Biking offers total freedom to the traveller and proximity to nature, it leaves the person vulnerable to the elements and accidents- all factors that enhance its thrill. Rohit Mitra tries to discover the fun biking offers and what it takes to be a biker
Biking as a hobby has gained popularity in the last decade or so, factors such as improved roads, better bikes, and social media have all contributed to increased popularity of biking in India. What exactly makes people undertake such a challenging and dangerous endeavour as biking and how exactly is the travel experience unique when one goes on a bike?
Mohit Rajpal the co founder of ‘Brothers on Wheels’ biking club says that biking gives one 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 caters to your primordial instincts, an activity where your soul finds expression. Travel is all about discovering something new; going to a place going where everyone goes is not travel. When on a bike we don’t simply ride on a highway and by pass the habitations but 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. Biking generates so much excitement that many of the bikers are not able to sleep the night previous to the flag off it always gives total satisfaction”.
For Mumbai based MarCom/IT professional Archit Revandkar it’s the spontaneity and closeness to the elements which biking offers that makes him ride “In a bus, or even in your own car you never get the chance to be close to the elements you are protected by the shell of your car or the comfort of a bus. 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 independence and flexibility which biking 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 when and where he needs to stop and when you want to set out again and you can always revise your plans. Many bikers are also keen photographers and everybody wants loads of selfies in exotic locations that need is also satisfied by going on a bike.”
Pandit believes that biking could deeply influence people’s behaviour “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 behaviour they are moved they also emulate some positive traits, at least for a while.”
Is it necessary to own a heavy bike in order to be a biker? DK Pandit 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 110 cc Kawasaki Bajaj Caliber on which I visited Ladakh several times, as of now I am riding the 150 cc Suzuki GS150R a 6 gear bike in this I have been to Ladakh 7 times Lahaul Spiti 3 times. I feel that people should choose the bike they are used to riding and which is dependable rather than buying an expensive bike for out of town biking. Though there is this craze with heavier bikes in reality these are prone to breakdown as their nuts and bolts get loose besides problems with the battery box and their silencer are common. In all these years of riding I have faced problems only on two occasions that too of puncture once at Nathula in Sikkim once at Disit in Ladakh.”
Pandit adds that one of his friends at Narender Gautam a school teacher in his 50’s travels on his scooter and has been to Ladakh on it he observes that off late many have started travelling on scooties.
Mohit agrees emphasizing that it is more about the biker than the bike “Our club there are people with a wide range of bikes we welcome all types of people with any type of bike, lighter bikes may find it tough to get a pickup 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 you could expect the unexpected once you are on the road”.
Pandit stresses the importance protective gear even for short distance rides ht “Even if you are going only for breakfast rides knee and elbow guards should be worn. Good quality knee and elbow guards are available for Rs 1500 approx. Gloves are also a necessity. And wearing shoes is essential.”
Mohit rates trucks and dust as the two biggest challenges that bikers face once on the road “The truckers could be pretty nasty they consider us bikers to be worms, on the highway always lookout for trucks. Another thing is dust, while travelling a lot of dust goes into your eyes no matter how much you try to cover your eyes. Dust 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, you go very abruptly into your comfort zone, so dust is a major problem.” says Mohit.
While Pandit believes that it is the fear of puncture that keeps most people from trying biking Arcit 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 the infrastructure improves the thrill of riding in some of the Ghats and old school winding roads is gone.”
Regarding riding on the mountains Pandit advises that before going to higher reaches bikers should first practice on low level hills with heights of about 200-300 feet then gradually increase the height. He says that at least two three trips in these hills is required before venturing to the high hills.
The 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 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 travelling on a lighter bike could save costs significantly “A trip to Ladakh from Delhi on a 150 cc bike would require petrol of about Rs 3000- 4000 for a single rider. As far as 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 one could stay at tents with Rs 150 per bed for the night many have started to take their own tents as well” he says.
|•||Who is a biker? The term biker is very broad it may include young kids on bikes performing stunts or indulging in speed biking in the cities or highways. These reckless souls often ride without helmets with one or more pillion riders.|
|•||Another kind of bikers is those who go for short distance rides, like group of bikers going on breakfast runs on holidays. They may set out early in the morning for about 30, 40 or even 100 Kms and come back by noon or afternoon. They usually go to the outskirts of the city to a resort, a famous Dhaba, picnic spot etc. These groups are usually more active in summers as during winter morning visibility is low and duration of daylight is much lesser.|
|•||Third category includes of serious bikers, they travel long distances at least 250, 300 Kms. These people invest quite a lot on proper riding gear and accessories. Such groups exist all over India and even organize events and may take up various causes.|
Things to remember before setting out:
|•||Get the bike serviced before setting out|
|•||Always take a spare tube, clutch wire, chain lock, Spark plugs, engine oil, fuse and Throttle 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.|