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Ive always travelled on a fairly big bike- my Yamaha Tenere has served me well on over 60 000km of mostly rough African roads and until recently I never really thought very hard about why I had chosen to ride such a big bike. Recently I rode India on a 350cc Enfield and started to think about the travellers I have met over the years riding anything from a 50cc to a 350cc and I really think that my next big trip will be on a 200-300cc bike. I mean if youre going to be riding rough roads solo in very remote places why ride a 230kg bike? I can barely lift my Tenere if it falls loaded in sand and certainly could not lift a 1200cc BMW. People say you need the power for sand, or you need the speed to cover distances or absurdly you need a big engine that wont let you down ... My experience is that unless you are riding tar roads you cant go fast safely, in thick sand you only need the power if your bike weighs 230kg (!) and big engines give more trouble than small ones. Also in Africa at least you're much more likely to find parts for a small bike that a big one. My personal theory is that we, and I absolutely include myself in this category, have succumbed to the cult of bigger is better and cooler and the future of long distance motorcycle travel will be on small efficient light bikes which dont cost a fortune. What do you think?
Each to their own Jim..............but I'm totally with you on this one. I really struggle to lift my Fazer even when it's unloaded ( and it's hardly big in bike terms) and the thought that I could get stuck for that very reason has nagged away in the back of my head for a while now. So I've started to venture out more and more on my 250 Yam as I know that I can lift it if I have to. And after dropping his Transalp off road a while back and having to get help to right it, even my husband now gets the smaller bike argument. But then I've never really cared what people think about what I do. Happy New Year and safe 2010 riding y'all.
I think your's is sound logic. Consumbles such as tyres will last longer and be cheaper to buy, ditto insurance and the bike itself, probably. Then there is fuel economy.
There are a couple of chinks in the armour though. One is weight carrying capacity. We all carry too much but an extra 30-40kg on a small bike will make itself felt more. Same logic follows, but more so, if you are travelling two-up.
Then there is comfort and relaibility. I realise both these points are really down to individual bikes, rather than general principles but if the bike is larger, typically the saddle is bigger and wider. Similarly, a small engine pushing you, itself and all your kit along at 50-60 mph will probably be working harder than a 650 twin.
That said some poeple have done crazy distances on Honda C90s: obvious for them the above never was a problem or they were trained mechanics and had local anaesthetic soaked into the underpants...
Despite advantages in fuel economy, the tank on smaller bikes is not typically huge as these bikes are not generally aimed at the touring market, so again you need to consider tank range.
For it's horses for courses.
A while back I had an XR400 that I thought would be great for solo trips but sub-frame strength and comfort (above all) made it a far less capable overland tool (for me, at any rate) than my present Transalp 600.
Give me a reliable light bike with a 700km fuel-range that still handles well with luggage for a year (incl food and water for a few days) that can mange cruising at 150 km/h and I might consider it.
My traveling has never been limited of the weight of my bike (200 kg), but fuel-range has been a limiting factor.
I also find joy in riding the Namibian gravelroads in 130+ km/h and powersliding in 4.th gear on the nice red earth-roads in Uganda. It’s also nice to be able to cover 1500 km in day on boring tarmac if it’s required.
Lighter bikes have an advantage in extremely rough terrain but I don’t think that’s the norm in sub-Sahara.
On the other hand, if you fancy a lighter bike I think you should give it a try. I have a 400cc which is extremely fun but it’s not made for traveling.
I think there was a long thread about this few years ago…
I havnt done anything in ages on my 125cc Derbi, but hoping to get a nice tour of northern england/scotland done soon. Weight is a nightmare. The bike has decent power and can get up the steepest of peaks no worries, but put anything in the top box and the charecteristics are shot to hell. Last time I left my top box with friends through the day, only problem was I had to return each evening.
That said, it makes you more independent as you can carry only important items. No 'mini fridges' or laptops, just a tent and a map
Im not trying to sell small bikes, Im trying to make a decision and using your input as a guide. So for the sake of argument let me play devil's advocate and defend the small bikes as we all know about big bikes...
Firstly I must say that I always travel alone and would never consider a passenger so my argument is for one up riding- though I must point out that a couple did recently ride a Honda CG125 2-up from England to Cape Town! As for seat comfort and fuel range I recon these are pretty basic hurdles to overcome. Luggage is one thing that I could see becoming a problem... pack less methinks.
A Japanese friend of mine did 170 000 km on his Honda XR400 on his RTW trip! Sure he is light, like me and packs light too. I dont know if 400cc really qualifies as a small bike though.
As for doing 150km/h or covering 1500km in a day on a trans Africa trip, well each to his own I guess.
Finally the best reason for me to try a small bike is the fuel efficiency which besides saving some money saves a whole whack of carbon emissions - something that I think we really need to be cognisant of these days.
I love my Tenere, I really do, in fact Im busy rebuilding it, but maybe it time for a paradigm shift?
Location: Dreaming of travelling and riding bikes in general..
BIG Or small
Last trip Africa Twin (300+kg loaded), next trip WR250R.
I considered that the Africa Twin was a bike suited to the 95% of the UK-CapeTown trip and stuggled in the 5% (still do-able, of course). The WR is more like suited for 5%! I joke really because the little 250 is turning into quite a star with the minimalist-touring crowd and having driven it to Scotland and back to London in a long weekend I was surprised to find the seat rather comfortable!!!!
My thinking is like some of the others here. A small bike places agility ahead of comfort, safety (picking it up) ahead of cruising at 80mph for days on end and forces you to leave stuff at home and not fill-those-panniers-til-they-burst! Should be cheaper to ship, easier to fit in the back of trucks at river crossings and make friends of curious people whenever you ride past!
To some extent trying to decide on a 'best bike' is impossible. Each of us have our own priorities and what suits one, won't suit another. In the early sixties I traveled allover the UK on a 200 cc Triumph Tiger cub, later on a 500cc twin and much later ( into the late eighties on a 1970 650cc Triumph) which I sold due to too many work commitments. After the move to France I was enticed to return to bikes on the false information that the new Bonneville could be had in right or left hand shift. Realising that this was not so, I decided to buy a fully faired bmw as any modern bike would force me to have a Left hand shift. It was a good bike but six months ago I traded it in for an Enfield. My bmw was designed to run on autobahns and it did that well. The engine would run at any revs with acceptable vibration. However not one thing on the bike was designed with the riders comfort or ergonomics having precedence over the engineers or the production line. Basically once off tarmac it was a pig to handle. I have two hundred yards of non tarmac lane to negotiate to get to the road. Two hours in the sadddle and I would be in pain. I had to sit skew whiff because teh cylinders are offset so they also offset the footrests to make it look right. This means you have to sit slightly askew. Worse the handle bars are straight and not offset to compensate for the sitting position. For me the seat was too high. the bike was too heavy and generally we did not get along. Also despite all the Lucas jokes, for the first time in my life I was stopped with an electrical problem on a bike.
The Enfield is a joy to ride in comparison. True the BMW could go faster, but my daily transit distances and times are about the same. Largely due to a combination of comfort and fuel economy. There is only a couple of KG difference between a 500cc or 350ccc Enfield (basically the 350cc has a smaller piston and bore).
In most of Europe and especially the UK traveling at over 75mph is likely to cost points and eventual loss of licence. I see little advantage in having any vehicle that can sustain over 80mph. If you are bored try a different road. Motorways can be boring at any sane speed.
My advice is, buy a bike on which you are comfortable. Only look at the theoretical specifications when you maintain it.
Top boxes put weight where it isn't wanted so use them for light stuff. saddlebags slung over the pillion do not shock so much when you go over a bump because the pillion seat acts as suspension for them. (check the bags CANNOT foul the rear wheel)
I always ride solo, so put the camping gear weight where the pillion rider would normally be, but lower.
Surely it all comes down to what you find more frustrating:
Pootling along at 50mph on a straight, fast, boring tarmac road,
Struggling along a rough dirt road sweating buckets everytime you nearly drop your bike.
Or what you find more dangerous/difficult:
Gunning it flat out throwing caution to the wind, trying to make it somewhere to a strict timescale on a slow bike
Struggling not to crash on a difficult unavoidable rocky track busting a gut trying to pick your bike up if you do.
It's probably possible to do a pretty comprehensive 'RTW' trip without having to ride on 'bad' dirt roads, and most people doing long distance bike trips probably stick to the tarmac or good gravel most of the time. But if you have the light off-road focused bike, would you be more likely to seek out tougher lesser-travelled routes as you go? I suspect in my case the answer was yes.
I'm used to riding slowly (owned a knackered old hardtail ratchop and a knackered old sidecar outfit in the past), so I don't mind the lack of cruising speed. But I particularly enjoyed this year being able to bomb along shitty potholed broken up roads with a grin on my face, rather than be cursing them through gritted teethe like I suspected all other road users were.
I don't think it's fair to talk about mechanics - Light bikes don't have to be simple, and big bikes don't have to be complicated. Fuel capacity and seat comfort shouldn't come into it either as they're easy modifications. Carrying capacity should only be an issue if riding 2-up, but even then not always (the previous example of the cg125 through africa, and if I may add my own experience riding with a pillion and luggage across mongolia on a dr350)
I just travelled on a KTM 660 rallye replica to Japan and onto Australia, would i take the same bike again? probably not. Its great for crossing the Simpson desert and Mongolia but really how much offroad (and how extreme?) are you going to do on a long trip?
These big bikes are capable of 150+ km/h, ok whats you average speed after leaving europe? In 3rd world countries, with sheep/goats & nightmare traffic 80km/h is the max. Go slow, see more, smile and wave to people !
* Ever tried to get a 520 chain or 17/18" 140 wide tyres in Iran or Kazakstan?
* Considering fuel is such a big financial factor on your trip, go small. I have to admit a F650 is pretty economic too.
* Thieves? Big flashy bikes attract a lot of attention
* Did 'long way round' start the idea that you need a big bike?
So I rarther go small Cc but still like a little power, 20HP. Got a Yammie 225cc now (with 13liter petrol tank)
But really eventually packing up and leaving on anything that has 2-wheels is what really matters... lol
I usually get 75 mpg from my 250 Serow loaded which gives me 140/150 miles to reserve. For normal riding this is OK but you need more range for serious distances. So you would have to carry extra fuel. But 4 litres will give you another 75 miles! Carrying two 2 litre fuel bottles shouldn't be too difficult or heavy. With a 220 mile total range it's nearer the mark.
As people will tell you, once you're out there in the real world anything over 150cc is a big bike and parts availability reflects this.
As people will tell you, once you're out there in the real world
Depends what your 'real world is' doesn't it really?
Big bike for loaded on tarmac, little bike for difficult terrain. Everything on a round the world trip is going to be a compromise, and as others have alluded to, it's all about what matters to YOU most.
Perhaps it'd be interesting to list the design requirements, instead of trying to pick an existing model:
1. Weigh less than 180kg ready to roll - complete with crash bars and luggage system.
2. Have a 250 mile range.
3. Be able to carry 120kg (rider and luggage contents)
4. Be able to cruise at 70mph without vibrating your hands numb, and allow bursts up to 90 for overtakes.
5. Have sufficient suspension travel to cope off road, but be adjustable for stable cruising at speed.
6. Be able to carry luggage low enough to retain good handling - no top box stuck up in the wind!
7. Have an adjustable screen / fairing to allow protection in the cold, and cooling in the heat.
8. Be strong enough to survive repeated falls - and be repairable in the wilds. No fancy alloy composites!
9. Have a big enough alternator to cope with heated clothing and decent lights.
10. Not break down!
I've stopped shopping on capacity if that helps anyone. My MZ puts out 23HP from 291cc and can hit 85 mph with rider and luggage. I can pick it up with one hand and on a good/bad day can actually lift the rear wheel clear of the ground to slip a couple of bricks under the centre stand for easier tyre changing. The 16-inch rear wheel and 23-litre tank/50 mpg performance are curable and I can live with a two stroke. The killer is that if you use the performance it'll eat a piston every 20000 miles.
My Bonneville put out barely 60 HP from 790cc and needs nothing but an oil change at 6000 miles. Solo it was a struggle to pick up but otherwise was happy enough on mud. It'll cruise fast enough and the range can be sorted.
My BMW's were complicated (to get 80 HP from 1098cc), heavy swines and only beat the two above if you wanted to ride 1000 miles in 24 hours by doing illegal speeds.
I had a 500 Bullet but couldn't live with the sub-motorway speed cruise and the fact is was likely to explode if pushed to European speeds for any length of time. I can't live with a 40 mph bike when the trucks are doing 56.
I don't think "small" should be the target. I think you need to pick the performance package you need regardless of if this is an XT225 or Goldwing and work from there. The deciding factor is going to be your own ability to ride a 3/4 ton bike on mud or live with a 40 mph cruise into a headwind.
I know for me Bonneville/Airhead GS/Kawasaki ER/CB500 type performance is the best mix and I'll cure the ills that come from the commuter/classic design clowns myself. It's a pity the fashonistas decree just about every bike is either race based and weak or overweight, but it is something we just have to live with and I find it easiers to replace items that are weak than try and add performance. I therefore start with just above the minimum performance I can stand and work from there.
Perhaps it'd be interesting to list the design requirements, instead of trying to pick an existing model:
The list is a good start, people have different priorities.
For me range is one of the most important factors. I would say no less then 600km (380 miles) and 15 liters of water and food for a few days. This is not necessary to cross sub-Saharan Africa but if you like to leave the main routes it comes in handy. It still bothers me that I couldn’t go all over northwestern Namibia because of lack of fuel.
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