I met Erin and Brian, back in 2018 in the small town of Caraz, Peru just west of the Andes and the Huascarán National Park.
They were doing what a lot of riders want to do as a dream ride, traveling South America on motorcycles, just a little differently than most other riders I had met, this is their story…
When did you first get the idea to go and ride South America?
I had done a six-month motorcycle trip through Southeast Asia in 2014 which got me hooked on long-term motorcycle travel. After meeting Erin, we knew it was something we wanted to do together.
Erin liked the idea of riding her own bike rather than 2-up so she got her license in 2017 and shortly thereafter threw herself right into the deep end when we did a 10 day trip through Ecuador on bikes from Ecuador Freedom Bike Rentals.
We had a blast riding around the Andes and since we didn’t want to kill each other by the end of it this served as a good test run for a much longer trip.
What was the reason you decided not to use your own motorcycles like the majority of riders?
Mostly convenience and cost. I had just completed the TAT on a well set-up Honda CRF250L that would have been a great bike for South America. But after looking into shipping costs and reading some nightmarish reports of other riders being stranded waiting weeks for shipping containers, it just didn’t seem practical to us.
Riding through Central America didn’t seem like a good trade-off either and crossing the Darien Gap presented its own challenges and costs.
Ultimately, the flexibility of riding inexpensive bikes and just leaving the keys in them, and walking away at the end of the trip (if necessary) was incredibly appealing.
This would allow us to do a one-way trip and maximize our time in places without having to budget time for the ride back or deal with the expense of having to ship two bikes back from the bottom of the world.
The key was finding a bike that would present a good value and be up to the task. I became rather obsessed with the idea.
Had you met or read about anyone else doing this, or did you go into the whole planning stage completely blind?
This was more or less the framework that drove our decision making:
- Where is the best country to start the trip?
- Can we cross all borders on a bike registered in this country?
- Is there an inexpensive and suitable option that would allow us to do a one-way trip?
ADVrider was invaluable here – I had spent many hours pouring override reports and regional forums and learned that Colombia was arguably the best place to buy a motorcycle in South America if you intended to cross borders.
It’s very fast and easy to get a bike registered in your name, especially if you buy one new from a dealer since they expedite everything. Conveniently, Colombia was also at the top of the continent – where we hoped to start our one-way trip.
I didn’t see any specific examples of Colombian plated bikes ridden all the way down to Patagonia, but we felt that as long as we had a couple of documented examples of people who had bought bikes in Colombia and were able to cross borders that were good enough for us and we’d figure out all the details once we got there.
At a certain point, you just have to be OK with uncertainty and not having all the details figured out. I think that’s perhaps the biggest hurdle that keeps people from embarking on these kinds of adventures.
Explain a little about the process of how you found the bikes you thought you wanted?
Once we had a starting point in mind I spent a lot of time online looking at used bikes in Colombia on MercadoLibre, and also new offerings on the dealer websites. It soon became clear that most of the market was re-badged Chinese and Indian bikes.
The vast majority of these were too small and unsuited for the kind of trip we had in mind. Then I stumbled across the RX3 which immediately caught my interest because on paper it seemed like the perfect bike for a great price: 330lbs, 250cc, 6 speed, 4-gallon tank, crash protection, windshield, aux lights, etc., brand new out the door for $3,200 USD.
Additionally, I discovered they were sold (under different badges) in every country we intended to travel through so if they proved to be unreliable at least we could find parts for them.
While I was initially a bit skeptical of the quality of Chinese motorcycles in general, after doing some research I learned that ZongShen manufactures close to a million motorcycles a year and exports a third of them to other markets where they are re-badged.
These specific bikes were also sold in 10+ other countries so how bad could they really be? We also felt that buying new machines would give us a lot more confidence in their longevity.
Did you go by budget or brand or style to make your choice?
For the “disposable motorcycle” concept to work, the budget was definitely a leading factor.
That said, we weren’t willing to compromise the whole trip by selecting cheap bikes that weren’t up to the task. We feel like we found a good balance with the RX3s and once I figured out that these bikes were the same bikes sold in the U.S. under a different badge (CSC) and had generally positive reviews the idea solidified.
I even saw a ride report of a guy on an RX3 on Cinnamon pass on the Alpine Loop in Colorado, and having recently ridden that myself I figured these bikes were plenty capable for the riding we had in mind.
We also thought they looked pretty damn good – many people asked us if they were BMWs, which gave us a good laugh every time.
While waiting in Bogotá we checked out some Royal Enfield Himalayans, Honda XRE300s, and Yamaha XT 250s. These would have also been good choices but came in at almost double the price of the RX3s.
If we had intended to ride as much dirt as possible, however, I would have seriously considered the Honda XRE300.
When you arrived in South America where was your initial destination?
We flew into Cartagena, Colombia to get some much-needed beach time after de-constructing our lives in the US. Afterward, our plan was to fly to Bogotá, procure bikes, and slowly make our way south to Patagonia never planning more than a few days ahead.
From the day you landed can you describe the logistics until the first day, you were actually riding south?
After arriving in Bogotá our plan was to spend the next few days locating and purchasing the bikes we had set our sights on the RX3s which are sold by AKT as “TT250 Adventours” and then hitting the road a day or two later once all of the paperwork was finalized.
Locating two new ones proved to be the real challenge, (more on that below) but everything else went rather smoothly. Once the bikes had arrived at the dealer we paid for them with a Visa credit card (points!) and waited a couple of days for the registration paperwork to be done by the dealer.
In the meantime all we had to do was get ourselves registered in the Registro Único Nacional de Tránsito (RUNT) which is a national database of drivers in Colombia. We were able to get this done quickly and it involved providing our passport, drivers license, fingerprint, and blood type.
What did you do for luggage?
We used two different types of soft luggage; the Mosko Moto Reckless 80 V2 and the Nelson Rigg Adventure Saddlebags. Both packed down nicely for air travel and worked out great.
The first two weeks consisted of us flying to Cartagena then Bogotá with two massive army surplus duffle bags (full of our riding gear and motorcycle luggage), two 55L backpacking packs, and two daypacks.
We wanted to do a good bit of trekking on this trip so we decided to take good backpacking packs and use them as top bags on the bikes. It looked a bit cumbersome but worked out great in the end.
We would definitely recommend buying any riding gear, luggage, and accessories in your home country before coming to South America as good, name-brand gear can be hard to find and when found is often considerably marked-up. The Oxford heated grips we brought were much appreciated.
Was there any language, paperwork or license issues you hadn’t expected or researched beforehand?
Having lived and backpacked through South America for a year in my early 20s I developed a golden rule: Don’t assume anything.
Don’t assume the busses will be on time, or that roads won’t be blocked by protesters, or that you’ll be able to find what you need when you need it.
I had subsequently forgotten that rule and assumed that they would have plenty of RX3s to sell us. Long story short, they were in the middle of rolling out the new models and there was not a single one for sale in all of Colombia.
I was able to get in touch with the General Manager of AKT motors and he really went out of his way to help us by directing a couple of new models to be shipped to a dealer near us. Those fell through in the end but we managed to find a dealer with an incoming shipment.
After 10 days of waiting, the bikes finally arrived and we got the registration paperwork started. We showed up the next day to collect the paperwork and bikes but only my registration documents had come back.
Apparently, the place that manufactures the license plates “ran out of license plate material” in-between stamping mine and Erin’s so we had to wait an extra day for Erin’s plate and paperwork to arrive.
Regarding language barriers, knowing Spanish definitely made the whole process easier, but if you don’t it shouldn’t deter you, as you can probably find someone to help translate and get you through the process.
Talk about your trip and route, where did you go, days, weeks, months taken, countries traveled through, and any issues at the borders with the bikes on entry-exit?
We spent about a month in each country (1.5 in Peru) and tried to stick to the Andes as much as possible. The actual Pan-American highway is probably the least enjoyable road you can ride down there so we avoided it when possible.
Once we got to Patagonia we ended up crossing between Chile and Argentina five or six times to hit all the places we wanted to see on our one-way journey.
We spent as much time off the bikes as we did on them. We took 10 days to do the Galápagos and lots of stints off the bikes to do some mountaineering and multi-day backcountry treks (Cotopaxi, Santa Isabel, Huemul trek, parts of “the W”).
The only time constraint that drove our progress south was getting to Patagonia in time before the winter weather made riding conditions miserable.
Some stats from our trip:
- 5 Countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina)
- 11 Border crossings
- 84 Riding days
- 550 km – The longest day
- 22 Nights in a tent
- 50+ Times chased by dogs
- 1 Dog bite = 4 rabies shots
- 1 Flat tire
Erin created a blog/website for friends and family with much more detail:
and a great selection of videos here, this is the highlight video so you can get an idea of what some of the others might include
Did the bikes perform how you expected them to?
The bikes far exceeded our expectations and were more than adequate for 80% of the riding we did. The other 20% were situations where better suspension and more power would have made for a better ride.
After 12,000 miles in all sorts of terrain we had zero major mechanical issues and nothing that required more than 30 minutes to address on the side of the road.
Additionally, the traveler we sold my bike to ended up riding back up the continent and put an additional 12,000 miles on the bike (many of which were 2-up). She then sold it to another traveler who put an additional 2,500 miles on it and only had to replace the stator and top off the oil more frequently.
My main hesitation about going with these bikes was that they were carbureted, especially since our route would take us from sea level to altitudes of 15,000+ feet. Once properly adjusted, the carbs weren’t finicky and handled the extreme altitudes well enough without any rejetting (The newer models are fuel-injected).
The stock chains stretched a lot and were definitely a weak point but did last 3000+ miles. Doing it over again, I would replace them with a known brand before leaving Colombia.
We got another 3000 miles on a replacement chain we found in Peru before Erin’s snapped at the master link at 50mph. The bikes didn’t burn any oil, except for a two-day stretch where we ran them non-stop close to redline on the Chilean interstate system (about the only place you can really do this on our route).
Any issues with them you hadn’t thought of?
The 18-inch front wheel made it difficult to find name brand tires that were half-way decent off-road. Ironically, while I had no reservations buying a Chinese bike, I refused to buy off-brand Chinese tires since they are such an unknown quantity and the only thing keeping us upright.
Our best bets for tires after leaving Colombia were Cusco, Peru and Santiago, Chile. We also found some Michellins in Bariloche that were ridiculously overpriced.
Regarding parts availability, while the RX3 is sold in all the countries on our route (under different badges) that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll easily find parts for them in stock like we had assumed.
After leaving Colombia I wasn’t able to find a spare clutch and brake lever until we got to Santiago, Chile. Fortunately, we never needed any.
I should note that the new models (2020+) come with EFI, ABS, and a 19in front wheel.
How far south did you go?
After 6.5 months and 12,000 miles we made it to Punta Arenas, Chile where we had a buyer lined up for one of the bikes and where we thought it would be easier to sell the other.
It was only a day’s ride to Ushuaia but the weather had started to turn and I had been there once before so it seemed a bit contrived to do two more border crossings for a photo op – Erin agreed.
So as the trip was winding down, you are thinking of selling the bikes, how you ended up getting rid of them was a little unique, please explain?
We posted our bikes for sale on a number of message boards and Facebook groups and ended up selling mine to another traveler who was intending to ride back up the continent.
Erin’s proved more difficult to sell as we discovered that there isn’t much of a local market for these bikes even though Punta Arenas is one of two places in Chile where a local can buy a foreign bike and have it registered in their name because of its status as a Free Trade Zone.
After a few days trying to find a local buyer by going around to every motorcycle shop in town and posting on the regional motorcycle whatsapp group, we learned of a local motocross champion who had been hit by a careless driver and was in a coma.
We reached out to his father and offered to sign the bike over to him for nothing to help with the hospital bills. He was grateful and we had the paperwork drawn up in one afternoon.
Any key pointers for the end of the journey regarding selling and paperwork required?
Because foreigners aren’t allowed to take Chilean registered bikes out of Chile, to the right traveler a Colombian plated motorcycle in Southern Patagonia is an amazing find.
In February or March that person would be able to start a trip at the very bottom of South America and head north just before the winter weather sets in. For this reason, your best bet is to sell your bike to another traveler using a “poder ejecutivo” (power of attorney) colloquially known as a “Poder”.
This document allows another named person to take your bike across borders as long as they have the original owner’s registration card.
There are plenty of bikes roaming all over South America with a daisy chain of “poders” from previous owners effectively drawing a legal line from the first owner (listed on the registration card) to the most recent.
You have to go to a notary with the buyer to get one drawn up, as well as a bill of sale, which can be done in a half-hour. The other thing that needs to happen is canceling the TVIP (temporary vehicle import permit) at the customs office so you don’t have problems leaving the country without the bike you rode in on.
Knowing Spanish, or someone who does will make things a lot easier. You should really post your bike for sale at least two months in advance, especially on PanAmerican Riders Association and PanAmerican Travelers Association Facebook groups.
In hindsight, once you were on a plane back to the US do you feel you did this the right way, anything that you would have done differently or not done at all to make your life easier?
Overall, we feel like our 6.5-month one-way fly-and-ride was a really fantastic way to do South America. Having inexpensive motorcycles gave us additional flexibility and freedom by removing the pressure of needing to sell them at the end of the trip, or ship them back home.
Starting in September was also a good move as it gave us the opportunity to do lots of stuff off the bikes and still have two months in Patagonia before the really unforgiving weather kicked in.
If we had to do one aspect over again we probably would have started in Medellín instead of Bogotá since there’s a better motorcycle scene there and more dealers with more inventory.
In hindsight, I should have called ahead to see which dealers in which cities had the bikes we wanted in stock, which would have probably saved us 10 days of waiting around in Bogotá for a new shipment to arrive.
That said, we often think about how different our trip might have been had we left on time since we met some amazing people, had no serious mishaps, and got very lucky with the weather in Patagonia.
Given some of the roads we encountered, Erin feels that as a relatively new rider she would have benefited a lot from an off-road riding course before the trip.
It also would have been nice to go into Bolivia but there was a nationwide ban on selling gasoline to foreigners at the time and we wanted to get to Patagonia sooner rather than later. Next time!