Everything I know about riding bikes is suddenly turned upside down. If I follow my instincts, I’m definitely going to end up in the dirt. After years of ascent, I feel like I’ve fallen off the ladder of riding knowledge and must once more begin the climb from the humble bottom rung. You see, all my motorcycling experience is centred around the sensation of grip, to the extent that I now know my way around a racetrack fairly well. But my level of off-road riding experience is restricted to a bit of fumbling around on big ADV bikes and a dash of fun on Royal Enfield Himalayan FI that you would have read about earlier in this issue. So when we arrived at TVS’ motocross track at Anekal, Karnataka, and watched Aravind KP warm up on his rally bike by making enormous jumps in the most matter-of-fact style, I felt a long-forgotten feeling setting in – a fear at the prospect of riding a motorcycle.
But someone on the telly once said, “ahead of fear lies victory” (I suspect that sounds better in Hindi), so we got into our riding gear and prepared for what lay ahead. Thankfully, we had three excellent guides on hand in the form of TVS’ Dakar challengers, starting with our very own Aravind KP, Adrien Metge and insanely skilled madman, Joan Pedrero. After as much theory and “take it easy, don’t hurt yourself” we could possibly cram into our heads in such a short time, it was time to hop on the bikes.
|TVS RTR 200 Rally|
|Engine||197.8cc, single-cylinder, four-stroke, air/oil-cooled|
|Suspension (front)||Telescopic fork, 150mm travel|
|Suspension (rear)||Monoshock, 110mm travel|
And hop many did, because the Sherco TVS rally bikes have ludicrously tall seat heights, try 970mm on for size on the Dakar bike! For once, my long inseam proved beneficial on a motorcycle, and I could actually get my toes down on both feet. Hurray for small victories. With a smidgen of confidence back in the kitty, I set off for my first session on the RTR 450FX. This is the full-size dirt bike that TVS enters into domestic rallies with. The bike, as well as the Dakar machine, is built by French specialists Sherco along with some inputs from TVS. Since the Dakar programme began in 2015, TVS has had a more involved role in the development of these highly specialised competition machines. These learnings then go back into TVS own product development.
Now instead of diving deep into the spec sheet, I’m going to try to give you an idea of what these race-bred machines feel like to a completely untrained hand. First off, though these bikes may be intimidatingly tall, but they’re also incredibly slim. The 450FX, for example, weighs just 120kg dry, and while TVS won’t confirm a power figure, I suspect you’re looking at well over 50hp from the compact single. Gingerly releasing the clutch, I half expected the bike to either stall or loop me over backwards, but it was actually quite well behaved and set off fairly smoothly.
But a few degrees more of that quick-action throttle releases a rapid burst of acceleration, which takes some getting used to. In a broad sense, the force of acceleration isn’t quite as rabid as a full-blown superbike, especially above third gear. But to feel that 140-section Michelin knobby rear tyre dramatically squirm and slide as it lays down all that power in the dirt is startling to say the least. In fact, perhaps the most alien sensation of riding in dirt is judging how much traction you have. From the looks of the surface, there’s precious little, but these tyres are incredible at hooking up and finding grip. Ultimately, I neither had the seat time nor talent (or inclination) to go hunting for the limit.
|TVS RTR 450FX|
|Engine||450cc, single-cylinder, four-stroke, liquid-cooled|
|Suspension (front)||48mm USD forks, 300mm travel|
|Suspension (rear)||Monoshock, 330mm travel|
An offset of all this grip is how much braking you can get done using the front brake, and when you add in the rear, stopping distances are nowhere near as long as I expected. As for the fully adjustable suspension, with 300mm of travel at the front and 330mm at the back, I was expecting a pillow-soft ride, but this is not the case. The 450FX has a hint of firmness to the damping and while it soaks in bigger jumps beautifully, it’s not quite as settled over faster bumps and ruts. This was one of the only areas where I found similarities between the rules for road riding and off-road work – it’s vital to lock onto the bike with your heels, thighs and core while leaving the upper body loose and free. Instinctively tensing up your arms is an easy mistake to make, but it quickly leads to crippling fatigue.
After the RTR 450FX, I met a much more familiar machine, the RTR 200 rally bike. This bike is a much simpler machine and is fairly similar to the stock RTR. Modifications include strengthening the frame, lightly tuning the engine for more power as well as some modifications to the suspension damping. The RTR 200 felt a little too small for me, but it was easily the most enjoyable of the lot simply because it was that much less daunting to ride. But that doesn’t mean it was boring and there’s more than enough power to provoke the nimble chassis into snapping sideways at will. In fact, the most noticeable difference from the big boys wasn’t the significantly lower power so much as the lack of suspension sophistication, which simply couldn’t soak up bumps and jumps as effortlessly.
|Sherco TVS RTR 450 Dakar|
|Engine||449.4cc, single-cylinder, four-stroke, liquid-cooled |
|Suspension (front)||48mm WP USD forks, 300mm travel|
|Suspension (rear)||Monoshock, 330mm travel|
As a special treat, we were given a short ride on the Sherco TVS Dakar bike as well! This was an incredible opportunity and, though it was brief, what immediately stood out was how plush the WP suspension felt. The Dakar bike does an incredible job at isolating minor jolts from the rider, while retaining the damping ability to soak in the incredible abuse these bikes are put through for 9,000km straight at the Dakar. The transition from the ultra-plush initial movement to immense support as the fork compresses feels almost magical. This bike is right up there with the most incredible suspension I’ve ever experienced on any form of vehicle. With all its complex instrumentation and enormous size, the Sherco TVS RTR 450 Dakar is an intimidating beast that only highlights what warriors the men are who tame it over endless swathes of the harshest terrain. Respect.