The Rider Mania is Royal Enfield's biggest biking and music festival that takes place in Goa every year. While it attracts RE enthusiasts from all over the globe, I got my first taste of the Rider Mania for the first time this year. Here's what I loved about the festival as a first-timer.
That Royal Enfield is a brand that goes beyond motorcycles is something that everyone knows today. You may even say that it's been in the business for aeons, and its motorcycles have a cult status that’s unmatched by any other bikemaker in India. All of this is true. However, what’s really made Royal Enfield the cult brand that it is today is its customers. The riders, who, let’s be honest, swear by the brand come what may! In fact, with the possible exception of Harley-Davidson, I don’t think there’s any other motorcycle brand out there that enjoys such a huge fan following and has brand loyalists like Royal Enfield's.
Royal Enfield truly understands its customers’ passion for their motorcycles. And to ensure that this sentiment never fades, the company returns the favour by organising some exciting events for these riders throughout the year. And while there are a lot of rides and RE-unions in the calendar, the biggest gathering of Royal Enfield enthusiast is, of course, the Rider Mania – a biking and music festival that takes place in Vagator, Goa, every year. In fact, it’s so popular that it’s been running since 2003. It now attracts close to 8,000 RE enthusiasts from around the world!
Now, I’ve heard about this festival from many of my Bulleteer friends, but I never really managed to be there in the past. However, this year, I got my first taste of the Rider Mania, and here are the things that I loved about it,
People, people, and more people!
From the very first day, the hilltop area in Vagator was buzzing with Royal Enfield enthusiasts from all over the country. The venue was jam-packed, while the parking lot was full of Royal Enfield motorcycles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of enthusiasm among the biking community ever in my life. Like I mentioned before, there were around 8,000 people at this year’s Rider Mania, and everyone was excited to be there. The camaraderie of RE fans is exemplary, but, of course, time to time, you would also see some folks getting carried away by their emotions. That said, I met a couple of regulars, who’ve been coming here for close to a decade, and they believe that everyone's allowed to go overboard – emotionally, that is – during this time. In fact, one of the participants told me that Rider Mania is the only event that he looks forward to because it combines together biking, music, brotherhood, and a small vacation in Goa. And I am sure that’s true for a lot of other RE fans as well.
Every year Royal Enfield showcases some really cool design concepts at the Rider Mania. However, this year, they had something extra in-store, as the company showcased its all-new purpose-built flat-track racer during the event. Billed as the Himalayan FT 411, it’s based on the company’s Himalayan ADV, of course. However, it’s thoroughly modified to take on a flat track. As a result, it gets a lot of functional updates such as, fibre bodywork, 18-inch wheels with flat-track specific tyres, custom exhaust pipe and exhaust, performance air intake, and custom sprockets. A couple of parts have also been junked for flat-track application, and this includes the entire front brake assembly, front fender, headlight, speedometer, seat assembly, standard airbox, and rear footpegs. Now, obviously, all of these changes mean that it’s not road-legal. So, to experience the thrills of the Himalayan FT 411, one has to take part in closed-circuit events at designated tracks across the country. According to RE, these events will run under the banner of ‘Slide School’ at different dirt parks in the country. The first edition of the Slide School will kick off in January at CS Santosh’s backyard, i.e., Big Rock Dirt Park outside Bangalore in January 2020.
Getting down n’ dirty
Apart from the fun festival that the Rider Mania is, it’s also a playground of sorts for riders to showcase their skills in different competitions. For instance, there’s beer-drinking competition, hill race, arm wrestling, and dirt race. Now, this year, RE decided to give us media folks a chance to have a crack at the dirt race. They were kind enough to create a different category altogether for us guys – 12 of us – and also trusted us with their slightly modified Himalayans for the race. It was an 8-lap race, excluding 2 practice laps.
I kind of enjoy riding on dirt despite the fact that the chances of breaking bones on loose surfaces are much, much higher than, say, riding on a smooth racetrack. So, I’ve to say that I was looking forward to the media race. However, my enthusiasm died down the minute I saw the track – it was a small and narrow loop that was slushy and completely wet with a bit of gravel peppered on the surface. There wasn't enough traction for walking, let alone racing!
As I feared, I was simply awful in that race. On the very first lap – practice lap – I locked the rear wheel and crashed. However, when the actual race began, I wasn’t that bad at all, as I held the sixth position for a lap or so. That said, it was hardly an achievement because it was a very, very slow race – I don’t know if I ever shifted to 3d gear. By the end of the second lap, I had a massive, massive slide, which resulted in a spectacular spin and, as a result, I crashed quite unceremoniously. I somehow picked my bike up again, only to have another crash in the next lap. Saying it was embarrassing would be quite an understatement – I was feeling downright suicidal! However, I wasn’t the only one who was busy eating dirt, for most of journos were also on the floor. To be honest, it was all about survival than actual racing. The track had absolutely no grip whatsoever –it was like dancing on ice.
In lap 5, I had another crash – a high-side of sorts, where the bike just threw me off the saddle. When I was midway in air, I had a feeling of my spine being snapped! I landed heavily on my back, badly hurt. At this precise moment, I decided it wasn’t fun anymore and stepped out of the track. And that was the end of it. Did I enjoy it? Well, initially I did, but not when it turned into a crash fest. Will I do it again? Maybe, yes, but I’d definitely prefer doing it on an actual dirt track and not on slush.
On the whole though, my first Rider Mania turned out to be an amazing outing, and it was definitely, definitely more enjoying than what I had hoped for. Next time, though, I would prefer staying upright on the bike more often. Other than that, there's nothing to complain about the Rider Mania, honestly.