Super Bike @ Toll Booth

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I stand opposite the magnificent promenade of Marina Beach, Chennai. It is pouring bricks and the place I call home is 1400 kms away. I stand still under my umbrella that is fighting hard to maintain form against the whistling wind with my shoulders crouching for cover. A complete meal at Sarvana Bhavan was already well digested and my appetite was keen on following the aroma emanated from the street stalls selling filter coffee and steaming hot idlis. I couldn’t care less for the GPS that would estimate traffic conditions nor am I concerned about the distance to be munched. That’s because I am not alone.

Wondering, why this audacity? Sure, how else do you think I should carry my attitude when I have for company one of the most revered litre class bikes in the world – the Limited Repsol Edition CBR1000 RR – Fireblade. A super slick cassette type 6-speed gearbox aided by a slipper clutch, zero technological interference with the rider by way of ABS or traction control, a supple chassis that is balanced just right, a free revving 170 BHP cracker of a petrol engine that only gets a further oomph from that neatly placed under-seat exhaust that turns heads even when at stand-still. Not to forget that electronically limited top whack of 299 kmph. Enough said.

I was in no mood to either challenge myself to a saddle sore accolade or assess the bike’s prowess on a full tank of octane. The skies cleared partly as the white crescent began to rise up, the tarmac was still slushy and the streets of Anna Salai and T-Nagar were packed making it pointless for me to even begin my exit out of Chennai. Not a very good idea to have a superbike slotted in first gear, the clutch lever pulled half way as the uncluttered digital dash flashes engine temperature upwards of 100 degrees evenly baking my inner legs at every sputter.

I instead, let the evening pass by and let the traffic thin down considerably. A quick dinner and I begin my journey at about half past ten. With a tank size of 18 litres, I better refuel every 250 kms before I see myself pedal pushing this beast weighing in excess of 220 kilos. I was lashed by very heavy rains all the way until I reached Indra Nagar, Bangalore at about 0300 hours. I retire into a guest house and shall rest long enough.

Another 1000 kms to Mumbai.

No matter how much time you have spent riding a superbike, the unadulterated excitement of doing another highway blast keeps you anxious and awake. That tingly feeling in my palms was no different. I had to invariably fool myself into getting those precious hours of sleep without keeping my left toe restlessly imagining the gear shift cog and my ears still not coming to terms with the calmness around me that was otherwise accustomed to the exhaust audio. I woke up to another gloomy evening tormented by heavy rains. Delay I could not and decided to roll.

This time I had to put the Fireblade to test. Not in terms of her insane raw power but over a pedigree of incomprehensible patience to match up with Bengaluru traffic madness. Before her pipes went red, I was sensible enough to pull over and get her that much needed respite by cooling down. I am appalled to discover that I had already spent over 2 hours within the city and hardly clocked 20 kms. The brighter side being, the high beams of my ride lit up a reflective green sign board that read Tumkur – NH 4. That means I was on the city outskirts and the golden quadrilateral should be in sight soon.

This write up is not about what happened in the remaining 980 kms there was to it and how I could pin the dry patches that I encountered over the next 24 hours. That would be more of a superbike review and this isn’t one. So, allow me to narrate a unique experience during this trip that occurred somewhere in northern Karnataka with home still a good 700 kms away.

The thunder and lightening that flashed across my visor was a grim reminder of staying extremely cautious. Standing water and sometimes aquaplaning made matters worse. Not to forget the million times I was splashed by dirt and grime from passing trucks and buses who could not care less. Yes, tell me about it, a superbike at my disposal with dumpers and Volvos having a party.

Somewhere around 3 am, I see a toll booth ahead. And all lanes were empty except one with a car tendering change. My wrists had given up over the last few hours and the racy stance with knee up and ankles swept back had already got me squirming on my numb buns on the not so well cushioned racing seat. I start leaning to my extreme left and coast my ride into the biker’s lane just under the toll shelter. It was time for short stop then. Wait, did you just read short?

I hit the kill switch, yank the side stand away and rest my ride. As soon as I swing my leg over and stand beside my ride, I could feel water trickling all the way down my torso and boots squeaking with dampness within. I pull my helmet away and lay it on the tank whose paint looks all washed and factory fresh. The itch around my nose is wiped away once am off my padded gloves. I leave my mouth open for that voracious gush of monsoon air in and out. I look around and feel the stillness that sometime ago was abuzz between 60 and 200 kmph. So much for the moment called speed then.

From the other side of the road, I could see three dark figures walking towards me. I keep my eyes on them while I continue sipping some mineral water. As I smack my lips I realize they were highway cops on duty. Their generic conversation is suddenly disturbed by this predominantly orange colored alien. They come within talking distance and start circling her in wonderment. I know what’s happening but that’s all I could predict until I am trundled by their questions.

Cop – Looking amazed. Where are you coming from?
Me – Sir, am riding from Bangalore
Cop – Where are you going so late after travelling this far?
Me – Am going home.
Cop – Oh! So you will take a u-turn and go back to Bangalore now?

Me – No Sir. My home is far away. Am going to Mumbai.
Cop – What? Mumbai?
(Laughs with his colleagues and mutters in local language)

Cop – U must be joking on this rainy night.
Me – No sir. I truly am.
Cops – Some id proof and papers please?
Me – Sure Sir. Are you in a hurry? Can I drink some water and look for them in my bag?

Cop – No Problem. We will see your bike till then.
Me – Smiling. Sir, here are my papers and id proof.
Cop – All good. You are good to go but we have 2 requests.
Me – And what will that be?

Cop – A group photo. And a ride.
Me – Sir, group photo certainly. A ride in this weather without your helmet?
Cop – A short one please. Today, I will not budge even if my wife calls me.

I am dripping wet and state of Karnataka is yet to be crossed. The weather is in no mood to cooperate and the cops around awaits a joy ride on the Fireblade. The guy behind me seems to behold the look of a first timer at an amusement park with his eyes on the ignition toggle switch that would spark life into the monster beneath. He is exasperated at the thought of not finding a pair of grab rails that may be his only aid once we start rolling. While he tried to do that his legs dangle around to stay perched on a conventional foot peg the location of which now bewilders him further.

I strap my helmet on and toggle the kill switch to activate the console, look behind and ask him “you ready?” He sighs and rants some expletives in local language to his colleagues who look on benignly. There was barely any vehicle ahead and all I could see was the tarmac shining under the toll lights from a recent shower. This was no drag run and I could not care less for what the speedometer displayed as long as I could feel the cop’s grip biting into my back. That was enough indication that he is having his pants off his seat.

I throb the starter and the inline – 4 sends an echoing roar into the eerie night of NH-4. I slot her into gear and leap forward with the available traction at my disposal. I engage some quick shifts to lighten the building fear of my passenger who is now holding on to dear life given the meaty exhaust that vibrates under his butt. Before he could sink into the feeling of his blood gushing into his intestines, I was already approaching a U-Turn. The deceleration that one encounters of such machines is equally magnetic given the fantastic bite offered from the dual 4-pot callipered Brembos up front.  My pillion taps on my back and says “Sir, please take it easy”. I feel the shrill in his tone and gladly oblige. We pretty much coast back to the toll booth. He giggles just when we are about to reach and breaks into an insane laugh looking skyward. His friends gather around curious to know about the experience.

I waste no further time but greet them for one last time and roll off with their good wishes. I rode through the night at a reasonable pace. The weather was mostly a deterrent but managed to make way for some bright sunshine on the Belgaum – Kolhapur stretch that gave me ample opportunity to twist the throttle open.

I made it home by evening and was stopped once last time by cops about 1 km before my destination.  I wondered if I was in for another obligation which I was in no mood to fulfil given the fatigue my wrists and shoulders could feel.

He walks up to me and asks why was my headlight on during daylight.

Was I in the mood to explain ?

Not really.

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