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The Telegraph
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| Sunday, February 3, 2013 |

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Gearing up for adventure

Bikers-turned-entrepreneurs are revving up new businesses with riding tours that take you closer to nature, says Sushmita Biswas

  • Ladakh is a top draw for biking enthusiasts Baljeet and Poornima Gujral (below) who launched Enfield Riders with a fleet of six Royal Enfields

It was a vacation that Mumbai-based couple Baljeet and Poornima Gujral will never forget. In 2009, a year after they got married, the couple rode — on their Bullet — to Ladakh, travelling through the Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake.

The Gujrals repeated the bike journey the following year in Ladakh only this time with a bunch of like-minded biker friends. But it was only last year — during a biking vacation to Coorg when they decided to set up Enfield Riders, a motorbiking-only vacationing company based in Mumbai.

Cut to another pair of biking enthusiasts, Harsh Man Rai and Vir Nakai of Mumbai. They first met five years ago while shooting in Ladakh for a television series called Road Trip. "After spending many miles together on the dirt track we decided to set up a premium motorbike vacationing company," says Vir. They set up Helmet Stories that offers a mix of tailor-made biking vacations including group tours and short vacations.

The adrenaline is pumping at high pressure for a clutch of motorbike enthusiasts who've turned entrepreneurs and started end-to-end motorbike vacationing companies providing off-the-beaten track tours.

These companies don't use commuter bikes but hit the road on more powerful two-wheelers like 350cc or 500cc Royal Enfields.

And they're thriving because both Indians and foreigners are turning up for high dose of adventure. Says Vir: "Biking tours have existed for long in the West but they are now becoming all the rage in India."

  • Bikers at Pangong Lake in Ladakh; Surbhit Dixit (below) set up Hindustan Motorcycling in Delhi along with his brother, Swapnil

So, for Poornima of Enfield Riders it wasn't difficult to chuck her 10 years long teaching career for this venture while Baljeet, a banker, oversaw the company's affairs. Poornima started with a fleet of six Royal Enfields but this year she's planning to expand in a big way to 12. Says Baljeet: "Today, exploring a region on big bikes is a booming trend primarily because of the easy availability of strong performance bikes."

The takers for these holidays are mostly young. There are the first-timers and the more experienced riders some of whom are executives while others are hard-core adventure seekers. There are also foreigners who want to explore India on bikes and DINK couples (double-income no kids) and even families.

Says Rajiv Singh Yadav, founder, Royal India Bikes, Delhi: "Ten per cent of our clients are first-timers but 90 per cent are serious riders. We also get a lot of international clients." Rajiv, a consultant in the transportation and logistics sector, operates with a three-member team and occasionally accompanies riders on their vacations.

When the bikes are not on long expeditions, Rajiv also rents out his fleet of powerful machines for short weekend expeditions. The Enfields (the Bullet) cost Rs 2,000 per day to rent while the dirt bikes like the Hero Impulse that tend to get more wear and tear are priced at Rs 3,000 per day.

These companies are bringing it all on — logistically — for the vacationers. They offer a huge menu of services including bike rentals, charting out detailed itineraries and maps, journey guides and safety gear for bikers. They also provide back-up vans with basic medical aid, spare parts in case of breakdowns and even help fix accommodation for the bikers en route.

  • Rajiv Singh Yadav of Royal India Bikes occasionally accompanies riders on biking expeditions

These companies offer something for everyone: long-distance tours and weekend trips. Says Poornima: "The tours can either be customised or riders can go on fixed departure dates." Enfield Riders also provide all the accessories required for a biking trip including saddle bags, biking gloves and more.

There's also Delhi-based Hindustan Motorcycling that was launched three years ago by Surbhit and his brother Swapnil Dixit. Says Surbhit: "When I travelled on bikes, I realised that there was a serious lack of support for people going on motorbike vacations in India."

Surbhit, who has travelled to Ladakh on his Bullet some 12 times — occasionally making four trips a year — counts it as his favourite destination. Though customised trips are his forte, Surbhit has planned quite a few 'fixed departure' trips this year. One is a ride to the Mahakumbh (February 9th to 20th priced at Rs 30,000 per rider) and a trip to Ladakh later in the year. Some of the shorter rides include Unexplored Kumaon in mid-March and a trip to the Pushkar Fair in November.

Among domestic trips, while Ladakh remains the top favourite, other places like Goa, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra are huge draws for bikers.

  • Biking groups at the racing circuit, Kari Motor Speedway, Coimbatore; Indimotard was started by Anand Dharmaraj (below left) in Bangalore

Biking enthusiast Anand Dharmaraj who set up Indimotard in Bangalore in 2009 says: "The aim is not just to provide a riding experience but also to sample the sights and culture of a region."

An engineer, Anand went to the US for his Masters degree in electronics and took up track racing there. In 2001, when he returned to India, he started working in the IT industry and at the same time started touring various parts of the country on his mean machine. Today, apart from providing customised motorbike holidays in various parts of the country, Anand is expanding his repertoire to include international biking trips to Thailand and Nepal. Up next between April 7 and 13 is a trip to Cambodia (Rs 74,500 per rider) and a six-day trip to Sri Lanka in October.

The biking companies have more up their sleeves than just biking escapades. Anand of Indimotard, for instance, started the concept of 'track days' at the Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore. He says, "Handling a bike along the city roads and handling the same bike on the racetrack are entirely two different experiences. In track racing, a rider learns and unlearns many new riding techniques."

  • Vir Nakai(below) of Helmet Stories in Mumbai offers tailor-made vacations, fixed-departures as well as weekend rides

Anand has set up a racetrack training school called Throttle Wide Open in Coimbatore where he, along with a team of instructors, conducts theory and practical sessions on how to ride motorcycle to the limit, while "learning to be quick, safe and smart in the safest possible environment." On the other hand, the aim of Helmet Stories is to promote sustainable tourism through these riding holidays.

Says Vir: "We keep our fixed departures small so as to have little impact on the environment. We respect indigenous cultures and hire a lot of local guides wherever we travel."

So, now that you know that the bikes are at hand all you need to do is to hit the road.