Motorcycle Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How much did the year of travel by motorcycle cost?
I honestly have no idea. We didnít account for the travel specifically as we spent the money. We maintained a household in the U.S. during our travels, so that more than doubled our expenses. We also came back to the U.S. between trips. I can say without doubt that it would be much less expensive to do continuous travel rather than come back to the U.S. between trips as we did. The lowest cost method of motorcycle travel would be to sell everything except family heirlooms, rent or sell your house, and hit the road. Youíd probably spend 25% or less of what we did and could then afford to see a lot more of the world and stay gone for much longer. I would also advise doing it on your own. Use a tour organizer for your first trip so you can learn the ropes, then do the rest on your own. This will save you a lot of money.
How much did the bike cost?
The bike was about $15,000. The options and accessories were $8,800 and the labor to install them was $2,300. Total of $26,100. We bought the bike at Ride West BMW, as they had experience putting bikes together for this type of travel.
How much did the bike weigh with you and Steph on it?
We never weighed it fully loaded, and the weight depended on which country we were in and how we had it packed. The bike weighs around 600 lbs wet, the total weight of all of our stuff, fully loaded for unsupported developing country travel, is about 200 lbs (see Bike Inventory for details), and we weigh about 300 lbs together (about 2/3rds of that is me), so my best guess for maximum weight is around 1,100 lbs. (500 kilos).
How many miles did you ride?
Well over 20,000 miles (32,187 KM). This was nothing compared to the people who are out there really riding around the world.
What was the worst experience?
Having Steph get hurt in Turkey. Watching her in pain during surgery was no fun.
What was the best experience?
Spending time with people in their homes. We did this in most of the countries we traveled in. The opportunity to see how people lived, to speak with them of their everyday joys and challenges and to witness firsthand their surroundings was very rewarding.
Were you ever scared?
We were surrounded by a gang of angry guys in Jordan, but the incident was over so quickly (we rode off and left them) that we really didnít realize the potential situation until we all talked about it later. There was a lot of tension and anger among the people in that country, so we didnít feel very comfortable for a good portion of our time there.
In the Himalayas, you spent all day, every day, meeting giant TATA trucks coming around blind corners at high speeds on shoulderless single lane roads with multi-thousand foot drops down sheer cliffs. There were more than a few meetings that were, shall we say, interesting. It would have helped if our rental bike would have had brakes that actually braked, but thatís just part of the charm and authenticity of the experience.
Did you get sick?
I only had to use Cipro (our broad spectrum antibiotic of choice) once in the entire year.
What kind of mileage did you get?
I canít tell you precisely, but not very good because of all the weight. No better than 30 miles per gallon.
Did you ever crash?
We dropped the bike one night in Durban, South Africa because I forgot to take the disc lock off. Pretty embarrassing. The next day I dropped it in deep silt (we were on street tires because we were guaranteed by the tour organizers that the first 3,000 miles were all pavement). Also embarrassing, but less so. I hadnít dropped a bike two-up in over 20 years until that 24 hour period. A few weeks later we went down hard in a mud filled stream crossing. No injuries but dented the gas tank and twisted the front sub-frame (where the instruments mount), essentially cosmetic damage. In that instance, my velocity exceeded my abilities, which is the basic story line of my dirt riding life. No other crashes for the year.
Did anything break on the bike?
The stock rear shock gave up on the ride home to San Diego from Seattle. We replaced it with an Ohlins shock. (We didn't have any trouble with the Ohlins front or rear, but I wouldn't recommend them due to extremely dismal warranty issues a friend experienced and multiple Ohlins rear shock failures I know of.) We broke the rear aluminum rear rack subframe and the Best Rest rack off in Zambia. We had the rack grossly overloaded, as only we can, and it finally gave up. Best Rest fixed the rack and reinforced it for us when we returned home. I believe it failed because of a faulty installation by Ride West. Two key bushings that are used with the bolts going into the top of the rear subframe were omitted in our original installation. I don't think the subframe or the Best Rest rack would have broken if these bushing would have been correctly installed as they are now. No other failures.
Why did you choose the BMW GS1150?
It was the best, and arguably the only, bike available for global adventure travel, two-up, with luggage, spares and supplies at the time we bought the bike. The KTM 950 Adventure had just come on the market, and no accessories were available for it. The KTMs are also a little tall for me, and they lack the worldwide dealer network that BMW has. I didn't consider bikes not sold in the U.S., so that knocked out a couple of contenders. In my opinion, the Triumph Tiger and the Suzuki VStrom are too top heavy and not off road capable, respectively. That pretty much left the GS1150 as my only choice. We got the Adventure for the lower ratio first gear, bigger tank and accessories we would have added anyway, such as the crash bars.
What would you change about the bike?
Thereís nothing wrong with the GS1150 that losing 300 lbs. wouldnít cure. Itís just way too heavy for any serious off road work. Itís a perfect bike for two-up fire roads and that type of exploration. If you are going overseas and donít plan to ride anything more serious than what we did (gravel, mud, dirt, rock, a little sand, etc.) it will be fine. I wouldnít choose any other bike for what we did with it. And yes, I know Jimmy Lewis can make it sing and dance, but if youíre going to ride serious off road terrain, then it makes sense to do it on a real off road bike. The big GS just doesnít have enough suspension travel to deal with big velocity over big terrain. As Jimmy Lewis said of their GS1150 in the 2004 Baja 1000, "we had to ride over bumps one end at a time." (If you haven't ridden a dirt bike at high speeds in rough terrain you won't understand the humor in that statement.) The guys I rode down the Continental Divide with maintain that I was doing OK on the GS. I envied their DRZ400s at the time, and if I did that ride again, Iíd take a DRZ or a KTM. Guys that think they are going fast on a GS in the dirt have likely never seen a good rider on a real dirt bike on real terrain. One of the funniest things I ever heard was a demigod in the cult of BMW rail on the evils of tank bags on a GS and how they upset the center of gravity. That's like saying carrying a bag of oranges on top of an elephant will throw it off balance.
Most reliable accessory?
LAWS (Lean Angle Warning System). Whenever our lean angle would get anywhere close to scraping proximity, the kidney punches would begin.
What was your biggest disappointment?
Riding half a day in stifling heat and humidity only to find that our destination, a super-twisty mountain road, was off limits to motorcycles (Japan).
What was your biggest mistake?
Taking too much stuff.
Would you do it again?
Yes, but this time Iíd go and not come back.