Latin America - many decisions to make

Discussion in 'Latin America' started by crashmaster, Jun 10, 2009.

  1. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    Hey folks, I just learned that my 2 year Latin America adventure is a go. I'm leaving in late August or early September. I intend to go all the way to Ushuaia but I have 2 years and i dont really care if I get to my destination, so that is not a goal of this trip. The goal is simply to ride and have a little adventure.

    My biggest dilemma right now is what bike to take and will have a big effect on what kind of trip that it becomes. I have put a lot of though into this already and I still cant come to decision.

    So do I take this................

    [​IMG]

    A fully farkled 2007 KTM 990 adventure




    Or do I take this...........

    [​IMG]


    A bulletproof 2007 Suzuki DRZ-400

    Right now I am leaning toward the DRZ for the following reasons.

    Simple to work on by myself
    Carburetor
    No complex electronics
    Easy to get parts
    Easy to find tires
    Bulletproof platform
    Easier to ride in the dirt
    Doesnt draw attention as a "rich gringo bike"
    I can set it on fire and walk away from it without a care in the world


    Of course the bike choice will determine what kind of trip this will become. With the DRZ I will be more inclined to venture to remote, nasty trails off the beaten path. I will be inclined to take more adventurous off road side trips.

    Although the 990 is a very dirt worthy machine, its complexity and parts/tire availibility has me concerned, and its alot more work to ride in the dirt.

    So, given the fact that I do have 2 years, there will be no iron butt days. I really cant see myself doing much more than 200 miles in a single day anyway.

    These 2 bikes are my options. So if you can, give me some of your thoughts on which one you would take on this trip and why. Input from folks that have done the trip and/or folks that live and ride off the beaten path in central and south america would be greatly appreciated.

    I have given a lot of thought to this over the past few months and I'm still on the fence. There will be days that I wish i had the 990 and there will be days that I wish I had the DRZ. I am going to travel light no matter which bike I take given the fact that I want to do as much off roading as possible. Also, I dont care about being able to carry a passenger. I not too popular with the ladies anyway. :bash

    Thanks follks.
    #1
  2. marior97

    marior97 marior97

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    take the Suzuki, message me when youre in El Salvador and i will take you to great dirtroads ¡¡¡
    #2
  3. Throttlemeister

    Throttlemeister Long timer Super Supporter

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    Damn near the same trip I plan on doing, my time dependent more on how much I spend blowing on drinking and chasing the women. I'm taking a six-fidy Dakar that I've been setting up.

    Will be going somewhere North before I head south. I'm leaving in August also and will probably met up with you somewhere along the way.

    Have fun.

    :1drink John
    #3
  4. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    Why does it have to be one extreme or another?

    If you read the ride reports, you won't find many on bikes smaller than 650.

    No matter how light you want to travel, it's nearly impossible to carry less than about 50-75 pounds of stuff.

    Have you asked this question on Horizons Unlimited?

    As for not sticking out as a rich American- it's impossible for any american on a motorcycle to not look like an american on a motorcycle. The security risk to you is no different than anywhere in the US. Nobody cares if you're a rich american or not. No matter how rich you are, there are people in Central and South America who are extremely wealthy.

    Come to our little party in Colorado and we'll tell you exactly how to do it. If you do come, be prepared to discuss either 1) how to not look like and American, or 2) how to plan for 2 years on a motorcycle.
    #4
  5. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    Havent posted over on HU yet, but good idea, I'll do that tonight.

    I was thinking that one extreme would be a 250 and the other extreme would be a 1200 loaded for bear.:D

    Well, the Suzi and the KTM are the bikes I have that a capable of making the trip, and I dont really want sell what I have then go buy something else, do a complete build-up on it, learn a new bike, make sure its a reliable machine, etc. I could do it, but not sure what I would choose anyway. Probably the only other things I would consider would be an old XR 600R or a KTM 950 super enduro (out of my budget as well) for a big bike. A 650 BMW would be nice, but I dont like the way it handles in the dirt, and its a bit out of my budget. Selling the 990 would produce some much needed cash as a bonus. As far as a KLR 650, the world has enough of those already and I dont like the way it handles off road, the 990 is worlds easier to ride off road than a KLR IMO.

    Right on about the weight. I'm packing very light. My stuff in a giant loop bag weighs 28 pounds, then add another 12 for my tool belt and another 18 in my backpack, so 58 pounds total. the DRZ has carried that load well through 11,000 ft passes and I was even jetted a little fluffy. So I'm not worried that the bike will be underpowered if that's what you are getting at. that lighter 400 will do everything that a 650 on a heavier platform can do.

    I understand that its difficult not to stand out. However wouldnt a beat up DRZ draw a little less attention and maybe less chance of theft than a 990? The DRZ is just more low key IMO. But it probably doesnt really matter like you said, I was just thinking out loud.

    I'm really looking at this from a reliability standpoint as well. I dont want something complex. It just makes things harder to deal with when they break. I can field repair just about anything on the DRZ short of a catastrophic engine failure. On the 990, something as simple as a dead battery will shut you down completely, not to mention fuel pump failure, sensors failing, a simple short in a maze of wiring after being subjected to salt air, salt water, etc, and I have to find a dealer and plug a laptop into it to find out whats wrong. More stuff means more stuff can go wrong.

    I remember seeing your pic of you wrestling your GS in that mud pit. Great pic BTW:thumb I really dont know if I want to deal with a big bike in those conditions as its hard enough in a deep sand wash or big rock garden.

    I would like to meet up in Colorado. I'm not wealthy, nor do I know how not to look like an American so i cant discuss that, but I do know how to look like I dont have 2 nickels to rub together since its not far off from the truth. :rofl

    As far as planning for 2 years on a motorcycle, its a daunting task. Impossible actually, and the hardest part so far is getting everything in order here at home, and getting my homeland support crew put together and briefed. I have never done anything of this scale so I am asking for advice. I know I can do it, I just dont know how poor my planning will be until everything turns to shit because I have never planned for 2 years on a motorcycle in a foreign land before. Embarking on this adventure is forcing me to pretty much sell everything I have here at home. Once I take off I will be staying in one area for days or weeks at a time, who knows. So I am trying to approach this like numerous smaller trips instead of one big trip. It seems like its easier to manage that way.


    You and other experienced latin american travelers are probably thinking, "this guy is clueless, wrong bike for the job, he probably does'nt know squat about what he is doing, and probably wont make it home alive.":rofl

    Well, that my be true. I learn more and more with each ride that I take south of the border, and this adventure will involve a huge learning curve so I want to be as prepared as I can be.

    Would you agree or disagree that taking a small off road bike will open up more terrain to me that I might not be inclined to deal with on the big bike? Or in some of the countries would I be foolishly rolling the dice by getting off the beaten path? Or is that type of terrain simply not accessible in most places?

    I pinged this small bike idea off Lone Rider a couple months back and he encouraged me to go for it. But, I still have doubts about it, so just looking for some more input. I do value your opinion as from your threads it seems that you have spent as much time south of the border on a bike as anyone.
    #5
  6. Muleboy

    Muleboy Been here awhile

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    Given the the amount of time you have to do the trip and the distances you will be traveling I think taking the DRZ is a no brainer. You are already leaning that way and you named off all great reasons to take it and not take the KTM. I was planning, a now postponed trip for me, with Throttlemeister and I bought a old KLR for the same reasons you mentioned for the DRZ. Most importantly you can fix anything on the bike yourself or you could just walk away from it if you had to with no big loss. The only thing I would look into is putting a kick starter on it. (I believe it is possible)
    Good luck on your trip.
    #6
  7. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    Half of my ride, I wished I had a smaller bike. The other half, I wished I had a faster bike. My old, beat-up R1100GS was perfect- for me.

    Getting off the beaten path, like when I went up the road to Cocuye and ended up wrestling in mud- this can destroy your entire trip. Roads in Latin America are actually pretty good. You usually have to try pretty hard to find really bad roads. Going into the shite can rapidly destroy even the toughest bike. The road to Cocuye is paved until you get to Cuango. From there it's good dirt for about 10 miles... except for the rivers to cross. When it turned to mud I should have turned back. Instead, I wrecked my bike (broke the fly wheel, ate the clutch, bent the side cases on both sides, got water in the final drive).

    On my way to Panama I deliberately avoided Copper Canyon because I didn't want to jeopardize the whole adventure for a little jaunt into danger. This is the same reason I didn't scuba dive Lago Atitlan. If you're going to be gone for two years, you have to have a plan for conserving resources. Resource #1: your bike.

    I'm not saying you can't get off the beaten path. You'll figure out, very quickly, what your current limitiations are. Before very long you'll be an expert-expert (is there and expert to the nth? cuz that's what you'll be) and you'll be laughing at advice given by an old guy sitting in Wisconsin.

    No way would I take your big KTM, mainly because I can't afford it.

    Stickfigure took a medium-sized KTM for almost a year around Central America. I thought his ride seemed perfect.

    The most important thing about your ride is, do you like it?

    When you get into the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala, it gets very cold, and this is warm compared to the mountains of Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. In South America the distances are vast. Sometimes almost 200 miles between towns. So get your bike set up to keep you warm and protected from the elements. Heated grips, a wind screen, and good lights are very important. Also good range- at least 250 miles.
    #7
  8. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    Kick starter, already installed. :thumb
    #8
  9. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    Thanks for the wisdom. I was afraid of your answer. The "half the time" part is what got me. Yes, I have to gain a little perspective on what I am actually doing.

    Most of my rides, in fact ALL of my rides into Mexico have involved beating the living shit out of my bike in off road and bushwhack conditions, then working on it for a week when I get home where I had a full shop at my disposal and ordering parts is a simple as a click of mouse.:D

    I usually avoid pavement whenever I can. If I'm going down a dirt road and then spot a big sand wash or narrow rocky two track/mule trail that will get me to the same place, I take the more difficult (read fun) route. With that in mind, if I want to do this trip that way, I'm going to need to bring either: A chase truck with a machine shop, or several bikes.:rofl

    I've been in contact with Stickfigure and he had very good wisdom to impart as well.

    What is particularly interesting is that I get advice all over the board on this issue and thats from folks that have "been there done that." I fear that its just going to come down to making a choice and dealing with it.

    I think that I understand the vast distances in Chile/Argentina or south america in gereral. I dont want to underestimate them. The wind and cold is of course another consideration that I have planned for. Hopefully I did not underestimate that as well.

    The main advantage that I will have on this trip is time. That will give me a freedom to check places out that most folks on a shorter trips never have the time to explore.

    I understand how venturing off somewhere remote and rugged while solo is a big roll of the dice. Knowing when to continue or when to turn back is a very big deal.

    Thanks.
    #9
  10. theturtleshead

    theturtleshead Tits on a fish

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    The big KTM is the best bike for South America hands down.The days of trouble finding parts for them are long gone,the reason being that so many people down here have them! Horses for courses,The KTM,s your horse and South America is the worlds best course.
    Al thebarkingspider
    #10
  11. jabroka

    jabroka Been here awhile

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    if you´re planning on starting on september it wont be that cold when you get to Argentina.. it will be warm in northern provinces and it might get a little cold in the south but not freezing cold.. as for wich bike to choose.. i´d use the KTM no doub..t i think the KTM will be much more confortable when riding long distances.. if you need any info on Arg or anything just pm me.. i´m from Buenos Aires, i can help you out..
    #11
  12. bananaman

    bananaman transcontimental

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    Every time I've taken Albert's advice, it's worked out GREAT.

    Down in Buenos Aires there's a shop called Dakar Motos. If you take a snapshot of the bikes parked out back or in front, ridden by world travelars from the whole world, you'll get a very accurate picture of what's being proven to work. Probably half the bikes are of the 650 size, set up to look like the touratech catalog met Mad Max with a broken welder and a few rolls of duct tape. The other half of the bikes were big BMWs and KTMs. And there was a V-strom ridden by LaserJock.

    As for theft, I don't think you have to worry much about a big bike being stolen, but a small bike could easily disapear. The big bikes conspicuity is part of their security. Thieves can't get far on a big KTM or BMW without being noticed. I think it's like the honda accord/toyota camry as stolen car leaders. Steal a camry and in two hours you've got parts chopped and evaporated. What's a penny thief going to do with an two-cylinder, horizontally opposed engine? Where are they going to dispose of all the wriggly bits of KTM?

    Like I said, I'd not take the big KTM because I can't afford it, but if I could afford it... WHOOOEEE! South America would be my playground!
    #12
  13. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    I think I'm going to need friends pretty much everywhere. Muchas gracias.
    #13
  14. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    One option with the big Katoom is to simply carry more parts with me. The common issues are pretty well known. I can do some planning for tires as well. I'm going to need a crash course in complex electronics though. I sure wish it was a carb'd 950.

    I can afford to take the orange beast since obviously I already have it, but I will have to look at it as disposable. Thats tough but I can get my head around it. I have to be OK with the possibility of having to walk away from it. Good points about theft. Two guys can throw a small bike in a truck and be gone in 30 seconds.

    Now, about fuel range on the Katoom. This will affect my budget considerably. I tried the big tanks and they didnt work for me so I am running an aux tank that will give me about 240 miles of range at the very best and only if the terrain is easy and fast. But in first and second gear rocks, that range can plummet to 170 miles.:yikes That LC8 can drink some serious amounts of fuel. I can also carry a two gallon rotopax and fill it when I need to which will help with that.

    I understand there are some fuel availibility issues, especially in Bolivia on the salar but I will have to cross that salar when I come to it, in a manner of speaking.

    Thanks again folks, keep the advice coming, I'll take all I can get.
    #14
  15. BeachGuy

    BeachGuy Lost in paradise!

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    #15
  16. Django Loco

    Django Loco Banned

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    Excellent advice! :clap

    On the HUBB site you can find quite a few reports/posts from riders traveling on smaller bikes. More common now than before. Africa, Latin America, India, Asia. The DRZ400 seems to be a popular choice for some of the young (and poor) mostly UK/Euro based riders who frequent the site and do RTW rides. Then of course, don't forget the Terra Circa guys .... all on DR350's. Excellent film.

    I would try to contact those riders who've found doable dirt route alternatives in the Andes. Would take years to even scratch the surface. Venturing into unknown areas SOLO, is probably not the best idea .... but if you're equipped with good, current GPS coordinates, then that certainly helps.

    I would contact Smelly Biker (Bob Morely) who spent years in S. America and has some good GPS routes I believe (for sale). There is also an American living in Peru' (name escapes me) who used to post on HUBB a lot. XR600 rider, really gets out there, and has posted some awesome ride reports on HUBB over the years.

    Also, think about contacting Jim Stanley. He's now based in Colorado I believe? Check out his films. He and his wacky buddies did some hairy-ass dirt rides all over Ecuador, Brazil, into the Jungles and everywhere. Jim even ran some races and rallies out of Quito. Hell of a guy and a fountain of local knowledge.

    Chances are most other riders you meet will not be into doing dirt rides on purpose:D . As noted, most are on tighter schedules and focus on getting to their destination ASAP and many will be riding bigger, heavier, less capable bikes for off road. Some Euro riders will be over loaded, so most won't get far if things get technical. Others will be two up, another limiting factor.

    With a two year ride you've got lots of choices and time to explore less frequented routes.

    Also, if budget allows, I would not feel bad about taking a break from your ride and flying home for a while. Of course you need to be aware of import rules, length of time for your temp. import permit and so forth.

    I owned a DRZ-E for three years and never had a whisper of trouble with it.
    I only sold it to get something a bit lighter (to be able to handle knarly stuff). But the DRZ400-E was fantastic as a dirt bike. Only ever did short sections of highway on it. (in Baja mostly)

    We had another DRZ400E as our "loaner" bike for friends. Everybody had their way with that DRZ, it's still running! It's a 2000. Needed a carb cleaning (dirty gas from Mex.) and valve adjust, that's it. Steering damper really helped it in sand, IMO.

    I would try to figure out a better seat. The stock one is certainly not an all day platform but maybe could be improved?

    Interesting ride report posted today : Two guys on DRZ's. Nicely set up bikes! Check it out!
    http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=473989


    [​IMG]
    A couple DRZ's in Nevada, east of Minden.

    [​IMG]
    My former '01 DRZ-E shortly before selling. The pumper carb returned 50 MPG in normal dirt riding. Mostly stock with key jetting changes, squirt duration adjustment, baffle removed from exhaust, skid plate, TT case guards, Bark Busters. Never a battery problem.
    #16
  17. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    Thanks DL. I'm trying to be realistic about this. I travel Baja solo very often, but I know my way around, even the obscure single track without so much as a map sometimes. If I really screw myself up, a quick call on the SAT phone can at least get my buddies in San Diego coming to look for me, in the air and on the ground. Thats a pretty good safety net to have and without it, I would tend to stick the more traveled routes when solo.

    I am realizing that most experienced latin america riders are not off roaders. Dirt roads are about the limit for a good number of these folks. So I have to take that into consideration.

    So..... with that in mind, I will need to be very careful what I venture into no matter what bike I take. My DRZ is completely pimped out as a long distance off road travel machine. But, will I really want to take off solo when I'm not sure where I'm going in very remote and technical terrain?

    Realistically, probably not. I can get away with alot of shit in Baja, solo, but its just because of my familiarity with the place and the resources I have at my disposal.

    In the rest of latin america, its going to be a whole 'nother Oprah I think. But, I will have time to meet local riders and have some full on off road adventures possibly.
    #17
  18. jabroka

    jabroka Been here awhile

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    here some pics of my trips to southern Argentina just in case you need some motivation :D

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    #18
  19. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

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    Nice! :thumb

    As a matter of fact I got sucked into ride reports all fricking day now and have not accomplished jack from my "shit to do" list, which is about a mile long BTW.

    The 990 is definitely the right tool for the job in Patagonia, no doubt.
    #19
  20. j_seguin

    j_seguin Been here awhile

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    My brother and I just completed a Colorado to Argentina trip in February. I rode a 1990 DR650 and he rode a 1990 KLR 250. The KLR was by far the better bike for the trip until we got into Ecuador. In Central America you don't need any more power than the KLR had (unless you've got a death wish) as riding over 60-65 MPH isn't a very good idea, or even possible in many areas.

    Once we got to Ecuador and there were long stretches of road over 10-12k feet in elevation he started to have problems. Due to the lack of oxygen his bike didn't produce nearly as much power and we were limited to 45-55 MPH tops in many places. I don't know how that year's DRZ compares with his KLR, but if you think you've got enough power to do 60-65 mph at 12k+ feet in elevation fully loaded, I would go with the DRZ for sure. There were too many times I was jealous of his lighter and more nimble bike for me to say anything else. However if you don't think it can handle that, or aren't patient enough to be cruising straight flat stretches at 65, take the KTM.

    Long story short, if you have the patience for the DRZ take it, it will be a lot more fun over all.

    edit: if you have questions please feel free to PM me.
    #20