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Honda Asian Journey 2018:Experiencing big bikes and the Malaysian GP

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Abhishek spends a week in the Far East as he samples almost all of Honda’s big machines and witnesses the Malaysian GP during the Honda Asian Journey 2018

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The Honda Asian Journey 2018 was a unique experience, that began as a formal ride, but culminated in a super exciting, nerve-wracking live experience of the Malaysian GP! And it has been a wonderful journey, no second thoughts about that. Imagine running a formation lap in a race with 63 riders around you. However, here the road is your racetrack. And you aren’t racing. But are being led by a safety car (okay, bike in this case) that goes on to clear all the obstacles on the track for you, including cows and potholes!

Back to the start. What’s it got to do with a formation lap you ask? You see, in India you are always running around obstacles when riding or driving. But here, the convoy of 64 riders (including yours truly) was being led by a cop and was being carefully watched by fellow marshals at all time. The grid was shown a yellow flag every time there was a pothole on the road, or even a speed bump! In fact, the local cops went out of their way and stopped traffic at every junction and asked the locals to wait for us, as we saw through every traffic light, throughout the whole 450km+ ride.

Flagging off the Honda Asian Journey in style

The ride was flagged off at Penang and finally shown the chequered flat at the Sepang International Circuit. And the ride wasn’t limited only to the highways; the capital city of Kuala Lumpur was brought to a standstill on the day of the qualifying as the grid rode through the city, during rush hour and a massive downpour. Not just that, on the race day, they even blocked one whole lane in the no entry zone for us! The Honda Asian Journey is definitely a big deal then.

In its third year now, as the name suggests, the ideology is to make sure that every rider gets to experience the ‘big bikes’. Honda is known for its massy products in the Asian subcontinent. For example, Honda rules the sales charts with the Activa in India, while in Malaysia, it’s all step-thrus. And the idea is to promote Honda as something aspirational; a bike maker that not only makes scooters but even superbikes. And obviously, the ride ends in Kuala Lumpur with a meet and greet session with the Repsol Honda riders followed by a live session in the VIP paddock. Now, if that isn’t fascinating…

The briefing session at the Batu Kawan

It all began with an informative briefing session at the Batu Kawan. A very basic induction programme that got the riders acquainted with the line-up, which included everything from a CB500F, all the way to the Goldwing. Quite a necessity, considering the ensemble of riders included Honda dealers and even owners who really don’t have much experience with big bore motorcycles. The seven journos from India were allotted five bikes between them and each one managed to sample almost all the motorcycles. Your correspondent had a go on the CB500F, CBR500, Africa Twin, CB1000R and the CTX 1300. After being flagged off, the day ended at Cameron Highlands, the ‘Himachal Pradesh’ of Malaysia, as they call it. The distance was a meagre 220km, but riding in a convoy ain’t an easy task. Especially when you’re constantly doing over 140kmph+ on the speedo (special thanks to the Malaysian government for that)! Day two wasn’t short either but was more interesting as we not only encountered twisties, but fast paced corners on the highway along with straights, obviously. Kudos to the marshals for taking the convoy in such a systematic manner and of course, the sweet people of Malaysia.

“The distance was a meagre 220km, but riding in a convoy ain’t an easy task. Especially when you’re constantly doing over 140kmph+ on the speedo”

However, the USP of the Honda Asian Journey is the live MotoGP experience. The formation lap that began in Penang finally stopped and handed over the baton to actual racers. And what a magnificent experience it was!

Racing in the sweltering Malaysian heat

The qualifying was already red flagged thanks to Malaysia’s tropical climate. The rains played havoc and the stewards decided to reschedule the race on Sunday to avoid the downpour that usually takes place in the latter part of the day. If you haven’t watched the race, allow me to reiterate the fact that it was a hot day with sweltering heat that you experience in the Indian coastal cities only during the summer. It was debilitating for us, the viewers, forget the riders. If you have ever ridden on a track in leathers, you’d know how difficult it is. Imagine the physical needs of the sport when you’re constantly pushing at speeds over 300kmph. And no, it isn’t just about racing. The riders are constantly solving a puzzle which, if gone wrong, can actually kill them.

“If you have ever ridden on a track in leathers, you’d know how difficult it is. Imagine the physical needs of the sport when you’re constantly pushing at speeds over 300kmph”

I have seen Formula 1 live at Silverstone but MotoGP is a different ball game altogether. To be honest, I’ve just begun watching MotoGP this year. I won’t judge or claim that one sport is superior to the other, but racing on two wheels obviously makes it a lot more physical. And then there are the riders. Watching them go past 300kmph on the main straight and then brake as hard as they can at the end of it is a sight I’ll never forget.

Marquez had already sealed the Championship in Suzuka two weeks prior to the Malaysian GP and was looking menacing as always. But after a six position grid penalty, the seven time World Champion was to start from seventh. However, my eyes were glued to Rossi aka The Doctor.

A Rossi fanboy in the Honda stand

Obviously, being in the Honda stand, I was expected to cheer for Marquez and Pedrosa. One instance saw me almost getting beaten up after I cheered for Rossi on lap 15. Unfortunately, a few laps later he crashed in front of me right at C1 and that put an end to a lot of hopes. In fact, I hadn’t expected to get so emotionally attached to MotoGP, but that actually was a tearjerker for me. And to the whole Rossi stand. Even worse, the Champ actually skid his Yamaha right in front of the Yamaha stand, However, after his fall, even the Honda stand began to cheer for the man! Such is the charm of Rossi and such is the legacy. No wonder then that he’s called the Greatest Of All Time. And leading the race for so many laps at the cusp of being 40 years old, being followed by the most ruthless racer out there is nothing less than a big feat. He is so effortless yet so fast which actually is a lesson in itself for all aspiring riders including your truly.

“The Honda stand began to cheer for the man! Such is the charm of Rossi and such is the legacy. No wonder then that he’s called the Greatest Of All Time”

All in all, the Honda Asian Journey was a win-win for everyone. What we witnessed at Sepang was definitely one of the best shows on earth. And all this after a long-ish ride on the best of Hondas across what could be one of Asia’s most beautiful countries. After the race, the VIP treatment ended for us. However, it started a new chapter in my life. MotoGP, you’ve won yourself another fan. Race on guys!

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