Have you ever tried a cycling holiday? Don’t worry, you can also ride as a passenger

From the Alps to the Himalayas and the ghats of Tamil Nadu, cycling holidays are on the rise as travelers discover the joys of combining adrenaline with sightseeing

From the Alps to the Himalayas and the ghats of Tamil Nadu, cycling holidays are on the rise as travelers discover the joys of combining adrenaline with sightseeing

Michael Starr, a British national, turned 74 in the Himalayas. He was not at a spa, yoga or meditation retreat. Instead, he was on a motorbike rolling up the highest pass in Ladakh. With no shops or bakeries at this altitude, his fellow bikers surprised him by holding up a birthday message written on a large white sheet.

For Atul Bharadwaj, who organized the tour, memorable moments like this are part of the journey. Atul, who started AB Original Tours in 2009 in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, says: “Motorcycle tours are on the wish list of many travellers. The pandemic has fueled a marked increase in outdoor activities and fitness-focused vacations – unsurprisingly, operators like Atul are also seeing a spike in interest from seasoned and amateur bikers.

The different types of traffic you can expect on a bike trip in Rajasthan

The Different Types Of Traffic You Can Expect While Traveling By Bike In Rajasthan | Photo credit: AB Original Tours

“India has so many opportunities for motorbike tours,” he said on a call from Solan, adding that he was often contacted by young entrepreneurs who wanted to get into the business. He advises them to explore new paths. “There are so many options like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka,” he lists. In an effort to fill his own bucket list and scout for new ground, he traveled across the country last year, covering 30 states in 108 days. “I saw some incredible roads in Chhattisgarh and Bihar, places I was initially warned against.”

Tamil Nadu to Thailand

Atul started his cycling tours with routes to the Himalayas and Rajasthan, and now includes rides through Kerala, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Darjeeling in West Bengal. His company has completed over 100 tours. “Weather is an important factor when riding. We don’t want to be in bad weather where it’s too hot or cold or rainy. So I chose the best months for all these regions,” he explains.

It takes its travelers to Rajasthan in November-December, Kerala in December-January, Sikkim and Uttarakhand from April to October, and the Himalayas from July to September. As its itineraries are long, often extending over 21 days, it receives a majority of foreign clientele who want this kind of time to explore a region in addition to feeling the adrenaline rush.

Sand Dunes

Sand dunes | Photo credit: AB Original Tours

Budhi Singh, who runs Motorcycle Expeditions from Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), also receives most of his clients from overseas. In fact, his tours were so popular with foreign riders that he opened offices in Frankfurt, Ulaanbaatar and Perth. After the lull in 2020, touring is resuming and “the Indian market is doing well now,” says Singh.

The Motorcycle Expeditions itinerary also started with Rajasthan and Ladakh and has grown over the years to include Kerala and Tamil Nadu in India, in addition to Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Laos, Mongolia, Thailand, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland and Sri Lanka. Lanka. The duration of the trips starts from seven days and goes up to 14.

Safety first

Although all travel companies take adequate safety measures and have a team following with first aid kits, mechanics and spare parts, the risks are part of the adventure. “There have been instances where riders have crushed a few ribs,” Singh says.

A quick stop for photos

A quick stop for photographs | Photo credit: Motorcycle Getaways

“We provide our riders with helmets, elbow and knee pads, and make sure they wear ankle-length boots and have their medical insurance,” says Deepak Chandrashekar, founder and CEO of Motorcycle Escapades. “We also offer portable bottles and first aid kits. A lot can happen in Ladakh considering the altitude. People who don’t listen to us and acclimatize before traveling to Pangong will experience altitude sickness. If it’s too serious, we go to a lower base.

Adrenaline-filled journeys

Adrenaline-filled journeys | Photo credit: Motorcycle Getaways

Chandrashekar enjoys a 50-50 clientele of Indian and international riders. “But before Covid-19, it was 90% foreigners and 10% Indians,” he says. “For Indians, motorbike holidays are a novelty. It started exploding three years ago. It offers a host of destinations, but its “tours in Himachal, Ladakh and Kashmir are jam-packed”. Ladakh has always been a dream destination for many bikers as the terrain is adventurous; so that people feel some kind of accomplishment when they complete it, he adds.

Pandemic-induced demand

When it comes to cycling holidays, SOTC, one of the oldest travel companies in the country, has seen a 50% growth in demand compared to 2019 (when these tours were introduced). “The pandemic has changed the way Indians travel and our customers are opting for distinctive travel experiences,” says Daniel D’Souza, President and Country Head – Vacations, SOTC Travel. “Cycling tours have grown in popularity with couples and groups of friends. These are mostly from customers between the ages of 35 and 39,” he says, adding that 95% of their travelers are domestic customers, while 5% are a mix of expats and NRIs. The company also organizes bicycle tours for customers in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Many SOTC customers are first-time riders and new to experience. “We recently had a father-daughter duo join us for their first cycling adventure together,” he says. Guests can either bring their own bikes or rent one. “For customers who do not own their own bikes, we offer the Royal Enfield 350cc, 500cc and Himalayan (411cc) bikes. Additionally, our premium bike tours offer customers a selection of bikes ranging from 750cc to 1300cc for daily hire,” he adds. Each of the companies has different prices depending on the duration and destination. Some start at around ₹23,000 while others exceed ₹2 lakh.

Many Indian runners travel with their clubs, which generally only allow members. A number of riders travel with their friends, avoiding a guide, confident that they can navigate India independently. But many people choose to travel with a company because they want everything taken care of. “In the event of a breakdown, we have the support and the logistics, and we know these regions inside out,” says Chandrashekar, explaining how small details can come in handy. “For example, we know what the last petrol bunker is in Mandi”, .

On these motorcycle tours, riders are on the road five to six hours a day. “I don’t want to push them or tire them out. I want to give them time to explore and see things. On a rare day, when there is no place to stop between two towns, we drive for seven hours,” says Atul.

Need of speed

For most operators, group sizes range from 10 to 15. Many solo riders and couples are part of these groups and, as the trip progresses, form strong friendships. Passenger driving is also permitted for most tours. While the age group is largely 30 to 40, Bharadwaj gets a lot of clients aged 50 and over.

Some companies like to control the speed. “When you’re on a six-lane highway, you go up to 90-100 km/h. But when we’re on smaller roads, we go around 40 km/h,” says Bharadwaj, adding, “What makes India interesting is what’s on the side of the roads: people who do things, festivals, animals… If they drive fast, they will miss these elements.

Sometimes, he notes, treacherous terrain is no less difficult than riding in traffic jams and narrow, busy lanes. “After driving in India, some of my European customers said they were going to find the roads boring,” he laughs.

| Photo credit: AB Original Tours

Despite the adrenaline, thrill and camaraderie, bike rides are undoubtedly tougher than the comfort of a car, train or plane. What inspires intrepid motorcyclists to embark on a long two-wheeled vacation? Singh laughs and, after a thoughtful pause, says, “There is a feeling of freedom. We enjoy the gust of wind in our faces, the smell and taste of everything on the way. There is nothing between us and what is out there.

Wiley C. Thompson