The Ultimate How-To Guide for Foreign Travelers
Before making the purchase of our own Royal Enfield Bullet for our three and a half month tour of northern India we spent hours upon hours researching and preparing ourselves for what we knew could be an arduous process. What we found online was great information regarding touring India by motorcycle (routes, not-to-miss sites, service manuals, etc.) but what seemed lacking was a comprehensive guide on finding, negotiating for and preparing a bike for for a long-distance tour. This article, then, is intended as a step-by-step guide for those not-so-saavy beginners to cover just that.
Choosing the Make
Royal Enfields are certainly not the only option in India but they might as well be for touring; Enfields dominate the country’s 350-500cc market. The company’s originally British, now Indian-made models are very popular among locals and travelers alike due to their classic, simple engine and reliability. As the oldest bike in continuous production, mechanics all over the country have experience working on Enfields and their parts are readily available.
Our suggestion is a Royal Enfield Bullet or Thunderbird, widely available in both 350 and 500cc models. However, if you’ve got minimal luggage and are without a pillion, a 220cc Bajaj Avenger or other smaller-engined bikes (Yamaha or Honda, for example) will surely work.
Rental or Purchase
Though prices and quality vary, the cost of rental for a Royal Enfield can range from 400₹ to 1800₹ per day plus a hefty deposit (we were quoted 100,000₹ for a three month rental). If a traveler intends on riding for two months or more rental fees can easily equal or even greatly exceed the value of the motorcycle. This is exactly why the vendors insist on renting to hopefully unwitting tourists and why we chose to purchase instead. Many of the shops, especially any listed in a guide book (such as Lalli Singh in Delhi and Rajhasthan Auto Centre in Jaipur) may flat-out refuse to sell Royal Enfields to foreigners, insisting on renting them for their more outrageous prices instead. They will ask, “Do you have a permanent address in India? No? Well, then it’s not possible for you to buy. You must rent.” They might even repeat “Not possible!” several more times for good measure. If we learned one thing while traveling in India it is that absolutely anything is possible with enough time and persistence.
If all you’ve got in India is a few weeks, rental is your best option. Here are a few tips:
- Have an outside mechanic look at the prospective rental to understand the quality of the product you’re considering renting – this could save you a lot of time and headache later on. If a shop owner won’t allow this it is probably for a reason and our suggestion is to walk away.
- Cosmetic damage doesn’t make it a lemon and a beautiful, shiny paint job doesn’t make it a gem. This is true in both the rental and buying markets.
- Read the contract very, very carefully – understand what you’re responsible for such as the cost of normal repairs and maintenance (oil changes, flat tires, welding repairs, etc.) and damage.
- Negotiate hard on both the rate of daily rental as well as the deposit.
- Never take “Not possible!” for an answer.
If you’ve got more than a month or two on your hands, we suggest purchasing your own gently used motorcycle which is absolutely, 100% possible for a foreigner to do in India. Purchasing a new model can also be done, albeit with much more hoop jumping and paperwork. Our focus in this article is on used motorcycles.
Here is a short list of benefits to owning your own motorcycle while traveling India:
- There are many more options to choose from when purchasing versus renting.
- You maintain the ability to ship it home at the end of your trip if you so choose. You may just fall in love with it enough to do so.
- There is no risk in losing a costly deposit, possibly more than the value of a rental.
- You will not invest money repairing and maintaining someone else’s vehicle.
- When buying there isn’t the requirement to circle back to the same city in order to return a rental.
- You are free to make modifications however you desire.
Steps to Buying
Locating and negotiating for the perfect motorcycle isn’t a simple task, it actually requires an ample amount of patience and unyielding persistence. Follow these steps and you’re sure to have an easier go at it than we did!
Don’t Rush It
Yes, these things take time in India. You’ll want to allow for a minimum of one week in a saturated market for the buying process and more if you are really looking for a good deal.
Make a Friend (or Two)
If possible find a local, trustworthy friend who knows some Bullet basics to accompany you on your shopping excursions. Though many times vendors will speak sufficient English, you need someone with a firm grasp on Hindi (or other local languages) to understand the rest of the conversations that will inevitably be going on around you. Tricksters and scammers abound in India and a foreigner with half a lakh (50,000 Indian rupees) or more in his pocket is a particularly good target.
We suggest contacting a local Bullet or Royal Enfield Riding Club – there is at least one in every big city/region of India – as a good place to find a friend. The community is exceedingly helpful, friendly and open to the induction of new members. We never met a fellow rider who wasn’t able to help, offer some advice and camaraderie or even a place to stay for a night. They are a really, really amiable bunch and most likely would be more than happy to assist in the buying of your new Enfield.
Where to Buy
Some cities, such as Pushkar, have reputations for being places where one can buy motorcycles reasonably inexpensively, however your options may be limited to whatever is being sold by a few shops and the travelers that have passed through lately. Delhi, on the other hand, has markets with a plethora of options at every level of quality available. In larger cities with big markets, however, prices are doubtlessly higher than elsewhere.
Markets definitely aren’t your only option. Personal ad websites like OLX and Quickr are good resources, too. They may have you zipping all over the city looking at what’s available, but quick-sale deals and bikes in great like-new condition can definitely be available.
Help from the Pros
Find a mechanic you can trust who has the time and energy to help. This is a hard one because everyone is in cahoots with everyone else. In Delhi we suggest Bawa at Gurdial Auto Engineering in Karol Bagh. Though the shop doesn’t look like much and perfectly blends in with the rest of those dirty, oil-stained shops lining the market streets, Bawa’s prices are great and he is remarkably honest, fair and reliable.
No matter which mechanic you choose, take them each prospect that you’re seriously interested in purchasing in order to get their opinions on pro topics such as the condition of the engine and electrical system. Get estimates for how costly the predicted repairs will be, then use those tabulated figures during negotiations.
Use Your (Own) Head
Here are some mechanical issues even a beginner rider can look for on his/her own:
- Ease of starting: An engine in good condition shouldn’t be too hard to kick start. Even if it is equipped with an electric start it will not always work, that is a guarantee.
- Tires: Do they have good tread with no sign of uneven wear?
- Inspect the condition of the frame, fork, brake and clutch levers, and the straitness of the handlebars. Any bending or dents could indicate a past accident.
- Look for any leaking oil, especially after a test drive.
- Ease of changing gears: Are the gears slipping or do they firmly fall into place?
Decide on the top price that you’re willing to pay and start negotiations with a reasonably lower price, but not so low as to appear insincere or uninformed. Then, be ready to walk away even if you’ve got your heart set.
Another trick is to find a bike that you like at two different shops. Then, begin negotiations with each salesman finding out which will negotiate with you and to what extent. Go a step further and pit their offers against each other.
If you are ready to buy give the salesman an incentive to sell at the price you want try this line: “We’ll ride this away right now for X price, otherwise we have to go home and think about it.”
Necessary Paperwork and Documents
Ownership Document- This, interestingly enough, in India does not have to be in your name as the current owner, but will instead include past owners’ information who took the time to have a vehicle officially registered. There is absolutely no need to have this document changed into your name, especially if you are planning on being in the counter several months. This could also come in the form of an ownership card or a purchase receipt (or a combination of the three documents).
No Objections Document (NOD)- If you purchased from an individual rather than from a business you’ll need to ensure you ride off with this. The NOD is a letter from the past owner forfeiting all rights. It should include both of your signatures, the seller’s contact information and passport photo stapled on for good measure. The more information the better.
Insurance- You must have insurance when riding in India but your new bike might very well already have it. Check with the salesperson or private seller before riding away. Otherwise, sign up with one of the many online providers of third-party insurance. Fees are nominal, under $100/year.
Emissions Document- Your vehicle may already have this certificate verifying that it meets environmental standards. If not you can get this easily at gas stations around the country after a quick emissions test.
International Drivers Permit (IDP)- Though it sounds fancy, the IDP is just an official translation of your own country’s drivers license. As a foreigner driving in India you are technically required to have it. Many, we repeat, MANY, foreigners touring in India do not have this permit. Though we choose to do things “by the book” during our 3.5 months of touring and so obtained the IDP, it was never once requested of us by any official. Our license was asked of us twice in Nepal, however, once upon entering at the border and another time during a traffic check point. At the latter our Texas state licenses sufficed, perhaps it would have also done so at the border, as well. Our advice is to simply get the IDP before you arrive in India if you’re coming from your home country.
Drivers license from your home country- This must accompany the IDP or, in the case of choosing not to obtain the IDP, will be what you present officials if ever stopped. You technically are required to have a motorcycle designation on your country’s license in order to ride legally in India.
Repairs and Modifications
After you’ve made your purchase, you’ll want to take some time to ensure it is road ready. Go back to your trusted mechanic, sit down, have a chai (or ten), and patiently wait. Our repairs and modifications, none of which were major, took three days to finalize. Nothing in India is quick. But stick around for it anyway for a couple of reasons; mechanics will be sure to focus on the work if you are there waiting and you will likely pick up a few helpful tips watching them pull it apart and put it back together.
- Consider a seat replacement, especially if you have a pillion. The standard seats on the Bullet in particular are anything but comfortable for long-distance touring. Look for something with more width and cushion; your pillion’s behind will thank you.
- A sturdy luggage rack is of the utmost importance to the long-distance rider. These are a dime a dozen in India’s markets, however, finding one that is made of a strong, sturdy metal may be a challenge. Another option is to have a luggage rack custom made by a good welder. Instead of fighting with the rack and re-welding it every 500 kilometers as we originally did, you’ll pay a mere 2000INR (around $40 USD) up front. Please, let our experience save you your sanity. Ensure that the rack has thick, solid supports at the points where it is bolted to the bike. Also, don’t overdo it with the luggage weight. We carried 35 kilograms of luggage for the majority of our travels and found that to be uppermost limit of what would be acceptable.
- We suggest installing a cigarette lighter and carrying either a smartphone or a GPS unit for navigation. The combination of these two items were instrumental in making our biking adventures a success and the instillation of the charger cost only a few dollars plus the cost of service.
- Install a locking petrol tap. This will cost only a few dollars and will save you tons; gas theft is a continual problem in India, especially with Royal Enfields.
- Your horn is one of your best friends since your vehicle is once of the smallest on the road. We suggest installing an additional horn and a larger battery to support it in order to assist in keeping yourself safe on the road.
Once your two-wheeler is deemed road ready get out of the city and onto an open highway for a test drive. Hopefully you won’t need to return to the shop for any final adjustments, however it might be better to give yourself one extra day for necessary repairs to be made rather than wait stranded on the side of a highway hundreds of kilometers away with a basic issue needing repair.
Hit the Road
Now that you’re confident with your bike get out there and explore beautiful India! Before doing so be sure to check out our beginner’s guide to touring India by motorcycle.
Our personal experience provided us a lifetime full of memories. As the mud flaps of the trucks in India say, “Good Luck!”Posted: July 7th, 2013 | Filed under: India, Travel Articles, Travel Updates | Tags: Bajaj Avenger, Bullet, Delhi, Documents, Good Luck!, Gurdial Auto Engineering, India, Karol Bagh, License, Modifications, Motorcycle, Negotiate, Purchase, Pushkar, Registration, Rental, Repairs, Riding Club, Royal Enfield, Test Drive, Thunderbird | 1 Comment »