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Preparing your motorcycle for Ladakh

If you're planning a motorcycle trip to Ladakh, make it as enjoyable as possible. Here are a few pointers to prepare your bike for that long ride.

Water crossing is one of the toughest hurdle a rider can face during a Ladakh ride

It’s that time of the year – scorching hot summer in the plains and every motorcyclist’s dream to head up to the Himalayas – more specifically – to Ladakh.

Come June every year, scores of motorcyclists head up to the high mountains across some of the world’s highest motorable roads to experience what every motorcyclist thinks is a must do ride of a lifetime. 

With an average altitude of over 10,000 feet above mean sea level (a.s.l.), Ladakh remains out of bounds for over six months a year, with only a narrow window between June and early October providing scope for a road trip. 

The Manali-Leh-Srinagar circuit has over eight high altitude mountain passes ranging from 13,500 feet a.s.l to over 17,800 feet a.s.l. Further excursions out of Leh to Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso will see the addition of two more of the highest motorable passes in the world – the Khardung La and Chang La.

2013 Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey

Needless to say, climbing up and over these mountains is what every motorcyclist dreams of – to test both the rider’s and his or her motorcycle’s capability to make this trip to the Mecca of motorcycling. Here’s a list of things to keep in mind before you head out on your motorcycle to the high Himalayas this summer.

Engine & Transmission:
• If you are taking your own motorcycle, get it serviced before making the trip and seek your mechanic’s suggestion on the health of the engine.

 Look out for excessive smoke coming out of the exhaust. If the motorcycle has been burning too much oil lately, then it’s time to see if there’s any play in the piston rings. Diagnose the problem now rather than face bike trouble in the middle of nowhere.

 Listen to the engine after it has been warmed up and on idle. Are there any unnatural sounds? Any loud metallic sounds could be the source of potential engine trouble.

 During riding, make sure that the bike is pulling cleanly through the gears. Ensure that the carburettor, air filter and spark plugs are cleaned and adjusted properly. If your air filter has seen over 10,000 km, consider replacing it.

Negotiating a water crossing

• Take the motorcycle for a high speed spin and ensure that the engine is performing flawlessly. You will need it to perform once the going gets tough, and tough it will get!

 If your engine has clocked 50,000 km or more, get it checked properly. If required, change piston and cylinder and complete proper running in before setting out to munch those miles in the mountains.

 Check for clutch wear and tear. If the motorcycle is not pulling cleanly through the gears, it could be a sign of clutch damage or just a case of improper adjustment. Adjust and/or replace clutch plates if required.

 Check the chain set for wear and tear. If there is more than one teeth on the sprocket which look broken or worn out, replace the chain set – the chain and both front and rear sprockets. The health of the chain and sprockets will play a key role once you start climbing up mountain passes on the motorcycle.

Tyres & Suspension:
• Check tyres for excessive wear and tear. Even if the tyres aren’t very worn out, if they are over five years old, consider replacing them. The rubber compound of the tyres gets harder with age and hard rubber means less traction. Whether it’s doing high speed runs across the plains or struggling in gravel and slush, you will need all the traction.

 If you are replacing tyres, then consider a set of dual sport tyres for your Ladakh ride. They offer more traction on gravel, slush and sand and will perform on tarmac just as well.

Riding across More Plains

 Check both tubes. It’s always a good idea to replace both tubes before embarking on such a long ride. 

 Check both rear and front shock absorbers. Replace front fork oil and oil seals if required. If available, consider a pair of front fork gators. Dirt slipping in and out of the fork is a sure shot recipe for busting the oil seals and the gators will help protect the oil seals.

 Check rear suspension for rigidity and firmness. If they feel too springy or soft and bottom out easily over a speed bump, replace rear shock absorbers.

• Check the swing arm bushes for excessive play or squeaks. If required, replace.

The terrain can be harsh and unforgiving

• Check the brake shoes/pads of both wheels. Replace if required. If your bike is equipped with disc brakes, then top up brake oil.

 Go for a few test runs on the bike. If you have wheels with spokes, and feel the slightest of wobbles, then it’s time to get your wheels aligned.  

Electricals, cables and other odds & ends:
• Check your battery water level. If the battery drains out too often, or if it’s over 3 years old, then it’s time to consider a replacement.

 Check all lights – high beam, low beam, indicators (both front and rear). Also ensure tail light and brake lights are working fine. Out in the open road, as within the city, the lights in your motorcycle are for your safety and for the safety of others. They ensure that you are visible to all. Use indicators judiciously.

Taking a break

• Check your horn and ensure the horn mounts are in good condition. Once in rough terrain, the horn mounts sometimes tend to crack and fall off due to excessive vibrations.

 Ensure both rear view mirrors are working fine and are not shaky or rattling while the bike is being ridden. If required, replace with new mirrors. Rear view mirrors are your eyes for traffic creeping out from behind you and even for looking out for your riding buddies. Out on the highway, they are an absolute must, for giving way to faster moving traffic, as well as to make sure the way is clear during overtaking manoeuvres.

Finally, ensure that all nuts and bolts are tightened, including the ones holding up your crash guard, exhaust and front fairing. And the day before you set out on your odyssey, check and top up all fluids, if required, including engine oil, brake oil, battery water and coolant. Check tyre pressure and top up the fuel tank as well.

Most of all, be relaxed and set realistic deadlines for every day’s milestone. Take as many breaks as you require, to have a cup of tea, to take a leak or to just have a chat with your riding buddies or to admire the view. It’s not a race and it’s not an expedition to conquer the mountains. Enjoy the ride!


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