I scoured the internet for a few weeks before deciding on the bike I wanted. There were a few criteria’s I used to select the bike I ultimately ended up deciding on. It quickly narrowed down to a few so hopefully this will help. Here’s what’s important to me in an RTW bike.
- Low cost – Let’s be honest here, there might come a point in time that you have to ditch the bike in some god forsaken corner of the earth. I’m not rich and I can’t afford to pay potentially thousands to replace parts if they fail. You just don’t know when it might happen, if at all. For this simple reason, I didn’t want to buy an expensive bike (lets ignore the fact that it can be stolen for a moment). This pretty much ruled out any NEW bike. The used market would be essential here. Craigslist and internet forums are you’re best friends in this case (or they can be a nightmare, read the story of how I actually bought my bike for a better idea)
- Reliability – Above all other things, reliability is an issue, so bikes with known maintenance issues are out the door. The reality though, is that most adventure bikes are actually quite reliable, so reliability really means, less things to break in this scope. No fancy electronics like ABS or traction control. If I’m sticking to low cost, reliability won’t be much of an issue since it won’t come with any fancy things anyway.
- Availability of parts – there has to be a worldwide dealer network available to support the bike in case you need parts. This narrowed it down to BMW and the big 4 Japanese brands.
So who made the cut?
After narrowing it down to these three bikes, I ultimately ended up with the Suzuki DR650, and I broke it down to some pros and cons comparing to the KLR and the GS.
- Air cooled bike means no radiator to crack in a crash. Did I mention that all three of these bikes have a seat height of 35”+? I have a 32 inch inseam, which means I can’t even tippy toe these bikes. I’m already ready to drop these bikes countless times, so the less things that break off, the better! Air cooled bikes are designed to run with looser tolerances (since they have to account for more thermal expansion). The downfall to this is that the bike can overheat if it isn’t moving, or operating in extremely hot temperatures. Think about traveling slowly in 90+ degree weather. Having own a Ducati air-cooled bike for the entirety of my motorcycling career, I knew how to deal with hot weather and air cooled motors (I know this all too well commuting in NYC). Long trips = lots of breaks for both the bike and I so I could deal with air cooled bikes. Both the KLR and the BMW are both liquid cooled bikes. In the grand scheme of things, radiators don’t often break and there are protective accessories you can purchase to minimize the exposure of the radiators. So ultimately, the battle between air-cooled vs water-cooled really *boils* down to the availability of parts, if the water-cooled bike ever breaks down.
- Thumper Power- The DR650 is a single cylinder bike with a massive 650cc engine (all that untamed raw 35hp!!!!). This only means one thing, OODLES AND OODLES OR TORQUE! No one ever attempted an RTW trip to see who can go around the fastest, so HP need not apply here. Though cruising at 90mph will be long missed, it’s a luxury I can afford to give up. The benefit to one cylinder is simple. If any problems arise, there’s really only one place to look. It has one sparkplug (the DR650 actually has two, but they fire simultaneously), only one cylinder and one set of valves. Single cylinder engines are significantly lighter (which means they are easier to pick up once dropped. The KLR is not much heavier than the DR650 though) and they are a bit narrower for tight trails. The downside is that they tend to have more vibration then twins. The DR650 has a counter balance to oppose the big piston so vibration isn’t that big of a deal, but if you ever rode a smooth 4cyl sport bike and then a big thumper, you would notice the difference. The vibration isn’t as bad as a Harley type V-twin (which would leave you numb at times), so coming from the L-twin Ducati world, the vibration between the two are similar, with the DR650 being about 25% more buzzy. The KLR650 is a thumper and the BMW F800GS is a smooth parallel twin. The BMW wins this battle, with an extra cylinder and more power overall. But from a reliability standpoint, I chose to go with a thumper.
- Carburetor – This one is a bit of an iffy. It can be a pro or a con. Carbs are dead simple. Carry a spare needle with you as it wears, but outside of that they are easy to break apart and clean. If you have an adjustable idle needle then altitude problems aren’t too big of an issue. The downside is that they are fuel inefficient when compared to EFI (but not by much). They also require maintenance where EFI is essentially maintenance free. In today’s modern bikes EFI wins. They are deadly reliable and offer quick, lightning response. They can handle altitude without adjustment and provide maximum power as you move higher into the mountains. Carbs provide less power since you are stuck with the existing pilot needles and your only real adjustment is the idle needle (if you even have that, the stock DR650 does not, and neither does the KLR, also a carbed bike). The BMW on the other hand has an EFI system which I am told works quite well. Yamaha’s newer WR450 is also EFI powered and from what I’ve read is absolutely rock solid. So take this one with a grain of salt. If the DR650 came with EFI, ids most certainly go with the EFI, but it doesn’t so I’m stuck without much of a choice. Not a big deal overall. A little lost torque from the thumper won’t kill me in the mountains, and they get reasonably good gas mileage already (50mpg range) so I’m not concerned.
- Small gas tank- the mighty DR650 needs frequent gas stops with its small 3.4 gallon tank (which ironically is larger than my Ducati’s 2.9 gallon tank (3.5 gallon without the fuel pump). The KLR has a massive 6.1 gallon tank with the BMW at 4.2gals (older models). Luckily the DR650 has aftermarket support with IMS, Acerbis, Safari and Clarke tanks. Aftermarket tanks vary from 3.7 gallons from the Clarke to the nearly 8 gallon Safari Tank. The options are there, and the price varies. Truth be told, you really only need about 300 miles maximum (200 avg) unless you plan on being very far away from civilization. 300 gallons at 50mpg is 6 gallons, which is attainable with a 5 gallon tank and external fuel source (such as a fuel bladder or a jerry can). Acerbis recently released a 6.6 gallon tank which fits the bill quite nicely. They also offer a 5.5 gallon tank as well.
- Slow speed – It’s a thumper, don’t expect lightning speed, BMW wins with an extra cylinder and a flux capacitor.
- Mechanical Issues – the DR650 has its share of mechanical issues, all of which are not common, and only one of which is absolutely disastrous and undetectable. This isn’t a total con since all mechanical machines have issues (take the KLR for example; it can snap its own frame in half). The DR650 has the following issues
- 3rd gear failure – 3rd gear has been known (rarely) to completely fail and cause total destruction of the low end. Piston blown up, transmission failure etc. Though its really rare and there have been thousands of unaffected DRs. It’s a risk that unfortunately has no real solution that doesn’t involve buying an aftermarket 3rd gear for $600 and spending $1000 to install it. Not sure if that’s really a fix or not.
- Neutral sending unit – the NSU can unscrew itself and blow up the engine. It is easily fixed by loctiting the sucker. Not an issue.
Outside of these two items, the DR650 is essentially bullet proof.
So, now comes the whole process of buying one….