This might sound distinctly odd, but real long-distance travel, like around the world or Anchorage to Ushuaia, tends to mean that you’re less self-sufficient than on a ride for a week in the Outback. Why is this so?
Well, on a week-long ride in the wilderness you travel in a little capsule containing all you need. You have food, cooking gear, a tent, sleeping kit… you name it. Chances are you will not be dependent on anyone else except for fuel, and you will possibly even have found a way of getting around that, like a 4WD driven by a long-suffering spouse that meets you and your friends each night at your campsite.
On a seriously long ride, you will have to shop for all necessities. Chances are you will also be staying in cheap hotels at least part of the time (here is a hint: do just that because there are few better ways of meeting the locals and getting the best out of your stops – they will know where you should go and eat, for a start) and stopping to check out local attractions, which once again the locals are best suited to help you with.
In Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, the elderly bloke running our ‘motel’ gave us some priceless advice: go to see the Taj late in the afternoon. The late light will make it even more exquisite than it is already. We did that and benefited not only from his advice but also from that of a chap at the gatehouse who conjured up a visual illusion I will never forget.
In Norway, the woman who had been cleaning the rooms of our hotel saw us getting ready to go to bed, and said: “No, stay awake now and look outside.” The northern lights were not especially spectacular that night because we were too far south, but we did get to see them which we would not have if we had been snoring away.
I am not saying that you should stay in hotels or hostels all the time when you are on the road. Choose the nights you spend under canvas, and the ones where you check into the local pub. At times you have no choice. There are places in Afghanistan, for example, where I would not camp out. Then again there are places in the US where I probably should not have camped out, either. One night in an RV park next to a bowling alley where the owner suggested I set up my tent on her front lawn so I did not get run over, was a lesson.
Eating at a local café will also teach you a lot about the place you are gracing with your presence. There are times where the lesson will be appalling, and not only in Third World countries. But there are also times when it will be an absolute delight and you will find that your palate can cope with far more than you ever thought it might.
As with eating and sleeping, riding is different if you are spending more, or less, time on/off the road.
Consider what you want your motorcycle to do, and to be. Out in the boonies you want a light bike that can cope with poor tracks, allow you to climb technical slopes and generally provide some fun on the trails. Reliability is not a major concern, neither is ease of repair. In the worst possible case, you can always come back with your truck and collect a broken-down motorcycle. You cannot do that on an rtw ride. You need that bike to get you out of wherever you have got yourself into, and then run reliably for another few thousand kilometres.
Interestingly, I have recommended the same bikes for quite a few years now. For week-long or even month-long rides (mainly on-road, tarred or gravel) my preference has been for a Suzuki DL650 V-Strom or a BMW F 650/700/750 GS. Civilised riding with halfway decent unsealed road capability. For the rtw type of ride I have been inclined to suggest Kawasaki KLR650s or Suzuki DR650s. Tough, proven bikes with good parts support and acceptable comfort if you upgrade the seat.
Why have I not been suggesting the BMW R 1250 GS or Adventure? Definitely not because of any technical shortcomings in those bikes. They will take you anywhere you want to go, especially two-up, in comfort and in style. But they are big, heavy (which matters less than you might think because they are so competent) and eye-wateringly expensive. To my mind, they are overkill. Impressive, quite beautiful, powerhouses. But overkill.
The bike I now recommend to most people for rtw-type work is the Royal Enfield Himalayan. Cheap as chips, reliable, with touring accessories available, easy to work on… underpowered for many riders with only 400cc but think about where you will be using the bike. I had one for a while and found it enjoyable.
So there you go. The price of admission to adventure riding has dropped. Give it a go. Oh, and the word is that a larger capacity Himalayan will hit the shops sometime soon. I would not bother to wait.
(Photos The Bear)