Sometime ago, I wrote an article explaining which motorcycle can be considered best for Ladakh trip. After posting that, I received a few queries from people asking if a 100CC or 125CC motorcycle was good enough to complete the Ladakh trip; whether motorcycles like Bajaj Discover or Honda Splendor can be considered for the job. While to some people, this may sound like a task impossible, the truth however is that yes, with a little preparation and precautions, you can definitely ride to Ladakh on 100CC bike. In this article, I will provide a few tips on how you can prepare your smaller engine motorcycle or scooter for Ladakh, what are some of the challenges you will face and some precautions that you must observe while on the trip.
Information below actually does not apply to just 100CC bike but to also other smaller engines like 125CC and to some extent, 150 CC as well. When someone mentions of a trip to Ladakh; the image that immediately comes to mind is of a rider and his Royal Enfield. But is it really necessary? Does it have to be an RE or some other heavy motorcycle? Can you ride to Ladakh on Splendor? How about traveling to Ladakh on Activa or some other automatic bikes like Hero Maestro or Mahindra Gusto? Well, there will definitely be some hurdles that but nothing that should stop you from realizing this dream; from accomplishing what others may just term as crazy.
Challenges while travelling to Ladakh on 100CC Motorcycles
Let me first list down some of the hurdles that you will be facing; both on your way to Leh and while visiting some of the nearby areas like Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso.
This becomes the biggest challenge if you are riding to Ladakh on 100CC or 125CC motorcycle. Ladakh is a land of high altitude passes and you will be crossing several of them throughout the journey.
Some of these passes like Penzi La in Zanskar will be easier to cross while others like Khardung La, Chang La, Tanglang La are a steep climb for several kilometers. If your motorcycle refuses to go any further and stalls, it will get difficult for you to continue the journey any further.
Challenging & Broken Roads
This will actually be a hurdle no matter how strong your motorcycle is but it becomes even a bigger problem if you are going to Ladakh on scooter like Activa. On your way, you will be crossing several rivulets, small streams of water created by melting snow, some of which can be quite deep with large stones underneath the water. Due to low ground clearance of a scooter, taking it across may become a challenge. At several stretches, roads will be completely broken and as you ride across, stones will keep hitting the belly of the scooter.
Typically, smaller engine motorcycles are considered best for city purpose; short rides from one place to another. If you ride these continuously for several hours; it may result in a heating problem. This will further lead to accelerating problem and in some cases; bike may even refuse to come alive if engine shuts down.
There are of course a couple of advantages as well of riding to Ladakh on 100CC bike. What are those?
Light in weight
Bigger the engine means heavier the motorcycle. A 100 or 125 CC bike will not be that heavy which will become an advantage while maneuvering it through difficult terrains or slush. It is also easier and lighter to push.
This is another big advantage. Smaller engine motorcycles come with a great mileage which means you will not have to worry so much about carrying extra fuel.
How to prepare for a journey to Ladakh on 100CC motorcycle or Scooter?
After challenges, let us take a look at how do you prepare your motorcycle for the tough ride ahead. Listed below are a few general but important tips that can be of help while going to Ladakh on 100cc motorcycle or scooter.
Know your bike
This is the most important factor. You got to know your motorcycle in and out. I have been riding a Royal Enfield for 10 years now and just by its sound I can tell if it is running smoothly or is there any problem. Its capabilities, where it can go, where it can climb, weight it can take and where would it ditch me. I know how to maneuver it around steep ascents and sharp turns. You go to know this about your motorcycle so that you are able to handle it properly.
Very important. By test it I do not mean that you test it in Ladakh; that can result in a catastrophe. If you have never taken your bike up in the hills, or rode it for a 8-9 hours at a stretch, then I highly recommend that you do it before going to Ladakh. This will prove to be beneficial in several ways. Take the motorcycle to a nearby hill station on a weekend trip and you will know if the bike and you both are able to handle the climbs. Take a day trip on a Sunday; ride the bike for 6-8 hours with small breaks in between and see how it performs.
Get it serviced
You must get your bike serviced thoroughly and you must get it done at least 7-10 days before the trip. Replace whatever seems dicey. After servicing, ride it regularly within the city for at least a week to ensure that everything is working fine. Check the tires, if they seem worn out then buy a new set.
Inspect the chain set to see if you need to replace it with a new one. Get the entire wiring system checked and if needed, get it changed. Replace clutch, accelerator and brake wires with new ones. Get both front and rear brakes checked; if it is drum brakes then might as well just put in new brake shoe. Check the ball bearings to ensure they are all right. Ladakh on 100CC means that every single part of your bike will be stressed so better to put new than keeping the old ones.
Ensure that you are carrying some necessary spare parts like headlamp bulb, set of clutch/accelerator/brake wires, chain locks, a tool kit, puncture set, a couple of spare tubes, and a foot pump.
You must learn how to fix a punctured tire and replacing the tube. This is of utmost importance. If you can, also learn how to clean air filters and carburetor.
If possible and within budget, get the regular tires with tubeless ones. If not, then carry but ensure that you are well equipped to handle a flat tire.
How to ride to Ladakh on 100CC motorcycle or Scooter?
Next question or course is; how do you handle the challenges? How do you successfully ride to Ladakh on 100CC bike or any smaller engine motorcycle or Scooter?
By this I do not mean that you travel all alone by yourself. No, I mean to ride without a pillion rider. Carrying a pillion not only means another person but also luggage of two people which your motorcycle may not be able to handle.
Ride In a group if possible
Ride with a group if possible at all or at least have a few more people accompanying you on the journey on other motorcycles. This way you can be sure that if something goes wrong; if your bike breaks down or you get stuck in slush or a rivulet; there will be someone around to help.
Keep your luggage to bare minimum. Just take what you will absolutely need and try to travel as light as possible. Too much luggage not only is additional weight on the motorcycle; but also a hassle to rope it around every morning and then remove every evening.
Stay on the road
While this of course also means that do not fall off a cliff; what I meant to imply here was to avoid taking shortcuts. At several places, as the road goes uphill, you will notice a dirt trail leading straight to the upper section of the road. Do not take any shortcuts at all and stay on the road.
This is extremely dangerous for both the motorcycle and the rider. One small miscalculation or if the bike stalls midway, you will come tumbling down. I noticed a lot of people attempting this during my Ladakh travels; both people traveling in a 4X4 and motorcyclists as well. If you see anyone doing this; just ignore and continue on your way. While this may look thrilling, you need to consider the risks involved and the consequences as well.
You are on a smaller engine motorcycle which will be stressed trying to go up a steep dirt path; some wire may snap, brakes may get burnt and worse of all; the motorcycle may just refuse to climb any further and come to a complete halt. You will take a fall, get hurt and the entire trip will be ruined. It is just not worth to risk for a few minutes of thrill.
Since there is no engine temperatures gauge, your motorcycle may heat up at several places, especially at steep and narrow climbs while riding in lower gears. If that happens, do not panic. Take a break, enjoy the vistas around you, let the motorcycle cool down and be on your way again. Just make this a thumb rule that you have to take a short 10 mins break after every 20 odd kilometers; after crossing every steep climb or after every 30 minutes of ride. Do not climb in first or second gear for more than 2 kilometers, if you do so then take regular breaks after every 2-3 kilometers. If your engine is starting to heat, then the first sign would be the decelerating process.
If your motorcycle stalls anywhere on a climb, let it stall and come to a complete halt while still in the gear. Do not pull the clutch; if you do so the engine braking will go, motorcycle will start to roll backwards and pull you along with it.
All the dust on the roads to Ladakh can settle on chains and start to make it rough. Keep an ear out for any unusual sounds from the chain set. To test, accelerate to 40-50 kilometers/hour speed on a flat stretch, get to neutral, kill the engine and see if the chain is making noise more than usual. If it does, lubricate it. You should keep a small bottle of mobile oil for the trip handy.
Very important; plan your itinerary in a way that you stay away from sections that are either too challenging; or have a lesser number of tourist plying on the route. If you are riding to Ladakh on 100CC or 125CC motorcycle, then it is best to avoid routes like Wari La, Marismik La, Agham Shyok road. It will be also better to not attempt the Chushul route because in case of a breakdown, there will be no help nearby and quite possible that no one else may pass you by in the entire day.
It is quite plain and simple, no matter what others tell you. No speeding anywhere at all, be it the plains or while riding up to Ladakh. Stay safe, ride slow, and enjoy the trip. A smaller engine motorcycle is also lighter in weight which means that it will not handle traction well on turns if speeding. Take a look at this like this, a lighter bike with heavy weight on the top; the rider and all the luggage; isn’t really the perfect definition of “well balanced”. You lean in too much at any turn or applied sudden brakes and you will be down on the road in a second.
And that is pretty much it. Just keep in mind the above mentioned rules and you will be able to complete your trip to Ladakh on 100CC motorcycle just as well as a 500CC Royal Enfield.
Ladakh on Scooter
Now let us take a look at some problems that are specific to riding to Ladakh on Scooter.
You will have to make arrangements for carrying fuel and in ample amounts. Scooters usually have a smaller fuel tank. For example, a Honda Activa is only 5 liters in terms of fuel capacity and a Mahinda Gusto is 6 liters. Try to keep your itinerary in a way that you do not stay away from a gas station for way too long. Carry ample fuel for Manali Leh highway and then come back to Leh from Nubra, Pangong and Moriri respectively. Do not go straight from Nubra to Pangong to Moriri. For example, go to Nubra valley on Day 1, return to Leh on Day 2, Pangong on Day 3, Leh on Day 4, and so on and so forth.
The small tire size on a scooter will make it tough to take it across a rivulet, slush and broken roads. Just ride slow and very carefully. Have someone standing readily as you ride through a water stream; so that in case you get stuck, someone is ready to push you out. Same logic applies for slushy areas too. On broken roads, keep your eyes focused on the road and ride slowly, avoiding extremely damaged sections.
Most of the scooters come with a mono shock absorber which will put stress on the machine and the rider as well. Your back may start to hurt after continuous jolting for several hours. Plan your travel in a way so that you do not ride for over 6 hours a day. Ride slow and do not speed unnecessarily.
With smaller engine and lesser torque, everything that I mentioned above for 100 CC motorcycles applies here as well.
In the end, you need to remember that it is not the machine that is taking you there but it is you taking the machine to Ladakh. It all depends on the way you ride and maneuver your motorcycle or scooter. Keep your spirits high, get challenged but not defeated without being over confident; ride slow and carefully and you will come back from Ladakh with tales to tell for several years to come.
I hope this information on riding to Ladakh on 100CC motorcycle was helpful. If you have any further question; please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I will be glad to answer. Also, if you have been to Ladakh on 100CC motorcycle or a scooter; I would love to hear about your experience and welcome you to share a few tips to help others.