Monday, September 30, 2013

Winter is coming

Encountered a few splatters of rain before Tandi but all the mountain tops seem to have a fresh layer of snow.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Packed and ready

We spend all of yesterday checking our tents and gear and stocking up the supplies. Now we are good to go. The weather is looking good and we are in the main market of Manali waiting for the backup crew to roll in and then we are off. Pangi valley here we come.

Friday, September 27, 2013

One fuse, two fuse, three...

Amber went through three fuses before he found the wires that were causing the problem.

Butt break

A butt break just before the Aut tunnel. The road was crap till Bilaspur but has got better as we get closer to Manali.

Pangi Valley : First Cuppa

Just as I started the climb up Swarghat and cross the border into Himachal Pradesh I stop to wait for Amber and Noel to find they have stopped a kilometre back to weld Ambers silencer back on to the bike.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gear Review: ViaTerra Fly Camera Tank Bag

Putting the ViaTerra Camera Tank Bag through its paces

I am a motorcyclist and a photographer. My best pictures from my two-wheeled adventures have come out of DSLRs and other cameras that are larger and heftier than my iPhone. Usually, I carry a Canon 7D, a Tokina 11-16mm and a Canon 24-105 mm lens as well as my trusty Lumix LX-5. Into the arsenal have been added a couple of GoPro action cameras. Through the years I have struggled to find a good way of carrying my equipment on the motorcycle.  I have used the backpack style Lowepro Slingshot 102 AW Sling Bag but that has been uncomfortable to carry over a long days ride, especially in Ladakh where you have to rise and sit with the ebb and flow of the roads. I have tried stuffing the Lowepro into a drybag and lashing it to the pillion seat but that means unhooking a zillion bungee cords and unclipping the roll-top dry bag to get access to my photo gear. Repeat in reverse to repack and relash while Vir Nakai, my usual partner in moto adventures and Helmet Stories mutters darkly into his beard. My latest and rather inelegant solution has been to pack my photo gear into protective cases and holsters and stuff it into a magnetic tank bag.

A couple of months when the guys at ViaTerra offered to send their latest product, the ViaTerra Fly Camera Tank Bag, for a Helmet Stories trial by fire we jumped at the chance as there were two almost back-to-back Ladakh rides that we could test the bag on. The Fly is a compact 16-litre capacity bag that looks rugged and well finished. Encased by a 1680x1680 tough Denier syntheic fabric, it has three YKK-zippered external pockets: a slit pocket on the upper flap and  two tapered pockets on the sides. The tapered pockets apparently give you some extra space on handlebar lock turns. The bag comes with a rain cover stashed into an exterior pouch. On the bottom, two soft and padded ribs protect your tank from scratches. It also has straps that convert it into a backpack.

Unzipping the main compartment reveals a well-padded interior. There are two elastic hoops to batten down a DSLR fitted with a lens, which is a neat idea. A zippered unpadded nylon pouch on the side can hold a long zoom lens quite comfortably and I chose to stash a lens there inside a lens padding cannibalized from another camera bag. You will have to devise your own solution by adding padded dividers in the remaining space to isolate your other equipment like I did. On the inside of the top flap there is a slim rectangular pocket to hold memory cards, cords, batteries etc.

Mounting the Fly on to the tank is a simple process. A zippered compartment under the bag hides the mounting straps: one zipper to open and another to close and I used this compartment to add additional foam padding. A single strap upfront is looped around the frame down tube and tightened via time-tested double-D fasteners. At the back, two straps on either side can be attached to any convenient chassis points and tightened with a similar fastening solution. This holds the bag quite firmly in position with minimum forward, backward or sideways movement. The D-Rings makes it easy to loosen the forward strap to allow access to the tank cap at fuel stops. The Fly can also be mounted as a tail bag quite easily.

The protection, exterior and interior, is excellent even though ViaTerra does not provide adjustable padded dividers inside like conventional camera bags. I wish that interior pocket was much larger with specialized compartments for memory cards, batteries et al, so that all your stuff would not get jumbled up and would be easier to access. The rain cover is flimsy and I doubt it would provide much protection in a heavy downpour. The zippers on the outside are exposed and perhaps a storm flap or an overhanging lip would make this bag a little more weather and dust proof. The mounting arrangement is excellent but I couldn’t help wondering if a two-piece bag would make life easier: a base that straps on to the tank, and the actual bag Velcroed and then strapped on to the base. This would be nice on longer rides: at the end of the day you could just unstrap the camerabag and pull it off the Velcro base instead of removing the whole rig, cleaning the dirty straps before stowing them away and repeating the exercise the next day.

On the two rides to Ladakh that I carried the Fly tank bag, I was able to stop and shoot much more than usual and in a much more convenient manner as my gear was now so easier to get to. On the whole, the ViaTerra FlyCamera Tank Bag performed very well on the ride even though I had to MacGyver the interiors for my needs. This bag finally offers motorcyclists in India a good solution to carry photographic gear in a safe and yet easy to access manner. And at a price of Rs 2,200, what you would pay for a standard local tank bag, it is definitely a sterling buy for motorcyclists who like to shoot.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Interview : Avinash Thadani

Who are you? 
Avinash Thadani. Born and Brought up in Bombay. Went to Doon for boarding, back to Bombay, then to the States for 12 years. Now back in Bombay to work in Advertising.

When did you first get interested in bikes? 
When I was 10 years old, I saw Top gun. Thought he was the coolest guy because he flew planes and rode bikes. After that there was no turning back.

GPZ 900r, Leather Jacket and Aviators cool we approve but Tom what happened to the Helmet?  

What was your first bike you ever owned?
I was in the States, turned 21 I saved enough money and bought myself my first bike. A 1988 Honda Rebel 450 cc.Its got to be the coolest bike I ever had, and the way I felt when I rode it is still unmatched. I learned to ride while testing the bike out.

What is your favorite bike?
This is tough one.
KTM's will always be my favorite bikes, because they are just abnormal. They are fun and they give me the power to feel I can go anyplace in the world. My goal is to go where the streets have no name, and a KTM always takes me there.
The newer KTM's are not doing it for me, but the new 200 Duke is fun.
The KTM Supermoto is something I have been eyeing.
The KTM 2010 Dakar Speck is just too much to handle, and I want it - badly.
But the ultimate bike - hands down is my 2000 KTM 640 adventure.

However I would love a Ducati Sports Classic. It is the most beautiful bike I have ever seen. Next on the list is the Sports 1,000 Paul Smart addition - just sex on toast.

Would like the Enfield Desert Storm, think its quiet stylish.

Harley Street Bob. Its the best Harley out there, and it feel like a rough bike, unlike all the other bike which are built for the weekend pansy's.

I would kill for an old Norton.

1954 Nortan Manx

What bike would you like to see in India?
Ducati Sports Classic.

What was the first real trip you and your bike took?
The first trip was 1 month after i learned to ride. I bought my first bike (Honda rebel 450) on 28th August 2001. I learned to ride. Then September 11th happened. By the end of September I was itching to ride out. I had long hair and a big beard and I looked scary.

Once evening I got up at 8 PM, and said I am going. Got on the bike, and took 3 days to ride 1,000 miles to Washington DC. I had planned to go to NYC, but I got scared because everyone was freaked out by people like me. So I made it to DC, and chilled there for a week.

It was freezing cold, and I was scared going 80mph. I learned everything there is to know about myself, riding and motorcycles on that ride. I reached Wisconsin frozen, wet, almost frost bitten but happy as hell.

You spent four month in South America on your KTM how did that happen?
Saw a map, realized there was just one road from the top of N.America to the bottom of S.America. So obviously I wanted to ride it. Took 10 years of dreaming about it, talking about it, and planning it in my head. In July 2010 i got engaged to my girlfriend. We went to see a movie called Knight & Day (Tom Cruise, seems to be my inspiration) crap film but the character played by Cameron Diaz talks about how she always dreamt about driving to the Cape Horn (bottom of South America). Tom was like "if you keep dreaming it will never happen".

Thats when I realized my dream would never happen. I Told Pritha I had to do it, she promised to join at some point.

So I went back to NYC, sold our company, decided to return to India, but not before taking 4 months off to do the ride first.

As soon as I bought the bike the trip was on. From then it was just a matter of going through the motions. One thing lead to the next and finally in October I was off.
Flags of the world on the Bolivian Salt Flats

What kind of preparations did you make your ride?
Got the visas.
Got Wolfman luggage and a few spares.
I had read many travel books like Jupiters travels etc, so I know what the deal was.
Saw the Horizons unlimited DVD on what to take.
Got a lonely planet, and that was it.

Most importantly what bank did you hold up to pay for the ride? 
It didn't cost as much as you might imagine.
I did it in $30k. Most of the money went in Flying my bike to Colombia, then shipping it back to India. While on the road you manage in $20-$50 a day. South America is really cheap.
My company got sold, I had a small part in it, so I have a bit of cash for the ride.

What is the ultimate dream ride for you ?
Road of bones, but with no back up.
Trans Siberian Pass

Whats parked in your garage right now?
KTM 640 Adventure
KTM Duke 200
Enfield 500 Machismo

Where are you riding to now?
Don't get to ride much, just working most of the time.

Do you have any advice for all those aspiring motorcycle nomads?
Its not about the kms or the countries you make it through. Its a state of mind. If you want to travel on a motorcycle, then you have to be ready to be exposed to the world. Once you do that then your on a different plane.

Take some time off to expose yourself to the world, and then the world will give it back to you.