Motorcycling alone is a challenge enough, isn’t it? Riding a motorcycle day in and day out comes with inherent risk. So being safe is a challenge. But being humans, and falling prey to our tendencies means that we get used to it. So we seek more. More adventure, more risk and in simpler terms, another challenge. That is what gave rise to racing. That is what gave rise to rallying. And that is what became the reason for this seemingly crazy ride- Ladakh in winter. So here’s the story of me conquering my inhibitions to finally do it but not without support from xBhp and JK Tyres, and the set of rubber they sent me- the #SmartTyre BLAZE RYDR.
Zahir Sheikh, fondly known as BikerBoyZahir, is one of the younger ones of the current crop of MotoVloggers. He is well known in the circuit for his rides and his penchant for exploring new places. With #xBhpJKSmartRides serving as his platform, he went on his dream ride to conquer Khardung La during winters! You can find out more about him on his YouTube channel linked here.
It is a great and noble idea and I have been looking to do a very specific ride for a while. So this platform became the perfect opportunity for me to finally bite the bullet. I went through the necessary steps and registered my interest to be an #xBhpJKSmartRider. Imagine my delight when I got a call from xBhp informing me that I was selected. And so it started- my aim of riding to Ladakh and reaching the Khardung La top was finally on track.
I had decided to save up all my energy for the daunting ride so I decided to rent a motorcycle in Leh. The tyres were already delivered to me in Kolkata so after all the necessary preparations, I was on my way to Leh. Throughout the journey, just the thought of the ride was making me all giddy but a little nervous too. I was looking at the tyres thinking what a rude shock they were in for but as it turns out, I was the one in for a surprise, a pleasant one.
If you are a passionate long-distance two-wheeler rider who loves to take pictures and videos, then we have created this platform called #xBhpJKSmartRides in association with JK Tyre just for you where we will provide you with the necessary support, including cash sponsorship and a set of #SmartTyres from JK Tyre, to enable you to go on your dream ride, while also testing and reviewing the new set of tyres and creating engaging motorcycling content to showcase it to the world. Know more about how you can be a #xBhpJKSmartRider by clicking here.
I reached Leh and went straight to pick up the motorcycle- a KTM 390 Duke. The JK Tyre BlAZE RYDR was a perfect fit as I got the tyres installed. The next was due to begin the next day but I wanted to get to know the tyres a bit better before embarking on this gruelling journey. So I rode around Leh and learned about the mannerisms of the tyres while breaking them in.
My initial impressions were very good as the tyres offered more than enough grip and felt very steady in a straight line. And these were brand new tyres, mind you, so it was an even more impressive feat. The KTM 390 Duke has got loads of grunt so putting that power down safely is paramount and the BLAZE RYDR from JK Tyre had absolutely no trouble in doing that. But the pièce de résistance was the prefix for these tyres- #SmartTyres. Let me tell you a little more about that.
SMART Tyre is an ingenious product from JK Tyre, which provides real-time information about the health of the tyres through smart sensors. All you have to do is to install the sensor while installing the tyre, install the SMART TYRE CAR & BIKE app, scan the code on the backside of the product box and you’re good to go. It is a very handy tech that not only goes a long way in enhancing the safety of riders but also the riding experience. After all, you are always in the know about the health of the tyres (pressure, temperature and the likes), you will always be better prepared to deal with any eventualities.
Finally, it was time to ride. The destination for the day was Pangong Tso. The famed lake is about 230 km away from Leh. It takes around 5 hours to get there if you maintain a decent pace. The ride is also a very beautiful one. But daunting too. I will address the elephant in the room first- the temperature. In Leh, the temperature is anywhere between -5°C to -15°C. That, my friends, is cold, very cold. And then Pangong Tso? It was frozen despite being saline so you can guess.
But I knew what I was in for when I thought of taking up this ride so I prepared myself to the best of my ability as rides like these can be very complicated and for more reasons than one. The chill is just one factor. Issues with the altitude, terrain, and the general difficulty of riding in a place like these among others. While I could prepare for nearly everything, dealing with the terrain was going to be tricky because, without the proper tools, it would be nearly impossible. I had the right tools in the form of the motorcycle and also, the tyres. BLAZE RYDR tyres of JK Tyre in their SMART TYRE avatar are a boon for a ride like this. More on that in a bit.
One of the best parts about the journey from Leh to Pangong Tso was riding alongside the river Indus. It is a majestic sight and it almost takes away the labours of a ride so tedious. Moving on, the roads on the route I took were mostly very well laid out except the occasionally damaged stretch because of the frequent landslides and other issues. While the roads are serpentine for the most part, the mountain roads come along as you inch closer to the lake.
While the KTM 390 Duke is a very capable motorcycle in this regard, without the right tyres and right knowledge, it can be tricky to deal with these bends. Since it was very cold, I needed to generate enough heat into the tyres for them to start gripping really well. While the soft compound of the tyres ensures quick warm-up, I also decided to run slightly lower pressure to increase the contact patch not only for more grip but for an even quicker warm-up. That, of course, is pretty easy to manage when you have help from SMART TYRE tech which not only lets you check the pressure but the temperature of the tyres as well.
Armed with the knowledge and confidence, I was able to maintain a respectable pace even in the sections with the tightest of bends in quick succession. But one must also be careful in tighter bends as it gets difficult to pre-meditate your reaction to a broken patch or some other inconsistency in the tarmac. I reached Pangong Tso and despite it being frozen, it is just a thing of beauty. After spending some time there, I went to the homestay I was scheduled to stay to be well-rested for the next day’s ride.
The great thing (and sometimes not so great) about these kinds of rides is your way of dealing with the difficulties. There are many, to be honest, but for the most part, a little preparation helps. Food, for example. Surviving of Maggi may not be ideal but meals are important when you are riding terrains like this and so, supplementing the food you can manage with something like Maggi can help. Anyway, my destination for Day 2 was Hunder. This route is two hundred and forty kilometres of really difficult riding. Since it was my second day here, I was also starting to feel the ill effects of the altitude. Not to mention, it was freezing cold. But I had a mission (that I chose to accept) and so, I decided to vary the intensity accordingly but keep at it nonetheless.
Including the breaks, this journey took nearly 7 hours to cover. The roads were pretty well laid out for the most part and the majority of it runs along the Shyok river. Apart from the general difficulties that are a part of a ride like this, it was good fun. I had already tested out the BLAZE RYDR tyres on the tarmac but this time, I also took the opportunity to do some mild off-roading. Despite not being meant for stuff like this, the BLAZE RYDR tyres hold their own even when off the tarmac. Hunder is a quaint little village on the banks of Shyok but if you wander around you find places that tell you why Nubra is called a high-altitude desert.
Despite the terrain being quite challenging in some places [mostly brought upon by my own (mis)adventures], the tyres didn’t fail to instil more faith in me in terms of their readiness for almost anything that this ride could throw at us. Add to that the clever monitoring enabled by the SMART TYRE technology and you find yourself much more comfortable and well-prepared for a ride even as extreme as this. My stay in Hunder may have been short but I spent a while around Hunder. Nubra has quite a bit to see and I was yet to visit the famed Nubra Valley. But that was to be done the next day and so, I decided to get some much-needed rest.
The next day was spent rather lazily as I had planned to explore Nubra at a leisurely pace. I could not do much anyway because to explore properly, I had to veer off the tarmac in quite a few places but it was all good fun anyway. The real deal was to happen the next day. I had to head back to Leh and in the process, scale Khardung La. A Ladakh ride and that too in winter is one of the most difficult rides one can take up. My goal, Khardung La, was even more arduous. In March, it can see temperatures up to -31°C. What I encountered (thankfully) was around -19°C. That is no mean feat either. I could not even imagine what the night temperature would be like.
Anyway, I started my ride slightly late in the morning to avoid the early morning cold. But the biggest problem was yet to come to the fore. While I was aware of black ice and the dangers it brings with it, I did not expect to fall so many times. Though I actively tried to ride as slow as possible as soon as I encountered even a hint of the lack of traction. It took me nearly 4 hours but finally, I was there. I had reached Khardung La and that too in bone-chilling cold. Low oxygen, high altitude, slight breathing troubles, quite a few falls and so much more; and yet, I did not bother about that for one bit as the feeling of being able to scale Khardung La is out of this world.
Finally, after drinking in the moment for a while, I decided to make my way to Leh. On my way to Leh, all I could think about was the thrill of being able to see through an extreme ride like this. But more than that, it made me think more and more about the next challenge. Not many may come close, but I’ll keep looking because that is what being a biker is all about.
Let’s talk about the tyres but even before that, the SMART Tyres from JK Tyre. This sophisticated tech with its rather simple execution is one of the best ways to enhance your riding experience. All that you need to do is to wrap the sensor around your tyre, install the TREELCARE app, scan the code on the backside of the product box and you are done. This ingenious technology not only makes your ride better but safer too. About the BLAZE RYDR tyres, I am all praises. The tyres offer very good straight-line stability and even in the series of corners that I encountered quite a few times in this trip, the tyres never lost their composure even in quick directional changes and amendments to the line while still being leaned over in the corner. While black ice is the ultimate villain and almost unassailable, another impressive aspect of the tyres was the wet grip. With its well thought out tread pattern, it dissipates water from under the tyre efficiently proving confidence-inspiring grip. With their performance in adverse conditions, I was quite sure of their performance in the dry and as expected they did not disappoint. Easily, these are one of the best tyres for a motorcycle like the KTM 390 Duke and even more so in their SMART TYRE avatar.