It was one of the most educational and gratifying days I’ve ever had on a motorcycle. And to think, I almost never did it! The Triumph Tiger Trail Splendid Spiti customer ride I was a part of had begun only a day before in Shimla and it wasn’t long before that we escaped the crowded, smoky confines of the city and broke free into the beauty of rural Himachal Pradesh. A full day of riding along spectacularly tall mountain roads later brought us to our first overnight halt of Sangla.
With a day to kill in the same place the next day, ride leader and rally legend Vijay Parmar (the man behind the mad Raid de Himalaya event, among many other things) gave us a couple of choices. Either we could go on a scenic ride towards the China border, which wasn’t too far, or we could take on a hardcore off-road trail in the vicinity that Vijay had only heard of, but never personally attempted.
A milder section of the mighty trail at Sangla. What an experience this was!
The trail sounded tempting, but the freshness of the brand-new Tiger 800 XCx that Triumph had entrusted me with and my very average off-road skills had me leaning towards the safer option. “Oh come on, if you can’t handle it, we’ll park the bike up on the side and you can hop into the Thar”. Vijay has an uncanny knack for getting things done, and those words had done the job; let’s go try something new!
Fifteen minutes of tarmac riding later, we arrived at the start of an ominously steep-looking dirt trail. Only eight of the 18 riders on this event elected to tackle this trail and we were all stopped at the start by Vijay. Instructions were handed out to remove the rubbers from our foot pegs (for maximum grip), rear ABS to be deactivated (better control under downhill braking) and traction control to be turned off, because it simply wouldn’t give us the drive we’d need on this steep slope.
Daily blood pressure and oxygen level checks.
Before we embarked on the ascent, Vijay had a few words of advice. Holding onto a big bike like this is done using the knees; your hands are only used to provide steering inputs, and the grip on the bar should be light enough to let the steering move about and absorb impacts on the front wheel. This theory was applied judiciously for the rest of the ride and I now have two bald patches on the inner side of either knee. Job well done, then.
Perhaps the most valuable information was what to do when you find yourself in a situation where, for whatever reason, you can’t keep the climb going. The instinctive thing to do when you stall on an uphill is to hold onto the front brake and clutch-in. But this is a very bad idea because the bike will simply start sliding backwards and you really don’t want to be in that situation on a 230kg beast. Instead, let the engine stall and don’t clutch-in – the bike will hold itself on the incline with the engine in gear. Then you repeatedly pull and release the clutch lever to gradually roll the bike back down to a point where you feel comfortable enough to start the engine and attempt the climb again. It’s a technique that saved my skin (or rather, the bike’s shiny new panels) at least twice that day.
A lesson in how to lean, even on slippery wet grass.
Halfway up the trail, we stopped for a breather. Here, Vijay took the opportunity to teach us some low-speed manoeuvres – look at the image of him leaning his Tiger over with nearly full steering lock on wet grass! We also learnt how lowering the tyre air pressure and tweaking the adjustable front suspension (only on the XC models) can make such a huge difference on terrain like this. After this, the big 21-inch front wheel just breezed over the kind of rocks that would normally have me wincing in fear. It really was eye-opening how capable the Tiger can be when you know what you’re doing.
The bikes had their routine checks too.
A challenging two hours later, five bikes managed to get to the top and it was such a thrilling feeling to make it there. We’d climbed nearly 2,000ft in altitude, on a path strewn with scary, large rocks, multiple stretches of slush and ruts deep enough that once you are in, you’re not getting out. I can’t remember the last time I felt such a deep sense of achievement wash over me. Especially since I was among the very few who didn’t drop their bike, not just on that day, but for the entirety of the trip. Long legs, thank you!
Heated grips are such a luxury when riding in soaking wet and near-frigid conditions.
Over the next few days, we rode across the magical high-altitude landscape that makes up the Spiti Valley and the Tiger made for an incredible partner throughout. This was the first time I’ve ridden the new 800 XCx and it was comfy in the easy bits, incredibly capable in the fast dirt sections and cosseting in the difficult times. The last bit was especially true on the last day of the ride from Kaza to Spiti where we braved near-frigid temperatures, incessant rain, washed-out roads and nearly two hours of riding through intimidating, deep slush.
Through all this, the fairly street-oriented Bridgestone Battlewing tyres didn’t shake my confidence and I now intimately understand the value of heated grips and a tall windscreen. The one thing I didn’t like was a complaint I have with all Tigers – when you stand on the pegs, your knees invariably make contact with the rounded section of the bike’s frame and this gets quite uncomfortable. Having a flat section to grip with the knees would be much nicer. Regardless, it is now clear to me that the 800 XCx is the model to have across Triumph’s entire adventure range currently available in India.
You always see incredible things in the mountains. This dog had his own harness and was touring with his owner. He seemed to be loving it too!
Riding any motorcycle through this life-affirming region is always special, but what makes the Tiger Trail even more so is the man behind the event. Vijay Parmar is a veteran of this incredible, yet unforgiving landscape, and while this is more of a tour than a training event, you will still come back with invaluable lessons on how to properly use and enjoy your big ADV machine
I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have enjoyed this bike half as much in this terrain if I hadn’t learned the tricks of how to manage it, and I think the same applies to everyone on the trip. A lot of the owners were in their forties, some even in their fifties, but they all got their bikes through to the end and that’s really something to be proud of. If you own or are planning to own a Triumph Tiger (or a Bonneville Street Scrambler), you really owe it to yourself to sign up for one of the many Tiger Trail events that Triumph India organises in different regions over the calendar year. You’ll come back with an enriched set of riding skills, vastly higher confidence and, of course, an unforgettable experience.