule, as I spent the early morning packing and setting up my GS, first BIG ride after all. 

Starting late (on a ride as huge as this one) is a strict no-no for me. It just puts everything out of whack and has a cascading effect on the whole endeavour. Anyway, we made our way, leaving my home city of Pune at noon, in the state of Maharashtra, India.

Highway Milemuncher!

It was December, a few days ahead of Christmas. MK is Christian and the whole idea on this leg of the onward journey was to reach the destination in time for us to celebrate together! To help make that happen, MK and his family had made their way to Wayanad, up and into the Southern Indian Mountains, with MK riding his Versys 650.

Vaishali (my pillion), the GS and I were a long ways away though. We were still riding towards Goa, our first overnight stop on the ride.

GOA

The worst place to stay, if you have to leave the next morning, is Goa.

Why? Because one never feels like leaving Goa, ever! The food and people in Goa are some of the best. Every time we ride into Goa, the chilled out vibe grips us so tight that we almost always end up extending our trip! No such option this time, we were on a mission, mission to Mangalore!

Susegado baby, you’re in Goa!

‘Susegado’, as the Goans refer to the ‘vibe’ here, is infectious to say the least. From quiet naps in the afternoon to casual beer and seafood in the evening, you just want to slow down and enjoy each breath you take, when here. Something that is so alluring to my current city dwelling mindset, I am certain I will get myself a home in Goa someday. Maybe I’ll even get a boat and spend my retirement dough mounting Denali lights on it!

Coastal Dusk

We reached Goa after dark, just in time for a quick dinner with local friends and then to bed. Next morning, we took our time once again, leaving at noon. On our way out of Goa, our next overnight destination was the city of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka (already our third state on this ride!).

ALONG THE WEST COAST

The coastal road from Goa to Mangalore, a distance of about 400 kilometres, is some of the most pleasurable and easy riding one can do. Especially now that we had already fallen behind our riding schedule, there was no point rushing through the good bits. Taking the Goan vibe along as we rode across state borders into Karnataka, we took time to appreciate the abundant coastal beauty this stretch of the road had to offer. Stopping often, just to enjoy the constant sea breeze and refreshing views.

Surf’s up!

The whole 400 kilometre Goa-Mangalore stretch winds along the western coast of India, in tandem with the Western Ghat Mountains on one side and the stunning Arabian Sea on the other, lined on both sides of the road with rustling coconut palms.

Seaside Ride!

Even though the 400k distance may seem short, this coastal route is a slow ride by default. After a good 10 hours on the road, we reached Mangalore City and battled its peak hour evening traffic to reach our hotel. Promptly dismounting and heading for dinner.

MANGALORE

Just 400 kilometres from the Indian Sunshine State of Goa and a few tens of kilometres short of the Southern state of Kerala, sits the bustling coastal City of Mangalore. With its own unique Mangalorean cuisine and culture, it’s a city and region which is as unique as it is stunning! I’d taken a trip specifically to explore this part of India in 2018, on my Versys 650, check out that story here: Malabar Calling.

On this trip however, Mangalore was just a place to lay our heads before we finally made our way up into the Western Ghat Mountains towards Wayanad.

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY

Ah, Kerala, you beauty!

From crisp coffee to tantalising teas, from calm lagoons to the roaring seas, from life at sea-level to misty, evergreen mountains – Kerala has EVERYTHING any traveller could ever ask for. Not to forget the divine cuisine that is the diamond in the crown of this state!

As soon as we rode into the Western Ghat Mountains, we left the warm and sultry tropical weather behind and were welcomed into the highlands with cool mountainous breeze. With the Boxer Engine of the 1250 GS growling between my legs, I took full advantage of the superb 2-Up riding dynamics of this stellar motorcycle!

Loaded up!

Not only were Vaishali and I riding 2-Up, our GS (The Swashbuckler) was fully loaded from front to back! Right from the SW-Motech EVO Daypack Tankbag, carrying most of my Camera paraphernalia, to the AERO ABS Side Cases (also from SW-Motech) – our main luggage. I also have to mention the nifty Urban ABS Top Case that we had, carrying all our footwear at the back.

Why do I consistently choose SW Motech ABS Luggage over a trio of aluminium?

Well, even on a motorcycle as well put together as the GS, one needs luggage that is manageable single handedly. (OR) When touring 2-Up, the rider-pillion team has to be able to lug the luggage up a hill with bare hands. Ultimately, ABS luggage is light, yet holds its form beautifully and looks stunning on the outside. Moreover, the AERO ABS Side Cases aren’t too big and thus make you carefully consider each item you are carrying. You know, so that you don’t end up carrying extra crap that you’ll never use. Most importantly, in a worst case scenario, one can shove these abs plastic luggage cases in overhead bins on an aircraft!

ABS luggage #forthewin from SW-Motech & Denali Electronics D4 V2 TriOptic LED Aux. Lamps

Just in time for this ride, I had mounted the Denali D4 V2 TriOptic LED Aux lamps. These came in very handy as we rode further up into the western ghat mountains and the Sun went down behind the peaks. We were flying towards our destination, the forest district of Wayanad. We passed the coffee plantations of Coorg/Madikeri during early evening and then crossed the state border into Kerala as dusk approached. A few more hours of cold weather riding saw us entering the forests of Wayanad on the GS, looking for our hotel, where our Christmas dinner awaited!

My friend, MK, had made sure that as soon as we got off the motorcycle, our beers were handed to us! Mark of a true friend ;).

A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER

Motorcycle Friends – MK, his wife Seema, Vaishali and I. Our Steeds – MK’s Kawasaki Versys 650 & The Swashbuckler!

When motorcycle tourers meet, the first few hours are spent conversing and analysing each other’s motorcycles. It’s one thing to share messages about which accessory to buy, its a whole another process seeing it mounted on a machine.

MK and his wife had ridden up to the forests of Wayanad to celebrate Christmas with us. What a gesture and what a way to bring in 2020!

WAYANAD & VYTHIRI

Vythiri Trails

Absolutely calm green forests, nestled within sweeping hills and water bodies, that is what Wayanad and Vythiri offer.

We spent a couple of days exploring the areas around, took in the perfect winter weather and generally chilled out. I even took the opportunity to head out and ride a couple of off-road trails deeper into the forests of Vythiri. Lucky that the monsoon season had passed, this place would have been mayhem to ride through, landslides and all!

Lakeside Vibes!

At the end of one trail, we found ourselves a glassy lake with open views, imperative that I spend some time shooting my GS! 😀

ON TO THE NEW YEAR!

With Christmas behind us, MK, our pillions and I were to ride further deeper into Kerala – to their village home, 300 kilometers further south of Wayanad. This was our first real ride together!

Riding into 2020!

2020 was brought in with style at (what I like to call) MK’s motorcycle-home. One reason why we hit it off is that the both of us are motorcycle aficionados, the constant motoring banter between us is endless, we often found ourselves being the last people in a room. Visiting a fellow rider’s home sometimes treats one to a fascinating insight into their unique perspective on motoring.

MK’s Motorcycle Home & Festive Champagne!

There’s something to be said about living far away from the city. The calm surroundings and slow pace of life in Indian villages is worth its weight in gold if you ask me. Increasingly, I have come to realise that it is the quality of the life one is living and not the location that matters most. Here’s hoping I put my learnings from this trip into practice sooner than later!

Finally then, our time at MK’s home also came to an end. Their family had left no stone unturned in making sure we were fed every type of delicacy Kerala had to offer. Vaishali and I were as honoured as we were humbled by their extraordinary hospitality.

I struggle with goodbyes. 

KOCHI – NO TIME FOR MELANCHOLY

On Indian roads, there’s no time to brood. As soon as we rode out of rural Kerala, the heat, humidity and bustle of urban traffic hit us like a freight train!

We were now on our way to the metropolitan city of Kochi.

After spending close to 10 days in the stunning serenity of Wayanad, Vythiri and then at my friend’s village villa. Kochi’s fast pace took some getting used to! Luckily for us, the BMW dealership here was headed by a friend and fellow GS rider as well. For the first time on this ride, Vaishali and I left the GS for some TLC at EVM Motorrad Kochi and made our way to the touristy side of the city. Kochi is a hardcore coastal city, the Arabian Sea forms an inseparable part of the life here. Whether it’s the sea-food or the ways to get around town, the Sea is everywhere.

Ferry Hop in search of the Biker’s Burger!

We hopped onto a ferry to get us to Fort Kochi – probably the most touristy part of town. With the prospect of juicy burgers in front of us, we weren’t complaining! Lo and behold, I found myself a ‘biker’s burger’, I had to give it a go! 😀

Our stop at Kochi city was planned as a jumping off point. We had the GS being looked over by the boys at BMW, just as a precaution, as this was our first big tour with the beast. Next, we had to plan our journey back towards home. Or did we?

TAKING THE LONG WAY HOME

My partner in crime on this ride, Vaishali, is a corporate honcho and her work schedules are always very demanding. But when we’re on a motorcycle ride, she leaves the planning to me. I was free to take whatever route I wished, as long as I got her back in time for her work. Ok then.

Since we’d largely hugged the coast on our way south, I was quite keen on taking the mountainous route towards home. With the GS making short work of highways, I was quite keen on taking a road that had a few more curves and few less curbs, if you know what I mean.

Although as a tourer I tend to ride South quite often, there are still pockets of South India I am yet to explore. The hill town of Coonoor, in the lap of the Nilgiri mountain ranges is one such unexplored pocket for me. And so, thanks to google maps and Taj Hotels, our plan was set.

COONOOR & OOTY

The GS, surrounded by tea gardens, at 7000ft!

If Tea and mountains are your thing, Coonoor & Ooty in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are a must visit. Both hill towns ooze old world (and dare I say, colonial) charm. The climb upto about 7000 feet above sea level brought us to our little cozy spot in Coonoor. This quaint little hotel (managed by Taj Hotels, India), was the perfect example of old British architecture that now forms part of regular life here. The temperatures were quite low, which was a welcome break from the humid hustle of Kochi. Both Coonoor and Ooty are touristy towns with tea gardens surrounding all mountain slopes, all around. Needless to say, both towns are full of tourist traps that are worth visiting only if one is fond of such things.

Sweeping Views – Train Ride to Ooty – Ooty Railway Head – Our Cozy Spot at Coonoor!

Our love for machines, however, drew us to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The last remaining meter-gauge rack/cog railway line in India. The hour long train ride snakes its way along the mountain slopes from Coonoor to Ooty, offering sweeping views of the stunning tea gardens and surrounding hills. A perfect way to take in both towns, when short on time.

On that note, we were no more on a leisure trip. After our second night at Coonoor, we were well and truly homeward bound. Even though home was still a good 1000 kilometres away!

Riding down the Blue Mountains!

Now, it was just a matter of mounting up, riding down the Blue Mountains of India (Nilgiris), wrapping up our 20-day motorcycle sojourn and finally, settling down with the grind once again.

RIDING HOME

Homeward Bound!

Vaishali and I took one more stop on our way back home. The coffee town of Chikmagalur. If coffee is your thing and you’re in India, Chikmagalur is the place to be! Estate after estate growing coffee line the hillsides here. Check out my Kawasaki Versys 650 story, where I explore this area in greater depth: Malabar Calling.

With Chikmagalur behind us, it was a relatively straight 700 kilometre highway dash back towards our home city of Pune. Memories and experiences in tow, atop the mighty Swashbuckler, we had made good time on every leg of our 3000 kilometre winter journey to the South of India. For the kind of riding we do, I doubt there’s a better steed out there.

SOUTHERN SOULS

MK and I, the original dreamers of this trip, have made a pact.

Every year, when he returns to India, we will meet up and ride together in some new part of India. Our next escapade includes the Southern Districts of Idukki and Periyar National Park and Tiger reserve. 

As Vaishali and I returned to Pune, MK and his family reached their home in Dubai. All of us, back to the grind. Little did we know, what 2020 had in store for the world. Lockdowns after lockdowns in India have kept my GS and me caged in isolation since this whole pandemic fracas began. Although I’m pretty sure these testing times will pass, I truly hope us ‘Southern Souls’ are riding alongside each other again, soon.

If it wasn’t for our motorcycles, all of them, that got us here, MK and I probably wouldn’t ever have crossed paths.

And if you took a look at us today, we’re like family.

Touchwood.

Motorcycles, they make our world go round.


Writing for this piece has been rendered by Nipun Srivastava, our resident adventurer & Creative Head.

Check out the Swashbuckler Motorcycle Build!

Motorcycle built by The Nirvana Team. Accessories provided by SW-MOTECH & DENALI Electronics. Project supported by BIG BAD BIKES.



Project Swashbuckler

There are motorcycles and then there are motorcycles – and then there’s the GS.

Over the years our teams have ridden and used many a motorcycle but when it was time to choose our first ever ‘project motorcycle’ for Image Drivers ( India ), it had to be the BMW R1250GS.

Watch the Project Teaser!

(scroll down for full film)

We pulled out all the stops when it came to Nipun Srivastava’s beloved new steed. We called in trained technicians from multiple mechanical disciplines to lend a hand with our build. This build was to be an intense one as the challenge before us was not just to outfit the motorcycle from start to finish, within 24 hours, we were to do it with an entire camera crew from @thenirvanateam pointing their lenses at the motorcycle and all the parts we had got for it!

Swashbuckler_GS Series Launch Image

It had to be the GS.

Everything had to happen like clockwork and right from the start, it didn’t. Early, on the morning of the BMW build, we got to the workshop at 5am, hoping to start by 6 but guess what, the shutters to the shop had jammed shut and refused to open. It took us the better part of an hour to figure out how to jimmy open the damn thing. We got it done, eventually.

Ready to load

Getting ready to load up!

Inside our workshop for the day, the boys from thenirvanateam got to doing what they do best, setting up all the motorcycle, camera and tooling gear required for the marathon assembly and video shoot which was about to start.

Here’s a list of stuff that we planned to get on the bike that day:

  1. Lower Crash Guards
  2. Sump Guard/Bash Plate
  3. Front axle Slider
  4. Side Stand Foot Enlarger
  5. Windscreen Reinforcement
  6. Brake cylinder Guard, Rear
  7. Rear brake Reservoir Guard
  8. EVO Tank Ring
  9. Daypack Tank Bag
  10. Gear Shift Lever
  11. Denali Light Mount
  12. Denali D4 V2 TriOptic – Wiring and Install
  13. Upper Crash Bars
  14. Rear Slider For Drive Shaft
  15. Aero ABS Pannier System
  16. Adventure Rack for Top Case
  17. Adapter Plate for Top Case
  18. Urban ABS Top Case

Each of these parts was handpicked by Nipun and provided by SW-Motech, Denali Electronics and the heros behind making our vision for the GS possible, the folks at BIG BAD BIKES India!

We caught the bull by its horns and started off with mounting the biggies – the lower crash bars and sump guard from SW-Motech. Then came the quickies – the front axel slider, quick lock tank ring and the side stand enlarger, then came the trickies – the windscreen reinforcements and wire routing for the LEDs.

SW DE BBB

Lower Crash Bars, Sump Guard, Windscreen Reinforcements, Axle Sliders & Side Stand Enlarger.

(Click on an image to see it up close)

Along the way, the brake cylinder and reservoir guards were also bolted on in quick succession. Fairly easy stuff.

Then came the gear shift lever from SW-Motech, which required rider input from Nipun Srivastava, who came in all decked up with his new KLIM gear, ready to show off for the cameras! (Watch the video at the bottom to check it out!)

Lunch for the team was a quick ‘Vada Pav’, which is basically an Indian veggie burger with a potato patty – our go-to snack during builds like these and while on rides.

Brake Reservoir Guard, Gear Shift Lever & Brake Cylinder Guard.

After lunch, as the lights came on again and the cameras fired up, came the job of figuring out how to mount the dutiful Denali D4 LED lights. The directions in the box are a boon but the lights were to go on in unison with the DataDim Module from Denali and also the Denali Light Mount for the R1250GS, which was to replace the crossmember on the upper crash bars from SW-Motech (phew! Just saying it out loud is a feat!), the 3-position-switch was also to be connected as we were not using the Can-Smart Controller. Not to forget the routing of wires all the way under the fuel tank cowl, making its way to the under-seat battery.

This part of the installation took time as so many bits were involved, however it was a fairly straightforward process, with a little back and forth on the routing of wires and ideal placement of the D4 light pods. We would also add a couple of S4 light pods with the help of ‘splitters’ (also provided by Denali) a few days later, so the time the boys took painstakingly snaking the wiring through, helped us bolt the S4s on in a jiffy!

Denali D4 V2 TriOptics all lit up with the new Denali S4s in tandem.

Finally then, as the Sun went under, came the luggage systems. Nipun had chosen the stunning new Aero ABS semi rigid panniers for his steed, an unconventional choice for the GS, but he swears by them as he’d been using the earlier version of the same boxes for years on his Kawasaki Versys 650, check out the Kwacker here: Sport Tourer for the Soul.

The Aero ABS panniers mount onto the new PRO Side Carriers from SW-Motech, even with the boxes off the bike, the PRO carriers look quite smart, giving the motorcycle a real rugged look.

The stunning Aero ABS Side-Pannier System from SW-Motech!

After the panniers, the Adventure Rack went on, with the adapter plate for the Urban ABS TopCase. This took surprisingly long as we found ourselves completely flummoxed by the adapter plate and its mountings atop the Adventure rack. Looking back, it was probably the non-stop 15 hours of standing and continuous working on the motorcycle that had taken its toll on the team, we stopped. We pulled out all product literature and read through the mounting sequence line by line. Our lead technician finally figured it out as the clock struck 11pm (remember, we started this gig at 6am).

And then the Top Case went on as easy as butter melting on toast. Check it out below!

The Adventure Rack & Urban ABS Top Case in action.

Finally, our list was complete and we rechecked every part installed on the motorcycle one last time and that was it.

PRO TIP: If, ever, like us, you are crazy enough to attempt installing so many parts on a GS all at once, take it from us, install the Tank Bag and Tank Ring absolutely at the end. We spent a lot of time installing the tank ring and then repeatedly taking it off to access the space under the fuel tank cowl.

The Daypack Tank Bag from SW-Motech.

Trust us, it sounds way less intense than it really was. Multiple takes and retakes for the video crew, actually trying to figure out how to mount the parts without losing any bits and bobs in the process. Bagging and tagging each bit to come off the stock bike, behind the scenes – it had all been a true marathon. But we delivered on our promise and Nipun got to ride his steed home that night, fully loaded.

Wondering how it all turned out?

Check out the short video below to catch the full reveal and see how @thenirvanateam went about their job.

Over 20 hours of painstaking work, showcased in just 4 minutes, enjoy!

Do share this post with your buddies and feel free to comment and join the conversation!


Motorcycle built by The Nirvana Team. Accessories provided by SW-MOTECH & DENALI Electronics. Project supported by BIG BAD BIKES.