South India Road Trip - Chennai Motorcycle Rental
Updated: Mar 17, 2019
It started innocently. After a successful off road adventure in southern Laos last year, the question was 'where to next?' An image of India came to mind and Astried thought it sounded great. I mused about buying or renting classic Royal-Enfield 500 Bullets. The date, Dec. 2017 into Jan. 2018, was agreed and I started to research.
The obvious first step was to check for the best weather. Starting with average rainfall and closely followed by average temperature, Tamil Nadu and Kerala came out winners. Both states would normally experience hot, dry weather during that period.
I had no difficulty finding heaps of Royal-Enfields for sale. They are manufactured in Chennai and the market is full of them. But the prospect of organizing the successful purchase of two bikes seemed challenging – to say the least - without being on the ground. Why not rent? The only place I could find to rent on the east coast of India was Chennai Motorcycle Rental. I scanned the extensive array of motorcycles on the website, focusing on Enfields and sent the link to Astried for her consideration. Her first question was “what is the seat height.” At nearly 2m, this is a more important consideration for her than me. The Enfield was low and unappealing in her opinion.
While I pondered this, I could not help but returning to the KTM Duke 200. There were two available. This was more Astried's style and the seat height was slightly higher than her current Honda CBF.
I emailed to ask about both bikes and this turned into a wonderful back and forth over the course of several months with Vicky – the owner. I told him our rough plans and asked about the Enfield versus the KTM. His response was clear. “There is no comparison. KTM is better technology, lighter, more horsepower and better brakes. The ride is nimble and the bike is more reliable.”
When I conveyed this to Astried, she replied: “KTM. Carry on.” So I sent Vicky a deposit and confirmed our dates. Oddly, the KTM Duke 200 was less expensive than the Enfield and combined with the 28-day discount, it made for an even easier decision.
From August through November, Vicky probably tired of my email dribs and drabs, but I could never tell from the responses. He answered quickly and always provided useful information. Some of our emails were social, like me checking that the October flooding in Chennai had not impacted him. Others were straightforward: how to get a SIM card, which hotels nearby are decent for a night, is there a spare parts kit, etc. These small but important details that, if taken care of before departure, make it easier to get on the road quickly.
Vicky assured me he would take care of everything, from arranging SIM cards (requires the new Indian Aadhaar biometric identity card) to sending someone to meet us at the airport. In November, Vicky sent a message asking if it would be okay if he upgraded us to the KTM Duke 250 at no additional charge. Okay? Are you kidding me? Of course! He even texted a welcome our first night to make sure his employee met us and all was well. We were impressed.
So when we finally walked into the office, I was a little surprised that he was not there. His staff were super friendly and had everything prepared. They assured me he was on the way and we filled out the forms and checked the bikes. Soon enough, Vicky walked in. His smile and good humour was infectious. He was happy, his staff were happy and we were happy by extension.
He dispatched a few tasks before taking us on walk to sort out the ATM issue. One, two, three machines refused Astried's card, so we decided to go for chai. Chai is a ritual that must be observed as frequently as possible every day and provides a chance to chat. We learned the motorcycle rental is his second business and he hardly goes to the office. He has a good team that runs it smoothly and he focuses on his primary business – engineering and construction. But he was interested to meet us, hence his presence. We were thrilled he did. He proved an invaluable source of information.
We decided the best approach was for Astried to pay the rental fee with her credit card and we would use the cash I intended to pay the rental for daily expenses. A simple flip-flop. The credit card was approved and I asked Vicky where to find the best place to change money.
“You must be careful with these people,” he told, “they never give you the best rate.” He jumped on the phone and made some calls.
“How much do you want to change?”
“I'm not sure. Should I change it all now or along the way?”
“Better to change now as the rates will not be as good in the countryside.”
So I gave his employee a pile of Ben Franklins and off he went. He was gone quite a while before showing up with a wad of Indian rupees that filled a pocket in my backpack. He went a little further for the best rate – which was considerably better than the banks offered.
Vicky pulled out a bag with all the spare parts I requested: throttle and clutch cables, chain links, spark plugs, fuses, etc. It was all there. He had purchased chains to lock the wheels in response to an earlier exchange regarding security. One of his employees installed the SIM cards in our phones and checked that they worked properly and we were connected to Vicky. Fantastic service.
But the coup de grace was delivered just as we were getting ready to go.
“My guy will lead you to the beginning of the East Coast Highway,” he said and our guide appeared beside us on a bike.
We thanked Vicky profusely for the amazing service. He smiled and said he would be there when we returned to share more stories. Looking forward to seeing our new friend again, we took off into the crazy Chennai traffic chasing our guide.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 2017, we set out from Chennai, India, aboard a pair of KTM Duke 250 motorcycles. For twenty-eight days and more than 2,600km we explored rural Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Few foreigners ride the back roads of southern India and we certainly attracted a lot of attention. From chai stall stares to school children cheers and even newspaper coverage, here are a few tales of our experience.