Planning a bike trip to Ladakh? If the answer to that question is yes; then you very well know that you cannot just bring your motorcycle to Ladakh the way it stands in your parking lot. A trip to terrain like this puts more stress on the machine than it does to the rider; which means that you will have to give a serious thought about how to prepare it for the journey ahead. You will have to pay attention to every minute detail otherwise you risk your motorcycle breaking down on you in the middle of nowhere. Here, something as simple as a flat tire can result in a catastrophe. But then the question is how to prepare your motorcycle for Ladakh? What are some of the important things you must consider or closely inspect to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip?
The first question that usually gets asked is whether or not a certain motorcycle is good enough for Ladakh. People who pride themselves with larger engine motorcycles like a Royal Enfield do not ponder up on it as much as people who own a 100 CC or 150 CC motorcycle. This also becomes a serious question if the motorcycle is a bit old, no matter the engine size. To answer this question, there is really no best motorcycle as such. All that matters is that the machine is well serviced, well maintained and the rider is decently skilled. I have known people who have been to Ladakh on a 100CC motorcycle and even on a Bajaj Chetak. The Chetak was not only of a small engine but also a bit old yet the rider went all the way to Ladakh, explored the region and returned home safely.
Most important thing you need to keep in mind while preparing for Ladakh is that it is all YOU. Remember that it is not the motorcycle that is taking you to Ladakh; but it is you taking the motorcycle there. You need to have some decent enough riding experience; both in plains and the hills. If you do not then please ensure that you first ride around a motorcycle for a month or so; take it up the hills a couple of times; and then plan your journey towards Ladakh. For a successful trip, you really need to know your motorcycle. A friend of mine says that it is all in the sound and to some extent it is true. You need to familiarize yourself with your machine when it is running smoothly. If something is wrong or broken, it is the sound which pretty much becomes the first indication.
It wouldn’t really hurt to learn a bit of minor repair work yourself. I know it is not really something that you will become an expert on in a single day but things like changing the headlamp, carburetor tuning, tightening the brakes, changing tubes, fixing a puncture are a bit easy to learn. You should at least know how to do these minor fixes to ensure a hassle free trip.
The most important thing of all is a puncture repair kit. Carrying a foot pump is of utmost importance. You will be traveling through some very remote areas and a flat tire can happen anywhere. If your motorcycle runs on tubes than the best thing would be to carry a couple of spare tubes and learn how to replace them.
Go to a mechanic or a puncture repair shop and ask the guy there to show you how to take the tire out, replace the tube and put it back in. This is more of an easier task rather than going through the hassle of trying to fix the puncture. In case of a flat tire, just replace the tube and continue. When you come across a repair shop, get the punctured tube fixed. If you are on tubeless tires, then a foot pump will be a blessing in disguise if you start to lose air pressure in a remote area.
How to Prepare your Motorcycle for Ladakh Trip?
With all that being said, mentioned below are a few check list items that you should go through to ensure that your motorcycle is fully ready for the trip ahead.
Get it serviced
This is the first thing you got to do and if you are careful enough; went to a good mechanic, than it probably may be the only thing. It is always wise to get a complete servicing done if it has been over a thousand kilometers since the last one. Get your entire motorcycles checked, every major and minor part and if anything seems dicey, either get it fixed or replaced. Mentioned below are a few check list items that you must closely look at.
By this I mean the clutch, accelerator, front brake and possibly the speedometer cable as well. Two things you need to do here. First is to replace the existing cables with new ones, even if they are just a few weeks old; and second is to keep the old ones as spare; however do check that they are not too worn out. In remote areas like Ladakh, you may end up finding a mechanic but spare parts are still a big challenge.
One of the most important things to check. If either of the tires is too worn out, then get it changed immediately. Check for any signs of damage, cracks or cuts. Go to a puncture repair shop and get it checked for any nails that may have found their way in but did not come to notice because they did not cause a puncture yet.
Get the alignment of both the wheels checked and if required, corrected. Also check the rim for any bents or unevenness
And I mean all of them; engine oil, gear oil, brake fluid and suspension oil. You need not worry about it if you recently got it changed a few weeks or a couple of hundred kilometers ago but if the odometer shows between 500-1000 kilometers since the last servicing, then it is wise to get them all changed. Another important thing to change here will be the oil filter.
Get the carburetor tuning corrected to ensure that it is neither rich nor lean. If you kept it rich then it would mean too much fuel and too little air; resulting in too much fuel consumption, poor power output and bad performance while climbing up an altitude. Keeping it lean would mean exactly the opposite. Less fuel relative to air than ideal would result in poor power output, starting problem in cold weather, lengthy warm up, heated up engine and slight back firing on deceleration. Best would be to keep carburetor setting as close to stock as possible.
Burnt out clutch plates would mean your motorcycle struggling to climb at steep ascents. Get these checked and replaced before starting on a trip to Ladakh. If you are riding a smaller engine motorcycle, like 100 or 125 CC, best would be to get these checked again once you arrive in Leh.
Get the chain set checked and if it has been a while since you changed it, best would be to get a new a one. Also carry a couple of chain links.
Swing Arm Bush
Get the swing arm bush checked and changed if needed.
A trip to Ladakh would also mean a lot of luggage on the motorcycle and if the suspensions are not in good condition, it may just make the entire ride a nightmare. Get both the front and rear suspensions checked and if required, get them replaced.
Very important. Tell the mechanic that you are riding to Ladakh with an approximate idea of the total kilometers you will be traveling and ask if the current brake shoes or pads will last that long. If not, get them replaced immediately. Get the brake fluid changed if it has been a while since you last got it done. If recently changed, check level and top it up if needed.
Get the entire wiring of your motorcycle checked including the battery, headlamp, tail light and indicators. When I say wiring, I do not mean just the connections to these bulbs but all the wires that run through your motorcycle. If there is any sign of wear and tear, get it changed.
This I am speaking out of my own experience. During one my rides to Ladakh, the bearings of the rear wheel were cracked and I know how much trouble I had to go through because of it. Get the bearings checked to ensure they are not worn out. Also get the greasing done.
When you go to get your motorcycle serviced, the mechanic would himself check parts like timing gear, piston rings, valves, swing arm bush, air Filter, spark plug, con set as part of the usual service but just check with him to be sure. Also take a look at all the nuts and bolts to ensure that they are fastened properly.
Essential Spares to Carry to Ladakh
As I mentioned previously in the article, one of the biggest challenge in Ladakh is to find spare parts, especially at remote locations. You may be lucky enough to find a mechanic in case of a break down but if you do not have a spare, it would be completely futile. Mentioned below is a list of some essential spares that I would recommend carrying.
- Foot Pump
- Puncture repair kit including tools to take the wheel out
- Tool Kit
- Spare fuse
- Spark Plug
- Spare tubes for both front and rear wheel
- Clutch, Brake, and accelerator cables
- Chain Links
- Engine Oil (About half a liter of it)
- Screw Driver Set
- Spare Tubes for front and rear wheel both
- Spare Key
- Nylon Rope
- Bungee Cords
- Petrol Pipe: Can be used to take out petrol from other vehicle in case you run dry and someone else is ready to lend you some; enough to reach next gas station
- Documents: Carry all necessary documents inlucding your driving license, RC, PUC and Insurance certificate. Carry both original and photocopies of each.
Carrying Luggage to Ladakh on Motorcycle
The next big question is of how to manage the entire luggage you will be carrying. For almost all the motorcycles, there are luggage carriers available nowadays which you can buy at any motorcycle market in your city. Real question however is do you really need a luggage carrier? The answer to that is while it is really of convenience, you do not absolutely need it. I have been on numerous rides so far; some of which lasted for weeks and I never had the need of getting a luggage carrier installed. All that you need to know is how to secure your bags on both sides of the bike; and on rear seat as well if riding without a pillion.
Two things I would recommend to buy here. First is a few good quality bungee cords and second is a few meters of nylon rope. First tie your bags on the motorcycle using the nylon rope and then secure it with bungee cords; or the other way around. Do not just depend on bungee cords as they have a habit of snapping sometimes and will not keep the luggage firm at one place; especially while riding through a rough terrain.
Riding Gear for Ladakh
A question I often get asked is whether a riding gear or suit is required. This is really more of a personal choice. I have never used it myself because while riding to a place like Ladakh, you anyways have a thick windproof jacket on the top and a thermal and trouser on the bottom. But if it makes you feel any safer then by all means, buy it or at least the knee and elbow guards. Again, this is really a personal choice and there is no firm yes or no around it.
How to carry spare Fuel for Ladakh
Depending on which motorcycle you are riding and your itinerary, you may be required to carry spare fuel at several stretches in your trip. Most of the luggage carriers have a slot of putting jerry cans in them which makes the whole process very convenient. Before you do that however, best would be to wrap the jerry can in a thick cloth before hanging it to the side. It will protect the can from getting punctured. If you did not fix a luggage carrier, then the best way would be to use 2 liters Pepsi or Coke bottles. Carry about 5-6 of these. You can fill these up with Petrol, secure them tightly and put inside a bag that you can use solely for this purpose. As you travel along, just take out the bottles one by one and keep pouring the fuel in during your breaks.
I think that covers most of how to prepare your motorcycle for Ladakh trip. I am not really an expert on the matter and all that I have shared above is completely based on my own personal experience. If there is any information that can be added or you have inputs that can be of help to others, please do mention the same in comments section below. For any further questions, please feel free to comment and ask; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.