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Motorcycle Touring

Buying a motorcycle

If you want to buy a new Bullet, check the Enfield India web site.  They can brief you on models available and costs, as well as dealers in various cities.  They have a range of models, including an export and a diesel model.

Motor Cycle TouringIf you want to buy a used one, you'll have to negotiate that yourself once you get here.  Your best bet may be buying one from a fellow traveler finishing up a trip.  Other options include ads in local papers.  Many cities now have inexpensive ad papers (FREE ADS is one) where people advertise all manner of things, including motorcycles.

It is important when buying any bike to make sure that you get all the proper documents transferred into your name, including insurance.  For a new bike the dealer will do this.  For a used bike you may have to get the services of someone who will help you for a small fee.  If the bike you buy in Delhi was originally registered in Goa you may have some jurisdictional problems.  Find out before you pay any money.

If you plan to sell the bike again before you leave, allow enough time to find a buyer.  Another option is to leave the bike in some safe location if you plan to return for another trip in a few months or a year.  Broadlands Hotel in Madras will allow you to store a bike for about Rs.  50 a month.  I'm sure other places will offer similar arrangements.  Make sure the bike is blocked up, covered, the gas emptied from the carburetor and a bit of oil poured into the spark plug hole.

I should mention here that there are other motorcycles available in India.  Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki have collaborations that produce 100cc bikes cheaper to run and more reliable, but not great for touring.  Yamaha has plans to introduce a 350cc model, but it's not out yet.

Should you ride alone? A Bullet handles best with only one on.  A passenger, and extra luggage, will hamper performance, but it is not impossible.  Braking distances increase with extra weight.  If your partner rides, and you can afford it, get two bikes.


Before you set out

Motor Cycle TouringHave a used bike thoroughly checked before you go.  Put in new brake pads.  Change the tires and tubes if there is any sign of wear.  A bike that won't start is frustrating but rarely lethal.  Failure of brakes and tires at speed can be.  You cannot be too careful.  The Bullet comes standard with a 20/19 tire on the rear.  You can get a 25/19 tire from the MRF Tire Company that is just a little bit wider.  Any extra grip is an asset.  With a new bike you may be able to request this change.  For a new bike, be sure you follow the breaking-in instructions, and don't assume that because it is just out of the factory that everything is alright.

Check everything.  Change all cables so you know how old they are.  Change the oil, oil filter and air filters.  Add a small fuel filter to the fuel line.  They're cheap and the quality of gasoline is often very poor.

Tighten ALL nuts and bolts.  This should be a regular routine since they can loosen with driving.

If you know what you're doing, remove any unnecessary electrical wiring.  Bullets are famous for electrical shorts, and the wiring is a nightmare.  A coloured wire that starts at the battery may change colour several times before it reaches its destination.  Checking them is difficult.

Get a good carry rack installed.  Try and keep the weight of your baggage as low as possible to keep the center of gravity down.  Any welder can fashion some sort of rack for you, or you can buy chrome ones.

Make sure you have a good leg guard.  New bikes don't come with them.


Tools & Spares

Make sure you have a complete tool kit, even for a new bike.  You need at least one large spanner (23mm) (to take off the rear wheel to fix a puncture) and some other wrenches.  Pliers, tape, and screwdrivers are necessary.  Ask a good mechanic what tools and sizes you should have.  Tire irons, and a good puncture kit are important.  Try and get the vulcanizing tire patches that you briefly set on fire.  They are hard to find, but make the best seal.  Have spare tire valves, a good pump, a pressure gauge (and check the pressure daily) and at least one new heavy duty tube.  Have spares to all cables, and at least one extra clutch/brake handle assembly.  These are made of cast aluminum and easily break if you drop the bike.  Take spare bulbs.  Some binding wire and cut-up strips of an old inner tube are also handy.  In fact, the strips of tube make great bungy cords that no one is likely to steal.

The above are items that you may need to make repairs at the side of the road.  However, don't overdo the spares you carry since one of the beauties of the Bullet is that most parts are available in even small towns and villages.  Don't forget to replace any spares that you use up.


Indian Mechanics

Indian mechanics range from pure genius (they can fix anything) to total incompetents (they'll destroy your bike).  When you are on the road you won't always know what kind you are dealing with.  It's a good idea to sit and watch what mechanics are doing - partly so you'll know what to do if you ever breakdown and partly to make sure the work is done well.  Every mechanic shop has at least one experienced, and often good, mechanic, and a number of others under training.  Often young lads work on the vehicles, and if they have been well trained they can do a good job.  But there is not a great deal of concern shown for cleanliness.  Parts that have been removed while opening up some part of you motor are casually laid down on an old rag or a scrap of newspaper.  Gritty rags are used to wipe sensitive parts and grit can easily get into your moving parts.  Sitting there and watching may help minimize some of the problem.

Mechanics are very cheap in India.  Labour costs seem to run about 50 cents to a dollar an hour.  Since I invariably seem to ruin whatever clothes I am wearing when I go to fix my bike myself, I find it very economical to get the work done for me.  I have finally found an excellent Bullet mechanic and that has made a huge difference in the performance of the machine.  If you ever come through Hyderabad I can tell you how to find him.  Also, in some major cities, Enfield has repair centers where they do good work, but charge for it too.  Parts are also quite inexpensive, but the quality is not always good.  If possible, try and buy genuine parts from the manufacturer, or ask the local mechanic what brands are best.


Plan your Trip

Take your time.  Plan your trip in gentle stages, especially if you've never spent a lot of time on a bike.  Indian road conditions are terrible, as a rule, and you cannot expect to make good speed.  For some reason, on a long trip, I find I'm lucky to average 40 to 50 Km per hour, even on straight roads.  That means 6 to 8 hours of riding nets me about 300 Km in a day.  That's as much time as I like to spend on a bike in a day and I try and plan my segments with that in mind.  You may find you average more, or perhaps less if you stop a lot, and may want to plan accordingly.  Don't get committed into covering a certain distance in a limited time span until you've experienced your own pace on the road.

Get a good map.  They're hard to find in India, so consider getting one outside the country if you can.  Roads are poorly marked, and some that are marked aren't there and some roads that exist aren't on the map.  It pays to ask directions several times, as locals that aren't sure may give you their best guess anyway.  Try asking directions to a nearby town on your route rather than your final destination.


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