“On one day we do a 24-hour run, we don't stop” says Santhosh Vijay Kumar about the 90° South - Quest for the Pole ride
Royal Enfield is all set to conquer new ground with the 90° South - Quest for the Pole ride in which Santhosh Viiay Kumar (Lead - Rides and Community) and Dean Coxson (Senior Engineer - Product Development) will be attempting to ride two Royal Enfield Himalayans to the South Pole. This ride will be conducted in close partnership with Arctic Trucks, an organisation that is known for their expertise in the region. We got a chance to speak with Santhosh Vijay Kumar about this upcoming ride and here’s how the conversation went.
Karan Ramgopal: Hi Santhosh, when are you all going to be starting the ride?
Santhosh Vijay Kumar: 26th is when we plan to be in Antarctica, hopefully, the weather is good and we get clearance to fly. If the weather goes wrong, we probably might fly on the 27th or 28th whenever.Right now, we are in Capetown, we have to quarantine here for six days. And we are testing every day. From here we fly off to Antarctic
Karan: This expedition sounds extremely fascinating and interesting, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be pretty tough as well. So how did you all come up with this idea?
Santhosh: This is something that's been in some kind of a gestation and incubation period for seven years. 2014, we've been doing a ride in the Himalayas, during the winters. we were riding not very far away, we were riding near Shimla. And we were trying to see if a motorcycle can be ridden on ice and snow. I mean, it didn't work out very well. It was really tough because we were also riding really old motorcycles back then. I had my Machismo, then there was a UCE 500. So we were riding the old generation bikes pre-Himalayan, right. And then we realized that it's not really feasible, but on that, ride, we had this Japanese gentleman, his name was Hitekatsu Hokomoto who had actually ridden with us on the Himalayan Odyssey and he supplied us with snow chains and stuff because people in Japan were apparently already doing it. He was telling me a story about this Japanese gentleman, who actually rode, or took a motorcycle to the South Pole on a different route, which was not very documented, but he did reach the pole on a different route. And that's when I started thinking that this is feasible, I kept looking up for information on the Continent, then I happened to see the magnetic north pole, the Top Gear video. And that's how I learnt of Arctic trucks. Then I reached out to Arctic trucks and they were really enthusiastic about it. And they helped me figure out a lot of things.
Karan: So, this will be a difficult one to pull off and I’m pretty sure it would require a different level of preparation. So what have you been doing? You and your fellow riders? What have you all been doing to get ready for this ride? Any specific physical exercise, diet, anything of that sort?
Santhosh: I've been working out a little, hitting the bag. I have been boxing a little. So basically to keep your endurance up. But I also have been lifting a little, some weights, but apart from that, it's just about keeping the core strong. But I also think you need to work on your mind a lot. So I've been working more on mental fitness, but basically reading about everything, all the expeditions that have happened up to the continent, right. Starting off from 1911 onwards. So I think there is more to learn from those experiences. Because that's when you get to know what the conditions are going to be, and we can be prepared for it. Apart from this, we did test the motorcycle on the glacier in Iceland. To figure out the conditions, the conditions in Iceland were not as cold as Antarctica but the terrain was a lot tougher because it's a lot softer. So we managed to test the motorcycle very well in Iceland and combined with the expertise of Arctic trucks, the guys who saw the bike, who were working there were really positive that this could actually just work.
Karan: So these Himalayans, have any mods been done to make them more competent for the journey? Can you run us down what mods have been done?
Santhosh: Sure. I mean, it's pretty much a stock motorcycle, I mean it's almost a bone stock motorcycle because I've done more modifications on my personal motorcycle than I have done on this, The engine remains untouched. I did want a lot more low-end torque, because of which we ended up using the 13 tooth sprocket, which helps us. So that's one of the bigger things. And on tyres, we did a test about ten different tyres and stud combinations. They had to be tubeless because we were running about two to three PSI when the surface is soft. So yeah, three PSI was what I was running pretty much when the surface was soft. So you want the tyre to be able to spread out and give you traction and increase flotation.It also shouldn't break the crust of ice. Plus we had the rim stops on the wheels so that if something happens, if it completely blows out, you can still go ahead with the ride. So we did that, then in terms of electricals, we’re using an alternator made of rare earth magnets to be able to produce more current and run heated gear off it.
Karan: And when you say heated gear, do you mean on your body or also like a heated seat and heated grips or something?
Santhosh: No, no heated grips, they won't work because you’re wearing layers, so you're wearing thick gloves and the heat from the grips would not reach your fingertips because the wind is going to be really strong. So you have to wear heated gloves and there is no heated seat.
Karan: You're saying your testing has primarily been in Iceland, have you also tested in other places as well for this specific ride?
Santhosh: Yeah both the tests have taken place in Iceland from the Langjokull glacier and on one of the runs we managed about 140 kilometres in about three and a half hours.
Karan: So in terms of testing what exactly are you looking at? Like what testing are you doing exactly?
Santhosh: So when we are testing we are trying to find the right combination of the tyre and the distance. If the studs are a little too aggressive, they bite through the crust. And you hit the soft surface. If they are not that aggressive you won't get the required traction. So also it varies, right? So if you are running low pressure works better, if you are running higher pressure. So we need, so we figured out all those factors because one tyre is not going to solve this. So we carry multiple sets based on the kind of conditions that we might get, we might have to change quite a few wheels. So the testing was primarily to get the motorcycle to be able to go on any kind of terrain. So ice and snow when you see it, it all looks white, but it is chalk and cheese, it can be hard and white and it can be soft and white. So we saw all kinds of ice and snow. I mean, it's like when you go off-roading, you have slush, you have gravel tracks, you have slippery mud. But it's the same thing with ice and snow. It looks white, but it behaves differently.
Karan: What has been the biggest challenge in carrying out this task so far, like in setting up this whole expedition, what are the major issues you faced?
Santhosh: The 80-odd covid test that I had to take, I think the biggest challenge has been trying to work through these times, getting to the start line, right now, getting to the start line has been the toughest. We were trying to coordinate between the various people living across continents, trying to find everybody's time from testing to everything, trying to get them in one place at a time. It has been a logistical nightmare to get things going, but we have managed.
Karan: So how exactly are you all exactly getting the bikes to the start point?
Santhosh: The bikes are already in Antarctica, they have reached a place very close to the Indian MicroStation. So we will be held in a place there. That's where we're going to go and for the first four days we are going to Acclimatise and to get the bikes — oil and batteries up and running. We need to get the trucks up and running, the trucks haven't been used for long, they probably will be under six feet of snow. We need to get those trucks out of the snow, to get them up and running. We need to pack everything that we need to carry. We need to pack all of it on trailers. We need to figure out a lot of those things, which will be mostly guided by the guys from Arctic trucks because they have crossed the continent, they have done it many times by now.
Karan: You said they will also be your support system throughout the expedition, right?
Santhosh: They are not just the support system, I mean they're pretty much the ones who know the place.
Karan: Are they providing you with the support truck, with all your extra gear and equipment or do you have another team coming to that?
Santhosh: No, no, no. The whole team is going to be of 6 people, two guys from Royal Enfield, two guys, to shoot the content and two guys from the Arctic trucks. They are also the ones who are going to be driving the trucks because the route that we follow has a lot of crevices. So while they've been mapped, we know where the crevices are, the ice shifts. So you've got to be a little careful when you are driving and they're the ones who know how to drive in these situations. For instance, on one day we do a 24-hour run, we don't stop, basically because we'll be at about 4300 meters altitude, and you can't camp at that altitude. So we need to cross the Highlands and get back onto the plateau around 3000 metres. So that day would be a 24-hour drive straight across the continent.
Karan: Okay. So that's going to be two bikes and two trucks, right?
Santhosh: Yes, two bikes and two trucks.
Karan: So overall, from start point to finish point, what sort of distance are y'all covering?
Santhosh: So the entire route, to put into perspective, will be like, entering from Canada and exiting Mexico first. And then going back to something like the central United States and reaching California, that's pretty much what the size is. About 6,000 kilometres covering all, out of which, when we do the attempt to reach the South Pole, which is going to be from this place called the Ross Ice Shelf, which is on the edge of the continent to the South Pole, it is about 870kms. That's the only distance that we do on the motorcycle. The rest of it is trucks.
Karan: And this distance on the motorcycle y'all are looking to cover in how many days?
Santhosh: So we planned for eight days, including bad weather. So if it's a whiteout, you can't ride, you can't ride a motorcycle. So I accounted for four days of bad weather and four days of good weather. So I'm looking at doing about 900kms in four days based on what we have done in Iceland because you can't sit on the motorcycle for long, it's just too uncomfortable.
I mean, we are also very optimistic that we might get really good weather. And we just got pictures of the travels as such someone just sent us pictures from the South Pole station. So I think they must have just had their latest supply of fuel. So what happens is the Americans, their station gets fuel supply in huge bladders, they are dragged across from the edge of the continent, to the South Pole. And when these bladders pass on the surface they kind off, harden the surface and then make it a lot easier to ride. On those kinds of terrains, we can keep up 60kmph, hopefully, we'll receive -20 and not -40, because that just gives you that much more time to be on the bike and cover a lot more ground.
Karan: Once you reach the South Pole, what are you going to do?
Santhosh: Once we reach the South Pole we have to head to Union glacier based on the availability of time because we have to get back to Union Glacier and take the flight out. If we have a lot of time, I might want to attempt riding from the South Pole to the Union Glacier, because that's also kind of doable. So I want to reach the South Pole and keep my options open.
Karan: You said you've been testing in Iceland and that gives you perspective to an extent of what the ride is going to be like, but do you know exactly what y'all could expect in terms of challenges apart from bad weather and stuff like that. Anything else you all are expecting?
Santhosh: I think the temperatures are going to be a lot colder. So when we were testing in Iceland the worst we faced was minus 15 degrees and that was in the night. And during the day it went on to minus seven or minus eight. Which Is bad, but it's not that bad. We have seen those temperatures in the Himalayas. So on a good day, it will be minus 20 degrees, I don't know what minus 40 degrees will feel like. Plus, there's going to be really strong crosswinds on the continent. The cold is the biggest challenge.
Karan: I'm assuming apart from the time that y'all are going to do the 24 hours stint, you will be riding early in the day?
Santhosh: So the way we are looking at it as, so saying, I'm looking at it as a marathon, so keep pushing till the point you don't feel comfortable, then you stop, you get something hot to drink, warm yourself up a little. Then get back on the saddle. From what I have seen in Iceland, I think we should be comfortable for 30 minutes on the motorcycle even if it is -30 degrees or -40 degrees. So after 30 minutes, you might get a little too cold, might want to stop, you might want to get some hot water or some coffee and then start again.
Karan: So what part of this ride are you looking forward to most? The ride, reaching the South Pole, or anything else in particular?
Santhosh: Everything, I should say. I mean, I want to spend 40 days on a continent that has never been permanently settled by people. I am kind of a history buff, so I grew up reading all these great explorers . So going to the same places, standing at the same place where one of those great explorers stood or wanted to stand. For me, that's going to be a great kick. The motorcycling thing is, I mean, in terms of pure motorcycling fun, I think I have more fun in the Himalayas, but in terms of overall adventure, I think nothing can beat this.