South America is now real. In just over 6 months we will be starting our ride from Ushuaia in Chile to Alaska, largely following the Pan-American highway but detouring along the way to explore out of the way places and visit friends and family throughout the USA and Canada.
Despite riding my wonderful MT-07 though many parts of Australia, we knew it wouldn’t be up to our Americas trip. For one thing, it simply can’t safely carry enough stuff for 8 months on the road – including clothes and shoes, spares, extra fuel, lots of toiletries (!), and camping gear. And so the search for the perfect adventure bike began. We had formed a bit of a relationship with Yamaha Motor Japan doing a series of stories on our Big Loop which I was keen to continue, but things were moving slow with Yamaha Australia and they didn’t really give us much encouragement. So it was time to take the initiative and explore other adventure bike options. After extensive internet research, reading blogs, and chatting to friends and other adventure motorcyclists, we narrowed it down to a field of three bikes: the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer, the BMW G650GS and the Honda CB500X.
The limiting factor for me is always stand over height and the fact that I was still on my provisional licence which made test riding anything but Learner Approved bikes a challenge. We also wanted a bike that was more ‘bullet-proof’, ie mechanically simpler so fewer things could go wrong, proven reliability, plenty of after-market accessories and that could be worked on in some of the more remote places we planned to travel through.
These requirements all but cancelled out the MT -09 which, whilst a beautiful bike, is technically too complex for this type of trip, particularly things like electronic engine controls, flimsy ‘adventure’ accessories etc. A perfect bike for a European or North-American trip, but not for the punishing wilds of South America.
We had a long look at the BMW G650GS which is more oriented towards off-road riding and has a proven track record of long expedition-type trips. Stand over height is an issue with this bike and we were unable to get good information about lowering the bike without compromising ground clearance. Also at $10,000, before accessorising it, the beemer was a more expensive options (although still cheaper than the Tracer). We also had some concerns about the limited BMW spares and service support network in South America.
We looked at some Kawasakis but they didn’t really have any offerings in the adventure motorcycle market which met our needs. The venerable KLR650, whilst a proven international touring machine with a fanatical following, is just too tall for me. The same applied to my attempt to sit on a Suzuki DL650 (V-Strom) which was just too big and heavy for petite me. Though it did catch Richard’s eye, but more on that later…
Our friend Andy recommended the Honda CB500X which we hadn’t actually considered in the mix given that I had been riding a 650 and hadn’t thought about going down in size. But once I saw the colour of the 2016 model (I am a woman after all!) it was love at first sight. After a quick online search we found that they were a very competent adventure touring bike and the CB brand has been around forever. One of Richard’s first motorbikes (purchased almost new in 1978) was a CB 400-4 Super Sport! After throwing my leg over one at our LBS I was still mildly concerned about stand-over height (standard seat height is 810mm) but we thought it was do-able. And so we bought it.
Things that sold us on the CB500X were:
- weight and proportions of the bike are manageable for smaller people like me (I’m 5’3″)
- mega reliability and proven brand
- reasonably simple for a liquid cooled engine
- heaps of after-market touring accessories
- enough power to carry lots of gear but not overly powerful (too much power can be dangerous off road)
- good off-road handling
- fabulous colour-scheme!
The cast alloy wheels are not ideal for off-road but will do for us.You can buy after-market spoked wheels from Rally Raid Products in the UK, however at AUD4,500 they are half the price of the bike!
The internet is full of the pros and cons of using ABS off road. We’ll wait and see how this goes. You can disable ABS by pulling the fuses but we’re not really that comfortable doing this. I have ridden the bike on dirt roads a bit but it didn’t seem to be a problem.
So here’s my new ride.🙂
We’ve already bolted a heap of stuff on it (more on this in following blogs).