A Month on a Bike in Colombia - 2019

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Champe, Nov 24, 2019.

  1. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Ultimate Colombia Bike.

    After careful consideration I am voting the KTM 690 Enduro my top choice. I admit to being brand prejudiced, but I think for good reason. I have owned a string of the EXC models back home and have a 390 Duke in Colombia now. Probably I have owned 5 times as many bikes of other makes - BMW, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Maico, Can Am, Greeves.

    Everything has its purpose and all bikes are compromises. So what will work best in the adventure environment in Colombia ?
    I value highway power, lightness, off-road ability, serviceability, longevity, and price. Probably in that order.

    All the 650s qualify in power, but 250 and smaller do not. You can ride like a local on the shoulder of the road when going between towns and that would work too, but for maximum enjoyment you want to be able to dominate traffic. The 690 has 77 hp, by far the most of all the 650s. Typical japanese 650 singles have around 48 hp by comparison. It would be the obvious choice for a drag race - and should do very well in the mountains.

    For lightness this bike also wins by a huge margin. Even beats my current 390 by 10 lbs. At 310 lbs dry it is lighter than my Honda CRF250L too. This is important when maneuvering into hotel and hostel lobbies. I have had to lift my 390 once already. It worked, but it was a handful, and is already one of the lightest fast bikes out there. A 450 lb bike would have had to stay outside or go find a garage. Other problems with the heavy bikes is how slow they react in dirt riding and how hard they are to pick up when dropped.

    For off-road ability, you need to be able to run good knobbies, preferably in the 18/21 spoked rim sizes. Mostly you find that combination of wheels on real dirt bikes and never on a street bike. Decent knobs are available for the smaller sizes favored by dual sport bikes, but they are usually quite expensive. Because of the wheel choice, and also for it's suspension, the KTM would be the best off-roader in the herd.

    The above three criterion are all performance related. So for performance I rate the KTM an easy #1. The other three criterion relate to value. And here you have to determine if all that performance is worth it.

    Anything can be serviced. But some things (brands) are easier than others. By sales volume, the top brands are Yamaha, Bajaj, Honda, Suzuki and BMW. All of them have dealers in all the major cities. KTM is not in the top few here so parts and service will be harder to find. Medellin and Bogota are major centers for KTM with numerous dealers, but this is not the case in outlying areas. KTM gets a "B" grade on serviceability.

    Longevity is my next criterion. And I think, from some experience, and what I read, BMWs usually last the longest, with the Japanese brands close behind. Bajaj and KTM further behind. I would expect the 690 to go 50,000 miles before a major tear down, but the big BMWs and Japanese bikes should do double that. I think the reason for a shorter life for the KTMs is that they produce a lot more power for their size and therefore wear out faster. It's a tradeoff. So you have to factor in the cost of a rebuild earlier - if you go for the KTM for the long long term.

    And price. The KTM 690 is probably the most expensive, at around $12,000 new in the states. Probably $13,000 in Colombia. But I found a used one for less than I paid for my Duke. It is a 2012 model with 14,000 km (8000 mi). It is in Bogota on Mercado Libre for 19,500,000 pesos ($6100), link here:

    https://moto.mercadolibre.com.co/MC...cking_id=0acf586d-405e-45b5-9b10-b015a50e5a97

    The first KTM 690s came out in 2008. The first major upgrade was in 2012 when they went from 650 to 690cc. 2012 and 2013 are the only ones without ABS.

    With what I know now, I would buy used. From a dealer there would be no issues. From an individual, you include in the price, the help of the seller to get it registered. That way any taxes or fines outstanding on the vehicle get paid before you finalize the deal.
  2. NoSpam

    NoSpam Been here awhile

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    Geez, what a great ride report! You wrote an educational and inspirational report - I'm ready to leave tomorrow morning.

    Quick question: I've read on the interwebs (and we all know the internet is vetted for accuracy) that Uber has been deemed unlawful by the Colombian Finance Ministry, as the drivers are not paying social security tax. In turn, Uber drivers (often while carrying their fare/passenger) get some flak from delivery drivers and other commercial operators, up to and including preventing the Uber driver from driving away ... and having to leave a passenger stranded. Did you see or experience any of that when you Uber'd around Bogota or other major cities?

    Thanks for the report, extremely well done!
  3. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    sorry, I cannot answer that question from first hand experience. I have never used Uber yet. But I have heard (read) that they operate normally in Bogota. I would try it myself, if that service matched my need at the moment.

    I think Uber has run into resistance in a lot of places. But I like their concept and would support them while saving some money. Government wants to collect money from every enterprise and competitors are jealous. I see their issues but do not agree with their motives. Go Uber !

    There are small yellow Hyundai taxicabs everywhere. I have not ridden in one of them either, but hear they are cheap. I was lucky to be picked up from the airport in a private car provided by my dentist - no charge. And heading back to the airport, my hostel owner called a friend of his with a private car. I paid him the going rate for a cab - 40,000 pesos ($13).

    The Metrolinio bus service goes to the airport too, but is not easy to use with luggage. If you have only a backpack I would favor using that, which I did a few times - just not to the airport. The bus system needs some learning and I am not a city person, so for me it was an adventure in itself. It costs 2000 pesos (60 cents) to get on the system - then you can change buses at stations for free and go wherever you want. You could actually ride around all day for the 2000 pesos.

    Walking is the best way to get around. But there you are limited in range to the time and energy available. Riding a bike in the big cities is not always fun. Constant stop and go and a press forward attitude by all the drivers around you can be stressful and tiring. It is fun if you are in the mood to participate. If you are not in the mood - do something else.

    Every city has it's quirks. In Bogota the way to get from one end to the other quick is by the Eastern-most road, Carrera 5. It is limited access, and runs North-South, same as how the city is laid out. There are other "highways" through the city, but most of them are stop and go most of the day.
  4. WileyRTW

    WileyRTW Wiley

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    Mostly stop, not much go. That place is terrible regarding traffic.

    Sounds like you have a lot of catching up to do with pics, did I miss the Bogota ones, or should I stay patient. I only barely visited the city, I want to go back and spend some time in it.
  5. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Sorry to say I am about out of photos. Quindio is taking over that duty now, on his excellent report - "Gone riding for the Winter. Be back in the Spring".

    The first page and a half of this report is my coverage of Bogota, where I was for the first week.

    I expect to be back in Colombia in March, roughly about the time Quindio leaves. My next trip will be a little more refined, with more and better photos, I hope.
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  6. WileyRTW

    WileyRTW Wiley

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    Perfect, I just missed them. Thanks! Looking forward to the next round.
  7. liv2day

    liv2day Life is about how you handle Plan B Supporter

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    Great commentary on the choice of a bike for dual-sporting/off-roading @Champe. Having owned a 690 in the past, I can attest to the power and other qualities you mention. I had a 2010 and if there's any advice I can impart...get something newer than 2014. Overall a great bike, but annoyances like tank bolts, fuel range, electrical idiocy, fuel pump, etc, made me sell it.

    Curious if you've ever seen a AJP there (Portuguese bike)? I like my WR a lot and have put close to 10k miles on it thus far, but miss the power. Been thinking about the AJP, though the lack of dealer network/support is troubling.

    Again thoroughly enjoyed the report. Between your post and what Quindio's doing now, I'm going to get to Colombia for a visit at some point in the future.
  8. BSUCardinalfan

    BSUCardinalfan Been here awhile

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    make sure you scout the locations in Cali. In my visits there, I have learned that some areas are REALLY not nice, and possibly downright dangerous. Other areas are great.
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  9. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    *** Maintenance adds something to the cost of owning a KTM 690. High performance costs more initially and will continue to cost more in maintenance. Just how it is. The problems you had are all fixable, but you didn't mention the rocker arm bearings. Those went bad way too early - but now have a new updated part. Do you know if that solved the problem ?

    Why "something newer than 2014" ? 2008-2011 was a 650 motor with a little less power, but 2012 and 2013 have the bigger motor and NO ABS or "traction control". Plus one there. I do not prefer ABS so these two years get priority, condition being equal. 2014 also introduced "ride by wire" which seems to work very well - while it's working. My 390 Duke has it - so far so good - but a cable is more idiot proof.

    The newest 690s have balance shafts that smooth out the vibration. The vibration is no issue on rough roads or off-road, but smooth is nice on a really smooth highway. You still have to pay for ABS and traction control which I think is wrong. Hopefully they are not too hard to disconnect. Having to push another button every time you start the bike is not a good solution.

    Never heard of the Portuguese AJP until you metioned it. Looked it up. Nice bikes. They source some good components and come up with the second lightest, second most powerful bike in the 650 class. And good competion for KTM, being a little cheaper. There is even a dealer over in the next state - Vermont. But I have never seen one in person, either in the US or Colombia. KTM is not the greatest for parts, but AJP will be way worse. In the states, KTM parts are easy to get, either from local dealers or mail order, with a discount, from Motosport or Rocky Mt. In Colombia, I am sure parts will be harder to come by for the KTM. No idea about AJP.

    I looked at the Yamaha WR when I bought my Honda CRF250L. Both have all the dirt-worthiness you will ever need in Colombia. The WR is known to be a better dirt bike than the CRF, but not any better on the street. It sits a few inches taller than the CRF and that scored it some negative points for me. I realize this is the price of admission to a real dirt bike though. Also the WR is significantly more expensive than the CRF. Another important point. Neither one has the power for an authoritative quick pass on a freeway though. You only need that, maybe 3% of the time on the bike. But when you need it, you life is on the line. You gotta git 'er done.

    Most of the bikes I passed (100's), were locals in the break down lane. Bigger 250s can stay in the traffic cluster, maintaining a highway speed. So they are ok. But require more patience. Their passing opportunities will be slim. I think certain personalities can deal with that. John Downs, who has been south of the border a lot on his 250 Kawasaki, is a good example.
    He is also a serious minimalist that wrote several excellent ride reports for advrider.

    When I was reading John Downs, I thought I could do that too. But after trying my 250, and realizing what I was missing, I went for more power again.

    Seems like there are a few hard core riders following this report. I think you are one of them. You would love Colombia. It is not for the faint of heart though.
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  10. Cal

    Cal Long timer

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    I loved his reports and I also bought a Super Sherpa. I rode it from Calgary to Dawson City return 6000 km and then sold it when I got home....just not enough power for long distance highway, there were times in the mountains of northern BC where I was down to 40km hour in 3rd gear uphill against the wind.
  11. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Bogota has that too. The main one to worry about is Candelaria. That is downtown and where all the tourists go. The museums, street acts, Monserrate, and top street art are all there. Night would be higher risk than days. South of that it gets worse and to the north it gets better (says the book). Farthest North are the lowest crime neighborhoods. Candelaria is about the Southern quarter of the city. I stayed a little north of the midpoint. Seemed perfectly safe at all hours.

    So how is Cali ? I noticed that quite often the poor neighborhoods in many cities are at the outer fringe, on the sides of mountains. They have wicked steep streets and are a bit challenging to turn around on. Bogota has some of that. So does Santa Marta and Zipaquira. and Acapulco Mexico. I would expect both Cali and Medellin to have this pattern too. What areas, specifically, would you avoid ?
  12. Davidprej

    Davidprej Davidprej Supporter

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    I've been following this report from the beginning. This sentence jumped out at me. Can you elaborate? Prior to reading this, I was under the impression Columbia was a place for any adventer rider. Tks.
  13. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    I would not recommend riding in Colombia to a beginner. Road conditions vary a lot - and the worst surprises can come suddenly (remember the open drainage hole in Santa Marta ?) . Traffic is fast and busy in the cities. Your control of the bike needs to be very good.

    Also, you should be aware of the government warnings. The US State Department has 4 levels of security. Level 1 is normal. Level 2 is "caution advised" and the whole country is level 2 or worse.

    Level 3 is "reconsider travel". Out of a total of 32 states ( they call them "departments") 12 are designated level 3. They are mainly all the border states to Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador. also Antioquia (Medellin area)

    Level 4 is "do not travel" and includes 5 "departments. They are the border to Panama and the Atlantic coastline to the south of that. The two southern states bordering Venezuela are also among the 5.

    Here is the State Department link :

    https://travel.state.gov/content/tr...ravel-Country-Information-Pages/Colombia.html

    Bogota, the Carribean coast, the coffee triangle, and the center of the country are the safest. That actually covers most of the best things in Colombia.

    The trip above was all in level 2 territory. The next one will include a little level 3. One of those spots is the Trampoline of Death (Colombia's "death road") near the Ecuador border. Two others will be the outskirts of Cali and Medellin. These outskirt areas are one reason some tourists fly between cities.

    I had originally planned to not visit the Atlantic coast because it is known as a start point for smuggling via submarine. I was under the impression it was all lined with mangrove swamps. But lately I hear there are some nice beaches too . Bears some further investigating. That is level 4 territory.
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  14. liv2day

    liv2day Life is about how you handle Plan B Supporter

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    I'd have to go back and look as it's been awhile; I believe KTM addressed the multitude of issues that plagued the earlier 690s - like the rocker arms you mentioned (forgot about those), the tank bolts, the fuel pump, and other items. The last time I checked, ktmtalk had the litany of nuances that needed to be addressed. Some of my reasoning is my own choice too - have owned 3 different KTMs in the past and choose to go to other brands now.

    I'm really intrigued by the AJP bikes, there's an inmate on here who bought one and posted about it. The thread resurfaced a few weeks ago as someone found it - he indicated he has no regrets at all going with it.

    Anyway, don't want to stray too far off topic of your report. Appreciate you taking the time to share the knowledge you've gained on traveling/riding there, looking forward to when you go back and get this going again (or start a new one)!
  15. BSUCardinalfan

    BSUCardinalfan Been here awhile

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    The specific area that I was in that was NOT comfortable was between Carrera 1 and the Cali river on the northeast part of the city. More or less a slumtown, with a few factories intermingled in. the only factory I've visited anywhere in the world that had an armed guard to take me from the parking lot to the front door AND a receptionist with a sidearm. Even my taxi driver didn't want to take me there.

    But I've been to other parts of Cali that are great! It also is full of pretty girls....looking forward to hearing about your visit there!
  16. BryanQ

    BryanQ Adventurer

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    Hi everyone, I have been following this thread as well and can comment on Cali.
    My wife is from there and I have been down several times in the past years. Unfortunately, I have not had much seat time on a bike, been confined to a cage. My wife's family is having some rough times, so our trips down here have been busy with family stuff, won't bore you with details.

    Anyway, I always say Cali reminds me of NYC in the 70's. Rough, gritty, but beautiful.
    We have been here for the past 3 weeks (in a rented car), we were at lunch today with my wife's former co-workers and my BIL. I brought the Cali safety issue - no go areas for gringos, etc, and they basically said:
    Anything east of autopista Simon Bolivar (major north , south road), especially in the northern part of the city, but bad in southern part as well. In the west of the city, the mountain shanty towns. They say these areas are considered rough even by locals.
    We avoid these areas as well. I got lost once and ended up in a bad area, but luckily it was during the day, traffic was moving and we were in a car.

    In my experience, you just have to be very aware of your surroundings. Colombian people are some of the friendliest and most helpful people on the planet, but just like any other city, bad people sometimes pop out from nowhere. Just like NYC and other cities in the USA.

    As far as riding, driving..... my first trip down here we did a 3 day tour with motolombia and it was awesome. Since then, unfortunately, I have only borrowed a bike here and there and rented cars.
    Traffic rules are just suggestions, be prepared to see bikes and cars blowing thru red lights, riding opposite down one ways, riding on sidewalks, 4 up on a moped, darting out from the side of the highway... pretty much anything goes.
    So yes, you have to be a confident rider and be in control your machine.
    But do not be intimidated, Colombia is truly a motorcycle mecca and the people are happy to see tourists and eager to help in anyway possible.

    Just to add as far as general "no go" areas, it is best to get local advice. The state dept website is good, but local conditions change before the site is updated.
    The FARC and ELN are not too active anymore, but they still exist.
    For the past 5 years, my wife's family always advised that I do not travel to the town of their birth, small mountain town about 3 hours northwest of Cali, this year, they deemed it safe, so I was able to go and it was awesome.
    I have seen several times in ride reports regarding local route advice and agree. Locals always want to know where you are going..... tell them your plans.... if they say, no bueno... take that advice seriously and consider rerouting.

    Hopefully, I will get a bike of my own down here soon. For now, I live thru this and Quindio's awesome thread.

    BQ
  17. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Excellent info Bryan. I hope we are not overdoing the security issue and scaring people. I just think it is smart to know how to lower your risks while traveling. My use of the "state department" is very conservative. They tend to exaggerate and paint with a very broad brush. Another source showed only two large hotspots with some very small sprinkles elsewhere in the country. The two main hotspots were 1. Along the Panama border (Darien Gap) and 2. the Eastern half of the Ecuador border.

    Local info for Cali much appreciated. So "mountain shanty" areas exist there too. Looks like that is a common situation in practically all Central and South American cities with mountains close by.

    Motolombia is known to be a first rate operation and I said that to Ricardo at Epico Moto Adventures. He said their competition is not hurting his business; that he is doing very well. I think he offers some less expensive options though so may be worth checking out.

    Some of he readers may like to know how insurance works on the rental bikes. Medical insurance for you and a passenger are mandatory and included with all registered bikes (SOAT). Damage/loss insurance is optional. You will put up a large deposit ($5000) if you opt for no damage insurance. With insurance, which will be on the order of $25/day, you reduce your liability to $2000. And some insurances will cost even more along with reducing the deductible some more.

    In Bogota, there are three rental/ tour companies. Bogota Adventures 57, Elephant Moto, and Viajero del Sur. The first two specialize in 700-1200cc BMWs. Viajero del Sur seems to be a small company with only two bikes - an 800cc BMW and a Royal Enfield Himalayan, both outfitted with 3 piece hard luggage.

    Rental rates tend to run from $140 to $180 per day. The Himalayan is $90 / day.

    Since I am still looking for a better place to store my bike (as in free) I tried offering it to Viajero del Sur (Southern traveler) to put in their rental stable. They declined. But would be interested in an "adventure" model. OK - but with it's current setup I think it will eat the Himalayan alive (on performance and maintenance). And it beats a mid range BMW in many respects too (weight, seat height).

    When I was in Key West I had an Aprilia scooter that was very fast and high tech. A couple of rental agencies wanted me to leave it with them as a rental. I am hoping to get a similar offer in Colombia.

    One of my next moves is to offer the bike to some hostel owners. Maybe even the one where it is now. I trust Edgar at Hostal 82 in Bogota. Not sure if the responsibility would be worth it though. And the hassle in case of damage. At this point I have met about twice as many hostel owners as actual hostels I have stayed at. All of them seem to have business sense so I am hopeful of finding a long term solution to bike storage.

    Also, I need to make some small changes. A luggage rack was not available for less than $300 so I bought one here in the US. It was shipped from China and will be installed in March. Also, I have ordered an aluminum skid plate. Also some handlebar clamps for a Garmin Montana GPS. With that gear I expect to run the tires down and then replace them with a pair of TKC80s. That will require a front fender mod but that is not a big deal.
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  18. Quindio

    Quindio Been here awhile Supporter

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    At Ed's place we built a covered storage area for motorcycles, I asked Ed if you could store your bike there and he said that would be not a problem. He would charge a small monthly fee. It's secure with 2 large German shepherds and someone is always there.

    Ed also has a taxi service to pick you up and drop you off at the airport.
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  19. BryanQ

    BryanQ Adventurer

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    Hi,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. We are back in NYC now and spent the past few days wrapping up business in Cali and travelling……

    As far as security, I believe that there is no such thing as overdoing it when it comes to researching security. Travelling (especially by moto) in a strange country does leave one vulnerable. As you outline, there are still bad parts, very bad parts of the country. However, in my opinion, I do believe that Colombia’s bad reputation lingers from its violent past. Shows like “narcos” do not help Colombia’s image. Most of my friends that I grew up with and half my family think I am nuts travelling around Cali and Colombia. That being said, there is a sense of culture shock. As your pics show – it is common to see armed military walking around. I have seen private guards armed with shotguns posted at gas stations and malls. We went to a trendy clothing store recently with my niece and the guard had a giant 357 mag revolver on his hip.

    Yes – the mountain shanty towns... I have also heard that this is common in CA and SA. Weird, because they must have the best views of the city. Now, there are some beautiful parts on the west side. The Chipichape section, the Cristo Rey statue and park area and a few other spots are beautiful and safe. Generally, once you see very poor conditions, zinc roofs, etc, you know the neighborhood is getting bad. You can pretty much spot the bad parts from the valley (city).

    When we did the tour with Motolombia, I do not think EpiCo was even in business. We had 3 “free” days – I called Mike at Motolombia and set up the tour. Totally 1st class all the way. Mike laid out all the insurance options and deposit info. I forget the details, but your numbers look accurate. We did purchase an optional Global Rescue package for piece of mind. Thank God we did not have to use it. However, I destroyed the skidplate on the V-Strom we rented (totally my fault) and they were very reasonable when it came time for repair. I think they charged me 60 bucks. I would highly recommend Motolombia., It looks like they do have some competition now, but I am not familiar with any of the other operations. I agree, there is plenty of business to go around. More and more tourists are coming down.

    Some of the rental rates do look good. I saw a Himalayan in Ginebra (town near Cali) and it looked really cool. Maybe next trip if I do not have my own bike by then.

    Your bike is awesome – I first saw the Duke a few years ago in Buga (beautiful colonial city about 40 miles north of Cali). KTM’s are beautiful machines. I stopped and stared at it for about 10 minutes and started taking pictures of it, my wife gets it, but my nieces and some passerby’s thought I was insane.

    20160107_163151.jpg

    You planned mods sound great. As you know, parts and riding gear are hard to find, or very expensive in Colombia. Yes, ordering them and shipping them is best. You have to post a pic of the TKC-80’s on that beast.

    A good friend of ours has a V-Strom. I send him brake pads, chain and sprocket kits when he needs them in exchange for all the chicken and beer we can drink at his chicken shop in Ginebra. We both think we are getting the better deal and have a lot of laughs.

    You are a brave man for considering putting your bike in a rental stable or shared service. I am not familiar how that works, but personally, I would not be comfortable doing that. I have a Jamaican co-worker that had a pickup truck in Kingston that he used to rent. Each of his trips he had issues with breakdowns and unexpected problems. He eventually sold the truck for a big loss.

    Storage is always an issue. Free is ideal, but honestly it will be hard to find. I believe paying a modest fee for secure storage is part of the cost of a bike down there. Finding someone to trust is the hardest part.

    I am looking to purchase my own bike down there and have storage concerns as well. In my case, one of my wife’s properties will (hopefully) soon have garage space to store a bike. If not, I will pay for storage. I am waiting for the Yamaha 700 Tenre.

    I see Quindio posted his contact for storage and a taxi ride – that sounds like a great option.
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  20. Quindio

    Quindio Been here awhile Supporter

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    I parked beside a Duke yesterday.
    MVIMG_20200107_132431[1].jpg
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