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Choosing a motorcycle
Bike choice and preparation
Big trips have been done on everything from step-thru scooters to full-dress 2.3-litre cruisers, covering vast distances in a fortnight or up to a lifetime. Any machine that starts, turns and stops will do the job, but ask yourself would you like to chug across the Bolivian altiplano flat out on a moped while llamas trot past, struggle over the Grand Erg on a tourer weighing half a ton, or ride a bike they stopped making before you were born? Probably not because most of us narrow it down to a bike that will be versatile, trouble-free and enjoyable to ride.
From R1 to C90 it takes all sorts of course, but being undaunted by the prospect of the Kazakh or Patagonian steppe, and especially taking a spontaneous gravel road excursion, is just about the biggest guarantee of having an actual adventure in terms of the places you’ll see and the people you’ll encounter. In the end a do-it-all mid-weight bike with some off-road ability ticks most of the boxes. The alternative is a road-bound tour on the world’s sealed highways from one border to the next – actually not as bad as it sounds – or riding an unconventional or inappropriate machine with a fixed grin just to prove a point or attract attention.
MOTORCYCLES FOR ADVENTURE
What is an adventure motorcycle or, as I prefer to call it now, a ‘travel bike’? According to manufacturers capitalising on the trend, it’s a big trail bike with wide ‘bars and a beak – a ‘Sports Utility Bike’ – and the bike most associate with ‘adventure motorcycling’ is BMW’s flat-twin GS1200, In well over a decade of dominance the GS has developed a refinement and intangible poise that none can match. As a result all BMW’s competitors can do is to try to outpower or out-gadget the all-conquering GS. This competition at the top end of the adventure bike market means we’re spoiled with a stunning range of quarter-ton tourers like Triumph’s Explorer, Honda’s Crosstourer 1200, the Super Ténéré, Multistrada and Caponord, KTM V-twins from 1050 to 1290, the one-litre V-Strom and Versys, and now the S1000XR and, by the time you read this, the new CRF1000L Africa Twin.
There’s no doubt these are all brilliant machines but the chances of seeing a Crosstourer passing a Multistrada on the Kolyma Highway are slim because what sells in the name of adventure to affluent middle-aged road riders with a dodgy back, and what’s actually used out in the world are in most cases different things.
Most riders accept that part of a real adventure will mean dealing with inadequate infrastructure which will include riding on imperfect highways, unsealed roads and gravel tracks. By the nature of their layout, weight and not least, tyres, some bikes handle such conditions better than others. In fact tyres have a whole lot to do with it (see p82), but the improved visibility and comfort of upright seating and wide bars plus sump protection and long-travel suspension all help on truck-mashed back roads at appropriate speeds, while on regular highways you’ll have a smooth, comfortable and fast machine.
For those who value a lighter and potentially more agile motorcycle for off-highway riding that will cruise well enough on the open road in the Adventure Motorcycling Zone (AMZ), the big singles currently made by Yamaha, BMW and KTM – or the low-cost, air-cooled versions still sold in North America like Honda’s XR650L, the KLR650 and Suzuki’s DR650SE, will fit the bill for most adventure riders, even as we wait patiently for those 650 dinosaurs’ DNA to be transferred into something more modern.
But as the as-yet unpublished Zen and the Art of Adventure Motorcycle Selection advises, once in the teeth of the AMZ, adopting the middle way to avoid the ‘extremes of sensual pleasure’ (160hp) and also ‘self-mortification’ (big-single vibes and snatchiness) will provide righteousness and harmony. Bikes which fit this category include Triumph’s brilliant 800cc triples, BMW’s well-established 800cc GS twins, Yamaha’s more recent MT-09 Tracer triple (and probably an MT-07 twin Tracer by the time this book’s out), Honda’s dinky CB500X and the two NC700s and NC750X, and Suzuki’s erstwhile DL650 ‘Wee Strom’. Any one of them will deliver enough power to haul you securely past a soot-belching bus up a mountain pass, the potential fuel economy to cross deserts and, at best, possess a lack of weight and sheer bulk to make the aforementioned spontaneous excursions less daunting.
Which bike: factors to consider
The bikes listed above are the obvious choices. Here, in no particular order, are some factors to consider. They’re then discussed in more detail on the following pages:
•What’s available in your area at your budget
• Your itinerary
• Your marque and image preferences
• Mechanical simplicity
• Build quality and reputation for reliability
• Fuel economy
• Parts availability and service know-how en route
And here’s another thing to consider: the bike you eventually choose is going to be loaded with up to 40kg (88lbs) of gear, more if you’re riding two-up. This weight will reduce the machine’s agility and braking performance as well as accelerate wear on all components, especially tyres and drive chains. So whatever bike you settle on, consider the worst-case scenario: riding it fully-loaded on a muddy track in a downpour, falling over and then trying to pick it up.
If you’re not concerned about making an outlandish statement on two wheels and just want a machine to ride get a single or twin cylinder machine from 400 to 650cc. A 50hp engine in this capacity will produce enough power to carry you and your gear through the worst conditions while not over-stressing the motor. These days a bike like this ought to return an average fuel economy of up to 70mpg (25kpl, 4l/100km or 58.3 miles per US gallon). Multi-cylinder engines may be smoother but are unnecessary and, in case you hadn’t guessed, four strokes are far superior to two strokes on a long trip, despite the latter engine type’s power-to-weight advantage.
Budget and availability
How much should you spend on an overlanding bike? Or better to ask: why do riders spend so much? Around £2500 (or a bit more in dollars in the US) for a mid-weight machine is a good figure to start with. Twice that could get you a well-equipped motorcycle that’s a year or two old. Otherwise, don’t forget you can easily spend another £1000/$1600 equipping the machine.
Once you decide, don’t make life too hard on yourself by coveting a machine that’s not available in your home market. As a rule the range of bikes in North America is a little different – and for some marques much reduced – to those found in Europe, South Africa and Australasia, and the latter two will also sell a bigger range of farm bikes too (see p46 and p70). In 2011 the US finally got their hands on the Yamaha’s Super Ténéré when in fact what many riders wanted was the 660Z single which now may be coming to the end of its lifespan in the UK. That’s ironic as comparatively slack emission regulations have seen bikes like DRZ400s, DR650s, XR650Ls and KLRs – bikes that haven’t been sold in the UK or Europe for years – survive in the US (though sometimes not in California). The US also missed out on nearly all previous Ténérés and the Transalp and original Africa Twin. Having said that, in 2002 we didn’t regret importing ‘exotic’ XR650Ls from Australia as in some ways it was genuinely better than what we could’ve bought locally at the time. Many years later I can see other European riders being attracted to importing ‘old school’ XRL/DRs/KLRs from the US.
Although it worked out fine for Kelston Chorley and his CCM GP450 (p39), think twice before taking a brand new and untested model on a big trip. Because of cost cutting in R&D it’s not unusual for new models to have all sorts of teething problems, even – or perhaps more so – from the big manufactures like BMW. Within a year or two they’re usually ironed out – or the bike is withdrawn or repackaged. It’s one reason to stick with the well-known models whose faults and solutions have become common lore, or stay close to dealer services in the early miles. An ‘ECU upgrade’ is a typically discreet improvement that may not even get mentioned.
It gets easier year by year but some continents are less effort to cross or explore than others, while some riders actively seek out unmade back roads or the ‘wrong’ season as part of their overland adventure because, as mentioned earlier, taking the road less travelled is one sure way of getting one. While what have become known as ‘adventure motorcycles’ claim to offer off-tarmac utility, you can actually see enough of this planet from a road bike. All you have to do is appreciate its limits when it comes to dirt-road diversions. You could potentially ride all the way from London to Bangkok or Cape Town, or down the length of the Americas on tarmac, and in South America at least, not feel like you’ve missed out much. But if your target includes the jungles of Indochina, South America and equatorial Africa, the deserts of Africa or sodden tracts of Far Eastern Russia, anything over a 650 will be a handful. Here is where a sub-150 kilo trail bike will be in its element, if not necessarily in the overland journey getting there.
For many, especially first timers, the motorcycle they choose is central to the whole endeavour. Our perceived self image has as much to do with what we ride as whether the gearbox has five or six speeds. A purposeful-looking KTM, an alloy-clad GS or a matt-black Bonneville all send out signals about how you’d like to be seen by others, even if to a Samburu goatherd, the V-Strom with ABS and adjustable screen was the obvious choice.
You want to feel inspired by your adventure and what you choose to ride for the months ahead is a big part of that. Some choose to make an ostentatious statement, be it goofy or over the top (possibly to assist with self promotion), while others, many experienced travellers among them, recognise that it’s not about the bike anymore, and adopt a lower profile astride what might be considered a drab machine.
Whatever you decide on, remember it’s your adventure and you’ll probably only do it once, so choose with the heart and, if it comes to it, beat yourself up over it later. You may never fully use your trail bike’s off-road ability, but until you found that out for yourself it was nice to know it was there. Acknowledge all the other sensible factors listed here, but don’t forget the value of a machine that, even after weeks on the road, still gives you a thrill to look at as you crawl out of your tent each morning.
While getting blown around by a Patagonian gale can be unnerving (see p297), one thing riders universally complain about is the weight of their bike. When everything is going steadily, what can add up to 400 kilos (880lbs) of solo rider and loaded bike will trundle along as if on rails. But add in some potholes, crazy traffic, muddy diversions, fogged-up visors on the Ruta del Muerte, sinking sidestands, steps leading up to safe overnight parking or airfreight priced by the kilo – all part of the overland motorcycling scenario – and your big rig can become a handful on many levels. Is it even possible for a normal person to pick up a fully fuelled and loaded Triumph Explorer?
Cruising the pristine highways of western European and North America, such bikes are in their element, but no matter how much you hope to keep it that way, one day somewhere out in the world you’ll be steaming from your ears trying to control or right your sled. I first crossed the Sahara with a guy on a BMW R80. I made it on my Ténéré (sort of); his bike is a charred wreck somewhere in the dunes north of the Niger border. Even at less-than-walking pace, soft sand and especially mud are misery to ride on a heavy bike, as effectively bald tyres slither around to dump you again and again. Bikes of 600cc or less will be more manageable, but anything over a litre can become unrideable in tough off-road conditions.
The worst thing is that like an electrocuted lab rat, you’ll get scared off taking even some mild off-highway detour because you’ve lost confidence in piloting your tank, either due to the unconsolidated terrain or the risk of dropping it with no one else around. Without such confidence it’s hard to summon up the assertiveness needed to blast through an obstacle like a sandy creek bed. And so, like R80 guy, you keep dropping the bike until you’re too tired to ride it and, exhausted, you crash for good. It’s not all just the bike’s weight but gear too, and here again it’s common to take way too much stuff. More about that later. Along with comfort, for me weight is the key issue for my sort of riding.
You’ll be riding your bike all day for weeks and months at a time. Loaded like a pit mule, the finer points of handling and throttle response promised in the brochure – things which professional reviewers get so worked up about – will be lost. What you want is to get off the bike at the end of the day without feeling like you’ve had a bad day on the Dakar. This is where the big touring bikes scoffed at just a few paragraphs ago have an advantage. Even loaded, they’re supremely comfortable and stable over miles of highway, running big torquey engines and fat tyres on small wheels. Motorcycle nirvana.
Comfort doesn’t just mean the thickness of the saddle (more on p73) and its relation to your footrests. It adds up to quiet, vibration-free engines with smooth power delivery, slick (or even automatic) gear-changing, supple suspension, powerful brakes and aerodynamic protection from the wind (p74). All this enables you to relax, deferring the inevitable fatigue. And when you’re not tired, cramped, aching and deafened, you cope so much better with the 101 daily challenges long-distance riding throws up. Comfort also means the clothes you’re wearing, and your state of mind, both covered on p115 and p29. And it also means the space and power to travel with a pillion passenger for an extended period, if that’s your plan.
If you expect to be using electrically heated grips and clothing (more on p120) you need to consider your bike’s electrical output as it’s not something that can be easily uprated. Big touring bikes are typically well endowed with high wattage alternators which produce ample current to recharge the battery. As it is systems like ABS, suspension levelling and EFI all require more electrical power than older or smaller bikes which will be less able to cope. Running heated clothing at night at low engine speeds is not an unusual scenario in icy conditions, but one where the battery could discharge quicker than the alternator can replenish it. If you can foresee such a situation on your trip, ascertain that the bike you choose has the wattage you need.
This is particularly something which old school riders may agonise over. The bikes of their youth which they learned to maintain or fix by the roadside are no longer made (and are no longer affordable). Home maintenance is now discouraged or impossible without special equipment. Instead, an official dealer has become a vital link in maintaining your machine’s composure. That’s all very well if you’re living a conventional, ordered life as a commuter or a weekend rider. It’s not so handy once you head out into the Adventure Motorcycling Zone where your bike can be as exotic as a space ship.
For regular touring any bike will do. If anything goes wrong you have the potential support of recovery insurance. But one definition of adventure motorcycling is touring beyond the range of freephone roadside recovery. You can always get help of course, but it’ll require organising locally. So, the further you wander and the more challenging your route, a simpler bike can mean bush mechanics, to whom ‘diagnostics’ is something to do with Ron Hubbard, are more easily able to fix it if it’s beyond you.
It has to be said though, despite the ever more complex electronic systems found on flagship models, modern bikes are extremely reliable. Problems usually occur with a new model’s ‘teething problems’ which can ruin its reputation for years. What’s frustrating is that they’re often down to using penny-pinching components not some innate flaw in the engineering.
Take water-cooling; it may not be essential but is now the norm, not because it’s better, but because a water-cooled barrel expands and contracts less so can be built with finer tolerances to enable higher performance. Water-cooling also reduces engine noise which, as with cleaner emissions, has become an important requirement. And there’s no doubt that water-cooled engines can outlive air-cooled. But radiators and fans can get damaged or clog up with mud, thermostats and fuel pumps can play up, hoses split or leak. Even though mechanical simplicity is desirable it’s not a valid reason to avoid a water-cooled machine; just choose one where the radiator and water pump aren’t vulnerable to falls or can be reliably protected.
Despite the impression, a machine with a water-cooled engine will not run cooler in extreme heat and it can certainly overheat if you’re progressing slowly and revving high so the radiator fan can’t cope (in soft desert sand with a backwind, for example). You’d think a water temperature gauge will warn you, but most bikes now just have a warning light on the dash. If you choose a water cooled bike consider fitting a water-temperature gauge (see p61). Better to know it’s getting hot than be told.
These days air-cooled engines are really only still used on low-powered single-cylinder bikes – most modern multis have liquid-cooling of some sort, but as long as it’s in good condition and well maintained, an air-cooled engine is no worse than a water-cooled equivalent. Choose a bike with a relatively lowly-tuned (low compression) engine, it’ll make less heat and so be less prone to overheating in tough conditions or when running on bad fuel. One of the best ways of keeping an air-cooled engine in good shape on the road is by making frequent oil changes and making sure the air filter is clean. Consider running thicker oil in very hot environments.
We all managed without ABS for years too – it’s now compulsory on new bikes over 125cc in Europe. Having ABS come on too early when riding off road (reduced braking effect) is one reason some swear by a manual disable function, though I’ve never noted this problem and ABS gets more refined every year. Most will appreciate it in heavy traffic or poor weather conditions. Other electronically controlled wonders on higher spec machines include traction control, various throttle (power) modes and electronic suspension damping. All great for lap times but on the congested and crumbling highways of India or Peru you’re unlikely to be riding at the limit. Being able to detune your over-powerful adventure bike to ‘rain’ mode as you climb a slippery series of hairpins or seek to extend the fuel range does have a lot going for it.
Transmission and electric starts
Scooters up to 800cc use fully automatic CVT- or similar transmissions while Honda’s innovative manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) lets you have your cake and eat it – and with extra jam too. It could well be the future on bigger touring bikes. An option on the one-litre Africa Twin, expect to see it on BMW’s bigger GSs before long.
Final transmission to the back wheels is either by chain (occasionally rubber belt), or car-like shaft drive. Shafts are heavier, expensive to produce, absorb a little power and can make for clunky gear changes, but these drawbacks are negated by much less frequent maintenance. A lot will depend on how you ride; if you’re an aggressive rider shaft may not be for you and at any time off road, a rock can kick up and smash through the final drive housing. Shaft drive benefits from a smooth riding style which bigger, heavier and less sporty bikes usually have anyway.
When correctly tensioned and oiled, chains and sprockets are very efficient and are a light and inexpensive means of transmitting power to a back wheel. Although they’re exposed to the elements, modern ‘o’-, ‘x’- and soon z-ring chains can now last for well over 10,000 of miles with just a bit of cleaning. So when it comes to transmission, settle for shaft drive on a heavier machine or a chain-driven bike with top quality chain and sprockets. There’s more on chains on p63.
On some bike forums they get worked up over five- or six-speed transmission. More has got to be better, right? Not really. Motorcycles, especially those designed for touring, have relatively flexible engines which rev over a broad rpm range compared to say, a 40-ton truck or indeed a cyclist. Both the latter examples produce most power at a certain speed engine (or cadence). Racing motorcycles are the same and extra gears allow a rider to keep the engine spinning in the optimal power range. Others suggest that six speeds spread in wide, road-riding ratios can mean an extra-low gear to tackle gnarly terrain when loaded (good for the clutch) and a high top gear to cruise at minimal rpm (good for economy and engine wear). Although I can’t say I notice, there could be something to this. GS boxers have had six speeds since the 1150 of 1999, with the heavier Adventure models including a lower first gear over the standard GS. In most cases a well spaced five-speed box on a bike has been found to work as well as four speeds in a car. It’s not uncommon to change sprocket sizes to raise or lower overall gearing – more on p65.
And if you happen to be deliberating over a kickstart or electric start only model: go for the button. Some easy-to-start 125s may still only have kick-starters but one hot day, when your bowels are in freefall and you stall on a hill in Lima with traffic blaring, you’ll bless that button in getting the engine running again. Having a kickstart as well is a handy back-up but is rare these days. If the starter motor fails any bike can be push- or jump-started (see Troubleshooting, p180), though achieving that alone with a high-compression KTM 1190 in a muddy Amazonian trench is not so easy.
Switchable electronic ignition
On a bike controlled with an ECU and in most cases fuel injection, switchable ignition mapping – either literally a switch on the bike or done by replacing an electronic component or reprogramming the ECU chip from a computer – can be a very useful feature. Most bikes are reviewed on their performance figures, not how they ride, yet these are not key attributes for non-competitive adventure motorcycle touring. In the AM Zone as mapped on p11 where local bikes over 125cc are rare, chances are you’ll be top dog in terms of raw motorcycle performance and ought to have nothing to prove.
Originally, in the late 1990s, something like the KTM Adventure simply had plugs you switched around to retard the timing on electronic ignition and so enable the engine to cope with low octane fuel. Low octane fuel, as found out in the sticks, can cause harmful detonation (see p59) especially on lean-running (as many modern bikes are) or high-compression engines. Go back another thirty years and you could alter your ignition timing with a screwdriver, but then you needed to as it was always going off. Now, as you’d expect, ECUs have become exponentially smarter and the ignition ‘map’ can be switched between ‘sport’ or ‘touring/rain’ or ‘birthday’ modes. The good thing is that electronic bike brains are getting cleverer still and at the very least, a high/low power mode suits the knee-sliding weekend warrior back home, or you on the long road to Mongolia. Benefiting from the gentler setting, something like the 109hp XT1200Z will be more than adequate, use less fuel and reduce tyre wear.
Carbs or EFI
Electronic fuel injection (EFI) has become the norm on bigger motorcycles because it offers smoother and more consistent fuelling and superior economy even at high levels of tune, as well as cleaner emissions. Don’t think fuel injection is new fangled – automotive diesel engines have been fuel injected for decades, only now it’s electronic, like most petrol engines. EFI is also maintenance-free, something that carb-balancing BMW Boxer owners will be pleased to hear. A modern fuel injector does what a crude carburettor spent the better part of a century trying to perfect: fire a fine jet of fuel on time and at high pressure so it atomises instantly and mixes with the air to burn completely in the combustion chamber.
A fuel injector’s nozzle is much finer than any carb jet and so you’d think would be prone to blocking, especially with the dirty fuel you’ll find on the road. In fact, some KTM690s apart, this is a very rare occurrence with bike engines because filtration systems are up to the job, and when they’re becoming blocked a warning light will probably come on.
Injectors seem to be trouble free; it’s the high-pressure fuel pumps (usually housed in the base of the tank) and EFI management systems that are more prone to problems. Early examples of some BMW and Yamaha singles (and doubtless other bikes too) were notorious for lumpy or inconsistent fuel delivery at lower speeds, but this got dialled out on subsequent models and it’s no more unusual than other teething problems exposed by online forums. The engine’s electronic management computer (ECU or EMU) is constantly measuring various parameters in the engine (air and engine temperatures, throttle position, road speed and so on) to deliver an optimum fuel charge to the combustion chamber, and this alone puts it miles ahead of any carburettor – once described as ‘a brick with holes in it’. Think of all the YIPS, YOPS and YAKS induction tricks they’ve tried over years to smooth out carburation, especially on lumpy singles – well EFI fixes them in one go. Ride an old carb’d BMW Funduro alongside a Sertao and you’ll see the difference.
Another advantage of EFI is that it’s much less affected by altitude (see p185) – the system compensates for the lack of oxygen by reducing the fuel, just as the pilot does in a small airplane. There’s nothing wrong with carbs and CV carbs are much less prone to altitude woes than slide carbs once suited to racing bikes. And of course carbs can be taken apart and cleaned or repaired, unlike an injector. Like water-cooling, EFI on motorbikes may appear an unnecessary complication, but it’s a real step forward and has brought a new lease of life to a lot of ropey old engine designs.
Just about all EFI bikes now also feature catalytic converters (or ‘cats’) built into their silencers to clean up emissions. Normally these work best with unleaded fuel which isn’t always available in the AMZ. This is despite the confident claims of the maps featured on the UN Environment Programme website (: www.unep.org/pcfv) which, since 2006, reckons that leaded petrol is no longer available in Africa because the entire continent (apart from Algeria) magically got together and agreed to ban it.
The fuel pump handles aren’t necessarily greener on the other side of the border, but you can run a cat on leaded fuel for ‘a few months’ before lead neutralises the cat’s fine matrix coated in precious metals. When this happens your bike will run the same but won’t emit clean gases which may affect your next roadworthy test. Of course over-sensitive electronic sensors may have their own ideas and could flip out on leaded fuel; removing Lambda or O2 sensors from header pipes can help. You’ll find metal blanking nuts as well as electronic terminal plugs on ebay for a few pounds. As with more expensive intake air temperature sensors, they often have the effect of making the bike run better by richening the fuel/air mixture.
On any bike fitted with a cat, you can replace the stock silencer/cat with a regular – and usually lighter and nosier – aftermarket pipe. The bike’s electronic emission sensor ought to adjust the fuel injection accordingly, meaning the machine should run fine.
Build quality and reliability
Anyone who’s been riding for decades will recognise that the build quality of many modern motorcycles (and much else besides) has passed a peak, while at the same time bikes are more reliable and perform better than ever. ‘Built-in obsolescence’ used to be the cynical explanation as to why new things wore out early, but it’s as much to do with excessive manufacturing costs being trimmed, while more attention is paid to designing a superficially good-looking machine with as many electronic gizmos as the ECU can handle. Such a product is easy to sell and wins positive reviews, even if once you look below the surface you find cheap components and a rough finish.
Just about all the major brands have models which suffer from premature wear of cheap components or poor assembly: head bearings that wear out at a few thousand miles, as do chains or electrical components like rectifiers, due to hasty assembly or poor wiring. So while your modern bike is unlikely to be handed down to your descendants, as long as it runs it will do so as reliably as any machine ever made, particularly once you’ve replaced possibly cheap original equipment (OE) such as chains and suspension, as well as headstock or wheel bearings. If you’re serious and have the means, check that the swingarm and suspension linkages have been properly greased out of the factory, too; it’s a common complaint.
Nowadays more than ever it’s possible to get abreast of a particular model’s foibles with the mass of information found online. Owner-enthusiasts’ forums and wikis will minutely dissect the beta on their machines, suggesting which upgrades and accessories work best.
Parts availability and fuel economy
Plan for the worst: leave with new consumables (tyres, chains, brakes), some key spares and maybe send some stuff on. Recognise that your adventure includes unpredictable events which will require resourceful solutions. If something can’t be fixed or diagnosed locally despite all your efforts, then consider using DHL and the like, having someone fly out what you need, or even flying to a nearby country where the component can be bought. Remember, parcels sent by express couriers can get bogged down with customs clearance which can drag on for weeks. And depending on where you are, that wait may well exceed the cost of simply flying somewhere to get what you need.
Parts availability is a quandary, but the best attitude to take is that out in the AMZ there won’t be any specialised parts to be found, especially in Africa north of the Zambezi. The richer countries of South America may be better off, with much of Asia falling somewhere in between. And what you do find out there in terms of tyres and chains will be of a lot lower quality than stuff back home, and often not of a size that fits big bikes.
Even with current fuel-injected engines, advances in fuel economy are only occasionally on a par with cars, partly because to most users in rich countries, motorcycles are for blowing away the cobwebs on a weekend. As it is, economy is a preoccupation more prevalent in places like Europe where fuel is costly. But once on the road in foreign lands, your bike’s fuel range will become a preoccupation, and the cost of filling the tank a daily expense.
‘Two wheels and an engine’
Over the page there’s a closer look at ten bikes that tick most of the boxes for overland travel or that are otherwise worth considering. It’s not a ‘top ten’ so don’t get fixated on them and their alternatives. Bikes like the big GS BMWs are becoming so obvious that some riders go out of their way to be different. In the end anything that has two wheels and an engine could be the star of your biking adventure. If you’re new to this game sticking to the well-known or popular machines makes sense.
Only across western equatorial Africa might you need some off-road utility, but even here such stages are becoming shorter by the year. Unless you’re purposely seeking off-road challenges, for trans-Asia or the Americas any road bike will work most of the time. Dual-purpose tyres will make your road bike more secure on dirt roads while keeping it steerable on the highway.
Otherwise, think about buying abroad. If you want to start your ride in North America but aren’t from there, buying there saves a whole lot on shipping costs and bikes cost less. Your KL650s and so on are incredible bargains by European standards, with plenty of kit and know-how around.
Meanwhile, in Brazil you can pick up an NX 400i Falcon (mini Dominator) or an XRE 300 with a beak to die for, as well as Yamaha Ténérés from 250 to 1200 (though check you can legitimately roam the continent first). Check out the HUBB bike sales and swap forum too. Many riders seek to sell their bike or buy yours, especially in South America.
If you like to be different or have experience the following selection may be rather conservative. In that case the only limit is your imagination, your budget and Newton’s Three Laws of Motion.
- Contents list
- AMH history
- Choosing a motorcycle
- Life on the road
- Sample route outline (Peru and Bolivia)
- Tales from the Saddle (sample)
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