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Old 04-20-2010, 08:04 AM   #136
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Great trip report and nice pics…! I enjoyed reading the thread and looking at the pics thanks for sharing.

If I travel that country on a bike that is the way I would do it on a rougher looking smaller bike. The bike looked good in the pics like it was a local bike and could just blend right in.

I have spent a few couple of winters traveling around on buses and living in Central America and Mexico after spending some time down there is no way I would take my Beemer down there.
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Old 04-23-2010, 11:40 AM   #137
dwj - Donnie
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Thanks for a Great Ride Report!

Donnie - Retired & Riding - 2010 990ADV - 54,750 Miles - 2 Continents - 10 Countries
Return to Panama - SPOT
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Old 04-24-2010, 05:46 AM   #138
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Got one!

Originally Posted by JDowns
I made it home last night. WHAT A GREAT TRIP! I was hootin' in my helmet as I finally made it home! 11,000 miles on a 250 Super Sherpa.

As I was mowing the lawn this afternoon, I was still thinking to myself, WOW! I made it to Panama and back in one piece! On a freakin" 250 Super Sherpa!

That bike is a keeper.

Your story was so inspiring that I bought me a Super Sherpa to join my DR650 and XR250L for my adventure rides. I got a nice one with low miles and am really impressed so far. I can't wait for the rains to stop so I can get in a full day of exploring the Rocky Mountains on the Sherpa. Thanks again for a great RR and photos.

Ride Safe!

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Old 04-24-2010, 08:00 AM   #139
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I'll have you know sir that I am a professional lucker here and have spent way too much time reading other people's RR instead of getting out and doing my own. One of the best....ever.

Just very well done....and thank you for taking the time.
2008 Suzuki DL 650....Wee Strom
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Old 04-24-2010, 08:33 AM   #140
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I would never have thought of riding a 250 down to Central America until I rented a 250 Honda in Costa Rica a few years back. I flew down and rode that thing all around the country for two weeks. It was SO MUCH FUN! That was back when gas was 4.00/gal here and over 5.00/gal in Costa Rica. It got 60-70 miles to the gallon and could cruise easily at 65. And I pounded that Honda over some incredibly rough trails. It was narrow for splitting lanes in San Jose, and light enough to push out of the river crossing when I dropped into a rut in two feet of water and stalled it.

As soon as I got home I started searching Craigslist for 250 Hondas. I WANTED ONE. And I found a nice ’96 XR250L and snapped it up for 1500.00. I rode that thing over to the John Day BMW rally, and went on the GS ride. WOOT! I was hooked on minimalist travel on 250s. And I haven’t looked back. The XR is kick start and tall and could use a sixth speed.

Then I read on ADVrider about the little Super Sherpa. Six speeds, smooth motor, stainless exhaust, electric start, low seat height. Dang, that sounds like a perfect minimalist touring machine for an old fart like me. So I searched Craigslist. No luck. Back then it was out of production. But finally found one from a friend of a friend with a couple thousand miles on it. Bought it.

I love that little Sherpa. I checked out the thumper section and found out how to fit an XR650L gas tank on it to give it some more range. Got some cheap throwover soft panniers for it and rode it 1600 miles from Oregon to Nebraska. The seat was a bit hard. So I zip tied a black sheepskin to the seat. The Sherpa was cheap enough that I figured I could sell it for parts if it blew up down in Central America. I didn’t pay much for it used. And I could take a chicken bus home. But that little bike is amazing. It just kept on humming. All I’ve done is routine maintenance and it just clicked over 21,000 miles. I change the oil every 3000 miles and filter every other oil change. I have never added oil in between changes although I check the sight glass regularly when getting gas. I put new sprockets and chain on at 9600 mi. before I left, but the old sprockets and chain weren’t even close to being worn out. Just a precaution. I will put new tires on before going next time, since they are cheaper here than in Latin America.

I don’t like to recommend things to people, especially which bike, or which oil, or how to ride. So I won’t. I can only speak for myself. I am almost 57 years old, single, 5’10”, maybe 170 lbs. and have been riding off and on since I bought my first Honda 350 back in the 70’s. I was hooked on CX500s during the 80’s. And airhead BMW’s for at least a decade. I like practical bikes that are easy to work on, can go the distance, and are tough.

I found out long ago it really doesn’t matter what you ride. There is no one perfect bike. Some are just better for my needs than others. It is the nice people you meet along the way that you remember long after the trip is over and the bike is back in the garage.

But there is no better feeling than hitting the open road with a good bike and a vague plan. I'm thinking of heading down to South America next. I'm saving up my money. I can't wait. As usual, I'll be riding a little thumper, staying in cheap hostels and passing along touring tips for the economically disadvantaged. I'll make sure to take along the camera and send more ride reports. Thumper minimalist adventures are always fun to read about on ADVrider.

And you only need four things to head out on an adventure. A bike, the time, the money and the desire.

Kindest regards,
John Downs

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Old 04-26-2010, 01:54 PM   #141
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When you start your next trip, post a link here. I'll leave this in my subscription folder.
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Old 04-26-2010, 08:04 PM   #142
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Well, I’ve been home for a week and have had time to think about what I learned on my travels to Panama.

Preparation is important. It is a hassle to work on your bike while on the road. And finding a moto shop in a foreign country is a hassle as well. So I was glad that I had changed the oil and filter, fresh spark plug, greased wheel bearings, new sprockets and chain, tuned up the bike and it was in top running condition when I left. The rear shock was newish, but I will replace it before heading back out. And put in some fresh fork seals. Mexico pounds the snot out of your suspension with all the topes you hit. I have ridden 1000 miles back to the border on the rear spring with a blown shock back when I rode a loaded down beemer and it is no fun. Another good reason to travel light. It is easier on your suspension.

It is so much easier to work on your own bike than hunt down somebody to fix flats, change tires, change oil, lube and adjust chain. And when you service your own bike you know it's done right. No overfilled crankcase, or missing parts.

Next time I will leave with fresh tires so I don’t have to hunt down tires. Little 250s are easy on tires. A fresh set will get you down to Panama and back.

I will take more oil filters. I only brought one and had to hunt down more. They take up little space and are a hassle to find on the road.

I’m glad I changed my sprockets and chain before leaving. X-ring 520 chains are a hassle to find south of the border and twice as expensive. I brought along a can of spray-on chain lube and that was handy as well.

I’m glad I brought fresh tubes and a ten dollar battery powered walmart air pump. I only used it twice. But handy as hell. I removed the housing and fan and just had the guts of the motor with the air hose so it packed down to nothing. I even cut down the wire leads and touched the half inch stripped bare wire ends to the positive and negative terminals of my battery since my battery is stuffed in such a funny place that the aligator clip ends don’t fit

I love MotionPro tire irons. They are smooth spoons and have a box wrench on the opposite end which you can get in varying sizes. I got two that fit my axle nuts. They are lightweight aluminum. Strong and light. Nice.

I got a new battery before heading out. It is such a hassle to have your battery crap out on the road. In fact I also brought along a cheap harbor freight trickle charger. I only used it once when the maid in Guatemala informed me that I had left my lights on. Hit the starter button, click, buzzzzzzzz. Bummer. And then I remembered I had thrown that tiny little trickle charger in the bottom of my tool bag. HALLELUIAH! Took the battery out, charged it over night and was so thankful to have brought it. They are tiny little things and don’t take up much space.

I can’t believe how much I used my Leatherman multi-tool. It is a great thing to have along. The knife was good for slicing up fresh fruit. I used the pliers for pulling out the rear axle cotter pin etc. and the bottle opener and can opener got a lot of use. as well as the phillips screw driver. It was always in my pocket, and handier than getting out my toolkit, so I used it a lot. I even used the saw to cut down a bic pen to shove in my fuel lines to get me going when the car broke down. It is better than a Swiss army knife. It is a Boeing Aerospace special edition that was given to me by a guy who worked at Boeing. I love my Leatherman.

I didn’t use the duct tape, electrical tape, spare fuses, spare bulbs, front tube, tube patchs and glue, chain breaking tool, spare links, spare masterlinks, jb weld, quick steel epoxy, zip ties, spare spark plug, spare clutch lever, or spare clutch cable. But I never leave home without them. They are handy to have along. And I have used all of the above at one time or another in years past. Those items plus a good basic toolkit are all I bring. They will fix 99% of the problems you encounter. Anything more and you can buy it as needed.

I also was glad I brought along an Ipod Touch. I used it to email and check out ADVrider whenever I had wifi. Which was pretty often. It was my only communication device and it was all I needed. I downloaded free Spanish lessons from itunes and practiced my Spanish in my spare time. I left the ipod charger at a motel in Mexico, but had enough juice left to check the internet and find a Walmart in Morelia where I picked up another plug in wall charger for 110 pesos ($8.80). I left the Ipod in Guatemala charging in the hallway at a hostel. Didn’t feel like riding back the next day on the off chance it was still there. I am waiting for the next generation that will have a camera. That would take the place of a netbook and a digicam. And fit in my riding pants pocket. That would be the ultimate minimalist travel computer. It would allow me to post ride reports and pictures. That’s what I’ll take to South America on my next adventure.

You don’t need camping stuff to go to Central America. Cheap lodging is easy to find. There are plenty of places for 10-15 dollars a night. Which is my price range. I did use Sjoerd Bakker’s booklet, Economical hotels in Mexico and Central America. I have had it a few years. So it is out of date and the prices were higher in some cases. But he chooses hotels that are cheap with moto parking. And little maps of the towns. It was easy to look up a town and see if it was in his booklet. Late at night it is nice to not have to hassle with finding a cheap place to stay. He has done the legwork and found the cheap places. Mind you, my needs are simple. I am looking for a cheap preferably clean flat place to sleep. Emphasis on cheap. Nothing fancy. So this may not suit your needs if you need some amenities.

You don’t need to lug along cooking stove, utinsels, etc. There are plenty of cheap places to eat. Save the space and weight. I meet people that have shipped a lot of stuff home. Mostly expensive camping and cooking stuff, folding chairs, too many clothes, too many shoes. You just don’t need all that crap if you’re just heading out for a couple months. Save your money.

And speaking of saving money. If you have limited funds, try to be practical. I see a lot of folks spending a ton of money on stuff that just loads down the poor suspension. You just don't need that much stuff if you're only going down to Central America. I was so glad to be traveling on a bike that had nothing on it worth stealing. I never locked my soft panniers, because there was nothing in them worth stealing. It gave me great peace of mind. No expensive GPS, no tankbag to get ripped off. Everything of value I carried on my person. My extra money, bike title, license and passport never left my moneybelt which was tucked under my pants around my waist. I did remove my passport, license and title in the bathroom before getting to a border crossing and transfered it to my riding pants front right pocket. Also a hundred dollar bill to change into the local currency But after crossing, I would put my passport, license and title back in my money belt. I carried a dummy wallet with the foreign currency and expired credit cards in my riding pants. I had a small cheap digi camera in my jacket pocket, and my ipod touch in my riding pants pocket. My saddlebags had tire tubes, spare tee shirt, dirty socks, maps, a bottle or two of water, some crackers, a ziploc with toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, disposable razors. You could root around in there all day and not find anything worth stealing. And my tool bag was rolled inside my sweatshirt in a drybag bungeed to the rear rack. This made it easy at border crossings. I would carry my documents in my helmet/container and leave the bike. I never worried about it and never had a problem. It is so nice to have a cheap bike and nothing you can't walk away from if the motor blows or the bike gets run over. The less stuff you bring, the less you have to keep track of. And the saddlebags had handles for carrying and four quick release buckles, so removing them was quick and easy at night for stowing in the room if I didn't want to leave them on the bike at night. And easy to put back on the bike for a quick getaway in the morning. I also got some bungees at home depot that had some snap locks that were difficult to figure out how to remove for someone who hadn't seen them before. I even had a hard time figuring out how to undo them at first. My drybag had loops for the bungees to go through and they held it nicely for 11,000 miles over some rough roads.

I have nothing against cool expensive bikes and living large. If you have more money than time, a big fast bike is a hoot. I used to do it. It is much easier to ride a big bike and bring along a lot of stuff. Alas, I now have limited funds and need to spend more money on traveling and less on bikes and stuff. Once I tried minimalist travel on a small bike I was hooked. It's not for everyone, but I enjoy the freedom from worry and the ability to blend in south of the border. It is much harder than you think to travel light.

I will continue to think about what I have learned from my travels and report back.

John Downs

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Old 04-26-2010, 10:08 PM   #143
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thanks for the really interesting report, I love small bikes, especially as I get older
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Old 04-27-2010, 12:49 AM   #144
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Thank's for sharing your experience!
Trully inspiring.

The more experience I have on the motorcycle the smaller the bike I want.

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Old 04-27-2010, 04:40 PM   #145
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Greetings from Dexter Oregon, John!
I'm glad it's cold and raining outside, because it gave me the perfect opportunity to sit here and read all 10 of your WONDERFUL pages you wrote.
I've been wondering where you've been and what you've been up to!
I'm SUPER glad your making it happen, as always....!
Hope to hear lots more from you, as time permits.
RicklessssssssssssssssS (another lover of small bikes)
Ricklessssssssss in Oregon
"Never ride faster than your guardian angel can fly."

"And no matter what, what ever you do, NEVER chase camels faster than your guardian angel can fly...
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Old 04-27-2010, 06:12 PM   #146
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Hey John thanks for the wrapup post. Those of us that are contemplating a trip like this save and store and reread these nuggets of wisdom. I love seeing beautiful pictures of distant places but practical advice is much more often very difficult to come by. What worked and what didn't and why.

Endeavor to suck less--Gaspipe
I would rather be riding an imperfect bike than waiting around for perfection. --JDowns
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Old 04-28-2010, 05:17 AM   #147
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Originally Posted by Ricklesss
Greetings from Dexter Oregon, John!
I'm glad it's cold and raining outside, because it gave me the perfect opportunity to sit here and read all 10 of your WONDERFUL pages you wrote.
I've been wondering where you've been and what you've been up to!
I'm SUPER glad your making it happen, as always....!
Hope to hear lots more from you, as time permits.
RicklessssssssssssssssS (another lover of small bikes)
Hey Rick!

Wow! Long time no see! I can still remember coming home from Guatemala a few years back and dropping by your place only to find that the Spring Fling had moved to your place and there were motorcycles everywhere, bonfires and suds. What a hoot!

Say hello to everyone for me. Hope to get out to Oregon later this summer. Will have to drop by and visit.

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Old 04-28-2010, 08:04 PM   #148
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Great stuff Juanito. Even on a big bike, gone for extended periods of time, you dont need to carry a lot of crap. Heck, I have two shirts, and one pair of pants.

Great to see you out there doing the minimalist long riding gig.

Riding the Americas: No Fumar Español

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Old 04-28-2010, 08:44 PM   #149
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Originally Posted by JDowns
Well, I’ve been home for a week and have had time to think about what I learned on my travels to Panama.

...Next time I will leave with...I will take more....I’m glad I changed my
...I’m glad I brought ... and was so thankful to have brought...
I can’t believe how much I used my .....You don’t need ......
I will continue to think about what I have learned from my travels and report back.

John Downs
Wonderful trip, wonderful post--one of the more useful ones for those in the planning stages.
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Old 04-28-2010, 08:55 PM   #150
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Originally Posted by JDowns
... I went down to the post office and got a few months of mail and threw 95 per cent in the trash. But I got a nice letter and a check from the guy I had given 100 dollars to in Guatemala after he got his pocket picked and lost his wallet. He said I had saved his vacation and allowed him to eat while he waited for his friend to wire him some money. So that was nice.
I can't tell you how happy I am to hear of this. I remember when you told the story and I nearly posted something crass like "sounds to me like a rip-off artist took you for $100".

Being wrong never felt so good.
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