Exploring India on a Motorcycle
by: Balaji Devanathan
The year 1885, Bad Cannstatt, Germany; Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach invented petroleum-powered motorcycles. To go fast, to go far, and to go to places that were seemingly impossible to reach. Since then girls, boys, men, and women have been dreaming of riding off into the unknown. The insatiable desire to see what lies on the other side of the far ridge.
The Gene mutation variant DRD4-R7 (the adventure gene) is probably responsible for wanderlust. The need to take on risks, explore the unknown and the excitement of adventure.
India is an amalgam of extreme cultural diversity. Exploring the lesser-known parts of India on a motorcycle gives a “high” like no other. Wind bouncing off your face; nostrils picking up strange fragrances; raindrops exploding on your cheeks. Mountains, streams, mustard fields, sandy deserts, pristine beaches, and forests drift past, as if in a dream. Strange languages, cuisine, choice of dress. Happy people with big golden hearts and very little else. Others, who seemingly have it all yet wear the pain of fear & suspicion on their sleeves and mask it with arrogance on their faces. Powerful people who travel with armed guards, in bulletproof SUVs and others who wield no power, but roam with nothing to fear. People who judge you by what you ride and others who are just happy to meet you, a fellow traveler in this journey of life. Kings (in their respective fields), sadhus, priests, teachers, mystics, soldiers, the odd con-man, truckers, tourists, beggars, painters, folk singers, street gymnasts & magicians, men painted like tigers, proud tribals, hard-working women, lazy drunks… you get to see it all. More importantly, you can be anybody you want to be. You can choose to leave behind the burden of your identity. Experience freedom. If you ride you will know what I mean.
For over 25 years now, I have been riding motorcycles to lesser-known parts of India and it still feels like I am only starting to see the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to explore and experience.
Every ride requires preparation. Ride prep. will determine the choices you will get on the road.
Here is a simple prep guide that comes after having used 6 motorcycles, over a total of about 250,000 km in multiple countries including India.
- A strong Traveller is a happy traveler.
Train for a minimum of 45 days. Build yourself, to be able to jog or brisk-walk about 5 km, do 30 bodyweight squats, 15 push-ups and hold a plank for about 45 sec. This is the minimum and will help you enjoy your time on the saddle.
More endurance -> less fatigue -> more alert -> better prepared for road surprises -> safer rider.
Choice of motorcycle:
The Best Motorcycle to go touring is the one you have. You know it well as an old friend.
If you plan on buying one, then get the one that makes your heart sing, dinga-linga-ling…
If you still can’t decide, then consider the following.
- Inexpensive motorcycles leave a lot of money for fuel and travel.
- Light motorcycles are easier to push, easier to lift, and probably more fuel-efficient too.
- Common motorcycles do not draw unwanted attention. You can park it out of sight and not be worried about it. Spares are easy to find.
- Simple motorcycles have fewer parts to break and are easy to fix. So fewer tools to carry.
- If you are starting out with a clapped-out old banger…then there will be a lot of work to do. Prudence is in leaving it at a professional workshop. But keep your eyes and ears open to make mental notes of all that is being done.
- If she is your pride and joy, then the following should be ok.
- New tires and tubes.
- Check the electrical wiring for any worn-out insulation, cracks, binding etc. Fix as required.
- Systematically open small and large fasteners put them back with a drop of Loctite 243 on the thread and tighten. Draw a line across the bolt head/nut extending the line on to the frame, using a permanent marker or paint. This will help check all the fasteners visually instead of having to check with a spanner.
- New engine oil, oil filter, air filter, and brake pads.
- Look for cracks and corrosion on the frame and fix it as required.
- Check and replace if cracked, all rubber and flexible hoses.
- Check and clean the filter of the fuel pump as well as the injector or Check and clean carburetor.
- After all the work is done, ride it for about 50 to 70 km on a mix of good and bad roads. Then finally on a road that you are very familiar with. If it’s all good, then your beloved motorcycle is ready for the adventure.
Choice of luggage:
If you are riding single, then a luggage system with three or four pieces work best.
Saddlebags or hard panniers + a small duffel/tail bag on the rear seat + very small backpack/hydration. I am not a fan of Tank bags but use it if necessary.
A dry set of clothes at the end of a rainy day will more than pay for the price of the bags.
- Riding Gear:
- A comfortable full-face helmet, proper riding boots or hiking boots, and thick leather gloves will take care of your extremities.
- A four seasons Riding jacket and riding pants with armour will cover the rest of you. Jacket and pant must have vents, rain layer, and a thermal layer.
- Carry a couple of buffs/scarves. They protect your neck from being stung by small flying road debris and sand.
- What to pack:
- Two sets of spare base layers to wear under the riding gear. Compression shorts and compression full sleeve T-shirts work best.
- Two sets of casual clothes to wear in the evenings and off-bike days. Undies and socks too.
- Sun Cap and sun goggles.
- Warm clothes to suit the temperatures you will be encountering. Carry only one or two good jackets, preferably such that one can be worn over the other. Variety is pointless.
- Basic toilet kit. Throw in a tube of itch guard.
- Sleeping bag and a towel.
- Flip-flops or simple rubber sandals.
- A good torch-light, pocket knife, and matches.
- First Aid kit, which includes medication specific to you.
- Cell phone with a BSNL sim, in some remote places this will be your only means to call.
- Spares & Tools:
- Brake lever & clutch lever.
- Spare wheel tube/s. you could get a puncture shop but may not get the right tube.
- Clutch, accelerator, etc cables.
- If your ride is going to belong, then brake pads.
Take a good look at your bike. You should be able to open most of the fasteners with six or seven spanners, a flat head, and a Philips screwdriver. Throw in a set of Allen keys specific to your bike.
Your tool kit must also have the following.
- Good pliers.
- 2 x 1m long electrical wire and a roll of insulation tape.
- Bunch of zip ties.
- 5 m of strong (to load 250kg) rope.
- M Seal.
- Other prep:
Study route details. Read up on cultural history and things to do.
Read up on permits.
Try and connect with bikers local to where you are going. They can tell you about interesting routes, petrol stations and places to stay.
Share your plan with friends. You never know who might know what.
Money to be carried in a combination of cash, debit card, and credit cards.
People in Rural India are in general very helpful. If you show genuine respect and sincerely ask for help, you will be surprised how far they will go to help you.
Most of the time, when you are being helped by people, offer them a gift as a token of appreciation. Paying them money is often considered a disgrace.
Don’t judge people by how they look. Be humble.
Try to stay in the home-stays. This is a real way to get to know the place and its beautiful people.
Finally, think hard on why you really want to go out on adventure ride.
– If it is about going to places you have only heard of.
– If it is about experiencing nature, culture people very different to home.
– If it is about proving to yourself that you have it in you to take on the unknown.
– If it is about surrendering to life as it comes.
– If it is about freedom on two wheels….
Then you are all set to get out there and experience a wonderful motorcycle adventure.
We at Red Panda Adventuresencourage everybody to explore responsibly. We can show you how…..Sign up on one of our motorcycle tours.