What worked, what didn't
The section below is a write-up of what worked and what didn't. Mostly in terms of gear, logistics, communication, clothing and other random bits that become important on a journey.
I removed all the logos from the bike and painted the starter cover black. Since it's not the best looking bike in the world to begin with, this took care of the brand-obsessed youngsters.
I had both wheels rebuilt at Woody's Wheel works. New extra-strong spokes, new rims (Sun) and the standard lace pattern. After much abuse, they are still dead straight. The front wheel was converted to use standard roller bearings instead of needle bearings requiring a periodic pre-load check and adjustment. This conversion allows me to change the bearings with a screwdriver by the side of the road, if needed.
4 millimeter thick inner tubes. It reduces the risk of punctures.
A cheap air compressor, robbed of its housing, reduces to something you can hold in the palm of your hand. A simple in-line switch and a connection to the battery. Very useful to "upload" some more air into the tires. It even sets the bead on a new tire, if you're using inner tubes.
Progressive springs with an extra one-inch copper spacer and 320 ml of 15 weight fork oil did the trick. I did have to change one fork seal (left) due to a small leak. This was before the start of the trip, though. I had to change the right fork seal in Nepal. Also replaced the gaiters, as they were shot after the rough roads tackled in Pakistan.
People in the Middle East and Asia seem to always want to touch what they are looking at. On numerous occasions, I had to prevent people from leaning on the front fender to get a better look at the bike. I changed the stock fender for an Acerbis one, including the $37 aluminum fender support. Supposedly the support allows you to carry a small pack up front, but I doubt this is a good idea for harsh road conditions. Without the brace, the fender would have self-destructed due to vibration and the constant pounding.
I bought the bike with a MAP Engineering front brake conversion. It was an older one, but still worked perfectly. Prior to the start of the trip, I contacted MAP and asked them to put a new rotor on the carrier. Surprisingly, they also made a new carrier for it. It looks like a high-strength carbon piece. More braking power than I need, even fully loaded.
Sigma BC 500 speedo
An old cheap bicycle speedometer. It measures the wheel rotation with a magnet. It's as accurate as you'll get. Indispensable, as the GPS does not measure road distances accurately. (A GPS measures every second, so if you go through a curve, it measure a number of straight connection lines, not the actual curve, decreasing the actual distance traveled).
The headlight conversion was also present when I bought the bike. It's a K75 headlight, with LEDs replacing the regular filament bulbs. It's much bigger than the stock G/S headlight and puts out a lot more light. It's not stylish, but it works. I had to re-solder a few things that loosened during the start of the trip. Not a big problem and my own fault for not doing it right the first time.
Dual Fiamms are not a luxury. They got a lot of use on the trip. One of the horn mounting tabs broke twice due to vibration. An easy fix. They are mounted in an esthetically unfortunate spot and I will remove them after the trip and go back to stock.
Datel volt meter
A luxury item that is strictly speaking not necessary, but since I was riding with a new alternator system, I decided I'd mount it to keep an eye on the charging voltage. It's FAA-spec and performed as such. It better, for the amount of money it cost.
Acerbis hand guards
Standard hand guards, but still useful for being the first point of impact when the bike tips over, saving the mirrors from cracking. Also keeps your hands protected from the bugs and rocks kicked up by the numerous trucks coming the opposite way.
This contraption holds the GPS in the right place and at the right angle. It did its job well.
Acerbis 43 liter tank
It holds enough fuel for about 700 kilometers, 650 to first reserve. Not always needed, but it's nice to not have to think about fuel too often, or to plan stops around gas stations. It does get dirty, due to it being polyester and not nylon. Strong too, as few deep gashes testify to numerous rocks hitting it, mostly from oncoming trucks.
G/S stock seat
Most people do not like the stock seat, complaining about a lack of comfort, but I found it to work just fine.
A front-to-back stainless exhaust system. It sounds great and will outlive me. I did, however, have to fix it once, after it showed minor cracks around the right header. The right header is also a tad too narrow, requiring some buffer material to seal properly within the head. All this was solved before the trip.
Custom rear frame
I managed to crash badly before the trip even started. The custom rear frame from Overland Solutions did the trick and a few hammer blows later, things were straight again. A stock frame would have not survived the impact but either ripped at the welds or cracked. Also, the bags are mounted without the Touratech setup, which hinges all the weight on one of the sides and causes a lot of damage even in a tip over.
A non-stock side stand, set back near the foot peg, allows the side stand to take quite a bit of weight. It did crack at one point, probably due to my accident in the Netherlands. I never noticed it, but had it welded in Turkey when someone pointed this out. It also does not retract automatically, a good thing when kids sit on the bike and upright it. They can just let it drop back and run away when you come running at them, wielding a stick. With a stock side stand, which retracts when the bike is righted, the machine would topple over.
I talked to Works a few years ago about the suspension requirements for my trip, and after some back and forth, settled on a shock built by them. It did the job perfectly.
This was a bit of a shot in the dark at first. I heard about the new alternator John Rayski put on the market, removing most if not all of the common flaws with the stock system. After talking to him a few times, a new alternator system arrived on my doorstep, gratis, which I tested out for a few months on my RT before mounting it on the G/S. It's done the job well, giving me full charging at all speeds, with more peace of mind versus a stock system. It also puts out 400 Watt, if you want to hook up more electric toys like heated vests and extra lighting.
Beru ignition coil
Not very exiting, but I replaced the stock ignition coil and wiring with a Beru system. It's the same one used on new BMW's and has proved to be 100% reliable.
Many people laugh at this one, but the alarm on more than one occasion warned me when people were trying to move the bike. In most cases, this was well intended, but still. A few times people were curious and got a bit too close. The alarm died in Pakistan. The tilt sensor still works, but a tap or kick does not set it off anymore.
A lot of wiring was added to the bike. Heavy-duty wiring to feed the Enduralast alternator, extra wiring to get power to the right case, accessory plug on the left and a few leads to the front for instrument lighting, volt meter and the GPS. I used water resistant in-line spade fuses instead of a central fuse box. It's easier to find space for these and tuck them away in various places.
Odyssey PC680 battery
It worked as advertised. Set it and forget it. It's sealed and doesn't need any maintenance. Another boring yet vitally important piece of expensive equipment. Also nice to not get acid all over the frame when (not if) the bike tips over.
The engine was built by Mat Beekers in the Netherlands. The original engine spun a cam bearing race, blocking oil flow to the engine. The top end and pistons were salvaged from the old engine, but a complete new case and bottom end was shipped to me from Mat. Sadly not for free.
Dick Casey supervised my rebuild of the transmission. It's the second time we rebuilt a transmission together. The first one is now resident in my RT. We opened up the (previously unopened) RT transmission after 140,000 kilometers and could not find any noticeable wear.
I went with 1/4 inch lines instead of the BMW spec of 6 millimeter. The difference is negligible and the cost of 1/4 inch lines a fraction of the BMW lines. I routed the cross-over around the back of the transmission, reducing the risk for airlock, as the original location runs the cross-over between the transmission and the engine.
Fuel line disconnects
To allow quick removal of the tank, I installed fuel line disconnects. They work well but the O rings seem to suffer from the action of connection/disconnecting. I took a handful of spares.
These look great but are not too strong. Water and dustproof when purchased, I was able to fairly easily beat them back into shape after crashing. Ernie, from Overland Solutions, prepped the bags. This included lockable clasps to hold them to the rear frame, lockable lids and anodizing the inside and outside of the bags and lids. It's easier to clean the anodized bags, but the main reason is that your gear does not get the black stains from rubbing bare aluminum against most materials. Also, since the bags are instantly removable, they are not left on the bike at night and as such another theft risk is removed. After 3 crashes, one big one in the Netherlands, 2 minor ones in Iran and Pakistan, they are toast. The point welding at the bottom is not strong enough even for a minor crash. I will have new bags made when I get back to Canada, with a few improvements I picked up from others while on the road. Email me if you want the list.
Old queen size mattress cover
Another one that makes people frown. When the bike is parked and covered, it barely gets any notice. It's not appealing to begin with, lacking polished and shiny bits, but the gray cover, with some Parisian and Syrian bird droppings, make the whole thing disappear from popular interest. I also took 4 mini-bungee cords to tie it all down. Two of the mini-bungies were stolen in Damascus, so a few spares would have been welcome.
An indispensable aid to navigate European back roads. It's a multitude handier to have the GPS route you through a previous selected set of roads than using a map to try and decide at each turn where to go. Even beyond Europe, having a base map (World Map) allows you to at least see major and minor roads, as well as cities and villages. Riding the back roads in small towns and out in the country, you can always find your hotel again. It's a great aid to exploring with the certainty you can get back to where you started from.
The camera of choice was a Canon S2. A fast 2.7 lens, 35-400 mm zoom, image stabilizer,...., and it runs on 4 AA's. Great camera and great software as well to organize and sort pictures. I carried two 2 Gig memory cards.
A small charger, able to handle 4 AA's and 4 AAA's. I can charge batteries while I ride or by plugging it in at a hostel. I did have to repair it twice, as a small coil inside had vibrated loose.
A handful of various sized OR bags is what I pack most of my belongings in before they go into the Touratech cases. The bags are waterproof and some are even submersible. Maybe a bit of overkill. I have been using OR bags for the last 15 years while hiking and climbing, so I knew they would hold up well. I replaced all of them under the lifetime warrantee for free before my trip.
Less is more. I lived with one pair of Tevas and riding boots. Two pair of near-identical North Face pants with zip-off legs and 6 black polypro t-shirts. Polypro undies as well. All of it can be washed by hand and hung to dry, which it does quickly. I had other (warm + climbing) clothes as well, but I mostly used what I described here. I also had a pair of hiking boots but only used those on the treks.
I rode with vented mesh gear pretty much all the way. Both jacket and pants. I had a set of rain covers which were used on a handful of occasions. Deerskin leather gloves, Sidi Onroad boots and an HJC flip-up helmet. Gauntlet-style deerskin gloves would have been better, as the space between the sleeves of the riding jacket and the gloves got constant sun exposure, leaving me with two funny dark marks on top of my wrists.
My trusty 1997-vintage Serengeti's did the trick. After having been dropped numerous times, sat on a few times, they still happily bend back into shape.
On a number of occasions I slept under my mosquito net. The bigger the net, the better it fits around various bed sizes or accommodates awkward mounting angles.
I bought a Katadyn filter before the trip and it served it's purpose well. It can pump a liter a minute and it filters particles to 0.2 micron, the best possible (and most expensive?) single-stage filtration in a small format. On the treks in Nepal, most people used Iodine to purify water, until I showed them the residual particles in my filter. I was also one of the only ones who didn't get sick on the treks. I'm not sure if there is a connection.
Communication / Laptop
A strange discovery was that in a lot of places I could not log into my web mail. Services like Yahoo mail, Hotmail and MSN seemed to work. I could not get to www.berettainc.com or any of my other sites. The solution was to use my own computer in internet cafes, where possible. This seemed to work most times. In Iran and Pakistan, it was not possible to get to my outgoing SMTP server, so although in a number of cases I was able to access my webmail, I had to send email from a Yahoo account on most occasions. I set up a Yahoo account to pull in my regular POP mail. A friend in Switzerland uploaded my updates to the web from there.
The only phone/voicemail system I used during the trip was Skype. Wherever I connected, I was able to make a call at Skype rates, a fraction of what calling costs in most of the world.
The backup system I took along consisted out of two Sandisk 4 GB thumbdrives. They did the job until Pakistan, after which one of them packed it in. Also, I had to reformat them once or twice as they were no longer recognized by the computer. I'll look at other options next time. Most internet cafes I encountered had facilities to burn CD's. The camera memory and a USB adapter for it will allow you to transfer the pictures and get a backup made.
People who know me well know I like my toys. My laptop (Fujitsu P5020, US spec), used as my sole computer for work and pleasure for the last few years, was a loyal companion on the trip. Without it, I would not have bothered with updating a website and keeping up with my pictures. Having the laptop made it easy to fill the empty hours here and there and write more at length than one would sitting in a noisy internet cafe.
- CAT 5 extension. A small retractable CAT 5 cable allows you to reach under the desks at internet cafes, while keeping your laptop on the desk.
- Female-to-female CAT 5 plug. Indispensable. This enables you to connect the CAT 5 from the internet cafe to your extension cable.
- Ear buds with in-line microphone. Smaller than a true headset with a boom mike, but with the same qualities. I got mine at Radioshack.
- Targus multi-voltage charger. Allows you to run and charge a laptop with either AC or DC power.
I shortened a lot of the longer accessory cables, such as my Garmin GPS cable, to save space. Doing this with 5 or so cables makes a big difference in packing volume. The power cables to the adapter need to be full length, as in a lot of cases power can be hard to access in lodges.
I got a Tupperware case for the laptop. I lined the bottom with thick fleece material and made a fleece slipcover for the laptop. It's stored flat when I ride. I can charge it while I ride as well.
One oversight on my part was shipping and receiving. Receiving a parcel when your destination is fluid is not the easiest. What I should have done was get an American Express card. They have travel offices in most major cities in the world and will hold parcels.
Carnet de passage
For US and Canadian registered motorcycles and cars, you have to deal with Suzanne Danis at the Canadian Automobile Association. She's incredibly knowledgeable on all the current issues around carnets and was very professional and prompt to answer any and all questions sent her way.
I have two passports and took them both. Depending on the cost or need of a visa I switched between them for various countries. For Iran, I could not get a visa with one (Canadian) so I used the other (Euro).
Maps and guides
Buy all the maps and guides you'll need for the entire trip. I mistakenly assumed that maps can be bought locally, which is not true in a lot of cases. Available maps are usually locally produced and lack accuracy and detail. Guide books are even harder to find. I did Syria and Jordan without a map or book, and it actually worked quite well.