Sherco TVS let us ride their rally bikes on the Sahara Desert, and it made us, after all the aches and pains we suffered, seriously respect the pros, who perform under severe conditions.
Balakrishnan from TVS asked me, ‘Are you ready?’ after helping me wrestle into the off-roading boots, which I finally managed to buckle down. I tried to sound confident and replied, ‘Let’s do this,’ but I’ve a sneaky feeling that I might have sounded like a nervous Nellie. In all fairness, it’s not every day you get a chance to ride a couple of hardcore rally motorcycles in the Sahara Desert. That’s right, we were at Merzouga, Morocco, all set to do, or at least try, some dune bashing on Sherco TVS motorcycles. Now, all of us are experienced riders, but riding on sand is a completely different ball game altogether – something that we found out the hard way. Luckily, the sand was soft, so each fall and tumble instead of causing injuries caused only a sheepish smile.
Unfortunately, my Morocco expedition started off on a sour note, as my luggage got lost in transit, and I ended up living off charity. Sadly, even a couple of days later, as there was still no update on my luggage, I’d no other option but to visit the local mall at Fes for some new clothes. Now, the reason I’m telling you about my ordeal is to give you a context of how I lost my riding gear and helmet, which were in the luggage bag, of course. Therefore, I was a bit worried about whether I’d be able to ride the Sherco TVS bikes, after all I’d travelled long and far for this. Kudos to TVS, for they assured me that they’ll arrange a riding gear for me. As luck would have it, the gear arranged for me belonged to none other than rally rider Abdul Wahid Tanveer, who gave Sherco TVS a much-deserved podium finish at the recently concluded Rallye du Maroc.
Coming back to the ride experience, we’d the option to choose between the dirt bike, the 300 SEF Factory and the Rally Lite 450. I went for the safer option first and chose the 300. So much for playing safe! With its colossal ground clearance of 355mm – hell, that’s more than most of the so-called SUVs in India – the bike towered over me. Anyway, after taking a deep breath, I exclaimed, ‘here goes nothing,’ and sat astride the 300 – a task considerably difficulty in itself. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my toes managed to touch the ground. Before I was heading to the desert, I asked Sherco TVS Michael Metge for some words of wisdom. The rally veteran only had one thing to say, ‘always give throttle’. ‘It’s easy for you say that’, I said to myself.
I pressed the ignition start button, and the 303.68cc came to life with a throaty note, thanks to the free-flowing Akrapovic exhaust. Due to the slick 6-speed transmission along with its lightweight, the 300 SEF initially felt easy to manoeuvre on the sand. But like everything in life, after spending some time, the sheen of this machine came off, and I realised that I had to continuously arm wrestle with the bike. Once it lost its momentum, I was forced to shift down and open the throttle. It may sound simple, but it can be quite a task riding on the sand, and even more so, when you’re climbing up a sand dune. A safer way is to stick to second gear and go open the throttle. I did exactly that. This gave the bike the much-needed momentum to sail through the sand and, at the same time, allowed me the full control over the bike. A word of caution – it’s better to stand on the pegs than sit and ride, for the bike tends to sink into the soft sand. Coming to the power output, Sherco TVS refused to divulge the figures. The bad news here is that the Franco-Indian alliance have no plans of bringing this bike or any of their other rally bikes to India. As I exhausted the allotted riding time, I was completely exhausted myself, as the 300 SEF is simply too demanding for a novice like me.
After lunch and much-needed rest, I decided to take a bold step and ride the Rally Lite 450, also known as simply the 450 RTR. Sure, it was quite intimidating, to say the least, but then you only live once. The first thing the Sherco TVS team politely asked us was not to venture too far out in the desert and not drop the 450. After all, this was the same bike Tanveer rode in Rallye du Maroc.
Like the 300 SEF, the 450 too has a very tall riding stance and comes with Akrapovic exhaust, but that’s where the similarities end. The 449.40cc is very refined and doesn’t try to rip your head off. Instead, it makes sure you’re comfortable and at ease. Open the throttle, and it obediently follows your command, unlike the 300, which is jumpy and pushy. It comfortably goes up a sand dune, without unnecessary drama. But, what goes up must come down. With no experience in this field, I let the bike glide down without trying anything fancy. Of course, the pros would stand on the foot pegs and race down, but I simply sat down and held on to the 450 tightly, while whispering the only prayer I know. Thanks to my luck, I landed on flat sand safely without creating any scene.
The 450 is mated to a smooth 6-speed transmission with a hydraulic clutch, ensuring that changing gears is an effortless experience. As the chassis is made of chrome-molybdenum steel, which is an alloy that is lighter and stronger than regular steel, the 450 weighs only 135kg, a shade lesser than the Yamaha YZF R15. Coming to the ride quality, the 450 is softer than the 300 SEF, as it comes with fully adjustable WP suspension. The front offers 300mm of travel, while the rear offers 330mm. Thankfully, no incidents took place, as I came back in one piece and safely parked the 450.
The 450 is definitely my pick of the two bikes – it’s flexible and adapts to different riding styles. This is also the reason why the rally riders are able to push their limits without any fear. I thought the apt way to sign off this experience was by telling the 450 RTR, ‘Here’s looking at you kid” – remember Casablanca? And while I was returning home, guess who was waiting patiently for me at Casablanca airport – my ‘lost’ luggage. I guess, it’s safe to say – all’s well that ends well.
The 300 SEF’s engine needs to be revved hard, and isn’t as refined as the 450 RTR. Like the 450, it offers a ground clearance of 355mm and comes with a free-flowing Akrapovic exhaust.
The Sherco TVS Rally Lite 450 weighs only 135kgs, and comes with completely adjustable WP suspension. The bike’s cockpit consists of tripmeters, a compass reading and a roadbook holder.