Off-roaders for the monsoon
Maruti Gypsy King vs Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O vs Hero Impulse vs Polaris Ranger 6x6 800 vs Mahindra
I know there's a downhill left hander coming up. I know that the rains have made the ground slick and muddy. From behind me I hear the distinct clatter of the noisy CRDe unit working overtime to find traction in the muck. I stick my left foot out just in case I lose my front end. I'll have to be quick to kick it back up if I begin to slide. I slam the bike down to the left and open the throttle. The Impulse comes around the corner spraying mud all over the Thar that is following close behind. There is only one thing common to both these vehicles at this point - the maniacal grins plastered on Halley's and my face as we splash around merrily in the dirt.
We're at 19° North, an adventure sports centre in Amby valley to have some fun. And to have fun properly OD style, you need at least five vehicles and a bunch of knuckleheads to pilot them. We have just that. The machines first. First off there is Hero's transroader - the Impulse. Then Mahindra's all conquering Thar, now with air conditioning. Now, if you have a Thar that means you must also have a Gypsy to give it a run for its money. Finally we have two of the latest additions to the list of toys of the rich and famous - the Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O and the Polaris Ranger 6x6 800. As for the knuckleheads, there's Halley, Rishaad, Shyam (our buddy from 19° North) and me. 'Nuff said.
The Polaris Sportsman can get some serious air if you have the courage for it
Polaris Sportsman 500 H.O
It takes a while to get used to grabbing a handlebar and not having to twist your right wrist. It feels even weirder when instead you have to flick your thumb. But apparently once you do get used to it, there is no stopping you. The Sportsman 500 H.O uses a 498cc, carbureted motor to pull you over the most impossible terrain and get you wherever you need to be. Halley loved it so much that he was hogging it the entire time. He's had some experience with ATVs and he says that the Sportsman takes a bit of getting used to but once you do, it is mad fun to ride. There is enough torque to take you all over the planet and the power delivery is extremely linear despite it having a carbureted engine. The Sportsman is a bulky ATV but once you start riding it you don't feel a thing. The fact that none of the others were able to keep up once the Sportsman got going is enough for it to deserve the "fastest of the lot" award. That and the fact that it was the only vehicle that we were confident to jump four feet in the air.
Hey Halley, that's a side by side, not a boat!
Polaris Ranger 6x6 800
This one is Rishaad's favourite. How do I know? I could make out from that smirk on his face while he was doing donuts with it in the dirt. The Ranger has an on demand 6WD system. This means if the electronics do not see the need for full traction you can do all kinds of mischief. But that's not all this baby does. The twin cylinder 760cc, fuel injected motor makes enough torque to climb over everything short of six foot walls. On the trail we were on, there was one section with a 45 degree incline that all the other vehicles needed a proper run up to scale. The Ranger merely walked up to it and then over it. It might even have looked back and spat on the incline. That's how easy it is to go off road with this machine. And it doesn't end at that. The Ranger is also one of the most comfortable offroad vehicles you can own. Through all the abuse we subjected it to, it never had us backing off the throttle because our innards were getting rearranged. We were always cocooned from all the boulders and rocks we were going over. So what did we do? We went harder and faster. Still no problem. So we dunked it into a river. It still kept going. It seems there is nothing that can stop the Ranger, other than an alien invasion. Then again, I don't think even that would affect this one. So we hereby confer it with the "most capable of the lot" award.
The Maruti Gypsy playing around in the slush
Maruti Suzuki Gypsy King
The Gypsy needs no introduction. So I'll just cut to the chase. The Gypsy is the epitome of high revving, ozone layer burning fun. It is one of the very few petrol offroaders that are still on sale in India. And being a petrol engine SUV it lacks the torque that a diesel hearted one has. But not to worry, what it lacks in torque it makes up for by being as skinny as an anorexic supermodel stranded on a deserted island with no food whatsoever. It weighs under a ton! This means that the Gypsy can go over all kinds of slush without stopping to think. Comes in handy when there is a maniacal Thar driven by an equally maniacal Halley chasing you. Just find the muddiest patch of earth and plough through. And then you can look back and watch the heavier machinery getting bogged down, all the while clutching your belly, pointing your index finger and laughing your head off. The Gypsy has been pulling this kind of mischief for several decades now. And frankly we are yet to hear of a Gypsy owner (or ex-owner) who has a complaint about its reliability. It is safe to say then that the Gypsy has earned the award of "most reliable of the lot".
The Thar in low ratio can climb some ridiculous inclines
Mahindra says - "the Thar hates tar". We really do not enjoy upsetting manufacturers, so we refused to take the Thar on tarmac. But that is beside the point. We are giving the Thar the "strongest of the lot" award. Why? Because a Thar armed with a winch is quite simply unstoppable. Let me illustrate. At OD, we take pride in testing every single aspect of a vehicle. And in the process it is quite likely that a vehicle or two will get stuck. Not because we made a mistake, but simply because we like to evaluate our cars thoroughly. Honest! Anyway, whenever we did manage to get a bit er, stationary, it was the Thar that came to the rescue. The excellent CRDe powerhouse with its 247 Nm of torque can tow anything out of, well, pretty much anything. So full marks to the Thar for being our knight in mucky armor. But do not for a moment think that pulling other cars out is the only exercise this Thar can do. It can also go, quite literally, anywhere. The Thar has one of the best four wheel drive systems we have used. And a Thar in low ratio is pretty much unstoppable (I know I'm using the word a lot, but it really is unstoppable). We only wish that the car didn't have so many rough edges inside. Or maybe Rishaad is just being a crybaby.
Oh man, there goes the dry underwear
We are giving the Impulse the "pick of the lot" award. Do I hear protests? Let me explain why. When we go offraoding we like to get dirty. If I just wanted to sit inside an airconditioned cabin and watch the dirt, rocks and trees passing by I would have played 4x4 Evo II on my PC at home. Being on a motorcycle makes it so much more real. There is mud being splashed onto your face all the time. You are always on edge trying to keep the right side up. If you go through a puddle you get wet. If you ride through tree branches you get smacked on the face. And then there is the thrill of not having the security of four wheels for balance. The Impulse might be the least powerful of the lot, but it makes up for it with rider involvement in a way none of the others can. That is not to say that it is not a capable motorcycle. It could climb over all of the obstacles we came across on the trail. But what makes it the "pick of the lot"? Aside from all its capabilities, if the Impulse gets stuck, you don't need another vehicle to pull it out. This means you can venture out into the wilderness without a backup car if you so choose. If you do get stuck, you just have to hop off and pull it out yourself. It also won't eat into your kids' college fund. It costs roughly a tenth of what a Thar would cost you and it comes with the Hero/Honda reliability. And most importantly, if you ask me, it has just the right number of wheels.
So after nine hours of rolling around in the dirt, Rishaad, Halley and I now proclaim ourselves experts for regions where the roads don't exist. We have awarded all the, ahem, trophies we had to the worthy winners. Now it's time to Oh wait is that Halley attempting the trail in the long term Dzire? Somebody go get the Thar!
The rains meant that we had more than enough slush to play around in. We spent a long time chasing each other
For similar fun head to 19° North, Aamby Valley and you can ride Impulses, ATVs, Thars and Gypsies to your heart's content. Visit www.19degreenorth.com for details.
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