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Underboning 08-16-2011 07:34 PM

Underboning the World - 2 Symbas, 1 Couple, No Sense
In December of 2010, I floated the idea of riding around the world on motorbikes past my wife. Fun, excitement, the open road, oh, and crooked border agents, rain and stifling heat, and “It’s gonna cost how much?!?” After some discussion and basic research, we decided that it was a dumb idea. We had recently completed a nearly 9 month backpacking trip in SE Asia and were getting antsy to go somewhere again, but where? We settled on backpacking around India and then revisiting our favorite places in SE Asia with the idea of finding a place we liked and settling in to teach English for a few years. Plan decided, we started doing the research but never could get really excited about it. No other plan had the excitement, challenge, or potential epic nature of the motorbike trip. So in the end of May, we once again returned to the RTW idea, but with a twist.

We would do it on underbones. We were, of course, inspired by nathanthepostman and Dabinche and our own travels through SE Asia. We had rented scooters and underbones in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia and had enjoyed the slower pace that they enforced. We’ve found that 35 mph is the perfect pace for much of the developing world. Parts are widely available, mechanics know how to work on them, tires are easily available, and we wouldn’t look like invaders from another planet. They are also inexpensive (better for Carnet) and lightweight (better if they decide to take a nap or need to be loaded in a boat). We also chose underbones for more personal reasons. We had considered going 2-up on my V-strom, but Re (my wife) is too small (and short) to ride it solo if I was ever unable to. So we looked at taking two bikes. Most of the advice suggests taking identical bikes as to only have to carry one set of spares and tools. So what then? We considered CRF-230s and XT-250s but finally settled on underbones for the reasons mentioned above.

So which underbone? Initially I had thought of the CT-110s, but eventually settled on the mighty SYM Symba! Our local dealer was having a sale on Symbas ($1999 each) and they were about the same price as a good CT-110 but with the advantage of being 30 years newer. Some basic research into the Symbas showed that they are (probably) capable of the miles and hours we will be requesting of them. Another advantage is that there is a SYM importer on every continent we plan to visit (hopefully eliminating the 3-month wait other riders have encountered for a new final drive or other such nonsense). Additionally, they are just good old motorbikes, no ABS, no EFI, no computer of any sort - just a carb, a piston, a backup kickstarter, and one fuse. I can fix these with hand tools and a shop manual. All that and about 100 mpg!

These bikes will hopefully be our trusty companions for the next twelve to fourteen months as we wind our way across the USA (from Oregon to North Carolina), up to Toronto (where our bikes get on the plane), to Capetown, South Africa and through India, SE Asia, and (if our money and butts hold out) Indonesia and Australia, before flying back to Los Angeles and riding up the coast back to Portland.

Underboning 08-16-2011 07:40 PM

A Little About Us

I guess we should tell you a little bit about ourselves and how we ended up at this point. I (Colin) am 44 years old, have a professional degree, and have been an avid motorcyclist for many years. My parents always forbade motorcycles and it took me a few years to realize I was old enough to do whatever the I wanted to, so at 25 I took the MSF course and never looked back. In the past 19 years I have racked up over 180K miles of street, dirt, and road racing with WERA and CCS. I have wrenched on and rebuilt both motorcycles and cars, both two and four stroke, and my wife has been my “tool monkey’ all along.

Re is 42 and has less riding experience but is an MSF grad and has lots of miles on her (former) KLX650C ‘motard that we built for her.

A few years ago we had an epiphany of sorts, realizing that we really don’t have to do anything we don’t want to. At the time, we had been married for 19 years and had always lived as if we might someday have kids. Working two jobs, buying homes in good school systems, climbing the ladder, moving for better jobs, and saving for the proverbial “rainy day”. We, however, found ourselves childless and forty. So why were we doing what we were doing? We had just moved to another town we didn’t want to live in, farther from friends and family, for a job I didn’t really want and it suddenly hit me - why? Why be here? Why not just do what we wanted to do instead? No kids, no responsibilities, no reason to leave a legacy - why wait any more? Honestly, it was kind of staggering - if you didn’t have to do anything for at least a few years, what would you do?

When we were in high school, I would get the new copy of the “Lets Go Guide to Europe” every year and sit down with a highlighter and we would dream of where we would go. But after college there were jobs and houses and careers and friends and family and never any time to go anywhere for more than a two week vacation. That pesky “Let’s Go” memory came flooding back, and we decided to quit our jobs, put everything we didn’t sell or donate into storage and just go. We settled on SE Asia (as we love the food and we really just travel to eat!) and started planning. It took about 10 months to disentangle our lives and shoulder our packs, but we were off with a one-way ticket to Vietnam. After about 9 months of bumming around Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and Singapore, we found ourselves in Portland, Oregon. We once again tried to get back into the daily grind but it didn’t last long. The genie was already out of the bottle. We found ourselves cruising ADVRider, HUBB, and various “Teach English Abroad” websites. (One of our traveling companions said to never fly first class, that way you don’t know what you are missing - we now know what we are missing) Perusing the RR section of ADV led us to nathanthepostman’s epic trip, Dabinche’s Alaska adventure, and to Brian and Marie’s 2uprtw story and off we go again!

klaviator 08-16-2011 07:53 PM

No sense?? Who cares. This looks like it will be fun!!


Mullet 08-17-2011 05:25 AM

Good Luck
Sounds great… Subscribed

Underboning 08-17-2011 07:16 AM

What We Are Taking
Given the limited carrying capacity of our little bikes, everything we bring has to be essential and hopefully pull at least double-duty. All of our gear also has to get across several continents with differing climates and be suitable and durable enough to last for at least the 14 months of the trip. With that in mind, we did buy good gear.

For luggage we decided on a Pelican Storm iM2600 topcases, topped by an Ortlieb 49L waterproof duffel, all mounted to Carter Brothers’ rear racks and secured with a pair of Rok-Straps each.

We also installed stock SYM front racks to carry our spare 1 gallon gas cans.

We also made a set of “custom” bike covers to attract less attention when parked.

We are carrying a fairly complete tool kit including wrenches that can turn every fastener on the bikes as well as spare wire, JB Weld, zip-ties, rags, rubber gloves, a funnel, and more. We were also able to get some spares from the new SYM importer and have a spare set of cush rubbers, a brake lever and cable, a complete set of wheel bearings, an air filter, spare chains and master links, inner tubes, and spark plugs, spare tires and a set of stock sprockets. We also have tire irons, a Lezyne micro pump, Dupont Teflon chain lube and a fairly extensive patch kit.

All of our bikes and luggage will be secured by a couple of Krypto cables, Pacsafe covers for the Ortliebs, and a couple of alarmed cable locks and a bunch of padlocks for the Pelicans.

For riding gear we are each wearing Darien Light jackets and pants and Nolan N90 helmets. As we plan to do a fair bit of walking and hiking, we went with Vasque Goretex hiking boots in lieu of dedicated riding boots. We are also each carrying 5 sets of underwear, socks, and shirts and three pairs of convertible pants. A lightweight Marmot rain jacket, a set of Smartwool micro weight base layers, a fleece pullover, a bathing suit and pair of sandals each rounds out the wearables.

For camping we have a Mountain Hardware Drifter 2 tent and footprint, Big Agnes Yampa bags and Air Core pads, and silk bag liners. A Coleman Expedition 442 stove (runs on unleaded) and MSR Quick 2 cookware will provide us some snacks and a First Need XL water purifier (and a spare cartridge) and two 4L MSR Dromedary bags should give us safe drinks. Two Big Agnes Easy Chairs will give us a place to plop at the end of the ride.

Our first aid kit includes the usual potions and plasters as well as some dermabond, suture closures, needles and syringes, doses of malaria meds, Cipro and azythromycin (apparently Dehli Belly is now Cipro resistant). For toiletries we have the usual bathing, brushing and shaving stuff but are using Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap for most things and Re is trying the solid shampoo and conditioner from Lush Cosmetics.

For electronics, we have an iPhone, and iPod touch, a GoPro Hero HD video camera, a laptop (complete with the Symba shop manual), a Panasonic DMC-ZS1 camera, and a Garmin 60CSx, and a ton of cables to plug this into that.

Add in a poop trowel, kite, a boat horn, a Frisbee, a compass, storm lighter, a headlamp, a tent lantern, a couple of flashlights, some clothes drying stuff, and a Swiss Army knife or two and we are good to go.

freefallen 08-17-2011 07:39 AM

Awesome! we'll be following you.

LS650 08-17-2011 08:56 AM

Ha ha _ I made you say 'under-bone'...
Looks like a good start to a great trip. I have always thought that if you stay off the Interstates, a smaller bike is better.

I've never liked the name 'underbone' for these types of bikes though; I've always thought that 'stepthrough' sounds better... :ear

petefromberkeley 08-17-2011 09:14 AM

This will be fun! You guys are doing the right thing.

soboy 08-17-2011 09:30 AM

Fantastic idea - I love these underbone bikes and will be following your adventures - subscribed! I've learned that when you travel fast, you miss so much!

SS in Vzla. 08-17-2011 09:34 AM


Underboning 08-17-2011 10:16 AM


Originally Posted by LS650 (Post 16648758)
Looks like a good start to a great trip. I have always thought that if you stay off the Interstates, a smaller bike is better.

I've never liked the name 'underbone' for these types of bikes though; I've always thought that 'stepthrough' sounds better... :ear

My wife decided that we should use the "underbone" name because it does sound vaguely dirty!

PapaBravo 08-17-2011 10:27 AM


Originally Posted by Underboning (Post 16649281)
My wife decided that we should use the "underbone" name because it does sound vaguely dirty!

I think we all love your wife just a little bit more now :D

klaviator 08-17-2011 11:25 AM


Originally Posted by Underboning (Post 16649281)
My wife decided that we should use the "underbone" name because it does sound vaguely dirty!

Her pose in the aerostich, her idea or yours?

Underboning 08-17-2011 03:47 PM


Originally Posted by klaviator (Post 16649758)
Her pose in the aerostich, her idea or yours?

The pose was all hers. We had just received our new Darien Lights that day and Re was a little disappointed with the rather unflattering fit. She said that the only way people would know she was a girl would be if she showed them. Of course the idea to take a picture of the pose was all mine!

Underboning 08-17-2011 05:45 PM

Trip Planning
When we decided to actually go on this trip it was nearly the end of May. The lease on our apartment was up on July 31st. This made August the natural starting point for the trip, but it only gave us 13 weeks to plan the trip and get everything else done. Excited about the idea, we went to the travel section of Powells Books and pulled out the Lonely Planets. We quickly came up with a list of countries we’d like to visit and of those we wouldn’t. Central and South America are natural destinations for North Americans, but given the security concerns, we quickly crossed them off our list. We had traveled in Southeast Asia a couple of years ago and loved it. We wanted to return to see the places not easily accessed via public transportation, so we put it on our list. We had already done a bunch of research on India and Nepal, so they went on the list as well. Also on the list was riding across the US from Portland, Oregon where we lived, to Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio, where we had family and friends. This left the question of how to connect the east coast of the United States and India. We briefly considered Europe but nixed it due to the expense and relative cultural similarity.

That left Africa. But where? Central Africa was never on the list- visiting active war zones like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia was not an attractive proposition. Northern Africa also seemed iffy with the unrest of the Arab Spring and recent relocation of the Dakar Rally. That left Southern Africa. So we filled our shopping basket with the Lonely Planet Southern Africa, India, and Southeast Asia on a Shoestring and headed home.

The next day, we consulted weather charts on the internet, which pretty much set our schedule. Our route will (hopefully) hit the dry but not too hot path around the world. We also made a list of countries that require Carnet, visas in advance, and made a quick list of comparative costs by country. After doing some ciphering on the money, we decided we could afford the twelve to fourteen months of travel our trip now encompassed.

So, decision confirmed, I headed down to Classic Scooter and Cycle in Portland and purchased two brand spankin’ new, baby blue Symbas. I spent the next couple of weeks glued to the computer screen scouring ADVRider, HUBB, and Symforum for advice on gear, the bikes, and travel planning. We soon started making decisions on gear purchases, and boxes began to arrive at our door. It was like Christmas every day! At the same time, I started working to arrange Carnet du Passage for the trip. This was a relatively easy process; Suzanne Danis, at the CAA, is great to work with. The only hitch in the carnet process was a strike by the Canadian Postal Service, but a digital camera and email got our documents to Canada without trouble.

Re was in charge of medications and vaccines. She did the research as to what we needed and set up the appointments. We added yellow fever, polio, and our final hepatitis shots to our list of immunizations. We also got prescriptions for Cipro, Azithromycin, and curative doses of Malarone (for malaria) to include in our first aid kit.

The bikes were prepped for the trip- we had a blast putting on the break-in mileage. We installed various racks and a 12V charger to keep our electronics juiced up on the road. Spare parts were difficult as SYM has recently changed importers, but Michael at Alliance Powersports came through for us in a big way. Because of the lack of spare parts in the country and the time involved in getting them from overseas, Alliance actually pulled our spares off of the last new Symba they had in stock.

Shipping the bikes was a nightmare all on its own and almost stopped our trip before it began. It turns out that getting bikes to Europe is easy, but to Africa, not so much. Re spent untold hours on the internet and telephone trying to find anyone who would even give us a quote for shipping to Africa. I also spent hours scouring HUBB and ADVRider for any possibilities. Re finally got a quote from a US shipper of around 4200 USD for a 20 foot shipping container, which would take a mere 50 days to get to Durban, or 8500 USD!!! by air to Johannesburg. That seemed like an awful lot for two tiny, little 199 pound bikes. But Re persevered and out of a call to Royal Air Maroc, the idea of shipping from Canada arose. Re then researched route maps from eastern Canada to Africa and discovered that British Airways has service from Toronto to Cape Town, South Africa. She definitely didn’t have her hopes up when she called British Airways Cargo in Toronto and was connected with our new best friend, Savio. When asked about shipping our bikes, Savio said, “sure, when do you want them there?” He followed this up with an email quote and an explanation of weight by volume. Basically, if we pull off the front wheels and fenders, detach the handlebars, and stuff both bikes into a crate, the rate will be approximately 1800 USD. He also recommended a crating company and a company to handle the dangerous goods paperwork.

All in all, with the help of the internet motorcycling communities and the wisdom of others who have done it before, it was surprisingly easy to plan this trip. It’s not that hard, and it doesn’t take two years. If you are thinking about it, just do it!

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