I was looking for something to write about today. News stories generally bore me, most of them are just speculation anyway. Just then I saw an email from Neville in my inbox, asking questions about his upcoming Ladakh ride, and voila! Writing material delivered to my doorstep. I thoroughly enjoyed answering these questions, reminded me of the shenanigans I did on that trip. Below is the email from Neville:
I recently came across your blog and have to say really enjoyed some of the articles and your writing style. I notice that you recently did a Ladakh trip and I had a few questions regarding that so figured I could drop you a line. A bunch of friends and I are planning a 14 day bike ride from Chandigarh to Leh and back in July and are presently finalising our itinerary and riding gear. Based on what I have read so far it’s pretty clear that DSG Triton is the riding jacket for the trip. However I have some questions on the other riding gear:”
Below are his questions, answered one by one:
1. What riding pants would you recommend for the Ladakh trip? I read that the spartan you used did not hold up well at all!
I would recommend the DSG Nero pants. I don’t own them, but have tried a few pairs for size comparison, and they are quite comfortable. DO NOT buy it online, go to a shop and try first. Same goes for the DSG Triton, or anything made by Planet DSG, they are notoriously bad with size fitting. I found their 3 Nero pants, size XL, L and M, were actually all M. If I had found the right size, would have definitely bought the Nero for my Ladakh ride.
2. Any suggestions for gloves apart from Alpinestars – really don’t have the budget for that?
I had the same problem, so I bought the DSG Acqua. Here’s the review for them. Long story short, I really wish I had spent the extra money on Alpinestarts Drystar, my Ladakh trip would have been so much more comfortable. If you just can’t afford the Alpinestars, then try Cramster Tundra. I have never used them, but reviews suggest they are better than DSG Acqua. Whatever you buy, remember, it is going to be colder than Steve Austin, plus there will be ice-cold rain, hail and snowfall. Whatever you buy needs to be completely waterproof. One trick for extreme cold would be to buy the Cramter Tundra about 2 size bigger, and wear a thin winter glove below it.
Some people will suggest you wear surgical gloves below the Tundra or Acqua, I tried it and doesn’t make any difference. Also, always wear your glove INSIDE the riding jacket sleeve, not over it. I found that out the hard way, with nearly frozen wrists at Tanglang la pass.
The guy I went to Ladakh with thought proper winter gloves weren’t needed, so he was just wearing shitty Probiking gloves. When we were going from Bharatpur to Leh, it was so fricking cold, with rain and hail for quite a substantial part. His hands were so damaged that every few kilometres he would stop, grab the hottest part of the engine and just stay that way for a few minutes. When he would finally get some sensation back in his hands, we would ride again, and then repeat. We went in August, when it is like “summer” in Ladakh, you are going in July, so be extra careful.
3. Any recommendations on footwear for the trip considering the array of terrains and weather we need to ride through?
I wore normal gum boots. They looked quite thick and weighed a ton, so I thought they would do me good on the Ladakh trip. I made 2 mistakes:
- Height – my gum boots weren’t full size, they only went till about half of my leg. I thought full length ones would be too uncomfortable.
- Rubber – I thought a thick piece of rubber will be sufficient against any amount of cold. In reality, a single drop of cold water on the boot was felt all the way to my balls. There’s no alternative to rubber, but don’t trust it too much.
The ultimate boots for Ladakh ride are Alpinestars Gore tex, but they cost over 15000 bucks. There is a much cheaper alternative. Buy full-length gum boots, the ones road construction workers wear. They should end just below your knees. Wear as many pairs of thick winter socks as you can, and wear the boot INSIDE your pant. This way you will be completely protected against any water seeping in.
When I went to Khardung la, Ladakh, I was wearing 6 pairs of socks, plus a plastic bag on my feet, then the boot came in. That’s cozy enough, but the problem comes when there are waterfalls on the road. These watery assholes can be quite deep, so much so that my gum boot was filled with icy water almost every time we crossed one. Doesn’t feel good.
All you have to make sure is that your boot isn’t too wide at the top, otherwise your pant will not be able to go above it, especially with the winter lining fit in.
4. What helmet did you use on your Ladakh trip? Apart from a clear visor and a good ISI marked helmet is there anything else to look out for?
- Waterproof – Ladakh is the only place where having lots of ventilation on your helmet is a very bad thing. Getting your brain frozen while riding at 18000 feet is going to be a disaster. The lesser the number of air vents, the better. I modified my helmet a bit, made it more waterproof than normal by adding a strip of double-sided tape at the top. This way all the water that would normally seep into the helmet, was now getting collected at the top of the visor and then flowing out due to high-speed wind. The best part was that I could still open and close the visor. Check out the photo to see what it looked like. The photo also includes my dark and clear goggles, plus 0 power spectacles – I wear contact lenses, so these are absolutely indispensable for my rides, but they are very important even if you have no eye trouble.
- No movement – Your helmet should fit snug on your face, and shouldn’t move around at all. Over the 3000 odd kilometres, about half would be proper off-roading, with big stones and broken paths. A bad fitting helmet will just keep bobbing around, and you won’t have the guts to take your hand off the handle to correct it when there is a 1000 foot drop a few inches to your left.
Since it will be cold, the helmet will fog up quite quickly. An easy but costly solution to this is buying a pin-lock visor. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a single vendor for pin-locks in India. Another not so easy but free solution is to open up the visor just a few centimetres.
I wouldn’t recommend keeping your visor open all the time for 2 reasons:
- Your face will be frozen
- Your eyes will be fatigued because of all the dust and grime
Keep your visor shut, and open it just a bit when fogging starts. I also recommend wearing dark goggles at all times. Sunlight can be quite piercing at such high altitudes, plus the reflections from ice make it worse. It will reduce the overall fatigue in your eyes immensely.
Don’t drive at night, under any circumstances, but if you must ride in dark, wear clear goggles then as well. Goggles will go a long way in keeping you fresh for the next day’s ride. You will also find that goggles fog up much faster than the helmet visor, which will require you to open the visor that little bit quite often.
5. Any need to carry rainwear if I’m getting the DSG riding jacket and pants?
No need. DSG Triton is completely waterproof, I have tested it myself. I would expect the same from the DSG Nero pant, but I haven’t ridden with it. If you end up buying the Spartan Odysseus riding pant, then you will need a rain pant, because water seeps in though the ass. Not a good sensation.
Since you are going in July, I expect you will face barely any rain in Ladakh. Another reason to not carry rain wear.
6. I’m planning to do the trip on my duke 390 so thinking of getting the Rynox Nomad V2 saddlebags and Optimus tank bag (which I’m planning to mount on the tail) – any thoughts/reviews on this setup?
Thumbs up for the Optimus. I took it on my Ladakh ride and it is just wonderful, amazing. Do remember to buy the Optimus – S, and not the M, since Duke doesn’t have a metal tank. I know you are going to mount it on the tail, but trust me, when you are bone tired and just itching to get on the road, you won’t give 2 shits about spending 5 minutes securing the Optimus on the tail. Always keep options. Plus if you use bungee cords to secure the Optimus on the tail, you won’t be able to open it mid-way. I mainly used the Optimus to keep my camera nearby, with easy access whenever I wanted.
I haven’t used the Nomad till date, but I feel it would be a better option than what I took, the Viaterra Claw. The Claw is also pretty amazing, costs a fraction of the Nomad and holds almost the same amount of luggage. The only problem though is that the Claw needs to be secured perfectly, otherwise it ends up biting your back. If the roads are straight, with no off-roading, the Claw is a much better option than the Nomad. But Ladakh isn’t like that, so go with the Rynox. Remember to balance the bags, one side shouldn’t be too much heavy than the other, or you will have steering issues.
7. Planning to take an air pump for the Metzellers so any recommendation on that will be helpful too.
There are 2 types of pumps available in the market – the big, heavy, manual ones that you push with your foot, the light, small, electronic ones that you connect to the battery. I took the manual one, since I didn’t know how to operate the electronic.
If you can figure out an easy way to power the electric pump, I would strongly suggest you go for it. Yes the manual one is no-nonsense and extremely cheap, but it is really difficult to even walk a few steps at such high altitude, let alone push air into a flat tire. Plus the electronic one is very light and small, a big plus for such a long and difficult ride.
Also carry a puncture kit, just an air pump is quite useless without something to plug the leak. Learn to use the puncture kit, it takes quite a lot of effort.
- Fuel: There is no fuel station for 370 odd kilometres between Tandi and Karo. In my experience, Duke 390’s range on full tank, under normal circumstances, is around 240kms. Since the roads of Ladakh are everything but normal, take that range to be around 200. This leaves you with you a deficit of 170kms. This means you will need to carry about 8 liters of extra fuel to complete this stretch.
- Keys: I recently faced a horrible situation, where the key of my Duke dropped in the small gap left to the key slot and below the instrument cluster. I normally don’t use keyrings, so the key is now stuck there somewhere. Lessons from this: First: Keep your spare key handy. Second: Either close that small gap with tape, or keep your key on a keyring that is big enough not to go down that hole.
Hope this answered your questions! It’s a good thing you are carrying the Marine – don’t fill it to the top though, it becomes too heavy and you won’t drink that much water anyway. Fill it about half, then top up every time you take a stop. Back pain is the biggest problem on long rides, and this way you can avoid it.
Even though I’ve been to Ladakh only once, I did make a few crazy mistakes that taught me valuable lessons. I don’t know which way you are going, Manali or Srinagar, or if you are going to Nubra and Pangong or somewhere else, but whatever you do, DON’T GO QUICK. I attempted to go from Manali to Leh with only 1 stop, and was royally fucked by Acute Mountain Sickness. Go slow, enjoy every moment, and be safe.
I have written 4 articles about my Ladakh trip. One of these is a short, printable plan of an ideal ride, in my opinion. If you have any other questions, do let me know. Cheers!
Neville is going to Ladakh on a Duke 390, so that makes this trip even more hard! There is almost no suspension on the Duke, it feels like riding a malnutritioned, strong bull, while you are naked and without a saddle. I hope he tweaks the rear suspension to the softest setting, can’t do much about the front though.
If YOU have any questions about your Ladakh ride, I am here.