Poles apart – Bajaj Dominar Polar Odyssey

Poles apart – Bajaj Dominar Polar Odyssey

51,000km, 99 days, 15 countries. These numbers are enough to deter the bravest riders from taking on a challenge like this. But wait, there’s more to it than just those numbers. Three riders on their Dominars rode from the Arctic to Antarctica. Add to that no backup or support and some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Scary, isn’t it?

Say Hi to Deepak Kamath and Avinash PS from Bangalore and Deepak Gupta from Delhi. Not only have the trio accomplished something no other Indian bike or rider had ever done, but they have done it in just 99 days. Leading the team was Deepak Kamath, with the rare distinction of having circumnavigated the world on a motorcycle.

We at Fast Bikes India wanted to know the details of what must have been a truly incredible ride through some of the most beautiful places on earth. So, we satisfied our curiosity with a free-wheeling chat with Deepak Kamath about the ride.

The steed: Bajaj Dominar 400

The first question on our mind? Why did these riders choose the Dominar for a challenge like this? “The Dominar has a great power-to-weight ratio and just the right amount of torque”, came the reply. Also, the high-speed cruising ability of the Dominar is something that riders swear by. Add to that the fact that not too long ago they had successfully completed the Trans Siberian Odyssey on Dominars. So, they certainly must have taken that confidence along.

An average riding distance of 515km a day must have been more than anything else, physically draining. But the fact that the ride would be no less than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had the riders pumped and not thinking about the physical strain too much. Every morning brought them to a different, spectacular part of the world. And the Dominar too, not minding the long hours, was perfectly at ease with just basic maintenance like keeping the chain clean and lubed, tyres in good nick and the periodic oil and oil filter changes, ensuring that the riders could plough through any kind of terrain they hit during the days. Service support at Mexico City, Bogota (Colombia) and Santiago (Chile) kept the Dominar running at its best through more than 50,000km.

With challenges like the ones that the Dominars were put through, the team had some minor modifications made to the bikes. Tyres were changed to suit a 50/50 terrain. The Dominar Polar Odyssey bikes had a raised front fender to ward off any muck that could get stuck in the tyres, imparting more confidence in the slush. Handlebar raisers gave a better seating position and the seats were redesigned locally to give more comfort for day-long rides. Bajaj R&D reengineered the catalytic converter into the silencer and did away with the underbelly CC box (something the 2019 Dominar anyway doesn’t have) to give more space, which otherwise could have hit the ground during the extreme road conditions. Riding through the snow demanded another critical modification. “As a precaution, I had changed the batteries to Lithium-Ion post a consultation with the Bajaj R&D,” said Deepak, adding, “coupled with the triple spark plug DTSi ignition, starting the bikes after heavy snowfall or even after parking them overnight in sub-zero temperatures, was never a problem during the entire Odyssey.”

“We had oil and air filters, three sets of spark plugs, two sets of cables, two sets of chain/sprockets and three sets of brake pads. On the go, we had some spares shipped to Mexico and Bogota as carrying everything would have been unnecessary. These were replenished as needed as we headed towards completion.”

And that’s all. Imagine just taking along a handful of spares on a ride like this. But such was the confidence that the men had in their Dominars.

“There is no room for fear”, Deepak said when quizzed about the scariest bits of the ride. And surprisingly, to him and the riders, it wasn’t the roads or the terrain that was the scariest. It was their close encounters with the wildlife, especially along the arctic circle. Grizzly bears, sloth bears, elks, moose, bison, wild Fox, all these animals made an appearance along the ride and the riders were careful not to get too close and even ensured they kept an eye out for them when stopping to refuel.

So does practice make perfect?

Even incredibly skilled riders like the trio found some sections particularly challenging. One section that Deepak immediately recalls is the Dempster highway. “Riding on the Dempster Highway, laid out on the permafrost belt, this region was experiencing unprecedented rainfall. The road was unmaintained, mostly loose gravel with composites of calcium carbonate to give it a little hardness, mixed with pebbles, sand and clay. This is for summers and huge transport trucks are the only vehicles that use these roads. But when it rains, this mixture can be a deadly mix and the bikes would struggle all over the road. So much that we even met fellow travelers on big bikes coming back from half the distance and not able to proceed due to these conditions. We had to strip down our panniers in a place called Eagle Plains on this highway and only carry the most required while on this road for the last 100 miles before reaching Tuktoyaktuk, the last hamlet connected by road in this region that resides by the Arctic Ocean.” The riders adopted a simple strategy, that even we at Fast Bikes India follow on long road trips. Start early and finish early. The trio would often start at 7AM and ride till 6PM with sufficient breaks to keep them fresh. This way they were able tackle even 1,000km-long stretches of highway on days when they needed to. They avoided riding at night. That said, the fact that they followed such a schedule consistently for so long is commendable.

The team’s previous experiences of crossing international borders certainly helped them when it came to the 15 border crossings they had to get through on the ride. The first step was to get a Carnet de Passage and the Western India Automobile Association in Mumbai came to their aid in this regard. To their credit, they got the airlifting logistics, border crossing formalities, registration, and insurance and required driver’s license organised well in time for a trouble-free experience. The good part for Indians with a valid American visa is that all of the countries in Latin America and many countries in South America, the visa is issued on arrival at the international borders. And that eased things for the riders. Deepak and the other riders did reminisce about home on this epic ride, particularly while riding through South America. There were umpteen instances where I could relate those moments to my travels here in India. The going got a little tough as we headed into South America with lonelier roads and a longer stretch of nothingness, but such outstanding landscapes of the Amazon rainforests and the Andes mountain ranges.”

But they couldn’t just drift into their thoughts when riding through some incredibly dangerous roads. Possibly the longest and loneliest stretch, also known for being one of the most dangerous roads in the world is the road across the Atacama Desert, with very hot and winds that can actually knock you off. This stretch can easily put you to sleep due to dehydration and Deepak did come across many vehicles that had swerved off the road and caught fire! Frequent hydration breaks were in order.

The icing on the ride

There was one final question that I really needed to answer. How did they get the bikes to Antarctica? “Only the Canyon Red Dominar KA05 KK3442 got to go into Antarctica. This was an extended leg of the Dominar Polar Odyssey for me. Having covered all the six Continents during the Yezdi Castrol Continental Raid in 1994, I requested an opportunity to take the Dominar to Antarctica and put the rubber side down across all the seven Continents. I owe this accomplishment to Manish Tandon, head of customer insight, Bajaj Auto, without whose help, the seventh continent would have continued to be a dream. The Canyon Red Dominar 3442 was strapped to a 60-foot sailing yacht and shipped across Drake’s Passage (one of the most violent sea passages in the world) and then landed on the White Continent. The most satisfying moment has been landing the Canyon Red Dominar across five places on the Antarctic Continent and flying the Tricolor at each instance. Getting to ride a few magical miles between the Bellingshausen Base of Russia to the General Artigas Base of Uruguay and back, has been a reality and we had no such dreams ever!”

On a ride like this, the team had tremendously challenging and incredibly fulfilling experiences. So much so that Deepak listed them out for us.

“The brutal terrain - slush, snow and rains so devastating across the Dempster has undoubtedly been the most challenging and gruesome in this Odyssey. The snow blizzard at the top of Pikes Peak, the unprecedented snowstorm in the Northern Ridge of Grand Canyon, due to Hurricane Rosa, the blistering heat of Utah and Death Valley, detours in Mexico due to Hurricane Willa and tropical storm Vincente, sub-zero temperatures in Peru, towards Cuzco, and the final run on the Ruta 40 as we headed towards Ushuaia, the experience of Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego (among the coldest regions in the world!) and the smell of the Antarctic Circle!”

Go ahead, take a pick. What would you dare to do over the summer? Make sure you choose your steed wisely.

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