Having decided that I’m going to ride around the world in 2017, competing in a marathon on every continent, I now have to figure out what bike to take on this ride of my life. Easier said than done of course…
Never ask a bunch of overlanders which is the best motorcycle for the job, as you’ll get as many answers as there are machines available and no one wants to admit they spent their hard-earned on the wrong bike.
All I had to do was decide what would be the best motorcycle for my round-the-world journey but I just couldn’t make my mind up. I’d spent less time working on my degree dissertation than I did thinking about the ideal bike for this trip. Even my own wedding took a lot less planning – from my side at least…
You see, for years I’ve been bombarded with images of huge, fully-loaded, built-for-purpose overland bikes drifting effortlessly across inhospitable landscapes kicking up dust trails, their riders up on the pegs, elbows out, eyes scanning the horizon for an even more challenging rocky track to conquer, or a raging river to plough through, just because they can.
As you’ve guessed by now, that’s not how I picture myself at all. My version is of a visibly tense rider, wide-eyed, hands gripping the ‘bars far too tightly and the body stiff as a board – basically everything an off-road instructor would tell you not to do (note to self: book a course NOW). I’d be bumbling along in the gutter, dodging errant but sacred cows, being chased by rabid dogs and frequently run off the road by overloaded trucks monopolising the highway. I figure that if I’m going to be spending a fair amount of time on my arse, I’d be better off having a small bike that I can pick up easily?
This train of thought led to me spending an unhealthy amount of time (according to my wife anyway) in my basement, pulling apart a certain road-legal 250cc ‘dual-purpose’ single that I’d bought on a whim a couple of years ago for a bit of fun in the woods.
I considered the near 80mpg fuel economy, proven reliability, cheap and widely available spares and started to wonder if I had an adventure-bike-in-the-making right there in the back of the garage. Sure I’d have to do something with the sorry excuse for a seat, the tiny fuel tank and diddy rear shock, but having recently watched Mondo Enduro again I can’t deny that a lightweight single has its appeal.
I have so much respect for people who are going around the world on bikes like these (or even smaller) and as I delved deeper into some of their amazing stories, it inspired me to go out for a long ride – well, 200 miles anyway – which was about all I could muster on a windy, grey, late October drizzle-fest. After 50 of those miles, I already knew there was no way I would be going around the world on that little bike – even with an aftermarket seat, big tank, large screen and uprated suspension fitted. It just wasn’t for me. I’m a gangly six feet, two inches tall and it felt like a toy.
So I thought about a mid-size compromise, something smaller than a litre or 1200cc bike, but one with high levels of rider comfort, the longest possible tank range and a proven performer to boot. It would also need to have great fuel efficiency. I’m no whiz at maths but worked out on the back of a beer mat that a bike that does around 65mpg will need approximately 50% less fuel than one that does around 45mpg. On a journey of, say, 40,000 miles, the difference could be over 300 gallons of petrol, which in today’s prices equates to around £1,800. That’s a significant slice of my travel budget that could otherwise be literally going up in smoke.
The obvious fit for me is the BMW F 800 GS Adventure. I’ve dropped one of them in the past so I know that I can pick it up without getting a hernia. I can vouch for its comfort, it has most of the bits I need fitted as standard and the fuel tank holds a massive 24 litres, which will be vital in the Australian outback and other arse-end-of-nowhere places, where you can still get caught out.
The problem is that I don’t know anyone going around the world on the Adventure right now, so I asked someone who has been riding considerable distances on the standard F 800 GS, for his views and advice. He’s a guy called Prasit Aphiphunya from Thailand, and I wrote a story on him in 2015, when he was riding his 800 GS from Bangkok to Europe. It turns out that he flew home after the trip and left his bike in France – and it’s still there. The thing is, I know just the guy to ride it back for him – so we’ve done a deal!
So, that’s a bike sorted – a ‘standard’ F 800 GS, to Bangkok. From there, who knows? The next step is to get myself sorted with some rider training, so I can give myself a fighting chance to return Prasit’s bike to him in one piece. Watch this space.