Tips for riding a motorbike in India (and surviving to tell the tale!)
India is not the place most people decide to embark on a self drive holiday – it can be challenging and a culture shock traveling in India at the best of times and the roads can seem totally chaotic to the uninitiated.
But India is an amazing place to ride the bike, not much beats the sun on your skin and wind in your hair and the rush of exhilaration as you explore the Indian countryside with the freedom of your own 2 wheels. Plus, traveling by bike gives you the opportunity to really get off the beaten track and also gives you a much better connection to the kaleidoscope of sights and smells of Incredible India you’ll encounter along the way than sitting in a car or bus.
Some people arrive in India and buy motorbikes and tour around the whole country for months on end talking epic road trips like the road to Leh. But even if you are just holidaying in Goa having your own transport is pretty essential to making sure you can zip around and get the most out of your holiday and renting scooters and motorbikes is an easy and casual affair usually with no paperwork to fill out and costing from only 250 rupees per day.
Riding a motorbike in India is my favourite way to explore this incredible country and can make for an amazing adventure but driving a motorbike in India is a lot different from driving in the West and takes a bit of getting used to.
First, here’s a video so you can get an idea of what riding a motorbike in India is like …
Here are my tips for riding a motorbike in India and living to tell the tale!
First, choose your ride
Of course a Royal Enfield is the classic choice for an epic motorbike adventure around India but if you are not used to riding a motorbike or driving on Indian roads then it’s probably a better choice to start off on a moped which will probably be easier, cheaper and safer.
It also goes without saying that you need to check your ride before handing over any money as many bikes have been thrashed around a bit and often not everything works properly. Take it for a quick test drive and be assertive to make sure you get a good bike and a good deal. If you’re buying then check out this great guide to buying a used Enfield in India. When renting the normal rate starts from about 250 Rupees per day for a scooter or from 600 – 800 Rupees for an Enfield (depending on your negotiation skills) The longer you rent for the more you can haggle on price. You can rent a scooter from 4,000 Rupees per month.
Learn to drive like an Indian
At first you might think that Indian traffic is crazy and there are no road rules but there is a method to the madness and it would probably be dangerous to drive like you would do in the West. Observe the way that Indian’s drive and try to go with the flow.
Some rules here are different, for example in the UK when a driver flashes their headlights it means they are letting you go, but here it means ‘get out of my way, I’m not stopping for anything’ People often indicate with hands instead of indicators, lanes and which side of the road to drive on is sometimes debatable as vehicles will weave through the lanes and fill up every inch of available space to get ahead. Forget what you know about driving, be assertive and drive like an Indian!
Expect the unexpected
India is full of shocks and surprises and the roads are no different. Traffic, and life in general, flows alot more fluidly in India and when driving in India you really need to be aware and expect the unexpected at all times –all sorts of vehicles share the road from hand carts to bicycles, horse (or camel) and carts to 3 wheeled auto rickshaws, motorbikes carrying whole families and the kitchen sink, cars, trucks, buses and tractors in all sorts of states of disrepair.
You also need to watch out for wandering people, goats, cows, dogs, monkeys, elephants and camels, trash, spices drying on the side of the road, festivals and parades, kids playing cricket, people and animals sleeping and impromptu road works. Also road conditions can be bad, rural roads can be narrow and quickly disintegrate to not much more than dust and going too fast over a pot hole or speed breakers could be really dangerous when riding a motorbike in India. Stay focused at all times because anything can happen on Indian roads!
Be prepared for a dusty ride
Riding a motorbike in India is an awesome way to explore and connect with the country but as you’re exposed to the elements it can be a bit of a dirty and dusty ride. Don’t wear light coloured clothes as they will quickly get dirty and sunglasses are a must to avoid dust (and at dusk insects) in your eyes.
Remember might is right
In India the bigger the vehicle (and the louder the horn) the more right of way it has. So if you’re riding a scooter or motorbike remember your quite far down the pecking order on an Indian road so give way to buses and lorries (and of course cows!) because they sure aren’t going to stop for you!
Use your horn
Horn OK Please is plastered over the back of all trucks and most vehicles in India and the horn is possibly the most important part of an Indian vehicle. At first it may seem that people are just using the horn constantly for no reason but there is a method to using the horn and paying attention with your ears as much as your eyes and using the horn in the right way is an essential part of driving in India.
Be extra careful at night
Driving in India becomes even more hazardous at night, some vehicles don’t have lights working or have them stuck on blinding full beam, some people are drunk and tired, at dusk insects are flying in your face and it’s hard to see those lethal potholes and speed breakers so take extra care after dark.
Watch out for the police
Rules in India are sometimes a bit of a grey area. Especially in Goa, almost no one wears a helmet although officially it is the law. Police often try and stop tourists demanding huge fines usually for not wearing a helmet or for not having an International Driving License as well as your home license, even if you have all these things they will probably find something or some way of getting money out of you. In Goa they regularly hang out of the main bridge into Panjim stopping tourists.
Check what paperwork and permits you need
Sorting out paperwork in India can be tricky and if your buying a bike it will make things easier if you have a local ‘friend’ to help you with the registration and paperwork.
There are no rental agencies that allow you to rent out a bike and drive all across India – bike rentals are localized deals. Official rental vehicles will have yellow and black commercial number plates. You need special state level permits or All India Permits to be allowed to travel across state borders. If you want to rent a bike and travel through multiple states then it’s better to rent a private vehicle with white plates and black lettering these are free to travel anywhere in India just make sure you get the paperwork and have the number of the ‘friend’ you borrowed it off incase of any questions at the border.
Allow plenty of time
India is such a huge country with so much diversity and things to see and experience that it really could take a lifetime to see it all. It’s also a place that is hard to enjoy if you rush and while exploring you will probably want to stop and explore, take a diversion, break down or get invited for chai or just want to rest – things tend to take longer in India and planning a rushed itinerary will only lead to a stressful rather than enjoyable trip.
Have you ridden a motorbike in India? What are your top tips?
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