Ever wanted the whole Indian motorcycle holiday experience? Graeme has the full rundown on how you can traverse India on a Royal Enfield! Words & Photos: Graeme Warring
Royal Enfield has entered the motorcycle rental business in partnership with over 40 rental outlets across 25 cities and destinations in India. Graeme headed over to India and tackled this massive tour on a Scram 411, check out what to expect if you’re planning the trip!
Let that sink in. You can now easily rent a Royal Enfield Bullet, an Interceptor or even the new Himalayan and explore the length and breadth of India for as long as you like and when you like. Why is this significant, I hear you say? Glad you asked! Until now, the only practical way to throw a leg over a bike and get out among the tuk-tuks and bedlam of Indian traffic was to find and negotiate your way through the process with a rental agency, which is easier said than done.
Or, as most people do, sign up with a motorcycle touring company and join an escorted tour. Now, with a National network of rental companies backed by the Godfather of Indian motorcycling, you can go it alone or with some mates and create a tailor-made itinerary the way you want it, to and from the cities you want to visit, at the times you want to travel, subject to availability of the bikes of course.
I just returned from India and had an eight-day adventure where I experienced both an independent stint as a solo rider and going through the standard rental experience. I then joined an escorted tour group, Two Wheeled Expeditions, for the back half of a 12-day tour through Rajasthan in Northern India. With the experience of both, I can see how Royal Enfield’s latest foray into the rental business is a game-changer and will expand the opportunity for motorcyclists to experience India.
The bike rental could not have been easier or more straightforward. Once I determined the dates, I was forwarded the rental agreement and customary releases from the agency, in this case, Stone Head Bikes, out of New Delhi. I completed the e-signature on my phone and advised them where I was staying, that I required panniers and the bike. Just like that, a low-mile Scram 411 was delivered to my hotel, and the keys, registration, and insurance were left in an envelope with the concierge.
“And just like that, a low-mile Himalayan Scram 411 was delivered to my hotel”…
They even had a phone holder added for my convenience. Most of the time, you will pick up the bike at the agency you rent with; however, for an additional cost, the drop-off is available and well worth the extra cost. It means you just arrive and ride!
The following day, I departed the Holiday Inn at Delhi International Airport and headed southwest towards Jaipur. Once I figured out how to get onto the freeway, which took a few attempts, I was quickly inducted into the world of Delhi traffic. I knew it would be bad, but nothing could prepare me for just how bad it was. But more of that later.
My day, on paper, seemed to be manageable. Delhi to Udaipur, around 800km. Google Maps gave m a 14-hour journey time without stops. The long day was a necessary evil as the rest of the group had departed Delhi four days earlier, and my MotoGP commitments (Graeme owns MotoGP GURU and founded MotoGP Fan World Championship game – Ed) at Phillip Island prevented me from joining the tour from the beginning.
Anyone who has sat next to screaming kids on a plane to Europe will say it was the longest 24 hours of their life. Trust me when I say this was the longest 14 hours of my life. From 8am until 10pm, I dodged traffic, animals, and people, followed unintelligible signs, deciphered detours, got lost and then got found. I was peppered with road grit, stones, and bugs.
I managed to hit a cow that decided to step into the road while I was hurtling towards it at 90km/h, forcing me to test out the ABS and engine braking on the bike, which worked a treat, and the cow was fine, if a little startled. It was a day like no other. When I arrived at the Radisson Blu Resort in Udaipur, a quiet lakeside sanctuary, I inhaled a few beers, gin, and tonics to calm my shattered nerves.
There, I met up with the other group members and the group leaders, who told me they had never done that drive in a day, and it was a two-day trip, commenting that I must be crazy. Having just done it, I concurred with their assessment 100 per cent. Over drinks, they shared their experience of the past four days, which had taken them at a more leisurely pace through some of the most historic places in Rajasthan, where they had stayed in Palaces, Glamped, visited temples and ridden their bikes on dry lake beds. It sounded fabulous.
What immediately struck me about the people I was speaking with was that they looked nothing like what I expected to see. All were aged in their 50s, with an even split between men and women. Each had spent thousands of dollars on this tour, and it was clear that this was a bucket list experience for most. As I probed their motivation for joining the trip, it was clear that the organizer had done a wonderful job of scheduling the trip, putting them at ease and giving them the confidence to undertake a journey they would never forget.
“It was clear that the organizer had done an excellent job of scheduling the trip”…
By the end of the trip, in a similarly social environment at a palace in Mandawa, following 12 days on the road together, it was interesting how the riders perceptions had shifted. They had come for an adventure, which they got in spades, and to discover this ancient part of India, they had all discovered a magnificent part of themselves.
This discovery was deeply personal to each of the riders. For some, it was to step outside of a comfort zone, for others to challenge themselves while they still could; for one who had dodged the cancer bullet, it was a chance to truly live in the moment, knowing how precious every moment is.
Riding in India is not a relaxing cruise down a picturesque highway. As Merran, a 50-something kindergarten proprietor, so eloquently put it, “to engage in a dance of interpretive driving”. Just like those interpretive dancers who lurch, wave, wander, leap, and bounce across the dance floor in some random series of movements whose meaning is unbeknown to all but those who perform them, driving or riding in India is pure, unadulterated random, bedlam.
On any stretch of road, be it a divided highway, dual carriageway, village road, lane or dirt track, you will find cows…
On any stretch of road, be it a divided highway, dual carriageway, village road, lane or dirt track, you will find cows walking, eating, or lying about in all their majestic sacredness. These divine bovine obstacles add a layer of complexity to the already heightened state of chaos, which necessitates that you dodge dogs, camels, goats, and other livestock as well as the pedestrians, vendors, tuk-tuk’s, cars, bicycles, trucks, busses and thousands upon thousands of other motorcyclists, many of whom are atop a Royal Enfield, all of whom have little regard for staying on their side of the road.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that will make your sphincter as tight as a fishes bum, as some highly decorated dodgy truck or decrepit bus piled high with mountains of luggage and people on the roof, hurtling towards you at 80km/h on the wrong side of a divided highway. At the same time, the driver leans on his horn, expressing his displeasure that you are in the way of his personal hell run.
Every day, as we put the stands down and wiped the accumulated sweat, dirt, and smog residue from our faces, each would look at the other and shake our heads in a knowing sign of disbelief that we made it there in one piece. Later, as the fear subsided and retrospection crept in, analogies such as “it’s like being in a Donkey Kong game” or “it’s absolutely crazy, but I loved it” gave way to the terror of running the gauntlet on the roads in India.
“Each would look at the other and shake our heads in a knowing sign of disbelief that we made it there in one piece”…
So yes, every one of the group had discovered something inside themselves that elevated their skills as a motorcyclist, conquered their fears and steeled their resilience for another day in the saddle. It delivered adrenalin in large doses, exposed us to more smiles per mile than I have ever witnessed, gave us a newfound appreciation for all we had and gifted us with stories that would live a lifetime.
This revelation made me realize the magnitude of the opportunity Royal Enfield has identified. There are a lot more motorcyclists out there who would jump at the chance to experience this kind of adrenalin-fuelled madness as well as the cultural and natural wonders of India, but perhaps don’t have or wish to spend the kind of money needed to do an escorted group tour and are far more comfortable doing the, somewhat daunting, trip alone.
My solo day on the road was easier than the group rides as I had to deal with the stress of staying in a group formation as well as the incoming barrage of animal-human automotive shrapnel. Google Maps and my Bluetooth headset meant I was fully aware of where I was and where I needed to go, and I found every hotel we stayed at in the booking.com app.
The value of the tour was in the group of like-minded riders, the guides, the support vehicle that carried everyone’s luggage, the mechanic, the support driver, and the reduction of stress at the end of the day as you just went to your room and your bags magically appeared. Of course, all meals, side excursions and other such arrangements were also taken care of. It was a five-star security blanket.
Given the chance to do it again, I would certainly have to think hard about whether these benefits outweighed the cost of admission and the reduction of flexibility that goes with a pre-arranged itinerary on these trips. I would naturally prefer renting the bike and figuring it out for myself. I am sure this is where the overwhelming opportunity lies.
The local guides were absolutely fantastic; interestingly, Anita and Candida are the only two female motorcycle guides operating in India and celebrities in their own right. Their local knowledge and ability to communicate in Hindi made the trip much easier. Having said that I am used to using Google Translate in countries where I do not speak the language so there is always a work around if you are on your own.
India is a vast land of diverse cultures, landscapes, and destinations, all of which are best seen from the King of motorcycles in India, a Royal Enfield. The connectivity with the environment, people and visceral experience of a motorcycle is the most authentic way to get the most out of a trip and move with some degree of efficiency in the choking city traffic.
The Royal Enfield press release I received before my trip touted “rent, ride, explore”. As I sit here writing, I think it perhaps has buried the lead of the story. It should read “rent, ride, discover.” Discover and push your boundaries, and discover how Incredible India really is.
How does the program work?
Royal Enfield may have 2000+ retail locations across India, but it appears they have recognised that renting bikes and selling them are two very different processes. To this end, they have established a vetting process to ensure that the rental partner you ultimately work with will provide you with the best quality service, a bike that has been well maintained and within a framework of service delivery, befitting the brand.
While you could book directly with the agencies. Royal Enfield has taken the step of peer review, much like Uber, for example. Each of the agencies will accumulate feedback and this consumer driven rating system will provide comfort that the partner you choose is going to come through. Of course, it also provides Royal Enfield with a method of surfacing sub-par performance in its partner operations.
Interestingly, each partner may offer different models and prices, so some homework will pay dividends and ensure you get the best deal on the bike you want. Regarding payment, Royal Enfield processes these, so you can breathe easy knowing the brand is behind your purchase.
What license do you need?
You will need to be at least 18 years of age and have a valid driver’s license with motorcycle endorsement, and you must obtain an International Driving Permit, which you can do with your local motoring organization such as NRMA or AAA in the USA.
Where can you rent a bike from?
Pretty much anywhere in India, although from the website, it is clear Royal Enfield has its sights set on a global program in time. There are over 25 locations, and you can check out the many rental partners at this link.
Still have more questions?
The website has a comprehensive Q&A section, which you can find here.
Royal Enfield Indian Riding Tour Gallery
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