Isn’t it a bit strange that we see more track-oriented sports bikes than dirt bikes in a country that is as off-road-ready as ours? We have a total of just three racetracks in India, but thousands of trails out there that are just begging for purpose-built dirt bikes. This almost leads me to believe that these sport bikes are being bought more as a style statement than anything else. However, that is a discussion for another day. What I am trying to get at is that there is a huge shortage of them here and that, even in 2019, getting a chance to ride one is a novelty. In fact, the experience I am going to tell you is about the first time I got to ride an actual dirt bike after being a motorcyclist for nine years.
The bike in question is a Honda CRF230F – a 223cc, four-stroke, entry-level machine that sat on knobbies. No lights, no speedometer, no key and a huge rear sprocket put the bike’s off-road intent on display. With a ground clearance of 300mm and a seat height of 880mm, the bike sits tall and getting on it requires a karate-style roundhouse kick – it was the real deal. Why was I riding it? Favre-Leuba is to thank. A Swiss watch brand with centuries of experience, Favre-Leuba is now sponsoring Dakar rider CS Santosh and the company called us out to Santosh’s dirt park near Bengaluru to talk watches and motorcycles with the man himself.
What you are looking at is more than Rs 10 lakh worth of Favre-Leuba watches. The one on CS Santosh’s hand is the new Raider Sea Sky that costs Rs 2.63 lakh.
CS Santosh had planned for us a ‘masterclass’, which comprised three quick drills that were designed to cement our basics in the dirt. The first one was a straightforward cone drill where body positioning and technique was more of a concern than speed. The demonstration CS gave us for this was stunning, he was smooth and maintained the pace throughout, while also moving his body gracefully from side to side. However, this wasn’t the first time I was doing this and I
knew it looked deceptively simple. It was time to give it a shot and one mistake I knew I wasn’t going to make was enter too quickly – I had made that mistake far too many times in the past. Carrying too much speed will leave you focusing more on the brakes and making the turn instead of working on more important things like body positioning.
Despite not making the beginner mistake, I still couldn’t get a hang of it. Sticking your posterior out on the opposite side of what the bike is leaning into takes time getting used to, and switching constantly from side to side makes it quite demanding. The last time I did this drill was on a gigantic BMW R 1250 GS. You’d think I would have found it easier on the light CRF, but that wasn’t the case – which goes to show how much these drills are about the rider and not the motorcycle.
Sitting as far back as possible for the brake test.
Our next drill also involved cones, but only two this time around. The first cone indicates where you begin braking and the second where you stop. Braking drills are always one of the first lessons in any motorcycle class, be it on the road or in the dirt. It’s also one that can dramatically change the way you ride. CS didn’t waste much time talking, all he told us was that 70 percent our braking should be from the front brake, and the rest from the rear. He also asked us to sit as far back as we could, so as to not load the front end with excessive weight that could result in it washing out. I won’t lie, going hard on the front brake on the CRF is a bit unnerving because the soft, long travel fork just loves to compress. However, sitting far back and transferring most of my body weight to the rear did help with this significantly.
I said a little prayer before going in.
The final lesson for the day was how to correctly go uphill and downhill. We went to what must be the biggest ditch at the Big Rock Dirtpark – a steep 20ft plunge. CS asked us to sit as far back as possible while going down, and as far forward as possible while going up. He explained that if our weight was loading the rear on a climb, the front wheel could go up and even flip the bike. The second time around, he asked us to try the same thing but standing, which felt a lot more natural. The only mistake a lot of us were making in this drill was using the clutch. CS insisted that we should rely only on engine braking, and he kept us repeating the drill till he saw our fingers stay off the clutch lever.
It was a good day on two wheels and a great time learning from CS Santosh. It’s great to see a motorsport personality getting the backing of a big brand like Favre-Leuba, which has recently been acquired by the Tata Group. Funding is everything in motorsport and this new tie-up will do CS well.