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Which Bike? Comments and Questions on what is the best bike for YOU, for YOUR trip. Note that we believe that ANY bike will do, so please remember that it's all down to PERSONAL OPINION. Technical Questions for all brands go in their own forum.
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  #1  
Old 13 Feb 2010
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Choosing for Milage, Maintenance, and Reliability

Plans for my upcoming RTW trip are starting to come together, and I have reached the point where I am looking to buy the bike to be used on the trip.

I have more or less made a decision, but want to run my reasoning past everyone and see if any of the experienced riders out there can shoot any holes in my reasoning. Perhaps my reasoning below can also help out others debating this same decision.

Size and Riding Style

The bike will be supporting only me and a minimal amount of gear (I travel light). I also have no fear of leaving the pavement. At the same time, an RTW trip will spend some time in highly developed countries and should be capable of at least minimal highway speeds.

Given this I am looking at a 650cc - 1000cc range dual sport. The lower end of this range is preferred because I will inevitable need to pick it up by myself from time to time.

Mileage

I am planning a trip to last a minimum of 2 years, beyond which I am not planning ahead for if I will be on the road or not.

Assuming I travel an average of 100 miles a day, I will be putting on 36,500 miles a year. 73,000 in two years. 146,000 if I'm still on the road in 4 years.

The motorcycle used should have a reasonable expectation of reaching the 2-year mark, though not necessarily without repairs (see below).

Reliability and Maintenance


Reading blogs and talking to experienced RTW travelers, it is clear that repairs will need to be made along the way. The unrelenting mileage in inhospitable conditions will get to any motorcycle, no matter how reliable under ordinary conditions.

Reading those same blogs and talking to those same people it is also clear that the best way to avoid breakdowns is in regular maintenance. Put lots of work into keeping the bike in top condition and just about any brand will give you a highly reliable ride.

Given this, ease of maintenance should be a priority. This can take the form of easy to perform and/or less frequently needed. A person's own skill at performing maintenance must also be accounted for.

Repairs

The ability to make repairs after a breakdown is greatly effected by several factors:
  1. How easy are parts are to obtain.
  2. How easy it is to find expertise to repair the problem for a brand-specific breakdown.
  3. How easy it is to perform one's own repairs
  4. How likely are repairs to be possible in the middle of nowhere
  5. The rider's skill at performing repairs.
A new model BMW is a popular choice, but can sometimes be difficult to repair because of parts availability. A KLR conversely is seen as less reliable, but typically can be fixed almost anywhere.

Comfort

Comfort while riding is critical. Some start out reasonably comfortable (BMW GS) while others require work using after-market farkles (KLR). Models which cannot be made comfortable should be avoided.

Cost

Cost should include purchase price, farkles, carnet, and gas mileage. To some extent cost is almost irrelevant against the overall cost of the trip, but not if the cost difference equates to additional months on the road.

Personal Decision: KLR650 (pre-'08 model)

Based on the above, I have chosen the KLR650, specifically a pre-'08 model.

The KLR is not without its significant drawbacks. It isn't the most comfortable ride, it requires lots of farkles to match up to stock RTW worthiness of some other brands, and it has a lower potential lifespan than some other brands.

To balance this out, the technology is simple and can be fixed anywhere. There are lots of after-market farkles for modifying the KLR to my desired specifications. The KLR is capable in any road conditions I am likely to encounter and light enough I can pick it up myself. The bike is also very inexpensive compared to many of the other choices, even after adding a long list of after-market parts. The cost difference between the two extremes (KLR650 and F800GS) is sufficient for several months of travel expenses and well worth the consideration.

What tips the balance in favor of the KLR is my extensive knowledge of how the bike works. I currently own a KLR which I have worked on extensively and I am satisfied that if necessary I could repair anything using the clymer manual and my existing knowledge. Some parts will be hard to find in some parts of the world, but many of those can be cludged together with a bit of ingenuity. Those that cannot should be no more difficult to obtain than specialty parts for some other brands people are using. Maintenance (daily and periodic) is easy and can be performed anywhere with a little bit of advance planning. Any other choice would be more difficult to repair and I would have less knowledge of how the bike works.

The big unknown is maximum lifespan, even with good maintenance. A well maintained KLR can easily last 70k - 90k miles, even under abusive conditions. Before the 100k mark, it is entirely possible the engine will need to be rebuilt, or possibly even replaced. My opinion so far is that this risk is balanced out by my knowledge of the bike and its lower cost compared to other choices.

Comments? Anyone who can convince me the KLR650 is a bad choice?
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  #2  
Old 13 Feb 2010
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You already have a KLR ,you know how it works ,you know how to fix it when it breaks .
That's all you need .

It's not about the bike ,it's about the trip .
Spend your extra cash on travel ,not another bike .

Comfort is entirely subjective ,my VStrom felt great when I bought it but after 8 hours in the saddle I was in severe pain .
My friend had the same problem with his 1200 GS .
My most comfortable seat is on an old bike and I made it out of a piece of scrap foam duct taped to the seat pan .

The KLR can be rebored enroute , no big deal ,any decent machine shop can do that and you can have a piston mailed out to you .
Valves and springs also can be mailed .
What else will go wrong ,--seals ,bearings ?-carry spares .
The rear shock might ,potentially , be your biggest problem ,change it out for a rebuildable aftermarket unit and leave the old one with a friend to mail out to you ,should it be required .
Chains and sprockets :, carry a new front sprocket ,aim to be in a place where they sell Kawasaki or jobber parts at a time when you think the chain and rear sprocket might need replacement .

I would say that the KLR has a good reputation for reliability .
Bear in mind that they are very often bought by younger guys ,on a low budget and thrashed mercillesly .

Nobody buys a KLR for it's poseur status !
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  #3  
Old 13 Feb 2010
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Because you are familiar and happy with a KLR it is likely the right bike for you. I went through a similar process of elimination and an Enfield turned out to be the right bike for me. It is the marriage of bike AND rider that is important. You cannot judge either the bike or rider alone.
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  #4  
Old 14 Feb 2010
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Got to be the KLR! I'm sure you know all the upgrades and have probably done them already. The F800GS is three times the money. You could go with the F650GS. Nice comfortable bike but IMO, not as solid as a KLR over the long run and will not take a beating the way the KLR can, seems to have more "issues".

I would take to heart what Dodger mentioned about the shock. I would invest in a high quality aftermarket shock set up for your weight and the load. Do similar to the front, add a fork brace, heavier springs and Race Tech emulators or similar. Improving the ride will be well worth it IMHO and will allow to tackle any Tope without fear (don't forget to upgrade sub frame bolts!) I've been on two rides when Topes snapped these bolts! Beware!

I would also be very sure about your seat. You should be able to spend 10 hours a day on the bike, day after day. A good seat will make this possible.

Most everything else on the KLR should be good to about 50,000 miles with decent care. I'm sure you will upgrade the front brake, which to me is worth while. Getting good oil on the road is a crap shoot. Buying premium priced specialty motorcycle oil will cost a fortune, but using good syn or semi syn car oil IMO, is the way to go whenever possible.

I would start with a high quality DID VM-2 X-ring chain and carry an extra countershaft sprocket. That chain should last 20,000 miles, so plan to replace chain and sprockets at that time (more or less). Tires are always a challenge. Get them when and where you can. I almost always carry at least one, usually a rear. Fronts are easier to find and last double a rear.

The rest will be about fitting nice luggage and not overloading the bike. (not so easy). I prefer soft bags by far. Saves weight, makes you pack light.

Good logical approach. Keep an eye on things but don't obsess on the road, better to enjoy. Do maintenance at a time that suits you and when you're taking a several day break from the road.
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  #5  
Old 14 Feb 2010
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Never owned a KLR, but in 2001 and 2002, I rented them out of Johannesburg, and toured South Africa first, and then in 2002, many other countries in the region (excellent trips, BTW!!!).. some 20 thousand kms altogether.

Generally, I think it was very capable for travel 1-up, even though the standard seat wasnt too good, but that can be fixed. And it seems to suit the conditions quite well (even if this part of Africa may not be the most challenging as far as roads are concerned). I sometimes had a little problems with the mixture getting too rich in high altitude (about 3300 meters was the highest pass I went to), but I managed to do it without altering the jetting.

Compared to the twins, it is a little bit down on power for motorways, but that´s common for every 1-cylinder bike; they have around 50 hp. It´d be especially noticeable, if you were going 2-up, but you´re not planning to do that. If you were, I´d recommend to get a twin.

And because you´re already familiar with the KLR´s technical side, it seems like the perfect choice for you.

The weight of the bike will likely be a factor, when you´re shipping it between continents, and the KLR is not too heavy.
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Old 14 Feb 2010
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Thanks for all the replies, lots of great ideas both covering new ground and reaffirming my existing planning!

As for modifications, I've done a lot of work on my existing KLR (which likely will not be the trip KLR as it will have 40k+ miles on it by the time I leave). I'm putting together of a list of upgrades which include things like a custom-made seat (Corbin is close, but not quite right), Cogent Dynamics rear shock matched with Intiminator on the front shock, IMS tank, and all the standard durability upgrades (Doohikey, Subframe bolt upgrade, etc.).

Luggage: I've already decided on Caribou Luggage on the sides no matter what the bike ends up being. Caribou converts Pelican cases to well designed motorcycle luggage. Based on trips around the USA, I should be able to fit in those everything I use except the tent (I pack light when I travel). I will then have a guitar strapped across the top along with the tent. Yes, I know the standard warnings about instruments.....

If anyone is interested on modifications I'm making, I am putting together a web page with my planning. I'll post a link here when I get it done (a few days probably).

Thanks for the input!
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Old 15 Feb 2010
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Two things to keep in mind are altitude and range. As I am on a Vstrom, mine is fuel injected and I have no issues with the low oxygen in the Andes for days on end, I also have a large tank, so although I still need an extra fuel can, mostly I can do without.

I am thinking the KLR is a carb model, but I could be wrong, you may need to be capable of changing the jets on the road quite a few times if it is.

If you cannot ride all day on the seat, get an Airhawk, a cheap mod as compared to a remod of the entire seat and you can take it with you


Cheers
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  #8  
Old 15 Feb 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TravellingStrom View Post
Two things to keep in mind are altitude and range. As I am on a Vstrom, mine is fuel injected and I have no issues with the low oxygen in the Andes for days on end, I also have a large tank, so although I still need an extra fuel can, mostly I can do without.

I am thinking the KLR is a carb model, but I could be wrong, you may need to be capable of changing the jets on the road quite a few times if it is.

If you cannot ride all day on the seat, get an Airhawk, a cheap mod as compared to a remod of the entire seat and you can take it with you


Cheers
TS
The KLR does have a carb, but I'm not overly worried. I live in Colorado (5k feet) and regularly ride up to 12k feet altitude. If I ever end up spending several months above 8k feet altitude I might change the jets, but short of that it probably isn't worth the trouble given how simple and rock-solid the KLR is.

As for seat ... I currently use a Corbin and have ridden many very long days. It is almost the perfect seat for me, but not quite ... so I am planning to have a custom seat made at a place nearby where I live.

A larger gas tank is in the plan, which will give sufficient range for most situations short of crossing the Sahara, or similar.
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Old 15 Feb 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by othalan View Post
If anyone is interested on modifications I'm making, I am putting together a web page with my planning. I'll post a link here when I get it done (a few days probably).
The page linked below contains my current plans for modifications to a KLR-650.

KLR-650 Preparation for RTW Trip
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Old 15 Feb 2010
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Was skimming thru the Hubb - night shift you see and thought Blimey he s up early , then i saw where you lived . Have to agree with what everyone says about the shock - that said even new ones can go to the wall pretty quick if abused .
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Old 15 Feb 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by othalan View Post
The KLR does have a carb, but I'm not overly worried. I live in Colorado (5k feet) and regularly ride up to 12k feet altitude. If I ever end up spending several months above 8k feet altitude I might change the jets, but short of that it probably isn't worth the trouble given how simple and rock-solid the KLR is.

As for seat ... I currently use a Corbin and have ridden many very long days. It is almost the perfect seat for me, but not quite ... so I am planning to have a custom seat made at a place nearby where I live.

A larger gas tank is in the plan, which will give sufficient range for most situations short of crossing the Sahara, or similar.
I rode with a number of people up in the Altoplano who had KLR's and similar with carbs and they had huge problems with power. In fact they had none and were running at slow speed in a lower gear and had issues getting up the hills. As long as you are aware, then no problem, you can deal with it however you like.
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Old 15 Feb 2010
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As one of the KLR riders seen by Travelingstrom laboring up hills at 4500+ meters, I feel compelled to respond. Besides, it's cold and grey and I'm still chilled from riding in the snow and rain yesterday.

Fuel injection lets you ride at altitude without losing power. And it gains you significant fuel economy (my KLR gets 5 miles per gallon about 2 km per liter worse than the Vstrom I left at home in the garage).
On the other hand, Travelingstrom's fuel injection stopped working properly when his intake screen got clogged; it requires high pressures, which means a fuel pump, and life gets messy when it fails for whatever reason. It also requires electronic circuitry to function, with which some are more comfortable than others.

Carburators are easily repaired by the rider or whatever backyard mechanic happens to be right around the bend if yours develops issues. The OP claims a desire for simple technology and easy repairs, which fuel injection is not.

I left my new-ish Vstrom at home and brought my middle-aged KLR to South America. So far, this has been working fine for me. But I admit to pangs of jealousy whenever those GS and Stroms go whizzing by me on the steep uphills. I never bothered changing my jets, and it doesn't seem to have done any harm to anything but my pride.

In the end, the OP seemed sold on his KLR from the start, and it's hard to see what he'd gain by buying an expensive, complicated bike considering his stated prejudices and thought processes. But as others often point out here, these sorts of trips are made on all sorts of machines, and for the most part everyone makes it home in the end.

Safe journeys!

Mark

(from Punta Arenas, heading northward at last)
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  #13  
Old 15 Feb 2010
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bike

I had two KLR650 and did a lot of riding with the first one (83000 miles) I will pick it over the DL650 if you like to go off orad a lot, the DL is a great bike and I drove one for a litle while but not at all able to compare withe KLR when its question of real of road. Now if you like to cruise at 70 all day the KLR is not as great, the hight also is an issue for some smaller rider, I never any problem at high altitude ,I had some back fire and lost of power but nothing that bad that I needed to change my jets (done CA and SA with it) cheap and reliable , my second choice will be a XR650L or DR650 for same reason but not very good on HWY.
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Old 15 Feb 2010
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One tip on coping with altitude.

Changing the needle height can often be quite an easy job, and of course requires carrying no extra/different bits. I dropped the needle on my DR350 when riding in central asia last year, with the highest pass something like 4,500m. It definately made a noticable difference to the bike's running.

Not all bikes come with adjustable height needles, but you can normally buy one for about a tenner.

Of course it's not going be anywhere near as effective as the auto adjustment on fuel injected bikes, but like I said a tip which might help and is worth doing if you're riding for more than a few days at altitude.
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Old 15 Feb 2010
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Just as a side issue - a friend had a Triumph T595 a few years back and it had a sensor to detect altitude - and he was out on Dartmoor (UK) which isn't a great height, and the bike started playing up, missfiring & running bad. He turned round to head home and it cleared itself. As it was still under the bike shop guarantee (although a couple of years old - secondhand) they checked it out, and eventually it turned out that the increase in altitude had effected the computer - and injection system! A bit of a worrying "weak point".
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