Cake
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    • So my brother, who is a mad cyclist and 68 years old,, sent me an email in April this year about a cycling tour from Manali to Leh (Ladakh, India) over what are claimed to be the highest motorable roads in the world.

      The conversation went something like this.

      Him: "Fancy doing this?" (Adds link to bike company tour)

      Me: "Sure, when"

      Him: "September"

      Me: "Okay"

      And that was pretty much it. At the age of 64 and as a sporadic only cyclist I had just flippantly agreed to ride off into a region that I couldn't locate on a map, up to altitudes that were beyond anything I'd experienced before. What was it Baldy said in this thread about not thinking things through...?

      So in September this year we both flew into Delhi from our respective parts of the globe and off we went.

      If anyone out there is interested, I'll write up a few posts on how we went and post up some pics of our adventures. (this photo credit, Raj)

    • Yes exactly right Chris. Hard tail mountain bike is probably the ideal tool for the job. Old farts is right. The young guy in the picture is Raj - our guide, lovely person and Indian downhill mountain bike champ as well! This picture taken on the lower slopes of the Rohtang pass on the first day out from Manali where the country is lush. After the Rohtang the terrain gets progressively dryer as you will see.

    • The first thing to know about India is that the traffic is crazy and that the horn is the most essential piece of equipment on any vehicle. Basically, a toot on the horn means I'm passing you whatever the circumstances, so get ready for anything. Not ideal for cyclists but you have to know your place in the grand scheme of things.

      Manali is not easy to get to so we had a day and a half in a minivan travelling from Delhi to get dialled into the local road rules or lack thereof. Amazingly nobody seems to get too bothered by things that would end with a punch up in Oz or maybe a gunfight in the US.

    • The biggest challenge of this ride is acclimatisation to altitude - and Manali to Leh is definitely the right direction for making the adjustment as easy as possible - each pass gets successively higher and each campsite was carefully planned to make the climbing more manageable and to sleep as low as possible each night.

      After 2 days acclimatisation in Manali at around 2050 metres (6400ft) we set off up the Rohtang pass and camped around 3600 metres for the night before going over the 4000 metre Rohtang the next morning

    • I'm definitely interested in hearing more. I did Manali to Leh and back in July with a small group of friends, but we rode Royal Enfields. I can't imagine trying to do that as a cycling trip. The altitude must have made riding so difficult.

      And I can totally relate to making a commitment without really knowing what you were getting into. I had never ridden a motorcycle on public roads (or even off road) before starting that trip - not something I would recommend to anyone. I had a great time, but there were definitely some scary moments.

    • Altitude and Gradients

      Contrary to what the ride profile pic might suggest, the gradients on the Manali-Leh road are generally not that steep. The roads were built by the military (I would guess to a particular design brief) and are still heavily used by them as evidenced by regular truck convoys. Most of the gradients are 5-8% I would guess, which is a mercy for cycling at such altitude. On the flipside the ascents are very long - so you just have to grind away and keep it all together for long periods. Just breathe and spin and try not to go 'red'. Non of us had any problems on the Rohtang at 13,000 feet but we all had bad days later.

      Grinding away.

    • Oh, for sure. Somehow we were not aware of all the unpaved sections. There were things all along the way that were difficult for me. Ruts that I had trouble getting out of and water crossings were probably the most nerve-wracking for me.

      I'd had a total of about 8 hours on a motorcycle (all in a parking lot) prior to the trip. I got my license in mid-March and didn't get to ride again until July when I was in Manali! So my introduction to riding in traffic was on the opposite side of the road just a couple hours after completing an 18-hour journey from New Dehli. But I did well, all things considered.

      I got some good photos. I'm alive and I'm happy I went.

    • Wow, wgoodey, I have always dreamed of doing that ride, either on a bicycle or Royal Enfield. Welcome to Cake. ๐Ÿ˜ Let's see some pics!

      To both of you, especially @Aspad on a bicycle, I just can't imagine breathing up there. Hiking up Whitney a couple times when I was super fit was hard and that is 4,000' lower. I guess the acclimation must work if you give it enough time?

      ๐Ÿ“ท: 11 soulful reasons to travel to Ladakh

    • Breathing can be difficult up on the high passes, especially if it's windy. We didn't spend much time stopped at any of the passes because of that - basically just enough time to get some pictures before heading out again. I never had any trouble while riding, but that was probably a very different experience than if you're cycling... I was always amazed by those people. You do get acclimated but (for us at least) the passes were still hard. I'm curious to hear if cycling it gives you enough time to be okay with the air up at Khardungla.

      This picture is from the day we went from Leh to Pangong Lake - we took a minibus rather than riding, since we came back the same day. It's one of my favorites from the trip.

    • Hi Chris,

      Yes careful acclimatisation is the key. Increase the maximum altitude slowly each day (see profile pic of the route) and then sleep as low as possible. We did okay generally but I had a rough day over a couple of the middle passes (Nakeela and Lachalang).

      As I said in the another post the key it not to go too hard - just keep the breathing under control and spinning a low gear. On the odd occasion when I had to go hard e.g. standing to ride over rough terrain or get out of the way of truck traffic at pinch points - I really felt like I was hyperventilating and it took a good minute to get the breathing back under control.

      BTW we had very different conditions from your pic by the time we got to the top of the Khardung La (see pic) and one of our group got mild hypothermia (in about 10 minutes) on the way down in snow/sleet. Look closely at my hands in the pic and you see I'm wearing a pair BMW winter motorbike gloves (+ innner) ready for the descent. A bit of good moto gear was very useful :-)

    • I was talking to my wife a while ago, and we were both really glad that we didn't have to deal with any snow. I'm sure that would have been above my experience level. July is the warmest part of the year there, and that was perfect for us. We also only had one day with any real rain. I'm impressed that you did it in the snow.

      Here's a photo from our camp in Jispa.

    • That is truly amazing. This is one of those pics-or-it-didn't happen moments because it seems so unfathomable to me that two old guys who aren't serious bicyclists could do that. Talk about an adventure you'll remember forever with max bragging rights. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

      But then again, Runner's World shocked me this morning by pointing out that a 70-year-old woman just ran 3:28 for the Chicago Marathon, and a 61-year-old woman went 3:12. Staying fit is an incredible thing.

    • Okay time for me to finish this thread off and sorry for the delay.

      So I've more or less given away the punchline with the photo from the top of the khardung La. We made it, and that was a pretty hard day out - especially with the weather deteriorating to snow on the lumpiest dirt section at the top. The descent was long, snowy, sleety and, eventually, wet.

      To be honest though I did not enjoy the Khardung La as much as other parts of the 500 kms + ride, and not just because of the weather. Because it is so famous, and close to Leh, the KL has a fair bit of traffic. Also, for us it was an out and back 'add on' after completing our Manali - Leh journey. Having said that, we were as well acclimatized and fit as we would ever be in attempting it after all the other riding we had done.

      We had a sting in the tail when Leh airport got shutdown by the bad weather and we were delayed 30 hours getting out. We were lucky though because all the passes we had ridden in the previous week were closed by the blizzards. Our poor guide crew could not drive back to Manali for over a week because the passes were snowed up!

      Overall, this was a great cycling journey and I'm very glad I did it.

      Likes.

      Great scenery, lovely people, good food and great camping locations, challenging but rewarding cycling.

      Dislikes

      Indian traffic (advise not doing this in peak season), vehicle exhaust pollution.

      We booked the tour through Redspokes in the UK who seem to specialise in 'far flung' location cycling. Our local guides were brilliant and did everyting for us except ride the bikes. See our recommendations on the Redspokes trip page.

      https://www.redspokes.co.uk/cycling-holidays/testimonials.php?c=10&t=5

      Finally, my favourite trip picture after a 25 kms climb. Joy after suffering. As it says on the sign, 'Unbelievable is not it ?'

    • We didn't get any fatterer on the trip๐Ÿ˜€ Wasn't for lack of trying either....

      Good way to lose some flab - sadly it comes back pretty damn quick๐Ÿ˜ž

    You've been invited!