How big and heavy should a motorcycle be, that you want to travel the world with? Is it better to choose an older, used model that can be repaired in any workshop, or a newer one, that might let you down because of nearly unfixable issues with its electronic? Although my motorcycle career still seems to be in its infancy, I was able to gather some experience within the 40.000 kilometers that I did in the last 2 years. Not only from voluntary interest though:
Shortly after I did my licenses and bought my first motorcycle I was already longing for something different. What exactly I required and hoped to find in my future motorcycle I did not know at that time. But countless test drives turned gradually out what I wanted – or rather: what I didn’t want. So here are my very subjective experiences and suggestions, that are of course based and influenced on my personal preferences. And if you ask yourself: “What does this motorcycle-rookie know about those things?” then I can tell you: I believe that an unused look that is not disturbed by a year-long motorcycle history or love for some specific brands, certainly could recognize one or the other truth. Basically there is in fact only one premise that counts: the right bike for you is the one, that you feel comfortable with, that you trust regardlessly and that you really want to travel with. No matter if it’s a scooter, has 125 cc or 1200.
Old vs. New
Yes, it makes sense to travel on a motorcycle that you can repair everywhere, and that will not destroy the dream of your trip with non-functioning electronics out of the blue. Sure, it’s easier to find spares for a vintage Honda or Yamaha than for a motorcycle of European manufacturers in Southeast Asia. So does it really make sense to spend money on a more recent motorcycle?
In my opinion: Yes! All the points of better reparability in damage cases cannot compete with the possibility of having simply less trouble with a newer motorcycle. That statement might sound very convenient and hard – so maybe it’s now time to make a confession: I love motorcycling, not fine-tuning. As important it is to know your bike and to be able to handle the most common issues like flat tires or exchanging filters and break blocks (a big thanks to Pit of Triumph Germany, who taught me everything I really needed to know patiently in one day), as less I have a real passion for them. I rarely had any issues with the motorcycles I have been driving, so it was just not necessary to deal with most mechanical issues so far. Within the few months between my decision to do this trip and my departure, I just felt that even if I tried my hardest, I could not learn enough about an old motorcycles mechanic to start with it confident, knowing, that it sooner or later might have some issues.
Following the blogs of Rhys Lawrey (also on a Triumph 800!) and Rolf Lange, who had no major defects on their RTW-trips with their new bikes, made me trust in my Triumph Tiger 800 XCA even more. My own rule of thumb: If you are familiar with the mechanics of motorcycles, you can travel cheaper with an older bike and certainly have a better possibility to find spare parts. Are you a layman like me, it’s not a shame to admit that you feel more comfortable with a newer bike and its more sophisticated technology. Driving a modern motorcycle does not make you a bad person!
Light vs. heavy (250 cc vs. 1200 cc )
By now you figured out whether to start your big journey with a vintage bike or a more recent one. So far, so good. But now you will have to dive into the most sensitive, hotly debated and most contentious issue: Low weight or more power. Initially I would recommend to any traveler following: If you have as little experience as I do, you should attend at least two courses. One proper off-road Enduro riding with a bike belonging to the 250cc range (you’ll learn incredibly much because the usual respect that at least I had because of the weight of my bigger motorcycle, is reduced to a minimum. You will be able to try and master much more things easily and gain trust from this experience to take with you when being back on a bigger bike). Secondly, an Enduro course on your own bike/a motorcycle in a higher weight class. You will be amazed how many of the things that you learned in you first course also work easily on a larger bike – if one only dares.
Surely every traveler will agree on one point: Less weight makes your life easier. The lighter, the better. Nevertheless, a very individual assessment has been done particularly on this point, which among other things will have to do how you want to travel and what your travel speed is. You want to do real off-road stuff? – Small bike. You have time or want to travel slowly? – Small Bike (in most countries it is not necessary to have a lot of power anyways, as you might not be able to drive faster than 80 km/h). A point to ponder should however be the following: Will you do long monotonous distances on asphalt? And how much comfort you need for that? Although you may not be able to travel faster than it is possible with a 250 cc bike, a motorcycle from 650cc comes with more weight and power – but as well more convenience. Here applies: The bigger the bike, the more comfortable you will be when doing long distances. But the more strenuous it will be when it comes to falling and pulling your bike out of a puddle (or just a bad parking space).
Anything under a certain size will make my butt fall asleep or back hurt, and alone my way to Turkey will include several hundreds of kilometers on the highway, so small bikes will not be my choice to travel with. Seems as if a touring endure of 650 cc should be a good compromise of power and weight? Not in my case. After my license I bought a BMW G 650 GS Sertao that adequately introduced me to the world of motorcycling – including resting on one of it’s sides from time to time. But behold, I could never pick up my 650 GS all alone from the ground because of it’s high center of gravity while a 1200 GS with its protruding Boxer engine is an easy task. You can not rely on being able to pick up your bike just because it’s lighter. I am girl, and as sad as I am about this fact, but even when working out a lot I am just not as strong as most men are. The sooner or later I might need the help of someone else when dealing with my bike, whether it weights 190 or 240 kg. In the beginning I was a bit emberassed by that fact, but in the meantime I got quite comfortable with asking people for help when I again parked headlessly forward in a retract and need to push it out backwards.It is true though that the handling of a 650cc or 800 cc bike especially on slopes or in city traffic is a lot more pleasant and easier than that of a much heavier 1200 cc motorcycle.
1 vs. 2 vs. 3
I must honestly confess that power is quite cool, but I’m not fanatic about horsepower. A bike you really travel with in my opinion should be capable of doing gravel roads as well as 130 km/h on a highway. But for that you might not need more than a 50 HP (indeed you might need different driving modes on a bike that has more power because you might not be to keen on sliding over loose stony ground and hairpins in sports mode).
So the only question left when choosing your bike is the choice of cylinders. My G 650 GS Sertao with its one cylinder engine was a little rougher – some people might consider that as charming, for me it was pretty much charmless when every limb (especially my hands) went numb after two hours of driving thanks to the vibration. For me the difference in handling and weight for me are too small to prefer a single-cylinder, I would always favor at least two cylinders for comfort reasons.
At least! Ever since I was testriding a Triumph three-cylinder, incidentally the 1200 Explorer, which I borrowed for a test drive after neither BMW nor KTM or Ducati blew me away, I do not know how I could ever been considering something else. Indeed the KTM 1190 R was very heavy and got so hot on it’s sides and the seat, that I burned my legs through my motorcycle trousers, the 1200 GS is a solid bike but heavy and expensive, it’s smaller sister, the 800GS just feels like a worse version of the 1200 and the normal Ducati Multistrada more like a sportsbike, that I would not trust too much in gravel).
May I introduce? This is my fantastic bike. A Triumph three-cylinder. My Tiger 800 XCA is never in the wrong gear, the engine is running elastic and smooth as silk and makes Cleo the perfect travel bike for me – never get numb limbs because of the vibration anymore. Thanks to the 800 cc and 95 hp I can enjoy even long asphalt distances if can’t do the “Scenic Route”. And in fact, the Tiger 800 is still much handier than its big sisters with 1200 cc. You will not need their power on most roads in this world and the comfort you gain through them for me is too low to justify the weight. Who would have thought that I would fall madly in love with a purring Briton?