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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 18 Apr 2008
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General question for seasoned travellers

How many of you would say a trail bike is essential for North to South America..or in fact for other long routes...I see here that any bike will do comes up a lot but will you get stuck often or does using a road bike mean you just take different directions to get to the next town....
Is the ground clearance that important on a trailie or is it that the forks and shocks will absorb and cope much better with bad road conditions....
Trail bikes tend to be lighter I suppose but will being lower down on a road bike give you better control when you can put your feet down for stability...
Has anyone done a long trip and changed bike for the next trip and what were those bikes and reasons...
Lots of questions but my time is drawing nearer............................
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  #2  
Old 18 Apr 2008
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Tyres

For me I'd say tyres are the biggest thing. I've had hellish days on snow, sand or mud covered roads and tracks because people brought big trail bikes on road tyres or simply couldn't ride them (and though BMW fitted some sort of trail magnet). I've likewise put semi-knobblies on Triumph Bonneville and taken it to the same places in similar conditions having great fun. There are days and tracks where only a 250cc MX bike gets through, there are others when a Harley Dresser makes it.

My experience is limited to Europe and North Africa (I can never get enough time off work to do the rest ), but i'd really say it depends how you ride. Which is worst for you, a day at less than walking pace in the mud (never had one myself), or doing 25 mph on the motorway while the trucks howl past in a cross wind (the XT was down to 35 in places)? Can you live without a spare sleeping bag or do you need the 60-80 hp to lug your gear? How tall are you? How skilled off road? How upset do you get if you have to take a 100 mile detour because it decides to rain?

Trail bikes tend to have fewer things that drop off or get ripped off when they meet the mud. My BMW F650 and Yam XT had nothing modified except tyres. My Bonneville has a new set of silencers about every two years off e-bay because I ding 'em and they rust faster than normal. For a bigger trip with more than a few miles off the tarmac I'd need to do a proper exhaust mod to prep the bike. It might well be easier or cheaper to just go buy another F650.

At the risk of starting a fight (and please remember I'm 5 foot 7/1.7m and weight 75 kg) I'd say a BMW R80GS or ST or F650 was about right for how I ride (The Bonneville with knobblies is similar) while XT's are heading towards too much trail bias and KTM's are just too much. That's only for me though.

Andy
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  #3  
Old 18 Apr 2008
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Wink My immediate thoughts

Quote:
Originally Posted by Threewheelbonnie View Post
or doing 25 mph on the motorway while the trucks howl past in a cross wind (the XT was down to 35 in places)? Andy

A good reply and summary there Andy: was there any particular reason for the XT (XT350?) to get down to that speed?

Bobby,
A fair enough question: as you say, it is very general though. I guess you will get a wide range of responses therefore.
As for Andy, I have no specific experience in South America: therefore I have read quite a few of the threads for that region and in "which bike" on this type of question + a few blogs. I recommend that you will get some value from doing the same.

I would add to Andy's reply that the lasting message I have got from such earlier information is to consider the work involved in lifting bikes on and off various forms of transport (such as boats to by-pass the Darien gap) - not unique to South America of course - and the fact that you can expect your bike to be "written-off" by the travelling: both the bodywork and the engine components will be well toward the end of their useful life as the result of such hard usage - obviously this is a generalisation, but check some of the blogs etc for such journeys and the facts speak for themselves.
There are lots of crashes down that way!

ps One of the more interesting discussions or statements from those riding in S America can revolve around what bike they will get next as a result of current travels in that region.
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Last edited by Walkabout; 18 Apr 2008 at 14:25. Reason: ps added
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  #4  
Old 18 Apr 2008
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XT600E 35 mph

This was back in 2004. I took the XT on a circuit of the Baltic. Coming out of Sweden into Denmark there was a massive cross wind and rain/sleet up to and over the bridge. The 21" front wheel with Pirelli Knobblie, plus too much gear had me leaning out of the saddle using my knee as a sail for 80 odd miles and just over two hours. Anything over 35-40 mph and the gusts had me out of the motorway lane before I could correct. The word SCANIA seen close up in a mirror still makes me shudder! The fuel consumption was down in the 40's as I needed 4th to drive against the gusts, engine brake when they dropped. Bad conditions for sure, but a more road type bike or less stuff or maybe even just TCK-80's would have had it put down as a motorway drone rather than the ride from hell. The Bonneville would have made it along all the loose surface roads I'd done up to there and taken that bridge at 80-90 kph in a nice safe gap between the trucks.

In my case this was fashion (reading too many travel books) over experience. I didn't need the 21" front wheel, the Touratech boxes, the jerry can etc. A low C of G and another 15 horses would have been useful. You live and learn.

Andy

Last edited by Threewheelbonnie; 18 Apr 2008 at 15:06.
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  #5  
Old 18 Apr 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobbyrandall View Post
How many of you would say a trail bike is essential for North to South America..or in fact for other long routes...I see here that any bike will do comes up a lot but will you get stuck often or does using a road bike mean you just take different directions to get to the next town....
<SNIP>
Lots of questions but my time is drawing nearer............................
Good questions but not enough info to recommend a bike...as thats a major time and $$ investment.

SO what's your prior riding experience on road and off road? Time and miles? Be honest...

You can go essentially North to South on tarmac, but how much off road would you like to do? What's your route? % on road to off road? Its ok to NOT have prior experience and want to learn on the trip...the itself is quite a learning experience.

Will you be one up or with a pillion?

How long of a trip?
There are other questions, but this would help give the community a better information base to come up with a bike recommendation!
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  #6  
Old 18 Apr 2008
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trail or road

Well lots of brilliant info-input do far.....cheers....
I am 5.10.....not a lot of off road although I had a kl500 pure dirt bike for a while...after that it was xt 500, 550 600..then a Spanish 4-stroke single....then a full-power tuned V-MAX ....now nearing the 50 mark so I have two BMW r850r....
I have never really gone for bm boxers because the opposed heads sticking out always put me off....however then I RODE ONE!! Very very comfy...and the maintenance appealed...oil in gearbox seperate, ordinary oil in the engine...no chain.....gearbox out in a couple of hours if you need to..NO RAD,no coolant, no hoses, no leaks
I have put aside singles trailies because of the vibration...the GS bmws seem too tall....forget any road bike with 4 cylinders because of fuel consumption, 4 carbs to clean etc....
Will probably be going alone ...this is a VERY hot potato at the moment with my mrs....! but would like to carry a passenger if the need arises..I want to take camping stuff and have two home-made 50 litre panniers from aircraft meal boxes......
Unless anyone comes up with something that is ideal, I have got the concept down to the r850r with trail tyres in case an off-road track looks interesting...the other r850 would be stripped for spares to send out if needed...
Judging by comments so far I think not too big,,,not too small, not too light, not too heavy is the way to go....I also figure there is NO ideal bike because there are always lots of folk on here going over this question eternally...still interested in those of you that have changed bikes and the reasons...

Last edited by bobbyrandall; 18 Apr 2008 at 18:51.
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  #7  
Old 19 Apr 2008
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Hi Bobby,

As Edde says, more info will lead to more reponses but in general almost no one changes bikes. Why? Probably because every bike is a compromise in one way or another so even if you go through a patch of riding where it is not optimal, you stick with it as you know the situation will be reversed again. The only real reason to switch would be if you bought a bike at one end of the spectrum (ie. pure street or pure off road) and subsequently found out that it didn't fit your actual riding. For example, if you bought an XR250 with knobbies and then found yourself only riding the freeways of the US you may want change to a more street orientated bike.

The other reason that riders don't usually change bikes is that anyone stubborn enough to ignore all advice to not ride across the continent, is certainly not going to admit that he made a mistake in picking his bike
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  #8  
Old 19 Apr 2008
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The R850R is a great bike for what you're talking about. Throw on some TKC's and you're got very nearly a GS that's more manageable.

There's much to be said for the stability and comfort of a heftier machine.
Unless you're gonna go hunting for single track trails the r850r should be perfect for 90% of the conditions you encounter.
There's also much to be said for the general toughness, reliability and economy of a bike like the r850r.
And since you already have a pair of them the answer is simple...ride em!
Invite a friend along to ride the second one.
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  #9  
Old 19 Apr 2008
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R850R plan sounds good. Road performance and a bike you are used to, but with lots of trick GS bits available for any upgrades you fancy/can afford.

I had an R1100R back in my "big bikes mean over a litre" (read "I was an ********") period, and later one with a chair. Good reliable bikes with lots of practical features. Take along a spare half size relay for the fuel pump. The only time I ever came home on the truck was because I couldn't source one locally.

Andy
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  #10  
Old 19 Apr 2008
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Havent been riding in South America, but generally speaking, you will only NEED a trail bike, if you often want to go riding on the smallest roads and tracks you can find, and choose any route you like. If there will be a lot of mud or soft sand, then you need big wheels, knobbly tyres and plenty of clearance, but otherwise you dont.

In most corners of the earth, main roads are normally in such condition, that you can manage them even with a road bike. Bumpy and broken surface in many places, requiring to go slow and careful, but still do-able.

Another thing to consider is how much weight you will put on top of the bike. Even if youre going with the best offroad-machine you can find, if its carrying too much weight, it wont offer anywhere near the same handling and offroad-ability. In fact that type of machines often suffer a lot more than normal streetbikes because of the extra weight. Offroad-bikes are meant to be ridden 1-up, and with very little or no luggage.

Yet another one is, which percentage of your trips road kilometres will actually be spent going into these really demanding small roads or tracks, and which % will be on a normal road or highway.
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  #11  
Old 14 May 2008
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All you NEED is something that gets you from A to B. It's all about comfort that dictates the choice. I've met people on Bangkok tuk tuks in Kazakhstan, as friend so mine did the same, Peter Forewood has been everywhere with a Harley, there's an R1 going around the world. I've seen piccies in Russia of a 65+ Kiwi a few months ahead of me on a Norton Pantera leaking oil. Up to you really.
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  #12  
Old 14 May 2008
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'course you don't need an offroader!

I've had 33 years of travelling internationally. ALL on road bikes.

US - Mexico - Guatemala in 75-76 on a Kawasaki Z1 900 with king queen seat, vetter fairing and panniers.

Australia to Europe overland across Asia two up on an RD350 (Singapore/Malaysia/Thailand/India/Nepal/Pakistan/Afghanistan/Iran/Turkey then all of Europe including most of Eastern Europe) in 1977.

England to Botswana one up on the same RD350 including cross Sahara (Algeria - Niger).

Sanfrancisco to Argentina and up to Brazil two up on a CX500 (vetter fairing, top box and panniers) in 1984.

Many round Australia trips (including significant sections of offroad) on big bikes, including one epic 15 day 13,000km ride (can you say "sore butt" ).

Currently on a local 125cc Chinese road bike riding China.

Picking up my Suzuki Burgman 650 (maxi scooter) in Korea in 2 weeks for my ride from Vladivostok across Russai and Kazakhstan to Europe.

None of these rides were on trail bikes and none of them involved using anything other than standard road tyres.

Plenty of offroading involved though, and as you would expect, I see no need for anything other than a road tyre equipped road bike.

Garry from Oz.
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  #13  
Old 15 May 2008
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In my experience a road bike and road tyres is all that is needed for 99.9% of the miles. Softer long travel suspension may make the ride a little less tiring on some very rough going and the extra ground clearance may help on badly rutted tracks. The most important factor in my view is weight, as road bike or trail bike can be manhandled over the really tricky bits as long as they are not overloaded.
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  #14  
Old 16 May 2008
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What about On "Long Way Round" when the cameraman had to exchange his huge beast of a BMW 1,200cc with an odd looking Russian 300cc single road bike!

The odd Russian bike coped easily with everything the Russian weather and terrain had to throw at it. The Cameraman was always in front from that point onwards...

In fact many believe (including me) that the whole team would have been better off binning the monster BMW's for a lighter bike (XT600 or F650). The new F800 seems a good bet too.

Many people tackle trans-Africa crossings on road orientated bikes therefore I presume you could do it in South America.
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  #15  
Old 17 May 2008
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All of my riding has been on road bikes and in my experience, yes they can cope off pavement. But coping can be a slow, tense pain and manifestly not as safe as if you were on something designed at least for gravel or dirt roads. I'm sure road bikes vary in their abilities off pavement but my Kawi ZR-7S, with its 17 inch meaty tires and four cylinder power pulse dealt very badly with dirt and gravel while my friends flew by me on on a GS650 and a KLR.

Yes, you can deflate the tires to an extent and gain better traction but if you're shifting back and forth between pavement and dirt it would be another pain to repeatedly reinflate, especially if you need to do it by hand.

Norm
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