A bike trip to Leh Ladakh is a dream journey for all who own a motorcycle in India today. For people who do not have their own bike, the option of getting to Manali, Srinagar or Leh by public transport and renting a bike is always open. Ladakh in recent years has reached the top of the list of most desired destinations in India; and riding a motorcycle on Ladakh’s challenging terrain has become the very definition of motorcycling, cycling, fun and adventure.
But is it really as easy as it sounds? Can you just start your bike and be on your way to Ladakh? The answer is no. Today thousands of motorcyclists travel to Ladakh, some on their own and others as part of a group organized by a travel agency. As the total number of tourists increased, the number of careless tourists also increased. What happened next? Well, people started to die in Ladakh.
No, I’m not kidding. Do a Google search and you will find people who died while traveling to Ladakh in a motorcycle accident or as a direct result of an acute mountain sickness. Why did this happen? Because they weren’t prepared or took things for granted. No matter how much tourism increases here, the fact that it cannot be denied is that Ladakh’s very nature is harsh and unforgiving. A simple mistake here can ruin your trip, at the very least, or cost your life, at worst.
Travel by bike to Leh Ladakh
So am I discouraging you from taking a bike trip to Leh Ladakh? No, I’m not. All I am emphasizing is that you must prepare well and be extremely careful during the tour. Listed below are some of the most important safety tips you should be aware of when planning your dream trip to Ladakh.
This is the most important tip of all. You need to ask yourself why you are making this trip and are you ready for it. Do you have enough driving experience or are you just trying because everyone is going to Ladakh? And be honest about it. If you are new to cycling and adventure, try some trips to other places first and then consider going to Ladakh. You must have made at least two long motorcycle trips and must have some mountain riding experience as well.
The second would be to know oneself physically. What are your limitations? Is there any medical condition involved? Are you physically prepared to deal with the brutal reality of AMS? If there is any type of respiratory or heart disease involved, you should give up the idea of visiting Ladakh or at least consult a doctor before doing so. Can you sit on a motorcycle for 8 hours every day for several days? Do you have a back problem or shoulder pain that can become a problem after 2 days of travel? These are some of the questions you should ask yourself first and, if you are unsure, you should get a guarantee first.
Know your motorcycle
The second step would be to know your motorcycle. By knowing, I mean you should really be aware of how it behaves on steep climbs; how it feels in sharp turns; at which maximum speed will still be fully under your control; how much load it can handle, how it reacts to sudden brakes; the average fuel efficiency; condition of parts; can take a croup; how much inclination it can withstand before skidding; how much weight you can put on one side without losing control; and how long you can sit for long hours. If you don’t know all this, take your vehicle on a test trip and find out.
You should also know how to perform some minor repairs; how to remove the steering wheel, change the tubes, change the headlights, etc. You should also carry some necessary spare parts, because it is almost impossible to find them in the circuit. You may find a mechanic, but if you do not have a spare, it will be useless.
Know the Route
The third step would be to know the route you plan to follow. There is a lot of information available on the net today and thousands of videos you can watch on YouTube. Gather as much information as possible and take an offline map to refer to. Follow a well-defined itinerary and don’t just be blind. Find out how far you will travel at what day and where you will be stopping at night. Stick to the route and follow your itinerary.
Know the weather
This will be the next thing to check. You should find out how the weather was trending in Ladakh before going there. Will apply more if you are traveling early or late in the season or during the monsoons. To be safer, plan a trip on the Manali Leh Route only between June and September, skip this route in October. If you want to go to Ladakh via Srinagar, don’t plan before May.
If you travel in July or August, check the weather ahead. Monsoons can wreak havoc on the Manali Leh or Srinagar Leh roads. Landslides can endanger tourists and get stuck for a long time. Even in Ladakh today, monsoons have begun to become a problem.
There are several sections on the circuit where you will have to be very careful. These are called areas of shooting stones. The good part is that all these posts are tagged by BRO. So wherever you see a board that reads guns, pass very carefully and don’t stop.
Follow the rules
Unlike the city, there are not many rules you need to follow while walking the hills. The rules here are just a few and are very simple. But they are all extremely critical, and unlike the city where you can break a traffic rule and run away from time to time, breaking a mountain rule can be catastrophic.
Be completely aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes on the road and never lose focus. If you want to enjoy the view, stop and take a break. Let the climbing vehicle pass first, especially on narrow roads. Never cross a bend and always blow the horn. Never be in a hurry to get over it. Sound the horn and allow time for other vehicles to allow you to pass. There can be absolutely no speed and do everything possible to avoid walking in the dark. And of course, don’t drink and drive.
I really cannot emphasize enough the importance of this factor. As a matter of fact, if you follow this advice, everything will rest automatically. Ladakh is not a place where you can hurry anywhere. Take the ride slowly and carefully.
Instead of spending time trying to rush to your next destination, plan your itinerary so that you don’t travel more than 150 kilometers; and do not walk more than 5-6 hours at most. There will be long trips involved in a day or 2, but you should not walk all day every day. If so, add more days or postpone your trip another time when you can.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about how you should handle your motorcycle while traveling by bike to Leh Ladakh. Braking will definitely be the most important part. In the hills, you will be rising or falling. Going up is actually a little easier than going down. All you have to do is stop accelerating and the bike will stop. Rear braking is what you should trust when climbing.
But as it descends, the full weight of the gearshift will shift on the front wheel and the rear braking will become less efficient. Many people tend to overuse the front brake when going down, which can really be a mistake. A sensible thing to do would be to use engine braking and apply the front and rear brakes at the same time.
Sounds easy, correct? You really will have to be very careful in terms of where you park or to. The first rule is not to park at a corner where your bike will be a problem for traffic. Do not stop on narrow roads because your bicycle will still be blocking the road. Find a large enough place and stop there.
Try not to park with the front of the bike pointing down. Firstly, it may result in the fall of your bike. Second, it will also become a problem when you need to ride the bike and start riding again. Try to find a place that is slightly flat and not inclined. Most important of all, do not stop or park in a rock shooting are.
Stay on your track
Mountain roads are rarely marked or divided into lanes. There will be no dividers or markings anywhere. In such a situation, it will be your responsibility to stand by your side of the road and walk sensibly. It becomes a cornering problem, especially when motorcyclists make a wide turn and finish in another lane, right in front of an oncoming vehicle.
Slow down and stay on our side of the road. And low gear will apply both up and down movements. If you were climbing, this will ensure that you have maximum power at your disposal. When descending, it will aid in engine braking.
In areas that are too narrow for two vehicles to pass, keep an eye on vehicles coming from the other direction.
Now let’s talk a little bit about what engine braking is. This is when you are driving down into a lower gear without pulling the clutch and letting the engine run. How does it help? Well, first of all, this will prevent you from accelerating as you descend. Secondly, it will prevent you from fully relying on the brakes and overusing them, which in turn will cause the brakes to warm up. Third, all braking and stopping will be much smoother.
The general rule is never to go down in neutral. Many people think they are saving fuel after turning off the bikes. This is not a good practice and may result in loss of bike control.
Do not engage the clutch if your bicycle stops while you is climbing. Put it in gear and apply the rear brake, even if it means letting the engine stop. Clutching will cause you to start rolling backwards and eventually fall over.
Yes, water passages and you will find many of them. In fact, they are one of the fun parts of going to Ladakh as long as you don’t get hurt. How do you guarantee it? Well, the first step would be not to keep walking thinking that you’ll be all right.
Stop for a moment, stop and watch the stream ahead. Estimate your depth, the strength of the water, and look for a place that seems relatively safer to cross. If you weren’t sure, wait for another motorcycle or car to arrive and follow their example. If you were riding with a croup, ask them to get out and be ready as a pushback if they get stuck.
About a decade ago, you would need to seriously consider transporting spare fuel to Ladakh, but nowadays it is available everywhere on the black route. You’ll pay a little more, but save yourself the trouble of transporting spare fuel. Read fuel availability at Leh Ladakh – How to Manage for more details.
Now let’s talk about rented motorcycles. Any bicycle rented outside Leh, including those from Manali and Srinagar, is not allowed in Ladakh. You can get to Leh on these bikes, but you’ll have to leave people parked at your hotel. For local tours in Ladakh, you will need to rent a local motorcycle in Leh city. This is a very serious matter and please do not make the mistake of ignoring it. There were incidents where off-site rented motorcycles were vandalized and even kidnapped in Ladakh.
Privately owned motorcycles
If you were riding a private bike, it should be in your own name or in your parents or sibling. A bike belonging to your friend or cousin will not be allowed. If you arrived on a motorcycle, you will have to leave it parked in Leh again and rent another one.
If you were able to install a trunk on your bike, it will really make things easier for you. Otherwise you can also make the trip without it. I have never used a trunk on any of my tours. The only thing you need to ensure is that your bags are securely tied to the bike. Buy a bunch of Bungee cables as well as a few feet of nylon rope. First assemble the bags using the cables and then tie the nylon rope as a second layer of security.
Buy one of those big sheets of black polyethylene. Not sure what they are called, so I will call them polyethylene sheets. First, wrap your bags in these sheets and then tie them on the bike. This will keep them safe from dirt, mud, mud and water. Trust me; DO NOT pack your bags without isolating them in a polyethylene enclosure.
Also carry a shoulder bag in which you can store your wallet, camera and papers, etc.
Best Bike to Travel to Ladakh
There really isn’t the best bike for Ladakh as such. People even made the trip on scooters and 100cc bikes with ease. All you need to make sure is that your bike is well maintained, well maintained and ready for the tough journey ahead. A larger motorcycle like RE 350 CC or 500CC will definitely have an advantage, but it is not absolutely mandatory. For more details on this topic, read What is the best bike for Leh Ladakh.
If you were riding a small bike and needed some motivation, take a look at this post, Leh Ladakh, on Scooter – an adventurous trip.
Best season for Ladakh Bike Trip
Here is a short overview in terms of riding to Ladakh.
Srinagar Leh Highway – From May to October
Manali Leh Highway – June to September
In other periods, after October and before May, the roads to Ladakh remain blocked and you cannot make a trip. If you ask me, I would say that even in these months, June and September are probably the best time for a bike