Jammin thru the Global South
This is it. The big one for me. I left the US in early March on a 2+ year journey through Latin America and Africa. It's one way and don't know when I'll be coming back to the US. I've sold everything off and my only possessions will be my DR650 and what I can carry with me. :scooter:
Thanks to everyone on HU who's helped with trip planning questions over the years. Couldn't do this without your help. And of course thanks to everyone who has gone before me and provided inspiration and information through your ride reports. :thumbup1:
I'm about four months into my trip and currently in La Paz, Bolivia. Sorry for the late start here on HU, but I'll try and catch up quickly.
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The Global South. It's a term used to refer to the developing countries that mostly lie in the southern hemisphere. This story is about a two year motorcycle journey through Latin America and Africa heading towards India with a desire to raise awareness about sustainability and eudaimonia, the search for things that are true, good and beautiful.
After spending the first two decades of my life growing up in Africa and being schooled in India, I spent the last decade in the US specializing in university and subsequently working in corporate product design engineering. It's been a blast and I've been very thankful for the life I've had so far, making a plentitude of meaningful connections and having had numerous lifetime experiences. However, curiosity, that great driving primal force of all life, responsible for where I am today, has been exposed to the grand scheme of things and is gnawing inside of me to grab at the opportunity that lies within my potential to gain a far deeper understanding of life on this planet.
If that was my only goal of this journey then perhaps I should simply travel directly to the places where I expect to learn the most about how humans and the rest of nature interact and how best we can sustainably develop civilization and co-habit peacefully with nature. But in my short travels so far I have learnt that the most meaningful experiences are the ones you don't plan for; giving up control to the journey and letting experiences materialize. The road through a barren landscape could be a revelation of ideas or a synthesis of understanding. It is with this in mind that overland motorcycle travel appears best suited for such a journey.
Every opportunity has a cost and I've been trying to conduct the most thorough cost-benefit analysis of a long duration motorcycle trip through a majority of the world's developing countries. Benefits come easily to the mind, with the right side of the brain trying to visualize all the wonderful sights of unseen lands, all the tasteful treats from roadside shacks and all the warm people that are the one homo-sapiens. And the left brain pondering over how useful and relevant these experiences will be in shaping my life from here on out and positively enriching my productivity in future endeavours. However, the left brain can't ignore the looming elephant in the room, regarding security to my well-being, which I will mitigate to the best of my ability. Besides the obvious costs regarding finances and career paths, the one regarding longevity and safety has caused the biggest lump in my throat. Voluntarily giving up my comfortable life in the US and hoping for the best at the other side of the journey was not hard to decide on as I'm confident in my abilities to earn an income when that time comes again.
This journey that begins in March 2010 had seeds planted about four years ago, when I first caught wind of the possibility of riding around the world on a motorcycle from advrider.com and horizonsunlimited.com, global adventure motorcycling forums that have been a source of inspiration along with copious amounts of information. Subsequently, I toured around the US on my Suzuki GSX-R600 learning from veteran motorcycle travelers and coming into my own, belonging on the road. I then acquired a Suzuki DR650, a more appropriate motorcycle for unknown road conditions and tested the waters with a short trip around Mexico in 2007. The success of that trip convinced me that going further south would be very feasible and highly enjoyable. Since then, the planning has been solidifying up to this point. In between, I made a trip up to Alaska in 2008 and one down the Continental Divide in 2009. I tested various gear and configurations to see what would work best for this upcoming journey. I also evaluated my attitude in various situations, such as mechanical breakdowns and minor accidents. Seeing that I survived those with no long term effects, I am confident that I'll be able to get through situations that will no doubt arise on the journey ahead.
I have been looking forward to and dreaming of commencing this journey for the past four years. I have a feeling it's going to be good and I'm as prepared as I'll ever be.
Come along for the journey and please do write me a hello to keep me company on the road through The Global South...
The Route Plan
The general route plan is to ride around South America in 2010 and then ship or fly over the Atlantic to spend 2011 around Africa and then make my way towards India.
Being a geo-political news junkie, I've been keeping abreast of the news in the regions I'll be traveling through and will avoid areas that are deemed unstable. However, one thing going in my favor is my brown skin color. In Mexico, with the few Spanish phrases that I could speak, people assumed I was Mexican since they can range from fair to dark and brown fits in there somewhere. I'll be taking a Spanish language immersion course in Guatemala and if I can come out of there speaking fluently, I should be able to pass for a local in many countries. Of course, I'll see what I can do about learning Portuguese for Brazil. My French is going to need a brush-up before I enter West Africa and besides that English should get me by along with a dose of respect for the locals.
After Africa, I'd like to continue overland through the Middle East into India. However, I'm not sure I can get a visa for Pakistan or if I'll be allowed to cross the border from Iran into Pakistan at Taftan. But that's two years away and I'll figure it out as I get closer.
Being an Indian citizen, my situation dictates that once I leave the US, the only country that will bureaucratically welcome me with open arms will be Mother India and thus the journey will be heading towards there. However, I might slow down somewhere along the way. And that could be in southern Africa, as I consider Zambia to be a second home and would like to give back to the country that provided me an exciting childhood.
Along with noting down the routes traversed by previous motorcycle travelers, the general climate in each region will dictate how the route goes. For example, I'll be avoiding the rainy season in Brazil and the super hot summers of the Sahara.
The line shows my approximate route:
About the Bike
This being a motorcycle trip, the bike is obviously a very important part of the trip and I need to make sure that the bike is capable of what I ask of it. To ensure this, I've modified the bike to better suit long distance adventure riding and have done the routine maintenance to reduce the chances of any breakdowns.
My only possessions for the next two years will be what I can carry on my motorcycle and thus it acts as a lifeline and a home on two wheels. In my preparation for this trip, I've tried to learn as much as possible about all aspects of this motorcycle so that I can better handle any mechanical breakdowns or just routine maintenance.
The Suzuki DR650 is a tried and tested motorcycle that has been taken around the world by numerous others before me. Besides being highly functional for the task at hand, she also looks good and that matters because I have to bond with the bike as she'll be my steadfast companion through this journey.
Her name is sanDRina (sun-dree-nah) and we've already gotten off to a great start with a successful two week trip in Summer 2009 down the Continental Divide.
The reason I chose the DR for long distance adventure touring:
- Dual-Sport Capability > meaning it can handle dirt and gravel roads as well as cruising on the highway.
- Tube Tires > easier to patch/repair a tube tire than to repair a tubeless tire like sport bikes.
- Spoked Rims > can absorb the shock of poor roads better than alloy rims.
- Expandable Gas Tank > this bike's design is such that the original gas tank (3.4 gallons) can be upgraded with a 4.9 gallon one or a massive 7.9 gallon tank, which I currently have.
- Air Cooled > the bike's engine is cooled by moving air and an oil cooler but with no water-cooling (radiator), meaning less parts to worry about failing.
- Carburetion > this bike is carbureted instead of fuel injected because it's easier to work on in case something goes wrong while traveling.
Modifications To The Bike From Stock (as she came from previous owner)
- Aqualine Safari 7.9 gallon gas tank (to improve range to nearly 400 miles)
- Corbin aftermarket seat (to improve comfort)
- Mikuni Flat Slide TM40 Carb with K&N Air Filter (to improve performance and throttle response)
- Happy Trails Skid Plate (to protect the engine)
- Answer 1" Handle Bar (to improve handling and durability)
- Trail Tech Vapor Digital Speedometer with Tachometer (to improve monitoring)
- WER Steering Stabilizer (to improve handling)
- SuperBrace Fork Brace (to improve handling)
- Seal Savers fork boots (to protect dirt from damaging front suspension seals)
- Stiffer Progressive front and rear springs (to improve handling)
- Larry Roeseler Rear Shock Absorber (to improve handling)
- Stainless Steel Braided Brake Lines (to improve braking performance)
- Adjustable Chain Guide (to protect the chain)
- Acerbis Hand-guards (to protect the fingers and the levers)
- Acerbis Supermotard Front Fender (to improve aero drag and looks)
- LED Tail Light and Turn Signals (to improve the looks and reduce voltage draw)
- Secured Neutral Sending Switch (neutral gear indicator bolts that could come loose in the engine)
- Upgraded Engine Torque Limiter (to prevent starter gear train damage related to this model year)
- Upgraded Engine Base Gasket (factory paper gasket could lead to leaks)
Modifications Added Since Then
- Rear Luggage Rack (to improve usability)
- Happy Trails Luggage Rack with Pannier Set and Top Box (to secure and increase storage space)
- Symtec Heated Grips (to provide warmth to the fingers when it's cold)
- Centech AP-2 Fuse Box (to have better control of electronic add-ons)
- Eastern Beaver Headlight Relay Kit (to increase power to headlights)
- Voltminder Battery Voltage Monitor (to monitor battery health)
- Upper Chain Roller Removed (potential design flaw that could damage the frame)
- Aluminum Engine Side Case Protector (to increase engine protection)
- Wossner Forged Piston
- Scotts Stainless Steel Reusable Oil Filter (to reduce carrying spare parts - disposable filters)
- Rear Brake Master Cylinder Guard (to protect exposed components)
- Shortened Kick Stand and welded Larger Foot Plate (to improve stability when parked)
- Fabricated Highway Pegs (to reduce strain on legs)
- Fabricated Lexan Windshield (to improve comfort in terms of wind buffeting)
- Fabricated custom bike crutch to aid in tire repair
- Tool tube under engine and subframe (to increase carrying space)
Farkles (Functioning Sparkles: electronic add-ons)
- GPS: Garmin 60Cx with Touratech Locking Mount
- 12V Accessory plug: for running mini air compressor, heated vest and charging electronics
Maintenance done before the start of the trip
- Engine Rebuild with new transmission parts and gaskets all around
- New Oil and Oil Filter with Shell Rotella-T 15w-40 Synthetic
- Valve Clearance Check
- New EBC Front and Rear Brake Pads
- Bleeded Front and Rear Brake Fluid
- Cleaned and oiled K&N Air Filter
I've done all the above modifications and maintenance to improve my chances of how sanDRina will behave while we're out on the road. Some items will improve her performance, while others will add to my comfort and increase my usability. Not everything above is necessary before a motorcycle trip like this, but it gives me a better peace of mind, so that I can enjoy my journey more.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Why am I doing this?
Professional: I'd like to make a career switch from engineering into humanitarian affairs and will be studying for a distance masters in Sustainable Development from the University of London during this trip. I hope to get first-hand knowledge of the various humanitarian needs through the regions I'll be traveling through, which will help me choose an area to get involved in at the end of the journey, such as water resources, appropriate technology, etc. I hope to use this trip as a stepping-stone to the next chapter in my life.
Personal: I was bitten by the travel bug at an early age and this trip will be a culmination of many years of planning, researching and dreaming. Having traveled in small bits and pieces to various countries, I'd like to see more of our beautiful Planet Earth and I'm at a point in my life that this is feasible.
Why so long for the trip, 2 years?
The general route is dictated by the regional climate, meaning that I'm trying to avoid the rainy season in most places along with extreme temperatures (height of summer and winters). From this data, two years to circulate around Latin America and Africa allows me to synchronize nicely with the seasonal climate. Also, I need enough down time to get some studying done. I'm planning to ride for a few days, then stop for a few days, see some sights and get some reading done for my courses.
In addition, in my research for this trip and through communication with seasoned long-duration travelers, I've learnt that 'the slower you go, the cheaper it gets,' referring to the majority of expenses on these kinds of trips being related to transportation (self or public). Staying in places longer will reduce my average daily costs, allowing me to stretch the dollar and travel for longer.
Why on a motorcycle instead of a car?
Besides the old adage of "four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul," benefits of motorcycle travel over automotive:
- overall cheaper cost, initial and running (better gas mileage, cheaper maintenance).
- simpler regarding complexity of machine; I am able to fully tear-down my motorcycle and perform most repairs on it with relatively few tools.
- size; I need only about 4 ft to get through with my motorcycle, compared to at least 8 ft for a car. This could be a narrow bridge, a goat path road up into the mountains or around fallen debris on the road.
- versatility; a motorcycle, especially a dual-sport one, is able to traverse over most any surface including wading through 2 feet of water (rivers).
- openness; us riders jokingly refer to car drivers as 'cagers' as in the driver is caged in the car compared to being exposed and out in the open on a bike. Car drivers will probably see this as a downside, however once you become a rider, you'll see this as a positive. Yes, you have to brave the elements, but with appropriate gear, comfort can be achieved in most weather situations and feeling the wind against you makes you feel more connected to your local surroundings compared to being nicely cocooned in a car.
- friendliness; the vulnerability of being open on a bike allows curious strangers to approach and make a new friend.
Will I be carrying a gun or other lethal weapons for self-defense?
No. Firstly, it's highly illegal to cross borders, especially across developing countries with weapons of any kind as this will be seen as a threat and quickly lead me to the local jail, which I don’t want. I also feel that weapons can quickly escalate situations unnecessarily. I'm more on the Buddhist side of the spectrum and believe in soft power; going in with a smile, being friendly and respectful can diffuse most confrontations. Of course, there will be some situations where a weapon might be useful, but I will deal with them as they arise.
With my travel experience to date, I've learnt to be aware of my security in all situations; not being paranoid, but just being aware - making sure I'm not being followed, looking for exits from crowded places, recognizing unsafe parts of a new city, etc. I will try my best not to attract attention by flashing money or fancy gadgets in hopes of deterring common mugging. While I'll be hiding money in various places on me and on the bike, I will only have small change easily accessible along with a false wallet (with expired ID and credit cards) to easily hand over if I'm being mugged.
I'll also be using my brown skin to my advantage, hoping to pass off for a local in most places (the world's going beige :p ). After learning Spanish, I'm sure I could easily pass for a regional citizen in most of South America. I'll have to pick up Portuguese for Brazil. I might still stand out around Africa (I do know French for West Africa), but since there are so many Indians everywhere who migrated many generations ago, I might still pass off for a resident.
I do have mace/bear spray that I bought for bears in Alaska, but it wont be practical to be walking around everywhere with it. I'll still be taking it when I head off into the wilderness for protection against animals.
Where will I be staying?
Primarily it will be hostels and cheap hotels along the way and camping where possible, but I will be looking to stay with locals as much as I can. There are different avenues that I will be using to get in touch with people willing to host passing travelers, as it will be a more enriching experience to meet and stay with locals. I have done this on all my previous trips and made many new friends along the way. Resources: ADVrider.com Tent Space List, HorizonsUnlimited.com Communities, and CouchSurfing.org (similar concept to the previous two resources, but open to the general public, not just riders).
How am I funding this trip/lifestyle choice?
I lived frugally while I was working in the US for a major corporation and saved and invested my earnings with this trip in mind. However, its not a lot and I'll be looking to stretch the dollar as best as I can and am open to donations :) If you feel you're getting something useful from my trip report, please consider a small donation (paypal button on website) towards petrol or a meal on the road. Thanks.
How will I get access to money?
ATMs are widely available in all major cities and that will be the safest way to withdraw funds. I've chosen banks that don't charge ATM widthdrawl fees or at least, charge very little. Where possible, in safe locations, I will use my Capital One credit card, specifically because they don't charge any foreign transaction fees and give good exchange rates.
What about the health risks?
I've taken all the recommended immunizations (yellow fever, hepatitis a/b, typhoid, etc) and will be highly conscious of the food and water that I drink. In general, as long as it's hot and cooked in a relatively clean place, it'll be safe to eat. I love eating from roadside shacks and haven't gotten sick, yet. Plus, growing up in developing countries has probably left me with a pretty good immune system that hasn't been weakened by my time in the US. I'll be using a LifeSaver Water Filter that can filter out practically all viruses and bacteria and other water soluble contaminants. I will be carrying first-aid supplies and with a mother and sister being doctors, immediate advice is only a phone call away.
What if I get sick?
Diarrhea is probably the most common illness to plague travelers and I'm aware of how to tackle it (oral rehydration solution). Besides that, preventing mosquito bites will go a long way in disease prevention and I plan to use appropriate repellent where needed.
Do I have medical insurance?
I won’t be having any medical insurance since it doesn't seem to be practical for me being an Indian citizen. The costs for travelers from India is quite exorbitant and just paying for medical care as it rises will be a more cost effective strategy. I looked into medical evacuation insurance but currently that only applies to North American residents and once I leave the US, I give up my residency there.
What if something breaks on the motorcycle or I get a flat tire?
Over the past few years, in preparation for this trip, I have learnt how to properly maintain and repair most any breakdowns, including fixing flat tires and mounting a new tire. I will be carrying specific tools such as a chain-breaker for more complex servicing.
Do I know anybody in these countries that I'll be traveling through?
Not yet, but I'm likely to once the journey gets started.
What does "Jammin" mean and what's its significance?
"Jammin" is the username I selected when I joined my local Chicago sportbike forum and its significance has to do with Bob Marley's feel good song with a positive pulse. It's significance also stems from my constant need to have music playing, which is one of the reasons why I like long motorcycle trips as it allows me to listen to lots of music while bobbing down the road with my noise-isolating etymotic er-6i earphones.
How will I stay in touch, communicate?
Internet cafes are ubiquitous the world over and getting online should not be a problem. I will be updating this blog along with twitter and facebook every few days or whenever I get a good internet connection. I will also be traveling with an international roaming SIM card to make important phone calls and will be using skype for free webcam calls to my parents, so that my mom can see that I'm alive and well.
How will I cross from South America to Africa?
I'd like to take this 3 week journey on a cargo ship (Grimaldi RORO) from Buenos Aires but there are some logistical issues with that idea, so I might end up flying across, putting the bike on a pallet in the cargo compartment.
When am I coming back to the US?
I'm not sure.
Isn't Africa really dangerous? Don’t they still eat people there? LOL
Yes, Africa is less developed than the rest of the world but that immediately doesn't make it more dangerous. There are dangerous places all over the world, including in your home town and one just needs to be aware of them and take the right precautions. And besides, I spent 8 years of my childhood in a remote corner of southern Africa and I can tell you it's a beautiful place with warm, friendly people.
Wont I miss home and my bed and all the other comforts?
Having lived in Zambia soon after birth and then growing up in India, "home" is a concept I've learned to adapt to wherever I happen to be at that moment in time. On my short motorcycle trips up to this point, I've noticed that I did not miss the comforts of my home even when things were going bad, so I think I'll be fine. I'm aware of "traveler's fatigue" and with an open-ended journey like this, I should be able to slow down and break the journey for a while if I need to. Yes, I'm going to miss my kitchen as cooking is a highly pleasurable activity, but I think I can fulfill that desire on this journey. I gave up watching regular TV a few years back and thus won’t be missing any programming, besides watching Formula 1 races. I will miss having almost instant access to high-speed internet, being part of the "plugged-in" generation, but I'll learn to live without it. I will miss my friends and I don't like to say goodbyes as the friendship doesn't need to end there and hopefully we can meet in the future.
If you have any other questions, do let me know.
I know they are mechanics all along the way through South America and Africa but I wanted to replace some parts and do some preventative maintenance on my own time and not be rushed, unlike having to do it enroute after things fails. I know things are going to fail that I didn't anticipate, but I'll handle them as they arise.
First up, I replaced all the bearings: front and rear wheel and swing arm bushings. I'm a decent wrench myself, but I know when some tasks are beyond my abilities for lack of experience or proper tools. I have a good mechanic friend, Gus who helped immensely in all the following tasks. He lived 80 miles from me (on the other side of Chicagoland) but it was worth it as he taught me a lot about how to service the bike if I need to on my own down the road.
Removing the swing arm from the bike to access the swing arm bearings (as it pivots on the frame).
That's Gus heating up the swing arm...
...to plop in the new bearings.
The rear wheel bearings. The bike had 26,000 miles and the bearings probably would've lasted another 10K or so miles, but the factory bearings aren't sealed and look at all that crud and rust that gets in there. I put in new All Balls bearings that are sealed on both sides. These should last for the next 30-40K miles at least.
Heating up the rear wheel hub.
Putting in the new All Balls bearings and dust seals.
Eww, the rear sprocket bearing, haha.
I then planned to rebuild the Front Forks (new oil and seals), but started reading about a potential issue in the transmission of the DR650 and figured a full engine rebuild would do me good. For certain model years, the 3rd Drive Gear in the transmission is known to fail unexpectedly and as a precaution you can replace it with a newer part. I figured a rebuild would be good as well to take a look at all the engine internals and see if there were any other problems that might arise down the road, and if I was going in, I thought I might as well replace the piston and rings and other aged parts, such as the plastic oil pump gear. I also had the cylinder head rebuilt to restore compression.
The engine removed from the frame.
This is probably as naked as she'll ever be :) The forks removed from the frame. One can see how simple a motorcycle the DR650 is. That's a big reason why I chose this bike - it's not too complicated and it's very basic in its design, because it just works.
Cycling the new fork oil. That's Nick who came to hang out while I was down there. He's an amateur sport bike racer and participates in CCS races on a Suzuki SV650. Him and Gus are constantly rebuilding SV motors. These guys said they would be factory support for me on my trip and if I needed any parts sourced and shipped, they were ready to help.
Slipping on the new seals. Using some plastic to prevent the seals from catching a sharp edge and tearing.
Slipping on the new seals. Using some plastic to prevent the seals from catching a sharp edge and tearing.
Setting the new seals in.
Now the engine rebuild:
The engine on its bench, where it would be for the next 2 months as the rebuild went on for longer than expected as we waited for the right parts to be shipped.
The old piston at 26K miles. Not bad. Replaced it with a new forged aluminum Wossner piston (stock compression).
The rebuild required a few special tools, such as this generator rotor remover (50 mm threaded pipe). Had to wait a few weeks for the right part to arrive.
Splitting the engine cases required a plate that a threaded rod when turned would lift the outer case up.
When everything was set just right, it was magical to see the cases come apart with so little effort - hand turning the rod to split the cases.
Voila, the insides of a DR650 engine. Simplicity shows through again. It's a single cylinder, so a sole piston spins the crankshaft around and the transmission is built into the engine case (like in most motorcycles).
The transmission gears. The part to be replaced is in the middle of the left stack. It looked fine and there was no unexpected signs of wear on any other parts. Even the cylinder walls with their Nikasil coating looked perfect. I was pleased that everything in the engine was running as expected and looked normal.
The clutch also looked like it had very minimal wear, so I didn't replace it and will do so as needed down the road, probably in Argentina.
Putting the engine back together. Spinning the clutch basket on.
Re-assembling the cylinder head. Cam chain in place.
That right there is one mighty fine rebuilt DR650 engine. If something happens along the way, I'm not too worried about going in and working on it, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Shifting through the gears to make sure everything works as intended.
Getting the engine back in the frame with the help of my friend, Cesar who acted like an engine hoist while I positioned the engine to get the mounting bolts through.
After getting the bike maintenance tasks done, it was onto other setup tasks on the bike.
Cleaning the sludge that had built up on the skid plate as it came from the previous owner. Mostly chain lube and probably engine oil.
30 minutes later with lots of kerosene (great cleaning solvent) and elbow grease.
Installing a Stebel Nautilus Compact horn - super loud aftermarket horn, 139 dB - so that I can be heard among all the trucks and traffic chaos along the way. Reading other travelers' reports, I noted that most of them wished they had a louder horn.
It barely fits under the Aqualine Safari tank and the front fender needed to be cut for clearance.
Aligning the horn to make it as level as possible as it's only supposed to be +/- 15 degrees to function optimally. I'm using an app on my Android phone (Motorola Cliq) that utilizes the built-in accelerometer.
Installed with the relay and heavy duty wires. The Stebel draws a lot of current to produce that loud noise and thick wires are needed. They only require 14 gauge wire but I had some 12 gauge lying around, so used that liberally to ensure no melted wires. I'm also keeping the stock horn and switching between them as needed because the loudness of the Stebel might not be needed in all situations. While the horn is loud, it has sort of a fruity two-tone very Euro truck sound and makes you smile when you hear it.
Using heat shrink on all the connections. Looking at the bottom of the horn.
Enjoying the many months spent in my garage fabricating devices for the bike.
Setting up a 10 W, 0.6 Amp solar panel on my top box to provide additional electrical juice to recharge my laptop and other electrically gadgets. My bike doesn't produce enough electrical power to safely charge things while on the bike and I'm expecting to be in some remote places with no electrical connections and would still like access to my laptop during those times.
Making some brackets to secure the solar panel to my top box.
Getting the s-bend was a little tricky not having a proper vice, but this rig worked out.
Painting the solar panel black, because it's got to look good :)
Connecting the solar panel into the top box. I used RTV silicone on the edges of the panel to provide some dampening.
Fabricating a switch box. I've always wanted some switches to control various things on the bike and finally found a nice aluminum box that would do the trick.
Rounding off the drilled holes.
The solar charge control module, covered in silicone RTV for electrical and mechanical insulation. This board makes sure the DC output from the solar panel is in a healthy range (12-14 V) and also prevents the reverse flow of power to the panel at night. The board also features a trickle charger that I plan to use if not riding the bike for a long time to keep the bike's battery healthy.
I drew up an extensive wiring diagram and set about creating all the little jumper cables and appropriate wires needed to execute this project. It took about a month to fully complete.
The Solstice LED lights' power source switch. Besides just charging electronics on the bike, I've also setup the LED lights to be either powered by the bike or the solar panel so that during the day I can have the LED lights on providing a wider frontal light foot print without drawing more power from the bike's battery.
The switch box all wired up and ready to go. I made a bracket that comes off the Vapor Tech mount. And the nice thing was that everything worked as intended on the first try.
Every electrical connection was bathed in dielectric grease (to help keep moisture out from corroding the contact) and where possible, the connection was wrapped in insulating heat shrink tubing (I had lots of it that came with my tool box, so might as well use it up).
And with so much heat shrink tubing still left, I decided it wouldn't hurt to protect other connectors on the bike.
Snug and insulated. Hope I don't need to disconnect that connector :p
Heat shrinking all other blade-style connectors before assembling in the switch box.
Running all electrical gadgets through a Centech AP-2 fuse panel so that if someone does go wrong it wont affect my bike's main electronics.
The Centech AP-2 fuse panel positioned under the seat, above the air box.
My dash board almost complete (the LED lights haven't been secured in this picture).
The switch box. First two from the left are on/off for the two Solstice LED auxillary lights. Next up is power source for the LED lights and master on/off for both lights and main head light on/off. Then it's the voltage monitor for the bike's battery or the solar panel output and the horn switching from the stock horn to the Stebel, both running through the switch on the handle bar. Next is heated grips and solar panel battery trickle on/off and last is power source on/off for 12V sockets under the seat and in the top box. And a note to self :)
The solar panel installed and the bike coming together.
A lexan cover for the solar panel, held down with 3M dual lock velcro.
My paint booth. Spraying clear coat on the front fender to prevent rock chips in the paint. It was freezing cold outside, so yeah, there wasn't much proper ventilation but I wore a make-shift breath mask and hopefully didn't lose too many brain cells :p
Last Days Before Leaving
With the bike all setup and packed, the last few days before leaving the house was as expected hectic. Moving out of the house I lived in for the last 4 years required help from friends as there was more to throw away than expected and I guess I couldn't bare to throw away so many useful things. The house, car (Mini Cooper) and sport bike (Suzuki GSX-R600) were sold and besides the DR, the only possessions I was keeping were my Definitive speakers, racing leathers and one suitcase of photo albums and things that couldn't be thrown away that was going to be shipped home to India.
I had been selling as many things as I could on craigslist and ebay over the past few months, liquidating all my possessions but there were still so many things of value that I felt bad about throwing in the trash. Anything useful was donated to the Salvation Army and I got my friends to take a lot of things like furniture and posters.
My good friend Allen helping clean out the kitchen. Besides the garage, the kitchen is what I'm going to miss the most, being a cook. Felt bad throwing away so many spices and other cooking items :( The last few months leading up to the trip start I tried to finish up all the food in the kitchen, but I could only get so far.
Almost empty kitchen. So many good memories from parties and Thanksgiving dinners here.
Kristen is a pro photographer in the making and she wanted to do a photo shoot with the bike playing with lights and such. Her and Allen helped me a lot in the last few days getting things out of the house and helping me organize. She also helped by taking a lot of my furniture and movie posters.
One of my favorite songs and I love the guitar solo in the extended version.
Taking away my movie posters
Making runs to Salvation Army giving away useful clothes and other household items.
Getting rid of my trusty Sidi Vertebrae Tepor boots. 5 years old and about 60,000 miles on them. My riding friends couldn't stand that I had holes in the boots, haha. Wringing as much value as possible out of them.
Setting up the bike in the garage for her photo shoot.
Kristen having fun with the bike and playing with back lighting.
One last dumpster run and bye bye Mini, great car for the past 5 years.
My close motorcycle friends at my farewell party. We've been on some great rides around the US and I learnt a lot from these mentors of mine. I hope to do them proud.
Saying good-bye to all my friends from work and around Chicago. They've considered me the crazy biker for riding to Mexico and Alaska and for bouncing off the concept for this trip amongst many of them for the past few years. Everyone was happy to see my dream come into reality.
That's it, no more possessions! Feels great to off load everything.
Excellent stuff. Best of luck! Excellent website by the way, I will follow your progress.:clap::clap:
Permit me a few glamour shots that my friend Kristen wanted to take before the trip began. It was still snowing and freezing cold in early March, Chicago.
The bike's fenders and the helmet were originally white and I spray-painted them Olive Green, using Krylon Fusion paints with a clear coat. Yes, I know it's not the most bright and visible color scheme, but I had a vision about the look :)
Setting sun on my last 5 years in Chicago. It's been a great home and I've made many close friends.
Going bald should be useful in the warm climates, but brrr, it's freezing up top for Chicago's winters.
With my close bud, Allen, from New Mexico, who helped me a lot in getting going on this trip and who's taking care of a few things for me back in Chicago while I'm on this trip.
sanDRina and I ready to head South!
It's not as icy as it looks, was more slushy, but thankfully I didn't drop the bike.
A backlit black and white shot of rider and stead.
In action thru foreign lands materializing out of the dark...
My home for the next few years. Let's get rolling!
First Leg: Chicago to San Francisco
With everything finally buttoned up in Chicago, I was ready to hit the road and head south. I was definitely nervous the last night before leaving as is normal, however, I was now ready and there was nothing to worry about and I actually got some good sleep one last time in my bedroom, on the floor since the bed was sold. :)
On the morning of March 5th, I said my good byes to my shelter and life here in Chicago and as I rolled out of the garage one last time, the butterflies in me were free and I was comfortable and excited knowing that there was no turning back to this previous life and I had taken a step into a new chapter.
Even though temperatures were about 22F in the morning, I knew things would warm up as I was heading straight south out of Illinois to Memphis. I was riding around the cold and avoiding crossing the high passes of the Rockies because there was still snow up there.
The plan for the first leg was to head to San Francisco to regroup at my friend Shridhar's place. We both connected after my Mexico trip and have been discussing this trip since then and I figured I needed a forward staging location, as such, from Chicago so that if something wasn't working on the bike, I could rearrange things before heading for the border. I also shipped a few last minute things to Shridhar that wouldn't have arrived in time.
The ride wasn't too cold and I was happy to be jammin to my tunes, on my motorcycle, heading south.
Stayed with Gabe in Memphis on the first night through CouchSurfing and we went out for a nice dinner on Balboa in the downtown area.
I'm going to miss the Mid-West. Check out the crazy headline, haha. Somewhere in Arkansas.
Seeing my first long horn in Forth Worth, Texas. Even though I lived just a few hours south while going to Texas A&M, never saw a proper long horn.
James, my host from ADV (texasyeti) with the full horns.
He treated me out to an awesome steak dinner at the revived stockyard and I like it rare.
James has a few bikes and here is a classic BMW Dakar.
And he's a dog person. Dog people are always good people in my books. Cute beagle.
His other dog is this cute pit bull, Gidget. They're such lovely dogs and too bad they suffer a bad reputation. I lived with one for a while that a housemate had and really enjoyed how smart and lovable those dogs are. Pouring over a map to see what excitement lay ahead as I went through West Texas heading to Las Cruces.
Riding into the sun near El Paso, where the road finally got interesting as elevation climbed and the road twisted a bit.
Staying with John from ADV (barko1) in Las Cruces. He also belongs to the purple frame DR club :) And he was actually flying out the next day to Australia to borrow a DR from an ADV member to ride it across from Sydney to Perth.
Heading out into 40F temps and a strong head wind. Just my luck that when I get to the lower latitudes a cold spell swung into place. The head winds were quite strong through Arizona and I figured it was training for the winds of Patagonia.
Staying with Dave from ADV (dave6253) in Phoenix.
He's got a KTM 990 Adventure and an Aprillia sport touring bike. He's a prolific ride report poster on ADV and I got some photo editing tips from him (Adobe Lightroom).
Packing up the bike in the morning. Here comes living out of a pannier for the next few years.
Leaving Dave's house under the auspiciousness of grand saguaro cacti.
Taking US-60 across west Arizona towards California. Wasn't that exciting but had to change it up from riding so much Interstate. Battling head winds all day long.
At least all that wind was being put to good use here in eastern California at this massive sprawling wind farm. There must'be been over a hundred windmill towers and they were all spinning fast.
Staying at David from ADV (scorpion)'s lair in the high desert outside Los Angeles in Landers.
Cooking up a spaghetti and pinto bean meal after a chilly and windy day. Winds were battling hard all night and I got up once to make sure the bike hadn't been blown over.
Heading north through California up to the Bay Area. I didn't realize the pass between Mojave and Bakersfield would be as cold as it was. It was snowing and sleeting at just 4,000 ft.
Staying with Chris in San Jose, whom I met and rode with on my Alaska trip. He recently moved into this great location right on top of a small hill.
He keeps hassling me to just get a BMW and be done with it, haha.
Meeting up with Shridhar in Silicone Valley, where he works for Paypal now. Had lunch that day with Rajen, an old high school friend who works for Yahoo there.
Riding the beautiful Skyline Drive through the hills from San Jose to San Francisco.
And finally making it to the west coast and the Pacific Ocean. I'm going to be seeing a lot of her as I head down south and looking forward to it as I just love coastal riding; something about all that water and vastness.
I took a couple days off the bike to catch up on things that I didn't get done before heading out and servicing the bike at a mechanic friend's place of Shridhar.
Having dinner at Charange (cuban, latin) and meeting up with old friends and new friends from ADV.
Shridhar and I doing the touristy things. But hey, it's a beautiful bridge.
Enjoying the first of many beautiful sunsets over the Pacific.
Rounding off the evening with a drink at Cliff House. Single malt scotch is my bevarage of choice.
Pizza on Haight and Asbury: pesto with potato and garlic.
Having some South Indian food at Udipi since I know it's going to be tough to find this in Latin America. There's probably Indian restaurants down there, but specially South Indian cuisine is definitely more rare. This is a dosa and it's 2ft long and paper thin. It's a rice flour crepe that you dip into lentil soups and various chutneys. It was heavenly.
Shridhar had the Chole Batura, a huge fried puri (fluffy bread) that goes with garbanzo/chick pea curry.
Shridhar with all his toys. That's a para motor strapped onto the Miata and his V-Strom in the back. He also has a DR, not pictured.
Spending a few days at Stewar's place, a friend of Shirdhar who offered to help service the bike.
Mounting a new chain and the Motio Pro Chain Breaker and Riveting tool worked like a charm. Using a grinder to file down the rivets here. Hopefully the new chain lasts me through Buenos Aires.
Putting on new tires, Kenda K761 with heavy duty inner tubes to reduce the chance of punctures.
The old Kenda K270's that came off the bike. This is after 9,000 miles and I think it could've gone another 2,000 but figured best to change it when things were not rushed and had access to a shop at my own pace.
Elongating the valve stem hole, as advised by world traveler Adam (shortwayround.co.uk) to relieve stress on the valve stem to further tube life.
Stewart was a big help and he said he was glad to help me get on my way as he'd like to make a big trip someday himself.
He has a bunch of bikes in his garage and loves tinkering on them. That's a classic Moto Guzzi out there.
And I forget what kind of bike this is, but looks like a beautiful cafe racer in the making.
Taking a test ride around the city. Lots of great architecture.
I'm all done in San Francisco and ready to hit the road again. I like this city and would definitely like to live here at some point in the future.
Heading south to Paso Robles and then onto San Diego.
San Francisco, Part 2
On my way out of San Francisco the first time I realized I didnt take too many pictures of the city and snapped some off on Van Ness street. The War Memorial Opera House.
San Francisco City Hall.
Coming down Highway 1, buzzing along in the bright sun, thinking the trip is finally moving again and...
just south of Half Moon Bay, engine goes quiet and I lose all drive. Starter motor would spin but no turn over of the crank.
Looked insde the vavle area and saw the cam chain not moving and traced back with the help of my mechanic friend Gus on the phone that it was due to my miss-assembly of the cam chain tensioner when I was servicing the engine. Big oopsy. Lots of engine damage.
Shridhar called his friend Jul (Yule) to come to the rescue and take me back to San Francisco to figure out what to do. He's a bike guy, as well.
The next morning, I took the bike to Werkstatt to get their opinion on how serious the damage was and they recommended a new engine instead of trying to fix this one. Shridhar agreed to part with his DR since he wasn't riding it much. The bike was stuck in a shop, so in the down time, Jul took me around to see the other bike shops in town. This is Subterranean.
We finished the bike tour with a visit to Dudley Perkins Harley-Davidson, a very prominent Harler dealer with a few bikes there setup as museum pieces. This is a 1957 KR Roadracer.
A 1924 JD Harley-Davidson. The 1st twin cam hill climber engine. Built my Tom Sifton.
A 2 storey wall of Harley engine history.
Took a nice ride north of the Bay Area with Jul and his riding friends and this is at the Sonoma Lake overlook. Shridhar lent me his Suzuki V-Strom since he was out of town that weekend. Nice bike to ride.
Riding the awesome Skaggs Springs Road and other twisties in the area. Lots of rough, tight, technical turns.
During our lunch stop in Guerneville, a second Honda Trans Alp pulls up after seeing Jul's modified Trans Alp. The second owner said he had never seen another TA out on the road. Jul is quite the bike modifyer and has a motor from a Honda Nighthawk, I think 750 in there and calls his creation the Trans-hawk.
Taking a coffee break at Wild Flour Bread Bakery near Occidental, where they make some tasy artisan bread.
Jul and his friend Riccardo, who's studied Mexican law and told me to contact him for any legal help down there.
Stopping by Roy Brizio's shop, a well-known custom hod rod car builder. The shop is open for anyone to walk through.
Lots of famed history here.
A near-finished car (someone help me identify what kind this is).
A little earlier in the assembly stage: engine in the frame.
A classic pickup truck. And Jul said they were making their own stamped aluminum body parts.
DR Engine Swap
Mike came forward on ADVrider after hearing my engine issues and offered to help with the engine swap. He was only about 10 mins away from Jul's place, so I moved my DR there and then went down to San Jose to pick up Shridhar's DR from a shop there. He had some carb issues but otherwise the engine was known to be running good.
Mike and I worked straight through the evening to complete the engine swap. We started about 6 pm and had both motors pulled by about 9 pm. After a good dinner break, we got to putting the new motor in my DR and fired it up at around 3 am. We wrenched diligently with no rush and made no mistakes. It was satisfying to have the motor fire up on the first try.
However, she wasn't idling too well and I took her to Werkstatt the next morning to have them look her over and Daniel there showed me the Air Speed Screw that I didn't know about, which was out too far making the air/fuel mixture too rich. With a few adjustments, sanDRina was running smooth and I was on my way out of San Francisco.
Mike working on Shirdhar's bike. His apartment building came with access to this big underground garage area with enough space to work on the bikes.
Both the motors out of the frames.
A Captain moment, arrgh.
Goodbye original engine. Sorry to end your life so soon, but sounds like you'll get a second lease pretty soon (Procycle is taking this lump off my hands).
Getting the donor motor in my frame. We both gained more experience in DR engine swaps this night. Back in the motor through the left side and then turn in once it's in the frame and then line up the engine mounts. Easy as pie.
Getting friendly with the new motor.
She fired up on the first shot. Yeah baby, sanDRina rides again! All done at 3 am.
Taking her to Werkstatt to fine tune the idle and air/fuel mixture settings. 15 mins worth of their time and sanDRina was purring smoothly. Time to head out of San Francisco. It was a good two weeks spent here and I enjoyed the city, but iching to get further south.
Riding the California Coastline
El Pacifico. Riding the beautiful Pacific Coastal Highway south from San Francisco.
Oh yeah :)
This was definitely some epic landscape, especially with the lighting towards dusk.
The historic Bixby Bridge, built in 1932.
Can't get tired of this view.
Looking back north with Bixby Bridge in view.
The sun coming through the heavy clouds made for wonderful lighting.
A hilly island right on the coast, near San Simeon.
Staying with ADVer John in Paso Robles.
Riding Hwy 101 down the coast towards San Diego. This is just north of Los Angeles.
Passing under a Delta 757 landing at the always busy LAX (Los Angeles Airport) (am also an aviation enthusiast).
As dreaded as freeway riding is, I'm definitely going to miss how well organized and easy to use the US Interstate system is.
Uggh, this is the widest freeway I've ridden, 7 lanes! This is in southern LA where I-405 and I-5 meet. Traffic wasn't bad, only backed up twice and with bikes being allowed in the carpool lane and with lane-splitting, it was no problem.
Catching Hwy 101 back on the coast near San Diego. I was heading to meet my friend Ruben who moved out from Chicago.
Weekend in San Diego
Getting closer to the Mexican border, my friend Ruben in San Diego invited me to come over and ride Palomar Mountain, a heavenly road for sport bike riders. He moved out from Chicago a few years ago and while there he founded DRILL (Ducati Riders of Illinois) and got invited a few times by Ducati to their headquarters for club presidents' meetings and got to ride beautiful Italian sportbikes through the twisty roads there. He then moved onto vintage Honda motorcycles and currently has a '65 CB160 and a '74 CB200, which is his wife Barabara's daily rider. We planned to take the bikes out for a day ride to Palomar Mountain. His primary bike is a Honda XL650.
Getting some good eat at Pokez, a popular Mexican eatery.
I tried to find a spare rear sprocket for the DR and we went around to a few dealerships but no one had it in stock. This is at Fun Bike Center and a handsome looking Suzuki GSX-R race bike.
The grand daddy of all modern repli-race sport bikes, the Suzuki GSX-R750.
A cute little Honda Coupe from the 70's for sale at the dealership. Was going for $4500. Why are cars so huge these days? :p
Ruben and Barbara's loft in downtown San Diego. A very cool living space. The building was originally used for trucks exchanging cargo back in the day.
They adopted this adorable doberman, simply called D.
D and Barbara. He was so well behaved (actually Ruben was holding a treat on top of the camera).
It's nice meeting all these supposedly aggressive types of dogs (from media impressions) who turn out to be such soft-hearted puppies. The fact that they (pit bulls, dobermans, etc) are so loyal and smart can be used by malicious owners to make aggressive dogs, but owners with good intentions can let out the true happy nature of these dogs.
Barbara on her Honda CB200, warming her up for the day's ride. She usually rides with all the proper safety gear when she commutes. Ruben got the bike for $200 at a county fair and she required only a bit of work to be up and running.
Ruben and I setting off for Palomar Mountain Road with me riding the CB160. The gas tanks are only 2 gallons on these little gals.
We met up with Silvano, Ruben's riding friend from Chicago who's from San Diego, riding a recently acquired Ducati 996 superbike. I was riding the CB160 for all she was worth on the highway (probably 70 mph) and then lost about half my power. As with most vintage bikes, they need a bit of care and can be expected to break down.
We first saw a cut in the fuel line leading into one of the carbs. The vinyl lines looked aged and it cracked at a stress point. Ruben said he would change over to modern rubber hoses.
But that didn't seem to fix it and she was still running on half power. We opened the float bowl and saw one of the main jets had worked itself lose.
Dumping the fuel back in.
A cool little tool box on CB160 and kick starter.
Ruben buttoned things up and we were soon on our way to Palomar. The Ducati was like big brother bringing up the rear and looking out for the two little bikes.
At the top of Palomar Mountain. Silvano is also into vintage bikes and let me ride his Ducati all day long as he wanted to play around on the CB160. One of my dream bikes and getting to rail with it on one of my dream roads. Perfect.
Taking a break at Mother's Kitchen at the top. The CB160 attracted a lot of attention from all the other riders there.
Lots of sport bikes were there and lots of Ducatis too. This is a 1098S and check out clutch cover delete.
A unique exhaust on another 1098S.
The two Hondas powering up the hill to the observatory.
Silvano rejoicing in making it to the top. I think the bike produced about 16 hp, but handled pretty good.
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