The genesis of this post lies in a recent conversation with a fellow motorcyclist, who just set off on a tour across India. Nadit was in Delhi, preparing for his Ladakh adventure, when he had called me to ask whether he should fit a Ladakh carrier onto his Royal Enfield Classic 350. I remember having grappled with same dilemma before I did my trip to the mountains. So, I thought I would go ahead and jot down my thoughts on the subject. Hopefully, this rant will come of some use to someone else puzzled by the same question.
The Ladakh Carrier is a luggage carrier designed for Royal Enfield motorcycles (other than the Himalayan, of course) that fits onto the rear of the bike (pillion seat and beyond), i.e. the grid of black rods that form a carrier in the image of my bike above. These carriers are an after-market accessory (you cannot buy them from Royal Enfield itself).
You can carry more –
A Ladakh Carrier is meant to enable you to load a lot more onto your Royal Enfield and it definitely achieves that purpose. If you’re on a tour where you need to carry your home with you (i.e. not only your clothes and essentials, but also spares and tools for the bike, camping gear, a tent, sleeping bag, additional fuel, drinking water, and god only knows what else) then this is likely to come in handy. It’s hard to find a place for even half of these things on the rear seat of your motorcycle. You can tie things up on the sides, on the back and even in the loop at the back (as long as it doesn’t cover your brake lights). And then you can pop a whole lot more across your back seat as well, which would have otherwise been your only luggage carrying space. If you don’t own saddlebags, it will make a more significant difference to how much you can carry.
Liquids, no problem –
The little space at the rear on each side are meant for 5-litre jerry cans. Carrying liquids on a fully loaded bike can prove to be quite a challenge and this serves as a simple and handy way to deal with your additional fuel and water needs.
In reality, unless you manage to find jerrycans that fit perfectly (i.e. without getting squeezed when placed in this space) you can only fill it a little over half-way in order for stuff to not overflow. Poor quality jerry cans also tend to leak near the lid, and spill their contents anyway. I learnt the hard way and eventually just used old water bottles to carry my additional fuel. I did put those bottles into the space where the jerrycans would otherwise go, so the carrier still proved to be useful.
Supporting the saddlebags –
If you own saddlebags, you are likely to be able to fit them into the side racks. I use the Dirtsack Longranger Pro, and it fits just right (after removing the detachable internal rigid lining). I know that the ViaTerra Leh fits in too. If you’re using anything else, it’s a good idea to check that it is compatible.
Now, why get a Ladakh Carrier if you already own saddlebags? The only reason that I can think off is that your saddlebags when placed in the carrier will also be supported from below. Saddlebags are usually problem-free when you’re riding on smooth roads, but on the mountain passes, there is a lot of tossing and bobbing around, which increases the stress on the straps. With the carrier on, there will be no stress or strain on the straps thereby effectively doing away with any chances of any breakage. It’s just a more cautious approach.
The Tarpaulin Wrap –
When riding on slushy roads, a lot more muck is thrown up onto your luggage from your rear wheel than from the outer sides. A freshly lubed or greased chain can also make quite a mess of the inner-side of your luggage. Since it isn’t easy to wash bags while on tour, I like to wrap my luggage with tarpaulin from underneath as well as the top (as in the picture below). It is easier to create such a cocoon of protection with a carrier because it significantly reduces the risk of the tarpaulin coming undone or loosening and ending up in your wheels or chain.
Fall Protection –
This is not a tested benefit, but it’s fairly logical any way. Since the Ladakh Carrier protrudes out to the side of your bike, it acts as additional fall protection. If you do drop your bike, the body itself is unlikely to hit the ground because the carrier will do so first. Between the crash guard up front and the carrier at the back, it may also prevent the weight of the bike falling on you.
It isn’t ridiculously expensive –
In the scheme of things, it doesn’t cost a fortune. In Delhi you might be able to find one as cheap as INR 1200. In Bombay, they are a bit more expensive and range between INR 1800 to INR 3000. There are different qualities of carriers though, which are not easy to tell apart. It’s a good idea to re-inforce the welding near all the joints, as a matter of caution.
Probably the least important in this list, but relevant to some people, it makes your bike look like it means business. It adds a touring flavour to the look of your bike that remains even when your luggage isn’t with you.
Adds weight –
The carrier isn’t exactly light and it changes the weight distribution across the bike. This is noticeable in the way she handles, but more so when you try to get it onto the centre stand. It requires a bit more effort.
The protrusions to the sides need a little getting used to, particularly when you’re trying to cut through traffic. If you’re used to riding with saddlebags then the difference is only marginal. The real challenge is parking. Enfield usually require a larger parking spot than commuter bikes, and now you will need even more space.
Covering up the brake light –
This is really only an issue on the Thunderbird. The rear portion of the rack (above the brake light) hangs a bit low. So when it is loaded up, the brake light becomes a bit less visible. I’d recommend adding reflective tape on the rear of the rack to make your bike more noticeable from the rear in darkness.
I haven’t noticed a quality standard across these products because they are made by local manufacturers. As a result, some carriers hold up better than the others. I’ve seen welds break quite easily on some Ladakh Carriers.
Installation and Removal –
While the system of installations and removal itself is not very complex, because of the fact that these carriers are not built with precision, and because they need to be fitted onto a Royal Enfield the task can be quite taxing. So if you plan to use it on an on-and-off basis, you should know that you’ll need to set aside time for putting it on and removing it, and also find a capable person who knows how to do it.
On the whole, given the utility that they offer, I think Ladakh Carriers are a good idea for anyone looking to do a serious motorcycle tour on a Royal Enfield. If you do ride a Royal Enfield a Ladakh Carrier is a privilege that you should make the most of (subject to you being okay with the additional weight, of course).