Pune to Lucknow on a Suzuki Gixxer | Bringing our bikes home

But let's not dwell on that and waste time because it hardly matters. We riders just look for an opportunity to ride and then try to come up with excuses to justify it to those who question our sanity but deep down we all know the truth.

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This travelogue is not about a leisure ride. Or maybe it is. You see, I could have opted to transport the bikes but I didn't, so an argument can be made. But let's not dwell on that and waste time because it hardly matters. We riders just look for an opportunity to ride and then try to come up with excuses to justify it to those who question our sanity but deep down we all know the truth. So this is a tale of how two motorcycle lovers who were separated from their motorcycles for more than a year, in order to end their miseries embarked on a journey to bring their rides home the best way they know – riding it.

The rides:

The riders:

Motorcycles in the picture:

  • Suzuki Gixxer 2015 BS3 (belongs to me, 61,000km on the odo)
  • Suzuki Gixxer 2018 BS4 (my friend's, 8,000km on the odo)

You won’t see a lot of pictures in this travelogue because I am not someone who takes pictures. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s usually because I tend to forget. I would stop at the side of the road, admiring the most beautiful lush green valley I have ever laid eyes on, but it would never occur to me to take out my phone and capture it. I am trying to change this habit but clearly this thread is not going to be an evidence of my efforts. So without wasting much time let me elucidate the WHEREs, the WHYs and the HOWs in detail which led the two of us on this journey.

A Prologue to The Ride

So I left for Johannesburg in January 2020 for work, leaving the motorcycle with my friend for safekeeping. Both of us worked in Pune so it was an easy decision for me. I was supposed to come back to Pune after a year or so and he was supposed to take care of my bike like using it for some short rides within the city, getting it serviced based on his convenience, etc. But then in March, something unexpected happened which neither of us anticipated or planned for – we had a nationwide lockdown. After managing for a couple of months of WFH in his rented apartment in Pune and seeing the uncertainty around the situation my friend decided to terminate his lease and move back to his hometown to spend more time with his parents. It all happened in such a hurry that he had no time to arrange transport for the motorcycles. So he left both of our motorcycles at another friend’s place in Pune itself.

When I got back to India in November, I went straight to my hometown (Lucknow) instead of Pune since we were to continue working from home until further notice. Meanwhile the bike was just sitting and gathering dust in Pune where my friend left it with no one attending to them since June! Now riding has always been a therapeutic experience for me. Like how people meditate, riding (and driving too, to some extent) for me has always been that activity which sooths you after a tough day, calms your nerves. Like a medication which gets you better and energizes you, freeing your mind of all the negativity. So my bike wasting away in Pune while I am in Lucknow without a ride was a situation I wasn’t able to come to terms with. Eventually by February 2nd week I gave in and decided that it’s time to get the bike home.

Next step was convincing my friend to accompany me and make the ride together as this was going to be my first multi-day ride and I was apprehensive about going solo. It didn’t take much effort; he saw the opportunity and was easily convinced. Now we had to decide the dates for our journey. By this time I had resigned from my company and this presented us an opportunity which we didn’t want to miss. I had to travel to Pune anyway to return my company’s assets (laptop, access card etc.) so we decided to use this trip for our purpose. So the start date was set – we will fly to Pune on Thursday, 1st April (my last day with the company) and then plan our ride around it.

How the Ride was almost cancelled

Getting the bikes ready

Now both our Gixxers were left completely unattended, unmoved for more than 10 months and we weren’t sure what kind of problems to expect when we try to get the bikes moving. We did some Google search and read on various forums that gave us a heads-up on the problems we may encounter:

  • Definitely a dead battery.
  • Tyre pressure loss leading to damaged sidewalls if the bike wasn’t put on center stand.
  • Rusting of various metal parts if kept in a humid place.
  • Fuel in the tank may cause rusting and may turn into a gel like substance.

So we decided that after we reach Pune on Thursday, I will complete my office formalities and then give the bike for service and repairs. We allocated until Friday end of day for this and decided that we will start our ride latest by Saturday morning. Based on this plan, my friend applied for leaves with his company. I didn’t have to worry about leaves since it would be transition period to my new company where I won’t be starting the work from first day itself.

When we finally got to our bikes by Thursday afternoon these were the actual issues we were faced with:

Friend’s Gixxer:

  • Dead battery.
  • Low tyre pressure (10 PSI in both the tyres). Since it was on middle stand all this time with front tyre touching the ground there was no damage to tyres. Moreover, 10 PSI doesn’t cause such a bend in the sidewalls if the bike is kept unladen.

We put the bike on center stand, pulled the choke, tried to kick-start and after maybe 15-20 kicks the engine sprang to life. Pulled the throttle a little to keep the engine from dying out for 2-3 minutes and that’s it, bike was ready to roll. Got the tyre pressure corrected from a nearby pump and now we had a proper running bike with very weak battery to travel in and around the city. The battery kept charging as we rode the bike and in few kilometers, reached a level where the self-start button started working.

My Gixxer:

  • There was no engine oil left.
  • Rear alloy wheel was bent because of which tyre was not able to hold the pressure for long. Apparently this was already present before leaving the bike with my friend, not because the bike was stationary for so long.

The battery was surprisingly not dead. The self-start button was working. Also the bike started in just the second kick and that is when I noticed that the engine oil was completely drained. I immediately turned off the engine to prevent any damage.

Flaw in the Plan

So all we had to do was service both the bikes and get the rear wheel replaced on mine. That is when we encountered a big challenge – none of the authorized service centers in Pune had the alloy wheel in stock! We phoned a few of them and the answer we got was that we need to pay an advance to place the order and will only receive the wheel in 7-8 days. Now this was going to completely derail our plans since we didn’t have the time to wait a week for the wheel to arrive. After completing the last day formalities at my office, we had some burgers at McDonald’s and started discussing on what to do next. We decided to check with some local puncture repair guys and see what they suggest or if they could probably arrange the wheel from somewhere. Now all of them unanimously suggested the same thing - insert a tube in the tyre and use it like a tyre with tube. All of them vouched that it’s perfectly safe and that I won’t even notice the difference. Having never heard of this before, I was intrigued. Since all of them were suggesting the same thing I even considered it briefly but when I gave it some more thought I decided against it. It didn’t sound very safe and I was not willing to try something so drastically different just before a 1500 km ride, so we dropped the idea. By now it was 6pm in the evening we decided to go back to our hotel and call it a day since we were very tired.

Next morning, during breakfast we decided to visit the authorized service centers in person and see if they can suggest any options. I wasn’t very hopeful though about this idea, so I also reached out to Agarwal Packers and Movers to arrange for transporting the bikes to Lucknow.
Continuing with our original plan, we first visited Aryan Suzuki in Baner (our hotel was in Hinjawadi). I had good experience with their SA who was always helpful and patient with my queries so thought of starting our search there. Obviously they did not have the wheel in stock (we knew this because we spoke to them on phone the day before) but when I explained our situation they checked on their portal to see if any other service center nearby has it in stock. They came up with 2 names – one in Ahmednagar (different city 150km away so not really an option) and another in Pimpri, Shiv Suzuki. We tried to reach Shiv Suzuki on phone but nobody answered so we decided to go there directly. While we were on our way they called back and told they don’t have it in stock and gave me couple of contact numbers of other service centers to check. Again, none of them had the wheel.

Lucky Break

Then we went to Autonity Suzuki in Wakad as it was close to where we were. Same story again. They too gave us a contact number which turned out to be of Dhone Suzuki in Swargate. That was our breakthrough! They had the specific wheel in stock so we asked them to please hold one unit for me while I bring my bike to them, but then they tell me that it’s half day today so they will close by 1 pm and won’t be able to change it today (it was already 11:45am and I was in Wakad. Swargate was at least 40 minute ride away). I decided to buy the wheel from Dhone Suzuki and get it fitted at a tyre shop. Only after trying at 2-3 different shops we found one who agreed to change the wheel for us.

Now it was time to get my bike moving and bring it to the tyre shop. Bought a bottle of engine oil, filled up the bike and pumped some air into the rear tyre using the tyre inflator we had. By the time wheel was changed, it was already 3:30pm and we still hadn’t got the bikes serviced yet.

Aryan Suzuki to the rescue

Our plan of starting the ride by Saturday morning didn’t seem realistic anymore but we still decided to give the bikes for servicing to Aryan Suzuki that time itself. Now we were faced with a choice – either spend the Saturday morning getting the bike serviced and try to leave by afternoon or we handover the bikes for transportation and catch a flight back to Lucknow. It was my friend’s decision to make because his leave plan will be affected due to this delay. But when we reached the workshop by 4pm, they made it fairly easy for us, by promising to service both the bikes by 5pm the same day! We were so pleasantly surprised! Apparently they didn’t have any vehicle in the workshop for service or repairs so all the mechanics were sitting idle. Suddenly 5-6 of them started working on our bikes and serviced it in under 90 minutes! The following repairs were done on our bikes:

My Gixxer:

  • Turns out that the oil leak was due to loose drain bolt so nothing fixed there.
  • Oil filter & air filter changed.

Friend’s Gixxer:

  • Oil, oil filter, air filter changed.
  • Front brake pads changed.

And that was it! We had our bikes with us by 5pm on Friday and we were still on track to start our ride on Saturday morning as planned! We couldn’t believe our luck!

The Ride

So this was going to be our first multi-day ride. We used to go on day rides quite frequently ranging from 250 to 400km and the most I had done in a day was 460km on a solo ride from Pune to Ozarde falls near Koyna dam. So we were not complete novices. But since neither one of us had any experience of riding long hours day after day, we were quite nervous about it. Being away from riding for more than a year wasn’t helping either.

We started out by finalizing the roads we will be taking after consulting with couple of friends who had some idea about the quality of roads on this route. Based on that we decided on the following route:

Pune – Nashik – Dhule – Indore – Guna – Jhansi – Kanpur – Lucknow

Something like this:

Plan was to reach Dhule as early as we can on day 1 and then see if we still had the energy and time to make it to Indore. There were no proper cities/towns between Dhule & Indore and we did not want to ride after sunset so we decided to spend the night either in Dhule or Indore but not anywhere in between. From Indore, we would reach Jhansi the next day and from there, reach Lucknow on the 3rd day. We realized that it was quite ambitious considering our experience level but still decided to give it a try. Well, the actual ride turned out to be quite different from our plan (who could have guessed).

DAY 1 – April 3, Saturday

We checked-out from our hotel and started by 6:20 am on Saturday with the target of reaching Nashik by 10-10:15am.

Loaded and ready to roll

We maintained good pace. Stopped in Narayangaon for some tea, stopped somewhere between Alephata and Sangamner for some pictures and continued to Nashik. Reached Vitthal Kamat restaurant just before Nashik city for breakfast by 9:45 am and were out of the city by 10:45. Quite satisfied since we were maintaining the pace and on target even though we stopped for tea and pictures.

It’s from here on that things started going off-track for us. My friend’s wrist started hurting, especially the right one (a chronic issue which was lying dormant for some time). Because of this we kept stopping every 30-40 minutes to relieve the pain. This severely affected our pace and we only managed to reach Dhule by 3:30pm, so there was no possibility of reaching Indore by sunset. Also considering his wrist pain, we decided to book a room there in Dhule and settle down for the day.

Distance covered: 360km – Pune to Dhule

Major stops: Breakfast – Vitthal Kamat Restaurant, 10km before Nashik

Hotel: Hotel Residency Park, Dhule (2,000 INR/night for AC room)

Road conditions: Pune to Alephata was decent, not much to complain about. At times there were good 4 lane roads but there were also sudden diversions. Also the road goes through many villages and towns so it’s best to start early and try to cross this stretch before 7-7:30am. Alephata to Nashik was absolutely beautiful and good quality. 4 lane throughout with beautiful countryside. Nashik to Dhule was also good but riddled with speed-breakers. Every few kilometers there would be a 4-way crossing or a median in the divider and you would have speed-breaker before it. They weren’t difficult to spot and there was always a sign-board but still annoying nonetheless.

DAY 2 – April 4, Sunday

After a tiring first day we both slept like a baby and woke up feeling really fresh. My friend’s wrist also stopped hurting but we weren’t sure how quickly the pain will come back once we start riding. We were anyway behind our target, so I suggested we take it slow and add an extra day to our trip. We decided to reach Indore at a comfortable pace and then explore our options depending on the wrist pain and how much time we had until dark. Checked out from the hotel and started at 6:30 am, immediately stopped to refuel and then continued for 50km before stopping for tea and poha.

That's me and the poha

Just after crossing into MP

My friend was feeling much better and was pain free so we decided to make good use of this opportunity. Covered good distance at decent pace and reached Indore (265km from Dhule) by around 1pm. In between we stopped at Narmada River Bridge (10:15am, 180km from Dhule) to rest and take some photos and then for snacks (11:30am to 12:20pm, 240km from Dhule).

The mighty Narmada

Riding buddy:

After we crossed Dewas and stopped for fuel (Rojwas Toll Plaza, 370km from Dhule, 50km from Dewas) my friend’s wrist started hurting again but not as bad as the day before. By now it was already 3:15pm and I was not seeing any decent hotels nearby apart from Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department motel in Biaora some 100km away. So he decided to brave the pain and ride till Biaora. In between we stopped a couple of times to give his wrist a rest and finally reached at 5:30pm. The motel was right at the bypass so we didn’t had to travel into the city. The rooms were nice and the motel itself was beautiful.

Road to Biaora

Now, according to our plan, we were supposed to be in Jhansi by now. Being a good 300 km behind our target it was clear that we would have to add another day to our trip. This had my friend worried because he would have to extend his office leaves. So he proposed that instead of riding to Lucknow together over next 2 days and then going to his hometown Budaun (near Bareilly), he will directly ride to Budaun (Biaora to Budaun and Biaora to Lucknow is roughly the same, 12 hours by road) and we will part ways at a point which was convenient for both of us. That way he will save a whole day traveling from Lucknow to Budaun and can resume work without extending his leaves. This plan actually made a lot more sense. We mutually agreed that Gwalior will be that parting point, where we will stay overnight and then leave for our respective homes the next morning. With this plan in mind we went to bed in the hopes to start early tomorrow.

Distance covered: 485km approx. - Dhule to Biaora

Major stops: Hotel Shakti Palace for brunch, 30km before Indore

Hotel: MPT Motel, Biaora (1800/night for AC room)

Road conditions: Absolutely wonderful. Again it was 4-lane throughout with some sections being 6-lane. From Dewas to Biaora the traffic was very less but road was made out of concrete which caused lot of tyre noise. There were flyovers going over the villages with strict entry control which helped in maintaining our speed even while we were crossing those villages.

DAY 3 – April 5, Monday

We only managed to start by 6:45 am. Gwalior was not very far, only 325km, so we were a bit relaxed and did not try to rush with anything. It was a beautiful morning and we had an amazing time riding in the cool weather and on empty, well paved roads.

Somewhere before Guna

Change of plans

We reached Guna by 8:15 and stopped for tea & poha. We continued towards Shivpuri and stopped at a small tea stall on the highway somewhere between Shivpuri and Gwalior. By now, it was just 11:30 am and that’s when I realized Gwalior is just an hour away. I started wondering if instead of staying overnight in Gwalior maybe I can continue riding and try to reach Lucknow the same day. I checked the ETA to my home and it was 7:30pm (350km from Gwalior) which I thought was doable. Usually I don’t prefer riding in the dark but when I checked the route on Google Maps I noticed that last 150km or so, starting just after Etawah, was actually on the Agra-Lucknow Expressway. I had been on that expressway few months ago in my dad’s car and road was just phenomenal and without much traffic. So I reasoned that if I can manage to reach Etawah before dark then riding on the expressway after sunset won’t be that difficult. Only thing was that I had no idea if motorcycles were allowed on this particular expressway. To confirm this I asked a friend in Lucknow to enquire or do a search on Google and try to find from multiple credible sources if bikes are allowed or not. So by the time we stopped for our next break some 10km before Gwalior my Lucknow friend confirmed that bikes are indeed allowed. He actually went a step ahead by driving to the beginning of Expressway in Lucknow and enquiring with the police and several auto drivers to double check. So the decision was made, I was going to continue riding towards Lucknow after Gwalior. I conveyed this plan to my riding buddy which made him reconsider his decision of staying in Gwalior. He reasoned that he too can continue riding at least till Agra so next day he will have fewer kilometers to cover to Budaun.

The solo part

With that thought we bid each other goodbye and parted ways when we reached Gwalior. I had a clear idea about my route – reach Etawah (165 km from my location) via Bhind and from there climb onto the Expressway continuing till Lucknow (215 km from Etawah). After parting ways, I took the outer ring road and stopped immediately after taking the Bhind exit for some quick snacks. Since I was riding solo now, I was able to cover longer distances between stops. Started from Gwalior at 2:15 pm and reached Bhind by 3:30 pm. After another 10 minute stop, I decided only to stop again when I reach the Expressway.

Road from Gwalior towards Bhind was a 2-lane road with no dividers but well paved. Not a lot of potholes but there was moderate traffic all along which restricted my cruising speed. But as soon as I crossed UP-MP border, the quality of road deteriorated massively. It was very difficult to maintain speeds of 40 until I reached Etawah bypass and after that the road got better but traffic got denser. Easily the worst stretch I have travelled in the last 3 days. Finally reached Expressway by 4:40 pm where I stopped for quick bite and drank lots of water. Getting onto the Expressway, I paid the toll amount in cash which was Rs. 194 if I remember correctly.

Rest of the ride was quite blissful, monotonous and uneventful. Stopped a couple of times to give my butt some rest and to hydrate and crossed the expressway by 7:20 pm. Just like I had thought, faced absolutely no problems riding in the dark on expressway as there was no traffic at all and the road was butter smooth. To my surprise my friend was waiting at the end of Expressway with a chilled bottle of Maaza (we have location sharing active on Google Maps which is where he was tracking me). We hung out for half an hour after which I rushed to my home, completing approx. 750km that day – a day well spent in my books.

Final route:

Pune - Nashik - Dhule - Indore - Biaora - Shivpuri - Gwalior - Bhind - Etawah - Lucknow

Some pictures to finish the travelogue:

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A helmet will save your life