Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My First Bike (Suzuki Samurai) - 2001

It is very hard to explain what all feelings a guy goes through as he enters adolescence about different things, but I am damn sure that one of the very important acquisition / achievement of a guy would always be his first bike. I know a lot of you guys will definitely agree with me on that, wont you? I had no opportunity to get one while I was in college neither I was keen on getting one as I had enough friends and their bikes to ride on. But when I got into my first job – the first thing which I wanted to own ever was a damn good bike. High priority was looks, pick up, nice noise and the last was an average mileage. As I lay my hands on my first pay check – my wish of getting the bike became stronger and right then – a very good friend of mine got one for himself – that happened to be a brand new shining Suzuki Samurai, his was a combination of Blue and Green. I decided right at that moment while taking a test ride on his bike that THIS IS IT. I have to get it now – high time – I had a bike of my own. First thing I did was run to the closest Yamaha showroom and to my shock they had already discontinued the Yamaha RX135 too and RX100 which was a dream bike of the whole generation of my likes was anyways discontinued long back. Thanks to the increasing pollution norms – India was moving towards a four stroke revolution which made less pollution as per whoever was deciding on that. They had the dumbest looking dead bike on display – I wasn’t keen on taking a test ride, let alone buying it. Bajaj had nothing to offer as they were already selling their 4S as Kawasaki too was long gone which as per me was the second best bike after Yamaha’s RX100 when it comes to looks, pick up and awesome noise it made. We shot to a TVS Suzuki showroom with a hope that they were still selling Suzuki Shogun but we got another heartbreak – they had a Shogun standing in showroom but the owner warned us to not to take it as that was the last of the lot and they weren’t getting anymore delivered. He advised me to rather go for a Samurai which was still in production than to settle for a bike which was going off it. 

Shogun was an awesome looking bike with a neat and well powered engine – I was drooling looking at that fire red bike in the showroom but I guess my friend warned me too to not to go for it and I had no other option but to settle for Samurai as the last resort. Even Suzuki had launched a four stroke bike recently and the sales guys were too keen on that to sell than Samurai but I had to take it because it was the only two stroke bike in the market with average looks but a nice pick up in comparison to those 100cc Four Stroke bikes being sold in the market then. Finished off the paperwork in a jiffy, issued 24 cheques, paid the down payment and immediately I was handed over the keys of a brand new Black and Yellow bike. Our office was hardly 5 lanes behind the showroom hence the owner let us take the delivery immediately as he knew the company we worked for, quite well. I wish I could explain my feelings on that day as I took the delivery and both of us went to our office in our brand new achievements. I rode it with such awe and panache while my neck tie fluttered in air behind me; it was too good a feeling that I can’t seriously contain them in words today. The whole day I was looking for an opportunity to go out and ride the beauty. I waited till some announced “Who is going to Bank today to drop the payments?”, and I immediately got up saying “Oh yeah, I have other works on that side of town, let me go”. I had already picked up a helmet from the showroom and a helmet lock which was fixed on the rear end of the bike as you can see on the picture below. Leg guards were duly fitted with a Sari guard on the back as I was already looking forward to drop whosoever wanted to be dropped amongst my office colleague to wherever for the whole upcoming month. First thing I did that day was – we went to the nearest fuel pump and got it tanked up, to my amazement it drank almost like 10 liters of petrol, I guess company claimed somewhere around 55 KMPL and that should be more than enough supply for the whole month, as my office wasn’t too far from where I stayed.

Power and Specification: Samurai was a 98cc Bike with 7.5 BHP’s air cooled engine, which was good enough for a light weighed guy like me and I made sure to take a flying start every time I started from home or office or any traffic signal, with bike making awesome pick up noise. The meter console was quite straight forward and simple with no tachometer, it just had the speedometer with turn indicators on the top left and right side with two more lights showing neutral and head light high beam. Two turn indicators on the head lamp and two on the tail light. I totally loved its broad and bright tail lamp which actually looked good from a distance. Fuel tank capacity was I guess around 11 liters with one liter will went to reserve. Showroom guy instructed me to not to go beyond 60 KMPH till I hit a minimum 1000 kilometers and get the first service done. With a two stroke engine and four speed gear box – it was fairly easy to ride with simple all 4 gears down, it wasn’t confusing like a Yamaha where you have one down and 3 up and a neutral in between. One thing that I loved about a two stroke engine was – if your bike stops on any of the gears – you could start them again by just pressing the clutch and kicking, unlike the four stroke bikes of that era on which you need to get to neutral first before kicking them alive. I guess now that’s a default feature on all bikes.

Fun on Samurai: I had a lot of fun with my bike, was totally in love with it right from the day I acquired it till the very last day when I bid it goodbye. Although the day I took its delivery, I thought I am never going to dispose it – being my first important acquisition but I guess fate had something else in store for me, more on that later. As its advertisement said during those days on TV, it was indeed a “No Problem” bike. I hardly remember doing anything other than just refueling it and getting the regular service done that too was hardly any cost. The way I used and abused it was totally awesome, as I remember my office parking was like over a footpath, that’s quite a trend back in Delhi which is always out of space. It was quite a tedious task to park the bike in the morning as I had to actually ride it up to the footpath from the ramp and find a location or gap to fit it in. But in the evening when I returned – the scene was chock a block as with so many bikes parked – it was too tough to take it out and cross all the way to the entry of the ramp and go down on the road, the other option being going down a flight of three stairs right from where the bike was parked – I always took the shortcut as bikes clearance was quite high and I had no problems jumping it down three stairs at a slow speed and then take a nice pick up, it was quite a stunt everyday. I even took on the highway too in an emergency as I had to drop a friend’s wife to Meerut from Delhi (Around 90 kms one way) that too she wanted to take her own car. So I took a friend of mine along, on the way to Meerut I drove her car and my friend followed us on my bike. We returned right after reaching her home and parking her car, didn’t even stop for a cup of tea and had no issues doing almost 200 Kms in one go – non stop. That’s the only trip that I did on the state highway on my bike. My everyday ride was around 25 Kms a side and total 50-60 kms a day as I had a history of not coming straight home – ever from office. The mileage that I got from Samurai was exact 550 KMS per 10 Liter of fuel, I guess that was quite decent for my style of riding it and I was indeed happy with it.

Two Years Later - One fateful day – on my way to office around Connaught Place – an over speeding Esteem guy hit me from the back. Fortunately, nothing much happened to me or to the bike, I flew a little bit and landed on another cars roof going ahead of me, with couple of broken teeth. I received around 15 stitches inside my mouth. Bike’s front shock absorber was bent and rear view mirror broke. I was shocked and surprised that Delhi Police was quite helpful as they immediately took me to the nearest hospital and even settled bill too. The dude got picked up too but I did not press charges as it was a mistake and nothing that he did intentionally. I sent the bike to service station for repairs and it took me indeed couple of weeks to come to terms with the accident. One good thing which came out after the accident was – I had to quit smoking because I couldn’t smoke with my mouth almost sealed. I indeed had a great time with the "No Problem" bike – but we had to bid good bye soon after the incident as I decided to settle for a car instead as that will be more secure than riding a bike in today’s growing traffic.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fiat Siena Weekend - Comes Home! (2000)

It took us a couple of years in realizing that we should have gone for a Diesel car instead of petrol, at least one of them as we had to travel long distance every alternate weekend with my nephews school in Dehradoon. That was the fun part as I loved driving and this was my opportunity to upgrade my driving skills every time we went early in the morning, had a fun day with him and returned by late night. I don’t remember if Hyundai Accent was launched in diesel at that time or not. I guess they even launched Maruti Esteem too in diesel but if the market reports were to be believed – it wasn’t a success either. As my cousin who himself was an auto expert in his own rights claimed that even Hyundai Accent Diesel was not a great idea as its body was too weak to hold that heavy engine and it would surely not last long, whatever that logic might be – it was beyond me at that time and now I know what he meant – when I look back and think what happened to those cars and where they stand today. We couldn’t have settled for a hatch back cause of the space requirement. Right then, fiat launched its Siena and Siena Weekend model and we were totally bowled over the design and beauty of Weekend. I guess it was India’s first station wagon design that too with diesel and at that lucrative price was totally awesome. Over and above it – the car had Air bags too in the top of the line model. Immediately we booked a test drive and to our shock the nearest showroom was almost a 40 odd Kms from our place. But their sales guys obliged by sending a test drive car straight to our home with a damn good guy who had thorough knowledge about the car and its features too. The car was indeed a head turner for sure as wherever we went while test driving it, people would definitely turn and look at it again as to know what car was that. That was a great feeling to drive something unique and we indeed waited for the company guys to deliver our car. We settled as usual for a silver color – I again so much wished my cousin this time would pick up a black or may be a red but no ways, I guess after certain age – all one likes is either silver or white, I am definitely never buying those ever.

One thing that we loved most about the car was its sheer size and beautiful looks. It has a mammoth boot space with ample leg space in the rear bench, even with 5 people on board it didn’t look one bit claustrophobic, enough shoulder and head room too. Its boot will swallow one whole month’s luggage of an average family, if the rear parcel tray is taken off – you can double the same and it you planned to fold the rear seats – you could actually shift your house in the car. After folding down the rear bench – we realized the space was actually perfect to fit a full 6 feet mattress in it and easily two adults and a kid can sleep in it too. That was a perfect setting for the highways when one actually wants to relax, I would definitely never sleep in a car like that as I would rather be driving than sleeping on the highways. It was a big car and parking it was an issue at least for me as the rear windshield was too small to give a clear picture of happenings in the back and seating was a bit low – me being short was another reason too. Steering wheel was quite thick and great to hold, although it was on the heavier side but it was just a matter of getting used to it and I was able to enjoy the ride in a couple of weeks time. The whole car was quite heavy and thick feel to it, even the doors closed with a deep thud and it felt quite secure, you could actually feel the tough metal by punching the body of the car, it was way too good than what I had seen on any Maruti, Hyundai or for that matter even better than a Cielo.

Chunky Steering Wheel felt damn good to hold
Features: We took the fully loaded version minus air bags cause as per my cousin we didn’t require them at that time, I guess the reason why he cut down on that was - me and my sister in law were still considered amateur drivers and insurance company wasn’t covering the refill of air bags once blown and trust me – that is still a costly affair if you ask me. It has all the features that we could name, starting from all four power windows, central locking with both keys had inbuilt remote making them too big to fit in a key chain, adjustable power steering, electrically adjusted rear view mirrors, day and night mode cabin mirror, rear defogger, company fitted stereo with 4 speakers and a remote, bottle holders on front doors, huge parcel tray with small cubicles to fit in knick knacks etc. The one feature that I disliked and didn’t find it practical was the way doors were locked from inside. Just press the door lever a little further and it will be locked, it was very risky as there was no separate lid to open or lock the door from inside like in other cars. I had to practically teach my nephew to keep his hand on the arm rest rather than anywhere near the door lever, just in case if he unlocks and opens the door while the car is moving. Although central locking feature instantly looks all the doors the moment car is cranked on still it was too secure.

I loved that slanting dash and stereo's location
Cubby Holes and Glove Compartment
Engine and power: It had a damn powerful engine 1700cc with over 100 BHP’s, still performance wise it wasn’t a sprinter as I assumed it to be. I mean there was no power or nothing to talk about in first two gears – anything below 2500 RPMs car would move like a bullock cart but once you are on 3rd gear and beyond 2500 RPM turbo kicks in and then there is no stopping it. It would easily cruise on 140 KMPH or above whole day without asking for anything. It was a manual transmission with five forward and one reverse gear. Gear lever had a very short and convenient throw right like Cielo and Accent, it felt damn well on the highways when you required quick gear changing at times to overtake. The only problem I faced in driving it was its hard accelerator, was almost as hard as a brick being pushed down. We did get it checked on servicing but I guess all the models came with that hard accelerator – as long as we had it – it was always like that. I never cared or thought of fuel economy during those days but as far as I remember it used to fetch 12-14 KMPL of Diesel with almost 80% times Air Conditioning on and slightly better on the highways which I believe was pretty good for its size. It felt sturdier on road at any speed and on any kind of surface, may it be pot holed road or nice wide highways where you would test its top speed. We did hit 160 so many times but never dared to take it beyond, although it had so much more space left between the gas pedal and floor.

Look at the rear leg space, even when the drivers
seat is set for a 6 foot driver. 
We did a lot of trips on Siena Weekend and almost took it everywhere; it was a pleasure to drive on the straight stretches of road but was a little bit challenging on hilly terrain. My cousin always told me to put it on second or third gear and keep pulling till you get up the incline and get to the top gear. It was a perfect weekend getaway vehicle – so many times we indeed will stop anywhere on any of our road trips, open the rear doors and boot, fold down the seats and have lunch inside the car – it was fun using it that ways. I guess that’s what they made it for, with those acres of space inside – you need not look for a picnic spot, stop anywhere near a good looking farm and have fun. I loved driving it day in day out and my cousin enjoyed his peaceful sleeps on the back bed. In our ownership experience of a couple of years – I don't remember even once that we had a breakdown or even a flat tire. 

Locking system was dangerous with kids on board
I met with my second major road accident while driving it back from Dehradoon one fateful night and banged it at a very high speed, almost above 100 KMPH into a Tata Safari. The car's front was totally gone with headlights, radiator, bonnet, windshield, fenders etc. But nothing untoward happened to passengers not even scratches or anything at all – with god’s grace we were all wearing seat belts. We had to take a lift from the family going on Safari till Delhi, they were kind enough to drop us home as actually it was their mistake that they stopped on the mid of road after hitting a barrier and the tail lights of their car as usual were not working. I realized that the car was actually on the mid of the road and totally stopped while we were like 50 meters away, tried breaking as hard as I could but couldn't save it from hitting the vehicle from back. While our car was skidding – an important lesson my friend gave me while teaching driving was to brake straight if in emergency and never turn the steering, if I would tried doing it right – I would have hit the oncoming truck and on left – we would have gone off road and toppled. Next day when I took the insurance and car mechanics to the site to pick up the car – they couldn't believe that we were scratch less once they saw the condition of the car and then the company guy started singing Fiat's praises of making sturdier cars, saving lives. I did believe him as I had firsthand experience of the same.

PS: Forgive me for low quality pictures as taken by my cell phone and thanks to my friend Prabuddha for letting me take pictures of his car. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hyundai Accent & Santro comes home and Tragedy Strikes (1999)

In a couple of years of Cielo ownership – we realized on our road trips that although it was a company car provided to us more like a benefit but was taking a good toll on our pockets. Although the car was a breeze to drive and was a damn good status symbol still we had to look for options – in the meantime Hyundai arrived in India and we gladly picked up two of their most sold cars namely – An Accent and a Santro. Basically Hyundai Accent was for my cousin’s use and Santro will be shared between me and my sister in law for more of home use and short trips around the city, office commute etc. The only other options for a medium sedan in India in late 90’s were either Maruti Esteem, Hyundai Accent, Cielo and Lancer, the last two being premium with more power with almost no mileage (Read between 8-10 KMPL) that too when you handle them extremely well. My cousin and I used to almost fly our cars on the highways hence we knew it that none of them would be affordable in the longer run. We couldn’t settle for a hatch back either as we needed a decent boot space too for all our trips. We had almost a couple of trips lined up every month hence a hatch back was out of question. That’s why finally we had to settle for Hyundai Siblings, one for the highways and one for city drive.

I for one, always wanted to buy a Red car and this was my opportunity to grab one with both hands, that too a brand new Hyundai Santro, which was recently launched and unfortunately wasn’t accepted that well for its weird looks. I still remember WagonR by Maruti and Santro by Hyundai were equally hated for their odd looks still they survived and now when we look at the numbers that they sold in last so many years – it just amazes me. Both were based on the tall boy design that you need to actually slide in the car, getting out and in was such a breeze. With its height advantage driving them too was a breeze; the view even for a short guy like me was excellent. My cousin wanted a Beige color Accent and we had booked a Red Santro. The day we got the call for delivery of the vehicles – I was too excited but then it turned out to be sad too as they told us that the Red color was out of stock and if we had to take the delivery of the car on the same day it had to be both Silvers or we need to wait for couple of more weeks. It was almost mid March and I guess some depreciation advantage was their too hence we were forced to take both cars in Silver color only. But that anyways didn’t dampen my spirit of getting a brand new car as soon as I got the keys in my hand. We took the top model of Accent with all the bells and whistles available at that time like Tilt Steering, Manually adjustable rear view mirrors, central locking, some company fitted stereo which wasn’t that great in quality, all four power windows, power brake so on so forth. On the other hand the Santro that we too was the very basic model with no power steering, no stereo, no power windows, no body color bumpers or door handles not even adjustable rear view mirrors, it had only driver side rear view mirror that too should be adjusted by hand and there wasn’t even a bloody lid to do that from inside. So if it rained and you needed to adjust it – you had to first roll down the window manually, adjust the mirror, roll up the window and that was painful. Although Santro was a small car but still now power steering did help me develop some muscles while parking it and taking it out of the parking slot.

Hyundai Santro
Delivery Process: Since my cousin was out of town, me and my friend went to take the delivery of the vehicle and we had all the papers like “power of attorney”, bank loan documents etc in place. To my amazement it took us one full day to take the delivery as we went almost around 11 am and if I am not wrong, by the time we got the delivery it was already 7.30 PM and even they were almost ready to close the show room as soon as we left. This was my first delivery of a brand new vehicle hence I wasn’t at all prepared but my friend was quite an expert and it all went smooth cause of him only. Finally as soon as we got the keys – I took the Santro keys and zipped out of the showroom with my friend in Accent followed me but in no time he over took me and I was way behind him on our way to Noida where we stayed.

Hyundai Santro Interiors - Nothing great to talk about
Hyundai Santro: My first experience of driving a Santro was quite good, up till now all I had driven were the likes of M800, Zen, Esteem and Cielo. This was quite a breeze in comparison to all those cars. Obviously you cannot compare the power or BHP’s but what I am saying is the ease of driving. For its size the 1100cc engine with 65 BHPs is too good. It was quite a zippy drive and it will do 100 in almost no time at all, since it had no power steering I found it more stable than its Maruti counterpart. Had no idea of its mileage initially and later we found out after a couple of weeks of driving and two service down the line that it was giving us around 12-14 in city drive. I am sure it gave us pretty better than that on the highways too as very soon we took it to quite a few long drives as it had enough space for our family of 3 adults and one kid with decent luggage space in its small boot. Because of its size and better clearance – parking it was easy too as you needed hardly any space to drag it in, it would easily fit in a space which was enough for two bikes. I remember we once took it all the way to Jammu from Delhi because no other car was available and we had to go at any cost. It was quite a quick drive and we never faced any issue neither while going or coming back – the only issue was my friends right foot which got swollen cause he would not let me drive at all throughout the way. I personally took it to Dehradoon and Mussorie couple of times and never had any issues in driving – coming back on the same day as my nephew got admitted in one of the schools and as a rule we had to visit him every alternate weekend. The highway wasn’t that bad – although mostly single road but still quite manageable, we used to leave early and return by mid night after spending full day with him.

Hyundai Accent
Hyundai Accent: I somehow never liked Accent in comparison to its counterparts like Esteem, Lancer or Cielo, this too was a 1500cc engine with almost 90 BHPs like all of the others. Even after driving it for quite a few weeks I realized it wasn’t as zippy as an Esteem, neither it had a great air conditioning nor a fantastic feel while driving. As per my cousin it did gave him driving pleasure of some sort which I never got from it, still it was quite light in comparison to Lancer and Cielo. Although it’s chunky steering with tilt control was awesome as it felt thick and heavy. It was quite an underpowered car and I hated it on the highways – especially on the hilly drives. I noticed even my cousin would toggle with the Air Conditioning switch too often while going around the hills rather than down shifting. We had done the same drives in our other cars and they never felt this sluggish to tell you the truth. Space wise it was quite a good car with ample of leg space front and back, a damn good boot, other features like a rear defogger, fog lights, day and night cabin mirror, child lock etc were present but it didn’t make it an impressive package. Even on economy front Accent did take a beating from others – we never got anything above 12 KMPL in city and some 13-14 on the highways on 100% AC. Driving it on straight roads was good but even then while over taking you do need to down shift, that was quite a pain – all this while we compared it with Cielo which was such a breeze to drive – you could easily overtake a vehicle even on top gear without the hassle of down shifting. But that I guess that’s what its premium price stood for. There was no concept of ABS or Air Bags at that time and I guess it took them quite a few years to launch the same in India.

Hyundai Accent Interiors
Tragedy: It wasn’t even 15 days that we took both those two cars and a tragedy stuck. My cousin as I mentioned earlier had travelled out of town – called one fine morning and I had to go to pick him up from the Airport early in the morning. I wasn’t too keen on going on this drive that early – mind it – New Delhi airport is quite a distance from Noida hence I called my friend who was with me while we took the delivery of the cars and as both of us were born car maniacs – we never used to say No to any drives – anytime of the day and that rule applies even today – I never say no to driving still. We decided I will drive while we go to the airport and he gets to drive on the way back since my cousin who was like 15 years elder to both of us would anyways want any of us to drive than him. As we left Noida there was a sharp left turn around Noida Film City which I used to take around 80-90 KMPH on Cielo, so I asked my friend “What do u think, would this (Accent) take it the same way our Cielo used to take?” I had a track of taking that sharp turn while tyres screeched and made damn good noise. As both of us used to smoke – usually the windows were rolled down too hence making it livelier. I guess that day we were not destined to have the fun of new car screeching, my friend said “Don’t even try that stunt in this one, I am telling you”, and I paid no heed to his view, thought he would never accept me as a good driver hence I paddled the accelerator a little bit more taking it to 90 KMPH I guess, the turn came, he grabbed the roof handle to stay straight on the seat, I too twisted the steering slightly to left taking the turn, car screeched, tyres burned……………and bang!!! Suddenly I felt as if car moved below us and as I tried reaching for the brakes – Bang!! It hit the divider on right from front – swerved a 180 Degrees and hit the divider again from left and came to a halt. With traffic coming behind us – we could actually see their shocking faces asking “What the heck were you trying to do dude?” and that’s that!!

That was my first accident ever and don’t even ask me how much was the estimate given by the Hyundai Workshop. But it did bloody took them close to 45 days to repair the car and deliver it back to us.

Speed Thrills But Kills – if not – it does screws the car guys so Drive Safe.