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  #1  
Old 28 Feb 2012
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Texas to Costa Rica... by scooter.

Don't know if I'll be booed off the stage here for driving a scooter, but I'm just an opportunist. I got my first dirt bike when I was 11, been riding whatever I could get my hands on ever since. Having lived in Israel for the last 3 years, I didn't have my own transportation the last couple months back in the states--and then a family friend gave me an old scooter he had. (He and my uncle ride their harleys together regularly).




It's a 125cc Yamaha Riva, 2001 (last year produced). I rode it the 350 miles back home on back highways, and it died three days later. He had neglected to tell me that he had never changed the oil on it. Should have known...

So compression went bad, but I've decided to get the engine rebuilt because I enjoyed the ride. Getting the cylinders bored out to fix compression, and to add some horsepower. The mechanic is a great guy, and it looks like the engine will be better of than when it was new. It needs new bearings on the steering and new tires badly, will do those too.

I've been planning a trip to South America for a long time now, but since I have the scooter, I got infected with this thought of driving it down instead of flying down. I live in Texas, so Mexico isn't far away. I've spent the last two weeks reading everything I possibly can about all the motorcyclists who have taken this trip and put up blogs about it--I ran into several reports here, and at AVDriders.

And I think I'm going to do it.

I've gotten a lot of negativity from places I've posted preliminarily (the scooter group keeps talking about how I'm going to be murdered, because mexico isn't safe, making jokes about how 'he's not afraid of the banditos'), but hoping you all have a bit more level head about this.

I'm planning to drive down to Costa Rica, and find someone I trust, and leave it with them while I go on for a couple months further on south pas the Darien Gap. The reason I picked Costa Rica is that, from what I read, they don't stamp your passport for vehicle import--but can anyone confirm that this plan is ok? Maybe some other papers would be problematic leaving the country months and months later?

I can't tell what the final word on insurance is. I just want whatever is bare-minimum to get me legal--does ever country in CA sell you basic required stuff at the border? I plan to spend a month or two in CA total, 3 or 4 months in SA, and then 3 weeks or so on the way back up.

I've got a lock for the bike, combination lock--it's basically a beefy bicycle lock, advertised as being heavy duty enough for a scooter/motorcycle as well. Is running it through the tire and a stationary object enough, or should I attach it some other way?

Anyone know of a way to put panniers on a scooter, or if people actually do that? I guess I could go cloth panniers if I had to, but it'd be great if I could leave them locked on somehow like the hardboxes everyone has on their BMW's here.

Most importantly, what should I bring along for the scooter to maintain it? If I gave myself a 10lb scooter survival kit, what should I put in it? I plan to have a small gas tank (1/2 gallon?) and oil on me, of course--should I bring a spark plug, or assume I can just get one there if necessary? Or will replacing a spark plug conceivably be something that kills my bike and strands me, and having a spare will enable me to quickly replace it and keep going? Etc. I'm not a mechanic, but I'm handy. i can change oil, spark plug, do basic stuff. Helped a friend rebuild his old '69 corvette once, among other odds and ends that have had me looking at a motor's innards.

I've never taken a long trip, other than that 350 mile one-day trip, on a moto. What do I need to know? What type of maintenance should I be keeping? I know to check the oil, but how often on a ride like this, and how often should I expect to change it? How long will tires last? As far as I can tell, riding it stead at 80% of its power should actually be better for the engine than stereotypical scooter driving, and I shouldn't drive at night. I won't be driving at night. I've read a ton about driving in Mexico itself (blinkers aren't the same thing, Green angles are awesome, people make crazy passes, etc.), so I'm not without knowledge, just... trying to get a nod of approval.

I'll be traveling extremely light--just a 60 liter backpack, plus whatever the scooter needs.

Worst case scenario, I sell it for a couple hundred bucks and continue on backpacking. Fine. It was a give-away to me anyways.

Thanks for your help.
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  #2  
Old 28 Feb 2012
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Dear Fintip,

Bravo! You will have a blast on your little scooter south of the border. You have the right attitude. Ride her 'til she blows. Although there are plenty of small engine mechanics in Latin America should you have mechanical problems along the way. Don't listen to the naysayers that have likely never been riding through Mexico and Central America. What do they know? I rode my 250 dirtbike down to Panama and back a couple years ago and had a hootin' good time. Go for it!

As for your questions, Costa Rica allows you to enter for 90 days before having to leave. So you can park it there for up to three months time. So you would have no problem parking it there if you intend to head further south for up to 3 months.

As far as insurance, the only countries that require insurance from Texas to Costa Rica are Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It is sold at the border when you enter both countries. When I went it was between 10 and 20 dollars in each of those countries, so not much really. Insurance is optional in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

As far as tools, I would take the basics for removing the tire and repairing flats which should include patch kit, tire irons, tire pump and the ability to change out a flat. Proper wrench for changing oil, tightening loose bolts. A spare spark plug or 2 and spark plug wrench. There are plenty of places along the gringo trail to find minor parts and tools so you don't need to bring the kitchen sink.

The main idea is to travel light and don't bring along expensive things you would hate to lose. As far as how to pack and what tools to bring, I think you would benefit from reading this travel story:

http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hub...ng-world-60100

As far as other advice, I would recommend following the Latin style of riding slow underpowered scooters towards the right shoulder to allow faster vehicles to easily pass you. Don't pass up a gas station. No fun pushing a scooter. It is fine to push your scooter into most guest house lobbies or your room for overnight secure parking.

Have fun!

Kindest regards,
John Downs

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  #3  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fintip View Post
Don't know if I'll be booed off the stage here for driving a scooter, but I'm just an opportunist.
If by being booed off the stage you mean a hearty round of applause, then yes you will be booed off the stage. ALL forms of motorcycle travel are encouraged here.


Quote:
Originally Posted by fintip View Post
And I think I'm going to do it.
Don't think. Just do it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fintip View Post
I've gotten a lot of negativity from places I've posted preliminarily (the scooter group keeps talking about how I'm going to be murdered, because mexico isn't safe, making jokes about how 'he's not afraid of the banditos'), but hoping you all have a bit more level head about this.
Sigh!!! The usual crap coming from those who've never actually left the false sense of safety of their home towns or who've never ventured beyond the fence of their all inclusive resort. None of the places on the way down are horrendously dangerous. There are definitely problems with crime in certain areas but in my 25,500km round trip voyage from Victoria, BC to Yaviza, Panama I encountered only extremely friendly, helpful, curious and generous individuals everywhere. Don't get frightened by what the sensationalist media focuses on, especially the US media. The same media could easily make Canada into a very scary country by only reporting our murders, shootings of police officers, gang turf wars etc. What complicates things is that Mexico does have an extremely high murder rate due to the ongoing drug wars. Tourists are not targeted by the drug cartels so the actual risk to a traveler is very substantially lower than what the murder rate might otherwise indicate ...most of the murders are drug related.

Washington, DC has a higher murder rate than Mexico City.


Quote:
Originally Posted by fintip View Post
I can't tell what the final word on insurance is. I just want whatever is bare-minimum to get me legal--does ever country in CA sell you basic required stuff at the border? I plan to spend a month or two in CA total, 3 or 4 months in SA, and then 3 weeks or so on the way back up.
My experience in 2010 was:


Nicaragua ...Mandatory and sold at the border. The customs agent wanted to see the certificate before issuing the temporary import permit.

Costa Rica ...pretty much the same as Nicaragua

Panama ...also like Nicaragua and Costa Rica. They wouldn't give me the import permit until I walked around the corner to buy insurance

Belize ...Mandatory but not sold right at the border. At Melchor de Mencos border you can buy it a few hundred metres after crossing into Belize. The customs agent made 100% sure that I understood that I had to stop to buy the insurance. I was never pulled over but I hear from others who've been pulled over that the police will check for insurance papers.

All others ...not mandatory and more than likely not readily available anyway, except for Mexico. For Mexico you can buy insurance online, in southern US towns, or from insurance agents after you cross the border. There is confusion as to whether it's mandatory or not. My understanding is that it's mostly not mandatory (but highly recommended) in most states. But I remember finding something during a Google search about one or two states having made it mandatory.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fintip View Post
I've got a lock for the bike, combination lock--it's basically a beefy bicycle lock, advertised as being heavy duty enough for a scooter/motorcycle as well. Is running it through the tire and a stationary object enough, or should I attach it some other way?
A lock will help but it's only going to stop the laziest of thieves. During my 3 month trip my bike was only parked on the street for one night in a semi ghost town way high up in the mountains where the only access is through a 2km tunnel. There was otherwise always a secure parking area available. A locked compound, once with video surveillance; hotel lobbies; a hidden parking area with an armed guard; etc, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fintip View Post
Worst case scenario, I sell it for a couple hundred bucks and continue on backpacking. Fine. It was a give-away to me anyways.

Thanks for your help.
I absolutely love your attitude.



...Michelle
www.scrabblebiker.com
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  #4  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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You'll have a great time. I have hosted over 70 travellers over the last 6 or 7 years. There is no connection between the size of the bike and the amount of fun. There is a connection between the size of the bike and the cost of the trip. The bigger the bike the more expensive everything is.
You will fit right into little Mexican towns as you will be riding the typical bike of the locals and not some monster machine.
If you need a place to stay in Mex City just tell me.
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  #5  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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Excellent - I am sure you can do it if you set your mind to it.

Here is the story of two Danes who rode a couple of Honda 100cc Cubs all the way from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. I'm sure you can ride a shorter distance with a bigger engine!

You meet the nicest people on a HONDA

I wrote them an email a couple of years ago and asked them if they found the 100cc bikes too slow or too small for the trip. Here is the reply I received:
---
Quote:
We didn´t have any problems with our bikes being too slow. The further south you go (away from the US border) the slower traffic gets.

In the US and Canada we rode mainly backroads. Most places we went were so remote that there was virtually no traffic anyway. In big cities (we were in Las Vegas, Vancouver, Panama City, to name a few), the C90´s were plenty fast enough. You will not have any problems with your 200cc 'superbike'

In Central and South America we found we could keep up with traffic well. We ALWAYS pulled over if a faster truck or car wanted to pass us, just to avoid holding them up (we had all the time in the word anyway), but this really didn´t happen all that much.

There were a few scary moments (torrential rainstorms in Panama, bad potholed roads in Costa Rica in the rain), but these same situations would have scary on any bike! In fact we travelled together with a German on a KTM 640 four more than two months who just putt putted along behind us, enjoying the scenery, stopping for pictures and saving shitloads on gas. He thought our speed was brilliant.

One thing: two slow bikes is better than one. With two slow bikes you can occupy more space on the road (use 3/4 of the lane) so upcoming traffic will spot you earlier and be able to get a better reading on your speed vs theirs.
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  #6  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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Hey Fintip,

Yep, just do it. Make sure she's good before you go, take the very minimum of basics and then just ride. A few of us are riding across the Sahara and down to The Gambia from London on Honda C90s ( think they're called Passports over your way) leaving this Saturday. We're only taking minimum kit and plan is to just get on with it. Good luck!

Belle
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  #7  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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The 125 Overland brigade gets bigger every day!

As for scooter panniers, I recommend getting a cheap set of throwovers, it is less hassle than you would think. Either that, or even cheaper, just use a regular rucksack bungeed to the seat if you're not planning to take a pillion. That option also has the benefit of giving you a backrest (which long days of 125 touring make you appreciate!)

Birdy

PS - Belle - I'm envious! I rode that route a few years ago on a C90 too, wish I was going with you! Have lots of fun.
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  #8  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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Another confirmation here that small bikes rock, I just rode a 125 step-through to Morocco, it was great.

Stick to small roads though, motorways are a pain in the backside - but small roads are more fun anyway!!
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  #9  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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Thanks so much for the responses!

You guys are great, thanks!

John (or anyone else who knows), I don't think I was totally clear on what I'm aiming for in regards to Costa Rica.

I intend to drive in to Costa Rica, be there for maybe a week or two, leave my scooter with someone, and bus out to Panama, and onward south. Let's say, just to make a point, that I'm gone for four months, and then make my way back up, arrive in Costa Rica, and then get my scooter back, and try to exit the country heading north now.

Would they give me problems, or not? They should be none the wiser, right?

Gary, I'll try to say hi on the way, thanks.

Belle, that sounds like an awesome trip! Wish I was going with you! I lived in Jerusalem for 3 years, would have been glad to host you if you took this trip a year before!

This encouragement is just what I needed, everyone. I'm stubborn, but I can't say I wasn't starting to question my own sanity after the way some people have been talking to me... Thanks!

Another question: what was your average per-day spending on this trip? I'll be trying to stretch $5000US as far as I can by couch surfing and so on, trying to figure if my estimate of 500/mo average could work out or not--figure it might be closer to 600-700 while riding and crossing borders.

How will I know when I should change tires? Probably not best to just wait for them to blow, I imagine, but while I know tires that are on the verge of blowing when I see them, there's a big gray area. Any idea how many I'll go through on this trip? 1? 2? 3? 4?
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  #10  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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I´ve done a few trips with scooters in Southeast Asia, and they were a lot of fun, long as you stay off the main highways (and worst mudholes, too!).... don´t see, why they would be unsuitable for Central America either. If youre riding 1-up, a scooter does surprisingly well compared to a "real" motorcycle.

edit. in case you want to check out some of our scooter trips in asia:
http://koti.mbnet.fi/pexa/
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  #11  
Old 29 Feb 2012
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It obviously depends a lot on the price of fuel, but I don't see a problem with your budget estimation.

Twenty quid gets you a long way with a little engine! If you are couch surfing and eating cheap local food, that leaves most of your daily budget to put in your tank (dependent on how much you like of course!

As for tyres, you'll probably be surprised how well they last on a low powered bike - my last long 125 trip I only used one pair (admittedly fairly knackered after 20 odd thou miles.)

Birdy
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  #12  
Old 1 Mar 2012
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I calculated with really conservative numbers and came up with $200 min to max $270 for 2,800 miles, if the average is $4.50/gal and I average 120 miles a tank--I will probably cross a few less miles than that, as the direct route is 700 miles shorter, gas will probably be cheaper on average, as gas is cheaper in Mexico, and most of the driving is in Mexico, and I can theoretically get 144 miles per tank...

So, it looks like a month trip via scooter will be cheaper than the $600 plane ticket!

At the worst, not much more expensive, and a *lot* more enriching. I hate planes anyways. And a lot better story to boot.
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  #13  
Old 1 Mar 2012
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In answer to your question about leaving your bike in Costa Rica for longer than 3 months I have heard of people doing so and getting away with it by playing dumb at the border. I would defer to someone who has actually overstayed their bike temporary import time in Costa Rica to give you a definitive answer. I personally wouldn't worry about it with a Riva. It was given to you and the worst that can happen is a fine. These things always workout one way or another. I doubt if 5000 will last past three months in South America anyway, after having spent 500 to get to Costa Rica and needing that much to get back to Texas. Even if you leave the scooter in Costa Rica, getting across the Darien Gap and back will cost 700 or so. The sailboats charge 3-400 each way and the plane fare from Panama City to Colombia isn't much different.

Daily expenses on a scooter trip should be fairly low. I spent 700 one way just getting down to Panama on a 250 that gets 60-70mpg including staying in cheap motels and eating in roadside stands and buying food in local markets. Your main expenses are gas, lodging and food. It is about 8000 miles back and forth to Costa Rica from Texas give or take. The Riva gets 80mpg or so fully loaded I imagine, more or less. Gas averages 4.00 a gallon. So 400.00 in gas will get you there and back. With fresh tires you should make it down and back. Scooters are easy on tires. I ended up buying a rear tire in Panama and it was 100.00. Yikes. Twice U.S. prices for small bike tires.

If you stay with people on couch surfing and keep your lodging expense down you will save 10 to 20 a day that I spent on cheap places to stay. Camping is a bit dodgy in Central America. Easier in South America I hear. I've not tried couch surfing.

If you don't smoke or drink then you will save a pile. And food costs can be low if you don't eat in sit down restaurants.


I spent a little over 200 on border crossing fees and mandatory insurance for me and the bike down and back. El Salvador was free, but Mexico is expensive and Honduras is 34.00 in and 3.00 out, Guatemala is 12.00 in and 2.00 out. It adds up when you're going both down and back. There are a lot of border crossings. It filled six pages of my passport.

So in answer to your question, I left Arizona with 3000.00 and arrived back in Arizona after 35 days with 700.00. But I spent 100.00 on a rear tire, 400.00 at the dentist in Guatemala getting my old teeth buffed out, and 150.00 on freeway tolls in Mexico because I had plenty of money and was jetting through northern Mexico heading for the barn on the last 1000 miles. Minus those extra expenses, I could have done the 35 day trip for 1650.00. So about 50.00/day.

You will likely be traveling slower, staying in less expensive lodging and spending less on gas each day. Still with border crossing expenses, crossing the Darien, gas, food and lodging, I don't think you need to worry too much about overstaying your bike import time in Costa Rica. It is a rare vagabond that can travel any distance for less than 1000.00/month as you hope to do. Although I am sure there are people who have done it and we will be hearing from them shortly. They are likely old and remembering the good old days.

Nevertheless, you sound to be young and I encourage you to go for it! It will be an excellent adventure. People tend to get tied down with family and career as they get older. Go now! Money and things come and go. Travel adventure memories last a lifetime. I can still hear the howler monkeys at sunrise in Costa Rica if I close my eyes and remember.

Kindest regards,
John Downs
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  #14  
Old 1 Mar 2012
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You'll have a great time,
back in 2009 my firiend and I were cycling and met 3 colombians on scooters who's driven to bolivia on scooters, they had a great time, got lots of good reactions when they rode into town on a scooter
You're one of the people and less likely to get any hassle than somone on a shiny new 1000 cc tourer.
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  #15  
Old 1 Mar 2012
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Thanks Birdy and Fintip. Blog of the trip is here: enyatopbox.blogspot.com. Plan is to post a few lines and a pic daily, subject to signal availablity and things not going tits up!

Enjoy your riding y'all and keep safe.

Belle
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