Sometime in 2007, I decided I was going to ride a motorcycle to South America from my home in Washington State. I've did a bit of research of others who had accomplished similar trips and was always surprised in how long they had prepared. A year later I'm still planning, still thinking, still dreaming, still searching for the "Adventure" bike...
Selecting the bike, for me, was a painful experience
Many of the people I spoke with that had ridden down south, or around the world, told me that any bike will work; If I had a bike then just take it. At that time my only “adventure” bike was a Ducati ST4. I don’t really want to take my ST4 to South America as I don't want to put it through the abuse of such a trip. If I was going to get another bike, which one should it be?
For me, the bike should have
- RTW reference – has been used before for this type of trip
- Common – so that it might not be the first time a mechanic in a small village in Bolivia has seen one
- Good online technical support forum (like ADVRider)
- Worldwide dealer network
- Comfortable for 2-up (more on that later)
- More than one cylinder (no real reason other than two or more cylinders should be smoother)
Bikes I considered
- BMW 650 (solo only)
- BMW oilheads (1100GS, 1150GS/GSA, 1200GS/GSA) (solo or 2-up)
- BMW 800GS (solo or 2-up)
- KLR (solo only)
- Ducati Multistrada (solo or 2-up)
- TransAlp (solo or 2-up)
- KTM 640 Adventurer (solo only)
- KTM 990 Adventurer (solo OR 2-up)
I wanted a bike that had a proven track record as I didn’t want to be the first one with some weird problem while I'm in the middle of nowhere. If I did have a problem, I wanted access to some technical reference like, another rider on the same type of bike, online support forums, dealers, etc. I know a guy that’s in Russia now and he’s having starter problems with his BMW 1200GS. He’s getting a lot of support from online forums by people that have had a similar problem. The lack of this type of support is what keeps me from getting the 800GS (even though I think the bike is going to be a good one). It will take time for enough people to own the 800 and gain the experience needed to be able to provide online support.
As it turns out, I need a bike for 2-up riding. This requirement eliminated a lot of bikes on the list, not because they couldn’t be used for 2-up riding, but because I wanted the bike to be capable of riding 2-up comfortably.
For me, this meant a BMW oilhead; but which one? I would never want to abandon a bike, but if I needed to, then I didn't want to feel like I just lost a huge investment. The meaning of “huge investment” is going to be different for everyone, but for me, the BMW 1200GS was just too much. There’s also a possibility I may want to get a carnet at some point. Some countries requite a large percentage (400% for India) of the bikes current value for the carnet bond. South and Central America do not require a carnet, but you never know where you may end up. The BMW 1100GS was the next to go because of the transmission and frame breakage problems.
The BMW 1150GS started to look like my advebture bike. After reading about the different configurations of the 1150GS, I decided on the ’02 model; it doesn't have the servo ABS and it wasn’t the first model year. I didn’t see a huge advantage in the Adventure model's larger tank and shorter first gear so I was open to either a GS or a GSA.
My ’02 1150GS - 14K miles and:
- Rich’s custom seat (a real plus)
- Remus exhaust (not a requirement but OK)
- Touratech hard part (a must) and crash bars
- Motolights (removed - I found they didn't work and I didn't like how they attached to the forks)
- larger aftermarket screen
- BMW system bags (removed)
- tail bag, tank bag
- extra power outlet
- Cycle Pump
- 41L gas tank
- 41L aluminum panniers
- folding gear shifter
- Foam air filter
- Ohlins shocks (These made a huge improvment in handling)
- Garmin Oregon GPS and locking mount
I’m working on the handlebar ergonomics now as the bike has bar risers installed, but I’m not sure I like them. Later this year I’ll install stainless steel brake lines. 2008 is the shakedown year for the bike, so, based on what I learn I may add or remove an accessory or two. Then, a few months before I leave, I’ll do things like: new brake pads, install spare throttle cables, external fuel filter, complete maintenance and maybe install one of those reusable Scott oil filters.
I’m still worried about the weight of the bike; it's huge! I’ve been riding it off road a lot and I’m pleasantly surprised in how it handles in the dirt. You don’t really feel the weight while moving. I’ve put it into a few power slides and as long as you keep the power on, it’s OK; just don’t make a mistake, as it’s a real bear trying to recover without dropping the beast. In the end, riding 2-up with gear, I don’t think the weight of any bike is going to be a limiting factor, as long as the bike can handle the load.
Update (August 2011)
Check out my new adventure bike KTM 990