Long-distance motorcycling is being tipped to emerge as one of the hottest trends in immersive travel in the wake of the COVID-19 era. A lot of us adventure lovers dream about jetting off to Leh and Tawang or cruising through the gorgeous Thar landscape. And what better than a little travel break like this to thoroughly plan your debut? Presenting part two of our guide (read part one here) for first-time long-distance riders. We spoke to Deepak Kamath, the first Indian to have ridden in six continents and the first Asian to do so in Antarctica.
Which bike should I get?
Splurging one's hard-earned money on an 800cc beast is not the way to go about it. Kamath says, "There are classic examples of people having done a round-the-world on an 80cc machine so if somebody tells me that to go to Ladakh, they need a 600cc or an 800cc, that is ridiculous. I believe it’s you who matters, not the bike. I don’t encourage people to make big investments on motorcycles."
For a newbie, Kamath recommends a 200-250cc bike, and if one's budget permits, it could go up to 400cc. The reason? "Our roads are not equipped to handle 120-130km/h of speed at a stretch. We are not the United States. The minute you accelerate, there is someone right in front of you crossing the road using a mobile or a cow in the middle of the street. The inspiration that you get from somebody should stop at the destination, it shouldn’t be about what motorcycle the guy used."
Is long-distance motorcycling a particularly expensive way to travel?
It’s all about planning and budgeting carefully, and not falling into the trap of needing to flaunt our travel. Set aside a daily budget for fuel and lodging and buffer in a little other portion for any unexpected expenses.
“When we are on the road, it is very important to be as comfortable as possible, and at the same time, not have a complete detachment from the local community. The essence of travel is to know a particular region that you’re planning to visit. So, getting secluded in a four-star or five-star hotel, or getting completely detached from the crowd is something I would never encourage." As far as food goes, Kamath suggests simple, local, vegetarian fare for the simple reason that it is both cheaper and lighter on the belly.
How much motorcycle maintenance do I need to know?
Modern machines don’t break down that easily. But just like with most things in life, the basics are a must. Get the routine check-up done before each ride. Kamath suggests heading to the service centre, meeting a service advisor and having him refer you to a technician. “Sit down with them and understand everything. Ask him about the problems the bike has — what problems you could face on a road trip, and how they could be fixed.”
Learning to fix a flat is an essential skill. “You could have one in the first 100km. You need to be equipped and conversant. Fixing a flat is not rocket science. Invest about Rs 500-600 on a puncture patch kit and get a USB charger and an inflator pump. For a little over Rs 2,000, you can be equipped to fix a flat on your own,” says Deepak, adding that skills can be picked up easily at any puncture shop by watching the technician closely and even offering to assist.
Could I be attacked or robbed in remote areas?
It is important to travel with an open mind, feels Kamath. Avoid going into the ride with the mindset that someone is out to mug you or attack you. “Many say that when you’re travelling through Mexico, people will shoot at you. On the contrary, in Mexico, when we went for the Polar Odyssey, these guys opened the glass doors of their hotel, and made us park our motorcycles inside, right in front of our rooms, just to make sure that our belongings were safe,” Kamath recalls.
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It’s also important, as a conscious traveller, to blend into the surroundings and not look down upon the local community or be condescending in your interactions. Abhishek Shankar, who rode to Pfutsero a little while back, weighs in, “A big reason why many bikers are respected by locals is the way they mingle with them and help them in their day-to-day activities. Don’t make a bad impression and make it difficult for yourself and other riders.”
Then there is common sense. Avoid travelling according to spreadsheet itineraries and have only a basic, tweakable framework, so that you do not have to ride after the dark.
Kamath advocates stopping at crowded dhabas to eat. “A crowded dhaba is an indication that it is popular because of its food and also because there are travellers from both sides who will meet up here. The trick is to check with the truckers or the owner himself. Ask him general questions about the route, about any possible dangers on the road ahead. And it is important not to put any words in their mouth. Allude to the fact that the dangers could be related to a politically volatile situation, or to wild animals. That is when they will themselves indicate if there is indeed a danger from human beings on the road ahead.”