The choice of bike is a never ending topic of discussion, in the motorcycle travellers forums.
You have people asking which bike to choose, some firmly insisting that you cannot possibly go anywhere without a behemoth like the KTM ADV 1290cc or BMW ADV 1200cc…. those bikes weigh 230kg dry… once you add fluids, luggage frame and metal panniers you get up to 250?
I have met many non-bikers people who think the ideal machine to travel must be a Harley Davidson. Hmm… try doing 1000s of miles on dirt roads, corrugation, through rivers, deep mud or sand, on a Harley.
So the answer to the never ending question “Which bike?” is… it depends! What are you going to do with the bike? Where are you going?
My choice of adventure bike is the humble Yamaha XT250. Yes, it is a 250cc engine. On the V5 it says it weighs 108kg. I think in reality it is about 130kg with fluids (fuel and oil).
How could I possibly travel is such a tiny puny machine? Surely it would disintegrate and die after the 1st river crossing?
There are two reasons for my choice.
The first reason is that the bike is incredibly light, tough and simple to repair. It is so tough, that the 2 bad crashes I had with it, I came off badly but the bike had nothing. I came off once riding a very muddy trail. Under the mud were bricks. My helmet’s camera holder disintegrated under the shock, my shoulder pretty much did too, leading to few trips to the hospital and 2 years of physio and other therapies. My XT? Nothing.
In Kyrgyzstan, I got attacked by cows. Well, sort off. There are no fences in central Asia, animals roam free. I was cruising along, a rabid dog came out of nowhere, spreading panic through a pack (?) of cows. Who knew cows could run that fast? They charged toward me. I hit one, once again falling badly on tarmac. Same shoulder. It did hurt a lot. The bike? Nothing. Through the trip it needed nothing. Few adjustments, as everything comes loose on bad roads, through the vibrations, but nothing much other than wear and tear.
My second, and major reason, is that I can go through pretty much anything on such light bike. I am not talking only about gravel or sandy trails. I am talking big rocks, rivers with unknown surface under the water, deep mud, mounds of rubble, goat tracks, incredibly steep tracks (up and down) … The GPS tends to take us sometimes through some very exotic “roads”. I could not do that with a big heavy bike. With my small bike I can go anywhere. With my heavy BMW, there were places we could not go as it would have been impossible with them.
So the choice for everyone is the following:
1- Take a big bike, heavy and comfortable, carrying all the Mods Cons, but restrict where you can go, and miss out on some amazing, but hard to get, places. 90% of the time, that bike will be perfect;
2- Take a small and light bike, that may not be as comfortable or fast, travel light, in no so much comfort for 90% of the time, but use the 10% where you have no limitation where you can ride.
For our 1st long overland trip, in South America, we chose 1. Now we prefer choice 2.
If you are going around Europe, Turkey, North America or even South America, and you are going to stick to tarmac and main highways, anything will do. Even a Harley! God help you if you break down in the middle of nowhere in south America, though!
I broke down everywhere around south America with my dreadful BMW. Finding a BMW motorcycle dealer was near impossible. Bolivia? None. Argentina? In Buenos Aires only. Chile? In Santiago only. Colombia? Only in Bogota or Medellin. And be prepared to pay mega bucks for the pleasure. Repairing the BMW required getting the computer software for that. Guess what? Only BMW Motorrad will have that. Fancy trucking your bike for thousands of miles? I have met many people who had to end their trip and truck their expensive, fancy motorbikes, from central Asia, back home, as there was no way to repair their precious bikes in the ‘Stans.
And if you think we are mad of riding half way round the world on such small bikes, have a thought about these guys!
We met these 2 in the mountains in Mongolia.
We have met many cyclists, over the years, travelling the length of the Americas, from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia, or the length of Eurasia, from Dublin / London / Paris to Shanghai. Cycling through the ‘Stans requires “balls of steel” (If you forgive me the expression!): never ending very though deserts, mountains passes beyond 4,500m, extremely sparse population… Central Asia will throw everything at you and the kitchen sink!
Would you take the challenge?