You are here
Feature: As time goes by
Taking the Triumph Speedmaster down the sleepy lanes of Udvada, rediscovering the heritage and culture of a time gone by
The Triumph Speedmaster builds on a huge legacy for Triumph. While the factory officially used the name only in 2002 when they launched a Bonnie-based crusier for the American market, its roots lie in the ’60s. It was Triumph importers in America that coined the ‘Speedmaster’ name for the Bonneville T120Rs that were specifically being made for their market.
Triumph Motorcycles has been through so much since then, from going bust to being revived and becoming the brand we know it today. It is drastically different, and yet, stays true to its roots.
There is a reason why I chose to bring the Triumph Speedmaster to the town in Gujarat you see on these pages. A reason that will be clear by the time you are through with this story. Before we get on with things though, I need to make something else clear — this is not a review of the Speedmaster.
Neither is it a story of some godforsaken road that I fell in love with. Instead, this is a story of identities, a story of history and of legacies. It is a story about the preservation of culture and withstanding the ravages of time.
Coming to Gujarat is always a treat. Sure, it would sound a whole lot fancier if ‘Gujarat’ was swapped out for, say, ‘the Cote d’Azur’, but the state does have its own charm. The highways are wide and unblemished, traffic is relatively (compared to north India, at least) more well behaved and it is so bloody accessible from the city of Mumbai.
Perfect proving grounds for the Triumph Speedmaster, then. Ever since I got my hands on this Speedmaster in California earlier this year, I’ve wanted to try it out closer to home. Take it out on our highways, stretch its legs, see if all that capability it has as a cruiser can be adequately harnessed in our conditions.
This road trip made perfect sense. But we weren’t doing Gujarat like it’s normally done — no Rann of Kutch, no Ahmedabad, no Baroda. Heck, we weren’t even going as far as Surat. Instead, we were heading somewhere much closer to home, Udvada.
Udvada is a quaint little town on the coast of Gujarat and is everything you’d expect a quaint little town to be— narrow streets, a lazy, laid-back attitude and no cash in any ATM within a 10-kilometre radius. And as unassuming as it may be, this tiny settlement is immensely significant for the Parsi community and the Zoroastrian religion in India.
It is home to the Iranshah Atash Behram — the Parsis’ most significant temple — akin to what Mecca is for Muslims, and the Vatican is for Catholics. We all know how the Parsis landed up in India some 1,200 years ago, leaving their homeland in Persia and finding refuge in Sanjan, and other parts of Gujarat. Over the centuries, they have spread themselves across the country and yet, this little pocket in Gujarat remains significant to the few Zoroastrians that remain. The place is almost like a homage to the first place that took the Parsis in when they were fleeing persecution. Situated just across the Gujarat border, it is a shade under 200 clicks and four hours away from Mumbai.
Getting out of Mumbai is best done early in the morning before the roads choke up. So with those leather saddlebags loaded up at dawn, I set off on the Speedmaster towards Gujarat. Not before long, the highway flanked with towering high-rises gave way to a cleaner, more open road that slices through the countryside — straight for the most part, but occasionally snaking around an inconveniently-placed hill.
For those who don’t know what the Speedmaster is, well, it is the latest variation of Triumph’s Bonneville range. I’d tell you how it is actually based on the Bobber Black (which isn’t sold in India), which is in-turn based on the Bobber (which is sold in India), which is based on the Bonneville T120, but that would only go to confuse you. What you need to know is that it is the most cruiser-oriented Bonnie-based motorcycle. What it gets in terms of specifications is the same 1200cc High Torque motor and frame as the Bobber. But where the Bobber makes for a stylish, urbane motorcycle, the Speedmaster is built for proper touring. It’s got a larger fuel tank than the Bobber, the ergos are more relaxed with the swept-back handlebar, it has a rear seat and even gets cruise control. Our particular motorcycle has also been tricked out with the Highway Inspiration Kit which adds the saddle bags, the tall windscreen, wider seats and a backrest.
The whole point of a cruiser is to munch down miles, and the more I ride the motorcycle, this ability shines through. The 106Nm of torque concentrated low down means getting a move on requires a mere flick of the wrist, and the suspension (combined with the extra comfy seat) does a fine job of cosseting my bottom.
The Speedmaster veils the fact that you’re covering massive ground, with boredom and fatigue kept well at bay. Cruise control is a neat trick, but pretty useless considering how lawless the lane behaviour on our roads are. The windscreen punches a hole through the air allowing you to relax behind it and really let the miles fly by.
But then, even when you turn off the main highway and into the narrower roads leading in to Udvada, you don’t find the Speedmaster being caught out. This motorcycle manages to toe the fine line between cruising ability and practicality. It nails the fundamentals of keeping you comfortable on the highway, without making you feel like you’re wrestling an elephant at slower speeds.
When you finally ride in to Udvada, it is like you’ve been flung back through time. Once you’re past the newer buildings on the fringes of the town and get to the heart of it, you’re hit with a shot of nostalgia. You can tell that this is a town that is clinging on to its heritage. You find meandering lanes flanked by richly furnished houses interspersed with derelict ruins of others.
And at the centre of it all is the Atash Behram, which houses a sacred fire that the Zoroastrians hold as a symbol of purity, wisdom and righteousness. Over the years, the population of the original inhabitants of this town have diminished. The number of Parsi families living here, right outside the fire temple, has dwindled from 120 to around 40 —most of them in the twilight of their lives, as the youngsters have all left for jobs in bigger cities.
And yet, they fiercely protect this heritage of theirs. The priests who tend to the fire still follow the tradition of living in isolation, cut off from the outside world, when it is their turn to say the daily prayers — something that has died out in other Atash Behrams across the country over the years.
This community of Parsis has followed these traditions for centuries and continue to do so as authentically as possible. They’ve tied down their heritage in chains because if it leaves, it will take their identity with it.
Which brings me to the whole point of this story. The Modern Classic range of motorcycles from Triumph, just like the Udvadians, strives to retain its heritage — of classic British motorcycling. The whole Bonneville range, in their various formats, are an ode to the Bonnies of the ’60s and ’70s. While existing and excelling in the modern world, they retain that old-world charm in both design and ethos.
Certain crucial design elements aren’t functional but are simply a nod towards motorcycling in a bygone era. The fins on the engine for example — completely unnecessary on a liquid-cooled motor, but present nevertheless. Similarly, the faux-throttle bodies that hint towards it being carbureted, where in reality they are just covers and the bike is fuel injected. The list goes on — the shape of the fuel tank, the spoke wheels, the headers, the hardtail design — they are all just remnants of the past manifesting themselves in the present. That’s not all, Triumph Motorcycles as a brand, has reinvented itself.
Modern-day Tigers are nothing like the Tigers of the past, the Street Triple RS is at the cutting edge of modern-day technology and the Daytona remains one of the rawest middleweight experiences there is. The whole resurgence of the brand under John Bloor has given them a new lease on life. Yet, with the range of Bonnevilles, Triumph Motorcycles is retaining the authenticity of their past, giving you a heavy dose of the same nostalgia that fills you when you walk the streets of Udvada.