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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 May 2010
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Will 250cc do for Africa?

Hello together,
reading around in this forum has been really helpful so far and really enjoyable!
For mid 2011 I plan to start my first ever long distance motorcycle trip. It will cover most of West- and Central Africa. Can’t wait for that to happen and really hope, I get everything together by then as planned, including the $$. My question here is: how much would you value the (light-) weight of a bike for touring on expectedly poor quality dirt roads?
What I've got now is a Suzuki DR-Z 250 which runs just great and I love that bike and can do most of it's maintenance and minor repairs myself. I also know how to handle it on and off-road, with or without luggage. This one only weighs just over 100kg (plain bike weight). In Australian conditions (and with good quality fuel available) I never felt it lacks any power and the local speed limit of 110km/h can be achieved without trouble or vibration or too much noise. Mid 2011 it'll have around 20000km on the clock. I really love my little 250 but am unsure if she's tough enough for a long tour.
As an alternative bike I’d have in mind a Suzuki DR650SE, which you get for around AU$8000 brand new. Plain bike weight of the DR650 is 166kg. I know I would love that bike too.
On the plus side the DR650 would offer more power and since it's new, potentially less repairs. While at the same time maintenance and repairs are very similar to it's little sister, the DR-Z250, so I'd still be confident enough to do most of it myself too. On the minus side there are two big points: an extra AU$8000 on the budget plus an extra 60kg bike weight to carry around.
Many people are obviously happy with the DR650 and it's a proven bike for Africa tours. But, for comparison reasons, is there anybody out there with experience with a 250cc bike for touring? Will the engine most likely survive some 30000km in heat and seriously bad road conditions (after starting with already 20000km on the clock) without a need of rebuilding it? Would you see the need for more power than a 250cc can provide?
Cheers,
Marco
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Old 17 May 2010
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Hi Marco,

as for mileages well my trusty Yamaha XT250 gave over 75,000 miles of trouble free riding in a little over four years.

During that time she was used to commute daily, ran throughout the winter months, trail ridden all over the place and used as a touring machine when heavily laden with kit.

OK she didn't get the rough treatment that you may have in Africa but she's been a perfect bike for me and only a Hit n Run accident with a van stopped mer covering way more miles (she was written off).

Still on original clutch, cam chain, etc. Only service items were replaced, apart from items damaged in accidents.

Light weight has a lot going for it!

Reagdrs

Reggie
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  #3  
Old 17 May 2010
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Perhaps you should consider a DRZ400S, it's about halfway between your 250 & the DR650 in terms of power & weight. Very reliable, plenty of aftermarket support, easy to service etc.
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Old 17 May 2010
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I've only done the north-west corner of Africa--Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal--but what's clear is that speeds of 70-90kph are the norm, so you certainly don't need the additional power.

Can't see a problem with the heat--the bike would be big compared to what most of the locals ride.
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  #5  
Old 17 May 2010
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Part of the problem with smaller capacity bikes is that the manufacturers tend to downsize all the other components as well - cheaper suspension, flimsier frame, weak electrics etc. It's these things that cause problems if you're dependent on the bike for months at a time. I'd have no problem using a 250cc bike if all the other bits were robust enough but that combination is rare in something that's road legal. They do exist though (and at this point hopefully others will chip in with a list! )

Time and time again you'll see people posting that for their next trip they're going to take less stuff on a lighter bike but there's a practical minimum (beyond yourself + toothbrush) of stuff you need if you're going to be on the road for a while or going somewhere off the beaten track. You'll have an easier time mentally if you're not worried that the subframe is going to snap with the weight or the suspension pitch you off. Generally that feeling that the bike is operating well within its limits tends to be something that increases in line with capacity.
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Old 17 May 2010
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Hi Bikingmarco,

I went to Panama and back from the U.S. this spring on a 250 Kawasaki Super Sherpa. 20,000 kilometers of trouble free riding. The bike now has over 33,000 kilometers with just routine maintenance. It will cruise at 110 kph all day long, but in the third world, you are normally tootling along on back roads or rutted jeep trails at a slower pace. And a skinny little thumper is perfect for that. I used to travel on bigger bikes, (loaded down BMWs). I am a minimalist now. And really think the 250's are the perfect size for third world travel, IF you can discipline yourself to travel light. It sounds like you can.

One advantage of taking your DRZ250 over a newer DR650 is that it gets far better fuel economy. You will save a lot of money over the course of a 30,000 kilometer adventure. It is also easier on tires which are quite expensive in some countries. And new sprockets and chain should last your entire trip on a little 250. It is also lightweight and easier to maneuver in sand and rough conditions over a heavier bike. As well as easier to pick up if you dump it. Another advantage that may not come to mind immediately is that it is easier to throw in a truck or boat if needed. And you will be 8000 AUD richer if you ride what you have. Any bike you take is going to take a beating on a 30,000 kilometer trek through Africa. The little DRZ is a tough little booger with a bullet proof motor and can take a beating. Rather than thrashing a brand new 8000.00 bike, I would take your trusty little DRZ that you know how to work on. Put on some new tires, new sprockets and chain and ride the wheels off that bike. Spend your money on travel.

You'll have a fun adventure no matter what bike you take.

Best luck,
John Downs
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Old 17 May 2010
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Thanks for your replies, guys, much appreciated. I was pretty much concerned about needing to rebuild the engine half way through the trip as being the limiting factor. Reason being that there are quite a lot of similar 250cc bikes of all major manufacturers on ebay with around 30000km on them and an already rebuilt engine. They'd probably been ridden hard offroad most of their time. But it's quite encouraging to see Reggies XT250 lasting for so long.

It's a really good point from backofbeyond though that it's the rest of the bike that requires just as much consideration. I'll definitely have a closer look into the reliability of these parts.
As for the DR-Z400 - I did have a go on that one too, one of my workmates has on of these nice bikes. The thing is though that for whatever reason they are actually more expensive to buy then a DR650 and are only around 20kg lighter. It's probably because the DR650 hasn't changed in the last decade or so whereas the DR-Z400 has had some facelifts.

I've got still more than a year to go before departure day so it's plenty of time for more research. But if I decide to get a new bike I'd like to have it some 6 month before the tour to properly prepare it, test it on weekends and get used to it's behavior. But, to be honest, right now I'm tending towards taking my little 250cc. For the three reasons light weight, knowing the bike inside out and saving money. As I know myself I probably change my mind every second week on this that's why your experience in touring and advice is heaps appreciated.

Cheers from Sydney,

Marco.
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Old 17 May 2010
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20kg is a reasonable amount when you're stuck somewhere & need to drag the bike out of a ditch etc.

There have been very few facelifts to the DRZ, there's the 400E with longer suspension, basic instruments & a flatslide carb - more offroad orientated. There's also the SM version in addition to the 400S.

One benefit of the DRZ is that valves are scheduled to be checked only every 15,000 miles with oil changes every 3,000 miles. One reason why they might be more expensive is that they're more popular...... Don't get me wrong, I put just under 50,000 miles on the earlier DR600 in the '90's & loved it but the DRZ is a superior bike on trails in the hands of an average rider.

Not sure what DRZ's sell for where you are but we recently paid £1,950 for a very clean & tidy 04 bike with some nice extras that had only covered 2,700 miles.
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Old 17 May 2010
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I won't bring up my WR250R that I'm taking to Russia next year. Not because it isn't a fantastic bike (I got rid of my XT660R because it didn't do anything better and a lot of things worse) but because they're expensive and hard to find in the UK.
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Old 17 May 2010
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Yes I agree, go small. I have a TTR 250 and an XT 660 and much as I love the 660, the 250 wins out every time for the long trips. I'm based in South Africa and recently did a rough 8000km trip on this very second hand bike and it never let me down, worn bearings and cracked clutch cover gasket notwithstanding.
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Old 17 May 2010
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Xt 250

My wife is riding her xt 250 thru Africa this year, she was originally riding her F650gs but opted for her sml bike mainly her concerns were road conditions and sand. She is quite light and luggage on her bike is quite minimal, we will let you know how she goes. I am riding an F650 twin which after every thing I am beginning to hear is a bit of a concern. I'm starting to think I should have done it on the 250 as well !!!!!!!

Cheers
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Old 18 May 2010
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Thanks for all your replies again, guys! Very interesting. As probably most people here I spent quite a few nights reading travel blogs all over the web. And there are so many people who consider the overall weight of their bike and luggage as to high. I'd say that saving 20-50kg by choosing a lighter bike is easier than saving 20-50kg on luggage.
There are blogs of travelling on all sorts of bikes between 650cc and 1200cc as well as on scooters or 110cc Postie bikes. There is almost no one on a 250cc though, that's why I'm asking. And now I am very happy to see some of you guys travelling or planning to travel on 250s.
I will, however, have a closer look into the DR-Z400 again. Backofbeyond raised my awareness towards other parts of the bikes in an earlier reply and the DR-Z 400 seems to be a bit tougher in her suspension than her little sister. In other forums people have had some trouble with the DR-Z250 suspension and replaced it by a DR-Z400 one. Also there are heaps more things available to upgrade the DR-Z400, the DR-Z250 doesn't seem to be a very common bike. I will also have a look if it makes sense to potentially replace some of the original factory parts on my bike by better quality aftermarket ones as available (such as the front suspension).
The reason for focussing so much on Suzukis is just the fact that I'm heaps happy with mine and that I know my way around their Enduro bikes.

Thanks again,

Marco
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Old 18 May 2010
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If you're happy with it in Aust. mate, you'll be happy with it in Africa.
Much better to have something you know well
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Old 18 May 2010
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I´m not going to take a stand on the eternal does-size-matter issue....but I´ll say that part of the decision might hinge on how you define a major trip. Mine is currently at 50,000 km and I am still a long ways from home. There is a big difference between this distance and 8000 km.

I will also say that when I run into riders on light bikes--250, 400--they generally complain a lot. The last one I hung with for any period was last heard from trying to figure out why she kept busting spokes despite being lightly loaded and half my size. But when I read posts from them on the web, they are almost universally enthused. I don´t know what to make of this, but I´m sure it means something. Perhaps.

Mark

(approaching Belem and the Amazon River crossing)
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Old 18 May 2010
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In my humble opinion a 250 would do the job at a push (if you picked the right one) BUT you will be much wiser to pick a dependable/simple trail bike around 600cc size. Stick to a simple bulletproof model. For Africa stick to a single cylinder if possible, anything complicated will be nigh on impossible to repair in African roadside workshops. Spare parts will also need to be considered.

I'm biased a bit but the number 1 SUPREME adventure bike in Africa is the Yamaha XT600 (any version is fine). A more modern XT660 is probably almost as good. You can still find immaculate low milage examples (XT600E) in the UK for around £1,500 - £1,800 mark. Remember that the XT series of bikes have won more Paris/Dakar rallies than almost any other bike (including BMW's).

If money's not a problem perhaps consider a current model BMW or KTM. These are rather highly strung machines compared to an XT. African roadside mechanics may struggle fixing them whereas they will know the XT very well. Older Boxer BMW's which are simple and robust are hard to find in good nick these days...

If 600cc is too large for you why not look at a venerable Suzuki DRZ400? A lovely little offroad machine capable of so much.

Remember that you will need to haul round a lot of heavy kit and a 250cc may run out of puff and wheeze or start protesting (reliability problems)...

Forget HUGE 1200cc bikes for African adventures - they will do the job but will be heavy cumbersome and not much fun.
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