- Considerations When Choosing a Bike
- Motorcycle Recommendations
Considerations When Choosing a Bike
Deciding what motorcycle to take on an epic trip can be very stressful as you feel compelled to pick the best. The thing is, any motorcycle is the best for a trip; Your choice in motorcycle only determines your potential riding style and gear. So rather than looking at “Adventure” bikes, look at yourself and decide what capacity you want to ride on this trip and your budget. Questions to ask would be:
-How much off-road riding do you want to do? While you will see some gravel and sandy roads, the main path is typically paved or some form of manageable road. Off-road limitations are increased with the amount of weight and engine power ratio. Additionally, enduro-level off-road riding might be advertised as possible on some motorcycles, but the viewers might not be aware of the upgrades or condition of the bike before and after filming. Research the bikes true capability outside of a fun youtube video.
-How much gear do you want to bring? More weight requires a better suspension / engine power. This too will alter your off-road capability, though it is possible to leave gear at a campsite or hostel.
-What do you hope to gain from this trip? Is this simply for the ride or do you wish to expand your presence in a certain field. If you are wanting to show off the capability of a bike, then your choice is already narrowed down to a brand/style. But if you are wanting to take a large amount of photography, then you will be bringing a heavy amount of photo gear that could require a bigger bike.
-What is your budget? The less you spend on a bike, the more money you have for traveling. Budget considerations should also go beyond the initial price of the bike, such as aftermarket upgrades and expected expenses in the future for repair.
-If traveling alone, can you pick the bike (with all the gear) up by yourself? Most BMW’s and other high capacity bikes are amazing, but riding solo you can easily find yourself stranded because it is too heavy to lift up. Even with your gear removed, the base weight and angle of a motorcycle can be hard to lift.
-Is the motorcycle comfortable to ride for a long period? Long, consecutive, days of riding are in your future. An aggressive riding style of a racing bike might not be the best for your back or those rough roads.
Say you have chosen that Suzuki Boulevard in your garage and you would love to take it with you, wonderful! BMW GS, Triumph Bonneville, Honda Punch, Royal Enfield, or even some monster of a creation? Perfect! If this bike suits your needs and is in your budget, then it is the right bike for you. But after deciding your bike, there are a few things that your bike will now dictate about your trip (other than on-road off-road capability).
When looking at your bike you need to determine the following:
-How much weight can you add to the bike in protection and gear. The less weight, the easier your trip will be. While some items you can skip, skid plates and engine guards will protect your bike, which will inevitably be dropped and scraped from debris. Weight also limits the amount of camping gear and clothing you can bring.
-What is the history of the bike used by other people. What modifications / problems commonly occur. Research the Internet for your bike’s make and year. Scouring forums can help identify potential problems and changes that have improved the reliability of the motorcycle.
-Parts availability along your route. South America has small capacity bikes, which are commonly Suzuki, Yamaha, and Honda. Large capacity bikes will require bigger parts which cannot be fabricated to fit with remote town inventories. These bikes will most likely only find service in capital cities, which is a gamble on immediate part availability still.
-What spare parts should you bring. Some parts can be fabricated or are interchangeable from other brands, but specialty part availability can be hard, depending on your bike. If your clutch commonly goes out around 16,000 miles and the bike is at 10k, then bring a set of discs or plan to purchase at a dealer along the route. Its always a good choice to bring extra rear brake pads, or to start shopping for replacements well before new ones are needed.
-Can you pick it up alone? This is emphasized because it will fall over. If you are riding with another person, then a heavy bike would be fine, but otherwise you should consider your capabilities. Yes, a passerby can offer help but some roads you might not pass anyone for hours or days. Also keep in mind that your strength could be at a low following a long day of riding, making it harder to pick up.
Ultimately, any motorcycle is the right motorcycle as long as you are prepared for what capabilities and restrictions your choice brings. Any choice will still see a problem or difficulty in repair, so don’t get discouraged or over confident in the mechanical ability of a motorcycle. Also, consider that buying a new bike has a high cost due to warranty, yet most warranty is not covered outside of the United States. Therefore, it might be cost effective to purchase a used bike. My choice for this trip was a used 2015 Kawasaki KLR650. I have seen my fair share of issues and grown to understand my capability and requirements. While the KLR was a good “go-to” bike for this trip, I personally would have been happier with a lighter bike for the amount of off-road riding I have come to enjoy. I also would have enjoined to have brought my Triumph T100 with its sidecar, but I was intimidated by the unknown.
Given my experience, I would do a few things differently, now, based on the chosen motorcycle. The following are my recommendations based on personal experience and a preliminary view of a motorcycle. I have extensive riding experience on the KLR and Triumph, however the other bikes are minor to none. As time, expereience, and research continues; I will update my notes below. Please do your own research outside of my own personal thoughts. Regardless, reviewing the specs, stock photos, and some general Internet research I am able to make the following suggestions:
2016 Kawasaki KLR 650
Curb weight: 432lbs
Max load: 410lbs
Engine: 4-stroke, 1-cylinder, liquid-cooled
Fuel: 6.1gal, single carburetor, ~45mpg* (274 miles per tank)
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Seat height: 30.9in
Ground clearance: 8.3in
Essential upgrades: Metal skid plate (stock is plastic), engine guards, center stand, rear brake master cylinder shield.
Recommended upgrades: Install an in-line fuel filter, heated grips, BarkBuster hand guards (stock are weak, possible break when dropped), flood lights, fork brace, larger foot pegs, taller windscreen, air filter.
Limitations: This bike can manage any environment, as long as it is not overweight. If at continuous high elevation, carburetor will see less oxygen and overall reduced engine power.
Typical problems: Depending on the year of the bike, it is recommended to do a doohickey upgrade and possibly upgrade the suspension. These issues are addressed in 2014+ models.
Part availability: Low. The engine is larger than most common bikes found throughout Latin America and primarily only capital cities have dealerships. Some large cities might have a small dealer, though parts will need to be ordered.
Spare parts to carry: Minimal. Plan to purchase a front sprocket, a new set of clutch discs, and any other routine maintenance items well before they need to be replaced (Replaced around 16,000 miles). These are hard to find outside of the capital cities. Rear brake pads and oil filters should always be carried, or at least purchased well beforehand. Rear tire tubes are hard to locate, though patch kits are efficient. Oil consumption is high, therefore extra oil should be carried and oil levels checked daily.
Overall opinion: This bike really is a go-to selection for a long adventure, both solo and in a group. The low compression ratio can make better use of possible poor gas quality that can be found in remote areas. Lightweight for its strong power, high clearance, mechanical simplicity, and low cost. Traveling solo, it is possible to carry a lot more weight than needed for one person. If you can’t decide on a bike, these tractors can get the task done with little fuss. Plan ahead for general maintenance as most replacement parts can only be found in capital cities and might have to be ordered.
2016 BMW G 650 GS
Curb weight: 430lbs
Max load: 415lbs
Engine: 4-stroke, 1-cylinder, liquid-cooled
Fuel: 3.7gal, electronic fuel injection, ~56mpg* (207 miles per tank)
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Seat height: 31.5in
Ground clearance: 10.2in
Noteworthy stock inclusion: ABS and heated grips included.
Essential upgrades: Skid plate and engine guards (exhaust is exposed), center stand, rear brake master cylinder shield.
Recommended upgrades: Install an in-line fuel filter, BarkBuster hand guards, flood lights, fork covers, and larger foot pegs.
Limitations: Similar to the KLR, this bike is very versatile. Concern does rise for range capacity on one tank of gas, however. In some remote areas, and northern Chile, riders will need to be cautious about fuel consumption and next fuel station.
Typical problems: BMW has put a lot of engineering into their motorcycles, therefore the problems seem to be pretty minimal. The most common issue seems to be starter based, warm and cold starts. Most procedures stress that riders give it a few seconds before pressing the starter after turning on the ignition.
Part availability: Medium. A slightly larger engine that could make part interchangeability difficult, but BMW has a strong presence throughout most major cities.
Spare parts to carry: Minimal. Even with decent availability, it is best to plan ahead and purchase replacement parts well before they need to be replaced.
Overall opinion: This is a high clearance bike but only a slightly stronger upgrade to the KLR. With the lower gasoline capacity it doesn’t fall too short from the KLR, 207 vs 274 miles per tank respectively, but the only caution could be that gas quality could see the mpg being reduced which, combined with headwind, would require frequent gas station fill-ups. Depending on used prices, I would lean more towards the KLR for initial cost saving and repair costs (typically BMW costs more than KLR).
2016 Triumph Scrambler
Curb weight: 507lbs
Max load: 440lbs
Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, air-cooled
Fuel: 4.2gal, electronic fuel injection, ~47mpg* (197 miles per tank)
Compression ratio: 10.2:1
Seat height: 32.5in
Ground clearance: 6.9in
Noteworthy stock inclusion: Strong skid plate and rear brake master cylinder shield.
Essential upgrades: Engine guards, center stand, and luggage rack.
Recommended upgrades: Install an in-line fuel filter, BarkBuster hand guards, heated grips, touring windscreen, rear suspension (taller is better, if possible for the rider), 19-tooth front sprocket, and foot pegs with teeth.
Limitations: “Scrambler” style motorcycles are more catered towards light off-road capabilities which is apparent in the lower ground clearance and exposed components of the Triumph. This only requires awareness when riding on rough terrain, however. The weight is a bit more than the 650cc class motorcycles, which could be harder to pick up fully loaded. This motorcycle is also air cooled, which has potential to overheat in traffic. Fortunately you can lane split and bypass traffic safely, for the most part, but keep a cautious eye on the bike temperature in slow, hot, environments.
Typical problems: Triumph’s have generally had a “cold start” difficulty, but it has been improved with the fuel injected models (2009+). Personally, I have seen two separate Triumphs with starter-coil issues, but a well versed mechanic can cut one open and repair them in order to get you back on the road. Additionally, EFI motorcycles require a strong battery in order to start. Low voltage can leave you stranded as push starting an EFI bike is difficult, though not impossible. If you plan on charging devices, install a voltage reader to ensure you have 10+ volts.
Part availability: Low. While the Triumph is compact, the internal components can be a bit larger than local motorcycles. Most capital cities will have Triumph as a sub-dealer to another major brand. This causes part inventory to be very low, so you might be required to wait a few days for an order.
Spare parts to carry: Minimal. In my experience, I have run into multiple fuse issues on Triumph’s. Carrying a set of fuses can quickly get you back on the road. Brake pads can be found within most major cities, but it is recommended that all replacement parts be carried 1,000 miles prior to the expected end of life as indicated by the owners manual.
Overall opinion: Without being too biased towards my love for Triumph’s, I think this is a very proper “modern classic” bike for a long adventure. It is a heavy bike, which might require removing gear before lifting, and the restricted fuel range will require proper planning before heading into areas of low gas availability. I would find it’s on-road off-road capability at 60/40. Part availability can be difficult, and it should be expected to have to wait a few days in the capital city for major repairs / replacement components. Improving the rear suspension, to include longer shocks, will greatly benefit a loaded bike. It is also possible to swap the front fork tubes with those from a Honda CBR600F3 (see here) which will raise the front end, as well as upgrade the scrambler to progressive shocks on the front. It would also be beneficial to look into a USB OBDII reader and tuneboy software should you encounter computer issues.
2016 Ducati Scrambler Icon
Curb weight: 410lbs (wet)
Max load: 430lbs
Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, air-cooled
Fuel: 3.57gal, electronic fuel injection, ~44mpg* (157 miles per tank)
Compression ratio: 11:1
Seat height: 31in
Ground clearance: 6.2in estimate
Noteworthy stock inclusion: Mono shock.
Essential upgrades: Skid plate and engine guards (exhaust is exposed), high-exit exhaust, center stand.
Recommended upgrades: Install an in-line fuel filter, heated grips, BarkBuster hand guards, touring windscreen, rear luggage rack, and foot pegs with teeth.
Limitations: This bike is primarily restricted to established roads and light-to-moderate terrains while using reduced speed. While this bike has a high ‘max load’, exercise caution when placing a large amount of weight on the sub-frame. Mounting points appear to be weak and, while it may appear to be strong stationary, the sub-frame will wobble while riding or going over rough terrain.
Typical problems: The Ducati Scrambler is a new offering, which makes it difficult to track common issues. However multiple forums and reviews have stated exhaust damage due to the low body when taking corners. Similar to the Triumph Scrambler, air cooled engines can overheat in traffic. Lane-split and bypass traffic when possible, but remain vigilent on the overall temperature of the bike. The best gauge to use is that if you are hot, then the bike is hot.
Part availability: Low. Ducati is only found within the capital cities and the scrambler model is still a relatively new product to push within South America. It is possible for part interchangeability, but it is always best to plan ahead.
Spare parts to carry: Low. Due to the reduced amount of dealerships throughout South America, I recommend that riders plan to purchase part one capital city ahead of expected ‘end of life’.
Overall opinion: While the Ducati Scrambler can manage off-road, it is primarily a street bike with scrambler styling. The low clearance and body build can cause issue on any rough terrain beyond gravel roads. I would rate this bike more of an 80 on / 20 off road type of motorcycle. The stylish tail of the Ducati is appeasing, however heavy loads could possibly strain the sub-frame. If using this motorcycles, practice caution in rough terrain and weight distribution.
2016 Royal Enfield Himalayan
MSRP: Approximately $4-5,000.00
Curb weight: 401lbs
Max load: Unknown (expected around 350lbs)
Engine: 4-stroke, 1-cylinder, air-cooled
Fuel: 3.9gal, single carburetor, MPG unknown
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Seat height: 31.5in
Ground clearance: 8.7in
Noteworthy stock inclusion: Front jerry can mounts for extra fuel, built-in pannier mounts, top rack, metal skid plate, can mounts also protect gas tank, mono shock, and dual front fender.
Essential upgrades: Engine guards will reinforce gas tank guards, center stand, rear brake master cylinder shield.
Recommended upgrades: Install an in-line fuel filter, BarkBuster hand guards, heated grips, and foot pegs with teeth.
Limitations: This is a heavy bike for its reduced amount of power, when compared to other bikes with similar curb weight. Riders will be required to bring less gear than allowed should they plan to use this bike for its off-road capability.
Typical problems: First line in this model, current issues unknown.
Part availability: Very low, however probability of part interchangeability due to smaller size and other similar Royal Enfield models. This motorcycle has not been released to its full capacity and therefore model specific parts might be hard to find within South America. There are no service centers between Guatemala and Colombia, and centers within South America are far in-between.
Spare parts to carry: Moderate. Depending on your current, and projected, location multiple replacement parts might need to be carried due to lack of service centers.
Overall opinion: The Himalayan brings multiple stock features that should be found in all dual-sport focused motorcycles, but are not. It’s initial appeal is a solid 50/50 motorcycle with a simple engine and low price point. However, its weight-to-power ratio is poor when compared to other bikes that are 30lbs heavier with 60% more engine capacity. It is important to consider, though, that the standard features in this bike are extra for other motorcycles, which will cause the weight difference to expand. Another concern is that certified service support can be very difficult throughout large portions of the Americas. I think this motorcycle is headed in an excellent direction and will become an essential bike to use in a few generations, when weight-power ratio improves.
NOTES COMING SOON
2016 Yamaha Super Tenere
2016 BMW R 1200 GS
2016 Honda Shadow Aero
2016 Harley-Davidson Street 750
2016 BMW F 800 GS Adventure
*Average fuel consumption reported from http://www.fuelly.com/
**All motorcycle images were pulled from dealer sites.