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BIKES
This site is dedicated to travel--not motorcycles. Though I enjoy riding, how one gets from one place to another is barely relevant. I include this page on bikes only because I get asked so often about them.

I own three motorcycles (see sidebar), all have been substantially modified from the original, stock machines to better handle the rigors of long-distance travel and hauling equipment. Similar to backpacking, I carry everything I need to be self-sufficient. I camp almost all of the time, so I carry a tent, sleeping bag, pad and complete cookset. I also carry a laptop computer and a range of photography gear. Lastly, I carry an extensive repair kit, including a variety of tools/spare parts that I know how to use/install--because getting stranded (usually) isn't fun. The entire list must be compact and lightweight.
I don't want a pickle
Just want to ride on my motorsickle.
--Arlo Guthrie
Having your own wheels offers a lot of freedom to go where and when you want, but it also means you have to maintain the machine--not an incidental cost in time or money. You also need to shepherd your vehicle through customs at each border crossing, seeking Temporary Import Permits, Carnets de Passage, etc.. Occasionally, dealing with the bureaucracy is fast and easy, but usually it's slow, duplicitous and frustrating. Finally, having your own ride means worrying about its safety when you're not around to watch it.

Still, I feel the pluses outweigh the minuses, but it's important to be aware of all factors before deciding whether international motorcycle travel is for you.

ALL BIKES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
Every brand, model, size and style of motorcycle has its pros and cons. Personally, I prefer dual-sport bikes, since they're designed to perform both on and off pavement (most of the world's roads are
not paved--and I enjoy getting as far off the beaten path as possible). While dual-sport bikes are not as aerodynamic and smooth as street bikes, nor as tough as dirt-bikes, they're a reasonable compromise between the two.

That said, too many riders these days choose dual-sport bikes when 99% of their riding time is spent burning up the tarmac. Be realistic: if you're not going to spend a significant amount of time off-road, get a touring bike. Street bikes are less expensive to purchase, they're easier to maintain, they offer a smoother ride, and they're better performers on pavement.

If you
are going off-road*, then there's one axiom of dirt riding that has always been true--and always will be true--lighter is better. The trick, then, is to choose a dual-sport bike that's powerful enough on the highway when you're fully loaded with gear and fighting a headwind, yet still sufficiently nimble when the interstate turns to mud. Motorcycles in the 650cc displacement range fit this bill better than smaller bikes, which have a hard time carrying all of your gear over high mountain passes, and larger bikes, which become capsized behemoths when lying in a sandpit.

With regards to brand, I feel more strongly everyday that you should choose a brand that has a solid distribution network wherever you plan to travel. The greatest piece of engineering will still have parts that wear out or even fail. If those parts--and you won't know which ones until it happens--are not readily available from local dealers, you can wait weeks while spending a king's ransom getting them flown in from abroad.

THE LAST WORD
Most riders grow rabidly loyal to a particular brand and model. I am not. Though I prefer the 650cc size and dual-sport style, any reliable machine will get you down the road. What's key is to always err on the side of simplicity over complexity, and get to know your bike and all of its idiosyncrasies prior to setting out on your grand adventure. Good luck and safe travels.
Pegasus
Kawasaki KLX250s, aka Pegasus, flies through the wind across SE Asia.
BMW
El Viento, my primary travel bike's moniker, has withstood the test of time. With over 73,500 miles (118,287 km) on her--all fully loaded with gear and many of them off-road--she shows few signs of appreciable wear.

For my needs, this bike has proven to be the best all-around, dual-sport model, capable of hauling it all through varied conditions and on nearly any surface.

I do nearly all of my own maintenance and mechanical work. My only beef is this: BMW parts are too hard to find and much too expensive.
BMW F650GS Dakar
Click to Zoom
Honda
When the off-road riding gets really rough, dual-sport bikes simply don't make the grade. Under these conditions you need to strip your gear down to the bare essentials and find the lightest possible machine.

Honda designed the XR650R to win races in Baja, and built the engine to be the most reliable on the planet. They succeeded.

I further adapted the basic design to be street legal, haul gear, more efficiently cool itself, and go further on a single tank of fuel. This bike can now go virtually anywhere, but riding it down the open highway is torturous. Hence, as a second bike for almost exclusively off-road trips, I couldn't ask for a better companion, but for all-around intercontinental travel--I prefer El Viento.
Honda XR650R
Click to Zoom
KAWASAKI
El Viento is just too big a bike for the backroads of Southeast Asia. Combine this with the fact that shipping her across the Pacific Ocean is prohibitively expensive, and it made more sense to purchase an alternate machine for this leg of the journey.

The Kawasaki KLX 250s is an excellent, relatively inexpensive, dual-sport motorcycle that's the perfect size and weight for plying the muddy byways of this subcontinent. They're manufactured locally, in Bangkok Thailand, so the bikes and their spare parts are readily available.

This bike's limited size and subframe require a minimalist approach, in terms of the gear you can carry. I therefore use an assortment of smaller, soft panniers, and fill them with as little as possible.

I've dubbed her
Pegasus, after the winged horse of Greek mythology.
tred

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