Endurance riding has always appealed to me more than going full out an race track, not that I don’t enjoy a track day. On a race track you are riding your balls out, revving till kingdom comes, always thinking about tackling the next corner and after a couple of laps you are in familiar territory.
Endurance riding involves maintaining a rhythm, its about finding that sweet spot which puts minimal strain on your body and on the motorcycle, a balance between the rider and his motorcycle, the challenge of adapting to a new terrain and new conditions every passing minute is what appeals to me more.
Endurance riding on an sport bike machine such as the R1 caught my fancy ever since I heard about Sjaak Lucassen doing a world circum navigation on his 2003 R1 and the most popular Nick Sanders on his 2008 R1, I loved his narration of what he went through in his book ‘Parallel World’ both on and off the motorcycle.
What is a Saddle Sore?
Saddle Sore is a series of rides which tests the endurance riding abilities of a rider. The basic ride to qualify as a Saddle Sore is called a Saddle Sore 1000 wherein the rider has to cover a distance of 1610kms or 1000 miles within 24 hours under the strict guidelines laid out by Iron Butt Association (IBA).
To know more on Saddle Sore, visit www.ironbutt.com
Purpose of a Saddle Sore:
A Saddle Sore is considered a benchmark for endurance riders, a small peek into the international riding forums and you know that an IBA number is as coveted as an Olympic medal.
Any rider completing a Saddle Sore ride earns a place among the IBA fraternity termed as the ‘World’s Toughest Riders’.
My ulterior motive as a motorcyclist was to know my motorcycle better, to understand my limits as a tourer; the intimacy you develop with your motorcycle over such distances is comparable to a sibling and it is this familiarity of your motorcycle which gives you so much confidence and so much time to react in an emergency.
What makes Saddle Sore, a challenge in India?
Covering 1600 kms in 24 hours under Indian road conditions is a challenge; add a sport bike to the equation makes it even tough. The aggressive riding posture, unavailability of premium fuel, human and animal interference on the highway, curious onlookers at the motorcycle and some very chaotic traffic are some of the elements one has to get in terms with.
The Riders and their Steeds:
- Yours truly on the 2008 YZF-R1
- Manjunath M.R on the 2007 Yamaha R15
IBA and racers talk about the most essential thing one needs to ride a Sport bike – FITNESS, which I feel is the most neglected aspect of riding a motorcycle. One invests a lot of money and time to buy new touring tires, new touring gizmos, touring gear, modifications for the bike etc, but how often does one say that I went through a fitness regime to do a particular ride?
Hence most of my efforts were directed at getting fit for the ride, rather than stuffing the R1 with gel seats or GPS mounts or touring tyres etc. My R1 having clocked about 7000kms was in the prime condition and was raring to go.
My fitness routine targeted the shoulders, legs, lower and upper back, abdomen and neck as they take the major beating while riding a sport bike over long distances.
For the following reasons the Bangalore – Pune – Bangalore was the chosen route:
- Familiarity of the highway
- Ample number fuel stations offering electronic fuel receipts
- Choice of bypassing a city or town without entering the same
- Of course, great tarmac
Gear and Bike Preparation:
During the Reece ride on my Pulsar 180 DTSi, about 2 weeks before the actual ride, my focus was on mapping the fuel points along the route since the R1 has a full tank range of about 220-230kms under sane riding conditions.
Availability of fuel during the wee hours of the night was a new problem since most of the fuel stations which were open only stocked diesel (diesel vehicles dominate the highway traffic during night), so backup fuel can was a must.
Here is the list of the gear we carried on our ride:
- Saddle Bag (on the R15)
- Chain Spray and Clean
- Tubeless Puncture repair kit
- Extra fuel of 4 litres (in soft drink bottles on the R1)
- Energy bars (6 to 7 per person)
- Energy drink (Gatorade about 3 litres per person)
- Digital Camera
- Vehicle documents (photocopy and original)
- First Aid kit
- Waist pouch (to keep the fuel receipts and handy to keep the camera)
The R1 got a full check up before the ride from the tyres to the electricals.
Vega Helmets – India(www.vegaauto.com) were kind enough to sponsor the helmets for our ride. We used their DOT approved helmets for the ride.
Jan 8th was the chosen day for the ride since the 2 of us Manjunath and yours truly couldn’t take 2 days (1 ride and 1 rest day) off on a weekday. Our ride agenda was simple, cover the maximum distance in the first 12 hours and to get through the bad section between Haveri and Rannebennur in daylight.
We got our start witness forms signed and left Girinagar, Bangalore at 1pm in the noon to hit NH4 via the NECE Road, being an afternoon we encountered sparse traffic but the sun was breathing down on us. I stopped for fuel at Sira about 100kms from the start point since this BPCL provided an electronic fuel receipt, gulped some Gatorade, took pictures of the odometer and headed to Chitradurga.
This stretch is planted with windmills every where and I could think of an analogy between the 3 spoke alloy wheels of my R1 and the 3 blades of these monster fans. I was constantly clocking 120kmph + on these roads and had found that sweet posture which is the thin line between fatigue and pleasure riding.
My next fuel stop was at an IOC bunk at Davangere, a company owned 24 hours fuel station offering premium fuel. They were curious about 2 guys decked up like straight out a Star Trek movie on two similar looking motorcycles (The R15s have always acted as an decoy for the R1 which is good; saves me from answering the usual questions ) they were shocked to hear about our 24 hour challenge and wished us luck.
We rode on to encounter the bad patch between Haveri and Rannebennur which is under construction due to a railway track, got through this section to find some roads which can give an expressway a run for the money.
We met our beloved friend Avinash at the toll gate near Hubli , he rode along till Dharwad which was my next fuel stop.
We then stopped to tank up at Nipani, again a 24 hours station offering IOC Xtra premium throughout, having clocked about 570 odd kms we had just left ventured into the MH territory. Border cities or towns have always caught my eye since you can observe the change in the way people talk, their dress sense, food and the way they look.
Our routine while filling fuel involved munching on energy bars and Gatorade, but this time they didn’t suffice our hunger and we took our first major break of about 20 minutes at the Kolhapur McDonald for a quick bite.
We then proceeded towards our halfway point Kothrud (on the outskirts of Pune), the odo showed 869 kms, we stopped at an Axis Bank to take a time stamp since an ATM gives a precise date & location stamp.
We stopped for fuel at Varve on the way back just after the Katraj bypass at the BPCL bunk who provide an electronic bill which was about 1:30am. At this point we 12 hrs into the ride and slowly the symptoms of fatigue started to creep in.
Most of the time the R15 was ahead of R1 due to the lesser fuel stops and the late braking as compared to the R1.But on the way back we decided to stick together to take full advantage of the enormous headlights of the R1 which lit up every inch of the road giving us better visibility; the cars and trucks gave way even without me asking for it thinking that it must be a 4 wheeler.
The empty stretches of road with nothing to look around due to the darkness made me concentrate on the black ribbon of tarmac with the reflectors on the ends, which took me to a trance and a chance to look at all my past experiences, my decisions and my actions; suddenly I was no longer on a motorcycle but in a theater running the movie of everything I had seen and felt for as long as I remember.
I was woken up from this when Manjunath honked at me to indicate that the Ghat section was about to begin .I usually look forward to ride in the ghats, but this time I cursed on traversing this kind of terrain since I had to reposition every single time to tackle a corner of the ghats which meant more stain on my overall body and the wrists.
Adding to this pain was an MH State transport bus and a 6 wheeler truck trying to outrun each other like maniacs on the ghats and a BMW 320 behind me who was honking consistently at the bus to give way. The R15 sneaked between them and passed on indicating that he would wait for me at the end of the ghat section.
The truck fellow finally gave in, me and the BMW passed them and the next corner is what I can never forget in my lifetime. It was a right hander without barricades, no reflective pods or what so ever to indicate how deep the apex of the corner was, I was doing about 60-65kmph and thinking that I am yet to hit the apex I throttled a bit to reach 90kmph to realize that the apex is gone and I am heading towards the gravel and then into a drop into a valley , for the first time I being a bit sleepy helped in not panicking since my responses were delayed and I got a moment to think of what has to be done rather than just grabbing the brakes and locking the wheel which would have increased my chances of going into the valley, instead I down shifted and feathered the rear brake to straighten the bike as soon as I hit the gravel and missed the valley drop by an inch. The BMW behind signaled at me to ask if I was fine and I gave him thumbs up and we went our ways. I was happy to see Manjunath waiting for me at the end of the ghats and I told him about his incident and his response was ‘ Me too maga, what a f*****g corner it was, Sakaath (super) biscuit’ and both of us started laughing.
This for a while took my attention away from the odo reading and after a couple more kms my fuel light came on and so started my frenzy about looking for a fuel station in spite of having emergency fuel(which I had forgotten altogether, lack sleep was playing all the cards) and most of them offered only diesel, finally tanked up at Nerla (easily the worst quality of fuel I had ever come across), after about 5 kms the R1 started complaining; reduced throttle response, knocking above 7000 rpm and lots of misfires greeted Manjunath at the next toll.
Can we sleep now?
The cold winds made me pray to god to advance the sunrise to 4am. Sleep was playing all tricks on me, I could see people sleeping on a nice cot in the middle of the road and imaginary bystanders inviting me to their houses to get some sleep.
The next 50kms I rode half asleep with my rear tyre all over the road. We decided that it was high time we get some sleep or find some chai to wake us up, so half asleep we wound up at a chai shop and had chai, it was after this we realized how dirty the place was and the water he used to make chai cannot be described, this awareness confirmed that we were back to our normal senses and we decided to step up the pace since we had to reach Bangalore before 1pm.
I stopped at the next bunk just to fill fuel for a fuel receipt (since it is easy for IBA to track our route) filled up for 100 bucks, but was surprised to see that they gave an electronic receipt.
About 7am the sun finally came out I was shouting inside my helmet with joy which lasted only a few kilometers since I was riding facing the sun with clear visor, the radiance of the sun made me to close my eyes and soon the instinct of sleeping took over which was a constant battle I fought till the end of the ride.
The Safari Battle:
Some respite from this offered by a Tata Safari Dicor who mistook me for an R15 and signaled at me to race, I usually switch the left indicator and tell them to overtake me since I am very much against racing on public roads endangering the lives of other motorists and pedestrians, also I was too tired to accept it.
Suddenly I decided that I am going to show this idiot what an R1 is and overtook him at about 160kmph(any day a dumb decision, but the adrenalin woke me up), the Safari took it on and revved till kingdom come to catch me and for about 2-3 seconds we were racing side by side at 160+ kmph, I still had another gear to go whereas the Dicor had already peaked, next moment I am clocking 260kmph on my odo and could see the Safari disappear into the horizon.
My next fuel stop was the IOC bunk at Dharwad and the guys at the petrol station were thrilled to see me again and congratulated me assuming that I would reach Bangalore before the 24hr deadline. The tires needed air, the bunk had the air compressor but there was no power, the owner was courteous enough to fix a generator for the air compressor to fill up my tires and wished me luck; such instances of unadulterated goodness made me realize what makes touring in my country so special 🙂
From here on it was a smooth and boring sail (blame the monotonous NH4) to the end point via the NECE road to the ATM in Girinagar from where it all started. Manjunath had reached about 30 minutes before me and when I finally took the end receipt I was exhausted.
I had difficulty doing precision movements involving my hands such as inserting the ATM card or buckling the helmet; my wrists were shivering due to the beating and were begging me to slash them.
- 22 hours 45 mins on the Yamaha R1
- 22 hours 15 minutes on the Yamaha R15
We were tracked by Nitin using GPS, couple of my friends and well wishers were waiting at the end point and were thrilled to see both of us complete 1700kms(on the ODO) in under 24 hours.
Special Thanks to the following friends who made it happen:
- Uday Sir from Orion Motors, Bangalore (www.orionmotorsindia.in)
- Diwakar Sir
- Vega Helmets, Bangalore(www.vegaauto.com)
- Praveen Sir from Bikers Brew,Bangalore
- Nitin Aditya
- Sandesh Shekar
- Vijay Ananth (my brother)
- Pradeep Poojary
To Avinash and Manjunath, the best riders I have ever met, Cheers guys
The certificate is dedicated to both of you, your camaraderie, patience and advice.
Learnings from the SaddleSore:
- I came to terms with the handling of the R1, the way this motorcycle behaves under hard braking is just out of the world, you get so much confidence to brake a bit late.
- The technique of finding that ‘sweet riding posture’ which puts minimum strain on your body
- The technique of pushing the foot-pegs
- You become one with the motorcycle wherein every minor body movement is reciprocated onto the road and every minor detail of the road is felt by the rider
- FOCUS: At 160kmph you cant afford to focus on anything apart from the road, the traffic and the rear view mirror. Any second thoughts is a recipe for disaster, sheer ‘CERTAINTY’ is what you need.
With this I became the First Indian to complete a Saddle Sore 1000 on a Sport bike in India.