Riding the highest roads in the world on some of the oldest motorbikes is surely on every rider’s bucket list. Aussie Russell Collins of Yak Trak tours has been ticking off those bucket lists for riders over the past two decades.
Now Yak Trak motorcycle tours and MotorbikeWriter are giving riders the opportunity to tackle the Himalayas on a Royal Enfield Bullet with a $100 discount as incentive. Click on the Yak Trak ad at the top right of this page and it will take you to their website. If you pick a tour and pay a deposit or the full amount, type MBW1 in the coupon box first and it will take $100 off the total cost or deposit.
Russell’s motorcycle tours business started in 1992 when he went to India with a girlfriend and fell in love – with the Himalayas. “We were among the first Westerners allowed to visit the regions of Kinnaur and Spiti in the modern era. We just fell in love with it,” he says. “At that time we stopped in a place called Tabo which had a 1000-year-old monastery made of mud that was perfectly preserved in the high altitude which is very dry and cold.”
Russell started sponsoring a monk and ended up organising sponsorship for 35 to 40 monks over the next four years, taking money over every year. “Through that connection we started organising a few trips for groups of friends using mini-buses,” he says. “The Dali Lama would give teachings in the Himalayas that we would visit so it was kind of like a Buddhist pilgrimage crossed with a Himalayan adventure.”
After running many informal tours, he officially started Yak Trak in 2003 and now does up to six motorcycle tours a year with an average of six to eight people, smaller numbers for the bike tours and bigger for the trekking and Jeep safari tours. That same year he rode a Royal Enfield Bullet through the Himalayas and fell in love again – this time with the Bullet. “They are such a magical way to see the Himalayas. In all other transport you miss most of the scenery, but on a motorbike you get to see it all.”
When he’s not guiding tours, Russell lives six months of the year in Byron Bay, riding around the idyllic back roads on an old BMW K100 after his K75 was “cleaned up by a taxi”. “Over the years I’ve focussed more on the motorbikes,” he says.
Last year he started a father and son motorbike tour after a mate joined one of his tours and said he and some friends wanted to return with their sons. “We had three dads and sons booked but at the last minute we had a dad pull out with a back injury, but it was still a good first time,” he says. “It was a really successful experience for them and rewarding for me because I used to be involved in men’s groups in Brisbane so I’m really passionate about that genre. It’s good to give dads the opportunity to get away with their sons in adventurous situations without mothers or any females getting involved.”
Russell says a lot of his customers also have a spiritual connection with the mountains. “It’s a very personal thing, but it happens. I allow people to have their own experience, but in feedback a lot of people feel a strong connection with the Himalayas.”
Russell also has a strong relationship with the Bullet motorbike. “They’re heaps of shit for reliability but I love riding them. I always bring a mechanic, spare parts, back-up bikes and a back-up truck as we expect them to fail. That’s part of the adventure,” he says. “We rent form a local guy and make sure they are well maintained and quite often we don’t have a problem, but they are ‘50s technology so we expect them to have problems.”
Russell relates one anecdote about a bike crash between an American who had only just started to learn to ride a week before the tour and a local man on a little Yamaha. Apparently the American dodged right when he should have gone left and they crashed. “They ended up with a big crowd of about 100 local people standing around while the local guy and the American guy argued about who was going to pay,” he says. “After an hour of haggling they had a cup of tea.” When they worked out that the 4000 rupees the local wanted to fix his bike was about $US80, the American paid up. “The tea turned into bottles of beer and a big night and they became good friends. Meanwhile the mechanic put the broken Bullet back together with epoxy resin and had it ready the next day.”
This November is adding the last true Himalayan kingdom to his tour destinations – Bhutan, where the gross national product is measured by the Gross National Happiness Commission. “That’s a very interesting destination,” Russell says. “They have a strict tourism policy where you have to spend $US250 a day just to be there. That money goes on your expenses so you get to spend that on accommodation and food.” Russell has been to the region before, but not on a bike and is as excited as some of his customers about the upcoming trip. “I’ve always wanted to do that. It’s on my bucket list.” Me too.