Features

Riding with the Stars

We are journalists, but we are also fans of the sport and we were not going to pass up an opportunity to ride with our idols

Words: Aatish Mishra

Photography: Rohit G Mane & TVS Racing

I remember the first time I caught a glimpse of the RTR 450 FX – it was at the Dakshin Dare two years ago. It was the first stage of the rally raid, and I was sitting jittery in the co-driver’s seat of my Esteem waiting for us to be called to the start. We were one of the latter cars to take a start, and the first few bikes were already making it to the first stage before we left. Aravind K P and Nataraj were the first to arrive on their RTR 450s – armed to the tee in their helmets and armour, their motorcycle’s braaap-braaping their war cry. It was one of those moments where I went weak in the knees. I didn’t catch much that day; save for the blue, white and red TVS Racing livery and the glorious sound of that single cylinder engine but I did get a closer look at the service park that evening. It was the first time I was up close with the Group A spec rally motorcycle.

Aravind gives us tips on how to be fast off-road

Throughout the rally, I got to see more of him and even caught him in action! We took a wrong turn on the third day, and lost a tremendous amount of time. The bikes that started after us had caught up, and Aravind was the first to blast past us flat out, his bike spitting gravel at the windscreen of the car. I should have been paying attention to my road book, but I was too busy sitting gobsmacked in the co-driver’s seat. We took another wrong turn after that.
Then there is Joan Pedrero.

If you spend even a smidgen of time on Instagram, and show any inclination towards motorcycles, Instagram’s algorithms are likely to throw up one of Pedrero’s videos on your feed. He’s unhinged, and that’s putting it mildly. His Instagram is filled with him thrashing his bike on dirt tracks, taking wild jumps, wheelie-ing and stoppie-ing indiscriminately. I honestly had no clue he was a Sherco-TVS Factory rider when I began following him, but his handle was (and still is) one of the coolest ones I follow. The third factory rider that is on the Sherco-TVS Racing team is Adrien Metge and he keeps a lower profile on social media – I didn’t know about him until he was introduced to the press as a rider for the team.

Aravind having a blast on his Dakar machine

Nevertheless, if you had told me back then – this wide-eyed kid on my third month in to the job – that I’d eventually ride an RTR 450 FX alongside Aravind and these two other Dakar riders, I’d have laughed at you and called you not very pleasant names for lifting my hopes up where there were none. But here I was at one of TVS Racing’s test tracks outside Bengaluru, all kitted up and swinging a leg over one.

You never know when you’ll come across a water crossing

The day started with a briefing. Pedrero told us to grow big balls and ride hard. The TVS guys reminded us that we were not racing, and we were just here for ‘the experience’. Basically, that we shouldn’t do anything stupid and kill ourselves. Aravind gave us some tips on how to sit on the bikes – sit forward, grip the tank with the knees with the upper body loose. But then, we were told to ride. Aravind led us out on his Dakar machine and showed us around the track. The track is essentially a supercross track with huge jumps, but the TVS guys had fashioned out a mock rally track with some fast sections, and some slow ones and even a water splash.

the RTR 450FX is based on a Sherco 450 enduro machine

The first thing you want to learn on the TVS RTR 450 FX is how to be judicious with the throttle – wringing it sets fire to the rear tyre and sends it spinning wildly. Not fun, if you’re not expecting it. The next thing you’ve got to get used to is the crazy level of grip the aggressive knobbies have on dirt. So stop being a wuss and throw your bike in to corners! Lastly, you’ve got to trust the suspension to deal with whatever you throw at it — it soaks up everything from large jumps to small humps with such conviction — the barrier is in your head. And your skill, of which I have close to none.

The trio of Aravind, Pedrero and Metge have plenty of skill, and they were not shying away from showing it off. They were taking huge jumps, sliding the bikes about wildly and basically putting on a show for all of us. When they returned to the holding area, we found out that they were actually holding back because they didn’t want to hurt themselves before the Dakar! I can’t even imagine what debauchery they’d be up to if they were given a free run. They were just toying with the motorcycles, while I found them to be quite a handful. To think they do this for 800km a day in the harshness of the Dakar is simply mind-boggling. Respect. Huge, respect.

The RTR 200 rally machine is used in rallies across India today

It is a special feeling, riding with your idols. Aravind is one of two Indian riders at the Dakar, and comes from a country where motorsport still has a long way to go. Pedrero has ridden with the KTM factory, was Marc Coma’s support rider, and finished fifth at the 2011 and 2013 Dakar. Metge is the youngest rider here, at 30, and he finished 11th at the Dakar in his first attempt. Every single one of these guys have tremendous achievements, and to be able to ride alongside them is nothing short of an honour. As a journalist, it was a sobering experience. It got me to understand the gravity of their capabilities and the mountain of a task ahead of them. As a fan, it was an elating experience. To ride, learn and simply hang out with them – it doesn’t get better than that. L

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