How to ensure a safe motorcycle ride in the Himalayas
In our opinion, the most beautiful thing a motorcyclist can do in his life is ride over the high mountain passes of Himalayas.
These mountain passes have everything a motorcyclist’s heart desires; From hair-raising trails to breath taking landscapes, you get a great sense of freedom as you ride past spectacular and diverse regions. Plus, you are rewarded with a magnificent view at the top of every mountain peak.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind while touring over the mighty Himalayas, especially if you are not used to riding in the treacherous regions.
In this article, we will explain things you should pay attention to, so that your motorcycle tour of the Himalayas is nothing but a pleasant and memorable experience. Keep on reading further to get an in-depth insight.
How to prepare for a safe motorcycle trip in the Himalayas?
Adventure enthusiasts are easily tempted to go on a motorcycle tour that offers magnificent views. However, to ensure that you all make it back from the mountains safely, make a note of the following safety recommendations.
- Route Selection: Before you finalize any motorcycle trip, pay attention to the degree of difficulty, the altitude and the required riding skills in the regions you are planning to ride.
It is also important that you keep into account the expected sunset time when planning a single day ride whilst keeping plenty of buffer time for unexpected circumstances (like snow storms, thunderstorms, etc.). This way, you can avoid a troublesome ride in the dark.
- Self-Evaluation: While motorcycle touring in any other part of the world can be perceived as leisurely or fun, riding in the Himalayas is nothing less than extreme sports. A good self-assessment is essential, especially for longer, more demanding tours. Above all, do not aspire too much if you would be doing this for the first time.
- Risk Assessment: Before you leave for the Himalayas, make sure you understand the risks involved in the trip. Also, remember to inform your friends or family members about your intended destination and the expected time of your return. Furthermore, pay attention to weather forecasts – not only in the region you would be staying, but also for the surrounding terrains.
- Diet Plan: Just like any other extreme sports, riding a motorcycle in the treacherous mountains of Himalayas is extremely challenging. The heart pumps more blood into the body, which triggers a surge of adrenaline. As a result, urges that come naturally in day-to-day life may not come so easily while riding in the Himalayas. For instance, you may be inclined to skip a meal while you are riding, or may choose to ignore the nature’s call as you ride across some high mountain peaks.
For this reason, adequate nourishment and proper hydration is especially important. Nuts, fruits, energy bars and cookies are excellent snacks to pack for your motorcycle ride. Remember, a healthy body will soon recover from the effects of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). So, be sure to add regular breaks in your itinerary to refresh along the way.
- Distance & Duration: “Less is more” – Regardless of your physical ability, your daily mileage should not exceed 200 kilometers on narrow and extreme mountain roads, most of which are unpaved due to the vagaries of the weather.On paved roads, however, you can ride for a maximum of 250 kilometers in a day – provided you plan to reach your destination without stress and, above all, before sunset.
And besides the obligatory stoppages, if you also want to enjoy the panoramic vistas or specific attractions along the way, you should come up with a practical itinerary.
Suspension settings: Rebalance your motorcycle after adding luggage
Suspension settings on a motorcycle should also be adjusted in line with the increased weight. Especially in the rear area, where luggage bags or panniers are fitted, there is usually so much additional weight that only a higher spring preload can restore some balance on the motorcycle. Things becomes even more complicated if you are riding with a pillion passenger.
This is why increasing the spring preload to a higher level is the only way to balance out the motorcycle to maintain an ideal lean angle at corners, which is especially important on the rough and uneven Himalayan passes.
In order to determine the correct preload of your suspension, first measure the maximum travel of the rear wheel without a load and then adjust the values accordingly after adding the load you want to carry. Be sure to sit on the bike with the added load to get the correct values.
Pro tip: Increasing the stiffness slightly more by adjusting the screws on the bottom of the shock absorber will prevent the springs from bouncing on uneven road surfaces.
But please note that you may also need to stiffen the front forks to get optimum response, which is essential for ensuring precise braking. That said, the front wheel load does not equally increase with respect to the rear, so a couple of millimeters of added preload is all that’s needed at the front.
Inspect your motorcycle before heading to Himalayas
Before you leave for the Himalayas, it is important to wash your motorcycle thoroughly, preferably by hand. Doing so will expose any minor wear and tear on the chassis, engine and tires. Subsequently, the functioning of the brakes, electronic system, lamps and handlebar must be checked.
Once you have eliminated any possibilities of wear and tear around the chassis, it is time to inspect the battery and charge it if necessary.
Post which, you need to check the level of engine oil, brake fluid, coolant and all the other mechanical parts of the engine including the clutch while engine is running.
Lastly, check the tires for uneven tread patterns. Often times we see that riders neglect inspecting their motorcycle tires even during scheduled maintenance. And as cumbersome it may sound; these tires play a very important role in ensuring a safe ride.
This is why, in order to avoid accidents caused by outdated or substandard tires, a thorough inspection should be a part of the routine for every motorcyclist not just before the tour but also during the tour. Plus, regular inspection rules out any possibility of tire puncture, which by the way is not uncommon in Himalayas.
10 Tips to ensure a safe ride in the Himalayas
- Riding a motorcycle in the Himalayas is considered an extreme sport, and just like any other sports, a warm-up session is also necessary. For this reason, do warm up the motorcycle as well as yourself before every single ride.
- Each ride will prepare you for the next day: Be positive and focus on learning. Just make sure to take your heart with you, or the pleasure of riding will be lost.
- When you ride a motorcycle, concentrate on riding. Do not be distracted while doing so. Pull over to a safe place in case you need to snap some photos or you need to have some refreshments.
- Overcome your fears by learning the art of motorcycle braking, and train yourself to the maximum. Emergency stopping is one of the most difficult parts of riding, so you need to be perfect in it.
- Owing to the altitude, the roads in and around the Himalayas demand much more technical riding in comparison to the urban roads. You will come across hairpin bends, high passes and lots of gravel on your way. So, always be responsive and alert while riding.
- A motorcycle has to function 100%: Most important of all, the braking system should be in optimal condition. If you hear some noise, then that’s an early warning signal to replace your motorcycle’s brake pads.
- Adherence to traffic rules is mandatory even on the Himalayan roads. Most importantly, stay on your left side of the road when not overtaking and keep a sharp eye on the approaching vehicles at all times.
- Weather can change abruptly in the mountains. For this reason, always be prepared with the possibility of road being affected by falling rocks. And even if the road seems to be in good condition, there will be a high likelihood of debris around the curves.
- If you would be riding in the Himalayas for the first time, it is wise to not plan more than 9 days of motorcycle trip or a journey that covers several hundred kilometers of treacherous regions, especially if you are accompanied by a pillion rider.
- The longer you ride, the more you are likely to get tired. As a result, you lose the ability to concentrate. This is why it’s important to take regular breaks while riding. And the best possible way to do so is to actually be honest with yourself. In short, if you feel that things are not going smoothly, it’s better to stop at the next convenient accommodation.
Wear the right motorcycle gear while riding in the Himalayas
“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best”
If you want to ride in the Himalayas, not only do you need a robust motorcycle, but also the right apparel as well as protective gear. So, what does this clothing and equipment include? In the following list, we have provided a complete checklist of what you should take along with you to ensure a completely safe ride.
- Motorcycle Helmet: Wearing a motorcycle helmet is not only required by law, but is also necessary in order to protect the head and face during an accident. However, ensure that the helmet you wear provides good shock absorption, is shape-retaining, can withstand any kind of wear and tear, has a snug fit, and most importantly, is approved in accordance with DOT or ECE standards.
- Motorcycle Gloves: Ideally, we recommend touring gloves for riding in the Himalayas. But do make sure that they are resistant to abrasion and are effective in protecting your hands from cold winds. In addition, these gloves must not press against the fingers, as this can cause numbness in the hands while prolonged riding.
- Motorcycle Boots: The lower limbs are among the most frequently injured body parts in a motorcycle accident. This is why toes, feet, ankles and shins need special protection that can only be achieved by wearing specialized motorcycle boots. Do note however, that these motorcycle boots should be abrasion as well as impact resistant. Moreover, they should have reinforcements around the toes, ankles and heels.
- Motorcycle Jacket & Pants: Safety should be of paramount importance while selecting your riding apparel as well. To begin with, choose an appropriate jacket that has impact protection around the shoulders, spine, and elbows (preferably D3O). And depending on the weather and the region of the Himalayas you are traveling to; you should choose between a waterproof jacket or a mesh jacket with removable liner. Likewise, it is recommended to wear dedicated touring pants that offer decent amount of protection against abrasion (prefer the ones with hip inserts).
- Chest & Back Protectors: Chest and back protectors serve to distribute the energy generated from an impact over a larger area in the event of a fall. They also prevent sharp objects from penetrating in case of a mishap. And while this type of protection is already implemented on the motorcycle jacket, in case your existing jacket does not have one, these protectors can also be integrated into it.
Suggested Read: Best Motorcycle Gear For Touring In Himalayas
Cornering in the Himalayas
Cornering in the mountains can be tricky: The basic principle for approaching a tight hairpin bend is to follow the line of curve. So, on a sufficiently wide section of road, you need to approach the curve from the outside, then set the turning angle after covering about a quarter of the total radius of the curve. Following this particular advice will prevent you from entering the oncoming lane or crossing the median as you exit the curve.
But while riding on a path that does not have any markings or on a narrow blind curve that winds around huge mountains or rocks, take the tightest possible corner to avoid colliding with oncoming traffic.
Tight curves can be cornered very elegantly by using the rear brake to regulate the speed on the bends. While doing this, the throttle should be kept slightly open, thereby avoiding the variation in momentum that accompanies while opening and closing the throttle. The best way to practice smooth use of the throttle and rear brake before riding in the Himalayas is to mark out a tight figure of number ‘8’ and practice the maneuvers over it.
For a detailed guide on cornering techniques, please refer to our section on “How to corner on a motorcycle“.
Motorcycle touring comes with its own risks, especially if you are planning to ride in the Himalayas. So, before leaving for your destination, you need to clear your head from everything that is bothering you – be it your professional or your personal life, you have to keep an open mind before embarking on this motorcycle expedition.
Now, while riding, if you dedicate 90% of your attention on mastering your riding skills, then you will only have 10% left to deal with the rest of the important things. So, try to balance things out while riding in the Himalayas. After all, with a hardest climb, comes the most beautiful view. And, you might not want to miss out on anything that comes along the way!
These simple principles will keep you safe in the mountains
- Let your immediate family members know about your itinerary.
- Customize the route you have planned as per your riding skills.
- Keep a track on the weather or any kind of warnings from meteorological department.
- Be prepared for adverse weather conditions and freezing temperatures, even on a brief tour.
- Have all the necessary tools and emergency supplies with you to help yourself and others.
- Always opt for the safest route by confirming with the local authorities.
- Keep a map and a compass with you at all times.
- Mark the areas on a map which you have crossed, and the ones you are headed towards.
- When in doubt, turn around, and head back to where you started.
- If you are running out of energy, it is best to find an accommodation and rest for the day.
And that’s all we wanted to pass on to you for your next Himalayan motorcycle tour. We hope you will follow our advice and ride safely.
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