Honda’s customer engagement off-road program for Africa Twin owners begins at full throttle
Delhi. Bangalore. Mumbai. Kochi. Four points on the map that were chosen for the debut training programs to be held for the increasing community of Africa Twin owners. The locations were primarily based in areas that had a minimum number of riders that had invested in the iconic motorcycle. The programme was to be developed by Himalayan Motorsport Association based out of Shimla at the northern end of the country. Given their obsession with motorcycle training and safety, and their 20-year ownership of the Raid-de-Himalaya Rally, this mountain club was the logical choice.
Triumph, Ducati and BMW have already started training sessions for their large ADV bikes. Triumph pioneered the engagement programme way back in 2016 with their Triumph Tiger Academy, becoming an instant hit right from its first edition in Hyderabad. The Africa Twin was introduced in 2017 but in limited numbers. By 2019 the numbers had multiplied and the time was ripe to engage the community of riders in a programme that would teach optimum use of the technology available. Unlike the other training programmes that are riding-biased, the Africa Twin True Adventure Camps concentrate as much on the use of appropriate technology as on riding techniques and safety.
Being the heaviest amongst this tribe of marauding ADV bikes largely due to the extra mass of the DCT, the Twin needs both technique as well as knowledge of the electronics to eke out the best possible performance on all surfaces. Now with a beefed up engine waiting to hit Indian shores, the 2020 bigwing will have more power and finer control over the ABS and TCS, making the training imperative.
Delhi celebrated the first excursion into the training domain with over 30 riders signing up. Bangalore went higher with a two-day program to accommodate 40 riders who learnt that the DCT was as capable as a manual in off-road conditions. Level 1+ was the brief, even though many of the riders had a standard well past that. By the time the monsoon overtook Maharashtra in September, the training moved to Lonavala and Kochi. Lonavala was a beautiful natural course that was reminiscent of a facility in Wales whereas the Kochi event was held further inland at Ettumanoor, Kottayam. Both were wet and the tricky red clay threatened to take the Level 1 upwards rather rapidly towards Level 2+.
The project objectives were twofold. Educate the owners on the technical aspects of the DCT, ABS, Traction Control and off-road riding modes and at the same time continue, on a separate platform from the annual ‘Anniversary Rides’, the engagement and community development around the iconic one-litre adventure motorcycle.
Delhi was the logical debut city for the program. Himalayan Motorsport, now experienced in setting up the Level 1 training courses, curated the maiden program with both classroom sessions as well as a gradually escalating, in degrees of difficulty, series of training tests. Eight micro courses were set up that emphasised different skill sets required to manage a large ADV bike through travel on uncertain surfaces. These included sand, mud, gravel and outright, first-cut JCB whoop-de-doos and trenches. The last course, was beyond Level 1 but just a teaser of what Level 2 training, in the future, would involve. All courses were optional and safety the foremost consideration. The program was held on the outskirts of the Damdama lake in the NCR region and the Adventure Dirt Park was an effective venue, providing certain permanent dirt tracks and challenging features to push rider capability a step higher. The heat was devastating with matching 90 per cent humidity so a lot of the training involved methods of rehydration that would enable one to survive the Indian summer rides. Honda had installed a huge pavillion with air-conditioning for the classroom session and meals, all of which was a boon for overheated riders and safety crew! This was to be a standard feature over the next three venues as well.
The second program was moved south to Bangalore, being held at the now famous Big Rock Dirt Park, which is the training facility for Dakar rallyman C S Santosh. The joy of riding the motocross track, the enduro single paths and taking to the forest trails nearby, was unbounded. This is the best venue in India for motorcycle training since, unlike all the others, it caters specifically to motorcycles. All the rest bias their facilities towards off-roading 4x4 vehicles as well, and that takes away from the moto-customised course in no small measure. A massive turnout from Karnataka and even Chennai in Tamil Nadu had the program span two days, each with separate rider groups. Himalayan Motorsport came in with three trainers – Vijay Parmar, Shayne Singh and Ravish Sharma, once again instructing in the classroom, and the tracks and trails alike. C S Santosh was also present and the riders got to meet with the ‘first Indian at the Dakar’.
The training session at Aamby Valley’s ‘19 Degrees North’ atop the resort town of Lonavala, shifted a week further into September, courtesy the torrential rain witnessed this year by all of Maharashtra. The natural course was a boon and provided grassy slopes; one of the toughest off-road surfaces to tackle on a big adventure bike – water crossings, both shallow and deep, and the ever-present treacherous clay which even had a surface of fungal slime as slippery as a generously oiled Turkish wrestler! Riders rode in from Bombay and Pune alike and the session was well attended. The Level 1 training was pushed considerably skyward when rain came down hard on Course 4. Despite the downpour, the training continued unabated much to the delight of both trainers and the participants!
Kochi presented the greatest challenge yet. A two-hour drive took us to Ettamanoor, Kottayam where the venue was small, but fortunately blessed naturally with highs and lows, and a curated 4X4 track made up the challenge. Technical courses were the order of the day and though the clay promised to be unmanageable, the Africa Twin took it all in its stride. The smallest assembly of riders in any program marked this gathering but the absence of rain was a godsend. In an already semi-inundated field, the courses were bordering on Level 2 difficulty due to the heavy rains but on the main day, the sun shone brightly, too brightly for those that came clad in enduro jackets more suitable for a Ladakh ride. The classroom session emphasised on the right gear for the heat, promoting mesh jackets and trousers as the best heat dissipation method at hand. Add to this a cool vest and a rehydration pack and you have a fighting chance.
The usual distribution of certificates had a surprise announcement from Sachin Saraf of HMSI, launching the annual anniversary ride in Rajasthan this coming December. Much excitement was generated and this concluded the Africa Twin True Adventure Camp training program for 2019 with many instantly signing up to ride the Thar on this amazing and iconic motorcycle.