When Simon Thackray stared out of a dull local pub window, he didn’t just see a waitress floating past with roast beef and Yorkshire puddings. The chap mused on the idea of sailing down the river in a giant pudding boat, and like Jack and the Beanstalk, this tiny seed grew into something much bigger. The Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race could be one of the wackiest festive celebrations worldwide, and amusingly, it created an ingenious mind looking at the world.
I can’t recollect the number of times I’ve looked out of a window for inspiration. It hasn’t been all that fruitful, so I’ve decided to expand my horizons a bit further this time around. I had to rejoice in a year of beautiful cars, surreal travelogues and sleepless nights that go behind the exciting pages of TopGear, not to forget the challenges that the pandemic presented. For that, I decided to celebrate life by hopping on a saddle, cruising down some fantastic highways and relaxing and unwinding amidst our crazy and eventful lives.
There is something about a grand celebration that reminds us of the purpose of our lives and the power of our closest relationships. What I required was a companion that wasn’t too loud, neither too chatty nor imposing. A set of wheels that could sinuously flow with my mind, change direction with my wandering thoughts, keep up the pace, and alter personalities with my emotional train. A product of wisdom that brings in the learnings of the past to perfect the present. A Triumph to cherish the triumph.
Having flicked through the bikes available in India, I right-swiped the moody and mean Bonneville T120 Black to be my two-up on an interstate highway affair. The perfect balance of poise, elegance, and urban attitude, the T120 Black is the direct descendent of the legendary 1959 Bonneville motorcycle, an undisputed motorcycle icon. A motorbike that’s pure Triumph, but with a darker side. Some interesting trail of thoughts followed in; I’m only sharing the ones mutually agreed upon.
New places, new roads and a fresh new perspective. I began searching for the best riding routes on my flight to Delhi (yes, that’s some excellent planning right there), but those are the perks of not being married and the ability to live out of a duffle bag. The journey had to include some unmonitored straight stretches, good sections of twisties and a schedule that would allow me to soak in plenty of morning sun to help my body revitalise on some Vitamin D.
The farmers’ protest was something else that had to be dealt with. Not being political, many highway sections were closed, and commuters were forced to plan alternative routes. What immediately caught my attention was the Sutlej river flowing close to the road that I had in mind. Ditching the highway, I decided to ride by the banks (as much as possible) and follow the stream upwards till Naldehra. I penned down a few vitals, texted Jay about my route plan, slipped into my riding gear and hopped onto the retro-classic for an adventure. Because most of our days are spent doing trivial tasks like working or cleaning our homes, we all need things to look forward to.
As a customary practice, I spent the initial hour getting used to the T120 Black, breaking the ice and building our conversations. The ride through Delhi city ensured I got well-versed with the dynamics and was surprised by how inviting and friendly this cruiser is. Though it has a massive 1,200cc engine, this is an easy rider, contrary to what you’d expect. Make no mistake, though. It is a giant bike and packs in an extremely torquey motor under that stealthy black suit that it wears.
As the roads widened and the traffic disappeared, our conversations started to get more intense. This might be a Triumph taking inspiration from the yesteryears, but it’s equally modern and slick. The engine is ultra-refined, with only minute vibrations appearing on the handlebars above 5,000rpm, an ideal base to let my mind wander off in all directions. And watching my back were the brakes – three discs between the two axles with the brand’s latest ABS had such confidence-inspiring braking, it was brilliant.
The roads in Punjab had a different story to tell. Vast lands of farms spreading both ways, vendors decorating the highway with farm-fresh oranges and tarmac so soft you’d want to stop and kiss it. That, along with an extremely comfortable and wide saddle on the T120 Black, allowed me to push myself and complete the day’s run without any intervals. Even after a five-hour journey, I wasn’t drained. A thought that made me smile as I checked into the hotel for the day.
I would suggest having a cosy, snuggly morning in such cold towns. But if you’re brave enough to challenge the frigid temperatures, drag yourself out of bed and breathe that chilled, pure air. It’s therapeutic. There’s something to look forward to – the golden rays that are usually cursed in Mumbai deemed superbly enjoyable, allowing me to warm my blood like a reptile. And joining me with sun-basking was my companion, both of us next to the pool, dressed in all-black. Well, almost. Do you hear those wedding chimes too?
The romantic setting was crushed with the urge to ride further, and that wasn’t a bad thing considering I was entering the second day of our ‘relationship’. Although it technically meant I wouldn’t be riding on the road, as the locals had suggested a quicker way up. A dried-up river bed filled with pebbles, flat enough to let me ride comfortably, would enable me to experience something that I haven’t whilst benefiting on time-saving as well. Now how to say no to such a proposition, even though it sounds foolish?
I’m glad I didn’t deny this opportunity. It turns out the river bed was favourably welcoming and easy to manoeuvre. Having stopped for some quick pictures, all I could think of is how crazy it’d be to ride here with water flowing. A task for the Triumph Tiger, maybe? Someday, but it’s a definite yes. Having saved roughly an hour and cutting down on some roads across the river, I re-joined the highway to enter the beautiful state of Himachal Pradesh.
Engaging highway sections had me drifting into my zone yet again, organising my thoughts, channelising the energy and creating the best from what my passion offers. Challenges are exciting, but the pandemic presented was an obstacle for humankind. While travelling through India’s vast plains, I could only agree upon how we’ve done a reasonably neat job in fighting things back. Through my helmet, I’d try to congratulate every passing soul telepathically.
These chains of thoughts were well caught up astride the T120 Black, and I’m glad we were on this celebratory ride together. The ride-by-wire throttle would obey my inputs skillfully, it would sense my frequencies and alter its dynamics, and it even could control my mind from wandering too far. Before embarking on this journey, I admit that I had questions about retro-modern motorcycles’ current adaptability. Why are these bikes still around, whom are these aimed at and in a world of sharp cuts and creases, why would a more aged design appeal to anyone?
Answers to this might be plenty, but the lessons learnt were different. To put it down straight, I wasn’t as mature as the Triumph was. Yes, it does wear a likeable, tried and tested attire, but it is all modern. It’s a lethal combination with a broad reach, appealing to riders of all sorts and age. It’s a bike that defines the very existence of their legendary Bonneville series, carrying forward the British legacy and essence of freedom. It’s so strong; it still manages to play your strings amongst the other technically advanced and relatively new nametags from the brand.
The ascent up the hills brought more capabilities of the T120 Black to the limelight. The adequately raised and wide handlebar combined with its flickable nature let me dive into turns aggressively, uniting me with the joy of enjoying a motorbike on good sections. Things only got better as we climbed up the altitude, with more breath-taking views surrounding my vision. These were moments of joy with a heart filled with glee and optimism. There is something deep inside humanity that loves to celebrate the best things in life, and that is the same note playing within me.
I’d be too content already, but Mother Nature had different plans. On the last leg of the route the day after, I was greeted with snow on a few road sections. The first sight brought me to a complete stop in awe. The T120 Black looked more gorgeous than ever, contrasting with the white background in such glory. Perhaps the best thing about a celebration of any kind is that it makes our lives richer and fuller.
I’ve jotted down these words from the comfort of my heated Jacuzzi in a resort in Narkhanda that overlooks towering snow-capped mountains, reflecting on how concurrent the trip has been. The ride tomorrow is reasonably straight and straightforward, with me progressing to Delhi via the national highway, ensuring I’m back in time for the late-evening flight. But before I get back to the hustle, I’ve taken a few moments from the cocooned comfort of mine to establish some facts.
First, Triumph makes bloody good motorcycles, and they are supremely skilled at what they do. We’ve always known this, but given how well the T120 Black behaved, I ought to mention it yet again. Second, and on a more important note, one of the biggest keys to getting the most out of life is to have celebrations for no real reason at all. Look around – the mountains, the plateaus with their monuments, the stories surrounding them, the history, the heritage, the tales. All capable to outlive a typical human lifespan. These things have spanned through generations and stayed steady throughout. Almost. We have only one chance to celebrate our lives on this beautiful planet, so don’t ever miss celebrating our existence. I hope you enjoy flicking through these pages that we’ve put together as a team, telling you stories from different parts of this planet. Salute to a year filled with adventure and experiences. Here’s to more dynamic pages in the upcoming issues.