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….

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all the travel tips, John

    Shims.....John, I don't buy shims. I always get a knife sharpening stone and grind them down....2 to 5 minutes will make that shim just right.

    Tubes....I'm currently converting my rims to tubeless Spoke rims. I use Shoe Goo. There are lots of tape methods that the bicycle guys are using. You tube is your friend about tubeless spoke rims.

    Neck bearing....I have been throwing the ball separator away and just adding one ball to the mix. That will move all the balls, but one, out of their current wear mark, and the results will be the same as new bearing. The bottom bearing is hard to keep together while assembling. I make a 1/2" tall cyl out of beer can to hold the balls in place for those bottom balls.

    Most often, fork seals can be cleaned without ever taking them off the bike.