Saturday, October 19, 2013

Interview: Jay Kannaiyan

Who are you?
The name's Jay, DR Jay. Not doctor, but Dualsport Rider ;) Born in India but raised in Zambia, I was a nomad from the get go. Home isn't really a place for me but more a state of mind. I came back to India to finish up at a boarding school in the south and then went to the States for engineering.

When did you first get interested in bikes?
I used to vacation at my parents' villages outside Chennai and got hooked on feeling the wind in my face while standing up in front of scooters and then eventually had my first lessons on my uncle's Hero Honda. But it was in the US, at Purdue, where I got really interested. I was part of a college engineering team, Formula SAE, that designed and built a mini race car using a 600cc motorcycle engine to compete against other colleges. Almost everyone on the team had sportbikes and being the test driver for the team over the summer really got me hooked on the power and thrill of high performance machines.

What was your first bike you ever owned?
I had an internship in South Florida and was set on finding an old 600cc Japanese sportbike to learn on. During my search, I came across this red 1995 Ducati 900SS at the back of a shop and asked the owner to fire her up. The ear-gasm that followed made me scrounge up whatever funds I had, doubling my budget for this first bike, and I promptly bought it. But, I was too scared to ride it! I sold it at the end of that summer and bought a more proper first bike, a 1992 Suzuki GS500 and learned how to ride on her around the vast campus of Texas A&M. Then I got a job in Chicago and after repeatedly hitting the redline in every gear on the GS500, I plonked down for a brand new 2004 Suzuki GSX-R600, which eventually racked up 80,000 kms by touring all over the US and taking in a few track days.

Jay rode the GSX-R for 5 years all over North America racking up almost 50K miles
What was the first real trip you and your bike took?
My first real motorcycle trip was a four-day ride from Chicago to the backroads of Arkansas. I mapped out a route that connected as many twisting roads as possible and spent a day on the highway getting there, two days in riding bliss on endless twisties and a day on the highway back. I was hooked. Next up was a 10 day trip into eastern Canada.

You spent three years riding from Chicago to New Delhi. How? What? Why?
In March 2010, I had quit my job, sold my house and everything else that wouldn't fit on my Suzuki DR650, named sanDRina, and we left Chicago with the plan of moving back to India. I had a rough idea of the route and the time-frame but there was no concrete plan. In the end, I rode through 33 countries on 5 continents, covering 103,200 kms and cooked 56 chicken curries along the way. The journey took me through Latin America, Europe, Africa and across India. When the road ran out, we took a ship across open waters. It was a slow journey with lots of breaks along the way, including a year in Kenya. There were many reasons for taking this journey. On all my previous trips before this big trip, I felt more at home on the road, traveling on a motorcycle, than at home going to office and running that cycle. I took that as a sign that perhaps I needed to go on a long journey. Other reasons would be that I love spending time in wildernesses and a dualsport bike can take you to some far out places on the planet, like the salt flats in Bolivia, the vastness of Patagonia, the harsh Sahara desert and our sublime Ladakh!

What kind of preparations did you make for a ride like this?
I was planning on living on my motorcycle for three years on the road, so firstly, I had to figure out what kind of bike would that be. I settled on the Suzuki DR650 because it's a dualsport machine, capable of off-road and on-road riding, has simple technology (air-cooled, carbureted, steel chassis) and is cheap to acquire and maintain, compared to the other options on the market. I traveled with a DR650 for three years before I left on my trip, making short trips to Mexico, Alaska and down the Continental Divide of the US. On each trip, I slowly figured out how to pack my panniers, exactly how much clothing was needed (much less than you think!), what kind of camping gear to carry and what kind of tools and spares to take. Also, on each trip, something went wrong. I had an accident in Mexico, engine trouble in Alaska and another injury-inducing accident on the Continental Divide. In each situation, I figured out how to carry on and persevere, which was good training for the big trip for many things did go 'wrong' but in the end provided for great stories. For a detailed setup of the bike setup, check:

How do you pack for 3 years on the road?
The kit I carried can be sorted into these categories: riding gear, off-bike gear, camping gear, trip documenting gear and bike tools and spares. My riding gear consists of my Motoport Kevlar Air Mesh suit and thin base layers that go underneath. I had some thermals for layering in the cold and rain protection gear. Off-bike gear consisted of one pair of cargo pants that zipped-off into shorts and about four synthetic mesh shirts. My footwear, besides my Oxtar TCX motocross boots, was a pair of Keen sandals that look like a cross between a shoe and a sandal. Camping gear consisted of a one-man tent, mini air mattress, sleeping gear, petrol camping stove and a small cooking pot set. Trip documenting gear consisted of my laptop, SLR camera, GoPro, hard drives and iPods. I probably carried way too many bike tools and spares but I needed them at some point or the other and wouldn't leave anything behind if I were to do it again. My most important tool was my Leathermen Wave multi-tool; it's like a Swiss army knife on steroids. Here's a full list of everything I carried:
Jays Kit consisted of Riding gear, off-bike gear, camping gear, trip documenting gear, tools and spares.

Most importantly what bank did you hold up to pay for the ride?
The bank that held my savings! I did this trip on a minimal budget and even spent less than I expected as I stayed with local hosts all along the journey using networks like and contacting local motorcycle clubs. It's strange, but there's an old adage among long-term travellers - the slower you go, the cheaper it gets. It might cost you nearly the same amount to do a 2 month trip through South America compared to a 6 month trip. If you haven't gone on a long journey, it'll be hard to understand how this works but trust me, it does. The message is to travel slowly and you'll go far on a modest budget.

What was the best and the worst stretches of road that you encountered in three years on the road?
There were so many best roads! And I captured them all on my GoPro. If I had to highlight a few, they would be riding anywhere in Bolivia, the Cloud Forest Route in northern Peru, the TransAmazonica across the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, the road across the Simien Mountains in northern Ethiopia, the Turkana Route in Kenya, off-roading in northern Mozambique and of course, the Manali-Leh Highway. The worst stretches would be anywhere I encountered deep mud since that isn't ever fun. Sand, corrugations, rocks all can be fun if you have the bike set up properly but mud is never fun. I encountered such mud in Bolivia and Ethiopia. You see, my favorite countries also habour the worst stretches, so it's not an easy question!
The Arbol de Piedra (Tree of Stone) at 15,000 ft in the Bolivian Andes.

Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa, looking towards India.

Rohtang La just the way it should be.

Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, Bolivia.
Chasing wild zebras along the dry shore of Lake Turkana, Kenya.

Bike resting in northern Kenya.

Lots of mud to ride through in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

The Road of Death - Not somewhere you want to loose your keys
Now what is your dream ride?
I'm dreaming about a ride that takes me from India, through Pakistan on the Karakoram Highway into China and then from Kashgar along the Pamir Highway of the 'Stans into the Wakhan Corridor of northeast Afghanistan, which is safe from all the troubles there since it's really hard to get to. And then I'd like to continue on into Mongolia and the Road of Bones in Siberia!

Whats parked in your garage right now?
There's still only sanDRina, my trusty Suzuki DR650 but a friend has let me borrow their Royal Enfield Thunderbird, which I'm thoroughly enjoying.

Where are you riding to next?
At the moment I'm exploring Delhi and its surroundings and I'll be heading to India Bike Week in Goa and Rider Mania in Chennai

Do you have any advice for all those aspiring motorcycle nomads?
I'd like to think I'm an ambassador for Slow Travel. Take it slow. If you have only a few days off, don't think you have to cover huge distances, but go somewhere that is different to your place and let the pace of the journey reveal some adventures to you. And remember that you can have an adventure halfway around the world or just in your backyard. It's all about your perspective. 
Camping in northwest Argentina

Setting up camp at Spitzkoppe in the Namib Desert

I am sure there are many more stories and pictures that are coming our way. Where can we find them? 
Check out my website at for detailed photojournals of my entire journey. I'm still finishing it up but there's tonnes of photos and a few videos to take you along on the journey. 

New Delhi the last stop on the 3 year journey.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A day well spent

Today being a public holiday meant emptier roads. So it made it easier to decide to get some kilometres in on the rebuilt engine. So I rode about a 100 kilometres out of the city to Imagica Theme Park where the wife has been working for a few days on a project. Spent most of the day there with her and then rode home in time for dinner with the daughter. A day well spent indeed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mc Leodganj

Finally we reach Mc Leodganj our final stop for Helmet Stories Pangi Valley ride. From here Amber and Noel take off to ride to Delhi and Mumbai respectively. The bike I am riding is on its way to Manali so I will have to hop into a cab and make my way to Chandigarh but that's all later first it time to celebrate an awesome ride. Let there be beer !!!

Riding to Dharamahala

While riding from Dalhousie to Dharamahala we crossed this 112 year old bridge still in use. They are building its successor next to it but who know how long that will take.

Chamba Valley

Once we rode down into Chamba Valley we made our way towards Dalhousie. Where cold beers and a hot shower were waiting for us.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Setting up last camp

12 odd kilometers passed the police checkpoint we made camp. This was our last camp on this trip so we made the most of it. Our many professional cooks got to work and finally the dinner included pork shoulder, BBQ chicken, a dry mutton, a local mead to sip and a fire that burned all night.

Satrundi checkpost

The ride down from the top of the pass to the police checkpoint at Satrundi is about 10 kilometres and is mad it seems you are only riding on rocks the whole time. Thin ones, thick ones, pointy ones, blunt ones, round ones, flat ones, big ones, small ones you name it and its in your path.
At the checkpoint you have to enter your details and the cops manning the post take a video camera and take a small snippet of you and your bike.

Finally Sach Pass

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The climb to Sach Pass

The climb to Sach pass is incredible it's steep and has all sorts of challenging road conditions all the way up to the top. Cant wait to go back again next year.

The base of Sach Pass

You have to ride down the mountains and over a bridge to the base of Sach Pass before you can start the climb. We made good time as we had started early in the morning so we got to the base by around 11PM

Refreshment break

We stopped at a natural spring to quench our thirst as it was a really hot day. Spent some time at that spot with our binoculars scouring the mountain side and forest for a pack of brown bears rumoured to live there.

An early start

An early start from Sural to ensure we get over Sach Pass by mid day.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Another awesome day ends

Sural Batori

What an awesome ride from GREF junction to Sural Batori. It threatened to rain and as we set up camp and the locals came to tell us it would soon start snowing so we should get ready for it but luckily it cleared and we were treated to a super sunset and an awesome evening.

GREF Junction

We came down from our camp and rode to Killar and further onwards to GREF junction where we turned of the Tandi - Kisthwar road towards Sural.

Moto wisdom from Pangi Valley

Came across some Motorcycle wisdom today - Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of then are dirt. (Thanks to MotoLady for sharing it with us).
The Pangi valley ride is our take on the same.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Another view from my tent

What a splendid view from my tent.

Presenting the Helmet Stories Secret Camp site

Our very own secret camp site known to us and the people who ride with us to Pangi. Oh! Don't think the ones who have been will tell you where it is they have been sworn to secrecy.

The road to the Helmet Stories Secret Campsite

A little water, a little gravel, a little mud and a hell lot of rocks on the way to our secret campsite.

Get up and go

We packed up camp at Raoli at a leisurely pace since we don't have to ride far to the next camp (which I shall refer to as Helmet Stories secret camp site from now onwards). The distance for the day may not be a lot but the track is challenging so it is slow going over all the different kinds of terrain we will have to ride over.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tent With A View

The view from my tent at our camp in Raoli

Raoli for the evening

We camped at Raoli just off the road for the night. I rode out a bit further after setting up camp to a point where you can see an old log hut across the river which was said to be have built by the British as a rest house. Now it's said to be haunted and no one goes even close.