Archive for October 2017

Which biking accessories to buy before your first bike trip? (Part 2)

Manali to Leh bike trip

In this second of two-part article, about the type of bag you'll need, why you should have more than one pair of gloves and why balaclava is the best biking accessory you never knew you needed.

Previously, we told you about what to keep in mind while buying helmets, jacket and boots. Today, we'll take you through some of the other essentials. Read on to find out.

4. Bags

Now this one’s a bit tricky. You need to consider a number of parameters before deciding which type of bag you should buy. The same person can need different bags for different trips OR different bags for different bikes OR multiple bags for a single bike on a single trip. You get the drift.

North Rajasthan bike trip
Cramster saddle bag on the rear seat. Gives enough space to tie more luggage on top of it.

So let's look at some of major types of bike-specific bags available in the market so that you can make an informed decision:

- Regular Saddlebag: This one is similar to the traditional horseback saddlebag; you can put your stuff on either side and two bags are connected by a bridge which rests on the rear seat so that you can either place more stuff on top of it or the pillion rider can sit on it provided they can still reach the footrest (often, the saddlebags cover the rear footrest). Some latest models come with provisions where you can detach the bridge and can carry only one of the two if you have limited stuff to carry; and some have straps that convert saddlebag into backpack making it even more versatile.

There are two main types of saddlebags as far as shapes are concerned: straight and angular. Straight ones are for bikes which have straight(er) exhaust pipes like Royal Enfield, Pulsar 180, Yamaha FZ, etc. An angular saddlebag is designed to keep room for the upswept exhaust of sportier bikes like in case of KTM Duke and others.

- Tank bag: Tank bags are used to keep important stuff like bike’s papers, route maps, mobile phone, camera, etc. If you have a metallic tank, say, a Royal Enfield, safely go ahead with a magnetic tank bag which’ll hug your tank without the need for any messy harnesses. Else use a bag with harness. If you don't want to spend money on tank bank, tie your regular backpack using bungee cords. More on that in section 6.

- Tail bag: Some people use this in addition to OR in place of a saddlebag. The tail bag rests where your pillion rider would otherwise sit. It’s only recommended if you’re certain that you’re not going to have a pillion along the way. 😉

- Metal carrier: More commonly known as the Ladakh carrier, this metal cage is almost always seen on Enfields plying the Ladakh/Spiti/Himachal/J&K routes. The carrier has space for all your luggage and also have special sections to carry the fuel cans. The carrier is not just for rental bikes, you too can get one installed on your Enfield but do it only if you’re a seasoned rider and plan to do long distance trips regularly. Do not install this on city commuter and sports bikes like Yamahas, Apaches, Pulsars and Dukes. The carrier will ruin the bike’s body panels.

Srinagar to Leh bike trip
Ladakh Carrier as seen on a Royal Enfield

Tip: Try to buy a bag with a rain cover. If it doesn't have one, buy yourself rain covers made out of cement bags. An adventure shop in Manali specializes in them and you can get these for less than 100 bucks. I've used these bags on a number of rides and they're still in impeccable condition even after being lashed with rain and muck for thousands of miles over the years. 

5. Gloves

Which type of gloves you should buy depends on where you’re travelling. Similar to the jacket, a pair of gloves with ventilation holes will definitely keep your hand sweat free on a hot day but your fingers will freeze in cold climate; at the same time, sealed gloves are great for winters and rain but in summers, your hand will be in a puddle of sweat. 

It’s absolutely okay to buy more than one pair of gloves and keep changing as per the altitude and weather conditions through the route. They don’t take up a lot of space and you can easily carry 1-2 extra pairs with you in your tank bag.


Just remember two things:

- Buy gloves that extend a couple of inches beyond your wrist. Ideally, no skin should be visible between the gloves and jacket, the two of them should overlap and give you a 100% protection from the external elements. 

- Make sure the gloves have knuckles. Carbon fibre or titanium knuckle gloves will cost you more than a 150cc bike but even in low-range, say, ₹1000-3000; you can get gloves with plastic/rubber knuckles to protect the skin from getting ripped off in case of a crash. Having said that, you may or may not get knuckle protection in rain or winter gloves; but make sure that the padding provides sufficient protection.

6. Bungee Cords

If you have a BMW R1200 or a Honda Goldwing where everything will fit perfect without moving or sliding even an inch inside the metal containers, then skip this section. Else read on.

Motorcycle trip - saddlebag
Flexibility of bungee cords at play

You can buy yourself either branded bungees (300 bucks for a 3 ft one) or unbranded ones from your local hardware store (50-70 bucks for an 7-8 ft one). Three-way and spider bungees are other options, but they cost anything north of 500 bucks. Personally, I prefer using multiple unbranded bungees - cheap, versatile and durable; and doesn't hurt if you lose or break one. I always keep couple of extra ones with me and have often given to other riders who're struggling to tie their luggage using ropes.

7. Balaclava

Balaclava is to guys what tank top is for girls. Super versatile! There are so many uses for it, you will never want to part with it. Balaclava is the most bang for your bucks out of all your biking accessories. For just 200-300 bucks you’ll get a balaclava that’ll cover your face and neck during winters, soak the sweat during summer, cover your skin from pollution and dust in city traffic, double up as an ear band during cold/noisy nights and act as an eye mask in bright light. It is so versatile, you’ll be surprised how you lived your life without it so far; in fact, you may even want to use it during your daily peak hour ride to work.

I've morphed the balaclava into an ear cap to protect my ears from gale force winds at the Namila La Pass at 12000+ altitude. Take a look at the prayer flags on top right to understand the force of the wind.

If you look closely, you'll realize that the point of all the protective gear is that not a single part of your skin is exposed to the elements. 

From top to bottom: helmet (head) – balaclava (neck) – jacket (torso) – gloves (hands) – jeans (legs) – boots (ankle and feet).

Though it may look a bit expensive, remember, they’re investments and will last you years. You’ll be reusing your equipment again and again and hence, they’re an investment in your biker lifestyle and not an expense towards a single trip. 

P.S. I haven’t included knee pads because I find them restrictive and not useful enough; thick denim does the work for me. However, if you really feel the need, and if it makes you feel secure and protected, go for it.

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Which biking accessories to buy before your first bike trip? (Part 1)

Manali to Leh - Rohtang Pass bike trip

Heading for your first bike trip but don't know what you need? Well, we have the answers. Read on to find out about the most essential biking gears that you should have.

A bike trip is the most exciting thing you can do on a road with your clothes on. As exciting it is, it can also be a bit intimidating if you’re doing it for the first time. But it’s better to be a bit frightened than being over confident. I always say this to all adventure enthusiasts: Be 98% brave and 2% scared; a bit of fear keeps you alive.

Hence, it’s of utmost importance that you keep all the essentials with you. In this first of two-part series, here's a list of the biking accessories that you need to buy before undertaking your bike trip.

1. Helmet

Manali to Solang Valley to Rohtang Pass

Since you already ride a bike, I’m going to assume that you already own a helmet. But, is it the right one? In India, most people wear helmet just to be on the right side of the law and escape the fines; and not as a protective gear. Take a good look at your helmet and make sure it’s good enough to be taken on a multi-day trip.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts:

- DO NOT use a half face helmet. Yes, it looks cool in all those biking commercials but god forbid if you crash face down, that beautiful jawline will be history. 
- DO NOT use tinted visor. It may block the sunlight during summer but when the sun goes down and when the truck’s high beam will hit your visor on those dual-lane highways, you won’t be able to see jack… Either spend more and get one of those dual visor helmets or use a clear visor and wear sunglasses underneath. Note: aviators and wayfarers won’t fit under the helmet; only the sports glasses, which stays stuck to your face, will do.
- DO NOT use a brand new helmet. This is not a very obvious one and people often buy a new helmet on the day before the trip thinking, “What can possibly go wrong?” Well, lots. I learnt it the hard way. I lost my favourite helmet a day before my ride and had to urgently buy a new one. On the third day of the trip, due to the vibrations, the visor’s screw came off on the highway while I was riding in fifth gear.

Don't forget to read about my article on why every biker should visit Pali (Rajasthan) at least one.

2. Jacket

That's me wearing a Cramster jacket
Biking jackets come in all shapes and price points. Not all biking jackets will make you sell your kidney ***cough-Alpinestar-cough***. In India, you can get a long-lasting, padded jacket for as low as 4000. RJays are one of the cheapest ones and start at 4-4.5k but my personal choice is Cramster (6k). I’ve been using it since past 5 years and it’s tough as a tank. 

Keep a few things in mind before buying your jacket:

- Is it water proof? You’ll find yourself riding in torrential rain and snow and the nearest town will be 50km away. At that time, if you don’t have a waterproof jacket, lord help you. 

- Is it layered? You will get really cheap jackets with a single layer but it’s useless if you’re planning to use it for more than one trip. A summer jacket will have lots of ventilation holes but you’ll freeze to death if you wear it to Khardungla. Similarly, a winter jacket will provide great insulation but can you imagine yourself wearing it while riding to Goa or Rajasthan
A layered jacket will have ventilated external with a detachable second layer that you can use in case it gets cold. Also, as you ascend or descend the altitude during your ride, you can easily add/delete the extra layer.

- Is it padded? The purpose of biking jackets should not be to make you look like a “biker” but to protect your body (ego not included) in case of a crash. Hence, always go for padded jackets. They’re heavy but they take the fall for your mistakes. You can either have sealed in pads/panels or detachable ones. In case of the latter, you can remove the shoulder/elbow/back/forearm/chest pads from their respective pockets, wash them and easily put them back.  

3. Shoes

That's me wearing gum boots at the Pangong Tso Lake

Just like the jacket, in case of biking shoes as well, it’s more about safety than style. Here are a couple of things you need to keep in mind before buying your biking shoes:

- Metal toe: In case of a high-speed crash, the toe tunnel will protect your…well, toes.

- High ankle boots: If you crash, chances are the impact will twist your ankle and may do some serious damage. High-ankle boots will ensure that the structure and positioning of your feet and ankle stays intact. In fact, if you get metal inserts in the ‘U’ of the backside of the shoe, that’ll be a bonus.

Till a few years back it was fairly difficult to get good biking shoes in India but now you have quite a few options. I’ve used Orazo in the past and though they look gorgeous, their durability is questionable. I’d like to give them one more chance only because of the way these shoes look but a quick search on Amazon/Flipkart will give you a dozen other options. 

DON'T MISS: The holy grail of biking enthusiasts in India - Khardungla

Orazo is in mid-range (3-5k), but if you want to go high-end, you can always splurge on Alpinestars (20k+). But if you want a cheap option – forget about brands and buy unbranded black army shoes from your nearest army store. It doesn’t have metal toe, but it'll last your through World War. You can pick up a pair for about 1000 bucks. And no, it’s not illegal.

If you'll be riding during monsoon or to places where there will be a number of water crossings (say, Ladakh or Himachal), also pick up a pair of gum boots. I haven't seen them in metros but you'll easily get them in places like Manali, Shimla and Leh; for as low as ₹200-300. For this amount, even if you have to throw them at the end of the ride, still worth it.

Tip: If you’re wearing metal-toe boots on flights, there’s a 200% chance that you’ll be asked to remove the shoes in security check. To save time, put your boots through the scanner beforehand. 

This is the first of two-part series. In the next part, we'll tell you about Gloves, Bags and a very important but underrated accessory. Stay tuned!
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