Samiksha Bali

Today’s rider is Samiksha Bali from India! Samiksha rides a classic Royal Enfield and explores her world on two wheels. In spite of having less than a year’s experience of riding, she has already ridden her bike off-road to the highest motorable road in the world! Read on to learn more about her and about riding in India. [Rashmi Tambe, Editor]

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Name: Samiksha Bali Dutta
Age: 26
Country: India
Languages: English, Hindi
Years Riding: 9 months
Height: 5’3” (163 cm)
Inseam: 34”
Current motorcycles: Royal Enfield Machismo 500
Past motorcycles: None
Riding Gear: AFX Helmet, Rynox Stealth Jacket, Spartan ProGear riding pants, Tiger safety boots, DSG& Cramster riding gloves
Kms Per Year: 5000

 

Please introduce yourself.
Hi! I’m a restless and crazy soul from Mumbai, India. I take every opportunity to get out and explore places with my husband, bruise my knees, shop at flea markets, sit with a book in a coffee shop and turn my kitchen into a laboratory of flavors. I like my share of pillow fights and bed jumps in spite of my age.  I think a lot about what new tattoos I should add to my current two. I’m also fond of martial arts and I got my a black belt in karate back when I was a teenager.

I am a marketing and communications professional and hope to someday start something of my own, preferably something related to motorcycling, travel and creating art out of auto parts. I love writing about my travels and sharing my experiences with others.

And finally, of course I’m passionate about riding my motorcycle.

Please describe your path into motorcycling.
I decided that I wanted to get a motorcycle of my own when I was 10 years old when I would see my karate instructor ride his  Royal Enfield to our classes. Every time I saw that beast parked outside I would stand and stare at it and dream about riding it, even though I could barely even see my face in his bike mirrors standing on my tippy-toes. I knew it was a heavy bike. It looked like it was full of muscle and power. I think that’s what drove me towards this obsession with motorcycles – the whole idea of being in control of a beautiful machine on two wheels and taking it just about anywhere.

My other memory of motorcycles comes from my parents’ recollection of me sitting on the tank of one when my father would borrow a friend’s motorcycle and I would confidently grab the handlebars as a toddler and pretend to ride. Sometimes my dad would even letting go of the handlebars to see how well I would take to them when he rode.

I learnt how to ride a two wheeler when I was about 13 since that’s when my legs could reach the ground on my dad’s 125 cc Vespa. Until I went to college, I zoomed all over the city on this scooter wearing an oversize helmet which kept falling over my face. The first motorcycle I rode was a Pulsar 150 cc which belonged to a friend of the family. Since I never had a bike of my own until fairly recently, I would always end up borrowing one from friends in college for a few joy rides.

I finally managed to buy my own motorcycle with my husband this January. Since we got our bike, we make it a point to ride to places within at least a 500 km vicinity whenever we can. Needless to say, I have passed on the motorcycling bug to my husband and we are constantly bickering over who will be at the handlebars every time we ride. I do hope that we can afford to get another bike soon.   

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Riding with my husband riding pillion

Describe your current motorcycle.
My current darling is a 500 cc Royal Enfield Machismo. It’s a chrome retro styled motorcycle and what I really admire about it is how well it handles while fully loaded. It’s a powerful thumper and I have not really made any major modifications to it since I quite like most of the stock components. The model has been discontinued by the manufacturer which makes her even more precious.

I call her bijli which means “lightning” in Hindi because the day we got her home it was after sundown and her chrome tank shone like lightning in the dark. Later on, when I rode her and discovered her ability to power up beautifully, the name stuck.

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With bijli

Do you have a motorcycling achievement that you take pride in?
Yes! It was achieving my dream of riding to Ladakh in northern India and reaching the highest motorable road in the world – Khardung La – at an elevation of 5359 meters in the Himalayas. I never thought that I would attempt and successfully complete the ride within a few months of beginning to ride. In my mind, this is just the beginning of my motorcycling moments of pride and as the first, it will always be the most special.

At 1300 km, this was the longest trip I’ve done. It’s a really challenging ride which requires enormous amounts of will power to attempt. I say this because the route we took to reach Ladakh was not the easy one. We picked the one that most highly experienced and pro riders tend to take. We covered Spiti valley, which is a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh. The route involved a lot of off-road riding in extreme terrain, through melting glacial water crossings, and sand, rocks and gravel most of the way. Another challenge was extreme altitude at which we rode, which made it difficult to breathe at times because of the paucity of oxygen. We also had to deal with the bike’s depleting performance at that altitude.

In spite of all the challenges though, this was a beautiful trip. We saw Buddhist monasteries and beautiful rivers, and rode on gorgeous curvy roads with lots of hairpin turns. The serene landscapes and  tranquil nature combined with some scary terrain made the ride an unforgettable experience. 

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Riding through glacial melt

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Can you relate a good story from your rides?
This one time my husband and I went on a ride to the beach in the peak of summer. We were taking turns riding. During the last few kilometers that I rode, I opened the throttle at a constant 110 kmph in spite of the hot sun. When my husband switched over to riding, he continued at the same pace. After riding a few kilometers we were stopped by our fellow riders honking crazily at us. That’s when we noticed that we were leaving behind a trail of smoke and the exhaust was literally sizzling. We had pushed our bike a little too much, considering the temperatures we were riding in, and the engine oil had heated up and overflowed.

A few minutes of waiting for a cooldown and an engine oil refill and air filter cleaning later, we were good to go. But this experience taught us that while riding a motorcycle one should always be completely aware of how external factors should be taken into account in your riding style!

Do you do maintenance and repairs on your bike?
My Royal Enfield is unfortunately is known for the high amount of time and energy it demands in its maintenance.  However, for me this is a part of knowing my bike better and treating her in a certain way. I’m currently more dependent on my mechanic for doing the major repairs and maintenance but I always make it a point to sit with him for those 4-5 hours he works on her so that I can learn and start working on my bike myself.

Is there any other kind of motorcycling that you’d like to try your hand at?
I would like to at some point try my hand at motocross sometime!

Do you ride with a club?
I am currently not a part of any motorcycling club.  Most of my rides have been with friends and their acquaintances who are passionate about long distance riding. Although I have heard about the kind of camaraderie and bonding that a club imbibes, I am not too keen on joining one at the moment since I feel like you don’t really need to depend on a club to be able to go riding. Also, I don’t like the idea of having to adjust my riding style to the club’s.

Do you have any motorcycling heroes?
Since I have recently become an avid follower of MotoGP, I admire the racing style of Valentino Rossi. Among the classic motorcyclists that my riding friends have introduced me to, I would like to follow more of the motorcycling life of Malcolm Smith.

Do you have any advice for people who want to get into motorcycling?
My friends who don’t ride and seem to be in intrigue of women riders often ask me how I manage the weight of the motorcycle and all the muscle and power in spite of being shorter than most guys. I always tell them that there’s a way around everything and your passion to ride and be on the road is what should drive you.

One thing I really encourage and stand by is the use of proper protective gear. Never compromise on the protective gear and buy a product that might be cheaper but of lower quality. If you want to start motorcycling, don’t wait for years to buy your own. Until you can do that, go ahead and rent one. Even gear can be rented. You are missing out on a whole world of feelings of a different kind, feelings that will make you want to ride more and more, make you get over your fears of riding at heights, on sand, on gravel , on wet roads, on no roads – all of it. There’s a whole lot to be explored on two wheels. Just get started!

RIDING IN INDIA

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If I were to visit you and we went riding for one short morning ride, where would you take me? :)
I would recommend a ride to a place called Harihareshwar. It’s about 220 km from Mumbai. It will take you to mesmerizing beaches that are not yet explored or exploited too much by tourists.  [Link to Route]

What’s the best part about riding in India?
The best part about riding in India is that there is a lot of challenging terrain to ride on. Our roads are not really known to be the smoothest ones around and navigating the traffic might be an issue when you are in the city, but you will experience a variety of cultures and meet all kinds of interesting people on the way. There are plenty of hill stations, beach towns, and deserts that you can ride through, so there’s something for everyone. Be it the northern part of the country or the southern, there are plenty of options for riding. 

What kind of food can riders expect to stop for on the way that is typical to your region?
Indian food is very generous with spices and oils, so you should be prepared to adjust your palate to them while travelling within India and travelling. The good part is that there is no dearth of roadside food vendors wherever you go. If you like your tea black, I advise you to always carry your own tea bags as Indians are fond of milky tea.

One of the favorite snacks on the streets of Maharashtra – the state where I currently live – is the vada pav , an Indian version of a burger with a deep fried potato filling sandwiched between some bread. If you’re looking for a more complete meal, you can also get dal bhat – a yellow lentil curry poured over rice.

If a motorcyclist from another country visited India, what are the top rides you would recommend to them?
I would suggest that they ride through Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Himachal Pradesh.

What is the traffic like and how does it affect motorcycle riding?
Traffic in India tends to be a little chaotic in every city. Riders have to deal with and get used to loads of honking and pedestrians crossing the road randomly. All in all it’s an interesting experience, which someone not used to riding in India could take some time to get used to. 

What are the best months for riding?
The Himalayas in north India get cordoned off to vehicles in the winter due to heavy snow. Outside of that, most parts of Indian are motorable all year long.

Is it safe to ride at night where you live?
I live in Mumbai, is a very cosmopolitan city, so riding in the night is not really an issue. I have started off a couple of rides at night, but don’t recommend it once you leave the city limits since there might not be good street lights and emergency services. 

Is motorcycle theft a problem?
Not really. I think one should always make it a point to park the bike in a well lit place and an allotted parking. 

Are there any motorcycle specific laws?
It is compulsory to wear helmets and carrying vehicle registration papers in most of India. 

Are there any motorcycling related political issues that affect your ability to ride?
Yes. For example, when you want to ride to states like Jammu and Kashmir, there are a number of permissions that need to be obtained from the local authorities and in some cases entry taxes need to be paid. While some of these regions have a lot of security based checks and requirements due to them being disputed areas, some others require heavy checks due to local activist movements. So its important to check all requirements before heading out on long trips.  

Can you describe the motorcycle license test?   
Any person who wishes to drive a motor vehicle has to first obtain a learner’s license. The person must then be tested before a permanent license is granted.  

Do you have access to high quality motorcycling gear in your part of the world?
When I went out to buy my motorcycling gear, what I found was that getting good gear in a smaller size for women was a big issue. I had a huge struggle finding a a helmet that fit me snugly the way it’s supposed to. I would definitely like to see more reasonably priced brands made available in India for motorcycling women with their sizes kept in mind. Most women riders I know have to make do with gear from the men’s section, which does not really leave a lot of choice in terms of fit, design and preciseness in fit. 

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All gear all the time

Is there a local motorcycling event that you try and attend regularly?
There are a number of motorcycling events arranged in India. One of the most popular is the Valley Run, which is a drag racing event. There is also the Rider Mania event organised by Royal Enfield which has a number of competitive categories where you can display your racing skills and take part in fun games like lifting your motorcycle. They also have competitions for best custom bike, assembly wars, etc. I am looking forward forward to attending this event this year!

Are any motorcycle related sports popular where you live and do women actively participate in them?
Motorcycle stunting is something a lot of young women are now exploring in India. I think this trend has been made popular by a few reality TV shows based on the theme of motorcycle stunting.

How are women motorcycle riders treated by most people and by male motorcyclists?
I always get looks of immense intrigue whenever I ride. There is of course the admiration, curiosity and sometimes sheer disbelief that leads onlookers to stare, however women motorcyclists are an encouraged lot in India, with a number of clubs now opening up their memberships to them.   

Do female and male motorcyclists have the same amount of freedom to pursue motorcycling activities?
Female motorcyclists in my part of the world are still a growing group. Safety issues especially when travelling and riding alone is a matter of some concern. Women motorcyclists definitely have to put in extra effort to go out and pursue their passion from motorcycling, since it’s a concept that people are still not very used to here.  

SAMIKSHA RECOMMENDS

Books:  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Movies: Race to Dakar, Mondo Enduro, On Any Sunday
Blogs:  Steph-Moto, www.globalwomenwhoride.com , http://themotolady.com/
Female Motorcyclist: Steph Jeavons



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