The Shuriken Bikers gang had been planning a bike ride from Manali to Leh for a few months now (needless to say, it’s on every biker’s Bucket List).
In August, they finally did it…Their bikes being sent by cargo from Mumbai to Ambala (on the same train that they were traveling on).
The journey tested their bikes, it tested their resilience and fitness and it tested their appetite for adventure…
Capt Cheri Jacob – ex service man, now a professional with an MNC in Mumbai, part of the gang that did this journey shares his tips on how to bike it up to Leh!
Taking your bikes by Cargo
We sent our bikes by railway cargo from Mumbai to Ambala – and intentionally took the same train that it was on. We chose to supervise the bikes being loaded and soon realised why that was such a good decision! Since the cargo porters load the bikes first and then hurl huge cargo boxes into the compartment (usually landing on the bikes). This could easily result in broken mirrors, lights or dented fuel tanks. We think it is also important to supervise at every point that the cargo wagon gets opened. In our case it was only 1 more stop at Delhi. It is worth the trouble to ensure your precious bikes reach your destination intact.
Ride via Srinagar, exit Manali – here’s why
We chose to ride via Srinagar and exit from Manali rather than the other way around – riding via Srinagar, exiting at Manali fosters acclimatisation better as the climb is gradual. Many bikers we know have attempted the other way around Manali – Jispa – Sarchu or Pang. They say it’s claustrophobic from Manali onwards… It’s clear to see why – Manali and Jispa are approx 7000 ft. whereas Sarchu and Pang are above 15000-16000 feet which is third stage of High Altitude. No wonder people feel like they cant breathe and that the mountains are depending on them.
Get your Gear right!
If travelling in Jul-Aug <which is usually the best time to ride this route>, the snow on the mountains and passes has mostly melted. Some basic rain gear can be carried but it does not rain that much. It’s best to carry a large raincoat you can quickly throw over your riding gear. Waterproof gloves are a waste as hands sweat in them. Waterproof boots however should be carried as a spare. This is because there are small streams which need to be crossed and leather boots will get wet and will uncomfortable to then ride in wet boots. If possible get the slip-on waterproof covers for riding boots (we used the ones by Royal Enfield) – which are easy to slip-on over your boots without too much of a delay.
Waterproof riding trousers jackets and gloves are a waste. Don’t carry. Use raincoats.
Gloves are a tricky part unless you can afford really expensive winter riding gloves that breathe. I had six pairs. … leather riding gloves, thermal inner gloves, woolen mittens, surgical, normal leather and industrial orange ones. Your hands freeze irrespective of what you use when you approach the passes. I used all combinations of three from the list above ( three at a time) to no avail and my fingers froze anyway. Plastic gloves make your palms sweat and makes matters worse. The only way to warm your hands was actually placing your gloved hand on the hot running engine block.
Watch the Streams and the GREF
During these months, it’s better start early in the day as the later you start the more the streams and the more violent streams you will cross as the sun melts the snow. When crossing a rapidly flowing stream try to take the path of least resistance. Best to assess first rather than jump in especially if there is a precipitous drop on one side towards which the water is flowing.
Speaking of treacherous drops .. Be warned of trucks especially driven by GREF. They don’t give a hang about bikes and barely drop their speed or direction. The Army trucks are more careful.
Plan your route – how much distance in a day
Plan for only about 40-50 km per day in mountains. All the passes are freezing and all are above 16000 feet, thus do carry adequate thermals and cold protection. At some passes I was wearing six layers on top including a riding jacket with inners and two layers of thermals. You will feel claustrophobic in such gear but will freeze at the same time. On top of that will be the heavy breathing due to low oxygen. Don’t spend more than an hour max at any pass. Noodle and chai stalls are available almost everywhere … Except at Rohtang pass which was some distance away (before) from the main pass so we ended up passing it and then realizing later that that was the only refreshments available for miles.
Ensure to carry adequate dry fruits. If carrying instant noodles then carry a stove kerosene and matches (although that’s inconvenient)
Plan fuel stops in advance. Have a route plan well in advance along with a back up plan for halts etc since breakdowns could slow you and you don’t want to be caught in the wilderness in the cold post sunset. And oh, have a breakdown plan.
This journey trip was certainly the most exciting biking trip of their collective lives! And if this is inspiring enough, add ‘Road Trip to Leh’ to your your own Bucket List on The Itch List. You will find buddies, resources and a lot of inspiration!
(Picture Credits: Capt Cheri Jacob)