Not so long ago, if anyone mentioned of a motorcycle trip to Ladakh, only a Royal Enfield would come to mind. And trust me; the discussions would go on to topics like would a 350CC Royal Enfield do or do you need a 500 CC Enfield for the trip. Talk about a motorcycle ride to Ladakh and people would think of you as crazy. Back then, it was a dream that only the adventurous type would dare to accomplish. People who did not own an Enfield but had some other motorcycle would either borrow or rent one. But Enfield was pretty much tagged as the only bike that was suitable for Ladakh.
But is it really true? Do you really need an Enfield for Ladakh? Will some other bike do? Can you take a Pulsar to Ladakh? Or can you take a 135 CC or a 100 CC motorcycle to Ladakh? These are some of the queries that I receive so often; and the most common question of all is; which is the best motorcycle for Ladakh trip?
The answer is that there is no best motorcycle as such. The answer depends on a lot of factors like how much luggage are you carrying, do you have a pillion, or how old your motorcycle is? You need to know that it is not your motorcycle that will take you to Ladakh but it is you who is going to ride the motorcycle to Ladakh. I have personally known people who have been to Ladakh on 100 CC bikes, an old Hero Honda Splendor to be exact.
The fact cannot be denied that having a more powerful motorcycle with heavy engine of course gives an edge, if you have it than nothing like it. I am of course referring to an Enfield here. Bigger the engine means more the power which further means that the ride would be smooth, especially at steep ascents and you can dump all the luggage you want on your motorcycle. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that a lighter motorcycle cannot get the job done. If your motorcycle is in a good condition, isn’t as old as my grandfather, and you know how to ride it well then you can take it anywhere you want. Whichever motorcycle you own, mentioned below are a few factors(most of which are applicable to smaller engine motorcycles) that you need to pay close attention to before deciding on whether to take it up the hills or not.
- Age: No, I am not talking about your age but your motorcycle’s actually. I do not intend to get into the whole “Old bullet is better and more powerful” argument but the fact remains that older the machine is, higher the chance is of it breaking down or giving trouble at several places. If you have a 10 year old 135 CC motorcycle sitting in your garage, do not even think about taking it to Ladakh.
- Odometer: Your motorcycle may be only 3-4 years old but if you have already abused it to over 1 lakh kilometers, best not to ride it to Leh.
- Pillion: If you have a friend or a family member riding with you as Pillion, do not take a smaller engine motorcycle as it will start to huff & puff at steep ascents. It won’t just be 2 people but their luggage as well on the motorcycle.
- Luggage: If you are riding a 500CC motorcycle, luggage isn’t really a big concern but if it is a 150 CC bike, then do not carry unnecessary luggage. Just take whatever you must. More luggage on your motorcycle would mean a very uncomfortable and difficult ride, both for you and your machine.
- Performance: This is the most important of all. You really need to know your motorcycle inside out. You should know how it performs at ascents or at great speeds. No matter which motorcycle you have, you need to be 100% confident of no performance issues. If you have even the slightest of doubt, then get it fixed first.
- Condition: Make sure there are no worn out parts in your motorcycle, anything that can break or fall apart. Whatever seems dicey, replace it.
- Get it serviced: Make sure that you get your motorcycled serviced at least 1 week before you trip. Check all the cables, wires, clutch plates, chain set, tires, wheels. After servicing, ride it for a week regularly to ensure that it is performing up to expectations.
With that being said, there are of course a few motorcycles that will suit the journey better as compared to others.
- Royal Enfield: Nothing like it of course to take to Ladakh. The big engine, whether 350 CC or 500 CC gives it an edge over all other motorcycles. The heavier size of the motorcycle makes it easier to tie luggage around. Good suspension and seating position makes it comfortable for both the rider and the pillion making it suitable for the long journey. Enfield was an acquired taste earlier due to a heavy kick that required decompressing, no electric start, the left side brake system but after all these changes in the newer models, it has now become everybody’s motorcycle. The only drawback however with Classic, Standard and Electra is the smaller tank which makes it a mandate to carry fuel while riding Enfield in Ladakh. This drawback however is not with Thunderbird which has a larger fuel tank. If you own a Royal Enfield, you already know that you do not need to think twice before taking it to Leh.
- Bajaj Pulsar: Probably the most popular and best-selling motorcycle today in Indian market. With a Pulsar, you can rest assured that you can rely on it and it won’t really ditch you anywhere. Be it a 220CC, 200CC or a 150CC pulsar, you can confidently plan your adventure ride on it. The huge fuel tank makes it ideal for long journeys and you won’t have to worry about fuel so much. It does have its drawbacks though. The first and the foremost one is the seating position and on bad roads, it is bound to get your shoulders to start aching so make sure that you are not seated in a leaning position. Sit straight to get the pressure off your shoulders. Second drawback is its seat which is not comfortable at all and will kill your butt during long rides so a good comfortable seat cover is highly recommended. On a lighter note, be careful with your balls as well while riding on bad roads. Anyone who owns a Pulsar would know what I mean here.
- Hero Impulse: Good bike for Ladakh if you are going without pillion. Dual sport tires and long travel shocks make it fun to ride on dirt tracks. Upright riding position and comfortable seating posture ensures no fatigue. Biggest drawback is the 12 liter fuel tank with an average of about 40-45 kmpl. Under-powered engine may sometimes prove troublesome at steep ascents though but only if the bike is not well maintained.
- Yamaha FZ and Fazer: These would be my next most preferred motorcycles for Ladakh. Pretty much the same advantages and disadvantages as Pulsar.
- KTM Duke: Pretty much the same advantages and disadvantages as Hero Impulse. This is one motorcycle that would be fun to ride on bad and challenging roads that Ladakh is so famous for.
- Royal Enfield Himalayan: The newest off-roader motorcycle in Indian market or shall I probably say the first and the only, I am not too sure considering the Impulse and KTM bikes were too tagged the same? None the less, this motorcycle is a perfect for riding in Himalayan terrains. The 400 CC engine is capable enough to carry it through any trail or any ascent, though anyone who has ridden other models of Royal Enfield would feel that it definitely lacks some juice. The sitting position is straight and very comfortable, both for the rider and pillion and there is plenty of space to put all that luggage, including the Jerry cans for extra fuel.
- Bajaj Vikrant: I am not really sure about this one and adding it here for user comments. The Ladakh Bike rental association added this one to their list recently and it is now available for rental all over Ladakh. I would welcome any comments from someone who has been to Ladakh and have ridden it there.
- CBR 250: The stock Contigo tires can be a problem in the slush/ice/rain/gravel. If you can afford to replace with better tires, this motorcycle can be a bliss to ride with its amazing torque and Fi advantage at higher reaches.
These were some of the popular bikes that I would recommend for Ladakh. One popular motorcycle that I would not however recommend at all is Bajaj Avenger. Do not get me wrong, it is a great motorcycle but in my opinion not suitable at all for Ladakh trip. Almost everyone that I know who went to Ladakh on avenger has taken the fall at one place or another during the trip. It has a large turning radius making it a little troublesome in hilly region. The small height and low seating becomes tiresome for someone tall. The rear seat is not really wide enough for pillion rider. The front disk and the entire seating position is that if you applied sudden brakes at a sharp turn, your are bound to fall. You will be on the ground before you get your feet down. This however is just my personal opinion and other may not agree with it.
If you are riding with a pillion, then do it only if you have an Enfield. On all other motorcycles, ride solo if you can, as the seating position and the hassle of roping the luggage can be problematic during long rides. If you are on a 100 or 135 CC motorcycle, you must ride solo. If you are renting a motorcycle, then go for a Pulsar or Hero Impulse if you are riding solo or an Enfield if you have a pillion.
Planning a trip to Ladakh on a 100CC, 125CC motorcycle or a scooter? Read: How to ride to Ladakh on 100CC motorcycle or a Scooter?
As I mentioned above, these are just a few recommended motorcycles. In the end, it all matters on how well you have maintained your motorcycle and how well you know it and how well can you ride. If the answer to these questions is “quite well” then by all means, go to Ladakh irrespective of which motorcycle you own.