Riding a Royal Enfield Bullet is not only fun… it is an addiction, a way of life, a disease that has no cure… or so it might be said by those of us fortunate enough to have experienced the pinnacle of classic motorcycling.
If you don’t know the story of how a 1950’s era British motorcycle continued to be made in India right up to early 2010, then I suggest you google “Enfield Bullet in India”… and have a read. It’s not my place to tell that story, but it is a good read for those into classic bikes.
The question here is…
How do YOU get to ride a Bullet in India?
There are a few ways to do it, and it depends on your budget, your sense of adventure and your available time. The three options open to most people are these… Buy a Bullet, Rent a Bullet, Join a Bullet Tour… which I will deal with in that order:
Buy a Bullet
Go to India and buy a bike… Good if you have lots of time to find a good deal, and then spend the time getting to know some mechanics to get it running reliably, and tricky if you don’t know your way around the pitfalls and traps of buying a bike in India (of which there are many!) If you do choose to buy, many people go to Karol Barg in Delhi, and there you will find an amazing array of options, and prices. Initially, you may be stunned at how cheap these bikes are, and compared to Western bike prices, they are cheap. You can get a brand new bike from the showroom for between 2 and 3 thousand dollars… so when you start looking at the older bikes, expect to pay about $500 to $1500 for something reasonable (you get what you pay for… unless you get had!)
The issues with buying come with getting paperwork to make you legal on the road. This is a grey area for some, and many westerners don’t ever truly own their bikes legally (as tourists are not allowed to… only registered residents can legally own their ride) but you can often find someone willing to have the bike in their name. Ask your dealer about this before parting with your cash! Also, if you are heading for the mountains, or a well recognized traveller area, you will likely find tourists selling bikes that have already been set up for touring. Manali is a good place to have a look for bikes, but beware you may end up paying more than in Delhi. Look around the cafe’s and the bullet mechanics for a good deal.
Rent a Bullet
Go to India and rent a bike… better if you have a shorter amount of time and you don’t want the hassle of wasting your precious travel time with dealers, scammers, cops, mechanics, etc!
There are many bike dealers who keep a fleet of maintained bikes for rental, and depending on the season, amount of time and the availability, will rent you something for about $15 to $25 per day. Usually the license you have from your own country will be adequate for this purpose, along with a copy of your passport, but check those details before leaving home… as an international license can be obtained for minimal effort from your home country.
You can either get a bike in Delhi and ride up the highway to the mountains, or better still get to Manali, Rishikesh, Leh or Dharamsala, and ask around for the bike rentals. Prices will be a little higher than Delhi, but the benefits of not having to ride the highways out of Delhi are well worth it… Believe me!
Join a Bullet Tour
Final option: You go with a Bullet Tour Company, who (if they’re any good) will have well maintained bikes ready to ride, a mechanic on staff, support vehicles and a lead rider with years of experience.
There are a wide range of options in the Himalayan Bullet Touring market, so it’s worth asking a few questions of your potential tour provider… such as:
How many people do they put in a group? (I’ve seen groups of over 30 riders in a single tour, which is very tricky for the tour company to manage safely)
Small groups are more fun, safer, and offer a much greater capacity to engage with the people and places you get to travel to.
Do they offer back up support vehicle, spare rider, mechanic, spare parts or spare bike on route and a backup vehicle for luggage? All these things make the ride much safer!
Are the bikes 500cc? The smaller 350cc bikes are ok for the plains of India, but when you start hauling yourself over high mountain passes, your bike will lose power at altitude, so you want as much as you can get to start with. Bullets are not a bike with buckets of power to spare at the best of times. Some people like the 350 as it is considered to be a more reliable bike, and if you own one, this is a good thing! But you’re there for the fun and the raw experience of riding high… go the 500!
What’s the itinerary like, do you get bike free days to soak up and enjoy your destinations?
Do you get to explore side valleys and is there a contingency in case of road blockage or bad weather, both of which are regular occurrences in the Himalayas.
This is just a quick snap shot of Bullet riding options in India, based on my experience of riding in the Himalayas since 2003. For more information about riding in India and in particular the Himalayas, give Yak Trak – unique journeys a look over, as they’ve been running tours out of Manali for over 20 years. You can find their site at http://yaktrak.com – and that IS a Good To See recommendation!
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