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Advice for the foolish: 16,000 km around India on a Honda 125

31 May 2016

Septuagenarian Simon Gandolfi shares his advice and experiences from his trip around India on a Honda 125 motorbike.

Simon Gandolfi has taken solo travel to extremes
Simon Gandolfi has taken solo travel to extremes

A sweet young heifer (strawberry blonde, soulful eyes) kicks me off my bike in a small town in Madhya Pradesh. Liberal guilt and relief conflict as I am conducted directly through the crowded waiting room to the trauma specialist. 

The doctor examines my x-rays: the broken ribs will heal themselves; ditto a badly bruised shoulder joint and the cricket-ball sized elbow. No drugs, nothing.

Surely a little advice?

“Yes,” he says, “Take the bus next time....”

Travelling light

Yet on I ride, foolish and indefatigable: Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, back north to New York, two extensive explorations of the Indian subcontinent, in all nearly 80,000 miles since my 73rd birthday and always on the smallest of motorcycles, a 125.

Fall and I couldn't lift a heavier bike and there is a loss of dignity in having to plead for help. Luggage is equally light. A hardshell wheelie suitcase bungee-rubbered to the pillion, a small waterproof backpack and a magnetically attached tank bag for documents and valuables. Keys on  a chain fastened to the tank bag is a sensible precaution for the absent-minded.

No need for heavy biker leathers. Cold weather, add layers: three pairs of thermal underwear and good chinos beneath three pairs of Walmart's rainproof trousers; same for the top half where a newspaper or two across the chest defeats the severest wind chill; if you have money, spend it on gloves. 

Don't fancy going it alone? Read our guide to riding with a pillion. 

Taking the less travelled paths

I ride in an open face helmet. People can see what I am, elderly, harmless, impecunious, perhaps a little eccentric; certainly an unworthy target for footpads or highwayman. Colombian bandits at the head of a pass will offer me a bowl of hot soup.

Beware Guidebook Land with it's multinational gap-year infestation. Motherly middle-aged women are best guides to a family hotel, twice as clean, half the price and frequented by the nationals of the country through which you travel.

Portly gentleman in good suits know the best restaurants. 

For quality at rock bottom prices ask a married cab driver where he'd take an illicit girlfriend the day before pay day – such was my route in southern Chile to a paradisical fish stew and a jug of good red for $1.25.

Guide to buying your first motorbike. 

Some practical tips

A powerful pocket flash-light with a flat base offers insurance against electricity cuts; stand it upright, bounce the light off the ceiling and you can see what you are eating or read in bed. We all fall off so your camera must be shockproof. 

Quinine is effective against cramps; antiseptic cream is essential and apply it liberally. 

My greatest fear, that the ATM will devour my credit card. And for those who’s balance is questionable, beware the night-time bathroom trek across slippery floors.  

Showing respect and courtesy to officialdom is repaid with kindness – such has been my experience in crossing frontiers. And consult the local police as to road conditions and areas of danger.

Read more about Simon's travels around the world on his Honda 125. 

Dress appropriately… or not

A long ride and your body shape changes; sagging bellies develop muscle.  

Don't be tempted to exchange your braces for a belt - as did I when attending a cocktail party in Assam, the only foreigner and seated in a deep armchair, glass in one hand, plate of nibbles in the other. I rise to be introduced to an important dowager. Stomach muscles tighten. Down fall the trousers. 

A grandmother the far side of the room sweetly calls, “Don't worry, Simon. At your age you don't have much left to hide...”

But enough of warnings, head out on to the open road. Keep well, ride safe and remember: It is never too late to be a teenager...

© simon gandolfi


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.