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Motorcyclists pick small machines for world adventures

by Tim Yip

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Friday, October 21, 2005

BALFOUR, B.C. - Motorcyclists from as far away as England, Germany, Panama and the U.S., as well as Western Canada, gathered at a campground just north of Balfour, deep in the heart of B.C.'s Kootenay mountains, to share their passion for travelling around the world by motorcycle.

The rally, sponsored by Horizons Unlimited (www.horizonsunlimited.com), a website dedicated to giving motorcycle travellers a forum for sharing advice and communications, offered two days' worth of "mini-lectures." The presentations covered the major topics wannabe world travellers need to know, such as motorcycle preparation and repair, shipping motorbikes, paperwork, finances and personal safety.

Huddled under a huge tent for a rain-soaked weekend, numerous speakers shared their hard-earned -- and sometimes harrowing -- travel stories.

Edmonton resident Rene Cormier, who spent more than one year riding a BMW F650GS in South America, told the multinational collection of motorcyclists that his friends warned him about the dangers of travelling in South America. Laughing, he then recounted how, at the beginning of his trip in Utah, he was sleeping in the open under his bike on U.S. government Bureau of Land Management land, and heard a "pop" and suddenly smelled gas. He quickly realized somebody had shot at his bike and the next day, he pulled a 22-calibre slug from the gas tank.

Some motorcyclists attending the rally are in the middle of 'round the world (RTW) journeys, such as John Higgs and Mike Giles from London, England, riding a pair of BMW F650 Paris-Dakars. The Londoners plan on travelling for two years and flew their bikes from England to Anchorage, Alaska, to start their epic journey.

Says Higgs, an information technology specialist, "We started in Alaska because there would be no language problems and it would be easy to get spare parts if we needed them."

The two friends said that so far they have been most impressed with the Yukon's wilderness, a huge contrast to their home city.

The biggest challenge the two expect to face will be keeping track of money. "An additional expenditure of $5 a day adds up to a lot of money over two years," says the cost-conscious Giles.

The Britons will ride through Montana and make a pilgrimage to Elvis Presley's memorial in Memphis, Tenn., and then to Ushuaia, the most southerly point of South America.

Higgs and Giles started planning their trip two years ago. "The rule of thumb is one year of planning for each year of travel," Higgs explained.

Others say that RTW trips can be over-planned.

Kelly and Della Graham from Red Deer have attended the HU rally for two years now to glean every tidbit of useful advice from the gathering of experienced globetrotters.

"We're more prepared than I thought," said Della, who has ridden a motorcycle since she was a teenager. "We have no doubts now (about the decision to do a RTW trip by motorcycle), but we have moments of hesitation. But the rally has reaffirmed to me that we're on the right track."

After listening to the speakers, husband Kelly said, "I'm less anxious about border crossings and getting into other countries now."

One lecture that was particularly popular with the two-wheeled crowd was choosing and preparing a motorcycle for overland travel.

Rally organizer Grant Johnson, who has spent 12 years touring the world with his wife, Susan, aboard an old BMW GS, says the newest generation of big-and heavy adventure touring motorcycles, such as the BMW R1200GS, are better suited to touring North America. Johnson's view, shared by others who have travelled extensively in Third-World countries, is that smaller, lighter motorcycles (such as the Kawasaki KLR650 or BMW F650) are better suited for riding the rough roads typical in remote parts of the world.

Adds Cormier, who admits to being a penny-pinching motorcyclist, "The smaller bikes get way better gas mileage than the big bikes do." Displaying his travel costs to the audience, he adds, "Fuel is your second-biggest expense when travelling, and in many parts of the world (where roads are not paved) you can't ride fast anyway."

Finally, small bikes are easier to manoeuvre. Johnson and Cormier both said locals frequently invite the motorcyclists to park their valuable machines in the lobby, hallway or any other secure location inside the building.

The non-stop rain at the rally could not dampen the spirits of the Grahams. After watching a presentation on touring in Mexico, Della, who is still working as a teacher in Red Deer, said with unbounded enthusiasm, "We're ready. We're ready to go NOW! We can hardly wait!" The Grahams have set September 2006 as the departure date for their RTW adventure and have already outfitted a pair of new Kawasaki KLR650s for their world expedition.

For more information on people interested in or currently travelling around the world by motorcycle, visit the Horizons Unlimited website: www.horizonsunlimited.com

© The Edmonton Journal 2005
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