CHOOSING THE RIGHT MOTORCYCLE
Choosing the right motorcycle for your trip to Ladakh is one of the most crucial aspect of the entire planning! Of course, any bike can go there provided it is ridden sensibly and within its limits. However, each motorcycle is made different and behaves differently in different environments. A roadtrip to Ladakh is a very tiring affair! Long riding hours, absence of proper tarmac, and extreme weather conditions make this journey even more tiring. So if you have an option, it is recommended that you go for a motorcycle that not only provides you maximum comfort but is reliable and has good handling as well.
So, in this article, we will talk about certain characteristics of motorcycles and how it will affect your riding.
Power: the more there is the better off you’ll be. Why? Because 1) more power means you’ll still have enough left-over when low oxygen levels at high-altitude sap your engine’s power. 2) The more power you have in reserve, the less you need to stress the engine to get acceptable performance. And a less stressed engine will improve its reliability as well as reduce fuel consumption.
Torque: The more torque you get at low rpm’s, the better it is as it’ll give your bike good climbing ability at low speeds.
Handling: You definitely need a bike that handles well and in predictable manner. As the Delhi – Leh trip using any of the two routes entails almost 2000 kms of mountain riding. Also, a well-sorted bike is less stressful to ride, both physically and mentally as it does not need constant corrective inputs and the rider can afford to relax a little while riding. Too responsive and twitchy a set-up is fine for a couple of hours of tarmac thrashing but for a long chain of long days on the road, a more relaxed set-up is not just good but a necessity.
Braking: Disc brakes are common, very effective and extremely useful in hill riding. At least the front needs to be a disc as one can live with rear drums without any appreciable loss in braking prowess of the bike.
Reliability: An aspect of utmost importance. The Ladakh region is one of the least populated places on the planet and far from expecting knowledgeable and well-equipped help in fixing a bike gone kaput, you’ll rarely find another soul on certain stretches. So look for a motorcycle that has a good record on reliability.
Ruggedness: Quite a large part of your riding will be in places that have little or no roads. Add the stresses of steep climbs at power-sapping altitudes, the extreme cold and the profusion of dust or slush and you’ll realize how robust and tough your bike should be. No amount of mental resolve or physical toughness on the rider’s part can fix a broken frame or collapsed suspension. If something that big and important breaks, you don’t even have the option of walking and dragging the bike left with you. So look for a proven rugged bike for this trip.
Tank Capacity/Range/Fuel Economy: Very very important as this ride entails stretches of more than 300 kms where you do not have any chance of getting fuel if your tanks run dry. Well, you can buy fuel in ‘black’ at places but then there’s no guarantee of its quality or what it’ll do to your engine a few miles down. So good fuel efficiency and large tank capacity give you the kind of distance reserves that could some day even save your life.
Tyres: Dual purpose tubeless are fast becoming the unanimous choice amongst bikers to Ladakh or any such destination that entails a fair bit of broken tarmac, dirt roads, slush, sand and at times even snow. The dual purpose tread pattern gives good grip and traction in off-road conditions including in soft snow. Tubeless tyres are not prone to sudden deflation and they have a tendency to lose air slowly which can be a boon and a life saver on this ride. Also, repairing them by the road-side is a relatively easy job provided you have the means of re-inflating them at hand. (see checklist for ‘vital tools to carry’). The only downside with tubeless compared to tubed tyres is the tendency for the former to lose air in case the wheel rim gets dented for some reason.
Weight: Ideally, you will be the best off with a powerful bike that makes lots of torque at low rpm’s, is reliable, rugged, has a range of at least 450kms unrefueled and is light in weight. Well, the ideal conditions are usually a bit distant from reality and weight is something you have to live with. Of course, the lighter bikes make it easy for you to wrestle them through tough water crossings, sand, slush and most importantly in picking it up in case of a fall. Choose light weight but not at the cost of power, torque, reliability, ruggedness and range.
Ground Clearance: The higher the better. The Ladakh route has places where you’ll be riding over rocks a foot high and if your bike grounds its bottom at 6 inches, then you’re as good as stopped by those remaining 6 inches. Those bikes with bigger wheels (The Bullet, Karizma, Unicorn etc) fare better both in terms of ground clearance and in handling better on rough ground.
Ergonomics: How good is the physical match between you and your bike? For a simple handlebar-foot-peg compatibility check with your physique, put the bike on its main-stand, sit on it, close your eyes and reach out for the handlebars. If the end-grips fall naturally at hand for you, then the ergo’s are spot-on for you. Bad ergonomics, say those that make you crouch or reach farther than what your natural stance permits will be a pain to ride for long hours and for days at stretch.
Seat comfort: A happy bum makes you a happy bum! The seat is something that will probably need some extra padding up with firmer foam. Usually the stock foam is too soft for a ride like Ladakh. But then those lighter in weight will not find this that big an issue. It is a matter of how much weight you put on the seat per square inch. So that’s another reason to loose those extra kilo’s before such a ride.
Ease of in-field repair: Reliability is no guarantee for zero failure. And a bike that is easy to fix on the road is a boon on such rides to remote places. The bullet scores on this as do quite a few of the Japanese designs. As a thumb rule, any bike that does not require any special tools to change its control cables, clean the air filter, adjust those tappet clearances and tune the carburetor should be the choice. Because for any other more serious issues, you’ll probably need to get the bike carried to a workshop anyways.
Fuel Injected vs Carbureted: Debatable but then lets list the pros and cons of both to help you make an informed choice.
- Easy access without special tools
- Most mechanics at small towns are familiar with them
- More tolerant towards dirty or contaminated fuel.
- Easier to tune
- Give lower fuel efficiency as precise tuning for all engine conditions not possible
- Easily affected by low oxygen levels and reduced air density at altitude.
- Less responsive under such extreme conditions
- Troublesome to start in very cold conditions
Fuel Injection Pros:
- Precise fueling so better efficiency and so better range for a given tank capacity
- The system automatically adjusts for reduced air density as altitude increases
- Positive fuel feed pressure means surer and easier starts even at very low temperatures
- Sealed unit and so less affected by rain, snow, dust, heat and vibration.
Fuel Injection Cons:
- Complex and inaccessible system which cannot be repaired by the roadside in case of a failure.
- Very sensitive to bad fuel quality
- System depends on a good and well-charged battery
PREPARING YOUR MOTORCYCLE FOR THE RIDE
Any well kept and maintained motorcycle can do this ride. We’ll give you a few pointers here and identify areas that you can take particular care to make sure your ride remains an adventure of choice than becoming one of circumstance.
The Frame: A couple of weeks before the ride, get it thoroughly washed and inspect the frame closely for any visible cracks, bends or other deformities that could indicate an impending failure when it gets a beating on the road to Leh. Look out for cracks in the paint that might have an overloaded component beneath. This is also the time to get a second or third opinion about the straightness of the bike’s handlebars. Short daily commutes do not cause any major physical discomfort even when done with an out of alignment handlebar but the long hours and days on the way to Ladakh will have you surviving on pain-killers for that sore shoulder or wrist which a straight handle would not have caused.
The Suspension: Check the shock absorbers/damping units for cracks, deformity, rebound damping etc. Check the front fork seals for oil leaks, check fork action for good suspension action. Compare static ride height with a new bike to ensure your bike’s suspension doesn’t have too much sag. Front fork alignment can be an issue but it usually is obvious enough for the rider to have it rectified soon after it happens say after a collision of due to a fall.
The Engine: Unusual engine noise, vibration, over-heating, difficult starts, intermittent idling and running and consumption of oil are pointers to an unhealthy engine. Only an experienced hand at bike maintenance can advise you here. But the point is to follow that advise to avoid a major breakdown miles from home and help.
Control Cables: Change all control cable with new ones and keep the old ones as spares. Better still and this applies specially to the clutch cables, leave the old cable where it was while you put in the new one and connect it. The old cable can be hooked up quickly and cleanly in case the new one fails.
Air filter: Change the air filter element with a new one if it’s a paper element type. Clean the foam type. In case you want to go in for a free-flow type filter, then do the changes a couple of weeks before you leave for the ride.
The Clutch and Gearbox: Both these need to be in a very good condition for you and your bike to make it through a Ladakh ride together. Take expert opinion and get the clutch plates changed a week or two before the ride (this will give them time to bed in). Usually, it is the clutch that causes apparent gearbox problems like hard or notchy shifts. If such gear issues do not get resolved even with a new clutch plate set, then obviously there’s a definite issue within the gearbox itself. Needless to say, do not ride out with gearbox issues as they will only get worse and almost surely leave you stranded at the worst possible time and place.
The Drive Chain: As vital as all the other parts put together. If in any doubt about the integrity of your bike’s drive chain or if it has been adjusted to more than half the possible adjustment range, change the chain and both the sprockets as a set. Do not ride out with a chain shortened to acceptable length by removing a link. A stretched chain means the link plates and roller pins have worn out almost to the limit. Hard stresses will make any one of them snap. And then you’re in trouble. As an added insurance for reparability though, carry a couple of master links in your spares kit.
Wheels and tyres: Go in for tubeless tyres if you can and prefer dual purpose tread patterns. Check the cush-drive rubbers of the rear wheels and replace them with new ones if the existing ones are cracked or have gone too hard. Check the wheel for any dents and alignment. Spoked wheels need balancing all the more. Make sure the tyre is mounted properly on the rim by making sure the moulding line along the tyre’s bead is equidistant from the rim all round the circumference.
The Brakes: Discs – Check disc thickness and disc pad wear. Disc thickness should be within acceptable limits (which are usually stamped on the disc itself) as too thin a disc might get warped by the heat generated during hard usage of the brake. Disc pads should have double the miles you’ll do during the trip as they will wear faster during hill riding. Check brake fluid quality and quantity. Change the fluid if it looks black or very dark. Make sure the brake feel is not spongy which indicates air in the system. Check brake hose for leaks, cracks or localized ballooning. Carry a spare set of disc pads. Drums: Check brake shoe lining. Get the drum lightly sanded and cleaned for good braking. Adjust the brakes so that you get braking once the pedal is depressed about an inch or so.
The Lights and Electricals: Check the status of the battery, especially in the case of bikes that just have a self-starter with no back-up kick start and are fuel injected. A flat battery in this case would be akin to an engine failure. Clean the battery connections and cover them with silicone grease to keep moisture out. Replace the stock head-light bulb with a better illuminating halogen. Whether you go in for an HID set-up is of course an individual decision. But make sure the re-wiring is well done, keep a relay and ballast as spare and make sure the HID mountings are as strong as they can be. Check all major connections, spray them and the switches with WD-40 and harness the wires in a way that they don’t rub against the bike body or the frame. Turn the handle lock to lock to check for this.
Seat: get a layer of high-density foam added to the stock foam but make sure the ride height does not increase to uncomfortable levels. Make sure the seat cover is a tight fit or it will wrinkle and pucker in the crotch area and make life difficult for you with the resulting chaffing of the groins.
Luggage options: Saddlebags, Panniers, rucksacks or dufflebags tied to the pillion seat. Tank bags for up front. The choice is enormous and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Saddlebags and panniers become a must if you’re riding with a pillion. But whatever choice you select, make sure to wrap your stuff in polythene bags/waterproof fabric before putting them into the luggage. Rain, slush and dust will be your incessant companions and only an impermeable barrier like the above mentioned will keep your things, clothes, food, equipment and medicines safe and clean. Do not carry a rucksack on your back. You will strain your neck muscles in a day or two as this ride entails the worst roads you can think off. Make sure the mountings and frame for the panniers is doubly strong compared to what worked for you during other ordinary rides. This is off-road territory and the jumps and bumps will put unthought of loads on the mounting points. Carry spare bungee cords/elastic nets and some nylon clothesline for emergency tie-down purpose.
You can get your bike serviced at your bike manufacturer’s authorized service center or visit a Castrol Bike Point in your city to get it serviced by trained and reliable technicians there. You can download the Castrol Power Biking android app from Google Play Store to find your nearest Castrol Bike Point. You can also check for Castrol Bike Points closest to you HERE
You can get your bike serviced at your bike manufacturer’s authorized service center or visit a Castrol Bike Point in your city to get it serviced by trained and reliable technicians there. You can download the Castrol Power Biking android app from Google Play Store to find your nearest Castrol Bike Point.
You can also create a custom check-list for your ride preparations on the Castrol Power Biking App
And you can also check which Castrol engine oil will be the best for your bike to make it fit for the Ladakh Roadtrip
Motorcycling to Ladakh : Complete Series
Part 1 : About Ladakh, Reaching There, & Best Time to Visit
Part 2 : Choosing the Right Motorcycle & Preparing it
Part 3 : Preparing Yourself for Ladakh Ride
Part 4: Some useful Tips About Riding and Photography in Ladakh
Part 5 : Ladakh in Winter
Part 6 : Superbiking in Ladakh