The decision process.
Like everybody planning a trip of this nature, we both spent months scrolling through various web resources, magazine reviews and online discussion portals such as ADVrider and Horizons Unlimited before making the final decision on what bikes to go for. We had literally been round in circles, and the list of potentials was ever increasing.
– We needed two of the same bikes.
This would allow us to carry only the tools and spares required to fix one style of bike, and would also mean that we don’t need to invest time in learning our way around two different engines.
In addition to this, if we are on the same bike, Jon can’t possibly try and tell me that the only reason he can’t keep up is because his bike isn’t fast enough.
– Light as possible.
Speak to any rider who has done a trip of this nature and I can assure you the first thing they will say is “I wish I took a smaller bike.” We were in no position to argue with them. On top of that, seeing Ewan and Charley dropping their big 1200cc’s every 5 minutes as soon as they hit the mud, immediately made me realise that everybody’s advice must be correct.
– Accessible parts.
Whatever bike we chose, we knew we were going to be putting it through one of the ultimate tests. It’s inevitable that parts will break, or one too many falls on rough terrain will cause some damage, so it was crucial we could obtain parts along the way without relying on an expensive DHL service from the UK or the States.
– Off-road handling
We love riding off road. In fact, the plan is to avoid as many highways, autobahns or motorways as possible. The bike must be a good handler on the sand and dirt, as that is where we are expecting to have the most fun.
– Within Budget
This trip is being undertaken on a serious budget. We simply couldn’t afford to do this on BMW or KTM. The most we could afford to spend on a bike plus the necessary modifications was around the £3000 mark.
The short list:
When we first discussed this trip, our original plan was to ride from Alaska to Argentina. We didn’t originally plan the trip from here (UK) to Russia, so it seemed sensible to buy the bikes in the USA or Canada.
With that in mind, and from listening to the reviews and advice from others, all roads seemed to point towards a KLR 650. A robust machine which apparently just keeps going, spares available throughout the length of the Americas, and a whole host of after-market spares. There is no doubt about it, these bikes seem like a decent choice for such a mission, and about spot on for our budget.
Our honest thoughts… Sensible. Very sensible. It looks sensible and sounds sensible, and from what I understand, rides sensible. We spent days trying to convince ourselves that the KLR could look good given enough aftermarket mods. From the factory it didn’t have any wow factor, and looked suited to a sensible rider on a sensible trail. Although our decision was not going to be made on looks alone, like almost all motorcycle enthusiasts the appearance of the machine played a large part in the decision making process. We may have to make compromises when it comes to selecting our women, but there was no way we were going to spend 25,000 miles riding bikes that we didn’t like the look of! If the KLR was to look and sound like the adventure trail bike we wanted, we would have to spend thousands on aftermarket modifications.
The KLR was out.
Shortly after deciding that the KLR was out, we were lucky enough to meet the legendary Austin Vince of Terra Circa. Austin made it very clear that April was too early to be in Alaska. It seems that many parts are likely to still be very icy, and many roads impassable, so he suggested we initially ride from the UK to Russia, then fly over to the Americas for Alaska to Argentina. Following the advice of Austin, we decided to begin our adventure from the UK, thus opening a new list of potential bikes which would not have been available in Canada or the USA.
The Tenere is an awesome looking bike used by many experienced riders on professional, organised trips. Nick Sanders for example broke the world record from top to bottom of the Americas on this machine.
When we saw this bike for the first time in the flesh at the Motorcycle Live show in Birmigham, we were both of the same opinion, it looked great and had all the things we were looking for. However, the model we sat on (which admittedly was touratech’ed up to the max) felt a little high and heavy. I still don’t doubt that this would be a great bike for us to have done this trip on, but again even the older models were a little out of our budget.
Honda XR 400
Feeling the weight of the Tenere, and knowing that we really wanted to play about in the dirt at every available opportunity, we started leaning more towards light weight 400 options. It’s around this size that they start to look and feel a lot more motocross like, and that excited us both a lot. “You’re going to suffer on those bikes” and “How are you going to ride all those motorway miles on a 400?” were comments we knew to expect when we started considering a 400cc dual sport option. The more I heard these comments, and the more I read about the smaller 400 options, the more I wanted to do this trip on one. The 400’s were on average around 60-70kg’s lighter than a bike like the Tenere, and they were available for as little as £2000. This trip was suddenly starting to seem a little more realistic.
The XR 400 stole the show when it came to looks. The aggressive motocorss features and high front mug guard made it easily one of the most attractive bikes we could have gone for.
Inspired by the retro paint job in the image above, we were tempted. Very tempted in fact. It was at that point we started reading in to the availability of spares throughout the route we were planning, and also after-market mods to make it a bit more suitable for such a long distance trip.
The Final Choice:
It was the research that we put in to the XR that led us in the direction of the DRZ. Thread after thread, post after post and page after page. The web was just full to the brim of people discussing the incredible selection of after market parts available, which can make the DRZ the perfect adventure bike. The resources we had available to us were incredible, people had spent time to document every single modification they had made, and there was step by step instructions for pretty much any changes we would ever need. From custom seats to oversized tanks, to ready made luggage racks, the list of affordable mods that we could apply to the DRZ was endless.
With this in mind and some awesome coverage of the DRZ in the Dakar Rally, it really started to become a serious consideration. It had everything we needed, and we knew we could pick up some low mileage models for between £2-3k. Although it’s a little heavier than other bikes in the same category, the DRZ was still a very light option in comparison to the 600cc’s we initially had in mind. The cheap and readily available mods meant it would be relatively straight forward to make the bike comfortable enough for long distance rides, and easy to make it look like the Dakar racing machines we both dreamed of since we were children. In addition to this, it seems that parts will be readily available throughout the length of the Americas. Let’s just hope we can get over the road of bones without requiring any replacements.