Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Enfield 350 - Touring Two-Up with Heavy Luggage - Lessons Learnt

Hey there,

if you are reading this post, either you own/have owned a 350 single (highly likely, if you own an Enfield) or are curious to know what are the challenges faced by most Enfield 350 riders while doing long distance trips with a pillion and heavy luggage. Instead of generalizing this experience, lets consider the bike I ride on my tours, as a case in point. 

During the Leh Tour in 2014

For starters here is the engine specs of the (factory stock) electra 5s cast-iron model.

Engine Specs: Royal Enfield Electra 5s (2009 model)

Information Courtesy:

Kerb Weight: Royal Enfield Electra 5s (2009 model)

Information Courtesy:

Now my bike has gone few steps beyond being stock, in the form of modifications for touring, which adds to the weight of the bike. For example an expanded fuel tank with a usable capacity of 19ltrs, handlebars with center rod, larger split bucket seats, rear crash bars, saddle bag support frame, fog lamps, rear luggage carrier, lever guards, 3.50 off-road tyre at the back and additional on-bike tools in the kit.

The increase in weight (and size), due to these mods is quite a bit, though I never bothered to measure how much the increase in weight is. Now my steed also runs with a bigger size piston than the stock and carbs have been re-jetted. This project I had to stop halfway due to lack of time/spares and may complete sometime in the future with addition of a free flowing exhaust and may be a bigger carb (machismo A350 ?!!). But then that would be part of another post. Now let's get back to the subject of two up touring on this 350 single.

Past experiences of riding two-up:

During the last few years of my ownership of this bike, I have ridden it extensively over longer distances and 90% of the time, my luggage setup looked like this: a pair of saddle bags, a tank bag and possibly a tent/tripod or some other form of weight at the back.

During a trip around Kerala in 2015

For longish trips, I mostly ride solo. However few times I have ridden with a pillion at the back. Among such rides, the ones worth a mention are as follows:

Observations during the Recent two-up trip (1600+ KMs):

During solo rides, with my usual luggage setup, the bike never really struggled in any kind of terrain or surface. Well, except while climbing few tough patches of of Khardung-La, during the Leh-Ladakh Tour last year. This was due to the obvious reasons like higher altitude (i.e. reduced oxygen density for the fuel to burn). This time however, I had to load my saddle bags with more stuff than just for the trip, as I was going home for the vacation. For instance my laptop I had to carry, which itself is 2+ kilos of weight and then pair of extra shoes and the list goes on and on. In isolation they look like small items each, whose weight shouldn't be a concern, but by the time you are done stuffing those two measly saddlebags, try lifting them to know. Now let me share the recent challenges I faced while the bike was bit over loaded with heavy luggage and a pillion, on fairly good roads (NH5?!).

  1. Bike was revving harder (high rpm/throttle twist) from get go, all the way till 90 KPH (i.e. engine remains stressed all through)
  2. Vibration on the handlebars was higher due to a high revving engine
  3. Braking distance was higher due to substantial increase in the the weight
  4. Braking hard (say in an emergency), puts pressure on fork and cone (T-joint) set, I could hear the noise
  5. In usual mud puddles, where I used to come out in a snap, tyres dug in deeper (due to weight of course) and made handling the bike a challenge
  6. Top speed hovered around 80-90, no matter how good the road was

A bike loaded beyond the standard luggage weight (plus a heavy pillion) had very few pros that I could recall, namely:
  1. Bike felt very stable at high speeds on the highways
  2. Bike felt planted while cornering
  3. Surprisingly tyres were holding up the road better (than when I rode solo), during a stretch we rode in heavy rain (this I can't confirm as a fact as of now)

Now on the surface, 'cons' are obvious ones and mostly resulting due to the substantial increase in the weight. However following are some of the consequences of the cons:

After around 200-300 KMs of travelling, I did a quick check on the fuel economy and was surprise to know that it was giving 21-22 (normally it gives well above 30 KM/Ltr). I did a quick check on the engine oil and my suspicion was true. While we were happy doing 90 KPH for the better part of the day, the bike had burnt a lot of engine oil. Had I ignored this condition for another few hours, there was a high chance of an engine seizure. Thanks to my pillion who wanted to know the fuel economy, for which I had to check and as a result did an oil level check. Otherwise also I keep an eye on the engine from time to time. These are not really an issue with the modern breed of bikes with aluminium engines and liquid cooling (or even new air cooled ones). Engines have undergone years of technological evolution to reach here and now a days all a rider needs to check is the warning lights on the console, which will tell you when your engine is over heating and many more valuable information. For us who still own/ride vintage (if I may), air cooled, single cylinder british bikes (though made in India now), we have no other choice but to be vigilant, especially when doing distances like 1000KMs. And mind you, I am not complaining at all. The experience I have gained dealing with my iron horse, I wouldn't trade it for anything in this world (not even for a brand new BMW GS800.. or so to speak).

So if you have to ride two up, here are few things I suggest (and would be following myself for my future rides).

Before Ride: (motorcycle)
  • Buy and keep, 1 litre of extra engine oil (I always carry a can in my saddle bags) 
  • Check engine oil (lubricant) level and keep it possibly a little* over the usual mark (top-up from your new bottle?!!)
  • Check chain and sprockets and replace as necessary. If the sprocket teeth are on last stage or the chain is unevenly saggy even after tightening, they may give up halfway due to the extra load.
  • Pack light, i.e. keep the luggage weight to the minimal (Note: I didn't had a choice this time), cause your pillion may not be able to loose weight for your bike's sake :). At least in my case he didn't. :/
  • Carry a spare clutch cable, as depending on your riding style, you may stress it more while moving from a stand still,  as your bike will be pulling a lot of weight. Glad we had less of riding in traffic, so this didn't cause any issues.

During Ride: (motorcycle)
  • Pay attention to the revs (rpm) while riding and ensure that the engine is not constantly being stressed (not good!).
  • While trying to catch up speed, do it slowly ensuring the bike is gaining momentum without engine screaming for breath (No 0-60 please, unless you want to brick your engine!).
  • Give your engine a break to cool down (say every 100 KMs or as you feel right).
  • Check your engine oil level every 200-300 KMs as a thumb rule. In addition to that, do check the oil level, when you feel that the engine is struggling (e.g. overheat, too much vibration, loss of power, low fuel economy, etc).
  • Keep a watch on your fuel consumption, as the engine is stressed, it is meant to burn more fuel. However if its burning fuel way more than expected (like in my case it did on the first day), then check for possible issues.

During Ride: (rider)
  • Drink more water (& more frequently) than you think you need. You are managing a bike much heavier than you usually ride, so along with the bike you too are being exposed to the stress and vibrations. So stay hydrated, period!).
  • On dual carriage roads (2 way traffic), have extra space (than you usually would) in the front while overtaking, as the bike's response to throttle would be lethargic and you would need more time to complete the overtake, before you come close to a vehicle in coming from the opposite direction (scary stuff!).
  • Keep more distance from the vehicle in the front, for the same reason that you are fat and heavy and you would need more time and space to stop safely in an emergency. If the vehicle in front chooses to brake hard, you would have enough time and space to bring your mammoth to a halt safely.

I am hoping you too have just one bike and when the opportunity comes to share the ride with a friend, your choices will be limited, like mine. Then again, its always a pleasure to share the journey, isn't it ?!! Honestly, I can live with the cons of riding heavy/under-powered in return for a great company. So all we need to do is mitigate the risks/impacts and prepare well for a stress free ride, on most part for the motorcycle and to some extent for the rider. Hope this post helps you do better two-up rides, while keeping your bike happy at the same time.

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