Why a Big Adventure Bike might be the wrong choice for your big trip

I haven’t ridden motorcycles for most of my life. I’m 39 years old now and only got my first Bike, a BMW F650GS 7 years ago.
However, since then I’ve steadily progressed from short weekend rides to a 9 month trip from Alaska down to Bolivia. There are a lot of lessons I’ve learned on the past 200000km. One of the most important ones to me is that the Big Adventure Bikes we see dominating the market today are a lie.

In the Nevada Desert near Area 51
In the Nevada Desert near Area 51

Don’t get me wrong, the Bikes are a lot of fun. I’ve had a R1200GS and a KTM 1190 and I immensely enjoyed riding both the truth of it is that they are basically SUVs. The market is flooded with them these days, BMW, Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, KTM, to just name the biggest players, all have something upwards of 1000cc in their Lineup. They all advertise their Bikes as made for Adventure. And that’s certainly true up to a point. If you want to do a 2-3 week trip up to Scandinavia or explore the US they’re just fine. In fact, they’re perfect.

But where the road ends and you go into territory that generally isn’t considered first(or even second) world that’s where they all fall short.
In my opinion, all these bikes have the same shortcomings, some more, some less.

  • The weight Issue
    They’re too heavy, all of them, no exceptions here. Sure, 230kg for a KTM 1190 may sound nice on paper but that’s only half the truth. Add panniers, crashbars, solid engine guards and a couple of other farkles and you’re looking at a 250kg bike. Now add luggage for an extended period on the road and you’re looking at a 300kg Monster. Some of you will argue that this isn’t that big a deal since the engine is potent enough to handle the weight but that’s not the point. Try slogging it through deep sand or muddy forest paths for half a day with the inevitable tipover happening more than once and you’ll come to loathe every single kg on it.
    So what’s the solution? Going lighter is the way to go here. After I sold my KTM in Peru I told myself that if I ever get to do something like this again it would be on something that’s no more than 200kg INCLUDING luggage. Think KTM 690, Husqvarna 701(which is basically just a pimped 690), KTM 640, KLR, KLE, DR650 etc.
  • The electronics issue
    Every modern bike is stuffed with electronics and basically run by a computer. Again, this is fine when a dealership is in reach to sort out the gremlins in the CPU but if you end up in the Jungles of Colombia with a dashboard that lights up like a Christmas tree because something went wrong you’re screwed. There simply are places where you cannot get certain things fixed. For example, I had an absolutely minor issue in Colombia. My rims were bent and I had to use tubes instead of the tubeless setup which meant I had to remove the Tire Pressure sensor. That wasn’t a big deal in itself except for the constant warning light that came on. Now there was actually a KTM Dealer in Medellin but they simply weren’t able to disable the sensor in the computer. And that’s a completely minor issue I’m talking about. If your ECU actually goes bonkers at the back of beyond you’re fucked.
    So what’s the solution? Keep it simple, here I have to exclude the new, smaller KTMs cause they suffer from the same problem, being stuffed with electronics. There is a reason the people I’ve met with the least issues in say South America all rode KLR, DRs or old Transalps. Apart from the quality of manufacturing there simply isn’t a lot of things on these bikes that can go wrong. There’s no fuel injectors that will clog from dirty fuel, no ECU to give you headaches, etc.
Medellins beautiful Backcountry
Medellin’s beautiful Backcountry

 

  • 100hp+ is too much
    I’m gonna take a lot of flak for this but for long distance travel 125hp is too much. Why? First off, there’s the fuel issue. Fuel consumption on the big bikes ranges between 5-7L when they’re fully loaded depending on your riding style. This, of course, is being compensated to a degree with bigger tanks that will still get you 300-400km kilometers but the $$$ just keep ticking away when you’re sitting on an oversized engine whose power you’re not really utilizing anyway. 75hp is good enough, 50hp will be pushing it on overtakes but other than it’s also fine. This also amounts to reduced tire wear. One thing that I’ve heard a lot in the comments after I posted this for the first time is “But I really LOVE the power the bike has” which in my opinion is arguing beside the point. Higher power always comes at a price as mentioned in this paragraph. So yeah, you may love the power it has but when fully loaded you just do not need it and it will work against you in certain situations(tire wear below for example).
  • The tire issue
    You may ask, what tire issue ? It’s fairly simple. The common tire dimensions for the big bikes are almost impossible to get on short notice anywhere outside the western world. There simply aren’t a lot of bikes in say South America that runs the dimensions these big bike requires and as a result you’ll be hard-pressed to find any small time shop that will have the tires you need. It’s different for the dimensions a KLR or a DR runs. They’re still not as commonly available but are a lot easier to find than the wider versions a GS or 1190 requires.
Quiet moments on the beach in Costa Rica
Quiet moments on the beach in Costa Rica

 

  • Ease of repair and availability of parts
    Now, this goes beyond the simple issue of electronics. When I was riding in Costa Rica the ABS sensor on my 1190 broke, this opened up a proper can of worms as that messed with the bikes electronics big time due to no speed reading and it was almost impossible to get a replacement anywhere unless I wanted to wait for 2 weeks. Even in Medellin, a big city, I had to order it and was only able to pick it up 2 weeks later. This example can be applied to pretty much anything that can break on your big bike, you’re not gonna be able to get it unless ordering ahead or waiting for extended periods of time. Most village mechanics won’t even touch a big bike(and you don’t want them to considering how complex they are) whereas on say an old Transalp chances are you can get semi-decent repair in any backyard shop.
  • The temptation issue
    What temptation issue? Well, big bikes are nice. Very nice as a matter of fact. However, if you’re planning your trip you will inevitably come to the point where you think “Ah, I’ll just add this or that, the bike is so heavy it doesn’t matter”. And you’re probably right with a big bike it doesn’t matter but you will still end up with a bunch of extra kilos here or there you really don’t want to be lugging around for a year or more. Increased weight means increased wear, the tires, the chain, brake discs, etc. etc. It’s not one big thing but lots of small ones that you should keep in mind here.
  • Envy is a bitch
    Now, this is a highly subjective point but bear in mind one thing. You may draw wanted attention(you’ll be the attraction of every town square in South America on a 1200cc bike) but you at the same time will also draw lots of unwanted attention. It happened to more than once that the cops in some countries will happily wave out only you from a bulk of bikes going the same speed cause it’s easy to tell which bike exactly costs 15k and who has the coin for a nice juicy bribe. It’s not nice thing to say but it’s the truth.

Those are the key issues for me that come with big bikes on long trips outside the first world. There are some other issues that are fairly minor and that I wouldn’t consider worth noting(for instance that a big bike screams “I have money” which might get you into trouble in some places unlike rolling in on a raggedy ass KLR). So if you’re thinking about going on an RTW trip these are some of the things you should take into consideration.

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