The picture of the blue Kawasaki KLR 650 was taken at the Toronto Motorcycle show. At the time, I didn’t seriously consider it as a realistic alternative to the BMWs or the KTMs and barely gave it a second glance. But after much deliberating, I have decided that it is the motorcycle to take me on my trip across the Americas.
There are many factors that favour the KLR; it is cheap, it is mechanically simple and can be fixed all over the world, it is tough and reliable, there is an abundance of after-market accessories (such as the Happy-Trails panniers in the top picture), and there is a lot of information on maintenance and repairs on the web (did I mention that it’s cheap?). It’s neither as flashy as a BMW, nor is it “adventure-ready” like a KTM 640 LC4 (which you can drive out of the dealership and head straight for the Sahara if you wanted). But it can be modified for a RTW adventure, and getting it “adventure-ready” is part of the fun (or so I hope). It’s not fuel-injected like a BMW, meaning that a basic understanding of how a carburetor works is a must. For example, the air/fuel mix might need to be adjusted for a high altitude trip through the Andes (something not required for an electronic fuel-injected bike). However, the flip side is that if anything does go wrong it can probably be repaired in areas that are far away from “civilization” (unlike a BMW).
Admittedly, I Initially dreamed of riding the world on a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. After all, Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Boorman rode around the world on a version of this bike. However, I soon realized that it’s way more bike than I need. I wouldn’t need the power, nor would I want the attention of such a flashy bike. Perhaps most important, it’s just too expensive, especially considering that any bike I take will likely get beat up badly. The G-Spot (as it is called by die-hard fans), is just too nice of a bike to destroy on this type of adventure (it costs more than $20,000). Even the BMW F650 Dakar is pricey, clocking in at about $15,000.
The other bike that I had my heart set on for a long time was the KTM 640 LC4 Adventure. But like the BMW, it is too expensive (over $12,000) and hard to find in Canada. In contrast, there are a lot more Kawasaki KLR 650s around. Not only that, but the KLR will be much easier to maintain in the field than the KTM (although it could be argued that the KTM practically maintains itself).
In any case, the Kawasaki KLR 650 is about $7,000 new. I could probably get a decent used bike that’s one or two years old for $4,000 or $5,000. If I do fall of a cliff in Peru and trash the bike, it won’t be as painful as if it were a BMW. Speaking of falling off cliffs in Peru, that’s exactly what happened to this poor guy (Dale Thornton) on a similar trip to the one I’m planning. Interestingly he was riding a Kawasaki KLR. Amazingly, both bike and rider survived the ordeal relatively unscathed. The story does make me wish I could find someone willing to go with me on this adventure though. The whole situation may have turned out differently if his buddy hadn’t been along to get help. Otherwise, no one would have known that he had fallen down the mountain.
This wasn’t even the first accident that befell Dale Thornton on his trip from Omaha, Nebraska to Santiago, Chile. This blog entry describes two more crashes. One of them was a direct result of him being (self-admittedly) reckless, passing a line of traffic on a mountain road when he couldn’t see what was coming. But it is nonetheless a little disconcerting to read about his crashes and injuries.
I’ve been reading a lot of accounts recently of people on motorbike adventures getting into accidents that were completely outside of their control. For example, in this case (look at “Part V – Letters From the Road”) an oncoming car went wide on a turn in Mexico and there was nothing the motorcyclist could do to avoid the collision. Luckily there was no permanent damage to bike or rider.
It all makes me wonder whether the risks are worth the adventure. But consider the above story again. If you read the whole thing, you’ll discover that a father and son were traveling by motorbike from Panama to Nelson, BC. Why? They were doing it partly as a homage to their son/brother who traveled the world by motorbike. He died of cancer a year and half after he got back, but his passion for motorcycling and world travel brought his father and brother together for an adventure of a lifetime. The lesson is that you never know when you’re going to buy your ticket. Granted, taking foolish risks is inviting disaster, but living life in fear of the unknown could result in a lifetime of missed opportunity. Sometimes there is no second chance.