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Old 03-17-2013, 05:27 PM   #1
s0l OP
Joined: Mar 2013
Location: Andalucia, Spain
Oddometer: 1
Everything is possible, 4000k South to North India alone by a total n00b!

Unknown Brothers,

I stumbled upon this website whilst looking for info on Ténéré's, and then read various ride reports posted. The excitement I felt enticed me to tell my own newbie biker story with the hope that it might brew the same kind of magic I felt in some of you! I'll post as the inspiration comes, every few days probably, I have a feeling this might be a long read when finished... :)

Sometimes it felt like Vietnam in my head.

It all begins a year ago in a land far, far away, the throbbing and pulsing Heart of this planet, India. I had already spent 6 months there back in '07 and that is where and when I learnt to (kind of) ride my first motorbike. Keep in mind 2 wheelers were never a natural thing for me, I'm a city boy and only learnt how NOT to fall from a bicycle when I was 18. I know, no one believes me but that is the truth. A friend took pity on me and taught me. Looking back now, how nice of him, withouth knowing it he was to be the key to my biking discoveries, which, along with sex, LSD, friends and India, was to become one of my most exhilarating life experience (i'm 31). Anyway back to Krishnaland, so in 2007 I first rented a moped, then an awfully low and beat up Honda scooter and finally the standard Indian two wheeler, the 100cc Hero-Honda Splendor. For those not familiar with Indian bikes this first post should serve as a brief introduction. For more I can only recommend, this community helped me a lot during my travels, choosing my bike, maintenance, selecting the best (panoramic, tarmac or trafic-wise) itineraries... Lovely forums, a nice way to discover the new young India online. Moving on.

Said moped, TVS XL, 70cc rural 2 wheeler, they're just everywhere and whilst incredibly ugly they're amazingly tough
(suits a family of 3, maybe 4 if kids are small) & people love their mileage :

Said scooter, Honda Activa 110cc gearless scooter, I hated it but still people there use those quite a lot.
No clutch in insane urban traffic does have its good sides. They're robust as they should, the bull knows best.

And said Hero-Honda joint venture Splendor, 100-120cc "official 4 gears bike of India".
Tough as hell, carries 3-4 (thin) people and a kid, light, agile, reliable, great learning bike if you ask me.

I had 3 minor crashes in 2007 (no helmets in India, was lucky), first uninteresting one on my second day with the moped and the other 2 with the Splendor, luckily only cuts and bruises. The first I did it all by myself at night, drunk, in a curve which I just "straightened" in my liquor-tormented mind. Lesson learnt FOREVER. There are no old drunk drivers. It wasn't bad though, one drives slow in India, especially at night with the Permanent Animal Crazyness Road Show going on everywhere, I remember not understanding fully what had happened, laying on my back on the tarmac, engine choked, no noise, except for the back wheel still spinning, just looking at the Moon & stars in the clear night sky of Pondicherry through the leaves of a roadside tree, thinking "haha you dumb fuck" and then "wow that's a nice perspective, I'll probably never get to perceive this again, let's enjoy it and worry later". Getting myself & the bike up I realized came very close (half a meter) to said tree trunk. It would have cracked open my skull no doubt. The other crash was the consequence of an Indian traffic by-product, the "I am the Almighty Creator of my own traffic lanes" one. Some guy on his bike driving on the wrong side just ran straight into me.

It was a very representative illustration of what I may call the Indian approach to life : things happen because they should. No point arguing. The guy saw me coming, saw me waving "wrong side!!!" at him from at least a 100m away, and yet he didn't budge. It was 5pm, busy road and I couldn't avoid him to my right because of a rickshaw. Yeah in India you drive and change gears on the left side, British heritage. So the inevitable happened, in slow motion mode, he kept going straight on, I suppose expecting me to disappear, jump or crash myself on the side road so he would be allowed to go straight. Craaash! Head-on collision with his Bajaj Pulsar. I was pissed off but kept my temper. Small bruises and broken flip-flops. He was ok too but looked ashamed and worried about me and the damage he caused. I felt compassionate, people aren't stupid nor dumb on purpose, told him off but got myself up & rolling quickly. I wasn't going to stick around for insurance papers or whatever.

There, An Activa, a Moped and a Splendor.

When driving in India the foreigner is always the culprit, some wise old expat once told me. The White Man is outside of any cast. And can be seen in a critical situation as a potential wallet on feet. I'm not making any kind of judgement, just sharing how it is. I love India and its inhabitants, and when one reads about what the British did there one can understand Westerners aren't really regarded as morally-acceptable people (though they love our porn ), more like weird and byzzarely-entertaining specimens really... That being said Indians, especially rural ones are very curious, open and cheerful, even when they can't speak english and I mark my words about that. Anyway you do not want to hang around if you have any kind of accident. People come running to see what happened, call the popo, mob up and then you have a good chance of finding yourself either crawling in deep shit, with empty pockets or both. I know a guy who almost got macheted down. Luckily his bike didn't fail him, started again and he managed to extricate himself quickly enough so as to avoid his very own curry-flavoured judgement day.

Waiting for the police is not a good idea neither because of corruption and because they're just very slow there. Many don't have shoes, or perhaps don't use them because of the heat, quite a few spend all day watching soft erotic pictures on their mobiles, other text, other play cards, watching/talking/shouting cricket, attend to their precious moustaches, all in all they're just plain lazy except when they're off to collect bribes. They usually never bother with strangers EXCEPT in Goa State. There they love chasing & fining the druggies and bourgeois trancers on their hired scooters...or the adventure biker passing by. Technically since you can't own bikes with a tourist visa they can piss you off. Not as much as Nepalese police but that's another story. If you're riding and don't have anything to do in Goa better you bypass it even if it means wasting time.


And that was it for 2007, amazing, 25 years old, unforgettable memories of wind swooshing in your hair, cool sea breeze, doing 100kmh at midnight under the palmtrees on good asphalt, zero traffic, big Moon straight ahead, gentle curves, tropical scents, aaaahhh...

Fast forward to 2012, when I set foot on that incredible land again in February 2012 you can all guess what I had in my mind as soon as I got settled in... Mind you I never rode here in Europe as I don't have a bike license, nor a real need for one actually. But that will soon change. I rented another Splendor for the first month of my stay. The feeling was incredible, something probably akin to what a prisoner would feel getting down to some quality kinky oily sexy time with a fine woman after 5 years of forced abstinence! I landed from Cambodia into India in Chennai, Tamil Nadu because of the nearby eco-building workshops taking place in Auroville, the same place I went to visit the first time.

So there is where I spent my first my month getting back on two wheels, reviving the reflexes, optimizing the balance, driving on all kind of more or less peaceful urban & countryside roads and checking out what the Indian market for bikes had to offer. I hadn't really thought about buying my own bike when I arrived but it soon became an evidence, the very first 2 hours after getting off the plane actually. Because of the God-damned rickshaw drivers. Public land transportation in India is usually quite stressful, whether it be rip-off rickshaws, jam-packed buses or never-ending train rides. I already knew the best way to discover India by far is on two wheels (or 3 if you buy/rent a rickshaw, yes you can! Would love to do that one day). Please keep in mind those are my opinions, maybe some won't agree and that's fine.

The Indian bike market is all about mileage and reliability, a fundamental factor for riding on the nation's uneven and ever-changing road system. Performance, speed, looks and gadgets have little importance for most of buyers over there. For instance an important buying factor is how well does the bike go when you take 2 or 3 people along with you to the beach or to the temple. But mileage is probably king. Most bike sold are in the 100-200cc range which seems to be the best compromise as far as mileage/power/sale price goes. Popular post 2000 models have to do at least 40km a liter if they even want to compete. Then there are the infamous Royal Enfields, 350 & 500cc 1950's design bikes, rightly upheld as legendary bikes for their stylish retro look and characteristic engine thump. Recently prices have gone up a lot as more and more people make it into the middle-class segment. Between 2007 and 2012 Enfield factory prices jumped 40%. Gas also doubled from 35-40 rupees in '07 up to 80-85 when I left in July. I won't delve into Enfield territory as there are plenty of reports already available all around the web and as I ended up deciding to get a Honda instead.

So basically Honda and local brands Bajaj & Hero are the three biggest manufacturers there. TVS are second. Suzuki, KTM and some others, including Harley, Yamaha and Kawazaki, are beginning to gain ground as well but for now all you see on the roads are those top 3. Honda's most successful geared model there is the Splendor & all its derivatives whilst Bajaj's is the Pulsar and their licensed Vespa-like scooter iteration. One specific aspect regarding Indian bikes is the fact that apart from the Enfields there are very few in the 250cc & more range. A rumour I heard a few times is that Harley Davidson supposedly bought off the rights for the high cc segments in whole of India. They only started selling there a few years ago but the rumour says they got the State licence in the 80s or 90s. I don't know if that's true or not but the fact is, big cc's were nowhere to be seen.

This will probably change as roads gets better, there's no point in having 500cc when traffic, invisible highways OR cow-ladden ones and potholes won't let you go above 60 max urban & 80-100 rural, and also I guess when people start looking for thrills & power instead of just cheap transportation. The biggest engines you could get a year ago without getting Enfields were the joint venture Hero-Honda Karizma & Bajaj Pulsar models, both 220cc. Any foreign firm starting business there has to (and should seeing the specificities of the market) do a JV with a national brand. Marutti-Suzuki, Marks&Spencers & Reliance, Tommy Hilfiger & Arvind Brands etc... As a Westerner I chose to go with Honda because of the Japanese maker's reputation. Their prices are in line with the others, seeing bikes are manufactured for & by the local market. After checking out the local dealer I learnt that as a passing foreigner I was not allowed to buy a new bike, the Tourist Visa won't allow it. Never mind as I wouldn't even think about buyin a brand new bike or car as it looses 25% of its value the moment you sign the sell contract. And second-hand sellers don't give a damn about bureaucratic paperwork. How good of them. After doing some reading on indian biking forums and asking a few local friends for their opinion on a non-Enfield touring bike ; OK STOP! I have to explain the "non-Enfield" bit first, can't talk about two-wheelers in India without talking about Enfields.

Royal Enfield "Twinspark" 350 Bullet. Smells like rock and roll.

The classiest way to travel in India is on an Enfield. No doubt about it. The Triumph-like bike is good on Indian roads, sitting position is the best and having big engines allows for a smoother ride. The problem as far as I'm concerned (n00b, 6 months trip, not a mechanic) is that as I said Enfields have become expensive, Enfields have bad mileage (maybe 17-20 kmpl), Enfields are quite heavy which is both good for safety/comfort and bad for emergency situations, but more importantly to ride an Enfield you'd better know how to fix an Enfield because those mothers leak,won't start and break down much more often than modern designs. If I had a bike at home & some mechanical skills I might have opted for one. Still the heaviness and mileage, in my context, were quite unsettling. I wasn't just going to ride for a week or three, I knew I would ride, God helping, for at least 4 months, alone. I'd definitely bring one here in Spain for weekend outings though. Most Indian mechanic workshops don't really know how to fix & tune these whiny ancient engines, many Enfield amateurs recommended that before leaving for any multi-day trip I should keep a paper with official R.E. dealer's address on my projected itinerary.

Royal Enfield 500 Classic...The Legend.

Because of the relative scarcity of these bikes compared to modern designs, common roadside "all brands" mechanics are not used to working on them and many times they just improvise and then overcharge. I wasn't going to accept improvisation on such a crucial aspect of my trip, bike dying on me in the middle of nowhere where very few people speak English was an unnecessarily annoying option for me to take the plunge. Most Enfielders I met on the road were happy with their choice because it is a satisfying, back-in-time bike experience. But they all, without a single exception, had had mechanical problems. Some were properly equipped with spares & knowledge, others had to rely on locals at expensive rates for temporary fixes 'til they could make it to the closest dealership, sometimes loosing days waiting for parts in remote towns.

The bike, for me, was not an ego-extension, it was to be my trusted horse, a trust-worthy enabler of randomness, a chaos generator, my very own magic carpet, the tool that would give me the greatest freedom available to fulfil my thirst for adventure, for getting downright kinky with the Unknown, the Un-"Bloody Lonely Planet"-chartered, the Unexpected and its inhabitants. I did not want to fear nor care much for the tool, I simply needed to be able to trust it because :

first, I had grand plans,
second, I wasn't a biker,
third, I wasn't in my country, and said country is no piece of pie,
fourth, peace of mind is paramount in a place like India.

The sheer intensity of reality there makes it so that you do not want to carry along unnecessary thoughts, worries, luggages or people during your wanderings. I opted for the "shanti shanti" path in all those aspects during my stay.
If you make it through your first week you will find, no matter your faith or beliefs, that it is undoubtedly the best place in the world to learn about letting go, to learn about your simultaneous significance/insignificance and ultimately about the Spirit of humankind, that-which-makes-us-One.

The incredible diversity of ethnic and religious groups, of languages, religions, traditions, lifestyles, the crawling consumerist westernisation contrasting with centuries old ways of living and religions depict a blatantly clear picture of the best and of the worst mankind has accomplished. In such a context (as in probably all others) travelling light is really the best way to go and so I didn't want the bike to be an unnecessary burden, hence I chose the path of least-resistance. Next time I'll properly try my hand at an Enfield, I just test-drove two. At 1500€/2000$ factory price importing one would be awesome, but I wouldn't trust driving it back home all the way from India. That I'd do with an 80's BMW or Ténéré.

Said path ended up (but more importantly started with) me buying a second-hand red 2007 150cc Honda Unicorn from a trusted mechanic I knew in Auroville. In its class it offered the best riding posture & suspensions, monoshock, lightness, all in all comfort on shitty roads, my most important criteria of choice. 150cc & more off-road type bikes were nowhere to be found at the time. Initially I looked into the 220 Karizma but it's a speed bike, back posture was unacceptable for multiple day-long trips. Looking back though, Indians are masters in the art of customising, "everything is possible", I should have modded it for long travel, the extra 70cc would have come in handy in the mountains and on some recently baked highway portions... If you ever buy a bike there don't hesitate & tune it to your liking. Anyway Unicorn's mileage was good (45-50 kmpl) as was condition, it had 36 000km on the counter and I paid 35 000 rupees for it which at the time was about 500€ / 650$. Before paying for it I asked the guy to take it to a Honda dealer where they checked the bike & changed all filters, oils and brake pads (15€/20$) with authentic Honda spares. Important to buy authentic.

Same as mine, bar for the horrible stickers...

Don't gamble with safety it ain't worth it, especially not in India. Don't trust dealers. Be there when they do the checks/repairs if possible ; I have doubts about what they did, especially regarding the "changing the oil" bit. And they didn't (nor did I ask for it) return the used parts. More on those later. Then I got him to buy a one-year insurance for the bike to the name of the previous owner, that was about 12€/15$ so that if I had a popo encounter I could show proper Indian ownership registration papers (as I said those cannot be in your own name since you're not allowed to own the bike) and insurance as well as a photoshoped xerox of my supposedly "stolen by street kids" bike driving license. With those 3 papers they can't do anything even if they're in a bribey mood. But again, bar serious accident or drugs, police really is a non-issue with regards to foreigners in India, 100x less dangerous/paranoid/annoying than they are in our "law-cised" countries.

Having taken the eco-building workshops that brought me back to Auroville, Tamil Nadu (south-eastern India, Gulf of Bengal coast), keys in my hands, a burning desire to get away from this familiar place into the New, I was ready to move on to my next destination : Kerala. Kerala is the state located in the south-western half of the Indian peninsula and is separated from Tamil Nadu, the Eastern one, by a long and narrow mountain range called the Western Ghats or Sahyadri Mountains. The Ghats are full of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and many are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Kerala is the home of Ayurveda, the 4000 years old Indian traditional medicine, and my 2012 Indian trip was all about taking introductory classes on this topic.

My first ever proper bike trip : Pondicherry to Kannur - 650 km, 3 days & 2 nights.

More to come very soon...
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Old 03-18-2013, 03:48 AM   #2
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Good to know you survived to tell the story

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Old 03-18-2013, 06:23 AM   #3
Will ride for food
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This has great potential. Like your writing style and pics. Count me in.
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Old 03-18-2013, 07:26 AM   #4
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Damn interesting read! I'm in

And good that you did not buy an Enfield - they SUCK!!!
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Old 03-21-2013, 01:14 PM   #5
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Sounds like a wonderful trip, I am IN.
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Old 03-21-2013, 06:41 PM   #6
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Glad to read you have experienced three (sex,acid, and bikes) of the essentials in any good travelogue. This one has a future with you as the narrator.
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Old 03-24-2013, 05:37 PM   #7
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I'm very interested in your story, I will be embarking on a ride next year in this very same location. Our group will be riding on Enfields - they are Brits (except for myself). Good stuff so far.

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Old 03-24-2013, 10:35 PM   #8
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Cool2 All the best s0I

This is one of the best routes to do in India - along with the trans himalayas. I had done a solo North - South 3000 k on an enfield 2 years ago. And I felt so alive with the different cuisines and the people I met on the road. Here's a picture from Rajasthan.

Royal Enfield Classic 500
East-West Across the Ghats, South India
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Old 03-25-2013, 08:30 AM   #9
I am third
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Looking forward to more! Subscribed
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Old 03-25-2013, 04:27 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by GB View Post
Good to know you survived to tell the story

lol exactly my thoughts.. Count me in man!
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