Renting a bike in India is, without a doubt, the most adventurous way to enjoy India. I always feel so free on a motorcycle cruising the wild Indian motorways with mountains, desert, farms, or forest on either side. A motorcycle road trip is a must-do experience in India.
I realised early on that if I was going to settle in India I had to learn to ride a bike as driving a car is tedious with the rush hour traffic in India. With a bike, I could beat the traffic. It also opened up the world of motorcycle touring to me. I don’t have my own bike yet so for trips I rent a Royal Enfield Himalayan for around 1200 INR a day in Delhi.
Here are my top tips for renting a bike in India:
Don’t Rent a Bullet: The Royal Enfield 350 or 500cc Bullet is the quintessential Indian bike. Many a tourist fall in love with its classic look and thump-thump-thump exhaust. But it’s no the most comfortable ride for touring, especially at higher speeds. The Royal Enfield Himalayan is an adventure tourer that’s much better suited to Indian roads – and was designed purposefully for when there are no roads! It ensures for a more comfortable ride than a Bullet. Test ride both and see for yourself.
Best Price: If you want the best price, book at least a month in advance. Or else you’ll be rushing around looking for the particular model of bike you want and the shop owners will smell desperation (due to your close leaving date) and charge you more. If you’re renting an ordinary old Royal Enfield Bullet, this isn’t such a problem, but if you want a more comfortable Royal Enfield Himalayan it is as there are fewer available for rent.
Where to Rent: First check the price online from bike rental stores in whichever city you’ll begin from. Then talk to a local or search online for the motorcycle market in that city and go visit some rental stores there. Use your knowledge of the online prices to see if you can get a better price at the market. All large city have a motorcycle market, Delhi’s is in Karol Bagh.
Permits: Travel permits are required for Ladakh, and all the North Eastern States. Check what permits are necessary and make sure you get them in advance. It can take a whole day to collect various permits if you’re travelling to a few different North Eastern States.
Bike papers: you must make sure the company gives you copies of the bike’s registration card, proof of insurance, and a Pollution Under Control Certificate.
Carry spares: Carry at minimum a front and rear spare tyre tube and repair kit. Indian roads are patchy at best and punctures are not uncommon with all the debris on the road. Other commonly carried spares are clutch and accelerator cables, fuses, bulbs, chain connectors, and a little top up oil for long rides. All these parts for a Royal Enfield will set you back about $30 USD.
Safety gear: While 99% of Indians don’t wear safety gear, let alone a helmet. If you care about your skin and life then you’re going to need it. It’s a no-brainer once you see the roads and driving in India. For packing suggestions, see my light packing list for motorcycle trips.
Road rules: There are road rules in India, but they’re rarely followed or enforced. Instead, it’s a bit of a free for all. Be prepared for driving in India by reading How to Drive in India for Foreigners.
Ladakh Red Tape: If going to Ladakh, it’s a Government order that rented vehicles from outside Leh are not allowed. But never fear, in India there’s always a juggard (innovative) way around any red tape. Just check the company you’re hiring the bike from will give you the relevant paperwork to show “you own” the bike – even though you don’t.
A Warning on Motorcycle Renting Companies
Companies that rent bikes will take the full rental amount up front plus a bond, usually 10,000 INR. It’s part of the more dodgy companies’ business to keep as much of the bond as possible by making you pay for every little dent on the bike.
You must properly inspect the bike before you take it and note down all imperfections with the company, else upon returning the bike they’ll make you pay for them.
If you cause any damage to the bike on your trip (highly likely if travelling off-road as Royal Enfields aren’t the sturdiest of bikes) you’re liable to pay for it. Even if it’s a warranty repair, the company will try and make you pay for it and they’ll get it repaired for free under their warranty. If a damaged part can be repaired they’ll still try and charge you the entire amount for a brand new part but then repair it for much less.
It’s better to take the bike to a workshop before returning it and having it repaired the same day before returning it to the hire company. Royal Enfield have workshops across India.
Do you have a tip or interesting experience renting a bike in India? Share it in the comments below.
Karl Rock, is a Hindi speaking Kiwi ex-pat who take viewers behind the scenes of incredible India and its neighbours. He has visited every state and union territory in India, and its culturally similar neighbours – Pakistan and Bangladesh, and aims to make others fall in love with India and the subcontinent.