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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 14 May 2006
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XR650R / XR650L / KLR650 / XT600 ? Pan american highway trip south

I was expecting to pick up a transalp somewhere here in cali but no luck yet, and time is a-shortening... and the above bikes are coming out of their ears around here

my initial instinct is to go with one of the XR650 s as it has come up many times in this forum how easy it is to find parts/repair hondas, in remote places. But one dealer has said the kawasaki is better suited, and two others have said completely different things about the honda R and L -i know the new Rs aren't road legal so it would have to be a used one, and that the Ls are supposed to be a smoother ride... too smooth? opinions please?

If veteran eyebrows are being raised at this question, I hold my hands up and admit I know very little about bikes to date, as it is a new passion to me (my bedtime reading is the 'haynes basic motorcycle mechanics techbook'!), but I'd really appreciate some help.
ta
alex
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Old 19 May 2006
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I have ridden through Mexico/Central America on a Yamaha FJ 1200, Kawasaki KLR650, Suzuki DR350ES, Honda XR650R, and a Cagiva Gran Canyon. The first time I rode down (1989) was on the FJ, which was definitely a mistake, so we can cross a big sport/sport touring bike off the list.

The bike you are most likely to end up using is the KLR650. I say that because they are cheap, available, will do the job with no modifications, and have been proven by hundreds (thousands?) of long distance riders. Big gas tank, frame-mounted fairing, big solid rack. It is not my favorite bike in terms of suspension, size, weight, and engine smoothness, but the package works.

I consider the DR350ES to be the most versatile dual sport bike, in that it will do 98% of what the KLR will do on the road, and can also be ridden on almost any trail that one would ride on an enduro bike. The engine is smoother than the KLR, the bike will cruise at 80+ mph, and amazingly the headlight/number plate breaks the wind nearly as well as the KLR's fairing. You will want to go for an oversized aftermarket gas tank. If you are planning to ride a lot off-road, and travel light, I would keep my eyes open for a good low mileage DR350ES.

The DRZ400S is another option, the suspension is better than the DR350ES but it is not as smooth and comfortable on the road, and requires several guards to protect vulnerable components.

The XR650R is an excellent choice, but it requires substantial dual sport conversion work including upgrading the alternator. E-Line did my conversion, there are also other companies doing it. In some other countries like Guatemala, the XR650R is available from Honda as a dual sport with full lighting and instruments. You will also want to go to a larger aftermarket gas tank. The XR has excellent power and suspension and can be used for all but the tightest off-road sections. I would be careful of doing engine mods because it is easy to turn the XR from a one kick starter into a starting nightmare, and you don't need that when you are tired and it is 100 degrees out.

I haven't ridden the XR650L, although I put a lot of time on its predecessor (XL600). The XR650L will work but it is not my favorite design and the lighting/battery set up is a bit of a cobbled afterthought.

If you are going to stick to pavement and good dirt roads, not trails or rough jeep trails, the Cagiva Gran Canyon (fuel injected Ducati 904 engine in an adventure tourer package) is hard to beat for comfort, smoothness, unique design, performance and handling. Significantly more comfortable on long road sections than any of the single cylinders. Only 550 were brought into the U.S., but if you look around there are some good low mileage ones selling for less than $5000. Most owners take good care of them.

The alternative to the Gran Canyon is the Triumph Tiger, which has been getting excellent reviews, and is a low cost alternative (and arguably a better alternative) to the BMW GS series.

Well, hope that gives you some food for thought.
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Old 19 May 2006
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Well, I think any of the four would be fine, but I would lean towards the Honda or the Yamaha simply because they have more dealers and support here in Mexico than Suzuki or Kawasaki. I can't say for certain about further south, but I suspect that Honda and Yammie are more popular down there as well.
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Old 19 May 2006
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I would put the emphasis a little different to the comments already made - although not a lot.

Given that you are new to biking Alex, it is fair to assume that you are not after lots of off-road experience. So I would scrub the off-road bikes off your list. The XR650R is a high performance machine, with poor comfort, made to win fast intense competitions. The XR600L more road orientated, but still made for the rough stuff.

Most of your time will be spent on tarmac. And "off road" really, here, means bad road, made of small stones.

So I would suggest a tough slow reliable simple road bike that can handle poor surfaces well. The KLR fits this description. I did the trip on a Transalp, and it was fine, but something smaller would be better. The NX650 and DR650 are worth a look too. I would echo the comments about the DR350.

Depending on your approach, I would also look at the NX250 and KLR250. Have a read of these forums, and you'll be surprised how many travellers use phrases like "if I were to do it again, I would take a 250".

For my part, if I were to do it again, I would take a 250.

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Old 21 May 2006
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thanks to all posters- I found a 12,000mi 2004 KLR650 with a corbin seat already fitted, and it seemed to be pleading with me (in spanish, of course) to take it down south... (plus i needed a bike asap to stop paying for a rental car..)

v. happy with it so far. thanks for all advice - if i had more time i would definitely be looking at every one of the other suggested bikes, and i am having slight pangs of disappointment that i couldn't fully explore all options, but like i say i was stranded, and this little red and black mo fo was positively wailing at me to buy it (i hope "mo fo" is acceptable forum term? )

Re the 250s: Maybe in 6 months I'll be starting a thread "If i could do it again.."
We'll see.

cheers again, alex
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Old 2 Jun 2006
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Have a good read through the HONDA SECTION on here, theres loads about the XR605R vs L
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