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<Sikkim Motorcycle Tour>
1995 Classic Enfield 350 Himalayan Tour in Pelling, West Sikkim
From left to right: Masaya Shirai, Gen Masaki, Eiji Shitomi

Motorcycle Tours

The winding Himalayan roads that meander over the contours of hills and valleys and along the banks of swift flowing rivers present a setting for unforgettable biking experiences. Take to the road from dawn to dusk feeling the crisp mountain breeze rush against your body. Zoom past other travellers who in their chauffeured vehicles must be at the mercy of their drivers. Roar into your next destination at the pace you choose. Ride with your friends on toys for the big boys.

Motorbike tours are operated with all-equipped support service that includes a service vehicle attended by repair personnel and all essential spares.

In March 1995, a group of us decided on a motorbike tour across the highways of Nepal, Sikkim, and Darjeeling. This was a pilot project to establish a regular program of this kind in the future. For logistical reasons, our tour would begin and terminate in Siliguri, a large commercial town situated in the foothills of Darjeeling district.

It was decided that the machines would be none other than the classic Royal Enfield ‘Bullet 350’ that are still manufactured in India, which over the last few decades has attracted many mobike buffs because of the deep-throated roar generated by it’s elderly-designed low-rev single-cylinder four-stroke engine. Aside the sound, it’s relatively low centre of gravity and gross weight of 165 kilograms makes it a stable touring vehicle.

Tech Notes
The major drawback on taking a vintage model for a long distance tour would be in the durability of engine and other drive components. To ensure that each and every bike of ours would make it through, we took along a service vehicle, a jeep loaded with enough spares including a competent mechanic to attend to repairs.

As our tour progressed, we came to observe that the most unreliable components were the ball bearings in the wheels, the gearbox, and the clutch shaft, which wore out rapidly. Following the substitution of the originals with Japanese and Polish bearings on all bikes that we were able to replace whilst travelling inside Nepal, the rest of the trip went on without any major breakdowns.

The anticipated snags in the course of our trip included the usual problems associated with old technology machination and milling of body parts; early wear-out of drive-sprockets including drive-chain and brake linings, gasket blowouts, broken cables and several other minor details for which we were well covered with plenty of spares. Nissar, our mechanic earned his keep, and at the trips end we were happy to send him back to Delhi with a fat bonus.

Trip Notes
The often narrow and obviously winding mountain roads are what makes a trip to this region exciting but as vehicular traffic is relatively high, the most important safety concern is to take care in avoiding head-on collisions at sharp bends. Occasionally, large vehicles such as lorries at some points do occupy the entire width of the road. Being obviously aware of such eventualities, it was decided that the entire group would ride close behind the trip leader or the escort-vehicle in the risky sections. A smart idea from Gen Masaki was to fit in low-range transceivers into each rider’s crash helmet but that was ruled out since 2-way radio communication is forbidden for general public use in India and Nepal. Perhaps now, with the advent of mobile phones, it may be possible for riders to maintain 2-way contact.

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