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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 21 Aug 2011
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Trade Vstrom for a KLR for 2 year SA trip?

Hello travelers,

I am planning a 2 year South America trip leaving from NY summer of 2012. I bought a new DL650 this winter and fully equipped it for the trip. I then took it for a 6000 miles dry run around Trans Labrador hwy, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Maine, etc... On that ride I started having doubts about my choice of bike. I am seriously considering selling the Wee and getting a KLR instead. Some of the issues are below. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

Rough road handling. Forget gravel, I suffered through 1000 miles of Trans Labrador Hwy gravel and sand. But it seems that it can't handle bad pavement as well. Like paved road full of small potholes or hard chipseal washboard road after a greider. Every small imperfection in the road is transferred to the chassis. I could only travel about 30mp/h on such roads swerving around potholes, while other bikes (KLRs, BMWs) just went through everything without problem at much higher speeds. Granted, it feels at home on the freeway. But how much freeway should I expect roaming around SA? Question for the travelers: Should I expect majority of roads in SA to be bad paved roads? I know that bad sections of Trans Lab would be considered VIP highways in Russia, making them painful to ride on the VStrom even at slower speeds. I am not preparing for a Dakar type ride, but I keep hearing that everywhere else in the world average speed is around 50 mp/h is that true?

Maintenance and dealer network. Every little maintenance job is more painful than on other bikes. Mounting rear wheel is an adventure of its own. There are 5 different parts to align while holding rear wheel above ground. Interesting job to do single handed. I need to remove the tank to clean air filter. Same for replacing plugs. Fuel filter is located inside the fuel pump and cannot be cleaned at all. I know that KLR is easier to maintain and more mechanics are familiar with it. I also know that many travelers prefer thumpers over twins. Are there more Kawasaki dealers in SA than Suzuki dealers to get parts if you need them? In general do you see a lot of Vstroms on the road in other parts of the world? Surprisingly a gas stating attendant in Port Hope Simpson, Labrador told me that he has been seeing a lot of Vstroms passing through there, but it is their common playground.

Tires. Vstrom has a 19 inch front and 17 inch rear tubeless tires and cast aluminum wheels. Can I expect to find these sizes of tubeless tires easily available in most places, or would KLRs 21 front and 17 rear be easier to find? Are tube tires generally easier to find than tubeless? I don't plan to run knobbies, but if I did, the only knobbies I can get for the Strom are TKC80 which are expensive as hell and don't last much. (I am running Shinko 705 now).

Reliability. Vstrom is fuel injected. That means a fuel pump and more electronics. I need to synch throttle bodies every once in a while (remove tank again, or install tube extensions and pray that they don't vibrate loose), and need to carry special tool. It also means that it cannot be push started and needs a plenty of juice to run. Even jump starting it on a dead battery will not work. From what I understand KLR can be bump started. KLR has a metal frame that can be welded, while Vstrom's frame is cast aluminum. It seems that I can't get a folding shift lever for the Strom anymore. There used to be one made by Studebekker and sold by Vstroma, but it has been on back order forever. Stock shifter is cast aluminum and many Strom riders have had theirs broken during dirt naps or from a rock. Shifter is not simple and consists of several parts that cannot be easily substitued from other bikes. I can get Touratech folding rear brake lever (over $100).

Vstrom is definitely a more comfortable bike on nicely paved US roads and roadside assistance, but made me think about getting a KLR instead. In Russia, we called these things "Parquet SUVs".

Any advice is appreciated.

Sergey.
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  #2  
Old 21 Aug 2011
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I've posted before about this topic, as have others. Searching the forums is always an option if you haven't yet done this.

I've got a KLR and a DL 650. The KLR has 95,000 miles on five continents; the DL has 9,000 miles on one continent (North America, in fact, and all of them fairly close to home). I'm riding the DL to and from work, errands and leisure daily; it's comfortable and peppy, and women like riding on it. I don't know what your problem is with the suspension, but mine's not bad--it just doesn't have the travel for charging ahead blindly on bad roads. The DL has got lights and brakes, which the KLR (pre 2008) does not.

But I spent last year riding to Ushuaia and back. Did a lot of hemming and hawing about which bike to take. Both are similarly equipped, with panniers and crash bars and all the usual stuff. I took the KLR because it's simpler, lighter, easier to repair, etc. etc. etc. But the real deciding factor was that dirt roads (and worse) are fun on the KLR when lightly loaded, tolerable with full luggage; on the DL they're sometimes tolerable (but never fun). I decided that fun was a priority.

I think it was the right choice, but I did have my doubts at times. I was probably 90% or more on pavement on my trip--45,000 miles total. That's a lot of pavement mileage, and nearly every bit of it would have been better on the DL. I also crossed a half-dozen passes of over 15,000 feet, at which point the KLR is pretty asthmatic and slow; the DL keeps ging along at a high rate of speed, as I noticed when I traveled alongside one.

That other 10% really made the trip, however. On the KLR I went places I'd have despaired of with the DL: mud figured prominently, and rocks and potholes and stuff. I'm no expert off-road rider, and I need all the help I can get. One thing you didn't mention is topes, which are everywhere. With the KLR you can accelerate over more or less all of them, standing briefly on the pedals, whipping past trucks and cars and whatever else has been in your way for miles and miles. On the DL: uh uh. Not enough clearance for many of them. In Mexico you might hit a hundred topes in a day riding local roads. How much fun would it be to have to slow down for all of them? (Don't ask me: I'll never need to find out!)

I don't know about the technology issues. I don't trust computers and electronic switches and fuel injection and the rest....but there again, I traveled with a lot of other bikes, and most of them had all that stuff. Most of them made it ok....but then again, I also ran into a lot of them waiting for obscure parts to arrive from Europe or America. The KLR is definitely easier to work on, and almost wherever you go there's someone who can cobble together parts for you out of whatever materials are on hand. I like that, and I had a few occasions to be thankful.

There are certainly more Suzuki dealers than Kawasaki dealers (at least, it sure looked that way to me), but that doesn't mean they can get you parts, much less that they stock stuff you need. In Colombia they assemble DL's, so it should be easy; on the other hand, KLR parts are easy as pie in Colombia, so what's the difference? In Ecuador the cops use KLR's despite their short little legs; in Brazil and the Guyanas, no one had ever seen one. It all varies.

In other words: your choice.

Random thoughts late at night. Hope some are helpful.

Mark
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  #3  
Old 21 Aug 2011
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^ That is a great post right there. Can´t really add much to that myself!

I did some trips around southern Africa on rented KLR650´s in 2001-2002, and in recent years I´ve travelled a bit on a DL650,
but with the Suzuki, mostly 2-up. So not really comparable, and didn´t happen at the same time.

I think what you really need to consider is how important the mentioned 10% (on harder roads or off-road) will be on your trip. The DL650 will be better for more or less everything else, but it´s right there, where the KLR probably wins. DL650 is not much of an off-roader, even though it´s still much better than almost any streetbike. And people do RTW-tours with streetbikes, too.

One thing that sets you apart: two years is a lot of time, or at least more than the average traveller would have, so you may well have the opportunity to visit the more remote places (which is great!) and this may also mean, that you´ll divert from the main roads a lot. Can´t really tell, what you will want to do, though. You can go around the planet and not really leave the tarmac these days (...well, almost!) Less time would probably mean you´d have to stay more on the main roads.

FI does seem to work well nowadays, and I wouldn´t be scared to go with an injected bike. FI has its own advantages, too. The DL650 doesn´t seem to be so sensitive about the throttle body sync as the DL1000, for example, and valve adjustments only need to be checked every 24000kms (what was this interval with the KLR, I don´t remember?)

Bottom line is they are both good choices, each with their own down- and upsides, and your own preferences will be the deciding factor.
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Old 21 Aug 2011
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Hi Sergey,

Markharf has made a similar trip and owns both bikes, so is more qualified to comment. My comments fall in the "any advice is appreciated" category.

While no bike is perfect, some are better than others. Any bike you take on a two year trip through Latin America is going to get the snot pounded out of it. Bikes with higher clearance, longer travel suspension, more crashable design fare better. As Mark has noted, you will be going over literally hundreds of speedbumps (topes) in Mexico alone. I have had to stop at the soldadura (welder) at least once every trip south of the border with a big heavy street bike and never with a little Kawasaki dirt bike in 21,000 miles of punishing travel. Although you can travel on paved roads most of the way to Ushuaia, it would be nice to check out some cool out of the way places on crap roads. Also, even if you stick mostly to paved roads, it's nice to be able to hop a curb and get around traffic jams in big cities on the sidewalk and ride the bike up the steps into the guesthouse lobby for the night, thread through deep gravel and mud on road construction detours, that sort of thing. Advantage KLR.

Maintenance issues arise with any bike. When out in the boonies, simple is better . Dealer parts? I don't think so. Most people south of the border ride 125s. A 250 is considered studly. DL or KLR are like spaceships. The equivalent of: Houston, we have a problem (in Spanish) is the response when trying to find parts for a big bike anywhere outside the capitol city. And parts are expensive for big bikes. Which is why some people lug around sprockets, chain, wheel bearings, fork seals, clutch cables, spark plugs. You should too, with either of these bikes. I like dirt simple and reliable. Advantage KLR.

Tires are a wash. Both bikes use tires that will be difficult to find outside of major cities. 21" front and 18" rear in small sizes are easy to find. 17" rear in big sizes are rare and expensive. Which is why you see ride reports with big bikes having tires strapped on the back. The first town I stopped in Panama had a rear tire for my 250 Kawasaki. Advantage neither.

I am not qualified to speak as to reliability. Although I do ride a little Kawasaki, and it has a bulletproof motor, Both the Weestrom and KLR have a proven reliability record. Advantage neither.

Given the two choices you have in mind, the KLR has an edge over a Weestrom. Mind you, I have considered both bikes and after several trips through Central America I chose the Other option at the bottom of the multiple choice question test. No bike is perfect. If you choose the Weestrom, you will be cursing your decision heading from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama, or riding in the rain down a muddy wrong fork in the road. If you choose the KLR you will be cursing your decision riding down 100s of miles of straightline pavement through the northern Mexican desert and ging over the high elevation passes in the Andes with the bike running rich and gagging.

While the Weestrom is better for cruising down the long lonely highway at 60-80mph, those roads don't tend to be as interesting as the road less traveled out in the middle of nowhere.
No matter which bike you eventually choose, it will be the experience of a lifetime. Best luck!

Kindest regards,
John Downs
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Old 21 Aug 2011
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Klr650

I did about 80000 miles on my klr and love most of them , even in deep sand and mud the bike handle well ( for a big bike), I now have a dl650 with after market suspension and love the bike but to be honest even with the better clearance the bike is still handfull and I can't dream of taking it where I took my KLR but for two up it is the best choice for me , one up I will go for a thumper immediatly.
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Old 21 Aug 2011
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Like you I prefer simplicity. I reckon that good technology is a great thing and I don't miss buggering about with points and condensers one bit but a lot of new stuff on bikes just makes the end-users life more difficult and I include EFI in that.
I'm in Europe now on a 650 single which is great in tricky conditions but is a literal pain in the arse on long, straight, flat roads and I would rather be on a Strom with a little extra power and a bigger seat right now. Horses for courses. I had a KLR and found it a wheezy little bike with no go. My BMW has more and feels better but the difference is no difference in the real world, day in day out.
For easier touring conditions, I vote more power and easier life, for trickier stuff, I prefer something built to stand the abuse but KLR? Not my cup'o'tea.
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Old 26 Aug 2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jtw000 View Post
Like you I prefer simplicity. I reckon that good technology is a great thing and I don't miss buggering about with points and condensers one bit but a lot of new stuff on bikes just makes the end-users life more difficult and I include EFI in that.
EFI is not really new technology any more, not on bikes, and definitely not on cars. I´m now on my 3rd EFI bike with +180 thousands kms on them combined, and I´m yet to have a problem with injection. Doesn´t mean it´ll never happen, but the carb´d bikes I had before, actually seemed more vulnerable to those issues. And they also run pretty poor at high altitude, and didn´t give as good fuel economy/range.

I do understand if someone has a long experience working with carbs, knows them well, and wants to stick with them. And surely they are easier to work on in the bushes. But to choose carbs over EFI, because you think that the latter is gonna give you more troubles..... well, to me it looks like it´s the other way round. (Because of tightening emission norms, you can´t even find many new bikes with carbs any more).
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Old 28 Aug 2011
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You see, this is my point. Some bikes, KTM, especially are now running so badly with EFI that they're dangerous to ride. The manufactures are putting this down to emissions controls. Not that there's anything wrong with EFI these days, for a long time bikes were snatchy and not fuel efficient but this is calming down a lot now they're doing things better. I had a Pegaso which had a reputation for being unridable without a power commander, mine had an O2 sensor and was absolutely fine.
People who don't like EFI are objecting on the grounds that if something goes wrong with carbs you can fix it or bodge it to get you home. If the electronics on EFI break down you are stuck.
Now I don't like EFI because it's too often used badly, I have first hand knowledge of 660 class singles delivering appalling fuel economy and experience of bikes not running properly with it... Triumph...
EFI is now only just getting to be better than carbs and it's taken decades. Not because there's anything wrong with it but because manufacturers were building it as cheap as possible and marketing it as a performance extra. That's what I mean by bad technology.
I've personally had about 20 bikes with EFI and about a third have given trouble because of it but not actually the injectors (occasionally) but the control system, the maps, the tuning curves, etc. All totally out of your control and that's getting worse all the time.
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