Biking provides a sense of freedom to the traveler and proximity to nature. It leaves the person vulnerable to the outside elements- factors that enhance its thrill. Rohit Mitra talks to prominent bikers and clubs in Delhi to piece together the A to Z of biking.
Biking as a hobby has gained popularity in the last decade or so, with factors such as improved roads, better bikes and social media contributing to the increased popularity of biking in India.
What exactly makes people undertake such a challenging and dangerous endeavor and how exactly is the travel experience unique when one goes on a bike?
Mohit Rajpal, co-founder of ‘Brothers on Wheels’ biking club says that biking gives you the chance to discover new places and gives you memories of a lifetime. “Biking gives you something extra. It’s an experience that is hard to put in words. Let me put it this way, it is an activity where your soul finds expression. Traveling on a bike gives you total independence. It is all about discovering something new: going to a place where everyone goes is not travel. When on a bike we don’t simply ride on a highway and bypass the habitations, we go into the interiors and have a real feel of the place. We stop over at the villages and eat their food this way we experience their lifestyle. I feel biking is the best way to do rural tourism and know our culture,” he says.
For Mumbai-based MarCom/IT professional Archit Revandkar, it’s the adrenaline rush that biking offers which gets him going.
“In a bus or even in your own car, you never get the chance to be extremely close to the elements of nature. You are protected by the shell of your car or the comfort of a bus. Majority of times the bikers don’t have any plan as such- they are on the road just enjoying the ride. There is always that uncertainty with biking as one wrong turn could mean that you are lost or in trouble- this uncertainty adds to the thrill of biking,” he says.
62-year-old retired government servant DK Pandit runs a biking club called ‘Ladakh Returns’. He cherishes the spontaneity which traveling on a bike offers. “With other modes of travel, you need to follow schedules and plan, whereas on a bike one can start off instantaneously. One is independent in a sense that it is up to the person- when and where they need to stop and when to set out again. One can always revise the plans. Many bikers are also keen photographers and for them biking is a viable option. Everybody wants loads of selfies in exotic locations,” he says with a grin.
Many become part of the riding clubs for the sense of camaraderie that these groups offer. “I was not really very keen on riding earlier. Once I went with my brother just out of curiosity and got hooked to it. I absolutely loved the sense of bonding among the bikers and their fun-loving nature,” says Shobhit Rajpal, co-founder of ‘Brothers on Wheels’.
The sense of brotherhood and discipline among the bikers means that they have very good organization skills, as biker groups also organise a lot of events and also take up many causes. “We maintain a network among bikers and for example, if requirement for blood comes from anywhere, we forward it to bikers in the vicinity. Someone or the other definitely offers help,” says Shobhit.
DK Pandit tells that biker clubs like ‘xkmph’ have done a commendable job by taking up various causes. He also says that his club ‘Ladakh Return’ in tandem with ‘Devils on Wheels’ had last winter organized a warm clothes donation drive for the homeless.
Pandit further believes that biking could deeply influence people’s behavior. “If you visit a place like Ladakh, people there are very simple. If you lose something, no one would steal it. In fact they would be eager to return it back to the owner. When people witness such behavior, they are moved and also emulate some positive traits, at least for a while,” he says with another smirk.
Archit also feels that biking can be a great learning experience “When you are on the road, you learn a thing or two about how to deal with different kinds of people. If you have a curious mind, believe in reaching out to people and have a conversation with them, it can lead you to have a better understanding of a variety of cultures and make you more broad-minded,” he says of his own experience.
Is it necessary to own a heavy bike like a Bullet in order to be a biker? DK Pandit definitely disproves this widely held misconception. He has ridden light bikes to formidable locations such as Ladakh, Nathu-la and Lahaul Spiti.
“I started off with a 110cc Kawasaki Bajaj Caliber on which I visited Ladakh several times. As of now, I am riding the 150cc Suzuki GS150R- a 6-gear bike- in this I have been to Ladakh 7 times and 3 times to Lahaul Spiti. On this bike, I rode from Delhi to Kolkata to Sikkim to Bhutan and then back to Delhi.
I feel that people should choose the bike they are comfortable in riding and which is dependable, rather than buying an expensive bike for out-of-town adventures. Though there is this craze with heavier bikes, in reality, these are prone to breakdown as their nuts and bolts get loose and problems with their battery box and silencer are also common,” says Pandit.
Pandit adds that one of his friends Mr Narender Gautam, a school teacher in his 50’s, travels on his scooter and has even been to Ladakh on it. He observes that off late, many have started traveling in their scooties as well.
Mohit agrees, emphasizing that it is more about the biker than the bike, “In our club, there are members with a wide range of bikes. Lighter bikes may find it tough to get pick-up in the hills but the determining factor is the rider and not the bike. For being a biker, one needs to be mentally tough as one has to expect the unexpected once you are on the road and have a passion for riding.”
Pandit stresses that even for short-distance rides, knee, elbow guards and gloves should be bought. “Even if you are going only for breakfast rides, good quality knee and elbow guards should be worn. Gloves are also a necessity. And wearing shoes is essential.”
Mohit rates trucks and dust as the two biggest challenges that bikers face on the road. “The trucks can be pretty nasty. Be always on the lookout for trucks. Sometimes they make us feel like worms in front of them. Another thing that is a threat is dust. While travelling, a lot of dust goes into your eyes no matter how much you try to cover them. The problem with dust is that it can make you sleepy. It only takes you a couple of minutes to go to sleep and it is my observation that whenever you feel sleepy, you get the feeling that you are in your bed. Then you very abruptly go into your comfort zone,” says Mohit.
While Pandit believes that it is the fear of punctures that keeps most people from trying biking on long distances, Archit states that the conditions of Indian roads is what makes biking somewhat dangerous “Infrastructure here is an issue as roads are not that good, though I have to admit that it’s a bit of a double edged sword as more the infrastructure improves, the thrill of riding in some of the ghats and old school winding roads will go away.”
Pandit explains how riders need to adapt their style of riding to different types of terrain.
“If you ride on a highway in the morning, you would see a lot of people on the left side, especially factory workers on cycles; many also cross the road and hence, you should not be too much on the left. Always ride left of center. At night, on the highways, there could be a dead animal or a live animal roaming around- black buffaloes are common and could be tough to spot on time. On highways, you need to be alert, many people over-speed but that should not force you to go to much to the left as nails, sediments etc are lying there, which can make your bike skid or even give you a puncture.”
“If we are to talk of mountains on smaller hills, one would find heavy traffic. One has to overtake only from the right and that timing of overtaking is important. Sometimes, it so happens that you may not be able to overtake for 8-9 km at a stretch, which we are not used to in the cities. Here one needs a lot of patience. On mountains that are 7000 – 10,000 feet, the turns are sharp and the corners are full of dry bajri (gravel). Long turns are required here. Gears have to be changed in advance. One needs to have the understanding of changing gears as well. At hills with low height, one doesn’t need to shift gears as promptly but in the higher reaches they need to be adjusted more frequently. Driving on mountains that are 10,000 feet and more is also challenging, here vegetation and oxygen both are lesser than usual. Ice, snow and water are the biggest challenges there”
Pandit advises that before going to higher reaches, bikers should first practice on low-level hills with height of about 2000-5000 feet. He says that at least two-three trips in these hills is required before venturing to the high hills.
The last and the most important question arises- is biking a rich man’s past time? Archit does not believe it to be so “If you look at what is available right now, there exists a wide spectrum of choice- one can even buy a used bullet or even make do with good lighter bikes. The advantage with heavier bikes is that these are more conducive to carrying heavier loads like folded tents. If you can carry tents it would not only be more economical but also enhance the experience of being in the wilderness- camping in tandem with biking is something that I along with my friends are planning to do in the future.”
Pandit points out that traveling on a lighter bike could save costs significantly “A trip to Ladakh on a 150 cc bike would require petrol of about Rs 3000- 4000 (distance between the two is about 1262 Kms) for a single rider. As far as a heavy motorcycle is concerned, at least Rs 8000 would be spent on petrol. People who go for long distance rides to places like Ladakh are usually not looking for luxury and by being frugal you could save more money. For example, one could stay in tents in Manali- at tents with Rs 150 per bed for the night. Many have started to take their own tents as well” he says.
Things to remember before going out for biking:
- Get the bike serviced before setting out
- Always take a spare tube, clutch wire, chain lock, Spark plugs, engine oil, fuse and Throddle wires. Carry a puncture kit if your bike has a tubeless tire
- Every 2000- 3000 Kms change the engine oil
- Make sure you have rear view mirrors on both sides
- BSNL SIM card- BSNL has the best network in remote areas like Ladakh
- Elbow, knee guards along with biking gloves are a must even for short distance rides, and biking should be done only with shoes on
- Biker Jackets: In case you decide for long distance rides Then you could buy one of these. Biker jackets have several layers that can be added in cold climes and removed in hotter places, these also have waterproof layers which could be used to protect against rains. Biker jackets of good quality start around Rs 8000.