Aug 30, 2006

200 posts

And with that brilliant hit to the rafters, the blog scores 200. The first double century for rearset and what a way to score it.

I hate cricket... sheesh...

Ordered processing

Try this cooking method with your next recipe. First boil everything (I mean, everything). then, serve it in the serving bowl. And then take the kitchen scissors and chop it up into bite size pieces. Note the grimace your face just shrank into. Or try this method for brushing your teeth. How about you apply the toothpaste to your arm, use the brush on your eyelids... won't clean the damn pearlies, will it?

So, why do people drive in exactly that fashion? Who am I pointing at? You know who you are. Yesterday, I sat with a chap who turned more than one corner on the brake, throttle and the steering at the same time. Another chap I'm familiar with sometimes is stomping on all three pedals in his car at the same time. And yanking about on the wheel for good measure too. And then there are the auto guys. They outrun their own headlamps, willingingly bash through the worst of the stuff and seem perfectly content to have their mounts collapse around them.

It strikes me as strange that you'd something for a living and do such a bad, bad job of it. That you wouldn't take any pride at all in your own breadwinning. Sad.

Anti pothole movement

It appears that the BMC is well on its way to filling up all of the potholes in Mumbai by tomorrow. Notice the word appears. You see, the highcourt forgot to specify what it means by 'filling.'

Those of you who grasp basic cosmic (as opposed to cosmetic) physics know the concept of anti-matter. Well, the new buzzword in the municipal/urban government arena is the anti-pothole. And unlike anti-matter which is incredibly hard to create, anti-potholes are a snap. All you do is take any cheap, locally availables substance. Like rocks. And sell them to the aforementioned goverment at incredible rates. Once it is bought, you get cheap daily wage flunkies to put them into the holes. And instead of finishing it flush with the road surface, you raise the filling to exactly the same hieght as the depth of the hole you're filling. Et voila, anti-pothole!

And believe me this is true. The pain in my neck proves it.

Aug 28, 2006

Sole food

Are you taking care of your sole? No, really. This saturday night, on my way home from work, my foot nearly slipped off the footpeg because at the previous traffic light, I'd neglected to see that I was standing in a tiny puddle and was getting my boot sole wet. Feet slipping off the peg is a scary, disconcerting event in a ride and it doesn't matter whether the footpeg is rubber or metal. It's destabilises the motorcycle. And if you think about it, there's no quick solution, short of stopping and wiping the sole and the peg down properly. So watch where you step before you ride. At least water dries up eventually. What it it were oil?

Aug 24, 2006

Points to Podder

Apple iPod 60 GB WhiteYesterday, I met a chap at the garage I usually hang out in who spotted my new-ish iPod. Very sharp of you, lad. After confirming that my iPod was a full-house 60 Gb unit and looking suitably impressed, he asked if it sounded good on the bike. I said I didn't know and without realising it, set myself pondering again.

I know that motorcycle helmets contain more than the rider's heads nowadays. There are fairly high end speaker/mic kits available, including ones that run bluetooth, can switch between your phone, MP3 player, or your pillions speaker/mic set and even brush your teeth when you're least expecting it. But is it such a great idea?

The only time I can imagine someone longing for in-lid music is on a lonely, boring, featurless highway. When you're just covering the miles. Joining two interesting dots with an otherwise useless line, as it were. Like, I am told, the East Coast Highway that runs from Orissa to TN. More or less a straight road for hundreds of kilometres with sleep inducing scenery, lulling arithmetic progress and only the changing numbers on milestones to keep track of progress. Then yes, music's good.

Cardo Scala Bluetooth helmet kitIn every other situation, I'd say it detracts from your concentration on the road. In any case, when I'm on the bike and concentrating hard, I can't hear my cellphone buzzing in the jacket pocket. Or feel its vibes. I guess if I tried it, I'd tune into the sound at intersections and tune out elsewhere. Doesn't work for me.

Yes, I could use a Cardo Scala type of helmet headset. It'd beat having to fish the phone out of the pant pocket whenever I do stop to take a call. Usually from the wife. But outside of that, it's not for me. Besides, what if drowned out the inner voice...

Bon homie!

Rizwan Sheikh, bone setter

I pass this erm... shop everyday. Lovely!

Aug 21, 2006

New! Driver Stereotype

Yesterday, I took a rick home (don't ask). Passing through the Bandra stretch of Linking Road, I spotted a Honda City EXi with three occupants. Average age: 22, I think. Two were on the cellphones and the driver, appeared to be mouthing into his hands-free kit. Hopefully, they weren't on a conference call to each other. More to the point, this much data was enough for me to lean forward and tell the auto chap to not overtake the car, to drop back and not go anywhere near that car.

Later, I wondered why that was? We all create and maintain a database of stereotypes (you know, tailgater, lane-swapper, lady, slowpoke etc). This was a completely new one. I call it Rich Dad's Worthless Little Son (RDWLS). I know it sounds like I'm gunning all out for all affluent young kids, but there are some really nice kids out there too. This for the rest of that bunch.
RDWLSs drive fast and careless. They swap lanes when it's convenient to them, they give no hoots about crossing paths with much larger vehicles. Their speed and recklessness means safe and faster motorcycle riders can't really escape them in traffic altogether, and they wayward driving is a huge, huge hazard to anyone within twenty feet.

Here's how to spot 'em. Look at the space between the roof lining and the top of the suspected RDWLS' head. If you see an untidy bush where a neat haircut should be, you have probable cause. They invariably seem to gel their hair to look like mine when I get out of bed. It's a good reliable indication. Fancy cellphones, chatting with the mates, hip-hop music audible a half-kilometre away and a bass thump that compresses the rear springs visibly are other signs you could spot. There is no known cure except for pulling over and letting some time and distance slip in between yourself and them.

Sometimes, RDWLS' will come in packs of two cars or more. This can turn into a race in the blink of a indicator. So watch out.

Worry lines

I worry sometimes about other people. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes, they just relate such astonishing anecdotes, that even if they were only half true, they're gobsmacking spaced-out, alien propaganda-type tales. It just doesn't work for me. So I get worried. About these people's sanity.

I hang out at this garage in Bandra in Mumbai where a lot of other 'dudes' from the area hang out. Over lunch, or between spanners, they tell their tales. Of running from the cops on a whim. Of being pulled over at gunpoint at the seventh police check they tried to break. In one ride. Of turning up blind drunk to bail their speeding friends out of jail. Of happily breaking the noses of autorickshaw wallahs at the slightest excuse. Indeed, of breaking sundry bones on rickshaw-wallahs as a way of alleviating the desperate need to wreak violence without reason or provocation. Ooooh! What's wrong with these people? Why have their parents not brought them up better? Why do their lives run through such a thick fog of adrenaline and accident? Why do I feel old, staid, safe and even bored when I juxtapose their lives against mine? And still, never even consider swapping places for a minute? All of these kids are almost a decade younger than me. They all have, apparently, rich daddies. And these daddies, it would appear spend a considerable part of their parenthoods exerting time, money and influence to repeatedly save their sho-shweet but delinquient offspring from trouble. All of these kids have nothing better to do than hang around, swap tales. And out of sheer boredom, break laws and things from time to time. Is this syndrome called Occupation: No Occupation syndrome?

I get worried. What if my offspring turn out to be one of these kids? I'm not even rich enough to bail them out. And cruel enough to leave'em in, I think, as well. Serves you right. And despite my years of experience, I still can't exert enough influence to receive a beer wherever I am seated without having to get up. But what hurts the most is that all of these kids have had 50 Cent in their pockets. But they've never headbanged to Deep Purple. They have no Kaalchaar!

Silver lining? At least they're still around. At least they're articulate enough to tell tales in an interesting fashion. At least age will mellow them out somewhat (hopefully, sooner rather than too late). At least I have shocking vicarious anecdotes to tell. A whole encyclopedia's worth. Ask me sometime, I'll tell you.

Aug 19, 2006

Turning point

This is a very, very geeky-nerdy post. Those with low-tech stomachs please leave now.

This is a history of the turn indicator. Yes, you read that right. From the time men started hopping into powered (starting with the horse/ox/whatever) vehicles, they have felt the need to change direction. When communities were small, everyone knew each other, so turn indications were usually signaled thus, 'GRUNT! mrrrgh grrrunt humph!' Later, languages made the task simpler. Early English examples that survive suggest that early pre-Saxon communities would say, 'I say old chap, I should be making a right turn at that corner, so would you mind giving some space? Thanks mate!'

As human society evolved and grew in complexity, most developing communities found it very distasteful to speak to other humans before indicating a change of direction. The fact that the fastest cars were already hitting 30 kph also meant that talking was not an option. The turn indication was shortened to a simple 'Oi!' If the situation called for it (usually after the crash) there could always be a proper verbal alteraction. A tradition that lasts to his day.

Still later, human's became aware of the rest providing advantages of the division of labour and while some could afford serfs who would hang on to the car's fenders and yell changes, others simply hung flags or flapped their hands outside to indicate changes.

Much, much later, skimming past all the great names, Watt, Edison, Ford et al, the 1907 patent for the electric turn signal was finally converted to a mass market commodity in 1939. The overlap of hand signals (the middle finger was a popular indication, with a alarmingly growing following) continued of course, as did the verbal exchange.

Today, turn signals are a legal requirement on all vehicles, in most places of the planet. Yes you are right, they don't actually work in all the places. When they do, they are required to blink on and off (the new word is 'flash') between 60 and 120 bpm, in phase with each other. Except in North America, where they must be out of phase with each other.

And so forth... You must be wondering what the point of this is, right?

Well, here it is. Yesterday I noticed that in India, it is usually the vehicle ahead of you that indicates, and dictates what you need to do next. For instance, everytime a car ahead of an autorickshaw in Mumbai indicates left, the tuk-tuk instantly jinks right. If the car were to indicate right, the tuk-tuk, as if pulled by a force like gravity, would jink left. I also noticed that this happens to various vehicles irrespective of their girth, weight or attitude. And even if the driver is on the cellphone, shaving, eating, necking or just admiring his/herself in the vanity and rear view mirrors.

Any foreign readers here? Well, don't let it worry you too much, you get used to it. Think of it as our custom.

Oh, and lest I forget, the jink and the indication do not always appear in the same place-time coordinate. Murphy and your lack of preparedness could precipitate either, both or any combination thereof without warning. Consider yourself warned.

Aug 11, 2006

Motorcycle kinetics

Sometimes I think we (as in the human race) would save ourselves a lot of misery and effort if were to just be honest enough to realise that we really, deeply, truly sucked at something. And suspended all efforts at it, trusted division of labour and Darwinian selection to take care of it. Especially given that both of those factors/phenomena will ensure the sickly fruit of your efforts (at which you suck) will any case be rotten, will be superseded, made extinct.

Harley Topper from flickr.comI think we need an example. Take the scooter Harley-Davidson made for a while. It was called the Topper, and it was anything but. Now, I don't know the exact history of the product. But here's the point - it doesn't matter. Whether Harley realised they sucked at scooters and stopped making them, or were forced out of the market because no one wanted them is a moot point. There were better scooters around. Or no demand for them. Scooter died. There are, of course, thousands of other examples.

The point is, if you have the finances/will, you can keep bleeding money/time/effort into things you suck at. You can bravely say that 'eventually, I'm gonna get better.' And you can, but eventually, you need outside help.

YamOndaSuzuSaki needed people like Bimota to show them how to make motorcycles go around corners. Only then did their powerful, reliable engines actually begin to make sense. And mincemeat of the British, German and American opposition. They learnt. Sucky bikes became superbikes.

Now take the example of Kinetic in India. While I freely admit that theirs aren't the highest quality scooters in the country, they're decent machines all of them. Scooter ownership in the country doesn't exceed more than a couple of years, and for that much, all of them work without trouble. After that, inherent quality issues rear up and fading/failing plastic, various mechanical niggles aren't uncommon, and/or unexpected.

But they truly, deeply, faithfully suck at making motorcycles. In their entire history, I'm sorry to say, I have never seen a product that lived up to any sort of respectable standard. Usually, the said motorcycle would fail spectacularly at a whole bunch of parameters. It makes you wonder why that is. I believe it's because the chaps at Kinetic R&D have gotten so used to making scooters, that even their half-asleep products turn out half-decent.

But they know nothing about motorcycles. Zero. And anyone who has worked on making a motorcycle will tell you, that while both have two wheels and ferry people, scooters and motorcycles are very, very different in what constitutes a commercially successful design. So if you're 'stuck' in a scooter rut, you'd find it hard, if not impossible, to design an exciting, successful motorcycle. Which means, Kinetic needs to move on.

It needs to focus on scooters, ignore the fact that motorcycles are a bigger market by a humungous margin and get good at the scooter business. And they must to survive, for YamOndaSuzuSaki are aggressive and when they enter the scooter market, they'll wipe the floor clean if they can find weaknesses in the competition.

Kinetic StrykerOr Kinetic must learn to make motorcycles. The easiest way to do that would be to hire a bunch of young engineers who are interested at a fundamental level in motorcycles and their development. Kids with some level of brilliance, an ability to thrive in seriously tough conditions (you don't expect the well-entrenched R&D chap to give them an easy time, do you?), and the drive to build classy motorcycles in the face of Bajaj, Honda and Hero Honda. The surer way would be to hire a third party design/engineering firm and faithfully follow their instructions. These are the only solutions to rebuilding Kinetic's currency in the motorcycle market.

A number of people who track Indian two-wheelers closely, that I've spoken to in the recent past, seem to confirm that while Kinetic is inking lots of good looking deals with the likes of SYM and Italjet and all, it is not moving fast enough. That Bajaj and Hero Honda are together, running much, much faster. And eventually, unless something drastic happens, will leave Kinetic (and anyone in a similar position) behind.

Window of opportunity

Mick Doohan said in his book, Thunder from Down Under, that he only worried about his front tyre. In fact, he'd get the rear sliding, so that'd be out of the way and he could get on with focussing on the front. Wow! So that's how the gods ride. Among his other pearls was the bit where he says that sometimes, when his twitchy, powerbandy NSR would make too much power for the moment, he'd gently bleed it off with the clutch.

I don't know about you, but reading this kind of on the bike, in the scene, watch over my shoulder sort of passages gives me the goose bumps. Especially when a ghost-writer or sub-editor has hacked it into lucid, word-(photo-realistic)-painting shape. Then it's outstanding. You can just close your eyes and arrive slambang in the middle of the action. And just for a fleeting moment, feel the greasy feedback from the wildly spinning rear, sense the sheer physical force that is trying to slew the bike out from under you, see your fingers react by pulling the clutch in just a fraction, and hear the revs rise in protest, but the wheel slow in response. And then, the unsaid enters the picture as well. Then you're pushing the outside peg down, lifting off the seat and getting the weight over the front tyre to preclude any time-sapping wheelies when the rear hooks up again. All this in a moment. A sheer fraction of time. Filled with a lifetime of action and reaction, sensation and decision, fear and confidence. Then, in a moment, you flip the page and re-enter the fascinating story again...

Aug 10, 2006

Tyre-ing out the Gladiator

Yamaha GladiatorA magazine recently said that the Gladiator's tyres were crappy. I think it was Bike India. The contention was that its performance and handling feel improved dramatically once MRFs were spooned on. I don't disagree. The OEM Dunlops do feel a bit squishy and I'm sure a slightly more 'spineful' tyre, with the same levels of grip would improve the proceedings infinitely. However, the Mumbai rains have showed me that all is not lost for the Dunlop. Because they're absolutely bloody brilliant in the wet and the mucky. They're almost like frogs in the way they perk up in the slidey stuff.

Seriously, I've found myself using almost all of the front-end braking I would use in summer without a second thought. I've felt sideways movements and twitches when I'm passing over loose gravel (available freely around all potholes) and metal plates (usually used to cover all manner of deep holes in Mumbai). But on concrete, tarmac, any combination of the two, the Dunlop is the best tyre I've ever used in the wet so far.

Won't stop me swapping to the MRFs later in the year, though.


Riding Mantra #965.20

It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things
are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment
-Marcus Tillus Cicero (Lawyer, Writer, Scholar, Orator and Statesman, 106 BC-43 BC)

Aug 8, 2006


'So, what's the latest buzz in the aftermarket?' could almost be the byline for motorcycle futurists. Aka Motorcycle manufacturer R&D. At least that's how it used to be. When a mid-seventies, finding-its-feet European Honda wanted to know what to do next, all it had to do was look at what people were replacing/upgrading on the aftermarket. If Harris, Spondon and Bimota were doing raring business selling braced or all-new chassis frames, then the next thing to do was to improve the chassis on the current machines.

It was simple time. People could get their hands dirty on their machines with tangible, if not always expected, results. Motorcycles were an art. But definitely not an occult entity.

Since then, we've moved on. Manufacturer's and the aftermarket now work closer than ever before. And I really can't say whether motorcyclists benefit all that much from it. A large chunk of the accessory guys just make exhaust cans. All of which just boost the power or the torque or if they're any good, both. The manufacturer responds by raising the stock bike's tune and making the next year's bike even faster.

So what is the next big step for motorcycles, then? For once, the aftermarket seems to have no answer. Motorcycle evolution has hit a sort of plateau. A very exciting place to be, no doubt, but a place where development effort versus gains remain lower than they should be.

It's almost as if the developed markets have slowed up a bit to allow the rest to catch up. There's a nice thought.

Look at India, though. It's seventies Europe here, all right. What is the buzz in the after market, then? Fairings. Every tom, dick and harry worth his fibreglass is making them. They liberally splatter them with big-ticket stickers too. They want the same Pulsar to be a Hayabusa, a Fireblade and a Rocket III. What else are they making? Exhausts. It's a pity these exhausts are made to resemble the big bike ones, and have as much engineering in them as a glob of mucous. But yes, motorcyclists want bikes with voices.

But the manufacturer's aren't looking in that direction yet. A fully-faired DTS-Fi would have created a far greater buzz than the naked one heading our way. Yes, it would have been slower than the naked... Even on our racetracks, fairings are few and far between. The bikes are too slow to benefit, and usually, there just aren't enough sponsors to warrant speed-sapping plastic. Soon...

Aug 6, 2006

Stryke three: You're Out!

Kinetic StrykerJust heard two things about the Kinetic Stryker. Thought you guys should hear of it as well.

Conversation 1
Me: So, what's different?
Chap from Kinetic: From the Velocity? Nothing.
Me: Really? Just a paintjob, then?
CFK: Actually, we do have a oil intercooler...
Me: That sounds like complicated...
CFK: No, its just that cylindrical metal box that sits on top of the engine. Makes no difference.

Conversation 2

Phone: You have 1 new mesage
Me: click, click
Phone: The Stryker isn't a motorcycle. It's a joke. I could't ride it past the signal [which is two hundred metres from the chaps office]. Any kind of test will **** the rider, if not the bike.
Me: Oooooh!

Aug 1, 2006

Goa: Bem Venite 2

Hotel Venite, Panjim, Goa, India interior

Fuel Injection, big boost?

Having spent some time on both the fuel injected motorcycles in India (one on sale, the other expected), here's the 'moral of the story.' Neither motorcycle was eye-opening in the sense of dramatically better than its predecessor. In fact, it reinforces the fact that our carburetted motorcycles actually run pretty efficiently already. However, both motorcycles possessed throttle feel and response like nothing I've ever been on or in before. Both motorcycles did not have throttle lag. That's the gap between you opening the throttle and the carb slide moving up to start fuel flow. On the Glamour FI and the Pulsar DTS-Fi, the fuel flows instantly. Open the throttle, and the frost suspension unloads immediately. Both motorcycles also felt very crisp and very smooth. A feeling that combines with the throttle response to make both bikes feel fun and involving to ride. Obviously, from our perspective, think of a 20 bhp motorcycle as anything but involving is hard. But even the Glamour FI feels good to ride thanks to the throttle alone.