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  #16  
Old 13 Apr 2012
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Is there any common theme uniting people who like to explore the world and the types of transport they choose?

Perhaps. And yes, necessity is the mother of invention.

Before I had a motorcycle I relied on bicycles. I wanted to go to Canada so rode with some mates up to Banff and across British Columbia and down the west coast. It was all we could afford and the only transportation we had. Pumping pedals for thousands of miles got old.

The next summer I tried hitchhiking. It meant standing on the side of the road for hours and going up to Canada, down to the Rainbow festival in Colorado, over to Arizona with some hip folks who got me a job for two weeks so I could afford a train down to Mexico. It was fun, but I went where the rides took me and ended up losing all my pesos and using the return train ticket to get back to the border and hitchhiking home with no money.

The next summer I hitch hiked to the east coast and back. Met some really nice people but there were too many sketchy rides.

And then I bought a motorcycle. It was all I could afford. And that started my love affair with riding. It never occurred to me to ride it around the world. Instead I decided to sell everything I owned and travel around the world with a backpack. It seemed daring at the time. Planes, trains, buses, donkey carts, tuk-tuks, taxis, hiking. I started out with a large backpack full of stuff and came back the next year with a small day pack with a toothbrush and the knowledge that less is more. Along the way I rented small motorcycles in Thailand and India and learned how perfect they are in the third world.

But I ended up buying bigger motorcycles when I got home. That was what people were riding. After a few more Hondas I fell in love with air cooled BMW's. I soon was riding to Alaska and down to Guatemala. But those poor bikes took quite a beating slamming over thousands of topes with a load on the back. And blown shocks, cracked sub-frames, etc were expensive to repair. And then sites like this sprung up and I read stories of folks eschewing big bikes and large loads.

So I flew down to Costa Rica and rented a Honda 250 Tornado for two weeks and rode around. What a hoot! Easy on the expensive gas down there. Able to ride the trails up into the cloud forest no problem. Now you're talking! I bought an XR250 when I got it home and rode it to the BMW rally. People thought I was nuts. And bought another 250 Kawasaki and rode it 1600 miles out to Nebraska. Cheap to buy, cheap to insure, cheap to fix. I still have my BMWs. I just don't ride them. If I had the money to buy a new travel bike, it would be a WR250R.

Which is what has brought me to small minimalist travel on a dirtbike. It meant eliminating the excess load like I did while backpacking around the world and cutting my gear to a minimum.

I am writing this more as encouragement to those who can think laterally and avoid the decades it took me to realize there are many ways to solve the problem of traveling with limited funds in third world countries.

Happy trails,
John Downs
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  #17  
Old 14 Apr 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Downs View Post
Everyone has their preferences, but many folks are tight on funds yet still want to travel the world. Riding a relatively small dirt bike when traveling in the third world has a lot more positives than you list. Especially when fitted with a larger fuel tank and relatively light weight soft saddlebags.

I can follow the pizza bikes threading through rush hour traffic in the busy capitol cities.

It is easy to hop the curb and ride up the steps of a guest house to park in the lobby.

So much easier to park in a room with outside access through a narrow door for the night.

Easier to lift into a canoe when the bridge is out.

Easier to blend in with the locals and get waved through military roadblocks.

People think you are poor so less gringo tax in Central America when negotiating room rates etc.

Cheaper to buy tires for and easier to find.

Less oil at 5.00/quart doing oil changes every few thousand miles.

Way cheaper to buy.

Easier to sell in the third world and fly home.

Easy to pick up.

Easier to ride down goat trails that a big lardy bike would choke on.

Now if you are a large person or are riding mainly in developed countries in Europe or North America on improved highways, then yes a bigger bike makes sense.
Small bikes aren't for everyone. I thought they were lame until I tried one. It helps if you are short on funds and not too bright.

There is no perfect bike.

Kindest regards,
John Downs
+ cheaper on all of the paperwork, such as insurance costs and the Carnet de Passage (should the latter be required).
Basically, cheaper running costs all round.

+ by travelling more slowly, one tends to meet more people; conversely, a faster bike gets there faster and the journey is over, faster.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Downs View Post
Two years ago I rode 11,000 miles to Panama and back on a 250. I'm not good at kilometer math but I think that's close.
John Downs
Near enough!


Quote:
Originally Posted by colebatch View Post
A good one was EdteamSLR on this forum ... whose previous trip was down Africa on an Africa Twin, then got the weight issue, and switched to a Yamaha WR250R for a 3 month ride from London to Magadan via Mongolia last year, including parts of the BAM Road and Road of Bones. The bike, from memory, had zero problems.
Yes, +1, every riding report I have seen about the WR250R is very positive about the bike and its' performance/durability/reliability.

Quote:
Originally Posted by palace15 View Post
Very good point made here, Nathan(postie) was and still is pretty young, but reading Simon Gandolphi's book I got the distinct impression that he was not a biker.
+1. Simon G comes across, very much, as a traveller and professional book author who happened upon a bike (125cc) as a means of writing about travel in South America.
Nothing wrong with that; those coming to something for the first time can "see the wood from the trees" and can bring a totally new perspective from those who were weaned on bikes.
- perspective makes a difference.
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  #18  
Old 15 Apr 2012
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Originally Posted by Walkabout View Post
+ by travelling more slowly, one tends to meet more people; conversely, a faster bike gets there faster and the journey is over, faster.
To me thats another misconception ... in places like Tajikistan or Mongolia, or Bolivia, a 650 single is going to be a lot faster than a 1200. Like doing 120-140 km/h while a 1200 does 70-100.

In places like the Old Summer Road or the BAM Road in Siberia, the 1200 with its smaller wheels and much higher weight is basically unrideable ... the 650 is therefore infinitely faster.

I cant think of anywhere I have ridden in the past 100,000 km or so where an 800 or 1200 would have been faster, apart from the autobahns of Europe .. and even then, how much faster? I had a 1200 a few years back and my comfortable autobahn cruising speed was about 85-90 mph on the gps ... on my 650 its 80 mph on the GPS. So there is 5-10 mph speed advantage on 5 % of the journey. And a huge speed penalty for 50% of the journey. So for my routes, a big bike is a speed negative.
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  #19  
Old 15 Apr 2012
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Just to add my pennies worth to this thread, you can circumnavigate the world on any machine these days .
There is never a right or wrong bike it is always a compromise. I went around with a 1200 GS , the reasons 99% tarmac, I am older than some and wanted just that little more comfort, 1st time away for that long and that far so i wanted alot of "what if's" so needed to have a bike to carry all the weight
Besides listening to advice of the guru's like Walter, i done it my way !!

Lessons learnt ,
Walter is right you don't need a big bike , most of the time we ambled along at about 80kmh, fastest was 180kmh for a day in Germany. Most of the gear we carried was not required.
Our next trip hopefully in 2013 back through Siberia and onto South America will be on a single like the G650gs , it's lighter, it can pack into a smaller volume crate for air freight, the tank range is about the same as a 1200 but on less fuel, for old fat guys it's easier to pick up off the floor and it is easier to "dabb" when off road . A small single can carry all that is needed and give you more usable power . A single is less tiring standing on the pegs than a beast of burden, a bit more cramped when seated for long legs but with a few mods I am sure that can be sorted.
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  #20  
Old 15 Apr 2012
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I'm sure even experienced travellers riding well sorted 650's wish they were on a 250 some days (and without the luggage).

Long distance travel on a motorbike is always going to be a compromise as the journey will inevitably involve travelling on many different types of road from motoways to almost impassable unpaved roads and through different climates possibly from arctic to tropical so it's virtually impossible to carry everything you need with you all the time.

The idea that going faster you meet less people may be true but in my experience anywhere you're going fast is simply because you want to get somewhere interesting. The pace at which you travel is not controlled by how fast your bike is but by how much you stop to explore your surroundings - it took us 6 months to travel 10,000 miles from Nairobi to Cape Town (55 miles a day or 2 days a week on the bike and a lot of R&R) and it would have taken the same amount of time if we'd been on a 125cc instead of 1000cc bike.

I can certainly see the benefits of using a small bike for local explorattion in less developed places but for a journey starting in Europe and heading south or east to Asia or Africa a modern 650 seems to offer the best of all worlds.
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  #21  
Old 15 Apr 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colebatch View Post
To me thats another misconception ... in places like Tajikistan or Mongolia, or Bolivia, a 650 single is going to be a lot faster than a 1200. Like doing 120-140 km/h while a 1200 does 70-100.

In places like the Old Summer Road or the BAM Road in Siberia, the 1200 is basically unrideable ... the 650 is therefore infinitely faster.

I cant think of anywhere I have ridden in the past 100,000 km or so where an 800 or 1200 would have been faster, apart from the autobahns of Europe .. and even then, how much faster? I had a 1200 a few years back and my comfortable autobahn cruising speed was about 85-90 mph on the gps ... on my 650 its 80 mph on the GPS. So there is 5-10 mph speed advantage on 5 % of the journey. And a huge speed penalty for 50% of the journey. So for my routes, a big bike is a speed negative.
That's OK, because we are saying the same thing; your 650 is "my big bike", as it is on most of this planet (in an earlier post, Magnon clarified that he started this thread with a small bike defined as sub-250cc).

Over on another thread (light vs heavy), the big bike is the one that you identify:-
http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hub...-heavy-63661-2
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  #22  
Old 15 Apr 2012
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I'm forever in two minds about this debate. I agree with both points of view (light offers more possibilities off road, slightly bigger might be better on road). One thing I do find interesting is that many commented that 650 might be the best of both worlds; an F650GS is more or less the same weight as an F800; I'm curious as to why some posters lump an 800 with a 1200? Again, it depends on what you want to do. I personally don't want to be too minimalist, so my 800 is excellent for what I do at the moment.

Just curious, though. If you were to look at a new bike, 250 - 650, what would be the best option?
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  #23  
Old 16 Apr 2012
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I have a F800GS and I think it's perfect for long travels. But... when travelling alone I can not choose mud roads. When you fall once, ok, just put the bike on the road again and that's ok. But when you fall two, three times... it's too much heavy.

So, travelling alone in rough roads, I think that 250cc or 400c is better.
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  #24  
Old 16 Apr 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Magnon View Post
....
Long distance travel on a motorbike is always going to be a compromise as the journey will inevitably involve travelling on many different types of road from motoways to almost impassable unpaved roads and through different climates possibly from arctic to tropical so it's virtually impossible to carry everything you need with you all the time.

.....
Exactly. Once a bike in it's loaded condition is capable of using the motorways for hours the miles per week seems to be fixed by the speed of the traffic. Sure, you can ride a "Sports Tourer" like a loon and do 600 km in 4 hours across Germany on a Sunday, but there is no way to keep this up Monday and Tuesday and on and on. I've had GPS since the late 90's and kept records of the moving average. On trips over a week it's always 45 mph there or there abouts for Europe regardless of using a 599cc 40 Hp machine that tops out at 90 mph or a 1085cc, 85 Hp, 140 mph one. My 500cc, 18 Hp, 75 mph Enfield averaged over 35 mph and my 291cc, 23 Hp, 85 mph MZ can average over 40 admittedly the last two were without a pillion.

I think the on-road difference is small, the off road one bigger. I also think that is the ancient tale of the tortoise and the hare, the hare is only 10 minutes a day quicker because he spends longer filling up and getting his neck and shoulders back in working order after running a tank through at full speed.

On my first trip to Morocco we found a track with a lot of loose sand. Nothing silly but everyone was out of practice and fell off a lot. I picked a BMW F650 up maybe ten times and was very much ready for a when we'd done. A guy who picked up an R1100GS at least as many times went straight to bed and woke up 10 hours later with a banging headache from the loss of fluids. Another few days like that and the 650's would have been miles ahead while the 1100 guy needed a rest.

Andy
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  #25  
Old 16 Apr 2012
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Horses for courses.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Endurodude View Post
Just curious, though. If you were to look at a new bike, 250 - 650, what would be the best option?
A 125cc of course.

I was interested to read threewheeledbonnie's mention of his 18hp 500cc Enfield, which is no doubt heavier than my 15hp 125 Derbi. There's obviously a power-to-weight issue which has yet to be touched on.

So for me, small engine, light weight, big frame would be ideal.
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  #26  
Old 17 Apr 2012
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depends on the local roads

I've done about half my travels on a BMW 1200 (two up) and the rest on a Honda Transalp 600 (mostly solo). I would take the 600 just about everytime because of the roads I like to ride (two lane mountain passes some gravel). The 1200's are great for places where you have a long way to go between stopovers...if you're in Canada or the US, you have to spend a lot of time on the Interstates or Trans-Canada so the bigger bike is excellent for that...you don't get overtaken by trucks etc. and the bike is more stable in wind and traffic gusts. The 600 can go all day forever and you just change the countershaft sprocket if you want to get a decent speed in the powerband.
The lighter bikes are real easy to maintain and easy on tires too! I have done a bit of touring on 125's in the Caribbean. (Martinique especially) And that is the way to go down there! Real easy to get around at the speed limit and you can turn around quickly when hitting a dead end or something. Also, easier to hide in the bush when leaving them behind for a hike. South East Asia is also way better on a 125 - 250....no one gives you a second glance so you get around better under the radar than with a big flashy bike.
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  #27  
Old 18 Apr 2012
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Well me and Nadsicles are just about to bugger off from London to China on 110 scooters, riding via Russia, The Stans (and the Pamirs of course) and Mongolia. We've both done the big bike thing in Europe and the UK, but also recently ridden C90s down through Africa to The Gambia. It was all fine - and the one huge thing that we both noticed was that apart from the various differences already commented on here re big bike/little bike was how people approached us because we were on bikes that we just like theirs. We not only fitted in, but locals the whole way loved the fact that we were riding so far on such unsuitable machines. Great conversation starter, great way to meet people and get invited to places we would never have otherwise seen, no problems at all with traffic either - which also seemed to find it amusing so slowed down, let us pass, escorted us etc, and they also flew on motorways through the UK, Spain and Morocco. And cheap too -fuel and oil was next to nothing, ditto spares, and we rode them everywhere - up goat tracks, along riverbeds, over ruts, across the desert, across mountains, through deep sand, through thickets, up very steep hillsides and those bikes never let us down once. Fell off a few times, but they were easy to pick up because tehy were so small. Easy!
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  #28  
Old 18 Apr 2012
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A lot of really good points in favour of small bikes. Personally I would consider using a small bike for local exploration. The ability to 'blend in' is something that really appeals to me. I also think that the 'spaceship' factor that we have noticed turning up in remote places on a large white 1000cc bike is good fun as well.

I still have reservations about using a small bike on long trips as at 6'2"/100kg I tend to find them very cramped and the low cruising speed somewhat tedious - I definately not a speed merchant but I would like to be able to keep up with the traffic.

Smaller bikes are much more economic, not just for tyres, chains and fuel but as otheres have said, much less costly insurance, carnets etc. which is another big factor in their favour. The ease of picking up a small bike is important especially if you are off road a lot.

The biker/non-biker argument is interesting. There are, I'm sure, a lot of travellers who turn to motorbikes when in certain places to give them more independance. It's probably a very steep learning curve the first time you do this but even so, I've met many travellers on bikes who on the face of it are extremely ill-prepared but they're still having a good experience. I've also learnt that complete mechanical ignorance can be an advantage. I met someone in Kenya who had bought a CG125 from someone who had travelled down from Europe on it. We noticed the forks didn't move although the new owner didn't know that they were meant to. On closer inspection we found that the springs had be replaced with wooden broom handles cut to length!
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  #29  
Old 18 Apr 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Belle View Post
Well me and Nadsicles are just about to bugger off from London to China on 110 scooters, riding via Russia, The Stans (and the Pamirs of course) and Mongolia. We've both done the big bike thing in Europe and the UK, but also recently ridden C90s down through Africa to The Gambia. It was all fine - and the one huge thing that we both noticed was that apart from the various differences already commented on here re big bike/little bike was how people approached us because we were on bikes that we just like theirs. We not only fitted in, but locals the whole way loved the fact that we were riding so far on such unsuitable machines. Great conversation starter, great way to meet people and get invited to places we would never have otherwise seen, no problems at all with traffic either - which also seemed to find it amusing so slowed down, let us pass, escorted us etc, and they also flew on motorways through the UK, Spain and Morocco. And cheap too -fuel and oil was next to nothing, ditto spares, and we rode them everywhere - up goat tracks, along riverbeds, over ruts, across the desert, across mountains, through deep sand, through thickets, up very steep hillsides and those bikes never let us down once. Fell off a few times, but they were easy to pick up because tehy were so small. Easy!
That's the sort of thing I had in mind when I wrote:-
"Originally Posted by Walkabout
+ by travelling more slowly, one tends to meet more people; conversely, a faster bike gets there faster and the journey is over, faster"
But I couldn't be bothered to write any more at the time

Quote:
Originally Posted by Magnon View Post

The biker/non-biker argument is interesting. There are, I'm sure, a lot of travellers who turn to motorbikes when in certain places to give them more independance. It's probably a very steep learning curve the first time you do this but even so, I've met many travellers on bikes who on the face of it are extremely ill-prepared but they're still having a good experience. I've also learnt that complete mechanical ignorance can be an advantage. I met someone in Kenya who had bought a CG125 from someone who had travelled down from Europe on it. We noticed the forks didn't move although the new owner didn't know that they were meant to. On closer inspection we found that the springs had be replaced with wooden broom handles cut to length!
This aspect rarely gets a mention within the HUBB, but I think that it is increasing; more peeps are not bothering to ride long, long distances, especially through countries/places they have seen many times previously, just to get to somewhere of interest to them - they will take a long haul flight and a bike trip from that destination which cuts out a hell of a lot of bureaucracy, as one factor alone.
It also saves time for those who are time-short, cash-rich (maybe, but not necessarily so for the latter factor); classically, they may turn to an organised tour on a bike.
But, a bit now, unless we refer to those who, for example, will ride a hired or locally bought bike in, say, SE Asia, where little is beautiful!
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  #30  
Old 18 Apr 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Magnon View Post
.... On closer inspection we found that the springs had be replaced with wooden broom handles cut to length!

I've been caught out twice myself buying bikes with wooden bits...


Here the pannier rack on my Af Twin


Here my DRZ with a wooden back axle...

?

Sorry,

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