Thursday, December 11, 2014

How to get started on the path to motorcycle travel- the dream phase.

Every motorcycle trip starts with an idea that captures your imagination. Whether it is dreams of riding in the Andes or visions of sitting on a sunny beach next to your parked motorcycle in a far off land or just taking off for a couple weeks to go riding closer to home, how do you get from an idea to the actuality?

The simple answer is that all you need are time, money, the desire and a motorcycle. I will assume that you already have the desire, so really just three things are necessary. Paradoxically, time is the hardest thing for most people. The three things that make finding time for travel difficult and tend to hold you in one place are family, job and material possessions. This is the reason I am always harping on young folks to get out and explore the world before they get married, have family responsibilities, a restrictive job and a mortgage and car payments.

I am a currently a self-employed divorced bachelor with no children, a flexible work schedule, supportive friends and relatives and no debt. This makes finding the time to travel much easier. But it wasn’t always this way. When I was married for over 20 years in the previous century with a mortgage and credit card debt it just meant that I had to take shorter 2 week trips. Back then if I wanted to go to say Guatemala from Oregon and back, it involved fast motorcycles and blurry scenery.

Not everyone has a supportive network of family and friends when it comes to motorcycle travel to third world countries. In fact I would say most people wil face resistance in the beginning. Which is why it is often wise to start out with shorter trips. Although motorcycle travel is more common now than it was 40 years ago when I started, most people will think you are nuts when you tell them your plans to ride the world on a motorcycle. I don’t generally bring up the subject with non-travelers.

There are things you can do to mitigate familial concerns when negotiating to take off time to go riding. Communication is key. With today’s technology advances it is possible to engage your friends and relatives in a much more meaningful way. It is one reason I started sending back email reports with pictures before the advent of blogs and ride reports. With wifi being available more widely every year in far off places it is possible to Skype call or email friends and relatives on a semi regular basis. SPOT trackers using satellite technology to give regular updates to your motorcycle’s location are another item I see married folks using. SPOT trackers keep spouses up to date on your location over the internet. Even kids at home will take an interest in seeing the dot move down the map. Another excellent way to keep folks at home engaged and informed is to write a ride report with pictures and stories from the roads less traveled. The key here is to keep it updated regularly. It has the added benefit of getting you to slow down and take more cool pictures that friends might get a kick out of back home when they come inside to warm up after shoveling snow off the front walk.

Ah yes, but back to the subject of finding the time for travel. You have to create it. The harsh reality is: you have to create the space in your schedule for it. Nobody will find the time for you. Depending on your lifestyle this may involve negotiating with your spouse and boss to open up windows of opportunity.

In the next update I will cover step two: accumulating travel funds.

more later…….

Motorcycle travel dream phase: accumulating travel funds.

After finding the time to head off on a motorcycle trip, step two of the dream phase is accumulating travel funds. Most people have only a vague idea of how much it costs to travel if it’s not something they do often. And travel costs vary wildly depending on how complicated your life is and how many fixed costs you have to cover while you are gone as well as what level of comfort you find acceptable when out on the road. I will cover minimizing travel costs in a future post, but most budget motorcycle travelers spend somewhere between 50 and 100 dollars a day all in. This includes the basics of food, gas, lodging as well as the hidden costs of border crossing, visas, tires, repairs, maintenance, replacing lost items, shipping the bike between continents, etc.

Of course it is more expensive if you fly and rent a bike in a foreign country. The last time I flew down to Costa Rica for two weeks and rented a bike it cost 600 dollars for round trip airfare, 600 for bike rental and 600 for food, gas and lodging. I started with 2000 dollars and had 200 left when I was done. So about 130 dollars a day all in.

And of course, some countries are way more expensive to travel through than others. Unless you are camping, riding a small fuel efficient bike, or staying with friends and traveling slow, it is very difficult to travel through Western Europe, the U.S. or Canada on the cheap. Whereas in Ecuador where gas was 1.48/gal last Spring and you can ride all day on a cheap tank of gas, places to stay on the beach or in the mountains are around 10 or 15 dollars, and food is under 10 dollars a day, you can travel all month for under 1000 dollars.

But you get the idea. It costs money to take a motorcycle trip. Once you have an idea of how much time you can take off from work and family, you can start saving money. Once you have a goal it becomes much easier to focus on. You start looking at things in a different light. Would you rather go to the movies tonight or stay home, put 20 bucks in your travel piggy bank and have another tank of gas out on the road?

Your mind starts thinking of all kinds of ways to generate money. You look around the house and see dollar signs on all your old camping gear, that pile of motorcycle parts in the garage, all the tools, boats, bikes, TVs, sporting gear and such that you bought but aren’t using anymore. Some people get carried away and sell everything they own. I know my former wife and I decided one January morning 25 years ago to sell everything we owned and go traveling for as long as the money lasted. We were living in Hawaii at the time and had accumulated all kinds of antiques, tools, a Martin guitar, 2 trucks, a garage full of tools and all kinds of building materials. By February we had 40,000 dollars, an empty rental house, two backpacks and two one-way tickets to New Zealand. Wow! I must say having no material possessions weighing you down and taking off on a trip is a very freeing feeling. Of course, after nearly a year we were ready to settle down again and had to buy things to replace them, but it gave us a new appreciation for the things we actually need. As well as just how much material possessions can weigh you down and make independent travel more difficult. Especuially things that need climate controlled space and eventual maintenance and repair. And today it is easier than ever to sell stuff for more money online instead of taking the time for a discount garage sale. Motorcycles and parts on ADVrider, household goods on or E-bay, that sort of thing.

There are other more creative ways to generate travel funds. For instance, the Dutch guy from Amsterdam down in South America who rents out his house on Air B-n-B for 200 euros a night while he is hanging out on the beach getting a tan. He has a trusted woman who cleans and takes care of finding maintenance people while he handles booking with his iPhone as he travels. Something to think about if you have a house in a touristy area that will be vacant while you are gone.

Equally important to the money you save is the money you don’t spend. It all adds up. By evaluating your spending habits and reeling in unnecessary purchases you may be surprised at how much money you can save up if you really want to. Especially recurring monthly expenses. Do you really need cable TV? Could you eliminate car payments and full coverage vehicle insurance by shifting to a paid for older more fuel efficient vehicle with basic liability coverage? These are all things to think about as you eliminate obstacles to motorcycle travel and accumulate only the things that you need. Which is what I will discuss in the next phase of the dream phase: motorcycles and gear you need.

more later……

Motorcycle travel dream phase: Things you need for a motorcycle trip.

This is where people tend to get carried away. And perhaps why some people never get beyond this phase of travel dreaming and actually make it out of the driveway.

The first thing you need is a reliable bike. Most people settle on a mid-sized dual sport bike like a Suzuki DR650, Suzuki DL650, Yamaha XT660, Honda XR650 or Kawasaki KLR650. Why? Because they are tough, relatively cheap to buy used, have a good record of reliability, can carry a reasonable amount of gear, and it is easy to find aftermarket parts like luggage, larger gas tanks and bashplates. Other people like to buy bigger more expensive bikes like a BMW GS1200, KTM 990 Adventure, or Yamaha 1200 Tenere. And then there are the people like me who have limited funds and prefer to travel on the cheap on a fuel efficient inexpensive used small bike. It doesn’t matter what you ride. People have ridden the world on everything from a scooter to a full dress Harley. The important thing is that you find a bike that is right for you. The bike you own and are familiar with is often times the best bike to travel on. And no bike is perfect. The thing to remember is that the more you spend on bikes and gear the longer it will take you to save up for the actual travel itself (unless you are independently wealthy).

The harsh reality is that most of the stuff you buy will get thrashed after 50,000 miles of travel. Usually the most expensive high-tech gear may only be 5 or 10 per cent better than good servicable gear. The cost difference for the latest and greatest best-in-class motorcycle gear can be astronomical unless bought used. Which brings me to another point. Other than a good bike, I consider good riding gear that will protect you to be your next most important investment. This is where the fun comes in. Checking the ADVrider flea market section is a great way to spend your time between trips. This summer I obtained a used Aerostich Darien jacket and some Joe Rocket pants for little money. The difference in cost between that and a new Klim jacket is a month of travel in Ecuador. There are a lot of people who have a motorcycle gear addiction (there is no cure) and you can find good deals when they unload quality lightly used jackets, pants, boots, and helmets on Craigslist.

You need a way to carry your clothes, tools and spare parts on your bike. I like a locking waterproof topbox for my electronic gear, camera, sleeping bag and pad combined with soft saddlebags for everything else. It doesn’t really matter if you use a milk crate and some ammo cans. The important thing is that you need some way to carry stuff on your bike.

That’s all I have time for today. I’ll go into essential tools, tech, spare parts and clothes in an upcoming post.

more later….

Monday, December 8, 2014

How to get started on the path to motorcycle travel.

Many people wonder how hard it is to take off on a motorcycle trip to foreign lands. They think it is perhaps not something they could ever do. I am here to tell you that it is definitely possible even if you are at a stage in your life where you have family and work responsibilities. Of course it is much easier if you have a simple life like me, but I have met professional people in my travels with families and complicated lives who have still found the time to ride around the mountains of Colombia and experience a foreign culture for a couple weeks at a time. They just have to adapt their travels to fit their lives. In the case of the dentist from Canada I met in Colombia who had more money than time it meant flying into Bogota Colombia where a rental bike company was waiting for him with a fully prepped BMW 800GS, throwing his stuff in the hard bags and taking off for the twisty backroads for a two week holiday. Sure, it costs more to do this. But it was what he had to do with a wife and young children in order to ride in South America. I met another two couples in Ecuador who had all flown from snowy winter in New York to tropical Ecuador and rented Vstroms for a month long 2 up holiday. I even met a minimalist traveler on the top of a volcano overlook in Costa Rica. He happened to be a contractor like me and had taken off a few weeks between remodeling jobs to tour back country Costa Rica on a rented Honda Falcon 400 which is basically a streetified XR400 with electric start. He brought a helmet, riding gear and a small duffle strapped on the back and was staying in cheap guest houses and hostels. I have done the same. It is a great relatively inexpensive way to take a break from the northern winter.

If you are at a point in life where you have more time than money it is still quite possible to take off for even longer trips with less money than you would think. Of course the first step is to decide it is something you want to do. Without a burning desire you may never get off the couch. That is why it is so important to read lots of ride reports on sites like ADVrider and blogs like this to slowly get the idea that yes this is something that people like you have figured out how to do. The next step is to accumulate the things you need to make it happen and eliminate the things that are obstacles. This is the dream phase.

I’m not here to try and convince people to take off on a motorcycle and travel. Nor to downplay the obstacles that you must overcome to make it out of the country on a motorcycle. Rather, my job is to preach to the choir and help others who have a desire but aren’t sure how to go about making their moto travel dreams come true. In order to make the dream a reality there are many steps you have to take. I will go into what steps I went through and the plan of action I took in the next installment.

more later….

Friday, December 5, 2014

Here is a list of things that are difficult to find or expensive in Latin America:

Valve shims.

If your bike has screw adjusters then this isn’t an issue. But if you have shim under bucket valve adjusters you will have an impossible time finding valve shims in Latin America. Everywhere I checked from Colombia to Uruguay even in major cities these are an expensive special order item with long multi-week wait times. It is therefor wise to check and adjust your valves before you leave and take several shims with you even if you have a mechanic do the valve adjustment. They take up almost no space and when you need slightly thinner sizes as your valves tighten up after many thousands of miles you will be glad you brought them.


Quality bike batteries are expensive and surprisingly difficult to find in Latin America. Replacing your battery even if it’s only a couple years old is a wise idea before leaving on a multi month trip south of the border.

Quality rechargeable AA batteries for camera, GPS, flashlight etc. are expensive and hard to find in Latin America. I try to only use devices that use AA’s so I can bring a 4 battery wall charger to take care of everything.

Large size tubes.

Most bikes in Latin America are 125cc that use weeny inner tubes. Finding large size tubes in Latin America is nearly impossible everywhere except large cities where rich folks live who ride larger bikes. Even with a 250 Kawasaki it was sometimes a hassle to find tubes in smaller cities. I always carry a spare front and rear tube and carry the punctured tube as a spare until I can find a replacement down the road. Because glue on patches tend to peel off in the tropical heat, I prefer to just replace the tube and look for another spare tube down the road. I do carry a tube patch kit for emergencies though. There are plenty of vulcanizadora shops that will hot patch your holed tube and that is the way to go if you are on a budget.


I don’t carry tires with me since small size tires for 250cc bikes are cheap and easy to find in Latin America. I do leave with a fresh set of tires though. I do understand why some folks on bigger bikes carry spare tires with them since tires for big bikes are really expensive south of the border. Like five hundred bucks for a set of TKC80s in some countries. And most Americans are needing tires somewhere in the boonies of Central America before they get to South America. Larger size tires are only available in bigger cities and really a hassle to find, especially in fat 17 inch sizes. Plus larger tires cost way more than tires for my bike which typically run 40 to 50 each. Which is why seasoned travelers on bigger bikes will buy a set and strap them on the back when they chance upon a good deal and carry them while they wear out the set they are running. One of the many reasons I prefer a smaller bike.

Paper maps.

The Guia Roja is quite good and available in Mexico and will get you down through northern Guatemala, but you won’t be finding paper maps in Central America so it’s a good idea to bring one along even if just as a backup to a GPS. I found a vague map of Colombia in a bookstore in Medellin but it just had the major paved roads and larger cities. Bookstores in Quito have a decent map of Ecuador. I didn’t find any good paper maps of Peru on the road. Chile has a good set of maps that are available at gas station convenience stores. I never found a decent map of Argentina or Uruguay and I understand that Bolivia and Paraguay are difficult as well although I haven’t been there yet. I give my maps away as I go to lighten my load and look for them on the road, but if you have room, they are nice to bring from home where you can order them online from IDG maps or others. Now mind you, paper maps are not essential these days if you have a GPS or smart phone, but they are fun to mark up and look at to get the big picture. Since I didn’t have a map in South America once I crossed the Andes into Argentina, I resorted to taking screen shots of google.maps on my laptop when on wifi at a hostel or cafĂ© and refering to those out in the boonies. Since coming home, I have downloaded a very useful app on my iPad mini called that allows you to download an entire country to view offline when you’re out in the sticks. It has all the gas stations, grocery stores and banks and looks to be just the ticket for Latin American travel. You can zoom in to see all the little minor tracks as well as zoom out to see the entire country. And it is free.


If your throttle and clutch cables are a few years old I recommend replacing them and zip tying the old cables to the frame under your seat to use as spares.


Oil filters are difficult to find for bigger bikes. I have found that my Sherpa uses the same oil filter as the Honda XR250 and 650 as well as the KLX250S, so they are easier to find and I only carry three spares to get me down the road 18,000 miles. I change my oil every 3,000 miles and filter every other oil change and buy more when I find them. Others use stainless mesh reuseable oil filters.

As far as air filters go, mine are foam and cleanable. I have one in the bike and a spare in a baggie in the top box that is clean and oiled. I wrap panty hose around mine to act as a pre-filter and it catches a lot of the grime and makes the foam filter easier to clean.


Unless your bike has a driveshaft, you will be needing new sprockets and chain along the road at some point if you ride far enough. These are another item that is a hassle to locate for bigger bikes even in big cities. Even if your sprockets have life, I recommend replacing them and carrying the old sprockets as spares if they are lightly worn. A neat trick that I learned from fellow Sherpa rider Hektoglider down in South America is to bolt the spare rear sprocket underneath my rear rack to save space and keep it from abrading my soft bags. A couple spare front sprockets and a spare rear sprocket should get you to Tierra del Fuego on most bikes. O-ring or X-ring chains in good brands are very difficult to find in South America and all of these things are quite expensive due to high import taxes. I don’t carry a spare chain, but if I had a big bike that used a 525 chain, I would probably pack a spare.


You can find decent bearings in larger cities if you have the time, but a spare set of wheel bearings and steering head bearings that fit your bike are another nice thing to have out in the sticks.

Tire pump.

This is another essential item to get you down the road to the next gas station. If you have the room, a Walmart battery powered tire pump is nice to have. Removing the plastic shell and just carrying the guts in a baggy will save space although I had to re-solder the leads when they broke off from being bounced around so much. I now just carry a high performance bicycle hand pump I got at R.E.I. It is foolproof and doesn’t take long to pump up the tire to 15 or 20 psi to get me to an air compressor down the road. Of course I have tube tires and this wouldn’t work for seating the bead on a tubeless tire. You may have to carry CO2 cartridges to seat the bead on a tubeless tire. Or carry a spare tube and valve stems for emergencies.

Brake pads.

These are another wear item that are expensive and difficult to find for bigger bikes. On a smaller lightly loaded bike they last longer than on bigger heavier bikes. But eventually they all wear out. I was watching a video put out by Helge Pedersen of “Ten Years on Two Wheels” fame and noticed that he bolts a set of brake pads to the rear of his license plate frame to save space. Spare brake pads for disc brakes come in mighty handy when you change a flat in the middle of nowhere on a steep mountain road in the Andes and notice your pads are paper thin.

Tools and spare parts.

Many tools are available in Latin America. Yes they may be cheap Chinese, but generally they will get the job done if you lose a tool along the way. Things that are hardest to find are feeler gauges for checking valve clearance and chain breaking and riveting tools as well as 2 part epoxy, JB weld, blue loctite threadlocker in the chapstick twist up stick form, so try not to lose those. Other things like zip ties, duct tape, wire and the like are easier to find to replace used up items so you don’t have to pack too many. You should pack a few spare weird bulbs or fuses if you have any of those on your bike. Some spare fuel line, fuel filters and small hose clamps don’t take up much space and can be tough to find when you need them. As well as a water pump repair kit and some spare radiator hose and clamps if your bike is water cooled.

Fork Seals.

Another common item to need replacing especially on bigger heavier bikes. Don’t leave home without a spare set.

Boots in large sizes.

If you wear larger than a size 9 shoe it will be nearly impossible to find any kind of footwear in Latin America. I take a new pair of riding boots every year and wear them out by the time I run out of money and have to come home six months later. I don’t have space for spare shoes, so one pair of boots is all I wear and they get thrashed.


I take a couple three older point and shoot cameras preferably that use AA rechargeable batteries with me each trip. I have found good deals in pawn shops in the states. You can find a decent older Canon or Nikon 5 or 8 megapixel for 20 or 30 bucks. You don’t need anything super fancy to take shots for ride reports or posting on the internet which is all I do. Electronic goods have high tariffs and are surprisingly expensive in Latin America. A waterproof camera would be a plus, but they all eventually fail or get lost when you are spaced out on the roads less traveled. I would hate losing or damaging an expensive camera, so don’t bring one.


I have been using a MacBook Air laptop as my main computer for the last 4 years. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. It has tumbled down the highway a couple times when my topbox popped off and has a solid state drive that is more impervious to damage than a spinning hard drive. The aluminum case is dented on all four corners where it hit the floor after I fell asleep watching netflix movies on wifi in youth hostels. It is my main home entertainment center when I’m on the road (which is pretty much all the time these days). It’s what I’m typing this up on. I traded work for it and wouldn’t spend the big bucks to buy another one though. There are cheaper alternatives. I noticed last year that the backpacker youth hostel crowd has largely replaced their netbooks and laptops with small iPads and large smartphones. I prefer a nice keyboard and trackpad for typing up ride reports and emails, but have found that the iPad mini that my sister recently bought me does everything I need. In fact it has a decent camera and is quick to upload pics to where I link to photos on my ride reports. It is all I really need and is much more compact. And with a bluetooth keyboard/case to protect the screen it is really more like a small netbook. I will take it along with my laptop on my next trip as a backup computer/camera. The nice thing about IOS and Android phones and tablets is that a lot of the innovative new software is coming out for mobile devices rather than Windows or Mac.


This is another item that is much cheaper to buy at home. I have a basic hand held unit that I leave in my topbox and bring out to find out the elevation at a pass or co-ordinates for good places to camp for sharing on my ride reports.

My bike and gear are currently down in Uruguay so that is all I can think of for now off the top of my head.

more later….

Monday, December 1, 2014

I’ve been really enjoying my stay here in Texas this winter. One reason I don’t plan my life too carefully is that you never know what can happen in your travels. Plans have a way of changing overnight when things go wrong. Case in point is my current situation where I find myself having made a stupid mistake and getting arrested for drunk driving in the very county in Texas where Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) originated. Hmmmm. On a scale of one to ten where 1 is getting diagnosed with liver cancer and 10 is having your supermodel girlfriend buy you a new motorcycle for your birthday I would rate getting a DUI in Texas as about a 4. About the same level of stress as having my motorcycle confiscated in Colombia when an old man knocked me off my bike with his car in a roundabout and I cracked my collarbone and separated my shoulder. Not the end of the world. And of course definitely something that time will heal.

On a separate note, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving over at veriest1’s house. Actually he is living over at his in-laws place while I work on his house. His wife and mother-in-law sure know how to cook. I spend most of my days in solitude remodeling his house out in the country so it is always a nice change of pace to visit his family.

There is no wifi where I am working out in the sticks and no internet means I have plenty of time to think about life and what the future holds. Since I am currently 61 and will be eligible for Social Security in 6 months my current thoughts run along the lines of figuring out how to live minimally and travel for the next decade or two. I remember meeting Ratbike Mike down in Guatemala a couple years ago. He had turned 65 and bought a KLR with a blown motor and rebuilt it for little money and taken off south with no money other than Social Security that was direct deposited in his checking account back home. He would withdraw money at ATMs along the way, and if he got low on funds for gas towards the end of the month, just stop and live in a cheap guesthouse until the next check came in. Hmmmmm. It got me to thinking. Although I must say, I like traveling for 6 months out of the year and working the rest of the time. It is a nice balance and keeps me from feeling too much like a hobo.

I have to make my own entertainment out here in the country, so when going to town to pick up building materials it is nice to be able to stop by the public library and download podcasts and check my email on their high speed wifi. I always enjoy “Adventure Rider Radio” which is a weekly podcast where host Jim Martin interviews motorcycle travelers. “Wheelnerds “and “The Pace” are more general interest motorcycle podcasts and “Moterrific” is oriented towards women, but still interesting. Two other podcasts that have more of a general travel theme are “Zero to Travel” and “Amateur Traveler Podcast.” The latest episode of Zero to Travel was an interview with a minimalist traveler whose goal is to travel with little or no money without being a mooch. Because your basic travel needs are food, water, clothing, shelter, transportation, and perhaps friends and social interaction, it was interesting to see how he had reduced these to a minimum. Riding a bicycle, finding food in supermarket dumpsters, and meeting people in his travels on couchsurfing and another free accomadation network of bicyclists called “Warm Showers.” It took me back 40 years to when I used to hitchhike and bicycle tour back in the 70’s. I have hitch-hiked back home from Mazatlan Mexico on a shoestring when I lost all my money, so I know it is possible, but it is a rough way to go. Can’t say I have met too many folks who would choose to take minimalist travel that far.

You do meet a lot of interesting people out on the road when you are traveling. Some are making their way with very little money. Alas, for me, 40 dollars a day seems to be the minimum I require for motorcycle travel with current world gas prices.