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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.