Riding a Motorcycle across India, rules & tips

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Riding a Motorcycle across India, rules & tips  - White plate with black lettering = All private vehicles (Free to travel anywhere in India)Yes that is me on the Harley but sadly it's not mine. Was an amazing ride though!
Riding a Motorcycle across India, rules & tips  - Red plate with white lettering = Temporary registrations on new vehicles.My good friends also on another Harley with temp tags.
Riding a Motorcycle across India, rules & tips  - White plate with black lettering = All private vehicles (Free to travel anywhere in India). Yep that's me putting the Harley through it's paces :)
Riding a Motorcycle across India, rules & tips  - Black plate with yellow lettering = Other private fleet services, vehicles on rent. (Need special state level permits or All India Permits)Me and a friend on a rental in Goa.
Riding a Motorcycle across India, rules & tips  - Yellow plate with black lettering = All commercial vehicles as well as some fleet taxi’s. Tourist Buses, state transport busses, taxis, rickshaws and goods vehicles. (Need special state level permits or All India Permits)

Riding a Motorcycle across India, rules & tips Reviews

RyanCorrea RyanCorr…
8 reviews
Challenges of Procuring & Riding a motorcycle around/across India Sep 07, 2011
Alright people let’s take it from the top

1)Nationality = Indian.

Possibility of riding across India = EXCELLENT but very, very, very, very, very few people even want to try it.

2)Nationality = Anything but Indian (the lighter skinned you are the worse it is)

Possibility of riding across India = Total crap to good yet a lot of people want to do it.

That said, why is there such a disparity between the Indians and foreigners? – Well in a nutshell, it’s the CULTURE, as much as there is an incredibly HUGE chunk of the Indian population that rides, it’s mostly local or between townships.

Few people ride across India for the pleasure and freedom it affords, even fewer have even heard of things like riding kit, panniers, saddle bags etc.

Helmets are at best a debatable issue used not out of an inherent interest at self preservation but worn purely because the law (where enforced, if at all) requires you to wear one.

This in a country where in some places potholes are the rule rather than the exception and cattle randomly parked in the middle of an expressway is totally normal. Kids playing cricket on a busy street with traffic zipping past is completely acceptable and almost expected here :)

Up unto just a few years ago the only motorcycles available were 100 cc and anything else had to be imported from overseas and those came at a hefty price with the import duty standing at close to 350% of the cost including the shipping cost which is also taxed. Thus the big bikes were/are the toys of the super rich.

Things have changed though not significantly. There are a lot of fantastic bikes around but you see them mostly at night. One of the reasons for that is because a lot of them are 'imported' into the country and the paperwork is not 100% clear. In other words someone at customs looked the other way and therefore the customs clearence papers aren't available in case you're asked for the same.

Bigger and better bikes are available though import duty is still at a very healthy 250%. Legally buying a good bike here (400+cc) will cost an arm and a leg.

But I digress so back to the point

Challenge no.1: WHICH BIKE?

What’s available - Most bikes you see in India will be well within the 100 - 180cc range. These are not only affordable but in a lot of cases seriously cheap to purchase for the foreign tourist and they are excellent where mileage is concerned. Just so you know the largest engine capacity being sold and readily purchased is 250cc. Apart from that you can procure the recent high end market entrants of Ducati, Harley Davidson, Honda and Yamaha, true sports bikes for the price of which you could actually buy a small house somewhere.

The smaller bikes are sturdy and can be thrashed all across the country and are serviceable almost anywhere you can imagine. Also take note that motorcycles are not allowed on the expressways that connect major cities in some places so you will have to travel on the older, longer and not as well maintained highways.


November – February = Probably the best season to be riding with cooler climes during the Indian ‘WINTER’

March – June = Dry, dusty and scorching heat depending on location. The Indian summer that can get seriously crazy hot the further you go away from the coast with temperatures sometimes hitting the upper forties.

July - October = (ARE YOU FRICKING KIDDING ME) Total crap for long rides if you intend travelling across India as this is the monsoon season and pretty much the worst time to be on a two wheeler in India, especially if it is anything more than local travel. On a good day the traffic is insane at best. On the highways and in the rain especially for those unfamiliar with the way Indians 'DRIVE', it's just plain suicide for a tourist unless you're travelling with a local or with a group.

Also please note that medical services can and often do take up to 20 minutes at the very least to get to you in an emergency and this is just in the city. Out on the highways….well you’re on your own! Add to that the fact that few first response vehicles even have trained paramedics as part of the crew. An ambulance normally consists of a driver and a loader to haul, drag, pull or push you unceremoniously into the vehicle and cart your arse to the nearest 'government run hospital'.

Challenge no 3: OWNERSHIP

For an Indian who owns a bike no problem. Pack up, suit up, load up and take off. As a foreigner, not so easy since you need to have local proof of permanent residence or a long stay work visa to even begin the process of getting a vehicle of any sort. For a foreigner buying a bike is pretty hard to do though not impossible.

Proof of address and registration of the bike in India can be ‘sorted out’- here's how:

You can befriend and strike a deal with a local who is willing to buy a bike for you (with YOUR money of course) and then you sell the bike to the same person upon leaving India so that you recover some of the cost of the bike and your new/old friend gets a slightly used motorcycle at a great price which you can agree upon. Problem solved. Also since it’s already in his/her name you just drop off the keys and leave, no more paper work.

Well that said it can take anywhere from a week to a few months to get delivery and complete all formalities depending on the bike chosen, it’s popularity and thus the waiting period for the same.


This explains the need for the above scenario. India has a lot of different states each with their own unique registration number plates for vehicles and transport authority check posts at all borders. This is apart from security checks for octroi, excise, smuggled goods and just general security checks. More importantly the number plates are color coded and that is where the problem lies.

White plate with black lettering = All private vehicles (Free to travel anywhere in India)

Yellow plate with black lettering = All commercial vehicles as well as some fleet taxi’s. Tourist Buses, state transport busses, taxis, rickshaws and goods vehicles. (Need special state level permits or All India Permits)

Black plate with yellow lettering = Other private fleet services, vehicles on rent. (Need special state level permits or All India Permits)

Red plate with white lettering = Temporary registrations on new vehicles.

Plates with CD or CC in the lettering = embassies and consulates respectively.

Number plates for Defense and allied forces = Special insignia indicating army/navy/air force vehicles.

OH YEAH MOST IMPORTANTLY - White person on bike in India, sure as hell you're being stopped at every border check post to see if all your papers are in order :)

I’ve attached pictures of all for reference with the exception of the embassy, consulate and defense which I shall add add as I get my own pictures of the same.

Most importantly you cannot rent a bike and ride across India as there are no rental agencies that do the same. In fact there are probably just a handful of companies that you can even hire a self drive car from and even then at really steep rates.

Bike rentals are a localized deal and any vehicle being used for commercial purpose have different colored number plates as described above. The minute you try to leave the state boundary you will be stopped at one of the numerous check posts and asked to produce the papers. There are operators offering bike tours but none that cover all of India. They are restricted to one state or just a couple of neighboring ones if at all.

Rental bikes with a black plate with yellow lettering will be stopped and not allowed to proceed further. Therefore rental bikes cannot go across borders and they are not an option.

As explained earlier if you are on a private vehicle (even if it’s not registered in your name) you can travel freely so long as all the papers are in order and you can answer any questions thrown at you and if necessary back it up with a phone call to the owner. It’s rare that you will be questioned this much but it’s just a precaution to ensure that it’s not a stolen vehicle.

There have been a few instances where drunken tourists have tried to ride from Goa to where ever and have been stopped at the border. Only rental agencies that have ‘All India Permits’ for their cars can travel freely across the country or within the states that the permit has been taken for.

A license is not too much of an issue for foreigners and you can pretty much ride on your international driver’s license though it makes a lot of sense to get a local permit for a long trip/stay especially if travelling across the country.

Unless you get into a serious bender not much happens that can’t be magically wiped away :) There are no categories for a bike license. One size fits all. Even if you just got a license today for a ‘Geared Motorcycle’ you can immediately hop onto a 1200cc bike and ride away irrespective of wheather you can handle that kind of power or not.

That’s the only diff between ‘Geared and Non geared’ with the non geared being anything less than 50cc.

That said India is a great place to ride and the Royal Enfield Bullet clubs are great places to get into for an epic ride if riding is your passion. As someone who loves riding I feel it’s probably one of the best ways to get around in this congested country apart from the trains.

This review is by no means exhaustive and 100% complete in terms of accuracy or information but it is a general overview of things so if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me on the same. Happy riding :)
White plate with black lettering =…
Yellow plate with black lettering …
Black plate with yellow lettering …
Red plate with white lettering = T…
7 / 7 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
kartik says:
This is such a great review, Ryan. So much useful information. Any particular routes you would suggest? Or any routes to be avoided? I guess that Mumbai to Kolkata is a common one. Thanks very much!
Posted on: Oct 11, 2015
lena-z says:
I'm wondering how current the review is. I googled and there are a few companies offering bike rentals with all the accessories/equipment. So emailed one of the companies, and now waiting for a reply to get all the details. Thank you for the post though, very informative and I hope since 2011 the things have shifted toward friendlier foreign riders.
Posted on: Jul 21, 2015
amyttoomer says:
Nice Post. A lot of information.

But one more point I want to know that except necessary document (e.g. RC, DL, POC, Insurance) what else we require for a tour in different states of India to become tension free form Police persons of different states. Any NOC or Bills or anything else or extra document for pillion? If any please suggest me.
Also I am planing for a trip in summer vacation in month of May from Hyderabad to Delhi via costal region (about 5000 Km). Also looking for the groups and members to join the trip. So what is your opinion about the trip? Please reply.
Posted on: Jan 21, 2015
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