Living on a DR
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: riding around India
About the Bike
This being a motorcycle trip, the bike is obviously a very important part of the trip and I need to make sure that the bike is capable of what I ask of it. To ensure this, I've modified the bike to better suit long distance adventure riding and have done the routine maintenance to reduce the chances of any breakdowns.
My only possessions for the next two years will be what I can carry on my motorcycle and thus it acts as a lifeline and a home on two wheels. In my preparation for this trip, I've tried to learn as much as possible about all aspects of this motorcycle so that I can better handle any mechanical breakdowns or just routine maintenance.
The Suzuki DR650 is a tried and tested motorcycle that has been taken around the world by numerous others before me. Besides being highly functional for the task at hand, she also looks good and that matters because I have to bond with the bike as she'll be my steadfast companion through this journey.
Her name is sanDRina (sun-dree-nah) and we've already gotten off to a great start with a successful two week trip in Summer 2009 down the Continental Divide.
The reason I chose the DR for long distance adventure touring:
- Dual-Sport Capability > meaning it can handle dirt and gravel roads as well as cruising on the highway.
- Tube Tires > easier to patch/repair a tube tire than to repair a tubeless tire like sport bikes.
- Spoked Rims > can absorb the shock of poor roads better than alloy rims.
- Expandable Gas Tank > this bike's design is such that the original gas tank (3.4 gallons) can be upgraded with a 4.9 gallon one or a massive 7.9 gallon tank, which I currently have.
- Air Cooled > the bike's engine is cooled by moving air and an oil cooler but with no water-cooling (radiator), meaning less parts to worry about failing.
- Carburetion > this bike is carbureted instead of fuel injected because it's easier to work on in case something goes wrong while traveling.
Modifications To The Bike From Stock (as she came from previous owner)
- Aqualine Safari 7.9 gallon gas tank (to improve range to nearly 400 miles)
- Corbin aftermarket seat (to improve comfort)
- Mikuni Flat Slide TM40 Carb with K&N Air Filter (to improve performance and throttle response)
- Happy Trails Skid Plate (to protect the engine)
- Answer 1" Handle Bar (to improve handling and durability)
- Trail Tech Vapor Digital Speedometer with Tachometer (to improve monitoring)
- WER Steering Stabilizer (to improve handling)
- SuperBrace Fork Brace (to improve handling)
- Seal Savers fork boots (to protect dirt from damaging front suspension seals)
- Stiffer Progressive front and rear springs (to improve handling)
- Larry Roeseler Rear Shock Absorber (to improve handling)
- Stainless Steel Braided Brake Lines (to improve braking performance)
- Adjustable Chain Guide (to protect the chain)
- Acerbis Hand-guards (to protect the fingers and the levers)
- Acerbis Supermotard Front Fender (to improve aero drag and looks)
- LED Tail Light and Turn Signals (to improve the looks and reduce voltage draw)
- Secured Neutral Sending Switch (neutral gear indicator bolts that could come loose in the engine)
- Upgraded Engine Torque Limiter (to prevent starter gear train damage related to this model year)
- Upgraded Engine Base Gasket (factory paper gasket could lead to leaks)
Modifications Added Since Then
- Rear Luggage Rack (to improve usability)
- Happy Trails Luggage Rack with Pannier Set and Top Box (to secure and increase storage space)
- Symtec Heated Grips (to provide warmth to the fingers when it's cold)
- Centech AP-2 Fuse Box (to have better control of electronic add-ons)
- Eastern Beaver Headlight Relay Kit (to increase power to headlights)
- Voltminder Battery Voltage Monitor (to monitor battery health)
- Upper Chain Roller Removed (potential design flaw that could damage the frame)
- Aluminum Engine Side Case Protector (to increase engine protection)
- Wossner Forged Piston
- Scotts Stainless Steel Reusable Oil Filter (to reduce carrying spare parts - disposable filters)
- Rear Brake Master Cylinder Guard (to protect exposed components)
- Shortened Kick Stand and welded Larger Foot Plate (to improve stability when parked)
- Fabricated Highway Pegs (to reduce strain on legs)
- Fabricated Lexan Windshield (to improve comfort in terms of wind buffeting)
- Fabricated custom bike crutch to aid in tire repair
- Tool tube under engine and subframe (to increase carrying space)
Farkles (Functioning Sparkles: electronic add-ons)
- GPS: Garmin 60Cx with Touratech Locking Mount
- 12V Accessory plug: for running mini air compressor, heated vest and charging electronics
Maintenance done before the start of the trip
- Engine Rebuild with new transmission parts and gaskets all around
- New Oil and Oil Filter with Shell Rotella-T 15w-40 Synthetic
- Valve Clearance Check
- New EBC Front and Rear Brake Pads
- Bleeded Front and Rear Brake Fluid
- Cleaned and oiled K&N Air Filter
I've done all the above modifications and maintenance to improve my chances of how sanDRina will behave while we're out on the road. Some items will improve her performance, while others will add to my comfort and increase my usability. Not everything above is necessary before a motorcycle trip like this, but it gives me a better peace of mind, so that I can enjoy my journey more.
My Packing List
Over the course of many motorcycle trips during the past four years, I've learned what to carry and what to leave behind, becoming an efficient packer. The two biggest factors in deciding what to take are weight and space. Weight is always an issue as a heavier bike is harder to handle, tougher to pick up if you drop it and reduces fuel mileage. Space is obviously limited on a motorcycle and items that pack small are preferable. Also, items that are multi-functional are preferable.
I prefer to run hard luggage instead of soft bags due to the increased weather protection and safety of belongings, which is not that much of an issue in developed countries, but will be useful for traveling through some developing countries. Additional benefits of hard luggage include using them as camping stools and the ability to rivet additions features, such as spare tire-carrying mounts, etc. The downside of the aluminum luggage set is the added weight of the metal boxes as opposed to cloth saddle bags. Each box weighs about 10 lbs. However, to me the benefits out-weight these costs.
Along with clothes, tools, spares and food in the side panniers, I'm also taking along minimal camping equipment, a Digital SLR camera and other electronics in the top box.
Regarding riding gear, I follow the motorcycling ethos of ďAll The Gear, All The TimeĒ (ATGATT), meaning full protection of the whole body anytime Iím riding, even for a short distance. Sometimes wearing all the protective gear can be cumbersome, but if it helps me in surviving an accident, then itís worth the effort.
Motoport Riding Suit
Teknic Speedstar Summer Glove
Rev'It Celsius Winter Glove
Aerostich Triple-Digit Rain Glove Covers
Silk Glove Liners (x2)
Champion Insulated Glove Liners (x1)
Oxtar TCX Comp Boots (with torsional ankle protection)
Arai XD Dual-Sport Helmet with sun visor
In terms of clothes, I'll primarily be wearing my Motoport Kevlar Riding Suit with base layers. For the body to be comfortable, it's all about layering. If it gets colder, I'll throw on the windproof and waterproof liners of the riding suit and if it gets still colder, I have a performance thermal set, which I use for skiing. On the other extreme, for really hot temperatures, I have a cooling vest that works on the principle of evaporative cooling. Besides changing out the base layers, I only require a few other clothes for the evenings and days off from riding.
Base Layer Tops (synthetic x3, silk x1)
Base Layer Bottoms (synthetic x3, silk x1)
Bicycle Shorts (with padding)
Dry-Fit T-shirts (x1)
Regular T-shirts (x3)
Travel Pants (x1) (pants that zip-off into shorts)
Shorts for sleeping (x1)
Swim Trunks (for the beach)
Boxers (x2) for off-bike; on-bike itís commando under the base layers : )
Socks: Smart Wool (x1), Motorcycling Padded (x1), Silk (x2)
Kidney Belt (to aid lower back support)
Keen Sandals with toe protection
REI Camp Towel (quick drying)
Wahl Beard and Hair Trimmer
Anti-Monkey Butt Powder (to reduce soreness of the posterior muscles)
Toilet Paper (small roll)
Eye Allergy Drops
Mosquito Net with Boonie Hat
First Aid Kit with Sprain Bandage
Waterproof Document Holder
Catoma Twist 1-person Tent
GearGuide Light-weight Sleeping Bag
GearGuide Torso Sleeping Pad
MSR DragonFly Multi-fuel stove, runs off gasoline
Coleman Pot Set
LifeSaver Water Filter
FireSteel Flint for starting fires
Lexan Cutting Board
Emergency ready-to-eat meals
Laptop: Gateway ec1803u, a 10.6" high-end netbook
Western Digital 500GB and 1TB External Hard Drives
Digital Camera: Canon SD400 5 MP
Digital SLR Camera: KonicaMinolta 5D 6 MP with zoom lenses, remote, tripod
Helmet Camera: GoPro HD
GPS: Garmin 60Cx
Logitech iPod nano with Etymotic ER-6i earphones
Chargers for all devices
3-into-1 Wall Socket
iPod Speakers with AA batteries
LED Head Lamp
Even with all the precautions taken before the trip regarding the bike itself, things can still go wrong and one must be prepared for various situations. I have the tools required to fix a flat tire, change a tire, quick weld any pieces that break and other miscellaneous tools for upkeep and repair.
Motion Pro Chain Breaker and Rivet Tool
Tire Irons, 15" x3
Tire Pliers Bead Breaker
Tire Patch Kit
Slime Air Compessor
Mikuni Carb Jets
Tool Roll with:
Craftsman 3/8" Socket Wrench Flex Head
Spanners: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17 mm
Socket Set: 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17 mm; extensions: 1/4, 3/8
Socket Set Hex: 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 mm
Spark Plug Socket
Deep Socket: 12, 14 mm for engine mounts
Vice Grips (x2)
T-Handles: 4, 5, 6 mm
Front and Rear Axle Wrenches (19, 24 mm) with extension
Lots of Zip-Ties
Leatherman Wave Multi-purpose Tool
Cruz Daul-Sport Multi-purpose Tool
Duct Tape on wrench
Feeler Gauges for valve checks
Uni Filter Oil
Orange Hand Cleaner
Valve Core Remover
Tire Tubes (Front and Rear)
Clutch Cable mounted next to current clutch cable
Shift, Clutch and Brake Levers
Clutch Fibre Plates
H4 Headlight Bulb
Sprocket Set (Front 14 and Rear 42)
Miscellaneous Nuts and Bolts (M5, M6, etc)
Electrical Connectors, Fuses
Fork Dusk and Oil Seals
Brake Pads (Front and Rear, EBC)
I'm clearly not traveling light, but hey, I figure I need all these items to live peacefully on the road for 2 years. Could I do with less? Sure, but I'm looking at long-term life on the road and this should keep me sane.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Why am I doing this?
Professional: I'd like to make a career switch from engineering into humanitarian affairs and will be studying for a distance masters in Sustainable Development from the University of London during this trip. I hope to get first-hand knowledge of the various humanitarian needs through the regions I'll be traveling through, which will help me choose an area to get involved in at the end of the journey, such as water resources, appropriate technology, etc. I hope to use this trip as a stepping-stone to the next chapter in my life.
Personal: I was bitten by the travel bug at an early age and this trip will be a culmination of many years of planning, researching and dreaming. Having traveled in small bits and pieces to various countries, I'd like to see more of our beautiful Planet Earth and I'm at a point in my life that this is feasible.
Why so long for the trip, 2 years?
The general route is dictated by the regional climate, meaning that I'm trying to avoid the rainy season in most places along with extreme temperatures (height of summer and winters). From this data, two years to circulate around Latin America and Africa allows me to synchronize nicely with the seasonal climate. Also, I need enough down time to get some studying done. I'm planning to ride for a few days, then stop for a few days, see some sights and get some reading done for my courses.
In addition, in my research for this trip and through communication with seasoned long-duration travelers, I've learnt that 'the slower you go, the cheaper it gets,' referring to the majority of expenses on these kinds of trips being related to transportation (self or public). Staying in places longer will reduce my average daily costs, allowing me to stretch the dollar and travel for longer.
Why on a motorcycle instead of a car?
Besides the old adage of "four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul," benefits of motorcycle travel over automotive:
- overall cheaper cost, initial and running (better gas mileage, cheaper maintenance).
- simpler regarding complexity of machine; I am able to fully tear-down my motorcycle and perform most repairs on it with relatively few tools.
- size; I need only about 4 ft to get through with my motorcycle, compared to at least 8 ft for a car. This could be a narrow bridge, a goat path road up into the mountains or around fallen debris on the road.
- versatility; a motorcycle, especially a dual-sport one, is able to traverse over most any surface including wading through 2 feet of water (rivers).
- openness; us riders jokingly refer to car drivers as 'cagers' as in the driver is caged in the car compared to being exposed and out in the open on a bike. Car drivers will probably see this as a downside, however once you become a rider, you'll see this as a positive. Yes, you have to brave the elements, but with appropriate gear, comfort can be achieved in most weather situations and feeling the wind against you makes you feel more connected to your local surroundings compared to being nicely cocooned in a car.
- friendliness; the vulnerability of being open on a bike allows curious strangers to approach and make a new friend.
Will I be carrying a gun or other lethal weapons for self-defense?
No. Firstly, it's highly illegal to cross borders, especially across developing countries with weapons of any kind as this will be seen as a threat and quickly lead me to the local jail, which I donít want. I also feel that weapons can quickly escalate situations unnecessarily. I'm more on the Buddhist side of the spectrum and believe in soft power; going in with a smile, being friendly and respectful can diffuse most confrontations. Of course, there will be some situations where a weapon might be useful, but I will deal with them as they arise.
With my travel experience to date, I've learnt to be aware of my security in all situations; not being paranoid, but just being aware - making sure I'm not being followed, looking for exits from crowded places, recognizing unsafe parts of a new city, etc. I will try my best not to attract attention by flashing money or fancy gadgets in hopes of deterring common mugging. While I'll be hiding money in various places on me and on the bike, I will only have small change easily accessible along with a false wallet (with expired ID and credit cards) to easily hand over if I'm being mugged.
I'll also be using my brown skin to my advantage, hoping to pass off for a local in most places (the world's going beige :p ). After learning Spanish, I'm sure I could easily pass for a regional citizen in most of South America. I'll have to pick up Portuguese for Brazil. I might still stand out around Africa (I do know French for West Africa), but since there are so many Indians everywhere who migrated many generations ago, I might still pass off for a resident.
I do have mace/bear spray that I bought for bears in Alaska, but it wont be practical to be walking around everywhere with it. I'll still be taking it when I head off into the wilderness for protection against animals.
Where will I be staying?
Primarily it will be hostels and cheap hotels along the way and camping where possible, but I will be looking to stay with locals as much as I can. There are different avenues that I will be using to get in touch with people willing to host passing travelers, as it will be a more enriching experience to meet and stay with locals. I have done this on all my previous trips and made many new friends along the way. Resources: ADVrider.com Tent Space List, HorizonsUnlimited.com Communities, and CouchSurfing.org (similar concept to the previous two resources, but open to the general public, not just riders).
How am I funding this trip/lifestyle choice?
I lived frugally while I was working in the US for a major corporation and saved and invested my earnings with this trip in mind. However, its not a lot and I'll be looking to stretch the dollar as best as I can and am open to donations :) If you feel you're getting something useful from my trip report, please consider a small donation (paypal button on website) towards petrol or a meal on the road. Thanks.
How will I get access to money?
ATMs are widely available in all major cities and that will be the safest way to withdraw funds. I've chosen banks that don't charge ATM widthdrawl fees or at least, charge very little. Where possible, in safe locations, I will use my Capital One credit card, specifically because they don't charge any foreign transaction fees and give good exchange rates.
What about the health risks?
I've taken all the recommended immunizations (yellow fever, hepatitis a/b, typhoid, etc) and will be highly conscious of the food and water that I drink. In general, as long as it's hot and cooked in a relatively clean place, it'll be safe to eat. I love eating from roadside shacks and haven't gotten sick, yet. Plus, growing up in developing countries has probably left me with a pretty good immune system that hasn't been weakened by my time in the US. I'll be using a LifeSaver Water Filter that can filter out practically all viruses and bacteria and other water soluble contaminants. I will be carrying first-aid supplies and with a mother and sister being doctors, immediate advice is only a phone call away.
What if I get sick?
Diarrhea is probably the most common illness to plague travelers and I'm aware of how to tackle it (oral rehydration solution). Besides that, preventing mosquito bites will go a long way in disease prevention and I plan to use appropriate repellent where needed.
Do I have medical insurance?
I wonít be having any medical insurance since it doesn't seem to be practical for me being an Indian citizen. The costs for travelers from India is quite exorbitant and just paying for medical care as it rises will be a more cost effective strategy. I looked into medical evacuation insurance but currently that only applies to North American residents and once I leave the US, I give up my residency there.
What if something breaks on the motorcycle or I get a flat tire?
Over the past few years, in preparation for this trip, I have learnt how to properly maintain and repair most any breakdowns, including fixing flat tires and mounting a new tire. I will be carrying specific tools such as a chain-breaker for more complex servicing.
Do I know anybody in these countries that I'll be traveling through?
Not yet, but I'm likely to once the journey gets started.
What does "Jammin" mean and what's its significance?
"Jammin" is the username I selected when I joined my local Chicago sportbike forum and its significance has to do with Bob Marley's feel good song with a positive pulse. It's significance also stems from my constant need to have music playing, which is one of the reasons why I like long motorcycle trips as it allows me to listen to lots of music while bobbing down the road with my noise-isolating etymotic er-6i earphones.
How will I stay in touch, communicate?
Internet cafes are ubiquitous the world over and getting online should not be a problem. I will be updating this blog along with twitter and facebook every few days or whenever I get a good internet connection. I will also be traveling with an international roaming SIM card to make important phone calls and will be using skype for free webcam calls to my parents, so that my mom can see that I'm alive and well.
How will I cross from South America to Africa?
I'd like to take this 3 week journey on a cargo ship (Grimaldi RORO) from Buenos Aires but there are some logistical issues with that idea, so I might end up flying across, putting the bike on a pallet in the cargo compartment.
When am I coming back to the US?
I'm not sure.
Isn't Africa really dangerous? Donít they still eat people there? LOL
Yes, Africa is less developed than the rest of the world but that immediately doesn't make it more dangerous. There are dangerous places all over the world, including in your home town and one just needs to be aware of them and take the right precautions. And besides, I spent 8 years of my childhood in a remote corner of southern Africa and I can tell you it's a beautiful place with warm, friendly people.
Wont I miss home and my bed and all the other comforts?
Having lived in Zambia soon after birth and then growing up in India, "home" is a concept I've learned to adapt to wherever I happen to be at that moment in time. On my short motorcycle trips up to this point, I've noticed that I did not miss the comforts of my home even when things were going bad, so I think I'll be fine. I'm aware of "traveler's fatigue" and with an open-ended journey like this, I should be able to slow down and break the journey for a while if I need to. Yes, I'm going to miss my kitchen as cooking is a highly pleasurable activity, but I think I can fulfill that desire on this journey. I gave up watching regular TV a few years back and thus wonít be missing any programming, besides watching Formula 1 races. I will miss having almost instant access to high-speed internet, being part of the "plugged-in" generation, but I'll learn to live without it. I will miss my friends and I don't like to say goodbyes as the friendship doesn't need to end there and hopefully we can meet in the future.
If you have any other questions, do let me know.
Jammin screwed with this post 11-02-2010 at 09:51 AM