What is it like to travel in India on a motorbike?

Ultimate Tips for Motorbiking in India

Abhijeet Deshpande went riding 2600 Km (~1600 miles) with his friends and engineering school batch mates Ajay Jain and Sachin Handa. He narrates the experience and leaves you with these practical tips for motorbiking in India.
Places on the Route

Weather-proof motorbiking in India

If you are familiar with the western Indian state of Maharashtra, you would know that the state has a date with monsoons – June 7th. So when we started riding from Aurangabad on June 01, we anticipated dodging the monsoons. As life members of Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI), we had made a few bookings. Availing budget accommodations enroute was another reason for us to stick to a strict schedule.

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The first day sprang a surprise. Just as we approached Mahabaleshwar (near Pune), it started to pour. Someone had turned on a tap in the sky. We stood no chance to find a shelter. What was worse, the bags were not water proof and when we checked in to a hostel, none of us had dry clothes. Drenched, cold, and confused. Luckily, the hostel had towels to wrap around and a room heater.

If you want to avoid a similar situation, please follow these tips:

  • Weather Advisory: Take local legends about weather with a pinch of salt.
  • Packing Tip: Weather-proof your bags when riding in India.

Paper trail for motorbiking in India

In federal India, a majority of road transportation and its related work is controlled by the states. When a person chooses to move for more than a year (as we did to an engineering school), he needs to obtain his current state’s no-objection-certificate (NOC) for his vehicle. An NOC signals that the vehicle is up-to-date in terms of taxes, is not involved in crimes, and hence is okay to be registered elsewhere in the country.

On the outskirts of Mumbai, flash lights flagged us down. Two people, dressed in khaki trousers (as worn by police) and black coats, noted Yamaha’s Delhi registration plates and sought its NOC and road tax receipt. Our careful response to show the papers without soaking them in the rain perhaps made us appear flustered.

Sensing an opportunity, they asked for INR 5000 as a penalty or else they would pound the bike. Their impatience indicated that they were not the Real McCoys. I spoke with them in Marathi and asked for an ID. Instead of showing their badges, one of them said ‘since you are a local, we will reduce the fine‘. We did not want any trouble and offered them INR 50 before moving on.

If you want to avoid a similar situation, please:

  • Know the Paper Trail: Learn a little bit about various papers that the authorities may seek and keep everything in order
  • Beware of Impersonators: Demand to see an ID from any one who flags you down (especially on a rainy night in the middle of an isolated highway / road).

Stock spares when motorbiking in India

Few kilometers further, gale winds hit the area and we took shelter in a dhaba (a highway eatery). By 0300 am, when the storm subsided, Yamaha gave up on us. We were behind schedule and acutely aware of it. After about 500 failed kick-starts, we decided to tow it. Desperate times need desperate measures.

Ajay was the strongest of the three and he pushed the Yamaha (with his left boot resting on its rear footrest) while riding the Suzuki. It was a legendary task, towing through bumpy patches and crossing a few flyovers. When we finally reached Daman, he got sick and crashed on the bed.

Daman was refreshing. From the hotel room balcony, I could count 30+ bars. There were strange business combinations such as ‘Ashoka Cloth Emporium and Beer Bar’. Traders sold merchandise on the front and after crossing the aisle, you would step in to a bar. Meanwhile, the problem with Yamaha turned out to be a failed spark plug.

Avoid cursing yourself by following these tips:

  • Nuts and Bolts: Carry a few spares and a tool kit to avoid surprises when motorcycling in India.
  • Mechanic Workshop: Learn a little bit of how to fix minor problems of whatever bike you are riding.

Smart motorbiking in India

In parts of India, rainy season is just as much fraught with risks as it is welcome for its beauty. On one hand, the green mountains and rice paddies can be mesmerizing, and on the other, cloudbursts resulting in landslides and floods can pose real dangers.

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On the way out of Vadodara, flash floods had submerged the landscape. There was no way to tell where the tarred highway gave way to the adjacent agri fields. In addition, the threat of an open manhole made it a potential disaster to drive in those conditions.

The bikes’ exhaust pipes had gone under and it was a matter of time before we were dragging them in calf-deep water. Right then, a public bus overtook us and Sachin had this Eureka moment. With a handsome ground clearance, the bus’ tyres displaced enough water for our exhaust pipes to fume. For the rest of the flooded stretch, we simply rode 1-2 feet (less than a meter) behind that bus.

Be safe, especially in Indian monsoons. This experience is twenty years old, when cell phones were not in vogue. Since then, technology has evolved while extreme weather conditions continue. Use your smartphones to look up driving conditions regularly.

Responsible motorbiking in India

After a successful run to leave the monsoons behind, it was time to relax. Rajasthan offered the first moments of sunlight since leaving Maharashtra. Road side dhabas rendered songs like “Made in Haryana” to its patrons’ delight and offered chilled alcoholic beverages for people coming out of the prohibition state of Gujarat. At some places, we saw how locals enjoyed dark rum popsicles!

There are all sorts of riders in every country. Mishaps are real. Be it Daman or Rajasthan, we had a rule for our ‘happy moments’ – to either walk back to our hostel (when in a city) or rest at a dhaba (when en route). So, if you like your alcohol, always remember – never drink and drive. Be alert on highways. Be safe and responsible.

A bonus tip for motorbiking in India

As mentioned earlier, this travel is twenty years old. In 1997, I was in an engineering school in Aurangabad. Most of my batch mates were about to graduate, pack up to go home, and start a career. I wasn’t. It was a gap year for me. When Ajay and Sachin planned this journey, besides sharing the excitement, I had little to offer. I neither had the money, nor a motorbike.

Surprisingly, things fell in place. While Ajay had a Suzuki, credits for the Yamaha go to another batch mate and dear friend Devinder Singh. Instead of sending his bike home via rail cargo, he offered it for us to drive to Delhi.

The auto and motorbike landscape in India is transforming. Newer products hit the market every year and a motorcycling culture is fast emerging. While 350 cc or higher displacement engines become popular, the smaller ones, like the 100 cc motorbikes we used, continue as well. The good news – Indian streets and highways support pretty much all kinds of transport.

So here’s a suggestion if you are considering a motorbiking tour in India – do not fret too much over what kind of motorbike or other equipment you have or do not. Just buy yourself a decent safety gear (good helmet, a must) and get going. Toward the end of the journey, chances are, the memories you earn will far outweigh everything else.


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Have you revved on a motorcycle journey in India? How was your experience? We would love to hear from you (please scroll below to leave a comment).

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60 thoughts on “Ultimate Tips for Motorbiking in India”

  1. Motorcycle Rambler

    Luckily we don’t face the ‘legal’ difficulties here in Ireland ??. I did a lot of long rides on a Yamaha 2-stroke 125 cc bike when I was a teenager. No issues. Keep up the adventures…

    1. Hello Motorcycle Rambler!

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts . . It is good to read from a fellow rider and blogger! And it is encouraging to know that there’s one thing less to worry about in Ireland. Wish your bike rambles on to newer places . .

      Cheers

  2. Young Writers Pro

    Motorbiking here in the South is very common but I wish you success on your journey. Cheers

    -Young Writers Pro

  3. Wow. I learned so much about your laws just by reading your post. Although I don’t drive (or ride) a motorcycle, knowing the do’s and don’ts of road safety in India is good to know. Impersonators seem to be every where. We have a lot of them here too!

  4. It must be a great journey to travel around India with motorbike… great tips and will be useful for future travellers..

    1. Yes it is good fun! There is a rise of bikers clubs here. Its good to take care of some key things which would be same anywhere else too!

  5. I am still stuck at the Made in Haryana song. Will have to youtube this one haha that was an insightful read!

  6. Emily Franceschini

    I have never been to India or on a motorbike but this seems like a really great experience and an awesome way to see a country!

  7. This was really fun read for someone who has never been on a motorbike! It seems like a really up and close way to see a county. I admit I would be a little nervous to try it, but not so much I would’t give it a go!

  8. The Panicked Foodie

    Wow, it sounds like there were a lot of obstacles in your journey! 1600 miles is a really long distance to drive a motorbike, but also a really cool way to see a country. 🙂

  9. wow THIS POST IS GREAT! Very informative thank you so much for sharing it really appreciate it

  10. Biking in a different country would be kind of scary! Thanks for sharing these tips 🙂

    1. India is becoming increasingly popular for biking by Indians and foreigners alike and hence, knowing these tips helps.

  11. The biggest issue is legal problems of so many stuffs for a biker in India. I loved bikes when I was allowed to ride them. Now due to some problems doctors have asked me not to ride any more. I absolutely loved reading it. Because it is one of my favorite topics.

  12. I know a lot of people who would find your blog really helpful. Wishing you all the best for your journey

  13. Corruption is everywhere in the world. Imagine if you didn’t know what papers to ask. That’s a long travel btw. Can’t imagine all the hurdles you needed to go through!

    1. Thank you Nina. Its important to take care of many things on a road trip. We are happy to share what we learnt on the way! But fortunately, no corruption at all.

  14. What an EPIC adventure this would be! My parent’s friends do trips like this, but I am not sure if they’ve ever gone to India to do one!

    1. Thank you. Well, there are many people in India who organize biking tours and there are quite a few biking clubs too, if they would like to explore it here.

  15. Very informative information. I would love to visit India one day, although I don’t know if it would be traveling by motorbike. It sounds like you had quite an adventure!

  16. wow thats a long ride to take in a motor bike. About the impersonators i thought it was happening only in Sri Lanka. I disappointed to see its happening in india too

    1. Well, this possibly happens in many countries as we have been cautioned ourselves. The important thing is to be aware and careful. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  17. I am actually scared of motorbikes, there is always accidents involving motorcyles in Florida.

  18. I have never been to India or ever drove a motorbike but it seems like a fun route. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  19. The Beauty Flicks

    Yes,, we have to take care of many laws while travelling in India… Very informative article… Thanks for sharing…

  20. siennylovesdrawing

    Ohh….enjoy your personal travel sharing, very exciting one!! Lovely post
    Cheers, siennylovesdrawing

  21. Riding a motorbike looks fun, and i agree with many impersonators. Even i a light of day, they can victimized anyone.

  22. Neil Alvin Nicerio

    I would really love to do that here in the Philippines but then again watching all those motorbike accident videos in facebook hinders me from doing so.

  23. When I started backpacking, I was clearly at a loss. I never cared to water proof my stuff. I guess you learn from your mistakes, so one rainy day I became aware. LOL. Great read. Thanks for posting.

    1. LoL.. somethings can be learnt only with experiences and that’s when they become wonderful memories too! Thanks for sharing.

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