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I am presently in Ecuador and will be returning to the States in late February. I would like to take a motorcycle trip from the US to Panama and back before I do the Peace Corps (here in Ecuador) in July. I have about $2500 to spend on a bike, and am a fairly inexperienced rider. I am thinking about a 2001-2003 Yamaha Virago 250. What do you think about doing the trip with this bike specifically? If not the Virago 250, what would be some good options for bikes at $2500? Better to go with a newer/low mileage bike with a small engine or a larger but older bike? Thanks.
Wow, your question is kind of broad, and for that reason difficult to answer well. There are a number of different considerations - engine size, type of moto (off-road, dual-sport, street), brand, age, etc.
In general, I suggest you not purchase a moto with an engine smaller than about 350cc, because you will have difficulty maintaining highway speeds on anything less than 350cc. While it is true that a 250cc might be capable of reaching 60 MPH, it cannot sustain 60 MPH on a slight hill, with a headwind, and with some cargo attached.
Probably 500cc would be a better size to aim for. There is no advantage for you, as a new rider, getting anything larger than 650cc at the most.
I have no idea what $2,500 (I presume US dollars) will buy in your area. You might want to have a look around in Ecuador before you leave and see what types of motorcycle are popular there. That will at least give you an idea of what you will be able to get parts for while you are riding outside of the USA. For example, if someone gave you a brand new Triumph motorcycle as a gift, that still might not be the best bike to use for a Central America ride, because it is probably not possible to get parts or service for it outside of the USA.
Don't forget that from your motorcycle purchase budget you will need to set aside about USD $400 or so for a helmet, protective clothing, and boots.
My main point is: ANYTHING that rolls will do for that trip. You could do it on a 50cc, or 1500cc, doesn't matter, they will all get you there.
Lois Pryce just did Alaska to Panama and on to South America - currently in Chile - on a Yamaha 225 Serow.
A pair of just-out-of-college guys rode from the US to South America on a pair of tatty old 550 Honda fours - pure street bikes - and sold them in SA for more than they paid! See Wagner, Ryan and Dan Koengeter on the "Travellers' Stories" pages.
The bigger the bike the more comfortable, faster, more load etc - but is it NECESSARY? No.
I'd suggest you first set aside some money for good riding gear as PanEuropean says - DON'T skimp too much - get good protective gear - and then see what you can find with what you have left. Have a good look around, do your homework reading the threads in this Forum, read some of the travellers stories, and just get the best bike you can. Condition is the most important thing. A street bike in great shape is a better deal than a dual purpose beater.
Remember - they'll all get you there and back, as long as they keep running.
Not so sure I agree with your comment that "any size will do", primarily because Mavec indicated in his original post that he was a beginner rider.
I think that someone who is an experienced rider would be able to make a long distance trip on a smaller bike (down to 150cc, I suppose), because they would have the knowledge and experience to know what the machine would and would not be capable of. Because of this knowledge, they would pick appropriate routes, and intuitivly know how to stay out situations where trouble could be caused by a lack of power.
Mavec also indicates that he will be buying a used bike. I think he has a better chance of avoiding mechanical problems if he is running a 350 or 500 cc bike at 75% or 50% power (respectivly) than he would have if he was running a 250cc bike at 100% power. This would be less of a concern if the moto was new.
--Since I am in Ecuador, it is difficult to shop around for bikes here, other than on the web. The only site I have found that has many bikes is Cycle Trader and most of them are well over my price range. Do you know a good online resource where I could find used bikes in the United States? If not, can anyone point me in the right direction to where I could find a good used 600cc or less bike for under $2000, most helpful would be in the Southeast, Florida area?
--A 250cc can only do 60mph on a highway? Is that really true, or an exagerration? I read on some sites that the yamaha virago 250 does 75-80 on the highway. I weigh 220lbs and plan on carrying, say, 80 lbs of cargo. 300 lbs weight, how much would this reduce the speed?
--Michael, isnt the lighter weight of a 250cc bike (virago 250 has a weight of under 350 lbs) be a strong advantage to a beginner rider than a heaver bike with more power? Wouldnt such a bike be easier to handle than a heavier one with more power?
--One of you says condition is the most important thing and the other says that a powerful bike in mediocre condition would be better...I am confused by this... can you elaborate please with your own experiences and preferences? Thanks a lot...
Most of the bikes here in Ecuador are junky Korean models 185cc or less that would not be sold in the U.S. But they are sold here, for more! There are Yamaha and Honda models too for the wealthier people, so I imagine that I could get parts here. BUT, every country is different too and I have just as much a chance of breaking down somewhere else...
I read the Wagner and Koengeter story, thanks Grant.
I read one time that "Che" Gueverra rode through south america on a motorized bicycle during the 1940's or 1950's. This was before he was the guerilla leader. I would say if he could make it on that, then anything would do.
However we now have a new piece of info - with a 300 pound load, you probably want something bigger than a 250.
What you need to decide is whether you want to stick to the back roads and take the slow route down, enjoy the scenery, and when you have to hit the highway will you be content running at 50-60, or are you impatient and will want to flog it?
"--A 250cc can only do 60mph on a highway"
NOT true that it can only "do" 60 - but it may not be able to CRUISE at more than 60 for long, especially with 300 pounds on it. If you run it at 7/8 to full throttle all day long you will eventually fry it.
On the back roads cruising at 50-60 or so it will be fine for a long time. BUT at 300 pound load you're pushing it hard all the time.
"isnt the lighter weight of a 250cc bike (virago 250 has a weight of under 350 lbs) be a strong advantage to a beginner rider " - imho - absolutely - and I always recommend a smaller rather than heavier bike to a beginner. Once upon a time... a 250 was a medium sized bike, and bigger than MOST people started on. A 650 was a very big bike and only for experienced expert riders. I cruised all over the place on a 250 myself - but I weighed 155 pounds soaking wet. And cruising at 60 was about it - but the roads were slower then.
At your size, the advantages of a small bike aren't as significant as they would be for a smaller person - you won't be intimidated by it's weight for more than a few minutes, and can easily control it at any speed.
"the other says that a powerful bike in mediocre condition would be better..."
PanEuropean did NOT say this - I think he is saying that a more powerful bike which doesn't have to be run as hard is better. And it's true in itself. So we are in agreement.
At your weight a 250 is going to be hard pressed. I would recommend at least a 350, better 500. You will have to get a less-than-excellent condition bike in order to stay on budget.
As I understand your original post, you will have the bike for only a few months - so perhaps borrowing some money to get a better/bigger bike and then repaying when you sell it might be a good idea. Availability of parts in Ecuador isn't a big problem - you can order the parts from the US easily.
I think Grant and I are much, much closer in agreement with each other than our written (text) responses to your question might indicate.
Let me try to answer your follow-up questions, and elaborate a bit:
1) "A 250cc bike will only do 60 MPH on the highway?"
It will go faster, but the question really should be: "how long does it take to go from 60 MPH to 75 MPH", and "will it go faster than 60 MPH up a slight incline, on a hot day, with a heavy load"?
Your planned payload, at 300 lb, is well above the average for a 250cc bike. Heck, my 1100cc Honda ST1100 (Pan-European) only has an approved payload of about 440 pounds.
Horsepower output in a normally aspirated (non-turbocharged) engine decreases as temperature increases. If you plan to be riding when the temperature is higher than "standard" (the manufacturers all use 59°F / 15°C for horsepower measurements), you will have less than published performance available. If you also ride at elevations above sea level, horsepower will also decrease. The effects of the two - temperature and altitude - are cumulative, and not to be ignored.
A 250cc bike will go from 0 to 60 MPH in a reasonable time - you'll keep up with traffic OK. It will then take forever to go from 60 MPH to its top speed of (for example) 75 MPH. "Forever" means much more sluggish acceleration than you would need to pass a truck. By example, my ST1100, which produces 90 HP, accelerates from 0 to about 110 MPH very quickly, but it then takes forever to get it from 110 to its top speed of 135 MPH. This is a real pain when cruising on the autobahn. A more powerful bike would not get from 0 to 110 much faster, but it would get from 110 to 135 a heck of a lot faster. I think you see what I mean.
2) "Isn't the lighter weight (of a smaller bike) an advantage to a beginning rider?"
Only in the parking lot. Once the motorcycle starts moving, and you have your feet on the pegs, weight is not an issue at all.
Of greater concern to you will be center of gravity, and stability. If you put 300 lbs of rider and baggage on or above the seat of a lightweight moto, you will have a high C of G. Put the same 300 lbs on a heavier moto and the C of G will not be as high off the ground. This leads into the next topic, stability...
If you have a little bike, with little tires on it, and you are out on a highway, and a big truck goes by you in the opposite direction, real close to you ('cause roads where you plan to go are narrow), and the converging speeds (your's and the truck's added together) exceed 100 MPH, you are really going to get blown around. If you have a somewhat bigger bike, with somewhat bigger tires, and a bit more weight, you'll get blown around a lot less.
Speaking of getting blown around - no manufacturer supplies 250 cc bikes with windscreens. If you put a windscreen on a 250 cc bike, you will really, in a big way, cut the nuts off the bike when it comes to acceleration and top speed. Any kind of windscreen or fairing requires a lot of horsepower to push it through the air. For example, the ST1100 owner's group I belong to determined that putting a slightly larger aftermarket windshield on our ST1100's required an additional 8 HP to maintain the same speed on the highway - and this was just for an increase of 4" higher and 2" wider!
Grant clarified my comment on additional power - it's better to run a 500 cc bike at 50% power all day than to run a 250 cc bike at full power all day. You'll have much less grief overall. Don't forget that small bikes are all air cooled, not water cooled...
You could get by on a 350cc bike, considering the payload you plan to carry and the route / temperatures you plan to ride in. But 350cc would be the minimum price of admission. Like Grant said, about 500 cc would be much, much better. There is no benefit in getting anything bigger than 500 cc, meaning, if you had a choice between a 500 cc and a 650 cc, no gain to you if you buy the 650. But, if you can't find what you want in the 500 cc size, then fine, look at 600's or 650's. There should be lots of stuff to choose from in between 350 (absolute minimum) and 650 (absolute maximum). Don't rule out large scooters (within the displacement given) as a possible alternative. Street legal dirt bikes are worth considering also, they tend to be less expensive than street bikes, but they can be a little hard on your butt for long, long rides. Their suspension (and seating) is not optimized for long distance comfort. Also, their seat height tends to be higher - not a problem if you are a tall guy, but a big problem if you are less than 5' 10" or so. Make sure you can "flat-foot" the bike on both sides at the same time, if it is your first bike.
If you only have $2500 to spend, perhaps you could (as Grant mentioned) get a loan, then sell the bike when you come back, and pay off the loan. However, motorcycle prices are kind of funny - a motorcycle is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, regardless of how much money the owner paid for it, or how much money the owner "thinks" it should be worth. There is a fairly predictable resale market (within about 10%) for the big bikes - over 1,200 cc - but for the little bikes, they depreciate really quickly, and if you shop carefully, you could find some amazing bargains. My suggestion would be to look in the local newspaper ads first, the specialty resale magazines (bike trader, etc.) second, and the dealerships third. If you see a bike you like, don't be afraid to say "Well, I wish I could pay the $4,000 you are asking, but I only have $2,500. But, I have it in cash, right in my pocket - wanna see it?" Chances are you will ride the bike away.
Lastly, make sure the bike has new tires on it, or you have the $$$ to put new tires on it. With a 300 lb payload, you will probably only get about 6 to 10,000 miles out of a set of tires (bike tires have a life much, much shorter than car tires). If the previous owner has already put 8,000 miles on the tires - well, you get the idea, you don't want to have a surprise expense of $350 or so halfway through rural Mexico.
[This message has been edited by PanEuropean (edited 30 December 2003).]
Thank you again for all your helpful comments. I am presently leaning towards a KLR 650 or a Dominator. I think I can get a fairly new one of these in good shape for about $2000 and I have heard from several people that they are great bikes for long distance rides such as the one I am planning. Thoughts?
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