The Telegraph
| Sunday, February 28, 2016 |

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Riding into the sun

Cruising through Rajasthan on ultra-comfortable Harley-Davidsons was a breeze, says Rishad Saam Mehta

  • The riders fired up their bikes for the first time under the shadow of Jodhpur’s imposing Mehrangarh Fort

The moment I pressed the starter button I was rewarded with the sound of lethargic mechanical cranking as a gigantic engine turned over and fired up. And, this shimmering curvaceous black and chrome mechanical beauty came alive like a slumbering giant being rudely awakened.

It had been 10 years since I had swung my leg over a Harley-Davidson and I had almost forgotten how boisterous this American icon was. Worrying about waking up your neighbour? Don’t! Worry instead about waking up the entire block!

Harley-Davidson India was launching the 1200 Custom Sportster and had orga-nised a ride in Rajasthan for it. Since it was winter it meant perfect cruising weather.

When you buy a Harley, you don’t buy a motorcycle, you become an inadvertent member of a cult that believes in a certain way of life.

First, we were divided into groups of four and put up at different hotels in Jodhpur with no idea of the plan. Each member of each group was given clues by way of clandestine cards slipped under the hotel room’s door. Together they would give us the plan. This whole exercise had a sense of riding to enjoy the ride without knowing the final destination and solving clues together — and this built camaraderie. These two are sort of tenets of the Harley way of life.

So the four of us grouped together at the Hari Mahal Taj Vivanta in Jodhpur figured out that we had to ride west from Jodhpur for 62km to get our next clue. The ride started off under the shadow of the imposing Mehrangarh Fort.

  • The new Harley-Davidson 1200 Custom Sportster is fun to throw around corners.
    PHOTO COURTESY: RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

I was given the 2016 Custom Fat Boy Softail with the high output 1,690cc engine and that is the one that I fired up at the start of this story. This big motorcycle notches into the first gear with a hearty clunk much like my humble Royal Enfield, but I have a feeling that is a remnant from the Harleys of yore and has not been engineered out because of emotion and nostalgia.

Pottering about in Jodhpur traffic I felt like a modern Maharaja on a mechanical elephant. Because this good looking and loud Harley with its chromed solid disc wheels, its muscular V configuration engine and its curvaceous rear fender attracted as much attention as a bedecked pachyderm.

While it did have its grumpy grandpa moments while crawling in traffic and navigating sadistic speedbreakers in the city, it was out on NH114 that it really started to show it’s true colours. It was at a petrol pump at Balesar 62km away that each of the four bills had a clue in the very last line that added up to the Pokhran Fort about 100km away.

It is on NH114 from Balesar to Pokhran that I happily realised what it is about a Harley that makes you get on it and ride it to the horizon. To say that is was comfortable would be an understatement. It was like riding while sitting in the comfort of a plush sofa. At all speeds from 35kmph to 150kmph, never did I see multiple reflections in my rear view mirror because the ride of this Fat Boy is so smooth.

  • The Harley-Davidson Fat Boy is a fabulous bike for long, inter-city rides.
    PHOTO: RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

  • At Suryagarh in Jaisalmer, Harley-Davidson’s new 1200 Custom Sportster motorbike awaited the riders. PHOTO: RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

Besides that it had oodles of torque from way down its rev range that does not let up across almost the entire sweep of the RPM meter. This meant I could cruise comfortably in the 6th and slowing down a bit for traffic or wayward cattle didn’t warrant a downshift. Even when I had to reduce speed from 120kmph to 50kmph, shifting down to the fourth would be enough to get me back to original speed in a wink. We got to Pokhran in just under an hour.

More clues were waiting there in the form of geographical co-ordinates and feeding them into Google Maps  told us that the next destination was Suryagarh, Jaisalmer, 136km away.

  • MAP BY NILRATAN MAITY. NOT TO SCALE

The road from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer is fabulous, but hidden dangers lurk by way of wandering camels and sand on the road. It also has plenty of sweeping corners and I was delighted to find that the Fat Boy, which I had always regarded as a ‘straight line’ bike, could lean into these corners with grace and confidence at three-digit speeds thanks to its dynamics and the 200mm wide rear Dunlop tyre. And when I had to brake hard on sand,  the ABS kept everything neat and tidy. It was a fabulous ride and we arrived in Jaisalmer accompanied by the fiery setting sun.

The next morning the rides on the two new Harley-Davidson 1200 Custom Sportsters were brief. But I came away quite impressed because for one the bike with its chrome, its dominating V engine and swept back handlebars looks every bit a Harley. Secondly it is powered by a potent engine. It also feels like a Sportster because it is quite nimble and corners very confidently. But ABS, which is noticeably missing, will be a welcome addition.

You could also use the 1200 Sport-ster as a cruiser and at Rs 8.9 lakh it is definitely a sweet ride to buy, but, honestly, for ride back to Jodhpur I would certainly swing my leg over the Fat Boy. But then that retails at around Rs 15.5 lakh.