Since joining Fast Bikes India, I’d heard the seasoned bikers in the office say, “You wanna ride better? Ride off-road!” and, as a commuter for almost a decade now, I took it as the gospel truth, what with most Moto GP champs cutting their teeth on dirt arenas. However, there were two issues to consider. One: I didn’t know of any off-road trails anywhere close by; and second, I’m mortally terrified of the slightest bodily harm. And yet, I jumped at the chance to participate in the Pune edition of the Hero Motocorp Xpulse Xtracks, as I could, at long last, dip my toe in the off-roading seas. And I can tell you now, in retrospect, it was totally worth it!
Waking up early on a Sunday, that too in winter, is never easy. Still, I reached the venue on time (on our long-term Xpulse 200, in fact), and was thirty-second at the registration desk. The event was held at a specially crafted off-road track in Wadki, on the outskirts of Pune. So right off the bat, the first of the two previously mentioned ‘issues’ were ticked off.
And, the good folks at Hero Motocorp had left nothing to chance. They first herded us into groups of six for the briefing by a Hero rep, usually one of the riders from the brand’s motorsport department, who stressed upon us to take it easy. We, however, were briefed by Sanjay Tripathi, Associate VP, Hero Motocorp (also a biking aficionado and rock and roll lover, but more on that later). Next, we were provided elbow and knee pads (the online registration form had insisted upon a helmet, gloves, denim pants and boots. Yours truly was ATGATT, as usual). Finally, we were assigned an Xpulse 200, slotted in between two of Hero Motosports’ off-road racers for a lap around the track, and waved off.
Thrills and spills
We set off gingerly, the gravel patch right after the start causing the bikes to fishtail. The first right turn, hence, was taken at walking speeds, an aberration, as the Xpulse 200 had already grown on me, after a few days of commuting (thanks Vishal!). Drawing on riding impressions from my time spent, I prepared for the downhill section. Dropping to first and feathering the rear brake, I descended, the Xpulse 200 padding my confidence for the next left-hander, letting the tail step out (minutely) before I finally stood up on the ’pegs and accelerated back up the hillock. Feeling at ease, I upped the pace, lining up for a hump. And then, WHAM!
Rule one for off-roading rookies: Stay in first or, at most, second gear. Trying to scale the bump in third, I stalled and slid back down, ending up spread-eagle in the dirt. And that took care of issue numero dos. Now, a bump on the head usually brings with it some resentment, but with the Xpulse 200, I actually felt triggered for another round! Dusting myself off, I got back onto the saddle and thumbed the starter. The eager suspension and low kerb weight saw the next series of whoops dispatched in quick succession. Mud patch? Forded sideways. Table top? Airtime (three inches, perhaps, but airtime nevertheless). And that was it. One lap, done and dusted... and I was just starting to have fun!
Coming back to the refreshments’ tent, I chanced upon an animated conversation about the Xpulse 200. Turns out the VP, as opposed to other industry bigwigs or “sales figures-chanting studs” (his words, not mine) knew the bike inside out, down to the specifics of the optional Rally kit. It was delightful listening to him regale us with his riding experiences, interspersed with AC/DC (from his personal album, no less) playing on the speakers, punctuating the roaring exhausts in the background.
For my part, I waited for the crowds to peter out, for another go at the track. Meanwhile, I worked the crowd, chatting with a motley bunch; like supercross racer Shardul Sharma, who also designs off-road tracks, and Suraj Giri, one of the men in charge at Tork Motors (!), before I finally got another chance to ride the trail. This time, I went all out, applying everything I had observed the riders doing all day, and going through smoother and quicker. For its part, the Xpulse 200 was the perfect brother-in-arms, its short first gear allowing for some more airtime, its light weight giving me some more wheelspin, and the overall experience eliciting a lot more whooping and grinning. Off-roading with the Xpulse 200 at the Xpulse Xtracks was exactly as I had dreamed, and it reinforced why it has been chosen as the 2020 Indian Motorcycle Of The Year. And, though I was sore all over on the ride back home, and had inhaled a small beach worth of sand, I was (and am) hooked, and waiting for the next chance to go off Tarmac.
Hey Ed, I hope you’re listening!