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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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Old 25 Sep 2007
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Talking Old/New? 1/2 cyls? Which runs hot - What Bike?

Man so many questions:

I want to ride London to CapeTown where the intention is to sell it or keep it or trash it. I currently have a BMW R1150RT and ride about 500 miles a week, previously I rode 28,000 miles in a year on a BMW K75s, so am happy with big comfy bikes. My experience with the type of bikes in the question is: Sat on a show room FMX 650, and thought it was a toy!

I’m looking for advice on a bike to ride long distances on bad, but not metalled roads. I am not scrambling, or for the matter (excluding the excuse for a transport link leading from Dodoma to Lake Tanganika, and that nasty East coast road to Turkana) going off road The Kind of Northern Zambian potholed roads, and African Desert tracks but not motor crossing.

I am not joining the Dakar rally intentionally or not
Answering one will definitively answer a host of others, but please share your thoughts for me on the following:

1> New bike versus Old bike
My thought is buy an old bike and doing a complete rebuild with accessories will work out cheaper than a new bike alone. Wheres the advantage of New, I am going to ding it up and put dust in new and unusual places.
2> Single cylinder versus Twin cylinder
Is it really a case of more effort in servicing, or is there a significant benefit? I have a BMW Twin and have never owned a single, so have no goal posts, or maybe a very high one, but the simplicity of single makes sense. I will have no problems with Vibration.
3> Easiest bike to service by me?
Like a Baboon with a calculator, I know what to do and how to do it, but maybe there is a training issue, its all nuts ‘n bolts right? How hard can it be, take apart, put together just need a Haynes manual!
4> Air vs Water cooled Bike must not cook itself in the African heat (eg Chalbi desert)
Yeah I need something that will be able to remain cool headed once I have lost mine! I tend to run very warm when things are going pear shaped with no fuel at this station and the next delivery stuck in the mud 200 kilos behind you with bandits due in any moment now. So need a bike that will stay cool. (I don’t care about –5 degrees, cos I will be wrapped in a duvet somewhere.)
5> It needs to be able to handle massive changes in Altitude, ie Sea level to 9000 ft in one day, and also will not phutt out at altitude? So either a way to change carburetion/jetting, or turbo charged J or simply masses of power It does not need to be a 2 up machine but be able to if one bike breaks down and we need to.
6> Can anyone tell me about Chains vs Shaft drives in the context of what I plan, about 25000 kilometers: A shaft drive no problems at all, Chains in deserts? (not supported by a race crew) I have the misfortune to have never owned a chain before. Shafts are great, but I guess almost out of the equation here.

So which of these bikes? (oh and I’ve only ridden the 1150GS the rest are whimsical thoughts.)
Honda XL600LMF - Big ass Tank looks like the strongest Bike ever made and will be easy to fix. Probably the cheapest option and my sort of gut feel bike.
Kawasaki KLR650- My Number two choice just ahead of the Suzuki DR650, only because it’s the same bike but in green.
Suzuki DR650 - Got the feeling that the DR was the best option here, and possibly my strongest candidate so far. But suspect strength for taking overloaded panniers will be iffy, and the DR650 has easy to source larger tanks so not a problem. Is it powerful enough?
Yamaha XT660/Tenere –The same sort of thing as the XL600LMF, but still need to buy the bigger tank, So less mildly desirable than the LMF. I saw a blue DR 600 start up when I was a kid and have always had a thing for that bike (seems as good a reason as any).
Kawasaki KLE 500 – Has been growing in my estimation, but don’t like the newer looks, and need bigger tanks as per most of the rest. Is there any benefit over the KLR650?
BMW 1150GS - the one I am familiar with, and have ridden. Big bikes and in Adventure clothing they are formidable beasts. Shaft drive: whoo hoo! I don’t think the cooling without some additional support is sufficient so more needed there. Also need larger tanks. (Expensive) Though better, the 1200GS is not reliable enough and has too much supported by electronics. May be more interested in an older 80/100/GS
Honda Africa Twin - A big bike and probably designed on the Nairobi-Mombasa road, that suspension easily soaking up those potholes. Was over taken by one once going up a hill in a VW camper van, the pillions head was above the roof line formidable!
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Old 25 Sep 2007
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Wink Choices and more again

Just to add to the soup, you could also consider the Yamaha TDM. It's worth a look IMO. Great value as a second hand buy and seems to be tough enough to take what you want to throw at it.

After that, well there are loads of opinions in here about the whole range of bikes that you have already identified (a lot of it is in the technical bike forums as well as in this forum) and the factors that you have listed.
So, at the end of the day, you will go with whichever bike you are most comfortable with no matter what anyone else says!!
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Old 1 Oct 2007
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Sounds like you need a fuel injected bike to cope with altitude changes and screw & locknut tappets for valve adjustment.

DR600 - getting on a bit now, kickstart only - no good if you've dropped it & hurt yourself. Get a DR650 with e-start if you insist on having one. Aqualine do large tanks as do several others.

Old XT's - old, getting a good one will get harder the longer you leave it.

Africa Twin - take a spare fuel pump, bit heavy for the power?

Chains need not be difficult if you fit quality kit & look after it.

Rebuilding an old bike - not necessarily cheaper, you may end up finding yourself needing to replace more parts than you first thought, always works out more expensive than expected. Then there's the labour cost if not doing it yourself. Best bet is a low mileage bike in good nick, check it over, fit new consumables (pads, chain, sprockets etc) & take spares.

Shaft drive adds weight but in the case of BMW's, some of that is offset by the low Cof G due to the engine layout. With 1150's, the torque available low down the rev range makes it easy to ride offroad at a moderate pace.

KLE500 lacks torque IMO, not good when fully loaded although I believe they're easy to service?

KLR650 is not a DR600/650, very different. Dull but apparently reliable if the Doohickey mod is done, popular in the US where big tank versions are still available.

Some single cylinder bikes may be harder to service than a twin, it's not a matter of counting the cylinders to calculate the servicing needs. The GS range all have screw & locknut tappets whilst KLR's use shims but in an ideal world, they'd need adjusting less frequently - it's case of balancing the servicing needs against your spannering abilities. Less skill, get a simple to service bike even if it needs servicing more freqently.

Regardless of what you choose, when it comes to servicing, it's not just a case of following the Haynes manual & all will be well. You need to have certain amount of empathy with the bike, an understanding of how various components interact with each other i.e. the need for correct chain tension on a loaded bike and the possibility of wrecking a gearbox if you run the chain too tight.
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Old 1 Oct 2007
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Another couple of cents

Originally Posted by photographicsafaris View Post
Sat on a show room FMX 650, and thought it was a toy!

Quite agree, it is a toy; a supermoto that has not sold at all well for Honda - see how many you spot on the road.

Just re-reading your post and you don't say when you are going; might be worth waiting a bit to see what is coming along in the near future. There is at least a new Tenere, new BMW 800 and the Honda XL700V + others to arrive from Moto Guzzi.

Apart from that, how about the Suzi DL650? - no need to talk about it for now because there is loads of information within the other threads.

Further to the discussion of Beemers, the F650 also has a low CofG; with the fuel tank under the seat it is well balanced - worth considering? (It will be changed soon as a 2008 model).
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Old 2 Oct 2007
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But in Africa you'll need to be dilegent with ears and eyes wide open.

Last edited by mollydog; 26 Mar 2009 at 07:55.
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Old 2 Oct 2007
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Even though i havent done any massive touring/off roading my brother and i are planning something near the same as your route but i know dout know this will change for us.

Anyway from all the information i have read through it always seems to have somethings along these lines.
  1. Go for a smaller lighter bike as even if you dont plan on doing off road you might have to at some point (around 600cc)
  2. Pack as little as possible as most places in europe you can buy the things you possibly forgot before you hit africa
  3. If doing alot of alltitude work buy something with fuel injection as no need to play around with fuelling and carbs etc
  4. Get some thing you can work on, no point buying a lovely new bike that you havent a clue how to change the oil let alone tighten the chain (if there is one)
  5. Use the bike before you do the trip, learn things about it, problems etc
There are loads more things i could say you probably know most of them. Any way the bikes we have choosen are the Yamaha XT660R. Just got one the other day, plan on using it for 2 years before i go on the trip to get use to it. Slightly top heavy but i'm no racier and dont what to be when touring. Also there is a large amount of new stuff coming out taht you can kit the bike out for the slightly out of the way/off road touring.

or as some one said before there is the new Yamaha tenere coming out which has most of these mods on it but then you would have to buy new depending on when the trip i planned for.
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Old 2 Oct 2007
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Hi again,

"Single cylinder versus Twin cylinder
Is it really a case of more effort in servicing, or is there a significant benefit? I have a BMW Twin and have never owned a single, so have no goal posts, or maybe a very high one, but the simplicity of single makes sense. I will have no problems with Vibration."

You have not owned a single (and I am guessing therefore, that you have not ridden one?) then you may not like the vibration associated with such bikes; you remind me that KTM have a dual sport bike coming out with a 690cc single that is reputed to be very smooth - just a thought.
However, it may be a while before that one is available.

Where are you going to buy this bike?
The DR650 is not readily available in the UK; they are either old/high miles or have been imported. IMO they are a bit over-priced in the UK as a consequence: supply and demand basically.
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Old 2 Oct 2007
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Photosafaris- Just to chuck a couple of other considerations into the mix of everyone else's replies, I'd ask about how big you are physically.
Others may disagree but for solo trans Africa I'd suggest that you stick to the 600 ish singles if you're under about 6 feet tall and try to put together something like Mollydog's Suzuki.
I have seen people jumping GS1150's over sand hills in the Mauritanian desert and wheelying Africa Twins up Nouhadibou high st but these guys were around 6' 5", built like greek gods on their day off and could pick the bikes up with one hand.
At 5' 9" I struggle to pick my fully laden 600 single up when the front washes out on sand. If you're on your own it becomes a royal p.i.t.a. when you have to remove the luggage to pick the thing up for the 5th time in a mile in 35 degree heat.

Neither of my 600 (carburettored) singles show much effect of altitude on the way they run.
In the UK my home is more or less at sea level but we have a flat in France at 6000 ft and I don't notice any difference in the way the bikes run at either place.
Obviously a sample of two doesn't make for a general conclusion and 6000 ft isn't 9000, but worries about the carburation wouldn't be top (or even on) my list.

These days I make sure that my bikes are for solo use only in Africa.
That's because even the slightest hint that you could take a passenger will convince some border officials that they've got themselves a free ride home.
You're then faced with no lift, no stamp and the problems of another 50kg of wobbly luggage on an already overstressed subframe.

Despite all the technical considerations that seem to be so important at this stage what matters in somewhere like Africa is that the bike actually starts and keeps going. If you're travelling alone your life could depend on this in some parts of the Sahara.
Rebuilding a wreck would give you enough confidence in your mechanical skills and (hopefully) a reliable bike if you do it well but a comprehensive rebuild is unlikely to be much cheaper than buying a new bike in the first place. What it would do though is enable you to incorporate reliability mods / upgrade electrics etc while you're doing it.
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Old 8 Oct 2007
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I agree...

Very well said, it totally depends on 3 things:
Your physics
The spare parts coverage / availability
Your bank account.
Well, I met a guy in northern Alaska, he was waiting for the next person as he couldn't lift his f... 1150 GS super dooper equipped high Tourateched Beamer... Physics
I met a guy in the US when he had problems to get spare parts for his Yamaha Tenere (the bike was never or few sold in the US...) Parts
And I met a guy in Equador that siad after a defect... No problemo, I will pay the transport to Quito to get it fixed... Cash situation

Now, what will you find on your trip? Answer the top questions and you will get closer to your choice, narrow it down... Most propably you will take a Japanese Make as these things are sold everywhere...
I am very happy for you if you will never have any trouble, but being prepared does not hurt... And gives you a feeling of being independent.
Reliablilty? The new bikes are all good, some have their problems, check the defect list on the Tech Forum.
And go for your choice and eliminate as good as you can the common cracks.
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Old 8 Oct 2007
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But in two years time all this will begin to make sense. The more comfortable you get off road...the better the Yamaha will work for you.

Last edited by mollydog; 26 Mar 2009 at 07:56.
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Old 5 Mar 2008
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BMW riders dont have money issues: Sarkey git!!

Yes I had a 20 year old and now I have a 6 year old BMW, I am unfortunately not gifted with excess cash. I am also furiously looking for an independant BMW service centre / mechanic in Kent.

Following on from lots of reading, lady luck strolled along:

I am now the owner of a Yamaha XT600 tenere ('87 1VJ model) actually I was given it... long story short the previous owner looks like he had decided not to run it into the ground as a farm bike, but stopped just short of.
Lots of "repairs" with various silicone based substances and some metal in a tube... and oil leak you know where, right hand side.

I am convinced this is the perfect model for what I want, this is probably a good time to point out that I have driven from Nairobi to Cape Town three times in a 1972 Landrover, once in a 800cc Suzuki jeep (Yes that is an eight hundred cc 4x4) and run around East Africa in a Range rover.

I havent got it all figured out yet but :
Most important date: Sunrise at Mt Kilimanjaro Summit on 15-01-2010
Most important piece of equipment: Digital SLR
Most notable stretch of road: Chalbi - Garissa - Mombasa

I am a Rugby Prop, 5'11 but find the XT600 very reasonable and have no problems picking it up, but the coming off it at speed has been an unpleasant learning curve so far. It will carrry two up for when it all goes wrong, but I feel it wont enjoy altitude.

I caught a train up to colelct the bike, then rode it straight home, some 300 miles, no problems, but definitely seemed happier at 60MPH (now with screen fitted it may have been me...) but was quite happy to open up to about 90MPH. worringly noticed hills without a load, so hopefully that was a perished carb rubbers issue not the engine (at sea level).

I am learning that anything perishable has long since perished and that these parts are expensive. I have brought:
A clymer manual and am awaiting it in the post as we speak.
A set of down pipes
A Chain roller
A piece of perspex and shaped into a great screen/windshield
A Set of Carb - cylinder head rubbers
A 12V accessory socket for the GPS
A new Handle bar
A new Oil filter cover
Two sets of plastic handguards, looking for third!
Three cans of 3in1 penetrating oil, going over to WD40 this weekend

Christ theres so much I need to buy, lighter silencer, chain, clutch, rear cog (lower ratio), 5th gear, cylinder sleeve, rings TKC 80's, fork seals, Probably an oversized set of fork springs and rear spring/shock...

I am making a set of aluminium panniers to go ontoa steel frame and a vibration damped Pelican topbox for camera gear. I am of the impression that the subframe will be sufficient for two up, so me and panniers should be fine (95kg+70kg in all) This brings me to the engine, yes the New BMW 800GS would be wonderful, but Naaa, not in remote areas. I think that the 600cc is the right combination of power speed and load bearing.

I am still concerned with the over heating issues, how and where temp can be monitored. I will need an oversized oil cooler.

Loving the 23 litre tank, but will carry 10litres of water in plastic and 10 litres of fuel as spare. I am trying to get a couple of guys to join me (one yet to take license) and will persuade them to get the same or the '85-'86 model with the 29 litre tank, to keep the parts as interchangeable as possible (Something I learnt driving to Turkana)

Have been following the prices that these bikes are sold for on ebay and seems like a great bargain if you add on £1000 for work to do.

Incidentally my second choice was the DRZ400, with 23L acrebis tanks, but happier with what I have, much cheaper too.

Also yes I am convinced that simplicity rules the unknown and doing the work myself has instilled confidence and training in maintaining the bike. (I know simple to your guys but Ive never really taken a bike apart)

Thanks for the support, and abrupt title is to let you know that I give as good as I get.

Spring is a time for projects, I am torn between loft conversion, bike and Redbull flugtag (Oh and work, wifey, blah blah)

Lastly I will be heading down to the tenere gathering in Morden in France for the weekend. Kinda fun having a 21 year old bike!

cheers G
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Old 5 Mar 2008
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I shall say this only once!!Get yourself a Yam XT660 (Fuel injected) fit a power commander allied to a new exhaust (which you will have to get as the routing on the original is all wrong and wouldnt last 50 yards on a dirt track)That sorts out any potential fuelling problems you may have and poor fuel quality that you may encounter (as long as you have access to a laptop)Fit a good set of hard luggage eg Zeta or metal mule (worth their weight in gold)As for a larger fuel tank,get two 5 litre plastic petrol cans and strap them to said panniers,voila!
Anything bigger than an XT just becomes a liability because you will drop your bike more times than you imagine you will,and picking your bike up for the fifth time in 40 degree heat is not good for you.Also a single like Yams 660 is pretty easy to fix(compared to a BMW or KTM or anything with more than 1 cylinder, bearing in mind your average speed is going to be pretty low) and theres not much hidden so access is easy.Its tempting to go for a 1200 GS adventure but everyone Ive met whose done a long trip on one has regretted it(imagine camping in Bulgaria or Romania or India with a 12 grand bike .I wouldnt sleep much, would you!!)And what are you going to do when the bearings go on your shaft drive.Yes its maintenance free but when it does go,WOW!A chain is so much easier to fix(carry a spare)so what you have to lube it,big deal.Whatever bike you choose you will have to tailor it to your own needs ,there isnt one really ready to go but follow my advice and you will have time to enjoy your trip while its happening, not spend it worrying about your bike.
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Old 5 Mar 2008
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You mention the XT660 but not the XT 600E, which was made up until 2003, so still lots and lots of good ones knocking around. It's an air cooled single cylinder, tough as nails, very simple to service, and extraordinarily reliable. It's also one of the most popular overlanding bikes for those reasons, so there is lots of choice in aftermarket extras. (Mines got a centre stand, bash plate, Acerbis 23 litre tank, touratech racks and Alpos panniers added.)
Because it is essentially a big ol' dirt bike it can be dropped, crashed etc. without coming to too much grief.

I may be biased but if I could have ANY bike, money no object, for touring bad roads in the third world one up, I'd have mine (gosh, lucky SOB aren't I! )



*Disclaimer* - I am not saying my bike is better than your bike. I am not saying my way is better than your way. I am not mocking your religion/politics/other belief system. When reading my post imagine me sitting behind a frothing pint of ale, smiling and offering you a bag of peanuts. This is the sentiment in which my post is made. Please accept it as such!
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Old 5 Mar 2008
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Taking a learner could risk the whole trip. Let him drive your Landy along.

Last edited by mollydog; 26 Mar 2009 at 07:56.
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Old 5 Mar 2008
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I'll go with what Patrick says and add :
One of the best things you can do for an old bike is to put new carbs on it .
It's very tempting to think you can rebuild them yourself , but having been there and done that , believe me it's better to go new , you've a long way to go and don't need the hassle of dodgy carbs.

The bike is going to need a damn good going over from front to back , change out the wheel bearings , brakes ,fork springs , seals etc check fork stanchions for straightness and pitting as well .Wheels for roundness and dings.
Rebuild/replace brake calipers .
You may as well do a complete engine/gearbox rebuild while it's down .
Check the frame for cracks and reinforce where necessary .
Have a look at the XT forums and find out what the best rear shock will be .
Carry spare parts of anything that will be hard to get a hold of and may cause a long delay in Africa .

It's a big job to rebuild a bike for serious travel but it can also be very rewarding and enjoyable .You'll gain a lot of knowledge about your bike .
I bet you will spend more than 1000 quid !
Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light. - Spike Milligan
"When you come to a fork in the road ,take it ! When you come to a spoon in the road ,take that also ."
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