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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 17 Aug 2010
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Don't buy, build...

OK. Not quite. Buying is still needed.

Just a thought, really, to see what people think of an alternative approach.

HUBB has dozens of "Which Bike" threads and often what happens is the same, albeit valid, advice crops up. Buy a Dual Sport bike, then possibly spend a fair amount of money tweeking.

General qualities are lightweight, reliability, sturdiness with off-road abilities. What seems to be less mentioned, to my mind, are comfort and fuel economy.

So I thought about looking for a bike that is light, reliable, comfortable and economical and then making it a little more off-road capable (especially as most realise that a trip, including off-roading, can be acheived with the most unlikely of machines).

They often have a bigger tank range, nice saddle, better lights, more solid subframe and more user friendly service intervals.

How hard would it be to take the likes of a 135kg CBF250 (for example) and make it a more trail friendly?

I realise that it might cost more than setting up an enduro, but could the end product make a trip less of a compromise to confort etc?
And would it be that much more expensive?

So could this be an alternative approach to bike choice?
What do you all think?
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  #2  
Old 17 Aug 2010
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Comfort is subjective and there's no reason or proof that off road bikes are not economical, it's all down to riding style. If I ride my 950SE hard, I'll get less than 30mpg but if I take it easy through the gears & don't open the throttle wide open, I'll get 50mpg.

Buy the time you've bought a bike, bought the offroad items and carried out the mods, you'll be no better off in terms of bike quality or financially, especially if you pay someone else to do the mods or any engineering work. If the spannering and bike knowledge is minimal, you run the risk of cobbling together an expensive deathtrap.... If on the other hand, you know what you're doing and can do the mods yourself, then go for it.

I've recently just finished prepping a DRZ400S for a 4 month trip to South America, I reckon I spent well in excess of 150 hours working on the bike & that's with me doing 95% of the work myself. The bike's in BA now & my girlfriend arrives tomorrow, here's her 'blog:

Pumpernickel on Tour

It's very easy to get the geometry wrong when modifying a bike, been there, done that on at least two occasions.
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  #3  
Old 18 Aug 2010
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Originally Posted by Steve Pickford View Post
Comfort is subjective and there's no reason or proof that off road bikes are not economical, it's all down to riding style.
In my experience, despite liking them a lot, the two most off-road styled bikes I've had (Dommie and XR400R) were not massively comfortable compared to more road styled bikes. Similarly smaller bikes that seem to be popular for their manoevrability will typically have a narrower seat. My TA on the other hand is comfortable, thanks goodness, but is much heavier.

As for economy, I never said that they weren't, merely that it does alwas seem to be one of the first points put forward in bike choice discussions. For me it is important.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Pickford View Post
Buy the time you've bought a bike, bought the offroad items and carried out the mods, you'll be no better off in terms of bike quality or financially, especially if you pay someone else to do the mods or any engineering work. If the spannering and bike knowledge is minimal, you run the risk of cobbling together an expensive deathtrap.... If on the other hand, you know what you're doing and can do the mods yourself, then go for it.
I definitely agree that it would be more expensive. However, my point boils down to this. Choosing an overland bike is usually a hotch-potch of compromises. Light for the dirt, enduro style for the dirt, power and comfort for the highways. Power, usually means a bigger engine/chassis that starts to compromise weight. Comfort means a physically larger bike and weight suffers again. Often we choose the likes of a DR650/DRZ because what they give us in the dirt outways their limitations on tarmac.

One set of needs we have of our overland bikes (dirt or tarmac) and their initial design are usually diametrically opposed. And it is disparity that we then spend time and money trying to mitigate.

All I was suggesting is that you could get a bike that brings those two extremes a little close together. Less trail than an enduro but still able to pull you through thanks to weight and a few mods (expensive or not), but built for the road, and so with a plusher saddle, a bigger tank thus making the hours/days on roads easier to handle, despite not being a litre tourer...

Thanks for the link by the way.
Reading of Argentine trips always brings back fond memories
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  #4  
Old 19 Aug 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Pickford View Post
If the spannering and bike knowledge is minimal, you run the risk of cobbling together an expensive deathtrap.... If on the other hand, you know what you're doing and can do the mods yourself, then go for it.
Steve's comment above pretty much sums it up for me. Not to dissuade anyone from trying such an endeavor ... but it will take lots of skills to do it right. Hiring someone would drive the cost over the top.

I'm thinking you're basic premise of starting with a light, cheap 250 street bike is flawed. Look at how dual sports evolved. The Japanese didn't start off building dual sport motorcycles but when they did go that way they had help ... and history to aid them. And they did their homework. Before the Japanese we had mostly Brit bikes (good dirt bikes actually) and before that (post WW2) guys rode and RACED HD's and Indians in the dirt. YES!

Starting with simple trail bikes the Japanese soon moved into racing. See On Any Sunday 2 to learn more on this early history. Learning from the likes of Triumph, BSA, Husqvarna, CZ, Bultaco, Maico, Montesa, Greeves and so on, the Japanese learned what worked and didn't work off road, mostly through racing, and then made street legal bikes that had many of the attributes their race bikes had. STRONG was key.

But to sell bikes they needed something "softer" than their race bikes, more comfortable, abuse tolerant, cheap and versatile. So by the mid/late 60's the Japanese started mass producing "dual purpose" bikes. Mostly Honda and Yamaha at that point as Kawasaki and Suzuki were late to start. The Euros made them too ... before the Japanese did. I owned a 1967 Bultaco Matador. The Brits were into this too with their "Scrambler" versions. (I owned and raced a couple)

But none of them could come close to the Hondas (CL, XL) and Yamahas (IT's, YZ's) in terms of reliability and toughness.These were usually from 100cc up to 350cc at this time. From here there was a steady evolution in this class of bike. Yam's were 2 strokes at first, Honda's four stroke.

Hardly anyone traveled on them .... except in Asia where they've always used small bikes as main transport. Meanwhile racing continued and technology, metallurgy, weight savings, handling discoveries, all trickled down to street bikes. They just got better and better.

Your issue with dual sport bikes seems to be comfort and economy. I've found a good, professionally made seat transforms a typical dual sport torture rack into a nice travel bike. No Gold Wing or GS BMW but you may be surprised just how good it can be. My DR650 only gets about 48 MPG.
So in the EU and a few other places, fuel will cost big. But is it worth it riding a bike that gets 70 MPG? For some, I guess it is.

The biggest problem I see with nearly everyone traveling LD on a bike is overloading. Too much stuff. A lot of travelers like to Camp and Cook.
I like to R I D E ... and be able to make it through challenging sections or bad roads. If you stay on paved roads then why bother to build a custom bike? Unless its a hobby. But to build something light enough and capable enough to carry a load, go off road, get decent fuel economy, handle safely and hold together over the long haul ... well ... that is a challenge.
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  #5  
Old 19 Aug 2010
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I love the idea of making my own bike, but I think the trouble is where do you set the compromise slider?

If you're massively into offroad, then I guess 250 is the engine size limit. This will make for tiresome motorway work though. Maybe 400 would be a good compromise.

So you start with a DR400 perhaps, fit a big tank and bash plates etc, then strip the whole rear end down to the sub frame. Fabricate bespoke brackets to hold the luggage you want - making sure you go for something small and slim of course!

While you're at it you ought to build in some extra fuel capacity, an extra 10 litres should do. I guess using a couple of bladders is easier since making fuel tight alloy tanks is very hard.

Now have the seat sawn in half and remade to your comfort requirements - gel inserts and sheepskin lined perhaps!

Make up a bracket to hold a small top box which can sit much closer to the rider - maybe even a dual position so it can be a backrest on the road, and moved aft for off road.

Saw off everything that isn't needed - pillion footpegs etc.

Brace anything which is renowned for being weak.

Make some kevlar covers for the engine cases.

Fit a fully enclosed chain guard.

Any other ideas?
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  #6  
Old 19 Aug 2010
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Originally Posted by dave ett View Post

Any other ideas?

Fit an SV650 engine
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  #7  
Old 19 Aug 2010
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mm well i would suggest look at where your riding to & from & route,
i.e. UK to USSR mostly Roads take a 250 or 400 road bike, hay the locals ride CZ Jawa's! if the seat is too hard get it sorted.

if mostly going to be going off road get a off bike sort the seat out.
or in other words look at what the locals are using, get something smiler

my own ride is a 1250 bandit no good for Morocco (unless on the roads) but good for France Germany so comprise getting a 650 instead

Would suggest you buy the dvd's have a look on them some good advice about bikes, 1 quote is no such thing as a bad bike just not the right bike for the job
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  #8  
Old 19 Aug 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dave ett View Post
I love the idea of making my own bike, but I think the trouble is where do you set the compromise slider?

If you're massively into offroad, then I guess 250 is the engine size limit. This will make for tiresome motorway work though. Maybe 400 would be a good compromise.

So you start with a DR400 perhaps, fit a big tank and bash plates etc, then strip the whole rear end down to the sub frame. Fabricate bespoke brackets to hold the luggage you want - making sure you go for something small and slim of course!

While you're at it you ought to build in some extra fuel capacity, an extra 10 litres should do. I guess using a couple of bladders is easier since making fuel tight alloy tanks is very hard.

Now have the seat sawn in half and remade to your comfort requirements - gel inserts and sheepskin lined perhaps!

Make up a bracket to hold a small top box which can sit much closer to the rider - maybe even a dual position so it can be a backrest on the road, and moved aft for off road.

Saw off everything that isn't needed - pillion footpegs etc.

Brace anything which is renowned for being weak.

Make some kevlar covers for the engine cases.

Fit a fully enclosed chain guard.

Any other ideas?
Sounds a little similar to a bike I've just finished for my girlfriend, it should be out of Customs today in BA:

Pumpernickel on Tour

Don't bother with a top box on a small bike IMO, luggage roll bags provide a good backrest. Also leave the pillion pegs in place, they weigh little, could be useful & they provide a secure mounting point for soft luggage straps.

I've replaced Ela's 10 litre steel tank with a 16 litre plastic Clarke tank, a 5 litre can in the pannier frames and managed to blag an 8 litre foldable fuel bladder from a friend literally days before she departed on the 17th.

No need to strip the subframe down, beefing it up or bracing it to the bike frame using the luggage racks is the way to go IMO.

Personally I prefer a 400cc+ engine rather than a 250 but it depends on your physical size also in addition to luggage etc. It's very easy to overload a smaller bike and reduce it's power to weight ratio to a useless level if you're of a "stouter" build yourself. Riding a low powered bike offroad or up steep inclines can lead to a burnt out clutch. I also find that off road ability & experience has a big impact on bike choice, personally I love my 400EXC for tighter/tricky riding and my 950SE for longer, faster offroad jaunts.
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  #9  
Old 19 Aug 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Pickford View Post
Sounds a little similar to a bike I've just finished for my girlfriend, it should be out of Customs today in BA:
Pumpernickel on Tour
So you've left her to the ravages of Argie customs ? On her own in Baires? Man, you're gonna here about this one later!

Are you joining her on your 950SE ?

Will check in on the Pumpernickel tour.
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Old 19 Aug 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Pickford View Post
Sounds a little similar to a bike I've just finished for my girlfriend, it should be out of Customs today in BA:

Pumpernickel on Tour

Don't bother with a top box on a small bike IMO, luggage roll bags provide a good backrest. Also leave the pillion pegs in place

No need to strip the subframe down, beefing it up or bracing it to the bike frame using the luggage racks is the way to go IMO.
Nice!

I was thinking more along the lines of removing the plastics and pillion seat, and replacing that area with the secure box. It'd only be a few inches higher than the seat since 50% would be sunk into the frame, effectively becoming the rear mudguard.
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Old 19 Aug 2010
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mm well i would suggest look at where your riding to & from & route,
Absoltutely.

This is what I was trying to get at.

Typically, one takes a Dual Sport or Enduro bike and makes a few changes to perhaps let it handle more luggage, a bit more light, a better tank range and, as was suggested earlier, a comfier seat (although most plum for a sheepskin at most)...

Now take South America, for example, a lot of dirt in some parts, a lot of it road.

So you might have bought a bike really 70% off road/30% on road, when in many cases overlanders may be doing the opposite in terms of their total mileage: 70% on roads, 30% on dirt.

So I started thinking that perhaps sometimes the bike we choose should mirror our likely usage rather than starting at the opposite end of the scale and staying there as far as road riding is concerned...
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Old 20 Aug 2010
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So you might have bought a bike really 70% off road/30% on road, when in many cases overlanders may be doing the opposite in terms of their total mileage: 70% on roads, 30% on dirt.

So I started thinking that perhaps sometimes the bike we choose should mirror our likely usage rather than starting at the opposite end of the scale and staying there as far as road riding is concerned...
I agree with your ratio of 70% On-Road vs. 30% Off-Road. That's probably a realistic number for most travelers. In S. America, (the only continent I marginally know) you could alter that towards more Off Road if desired.
Interiors of N. Peru' & remote areas of Bolivia come to mind. Not sure about anyplace else but from reading seems you're ratio is close.

Making a street bike off road capable is much harder than making a dual sport bike Street capable. Its a game of compromises ... I've tried a few different bikes in both camps.

Thing is, most 250cc to 400cc street bikes are just not tough enough to take a severe whack. Many are "low spec" bikes from the get-go ... cheap cheap cheap everywhere you look. Good reliable bikes, Yes, but most designed for Asian markets, not designed to survive off road. You would basically have to start over. Why bother when you could buy an early XT600 Yamaha for a song, do a few mods and take off?

Toughness & Travel
Take Mexico as an example: Topes. Topes break frames and suspension on over loaded bikes. Been there, seen it in person. Even on non loaded bikes. Ever seen how locals cross them? They creep over them! This can be seen in many countries. Locals on local small bikes are really careful to avoid Potholes as well. They are most always two up, so a big Pot hole could break their bike, a huge loss for them.

A larger dual sport is a pretty tough machine off the shelf. You don't see them in the 3rd world because few can afford them. See my first post to understand how they got tough and why.

Street bikes can also have softer wheels and inadequate suspension
that will Bottom out on a Tope or Pot Hole. A good dual sport will shrug this off and do it continually for 10's of thousands of miles unscathed. (mostly!)

It bridges the gap nicely between a 600 lb. BMW GS and a 250cc Wheezer. Thing is, most 650 class dual sports are not only lighter than a GS, but tougher as well.

Dual Sport derived Travel bikes are not race bikes or even real dirt bikes, but they share just enough DNA that they end up a nearly ideal choice as fully loaded bike for RTW. Modern Dual Sports tend to be substantially tougher than average street bikes over the long haul. The really good news is that in the US, UK and parts of EU they are pretty cheap too.

Yes, there are comfort issues and luggage carrying issues. But once again, it reaches a fair compromise, IMHO. Just right, some would say.

A Sheep Skin is not a seat solution:
Anyone that settles for a Sheep Skin for their narrow dual sport seat deserves what they get

Some of us lived through the "limitations" of Sheep Skin pads back in the 80's. I crossed the US and Canada with one .... on a BMW no less! They were quickly abandon by those truly experienced riders. As a supplement? ok, fine, but you need a well crafted, and W I D E seat to make a typical dual sport bike comfortable. Like 10 hours a day comfortable.
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Old 20 Aug 2010
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Why bother when you could buy an early XT600 Yamaha for a song, do a few mods and take off?
No reason not to. I'd certainly be happy with one but most of the mods I read about, as I wrote earlier rarely seem aimed to improving road ride quality despite that being the likely majority of miles

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mickey D View Post
A good dual sport will shrug this off and do it continually for 10's of thousands of miles unscathed. (mostly!)

...

Dual Sport derived Travel bikes are not race bikes or even real dirt bikes, but they share just enough DNA that they end up a nearly ideal choice as fully loaded bike for RTW. Modern Dual Sports tend to be substantially tougher than average street bikes over the long haul. The really good news is that in the US, UK and parts of EU they are pretty cheap too.
I agree. That is why I bought one after my XR400 that must have belonged to, and tweeked by, the Spainsh Inquisition.

However, IMO, most of the modern DS bikes these days are street bikes in DS trim, and I really wonder if they are much tougher. My Dad rides a Transalp 700. Great bike, really eats up the miles, but my TA600 is a tougher machine. Shame it is so much older. Ditto for the many other newer DS bikes out there. Road bikes in DS clothing to meet a market desire...

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Originally Posted by Mickey D View Post

A Sheep Skin is not a seat solution:
Anyone that settles for a Sheep Skin for their narrow dual sport seat deserves what they get
New custom seats would be a boon but, for my part, sheepskin did make a nice difference. On the bikes I've used it on, I've found I can sit comfortably for a longer duration. I don't seem to need one on the TA, but on the XR it meant I was able to sit on it without squirming for more than the usual 15 minute threshold.... However, it is not universal seat transformer.

My Ural tractor seats seem to do the job nicely but probably would not look quite as good on a new DRZ...
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Old 20 Aug 2010
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Making a street bike off road capable is much harder than making a dual sport bike Street capable. Its a game of compromises.
Well thought out post.

Another option I've heard of is modifying a pure enduro bike (KTM EXC range springs to mind) as an overland bike but you run in to a completely different set of issues such as high maintenance, increasing the low oil capacity via additional coolers etc, subframes not built for luggage, poor lights and even less comfortable seats etc.
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Old 20 Aug 2010
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why not, you get custom built cruisers. would be very expensive though
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