Bikes and Gear

Bikes

Seems like every motorcycle rider who you talk with about this trip wants to know what bike you're taking. Other people seem more interested in if you are carrying a gun or extra pair of underwear. The opinions of what machine is the best one to take on a trip like this are limitless and if you search the web for "adventure motorcycle" you will find some fierce discussions about the attributes of various machines and why they are the best.

This overall journey has been done by tons of bikes/riders - everything from full dress Harley's to full fledged dirt bikes and everything in between. The key differentiator is the route taken by the riders. The road machines are obviously restricted to fairly well developed roads - asphalt primarily but some decent gravel is ok. The dirt machines are punishing on long road journeys and can't carry as much gear as the road bikes. So, like most things in life - it's a compromise.

Before all you Touratech and Beemer guys send me email to tell me how wrong I am - I'm glad you have strong feelings about your bike or gear - but I'm riding the V-Strom and we'll see how it turns out. I'm sure you're dead right about your gear, but maybe you could actually take the bike out of the garage and ride it down to Ushuaia to show us all??

The top choices for bikes for this sort of thing:

  • Whatever is in your garage or cheap
    I've read countless blogs, stories and little anecdotes of guys doing this trip on some 20+ year old BMW or a little tiny Honda that was handed down from Dad to son or a full dressed out Harley/Gold Wing. To some extent, the bike dictates how and where you are going to travel but given the right route and enough time, they will all make it down there. Some of the stories you read are pretty interesting and the challenges these guys face because of the machines make you wonder if they would rethink their decisions.
     
  • BMW 1200/1150 GS
    An amazing machine - I owned one of these and rode the wheels off it for years. They have a great engine, handle great and many consider it to be the perfect bike for adventure travel. However, they are fragile, expensive, difficult to repair, expensive to repair and they require more maintenance than you might imagine. They are also heavy. The blogs and forums of adventure guys who travel with these machines are full of stories of rear drive units that have gone out, fuel injection computer problems, and a host of other issues which have left them stranded in some third world town waiting for DHL to get the parts flown in from Germany. These bikes cost about $18,000 now and that is just for the bike. Most guys will add another $5,000 in luggage and bolt on parts to prep the bike.

 

 

 

  • Kawasaki KLR650 or Suzuki DR650 or Honda XL650
    Probably the most common choice - mostly because they are economical. You can buy one new for about $6,000 - add to that $2,500 in luggage and bolt on bits and pieces and you can buy 2 of them for the price of the BMW. These bikes started as big dirt bikes and were adapted to be able to ride the roads. They lean towards being more capable in the gravel road area and off road travel. Easy to ride, lighter in weight, better fuel economy and capable of road travel you see plenty of them. They are easy to maintain, easy to repair, and reliable. The parts are cheap and probably easier to get than the BMW. Not very comfortable however and for long stretches of road they can be painful. The engines vibrate a lot more than a 2 cylinder machine - so like everything, its a trade off.

 

 

 

  • Suzuki V-Strom
    Our bike of choice for this trip - these machines come in two sizes - a 650 and a 1,000 cc. They are 2 cylinder water cooled machines and are dead simple to maintain (other than some of the engine access issues). They are very reliable primarily due to the fact that the engine has been in use in the Suzuki SV bikes for about a zillion years. Suzuki imports these things into almost every continent and there are parts available for them. The bikes are smooth, relatively lightweight (about 75 lbs lighter than the BMW), and you can ride them all day on the roads without undue fatigue. They aren't the best off road machines but are more capable than most people realize. We will be covering some significant amounts of gravel and dirt roads but don't anticipate any real trail riding.