If you’re planning for long-distance motorcycle touring anytime soon, if the open highways are what soothe your soul, if hundreds of kilometers in a single day is what you aim to do, DON’T. Stay at home, make love to your husband/wife, your hand, or a watermelon.
All over the world, and especially in India, touring on a motorcycle has progressively become more and more dangerous. I don’t have any stats to prove this, just the dismal and irritating regularity of biker obituaries that keep showing up in my Facebook feed. Riding in India has always been a gamble with your life, but over the past few years things have completely gone to shit.
Too many good bikers are dying too soon and too quickly. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, doesn’t matter how careful you are, the margin for error is so small that even Valentino Rossi couldn’t survive a day in this fucked up nation without getting his ass handed to him.
I do understand that it’s not possible to simply hang your gloves and give up motorcycles for good. I understand that desire to ride is something that can’t be stopped. So rather than doing thousands of kilometers on our godforsaken highways and putting your life in danger, here are some alternatives that are the same, if not more fun than touring.
1. Go to a track
If you ever thought touring is fun, you’ll not believe what a rush the track is. On a normal 4-5 hour track session, you can easily cover some 70-100 kms. While touring, especially on a good highway, 5 hours mean 300+ kms, but here’s the difference, the 70 kms you do on the track are full-on intense, each meter of each lap is about finding your limits, trying something new. The 300 kms of highways can be fun too, watching the scenery go by, dodging a few dogs and a few potholes, but the psychological satisfaction that you get in those 300 kms is nothing in front of that you get in those 70.
On top of that, track riding is so safe I’ve seen people crash 4-5 times in the space of a few hours and still smile ear to ear. When you crash on the highway, you fear for your life. When you crash on the track, you get up and crash again.
There are many options all over the country for track riding nowadays. You can go for the open track days at BIC, or find some friends who are regulars over there. There’s Motovation in Hyderabad, Meco Kartopia in Bangalore, TWO/Apex in Kari, open track days at MMRT, and then there’s RACR or CSS if you really feel like you’ve got it in you to be a racer.
2. Go off-road
If the track is all about finding your limits and going past them, off-road is all about silly fun and childish giggling. Sure you can go hardcore with off-road too, but I haven’t reached that stage yet, and I don’t feel like getting there anyways. Off-road and trails have the perfect combination of risk and reward. Since there’s literally nobody around, you can’t be crushed by an 18-wheeler that’s being driven by a drunk drug dealer, but there are a lot of obstacles around, so dropping the bike is almost guaranteed.
And it doesn’t really matter if you drop it, you are rarely above 2nd gear, 3rd tops, so a crash basically looks like you gently flying away from the bike, and landing in some fairy dust and unicorn farts.
OK, I may have painted a rather too good a picture here. Dirt crashes are not always fun, but hey, at least nobody’s high-sided at 120 on a trail because some moron cut him off and hit his front wheel.
3. Go out of India
There are hundreds of countries out there that you can explore, with much less risk, and much more fun. You’d be surprised how much better road sense can be just a few meters away from the Indian border.
- For information about riding in Bhutan, click here.
- For information about riding in Sri Lanka, click here.
- For information about riding in Thailand, click here.
Europe is awesome, US isn’t bad. Basically the moment you step out of India the chances of you dying away on a motorcycle seat drop exponentially, plus when you come back from your trip, you can proudly call yourself an NRI.
4. Transport your bike
With the Ladakh season coming up, a lot of bikers would be heading up the mountains. There was a time when I felt that anybody riding from any part of India to Ladakh must ride all the way, otherwise what’s the fun? Now I realize how stupid my thoughts can be.
If there’s any chance that you can avoid motorcycle travel, especially on big boring highways, take it. 90% fun in a Ladakh trip is Ladakh, rest is just getting there and getting out, so why spend 50% of your effort for 10% of the fun?
Transporting bikes comes with its own set of problems though. I’ve sent my bike across India 4 times via train, and once the handlebars came out bent. Other people have mixed reviews about train transport, a friend sent a Ninja 300 and it came out without a single scratch, some others have horrible tales to tell. Road transport companies like Gati and VRL have generally negative reviews, with bikes taking much more damage, which is rather obvious considering the fact that the bike in a truck takes hits all through the trip, while in the train it’s mostly just during loading and unloading.
This is where it helps to have a cheap, shitty bike that you don’t mind getting fucked a bit.
5. Find other ways to get your high
Motorcycling is fun, but deep down there are only 2 reasons why people do them:
- For the rush of speed
- For the experience of new places
Both of them can be achieved with other methods.
Skydiving, parasailing, scuba diving, bungee jumping, rappelling, rock climbing, trekking, running, cycling, zorbing, gokarting, ATV, flying, trains, buses, hitchhiking, and rolling on the ground can all get you that high that long-distance motorcycle touring does. It might be a different kinda high, motorcycles are unique for sure, but it’s the little differences that’ll make you appreciate them all.
6. Read/listen/watch other people getting high
Undoubtedly the safest way to travel and to experience things is to read other people’s stories. There’s plenty to pick from, read about a woman’s solo motorcycle journey through India in the 90s, or listen to Guy Martin’s autobiography, or pick anything from Sam Manicom or Ted Simon or the host of other brilliant stuff that’s out there.
You can read a physical book, or an ebook, or listen on Audible. You get to live all the experiences of the writers, without any of the risks.
Same goes for movies, there are so many beautiful motorcycling movies out there that you can spend weeks watching them over and over again. Here are a few suggestions, and here are some more, and a little more.
These are some of the things that I’ve been doing the past year or so to stay away from long-distance motorcycle touring, and since I’m writing this, it proves that they work, since I’m still alive. There’s nothing wrong in following your dreams, and die trying, but think about your Facebook timeline after you are dead, filled with fake “RIP” messages from people who never knew you, never cared for you, never met you.
Stay alive no matter what it takes, stay alive for fuck’s sake.