Category Archives: Motorcycle

Royal Enfield Meteor 350 First Impressions

You all know I have a long history with motorcycles, of which I have owned quite a few over the years. This post is about my latest one, the Royal Enfield Meteor 350. I didn’t really like the last motorcycle I had or the one before it so I was hesitant to buy another one. But I hated waiting for Grab Bikes and ashamed of riding bitch. So I decided to buy one.

I did have my eyes set on this one, but after a test ride, I didn’t find its riding stance suitable for long highway rides. Coming from a long history with the RE Thunderbird, the natural progression would have been to buy an RE Meteor 350, but at first, I didn’t like the Meteor 350 I saw on Royal Enfield’s website (I found it too modern, especially the allow wheels and the powered coated engine) and I found the Super Meteor 650 too busy, so initially decided to buy the Classic 350.

Royal Enfield Classic 350
Royal Enfield Classic 350

However, when I went to the showroom, I saw the new Aurora Blue variant of the Meteor 350 and fell in love immediately and decided to buy that one.

Royal Enfield Meteor 350 in Aurora Blue
Royal Enfield Meteor 350 in Aurora Blue

Anyways, these are my views after 10 days/200km, specifically, comparing it to my previous motorcycles.

The Good

  1. The engine is so refined, I can hardly believe it is a Royal Enfield engine. There’re hardly any vibrations and absolutely no clanking. I am so glad they removed the pushrods and replaced them with a chain and overhead cam system. Even with a reduced stroke, the bike pulls quite well at low RPMs.
  2. There’s still the trademark thumping. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the exhaust actually sounds good/better than the completely muted Thunderbird Twinspark. The exhaust-to-engine noise ratio is vastly improved. When cruising at constant speed, you can hardly hear the engine, only the soft, bass-rich exhaust.
  3. I really like the dual-tone design, the chrome parts and the overall retro look compared to the regular Meteor 350. I love the spoke wheels, although that does mean giving up on having tubeless tyres.
  4. The new rider seat is quite comfortable with a subtle but useful back-rest.
  5. The LED headlamp is quite nice and illuminating at night.
  6. The Tripper is useful, but a bit limited. I will dedicate a separate section for the Tripper.
  7. Overall switchgear feels refined and comfortable to use.
  8. The USB port for charging is very useful.
  9. I didn’t like how the windshield looks, but I found it immensely helpful at moderate-high speeds. Allows me to keep my helmet visor open.

The Neutral

  1. I am not entirely sure I prefer the new digital cluster as compared to analog dials. I don’t really like or hate it.
  2. I don’t care for the ECO indicator or the gear indicator.
  3. Because of the refinement, the engine feels the same every time I ride, which is different from the carburettor Thunderbirds I was used to, which felt different based on temperature, humidity etc.
  4. This is my first motorcycle with a rear disc brake. The Dual-channel ABS is nice to have. The brakes do feel a bit mushy compared to what I am used to, though.

The Bad

  1. I really-really miss the tachometer. I won’t forgive Royal Enfield for removing it.
  2. They removed the kick starter to simplify the engine design. This means if the battery dies, you are screwed.
  3. The engine does get hot during start-stop traffic in the city and could have benefitted from liquid cooling. However, unlike the carburettor motorcycles, it does not cause the Idle RPM to runaway or cause knocking during acceleration, thanks to the ECU.
  4. The fuel level indication is wonky.
Meteor 350 at Bangchak Bang Na
Meteor 350 at Bangchak Bang Na

The Tripper

Tripper on the Royal Enfield Meteor 350

The Tripper is a pseudo-navigation system developed by Royal Enfield. Here are my thoughts on it:

  1. The tripper connects to the Royal Enfield app on your phone and receives instructions from your phone, hence is dependant on it. However, unlike doing navigation directly on the phone, using the tripper uses much less battery on the phone itself (I measured 6-7% drain per hour on my phone, all inclusive).
  2. It uses Google maps data, so navigation is quite accurate. Supports live re-routing and previewing multiple routes before starting the trip. Has the regular Google Maps options to exclude things like tolls, ferries, highways etc.
  3. At first, I struggled to understand tripper’s instructions and found myself stopping and reaching for my phone. However, once you make an effort to understand the symbols, it feels quite useful. I am now forcing myself not to look at my phone.
  4. This has also increased my directional awareness of and I find myself paying more attention to the road and signs instead of my phone.
Meteor 350 at a pit-stop at Nonthaburi
Meteor 350 at a pit-stop at Nonthaburi

Technical comparison with Previous Motorcycles

Here’s a comparison of specifications of different motorcycles I have had over the years (All single cylinder):

SpecificationRE ThunderbirdRE Thunderbird TSStallions CT400RE Meteor 350
Max Power18bhp
Max Torque26.97Nm
Compression Ratio8.5:18.5:18.8:19.5:1
Engine NameAVLUCEJ series
Kerb Weight175kg175kg160kg191kg
Fuel Tank14.3l14.3l13l15l
Fuel injectionCarburettorCarburettorEFIEFI
Valve OperationPushrodsSelf-adjusting PushrodsDOHCSOHC
Motorcycle Spec comparison

Looking forward to many long rides!

Road trip

I sold my last motorcycle back in 2015 & since then have not experienced a motorcycle road trip. A few weeks ago, I bought a new(ish) motorcycle from a departing Expat. Its the Stallions Centaur CT400 with a 400cc single cylinder 4 valve engine. I have ridden it many times since then, but only local short commutes. It goes without saying, the feeling of wanderlust has been building up inside me since.

Today morning, I went about my usual schedule and even started my office work. After taking stock of my work, I realized I had nothing too urgent to finish today. I decided to take the day off and head out to the highway on the motorcycle.

I settled on Ko Lan, an island around 160km away. To get there, you need to ride till Bali Hai Pier at Pattaya and then take a ferry to the island. I hastily collected a few things, put on Pink Floyd’s Pulse and headed out on the highway. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the fastest highway to Pattaya doesn’t allow motorcycles on it. Fortunately, the other highway which does allow Motorcycles was also more suitable for Motorcycle rides. Highway 3 is a winding 4-6 lane road which hugs the coast and passes near many beaches.

Motorcycle Road Trip
Highway 3

After escaping the mad traffic of Bangkok, I was finally able to open up the throttle on the highway. The motorcycle performs very well on the highway, cruising easily between 100-120kmph without too many vibrations (For a single cylinder engine). There’s ample reserve power for going faster for overtaking, too. I was able to reach Pattaya in 2.5 hours.

Deserted Bali Hai Pier

I was quickly disappointed to find the pier deserted and learnt that boats to Ko Lan were stopped because of the pandemic. Dejected, I decided to explore Pattaya instead and headed to Pattaya Beach. Thankfully, Chonburi province allows dine-in and I was able to have lunch at the beach.

After getting my feet wet in the water and relaxing for sometime, I headed back to Bangkok. I wanted to stay and watch the sunset but the constant attempts by she-pimps to persuade me to get a “massage” got on my nerves. My phone ran out of battery on the way back, and I lost my way twice on the outskirts of Bangkok but eventually reached home.

After going on a motorcycle road trip after so many years, I feel exhilarated. Needless to say, there will be many more road trips in the months to come.

My Worst Purchases-Honda Activa

So, I was “studying” in my first year of engineering (around the year 2002) in Nagpur and living with 2 of my seniors in a rented apartment. For those not familiar with Nagpur, public transportation was almost non-existent at that time and 95% of the people rode 2-wheelers (Motorcycles, Scooters & Mopeds), remaining 5% had cars.

I had nothing of my own and soon started to feel the heat of wanting to go everywhere but not being able to go anywhere.

I wanted to buy a bike, but the aforementioned jealous roommates didn’t want me to have one, so brainwashed my father into buying me a Honda Activa. I was desperate for anything, so didn’t argue much and greedily accepted it.

The Activa is by no means a bad scooter and it is quite handy for middle age men/women looking for a quick trip to the nearby stores or for kids who are just learning to ride. For a college freshman however, it was the social equivalent of walking around college with “dork” written on the back of his head in Bold letters.

As if the social ridicule wasn’t enough, the scooter was also not suited for a hormone ridden teenager riding around town “trying” to show off and competing with motorcycles. Inherently unstable, it caused me to have numerous accidents within the first few months itself.

Eventually, it was either continuing to ride the monstrosity or drop out of college, so I chose the former and sold it before it had completed one year.

It took 2/3 years, the manliest bike available in India at that time and a year away from college for people to forget I had one.

Thunderbird Twinspark – Initial impressions

Yesterday I became the proud owner of a Thunderbird Twinspark, 2012 model.

Since I got my last bike around 8 years ago, which was eventually stolen, the price has gone up around 50%. I was curious to find out what improvements the company had added in all these years and how different it was from my last one. Here’re my views as of now (100km)

  1. The colour is deeper and the texture feels smoother overall
  2. The front disc brake seems to be the same. Feels smoother than what I am used to, but my bike was almost 60000 km old
  3. The headlamp is brighter and now works even when the engine is turned off
  4. The instrument console is mostly the same, with minor differences
  5. The switchgear is much better. The indicator switch, the engine on/off switch, the push start switch all feel sturdy and softer. There’s no decompressor lever. The dipper switch which was almost unusable in the old bike is much better now. The handlebar weights are now chrome
  6. The “Royal Enfield” decal on the tank is now embossed rather than printed on a sticker. Frankly I preferred the latter
  7. They have added reflectors on both sides of the chassis just below the tank for better visibility when getting on/off the road
  8. The electric start is fast and responsive
  9. The kickstarter is largely in-effective. It doesn’t even engage with the engine till half-way down and it is clear that they have included it for exceptional cases and the electric starter is intended to start the vehicle most of the times
  10. The real brake is more effective and has less play
  11. The seat is more comfortable, especially for the lower back
  12. The factory fitted horn (single unit) is terrible. I had to get Bosch dual-tone horns fitted before I dared to take it out on the road
  13. The seating position seems to have been slightly tweaked for the better
  14. The center stand is better designed and requires very little effort to get the bike on and off the stand
  15. The wiring is better hidden and feels more taut

Here’re my thoughts on the engine

  1. The engine is smoother and feels sturdier and more reliable. Would know more in the long run
  2. The whirring noise from the engine is very noticeable. However, I know from experience that this would go down as the engine is driven in
  3. There’s almost no noise from the Pushrods or due to Cam backlash. Again, the consistency needs to be tested in the long run
  4. The torque and power is noticeably more, but I would know more once the engine is run in some more and I am able to rev to higher RPMs.
  5. Gear shifting is still tricky and false neutrals though quite rare, are still there.
I did around 100km since yesterday. Hope to complete 500km in 7-10 days so that the bike can go through its first servicing.

Goodbye to an old companion

Today is a sad day. Even though my bike was stolen almost 4 and half months ago, the reality hit my hard today. Maybe I hoped all along that my bike would be found and returned to me (even though the Police had made it clear that they don’t do any sort of investigations). The insurance company today gave me a cheque which is supposed to compensate me for losing my bike.
I booked my bike in December 2003 at Paragon Traders, the only Royal Enfield dealers in Nagpur at that time. My parents promised to buy it for me if I did well in my 3rd semester exams (everyone knows how that turned out). After a short waiting time, I was promised delivery in January 2004. I was at home in Chandigarh at that time and couldn’t wait to get back to Nagpur to get my hands on my new bike.
Finally, with a demand draft in hand, I was on a train back to Nagpur. I remember I couldn’t sleep the entire night because of anticipation. The train was supposed to reach at around 5.30 in the evening next day but I had taken my luggage and was standing near the train door since 4.30. Luckily, the train reached on time and I rushed home to drop my things and head to the dealership.
When I saw my bike, MH-31-XX-NN for the first time and was handed over the keys, I could hardly believe what was happening. It all seemed like a dream to me. The feeling I had when I rode the bike home was one of sheer pride. Everyone at the traffic lights would stare at us and some would ask the mileage or the price. In college, from far, I could see people gathered around my bikeShortly afterwards, my parents moved to Kolkata where I also moved with my bike for a year. Even though riding the bike was not as much fun as it was in Nagpur, we had a good time there.
The last 2 years of my engineering days in Nagpur were the best. All of us friends used to go on long rides to Boar Dam, Ramtek and many random places like Katol as well. The bike always performed efortlessly and reliability was flawless. I remember consistent full throttle runs which would take the bike above 120; even at those speeds it would feel smooth.

During this time, I started to fiddle with my bike and learnt basic things like opening the clutch compartment,  tuning the carb pitot jet etc. I experimented with various silencers (The Electra Glass Wool one and the Standard Short bottle one). We even used to roam around town with no silencer at all, scaring nearby people.

After that, graduation was over and I moved with my bike to Kolkata. My bike didn’t fare as well in Kolkata though. The piston siezed once because the oil pump was jammed and I had to get extensive engine work done. I still remember making multiple trips to the Enfield dealer in Wellington (twice with my mom as well) to get spares.
After a year in Kolkata, I moved to Gurgaon in a bid to improve my career and financial condition. Somehow I lost my bike’s registration certificate due to which I could not take it along with me. I remember making a single day trip to Nagpur by air to get the necessary work done at Nagpur RTO. Finally, after a month I got a new RC and was able to get my bike shipped to Gurgaon.

I remember once that I had not ridden my bike for more than a month during the monsoons. Older Enfields were prone to water leakage in the clutch compartment, which rusted my bike’s clutch plates and they welded together. The bike was completely immobile. I called the only 2 Royal Enfield Service Centers in Gurgaon but they refused to come to my place and fix the bike or tow it to their workshops. I woke up 4 hours earlier than I generally did those days, went to the dealership, got a brand new set of clutch plates and replaced them myself. It was a proud day. It was also in Gurgaon once that for the first time in 7 years, my bike refused to start at all (It turned out to be a bad connector on the battery).

As I did in Nagpur, I used to park my bike on the street in Gurgaon as well and never locked the handle. Someone exploited this security hole and stole my bike on New Year’s eve. My new year was ruined and I spent it at home.
Getting the necessary paperwork from Gurgaon Police was a major headache. Sometimes they made me feel as if it was my fault that my bike was stolen. They asked questions like “Who asked you to buy such an expensive bike?”. I also had to get some paers from Nagpur RTO, which was a pain. However, I commend ICICI Lombard insurance company for a no hassle claim process. They sent me the compensation cheque within a month of the police declaring the bike as “no-trace”.
I would have felt at ease if my bike was destroyed in an accident. What bothers me that someone else is riding my bike somewhere (I hardly allowed anyone to ride my bike). The only consolation is that I might never know.
Everything good must come to an end and so did my relationship with my bike. It was one of the things I was most fond of and it will always have a place very close to my heart.
Some old articles

Wild Hogs (No more)

3 years ago my Friend Ayan wrote a blog post about this movie, how 4 guys forget who they really were and head out into the open roads forgetting  wordly concerns.
But I would not write what it is about, as Ayan has already done a better job.
This is about how the movie moved me. I remember in college days we used to just start up our bikes, head over to far off places with no worries about when to return, how late it was getting and how to wake up on time the next day.
I remember many trips to Ramtek, Boar Dam and other places far away from the city. Most of the times, we didn’t even have an idea of where we were going. I remember many journeys on the Wardha Road, going hundred kilometers at a time, only turning back when the money in our pockets and the fuel in the tanks got low. Also, we travelled on the Koradi road heading up the hills many times just to get away from the city.
Still remember when heading back, there’s a point where you are still some way up the hills and you can get a good view of the Industrial Area, chimneys bellowing smoke in the backdrop of an amazing sunset.
No, in those days I didn’t have to worry about SLAs, attendance was the biggest joke, exams were a mere inconvenience and oil stains on my jeans were a part of life. Money was something Dad provided and I had no idea where it came from.
In Nagpur, wearing the helmet was forbidden, cars were a novelty and the long awesome flyovers were always free of 4 wheelers and you could test the max-speed of the bike whenever you wanted.
Of course, all that has changed now. My current life would be understandable from the fact that my bike is 5 years old, has 50,000 kms on it, 40,000 of it from the first 3 years.
Now I know if I take my bike out, I would be stopped at least twice on the way from here to CP and looted dry by the police; who due to some reason seem to have a personal enmity towards bike riders. Cars  have the right to have dark windows, screech tires into oblivion and ride over pedestrians. No one heard of a biker killing anyone on the road, still they are the ones who must suffer. Wild Hogs, no more. Domestic Swine most likely.
I feel like the guys in the movie feel. Only difference being they were in their late 40s and I am in my mid 20s.
I need a month off, a full tank of gas and the road spread out in front of me.

Replacing the clutch plates on a RE Thunderbird

A week back, when I was about to leave for office, I noticed the perfect weather. No rain, a cool breeze blowing, I decided to take my bike out.

I started my bike and as soon as I pulled in the clutch and engaged into first gear, the bike jumped forward and stalled. It’s as if the clutch wasn’t even there. I tried a few more times but the same.

Since the bike was immobile, I called the service centers for help and kept calling for a week, but they won’t send someone here or let me pick someone to repair my poor bike. A week went by but nothing happened. Meanwhile, day after beautiful day was being wasted with me travelling in the car.

After a few more days, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got a set of spanners, a set of allen keys, a new set of clutch plates and pressure plates and decided to open it up.

First comes out the left foot rest which is held together with a nut, then the gear lever using an allen key.

If you’ve a big enough bowl (as big as the clutch compartment) to catch the oil, just loosen the big nut at the center, tap the clutch compartment cover with a spanner and the oil will splash right down. If not, just unscrew the small nut on the bottom left and the oil will flow down slowly in a trickle (as pictured).

Notice the yellow colour? That’s an indication of water in the clutch compartment. The water rusts the components when the bike is still, when it’s in motion, the rusts scrapes off, gets mixed in the oil resulting in the strange color.

Next the clutch plates and the pressure plates come off. Start with loosening the three nuts on the center. Loosen them one at a time so that the thing comes off uniformly.

Below it you’ll find 3 springs. 3 attached to the lid that just came off and 3 the the upper plate.

Use a screwdriver to bring out the plates. Note that in my case, the plates are stuck to each other.

This is because the plates welded together due to the enormous heat caused by friction without proper lubrication. They do come off if u stick a screwdriver between them and pull, but they are useless now.

On the left is the alternator, on the right last pressure plate left in the clutch compartment. In my case it was stuck to the back wall so had to get a sharp instrument to wedge behind it and take it out.

Use plenty of petrol to splash the innards clean of the remaining rust. In my case, it took quite some time and I had to use a brush to scrape the grime off some tough spots. Spin the wheel, pouring petrol simultaneously to get the remaining crap off.

Put the new clutch plates in, one by one. First come the pressure plate, then a clutch plate, then a pressure plate, then a clutch plate, then a pressure plate, then a clutch plate, then a pressure plate, then a clutch plate, then a pressure plate, then a clutch plate, then the top pressure plate (in my case, I salvaged my old one).

(The clutch plates are the ones with the grooves, the pressure plates are the smooth ones)
Put on the lid with the springs and tighten the nuts, just past the tightening point. (pictured)

Start the bike, pour some more petrol while its spinning and operate the clutch lever, slowly tightening it till the desired tension. I did realize later that sparks from the alternator may have lit up the petrol but that didn’t happen.
Close up the clutch compartment and pour the oil in from the top hole (400ml).

The most common points of entry for water in the clutch compartment are

1. The place on top where the alternator wiring goes in
2. The clutch compartment seals themselves
3. The gear lever joint

Now I make sure I seal all these parts properly and work my bike every once in a while to prevent rust.
Hope this was helpful.

I can adjust pushrods!!!

DISCLAIMER: If after reading this, someone burns his engine valves or manages to get the pushrod off it’s rocker, please don’t come to me to claim damages.

This is one of the things that have been plaguing enfield owners from over half a century. The feature that gives the bullet it’s distinctive thump is also one of the performance bottlenecks of the engine and also a source of racket. Unlike other bikes which use a chain drive to open and close the valves, the enfield uses pushrods which are simply 2 rods which move up and down due to the motion of the cam and in turn open and close the valves. The most common drawback of the pushrods in a bullet is that if they are loose, the produce a lot of racket which only gets worse as the engine warms up. Quite frankly, I was tired of all the racket and even more tired of all the mechanics that “try” to adjust the “tappets” but the noise just doesn’t go away. The last straw was when the last mechanic loosened my pushrods even more and it was almost impossible to ride the back. It was time to take matters into my own hand.

Firstly, “adjusting tappets” is a wrong term because you don’t actually adjust the tappets, you just adjust the pushrods which in turn reduces tappet noise. I had tried my hand on this once before and even got a good setting but I forgot to tighten the locking nut and before I knew it, after revving the engine for a few seconds, the pushrod came off the rocker and I was left with a dead engine.

It took me almost 1.5 years to get my courage back and try this myself one more time. This is a step-by-step guide on what you need to do.

1. Bring the piston to TDC. On the cast iron engine, work the kick starter with the decompressor and wait for the moment when the Ampere meter shows 0. On the AVL engine, work the kick starter with the decompressor pressed till the time the decompressor is fully free. Open up the tappet cover while the engine is hot.
2. Feel both the pushrods and try to rotate them. They should just be free enough to rotate using some pressure from the thumb. If they don;t rotate at all, they are too tight. If they rotate too freely, or move up and down, they are too loose.
3. There are three nuts in each pushrod. The top HEX nut, the middle locking nut and the bottom adjusting nut. First unscrew the locking nut a little while holding the HEX nut in place with a spanner so that you can rotate the adjusting nut.
4. Increase or decrease the length of the pushrod by rotating the adjusting nut so that there’s no play and you can just rotate the pushrod with some pressure. Do this while holding the top hex nut with a spanner.
5. When you feel the setting is just right, hold both the hex and the adjusting nut in place with 2 spanners and slowly tighten the locking nut. This is the trickiest part because it is difficult to hold 2 spanners steady and adjust with the third one. It took me around 2 hours myself to perfect this part.
6. When you are done, just check if the adjusting nut is firmly tightened and if the pushrod setting is right. If you’re a newbie to this, it will take a few more tries.
7. Do the same with the other pushrod.

It is necessary that you do this while the engine is hot. If the engine cools appreciably while you’re doing this, your adjustment will be fine for a cold engine but the racket will start again when the engine warms up. This is what happened with me and I adjusted the pushrods too tight to compensate for the cold engine. After I had put the tappet cover back in, I realized that the kick starter was completely free and the engine didn’t have any compression at all. This was because I had adjusted the inlet pushrod too tight and the inlet valve wasn’t closing completely. I had to open it up again and start all over again by warming the bike. Just check that the kick starter should meet some resistance at a point on it’s way down. Also, adjusting them too tight may burn the valves, so be careful.

The best guide for bulleteers who want to maintain their own bike is Gurunandan’s website. This guy is an ace whom many people look up to for their bike queries. He’s very helpful and replies to your queries by mail(As long as they are valid).

Or, you can just go ahead and buy Pete Snidal’s bullet manual which is now for sale in India as well.

Road Trip

This weekend, I did what I wanted to do since many years. I wen to Chandigarh by bike, alone. Had slept very late friday night (in fact Saturday morning), still woke up at 8 to beat the early morning traffic. Wasn’t feeling very well(was suffering from cold and allergy) so went to the neighbourhood doctor who jabbed a syringe full of some medicine in me and I was up and running in half an hour. Left at around 9 in the morning and was out of Delhi in under an hour. Let the throttle open and did a constant 80-90 kmph till Karnal for 2 hours where I stopped for some coffee and Kathi Roll and to stretch my legs and wash my face. Reached Chandigarh around 2 in the afternoon and hung out with friends and boozed after many years. Slept like a log till next morning and after roaming around a bit more, left around 4 in the afternoon and once again, stopping only once at karnal for 15 minutes. The bike performed admirably even when I didn’t rest it for hours and didn’t drop my speed below 80. Reached gurgaon at around 9 at night. Waking up in the morning today, it all seems a dream but my aching back and neck are proof all that happened.

Engine failure..

Poor zapeedo, my trusty steed was recently struck down recently in the midst of his prime from a faulty connecting rod and crank. Now it’s at the greedy bloodsucking company service center waiting for a complete engine overhaul. Though it would be gone for a week now, and even after that I wouldn’t be riding it hard for quite some time, I couldn’t resist one last ride of thrill on him.