Himalayan Motorcycling Planning

We’ve carried out several expeditions to the Indian Himalyan region over the years and here’s some of the top tips for trip planning and preparation.

Long distance riding at high altitude

Time to go

The Himalayas are a high altitude destination affected by the monsoon seasons. A great time to visit is in the mid summer period around July – August as the snows in the mountain passes will have melted, there’s enough warmth in the day for comfortable riding and the rainfall is at a minimum. Outside of these time prepare for a somewhat colder experience! Local Indian riders are an incredibly hardy bunch and will ride in conditions that are daunting for many western travellers; consider what you’re capable of rather than what others round you are planning in terms of daily distance and average moving times.

Overall Kit and Equipment

Motorcycle touring packing

Travelling light is alway right. Whilst you instinctively know that, doing without the creature comforts and travel luxuries you’re used to can be a wrench. It’s definitely possible to carry too much. As a rule of thumb if the gear doesn’t fulfil a really vital role; for safety and recovery, warmth and weather proofing or navigation then it needs to be put in the ‘luxury’ bracket and considered an extra weight. As a rule of thumb plan on using everything you’ve brought along and the only items you bring but don’t touch should be in your trauma med pack, your engine/tyre repair kit and survival/bivvy gear.

Riding Gear

Lightweight Riding Gear

Because you’re likely to have to fly and travel into the Himalayas off your bike, bringing the full set of latest Gore tex riding gear will be a hassle. We’ve found that a lightweight and semi-casual set of riding kit suits most situations. There’s a lot of bike jeans on the market, teamed with a layering approach for the top half with cotton t-shirts, flannel shirts and a guernsey pullover you can keep the wind out and still not have to double up on your clothing. But resist the temptation to ditch the key safety clothing you need, as a minimum helmet gloves, boots and an armoured casual jacket and trousers will prevent the majority of injuries.

Daily Riding Planning

GPS – Moving Average

It’s all about the moving average you’re capable of sustaining over the long term. There’s always a chai stop or a sleeping platform (carry a good compressible sleeping bag!) along the road so you don’t have to stick to towns that are just too far away for comfort. If you know what your best speed over the ground is then you’re well set to plan ahead. Your moving average covers the stops you’ll take, how long they generally are, your average riding speed, and if you’re in a group then it’s based on the pace of the slowest.  Leave a safety margin for road closures, accidents and unforeseen events and aim to be in your overnight location at least 45 mins before last light. Riding at night massively increases the objective danger on the roads and should be avoided as much as possible!

Royal Enfield Himalyan

Special Review: Royal Enfield Himalayan

The adventure motorcycle scene is booming in India. Starting with a handful of small tour operators working with western bikers and the ubiquitous RE hire companies trading with the backpacker crowd, the Himalayan motorcycle touring sector is now big business. There are multiple tour operators in the region appealing to a diverse and unusual mix of bikers: the lure of the big mountain roads attracts Indian and foreign riders alike, both gnarly adventurers and local trippers.

Royal Enfield Himalyan
Royal Enfield Himalyan

Shrewdly Royal Enfield have become the mainstay of the Himalyan riding expedition. The solid, no nonsense single engines bikes with great MPG, good torgue and robust design are the perfect machines for the challenges of these roads. But RE have now gone one better; producing the first new bike from the Chennai factory for years, specifically aimed at the mountain challenges of Northern India.

Royal Enfield Himalyan
Royal Enfield Himalyan

Here’s the RE link to the Himalayan Motorcycle Launch and technical brief:

Royal Enfield

Next expedition we plan WILL involve one of these! Full review to follow then.

Royal Enfield Himalyan
Royal Enfield Himalyan

The Best Heavyweight Adventure Touring Motorcycles

This is the rumble in the jungle; in the heavyweight arena there are only big, torquey, bulky and powerful machines to take on the ultimate overlanding adventure.

If you’re looking for the best machine for that epic ride and need to take a LOT of gear, ride two up or want  top end power for tarmac cruising at high speeds then these are the top bikes to consider.

Definitions

900cc and upwards is the widely accepted engine cubic centimetre headmark to qualify for entry into the heavy weights. This kind of engine comes with a few different cylinder configurations but often twin, opposed or triple cylindered engines feature.

Overall Weight

Bike all up weights are mostly north of 200kg wet. Predictably off road handling and overall speeds are affected by this kind of drag. Tyre choices count. This is a significant mass to pick up after an ‘off’ and advanced adventure riders will practice techniques to lift the bikes using leverage from the bike’s handlebars and their quadriceps. A solo lift from loose, wet or deep mud may be impossible and require 2 + riders in the team or a block and tackle. These are serious considerations if you’re venturing off road alone on a remote – treeless – expedition.

Power

Power is the reward for the weight and size here; you’ll get best-in-class torque stats, very high top speeds and comfortable fast cruising on tarmac. There’s a convincing argument that these heavyweight bikes are the ultimate dual sport machine as they can keep up with anything on road and have a good off road potential. Whether you buy into the argument or not depends on your perspective on what ‘Adventure Riding’ means to you and what capabilities you find personally important. Essentially you’re trading ability on dirt for road manners.

Handling

Slower than the rest, heavy; particularly if you’re laden down with gear on the tail/panniers or a pillion – as you’re likely to be for a major exped. Locks and turning circles are still nimble but don’t expect to be really capable off road, the big bikes will use power and torque to get through most dirt obstacles rather than agility.

So here’s the Heavyweight Top Motorcycle Shortlist:

nota bona: BMW GS differences

With both the R1200 and the R1150 models there are two options; GS and GS Adventure. In each case there are small but significant differences designed for either use on road or dual sport (Adventure).

BMW R1200GS/GSA

BMW R1200 GS Adventure
BMW R1200 GS Adventure

Still the latest incarnation from BMW dating from 2004/5.

Pros

Electronic ride settings designed to dial the bike in for the terrain. Rain, Ride and Sport give you a lot of great options to make the best of your road choices.

Power and range – the 2015 ‘Adventure’  model offers 92lbs of torque and 125bhp. More than you need off road or round the world but it is useable power.

BMW R1200GSA off road
BMW R1200GSA off road

Cons

260kg dry. Think twice before falling over on the dirt.

Electrics to go wrong in remote conditions.

Summary

20130907-201051.jpg
The editor test riding the R1200 GSA in Spain

Popular for the right reasons; the classic dual sport machine. Heavy but for many the only option. Lots of customization and accessory options. Fast and strong; this bike is the current market leader and the ‘go to’ machine for anyone entering this class.

BMW R1150GS/GSA

BMW R1150GS
BMW R1150GS

The original big GS is, for many, still the definitive adventure motorcycle. An extremely robust design, combining the classic boxer with a shaft drive, solid frame and metal tank kept this bike going longer than any other of it’s class – except perhaps for the R1100GS.

The ride for many notable RTW and overland expeditions including both Ewan and Charlie and the ‘Two Ride The World’ crew.

BMW R1150GS - The Long Way Round
BMW R1150GS – The Long Way Round

Pros

Solid, proven design. Easy to work on and plenty of spares available internationally.

Cons

Getting long in the tooth now. High mileage, well looked after models will run for ever after the final drive seals and rear suspension are replaced around the 60k mile mark.

Summary

BMW R115OGS
’02 BMW R115OGS and the editor

The original benchmark heavyweight adventure bike. The ‘Adventure’ version has 20mm longer front suspension travel and a taller first gear for more control off road but looks like a meaner bike.

KTM 1190

KTM 1190
KTM 1190

Introduced in 2013 to replace the 950/990 series. Evolved from a heady DNA of Dakar Rallye know how and road design lessons from its forbears. This is primarily a street capable machine with great handling that can function off road with aplomb.

Summary

Did KTM go too far? Is this the bike you want to take round the world or is this the bike you want to ride for a weekend in a developed country? I’d be keen to have my mind changed but I can’t square the circle on this; I don’t think this is a contender for the overland heavyweight title.

KTM 950 Adventure

KTM 950 Adventure
KTM 950 Adventure

KTM came out of the Paris-Dakar Rallye series with the winning formula of low centre of gravity, exceptional stability and handling and a V Twin 950 cc engine in a large dirt bike style frame. The carb fed 950 models lifted the whole heavyweight category up a notch.

Pros

Great handling, riding and a near perfect balance between on road ability and off road agility.

Good range from the 24 ltr tank – 200 miles on the road.

Cons

Electrical gremlins worked through the loom. Over time the electrics would prove to be the weak point – particularly if water was involved.

Summary

The editor on his much loved/unreliable KTM
The editor on his much loved/unreliable KTM

If it wasn’t for the reliability issues then the early KTM’s would easily win this competition. Later models are strong contenders.

Yamaha Tenere

2015 Yamaha Tenere XT1200Z
2015 Yamaha Tenere XT1200Z

From the factory that bought you the original lightweight overlanding bikes like the XT600Z, the big Tenere has a great combination of power and handling. 270′ V Twin engine puts out 109bhp with 84lbs torque. First came out in 2010 and available since then.

Pros

It’s essentially built on the lines of a GS. Shaft drive, bullet proof chassis, great handling once on the move.

Nick Sanders rode one.

Yamaha 'Super Ten' on Nick's Mongolia expedition
Yamaha ‘Super Ten’ on Nick’s Mongolia expedition

Cons

261kg. Need more? This is a heavy bike to live with.

Pricing from new when ranged against it’s competition.

Summary

Yamaha 'Super Ten' touring
Yamaha ‘Super Ten’ touring

Recommended for experienced long distance and adventure touring riders; this machine will get you there and in some comfort and style.