Raiding the Himalayas
Try hanging out with a bunch of hardcore rallyists and you’ll find that the most discussed and devoured rally of them all is the Raid de Himalaya. You will also learn that it is at the top of the bucket list when it comes to a motorsport event in the country. It is one of those events that will round up your list of achievements in life and allow you to retire, yet leave you wanting to go back and do it all over again. The man leading Himalayan Motorsport, the team behind the Raid, Vijay Parmar believes that it seperates the men from the boys. And he knows his stuff well. And yet, here we are attempting to break the fastest time set by a Group D bike! A stock Apache RTR 200 4V! Too much to ask for?
A brief history lesson about TVS Racing to begin with. Go back half a decade and picture yourself at an airstrip in Sholavaram. Now imagine racing a 50cc moped on this ‘track’. TVS Racing has been there and done that. Even the TVS WEGO is leading its class in the INRC. The brand manager for the brand Apache is a multiple motocross champion, not an MBA and that sums up the racing pedigree of the brand in a nutshell. Every successful rider in India has raced for TVS Racing at some point in his/her career. Even the Raid has been won nine times by TVS Racing, since the event began in 1999. A simple call to TVS Racing and we land up in Shimla with two brand new stock Apache RTR 200s shod with on/off-road tyres. Now one of the bikes was to be ridden by us to understand how the Raid is actually done. Which basically meant, a not so quick recce of the whole event. The second RTR 200 though was here for the real deal – to break a stage record, but more on that later. And who better than TVS Racing’s own Bengaluru-based ace rider and 2014 Raid De Himalaya winner, R Nataraj to do the job.
We have been riding the RTR 200 for months now thanks to TVS Motor lending it to us as a part of our fleet. But riding it on tarmac is quite different as compared to riding it on gravel on off-road tyres. But on the roads less travelled, you need to have complete faith in yourself and your machine. Forty-five kilometres from Shimla we are flagged off for the first stage. Although the path is slippery and full of ruts, we are able to keep Nataraj in our sights. He’s got to be taking it easy! The best way to ride here is to apply some pressure on the rear brakes and let it have a controlled slide, we have been told.
It is on this road that we realise that the TVS Racing sticker pasted on the bike is no marketing ploy. The racing team has genuinely worked on each and every aspect of the RTR. The bike just ups the ante with a host of new upgrades, including a double cradle frame and a perfect 50:50 weight distribution. The fuel injected motor is extremely eager, even in this rarefied part of the country. The whole package just pushes you to go faster.
At the end of Stage 1, we were simply glad to have the RTR 200 with us instead of a big machine, because riding fast here needs enormous amounts of skill. The lightweight chassis is easily flicked while the suspension is absorbent enough to go over a rock that you missed going around. The brakes too are extremely dependable with enough bite and feel to prevent you from diving into any of the valleys of death, over 200 feet deep.
The dinner at Kaza allowed us to plan the ultimate event. That is – breaking the record set by a privateer, Vivek Sharma, riding a Group D Apache RTR 180 in the 20.5km long Kazi-Komic stage, eight years ago. A hurried call to Parmar and we understand that the target to enter the books is 31 minutes and 27 seconds. It’s going to be a tough nut to crack, so we head off to bed, wishing Nataraj luck.
Next morning not only saw all necessary permissions come through from Kaza SDM Vikram Negi but he also asked a few policemen to close off the road to oncoming traffic. He then proceeded to attend Nataraj’s flagging off in a sweet gesture of solidarity. More than familiar with the terrain, he knows what uphill task awaits the TVS rider. Such is the reputation of the Raid. With our team of spotters lined along the route, he leaves a dust trail and zooms off in to the distance.
As the stopwatch holders await his arrival, we begin our own journey against the clock on the other RTR. We set off after a few minutes and almost immediately start wondering how the man managed to push so hard through a trail that passes through various canyons with dizzying drops! And half an hour later we are told that he has managed to pass the chequered flag in just 30 minutes 23.22 seconds, beating the record by a full minute and four seconds!
As we celebrated by having Maggi and chai, Nataraj explained to us in his usual ‘few words’ that, “The stretch is a high speed section where maintaining pace is quite vital and given the altitude most bikes lose power, so you have to maintain pace in corners as well. I am surprised and quite impressed with the Apache RTR’s dynamic poise and its superiority to its predecessor, the RTR 180, in every way.”
The Raid is a true test of the human spirit along with your machine’s capabilities. And as we pointed our RTR towards Manali, the only thought ringing in my ears was the tagline of Raid: “Making grown men cry since 1999.” Well, we nearly did.