As a regular visitor to Goa for nearly 10 years I have always hired Enfield bikes to get around, usually a 500cc or 350cc, in Calangute or Baga, where we often spend a day or two decompressing after the 11 hour flight from London.
As soon as we can, however, we plan a trip South to our favourite beach at Agonda. This blog entry is aimed at people who are reasonably confident riders, but who may not have travelled in India before. Golden rule – take time to adjust and get over the flight! Observe the roads and driving style (or lack of) for a day or two. Stay local for a day or two before taking off and ride early (8 – 10am) for less bothersome traffic.
South Goa is more relaxed and less polluted than North Goa and has some very bike friendly roads to enjoy. Biking in Goa is not for the faint hearted and some basic precautions are advisable, but it is rewarding and interesting and gives one tremendous independence – it has also the advantage of being incredibly cheap!
The distance from Baga to Agonda is around 85km but about a third of the route is the Route 66 which is the main arterial road going south to north. Despite it sounding romantic, it is actually a pretty unpleasant and tricky road due to congestion, poor road surfaces and the construction of the new highway replete with flyovers which creates dust, noise and mayhem. All this can make for some fairly kamikaze and somewhat hairy riding unless you are reasonably well prepared!! This might make it a bit of a challenge say between Baga and Margao for less experienced riders – roughly the first 90 minutes. After that life gets easier as you progress onto small country roads – so its worth persevering.
A typical ride south (see route map link) will see us leave early at 7am ( 7.30am at the latest), replete with helmets, jackets and an extra layer as it can be quite cold before the sun comes up outside in the low lying areas outside town. With a small carry on suitcase strapped on the bike at the rear (bring plenty of good octopus straps!) try to leave early to avoid the worst of the traffic and the midday heat ! You will reach Margao city around 8.30 to 9am, with your Google maps pointing to Longhuinos in time for breakfast. This spot is a long established ( ’60’s) iconic Portugese style cafe offering simple but excellent breakfasts at a fraction of the inflated tourist prices on the coast!
After a 45 minute pit stop, head for the Colva Beach Road on your Google Maps and then take the road south towards Agonda (turn off just before Colva) which which takes another 90 minutes to 2 hours or so. There’s no rush!
We usually head for Dunhill Beach Resort which has a mix of cabins on the beach and hotel style accom with a super restaurant, but there are many others to choose from. We usually book in advance so that there’s no need to hunt around in the midday sun! You should arrive around 11.30 with time to settle in to your room before strolling to the bar for a well earned G & T and lunch!
DO ride wearing a helmet – both you and your pillion if carried – although you will see tourists and locals alike flouting this it is really strongly advisable for a number of reasons, not just safety! The cops are now very very strict on failure to wear a helmet even in town. If you are riding a hire bike your numberplate will be yellow and an immediate target for bored cops wanting to write a ticket, or, even worse, demand a bribe. The bike shop will usually give you a helmet but check to see if they have a full face one and insist on an extra one for any pillion. If in doubt its worth buying a cheapish one that has the DOT accreditation – cool helmets at Enfield Bike Store in Baga but there are helmet shops too in Panjim, Margao and Calanagute. Expect to pay £15 to £30.
DO carry an International Driving Licence – if you are pulled over without one it is also hassle and an instant fine. UK licence is no good on its own. Do not get riled at the cops if you do get pulled up! 100 or 200 rupees may be the fine or bribe I usually carry this sum accessibly and quite separate from my stash so they don’t get any fancy ideas!
DO take out some form of medical insurance which covers motorcycle hire riding without the usual 125cc limit. It is common sense and worth every penny. Short and longer term insurance is available from specialist brokers like Navigator
DO check the condition of the bike before you hire. This sounds obvious but look at the mileage, the tyres, brakes and overall condition. Ask for the lowest mileage Enfield available. Maintenance is often patchy! The bike may have barely a litre in fuel and you return it the same, so get some fuel straightaway. Fuel can be bought in plastic bottles at the roadside or at several garages in the vicinity on routes leaving Baga / Calangute. Check that you know how the fuel reserve works and buy around 10 litres from a garage (70 rupees 80p per litre roughly at garages, a little more by the roadside ) which will cover you on a return trip. There are several places to hire in Baga. Avoid private hires from individuals with white plates – you are not insured to ride these bikes. The yellow plates are official hire bikes with the insurance in place – a copy is normally provided in the spare caddy on the side of the bike. Check before you hire.
Do not give up your passport to the hire company although they may ask for it. A Xerox copy of the passport and the Visa entry should suffice, but may not. I have left a UK licence instead and kept my IDL with me in case I get stopped. Payment is usually up front with ID deposited. There are no deposit charges. Hire charges are typically 700 rupees to 800 per day for a seven day hire (£8 or £9) shoulder season (up to 18 December). In the busiest peak periods around Xmas and New Year the hire cost may be more, depending on demand.
There are two established hire centres in Calangute – Dolphin and the nearby Crocodile hire shop (50 meters away back towards Baga.
There is a third hire shop at Sinquerim called SFX (St Francis Xavier) – SFX hire is located opposite the entrance to the beach road at Bon Appetit (which is also a great beachside hangout). There is not much to choose between the hire firms and you may have to check all three to get a newish low mileage bike – personally I always try Dolphin first as they seem to have the most bikes. They also have Harley bikes and couple of sports bikes at much higher prices for the bling addicted Indian market. Try and get a decent 500 rather a 350cc if you are going south, especially if you are riding pillion. There are some interesting hill climbs! Scooters too are fine (and cheaper) if you are just staying local.
The Enfield Store in Baga Creek apparently also hires out 350 Thunderbirds and the new Himalayan, but more like 2000 rupees per day. You can arrange a short test ride of the 650 Cafe Racer and Himalayan on request (must wear shoes and jeans , they will lend you a helmet if asked) and have International Driving Licence. There is a nice cafe / bar adjacent and a display outlining some of the history. Good coffee from the machine and try the Bruschetta! They have live music at the weekends with a R & R vibe.
Arriving in Goa
Currency is available at the counters as you arrive – usually a little less favourable rates than changing locally but worth it to get £50 or £100 of liquidity to get you going. There is also an ATM. There is a taxi counter with fixed pre booked rates. The cars are black and yellow but the drivers are in IMHO too fast and furious as they are under pressure to turn over lots of fares – personally I have never used them. I prefer to pre – arrange my fare using the same driver every year – his name is Dominic and he is a safe fully insured private hire driver
For excellent meet and greet you can Whatsapp Dominic who charges flat rates and always very fair – he will meet any flight, including the 2am Thomas Cook inbound flight with your name on a sheet of paper (costs about Rupee equivalent to £15 for example for the 70 minute run to Baga). Dominic will run you to the destination of your choice safely and entertain you with sightings of Lions, Tigers and other wild beasts to be seen as you pass by!
Being met at the airport makes for an easy transfer in the hot and humid scramble at the airport arrivals in the twilight hours – just hang on to your bags – the porters are very keen to help! Dominic will look after all your main transits and organise some local tours if you have passengers who want comfort while you ride in tandem! He can contacted on Whatsapp.
Contact details for Goa can be found in this review of the Enfield Interceptor test ride which features my own composition created on a Yamaha P125 Piano (not scooter!|)