What can truly be called a perfect riding road – a road where the rider reaches nirvana, a road that can soothe the soul or pump your adrenaline, a road that is worthy of being called an Ultimate Riding Wonder? There are very many factors that can come into question, but most importantly the world’s best riding roads need lots of curves, good visibility, beautiful natural landscapes and an added bonus could be the absence of the police and traffic. They may also need smooth tarmac depending on which bike you choose to ride, and for the same reason they might also need to be challenging. However, at last year’s Shell Advance Malaysian MotoGP race, the Coorg to Munnar route was crowned the world’s ultimate riding wonder by Ducati MotoGP rider Nicky Hayden. A part of the Shell Advance ‘7 Riding Wonders of the World’ campaign, people from 8 different countries voted and along with a panel of experts the winning route was decided. Apparently, the experts and the voting public felt that the Coorg to Munnar route via Ooty was the deserved winner, but we would like to think so otherwise, and so thanks to Shell Advance India and Ducati, a few biking journalists and myself were given the opportunity to take two very different and unique motorcycles to ride on the winning route.
Like I said before, depending on what road you consider to be perfect depends on what kind of motorcycle you prefer to ride. In this case we were given the Ducati Multistrada, which is a beautiful all-purpose sports-tourer, and the Monster 796, which is the perfect mid-range sports bike, but has been replaced in India for the slightly cheaper and modified 795. To sum it up, we have a bike that can take on possibly any road that comes its way and we also have a motorbike that performs best on smooth roads with fast curves and short corners – two different perspectives to see if the Coorg-Munnar route is truly the ultimate riding wonder.
The Ducati Multistrada, to start with, is a good bike for almost any kind of road surface or pedigree because that’s the way it has been designed and engineered. It is massive and comfortable with its tubular steel Trellis frame, but the Marzocchi and Sachs monoshock fully adjustable suspension, and the strong but lightweight aluminium single-sided swingarm is what makes the ride quality of this bike superb. The capacity of its L-Twin Desmodromic liquid cooled engine is 1198cc and can power 150 horses to pull you through anything. Mated with a 6-speed transmission and with 4 different riding modes, the Multistrada can be fun in almost all conditions and can be exciting on all roads, however it doesn’t sound as nice as we would like it to, as is the case with most Ducati bikes.
So we rode the Multistrada around the curvy, hilly and picturesque roads of Munnar and found out quite a few interesting things. Firstly, the Multistrada is a powerful machine – in fact, we might even say that it is too powerful for the roads of Munnar for you to engage the bike’s full potential. The Multistrada also has a lot of torque, and it’s pretty light for such a tall and massive bike that if you accelerate too much too quickly you get unexpected pop-ups from the front wheel, and sometimes, in certain areas of the road, it becomes bumpy and you tend to pop a wheelie without actually wanting to do one. However, the bike is very easy to control and maneuver, and the fat rear Pirelli 17’’ tyre allows you to balance yourself very well. Around the curves the bike handles superbly and you can lean into tight corners with full confidence, and this is aided by Ducati’s Traction Control (DTC). But most of the sections of road on this route are very narrow along the curve and more often than not you do not know what lies beyond the curve so you need to be extra cautious, and it doesn’t matter where in India you are, coming through a blind curve is always risky.
Unfortunately we were not able to ride the entire route and were only exposed to a very small portion of it, but we saw the road conditions and we can be rest assured the area is pretty much the same throughout. Even though the roads are not the smoothest, the ride quality of the Multistrada was pretty damn good. The rider seat is massive and pretty comfortable and the riding position can be adjusted with the help of the adjustable foot-peg kit. A cool feature about the Multistrada is the start-stop button and electronic lock so you don’t need to worry about your key when you are on a ride, just leave it in the storage compartment or carry it in your pocket at all times. The electric display of the Multistrada is also perfect for long distance rides as it informs you about all kinds of ride data such as your fuel limit and range of the massive 20 litre tank, and what riding mode you are in. This makes the Multistrada a great touring machine and a fun sports bike at the same time. It is a bike that you can enjoy at low speeds as well as high speeds. On the down side if you decide to take on a pillion rider on this bike they might be a little uncomfortable because the rear seat is very small.
So if you were to ride the Multistrada on the Coorg-Munnar route would it be the best road to enjoy the ride? The answer is yes and no. While, the Multistrada is fun to ride on this road we don’t see why roads such as the Zurich and German Black forest highways, or the back roads in Northern California would be any less thrilling than this one. Yes the Coorg and Munnar area is quite beautiful, but the smoothly laid out twisty and pristine road conditions of the Alps or the San Bernardino Valley would be way more fun, basically because you would be able to experience more speed, less traffic, better visibility and it would be safer. And this I know because I have ridden all over California, and have also driven in the Alps many times and wished for years that I would one day have the opportunity to do it on a bike.
The Multistrada is a sports-tourer and it would be best to ride it in those conditions. It can corner at high speeds, you can get into the curves and most of all it’s got enough power for you to feel the powerful acceleration without worrying about the road and what lies ahead. However, the Coorg-Munnar route could be the best road if you are looking for a challenge, and the Multistrada would gladly accept any challenge from any road. You will feel composed and comfortable at high speeds, and also along rough roads with narrow hilly passes your body isn’t put through overload because the bike is very easy to control, even through tight traffic. If the Multistrada had a mid-sized engine with smaller wheels and better grip we could very well say that the Coorg-Munnar road is one of the world’s best roads to ride on that sort of bike.
Luckily we also had an urban sports bike, and sports bikes work best under the ideal conditions. For example you will need near perfectly smooth roads, and plenty of high-speed curves, and most importantly good vision further down the road. And these kind of roads you can find in very few places across India. So the Monster 796 was the next bike I rode along the route and boy was it ever fun to ride. The stance of the bike is pretty aggressive and the seating position puts you in a zone were you feel the need for speed. You lean to the front and rest your weight on the low handlebars, while the low seating arrangement allows you to lean and control the bike effortlessly. It would be a very good bike to ride around on city streets, and that is probably why the 795 was specially designed for Asia, and I would definitely consider getting a 795 for myself to cruise around Delhi streets because it would be the most practical bike to have. The mid-range L-Twin Desmodromic air-cooled engine has a capacity of 803cc, and although the engine is not the most refined engine, its power output of 87bhp is more than enough to have some really good fun on the Coorg-Munnar road.
However, like I said the road is not the smoothest so you need to be careful on the bumps. It was pretty scary in some areas especially if you’re going fast around a turn and you don’t see the bumps in the road, your bike might just loose grip and you could end up in a serious accident. But still the road is pretty smooth in most places and the Monster 796 was really fun. Even though it is not the ideal bike for such a long trip, it is still really fun and fulfilling, so it is safe to say that the Coorg-Munnar route is a pretty good road for the Monster, but is it the best? The Monster was definitely a great bike to ride on this road, but I am more than sure that if we were on a track such as the Sepang International Circuit, which by the way was also shortlisted to be the Shell Advance Ultimate Riding Wonder, we would have heaps more fun. Even on a smooth road through the English country side, the Monster would be a far better performing machine and you would be able to get the best ride possible from it. It is very light at just 167 kilograms and the lightweight frame and the adjustable Sachs monoshock suspension makes it a fantastic street performer. It’s got a great pickup and plenty of torque to give you that adrenaline rush and offer you great ride quality, the only problem was yet again, that its small size can be a bit of a hindrance for tall riders like myself, oh and also there is practically no rear seat, so if you are thinking of bringing along a pillion rider, you should forget about it.
So what have we concluded here? The Multistrada is a superb performer and very comfortable, and the Coorg-Munnar route would certainly be fun, but surely not the best for this machine. In the case of the Monster, the Shell Advance winning route is definitely a fantastic road to experience rider nirvana, but again it’s not the best. An Enfield or a Pulsar would allow you to experience almost the same level of riding excitement on this road, and, in fact, may just be more ideal. There is no doubt about it, the Coorg-Munnar route is definitely a great route and deserves to be called an ultimate riding wonder, but after my experience with it, I simply don’t think it is the best. In fact, if you take into consideration the vast options of other roads and international circuits across the globe, it would be silly, to name any of them as the ‘best’ Ultimate Riding Wonder, because each road has its own charm and identity and more importantly each rider has his own style of riding and a different perspective or expectation from each ride. Essentially, it would be impossible to find the best riding road in the world because there are so many to choose from that are wonderful and have different riding opportunities. A big round of clapping sounds for Shell Advance India and Ducati for allowing us to ride on this magnificent road on two magnificent bikes to come to this conclusion – after all, an ultimate riding wonder is what we are always searching for.