A Guide To Cycling Through Spiti

Are you planning a cycle ride through Spiti. This Guide to cycling through Spiti should help make your life much easier. Wondering what kind of bike to take, what to carry, where to stay etc. Fear not, you have it all right here!

The first question is: What bike?

  1. The first option is to use a dedicated steel framed tourer. But these are expensive and not the easiest to purchase in India.
  2. The second option is a road bike, which is capable of handling bad roads. If a person is comfortable with road bikes and has used it on various ‘bad’ roads of India then it can easily be taken up there.
  3. The last and least desirable option is to take a Mountain Bike (MTB). The problem is cyclists don’t quite know English, so they call a bike meant for trails and off-roading an MTB! In Spiti you will always be on the road, so an MTB is not required. Yet most favour an MTB. So how do we make our MTB more Spiti worthy?

Preparing your MTB for Spiti

  1. Tyres: The first thing to change are tyres. Get in a pair of the narrowest width that can fit comfortably on the stock wheel. 35mm tyres will easily take anything that is thrown at it with considerable ease. It will slow you down in a couple of places, but speed you up overall.
  2. Forks: Ditch those heavy suspension forks and put stiff ordinary forks, preferably with eyelets for a front rack, if you are planning to carry a lot of luggage. If one insists on using front suspension, then make sure it has a suspension lockout. As 95% of the time you would want to be riding with the suspension locked.
  3. Handlebars: This depends entirely on what the rider is comfortable with. Use whatever you have clocked the maximum number of miles on. DO NOT switch to something new before the ride. If you are using the stock MTB bars, then it is a good idea to use bar-ends. It is nice to have multiple hand positions when climbing for long hours.
  4. Saddle: The most important. Invest in a good quality saddle. Make sure it properly fits your posterior! It is the difference between being a happy bum or not!
  5. Pedals: Clipless pedals can be quite annoying especially, when one has to get off and cross deep streams on foot. One can always use touring shoes and pedals which is easier to walk in. This will still mean that you need to carry two pairs of shoes. Flat pedals offer the best trade-off for touring.
  6. Bottle holders: Get metal ones which can fit in a 2l bottle. Cycling bottles which are quite useful while doing short morning rides are ridiculously small and useless for touring.
  7. Racks: A strong, yet not too heavy front (if there is lots of luggage) and rear rack. Medium sized backpacks can be bungeed onto the rack or dedicated panniers can be used. A handlebar bag and saddle bag is useful for putting in knick knacks which need to be at hand throughout the day.
  8. Brakes: Make sure you are running good quality brakes. Even if one is riding a cheap cycle, the brake set should be upgraded as a priority. Also change brake pads if required and carry the old ones as spares.
  9. Bell and mirrors: Not required
  10. Kick stand: Useful, especially when touring solo and photography is important, but otherwise not mandatory.
  11. Mudguards: At least a front mudguard, as the front tire tends to throw up slush in the rider’s face.
  12. Headlight and tail light: Necessary, even basic entry level stuff will do, since you preferably will not want to be riding after dark.
  13. Helmet: No helmet, no ride!

Physical Preparation?

Get up, stop reading this blog and start riding! Now that you have done a ride and are back, read on!

You are going to be riding on some of the highest roads in the world. There is a lot of climbing involved and you will have luggage to weigh you down. You can never be too fit! The fitter you are the faster you will be, the suffering up the climbs won’t reduce. Fortunately that is good news for those who have low to moderate levels of cycling fitness. If you aren’t too fit, remember you will only be going a bit slower, that’s it!

Riding 40-50 km 3-4 times a week in the 3 months before the trip means you will ‘complete’ the Spiti circuit. If you are riding for longer than that, all the better, you will enjoy the ride more! If you are fortunate enough to live somewhere close to the hills then practice riding on the climbs as often as you can. Try to do a few 100 km rides on weekends if you are unlucky to live in the plains.

The important thing is to have your basics right. Having the correct bike size, bike fit and pedalling optimisation is necessary. Spending long hours in the saddle with any of these incorrect will cause injury by repetition. Medical aid is not something you want to count on in these far away mountains.

Google is your friend, read up on how to pedal properly, sitting posture, bike fit, training and nutrition techniques etc. Remember the name Sheldon Brown, while googling, his website is a timeless treasure trove of information.

Route Planning?

Refer to the detailed route I have noted down. There is another route along the Old Hindustan Tibet road instead of the NH22. Places that I missed but can be included in the route: Sarahan, Sangla, Kalpa, Dhankar, Key-Kibber, Getey, Mudh among others.

Solo or Group?

The ideal is two riders. Preferably both should have similar riding experience and capability, similar preferences and habits. It’s difficult to find another rider who will be easy to get along with on a long and tiring journey. So in a not so ideal world, solo is best.

Groups are the least desirable, even if in a group, it’s best to split up and ride in twos or solo. The problem with group riding is more often than not, you tend to interact with people within your group. As a result, you end up losing out on what Spiti has to offer.

Time of the Year?

The most crowded time of the year is June and July, when schools are on vacation. Big families and noisy children are best avoided if a peaceful trip is your goal. The best time would be anywhere between mid-August to end September.

What to Carry?

As little as possible!

Leave anything less important at home. Every kilogram you carry will drag you down, while climbing. There will be a point of time in your trip where you will open your bags and look for things to throw out, so your best bet is to start off light! Recommended reading for packing: Ultralight bicycle touring

A list of things I carried:

1. Bike related:

  1. Water bottles
  2. Frame Pump
  3. Headlight and tail light
  4. Rack and rucksacks
  5. Bungee cords & plastic rope
  6. Helmet and Sunglasses
  7. Cycle lock

2. Tools:

  1. Allen keys (4, 5 &6 nos.)
  2. Spanner set
  3. Spoke key
  4. Rags
  5. Pouch for tools
  6. Puncture repair kit (patches, sandpaper, levers, glue, tyre repair patch)
  7. Cable ties
  8. Swiss Knife

3. Spares:

  1. Brake pads
  2. Tube (2)
  3. Cables, brake and gear
  4. Spokes

4. Clothes:

  1. Shorts (2)
  2. Track pants (1)
  3. T-shirts, drip dry and bright colours (3)
  4. Cycling vest (1)
  5. Gloves (1 warm and 1 regular)
  6. Underwear (3)
  7. Thermals (1 set)
  8. Shoes (1)
  9. Slippers, thin and narrow (1)
  10. Windcheater (1)
  11. Leather jacket (1)
  12. Socks (3 cotton)
  13. Balaclava and bandanna (1 each)
  14. Rain suit (1)
  15. Watch

5. Toiletries:

  1. Toothbrush
  2. Toothpaste (small tube)
  3. Soap (small bar)
  4. Deodorant (not required when cycling solo!)
  5. Towel (1)
  6. Toilet Paper

6. Food:

  1. Chocolate bars
  2. Biscuits (glucose)
  3. Water
  4. Glucose powder/ Oral Re-hydration Salt

7. Medical:

  1. Crocin
  2. Dependal
  3. Savlon
  4. Bandaids
  5. Cotton Bandages, gauze and cotton
  6. Crepe Bandage
  7. Iodex
  8. Vicks rub
  9. Betadine

8. Miscellaneous:

  1. Wallet (money in small denominations, ATM Card, DL, another ID)
  2. Pen
  3. Writing paper
  4. Plastic bags to pack everything and spare plastic bags
  5. Phone, camera and chargers
  6. Torch (big and small)
  7. Batteries (torch, h/l and tail light), 2 sets
  8. Duct tape and Feviquick
  9. Rubber bands
  10. Sewing kit
  11. Maps (only photocopies of relevant pages, no book)
  12. Whistle

Misc. Points:

  • Start early in the day, as one would want to finish by afternoon, because the wind picks up drastically after 2 pm.
  • Wear shorts and cycle. Everyone wants to check out the sexy, muscular legs of the cyclist so don’t hide them!
  • Carry 2 x 2L bottles of water. Soft drink bottles are perfect for this. One need not buy bottled water all the time, hand pumps, dhabas and mountain streams are everywhere.
  • While climbing never try too hard, keep a slow, gentle pace. The heart rate, breathing and cadence should be monitored, to ensure that there are no spikes.
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently rather than few large meals.
  • Learn a little about bike repairs and practice these things at home before.
  • When riding solo, motorbike or bicycle, I always wear a small torch and a whistle around my neck. In case of an accident where I may not be able to call for help, a whistle can be very useful to draw a passerby’s attention.

The Route:

Day 0: Kanpur to Kalka (via Delhi, Chandigarh)
  • Train Kalka Mail (12311) � Rs 302/- 1230 hrs from Kanpur Central pm 14/09/2012� 0430 hrs next day in Kalka
  • Train Luggage (cycle) charges Rs 130
Day 1: Kalka (655 mts) to Shimla (95 km)
  • Start 0645 hrs
  • Climb till Solan (1470 mts) 44 km
  • Gradual Climb after Solan for the next 45 km
  • Last few km to Shimla steep climb
  • Cheap accommodation available near old bus stop in Shimla
  • Finish 1900 hrs. Food: Rs 200, Accommodation: Rs 430
Day 2: Shimla (2200mts) to Rivali (102 km)
  • Start 0830 hrs
  • First 14 km is climbing to Khufri (2300 mts)
  • Downhill to Theog for 15 km
  • Last 30 km to Narkanda (2700 mts) is undulating, with no severe Climbs. Food and accommodation (F&A)available
  • Immediately after Narkanda road descends for 37 km to about 1100 mts
  • 4 km flat road to Rivali F&A
  • Finish 1830 hrs. Food: Rs 110, Accommodation: Rs 400
Day 3: Rivali (1100 mts) to Jeori (48 km)
  • Start 1000 hrs
  • 25 km Undulating to Rampur (1165 mts), no severe climb. F&A
  • Rampur to Jeori flat for 13 km, then climb the last 10 km. F&A
  • Finish 1430 hrs. Food: Rs 130, Accommodation: Rs 350
Day 4: Jeori (1400 mts) to Reckong Peo (74 km)
  • Start 0800 hrs
  • Jeori to Bathal 5 km climb. F&A
  • Bathal to Wangtu (1600 mts) undulating for 35 km. Food available
  • Wangtu to Tapri undulating for 10 kms, F&A
  • Tapri to Karcham (1750 mts) undulating for 9 km. Food
  • Karcham to Powari undulating for 9 km
  • Powari (on NH 22) steep climb for last 6 km to Reckong Peo on state highway. F&A. 300 mtr climb in 6 kms.
  • Finish 1715 hrs. Food: Rs 137, Accommodation: Rs 250
Day 5: Reckong Peo (2200 mts) to Pooh (67 km)
  • Start 1000 hrs
  • Steep descent till Powari 6 km to get back on highway
  • Undulating from Powari till Akpa for 15 km. F&A. Checkpost.
  • Akpa to Spillo undulating for 22 km. F&A
  • Spillo to Pooh, first 14 km undulating, last 10 km 300 mts climb to Pooh, which is again 5 km off the highway. F&A
  • Finish 1730 hrs. Food: Rs 115, Accommodation: Rs 400
Day 6: Pooh (2700 mts) to Nako (40 km)
  • Start 0800 hrs
  • Descend to 2500 mts in 9 km till Khab bridge
  • Immediately after Khab road steeply climbs till Ka (3000 mts). 11 km in the Ka Zigs (switchbacks)
  • After Ka, road Climbs till Nako, 20 km. F&A.
  • Finish 1500 hrs. Food: Rs 154, Accommodation: Rs 300
Day 7: Nako (3565 mts) to Tabo (62 km)
  • Start 0745 hrs
  • 5 km climb to Malling Nullah
  • Steep Descent to Chango (2900 mts) for 17 km. F&A
  • Chango to Sumdo (2965 mts) undulating, 13 km
  • Sumdo to Tabo is undulating, 27 km. F&A
  • Finish 1600 hrs. Food: Rs 175, Accommodation: Rs 175
Day 8: Tabo (3265 mts) to Kaza (47 km)
  • Start 0945 hrs
  • Undulating for entire stretch. F&A
  • Finish 1500 hrs. Food: Rs 130, Accommodation: Rs 300
Day 9: Kaza
  • Start N.A.
  • Finish N.A. Food: Rs Nil, Accommodation: Rs 150
Day 10: Kaza (3665 mts) to Losar (57 km)
  • Start 0900 hrs
  • Undulating for entire stretch. 5 km climb after Kyoto Bridge. F&A
  • Finish 1535 hrs. Food: Rs 144, Accommodation: Rs 200
Day 11: Losar
  • Start N.A
  • Finish N.A. Food: Rs 100, Accommodation: Rs 100
Day 12: Losar (4100 mts) to Batal via Chandra Tal (58 km)
  • Start 0800 hrs
  • Gradual Climb to Kunzum La (4551 mts), 19 km
  • Steep Descent after Kunzum La to Batal F&A, 11 km
  • From Batal backtrack for 3 km to turn for Chandra Tal. Undulating road for 12 km. Last 2 km to Chandra Tal (4270 mts) a steep climb. F&A
  • Backtrack from Chandra Tal to Batal 14 km
  • Finish 1700 hrs. Food: Rs 119, Accommodation: Rs 100
Day 13: Batal (4002 mts) to Gramphoo (51 km)
  • Start 0930 hrs
  • Gradual descent from Batal to Chota Dhara (3640 mts) for 16 km. Accommodation (not always available)
  • Gradual descent from Chota Dhara to Chhatru for 17 km. F&A
  • Chhatru (3320 mts) to Gramphoo is steep descents and climbs for 18 km. F&A
  • Finish 1800 hrs. Food: Rs 200, Accommodation: Rs 150
Day 14: Gramphoo (3350 mts) to Manali (69 km)
  • Start 0800
  • Gradual Climb for 15 km to Rohtang La (3979 mts)
  • Descend to Manali (2050 mts) for 53 km
  • Finish 1330 hrs. Food: Rs 34, Accommodation: Rs Nil
Day 14a: Manali to Delhi
  • Bus Departure 1400 hrs. Arrival Kashmere Gate, ISBT, Delhi 0600 hrs on 29/09/2012
  • Bus Ticket Rs 517. Luggage Ticket Rs 249.

Kilometres covered: 770
Food Expense: Rs 1748
Lodging Expense: Rs 3305
Misc Expenses: Rs 1647


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9 Replies to “A Guide To Cycling Through Spiti”

  1. One of the best blogs I have ever read,
    Best moment for me the Israeli Girl talking to Macho “You”, Hilarious Stuff,
    The ease and smoothness, you had put this tough ride with, is fantastic to read… …
    Hats Off, Avinash

  2. I went through your “90 days cycling Himalayas” blog. After that trip would you still recommend a steel touring bike over an MTB for the Spiti route?

    1. Hi Arindom

      Hope you enjoyed the blog?

      Absolutely. A dedicated steel touring bike would any day be better than an MTB for the Spiti route.

      1. I am thoroughly enjoying the blogs. Sorry, about not mentioning it earlier. It is detailed and fun to read. I am making others read it too. 🙂

        I managed to get my hands on a Kona Sutra 2018 at a reasonable price, but an injured knee had kept me from exploring its full potential. But now the knee seems to be in a better mood.

        1. Thanks for sharing it 🙂

          If you have a Kona Sutra, you can not just take it to Spiti buy anywhere in the world. Or even around the world 😀

          All the best for your Spiti ride!

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