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Old 06-21-2014, 12:30 PM   #1
sky44 OP
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Eek talk me out of an airhead for a south america trip

So right now I've got a 76 KZ400. it's my commuter. I rode it 120 miles one day through the mountains, and i felt like I'd been beaten. So it's not a touring bike. also it's got like 27 hp on a good day. I turned it from a backyard waste to a daily driver.


I used to have a KLR650. it was my little buddy and I took it everywhere. It got my brand new to motorcycle riding ass over georgia pass 2 weeks after the MSF class.


I've been in love with airhead BMWs since I knew of their existence. I'm a good wrench. I believe in preventative maintenance. I've also been really digging the sound and fury of 2 cylinder engines over thumpers.

So I'm thinking after i finish my engineering degree I'd like to make a trip to south america by bike, and probably stay there. I'm an engineers without borders member and I plan to volunteer at several of their projects on the way, hopefully make some good connections, and get a job somewhere.

I know i can't register a US bike in SA most likely.. so I'll be parting out or illegally selling whatever i bring. Maybe would be able to ship it back or sell to a US buyer. I expect the bike to basically be a write off once i get settled. It seems like BMW or KLRs would be easy to get rid of for OK money....

so... basically looking at a non-GS airhead in the 3500 dollar range. I'm open to a K75 if anyone thinks that would be a good idea.


downsides- way old. a little more complicated. pricier parts. not so good offroad. tire choices? is there something moderately knobby and long wearing that would be good for this kind of ride? parts availability? I hope to have it pretty well sorted by the time I leave, but crashes and other unforeseen damage or failure are always a possibility.

upsides- easier highway cruising, "cool", probably better comfort on road. no chain to mess with (of course a driveline failure on one of these would have me stuck for awhile)

so the KLR would be pretty much "grab and go"... would the BMW really be that big of a hassle assuming I did my homework in regard to buying it, and took it apart and greased it good before I left? Let's say I did all the "known" fixes on the bmw (there are some seals, and the splines to grease and a few others...?) how much money am I really looking at? i'll do the work myself. Any KLR I get would need crash bars, doohicky, lighting, thermobob, fork springs, swingarm grease... ok maybe not so grab and go.

and yeah i realize this whole trip is me getting in way over my head. sorry for the long post. only you guys understand me.
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Old 06-21-2014, 01:01 PM   #2
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I did south america on an airhead and I had a couple friends with me on thumpers that hated me once they got a chance to try the airhead. Yes, the airhead was heavier and tougher to handle on dirt, but the reality of the situation is that you'll spend the vast majority of your time on pavement anyway. I'd toughen up the suspension, that's the number one failure item for any bike carrying heavy loads for a long time on rough roads.
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Old 06-21-2014, 01:18 PM   #3
sky44 OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Airhead Wrangler View Post
I did south america on an airhead and I had a couple friends with me on thumpers that hated me once they got a chance to try the airhead. Yes, the airhead was heavier and tougher to handle on dirt, but the reality of the situation is that you'll spend the vast majority of your time on pavement anyway. I'd toughen up the suspension, that's the number one failure item for any bike carrying heavy loads for a long time on rough roads.

you did it with the GSPD?

I probably will be attempting it on a non-GS... just because the GS bikes tend to be harder to find in good condition at a good price.

I hear SA is more and more paved each year. I doubt I'd really be using the KLR to its full ability anyway for dirt out there.. It'll have all my worldly posessions aboard and I really wouldn't want to risk breaking it and thereby ending my trip anyway.
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Old 06-21-2014, 03:06 PM   #4
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No idea what's involved registering or selling a non local BMW or any bike in SA. But IMHO a "good condition" airhead would be a great choice for the trip. Worn out, tired, abused bikes are junk regardless of design or manufacturer. Start with a good one or rebuild what's needed to make it sound again. Personally I love the places in SA that I've been to but planning a ride down there and thinking about arriving and possibly staying there is kinda jumping the gun. Do the ride there first. THEN after you been there awhile decide on the residency thing and deal with what ever it takes. If once there you can't afford to eat a bike you can't sell just ride your current Kaw bike down. You'll need/want a bike anyway living there. Bring a known condition bike is a plus. A hand in the bush is worth two birds.
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Old 06-21-2014, 03:21 PM   #5
disston
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An Airhead of any vintage can make the trip. The knowledge and tech expertise of the rider will probably count more than for other brands. Airheads keep going because they are repairable not because they don't break. If you are new to Airheads then it may not be the right choice because there is a learning curve. If you have general repair knowledge it does count but many things about Airheads are unique.

We constantly get new riders here that say they did a carb balance and we find out after a few probing questions that they haven't set the valve lash. They haven't set the ignition points dwell or timing. We are not kidding when we tell them, "Valves, Timing and Carb Balance." In that order.

With Airheads it is helpful to leave some larger parts behind already packaged that can be shipped to you. A spare alternator rotor and other electric parts. A spare transmission. A spare final drive. This is sometimes the program of riders going out of the country. There are parts in other countries but they aren't always right around the block.

If a bike with high compression is bought you may want to install low test gaskets before using much South American gasoline. You could also dual plug the heads which fixes the same problem. Both these jobs require taking the cylinders off the engine.

You will want a well stocked tool kit. The standard on board tool wrap is just a start. Add an exhaust wrench, a test light, a small dependable VOM, a small self contained timing light, etc.....

Which vintage Airhead you choose will matter. I think there will be a lot of disagreement over what vintage is best. I would stick with 1970 through 1980, low milage, dual plugs, upgrade the brakes and a large gas tank. (even though a /5 is in my bracket I would try not to use a /5 or the first year of /6. so that leaves 1975 through 1980) That's more my prejudice and knowledge base maybe than an outright recommendation.

If you end up somewhere in S. America with a bike titled in the USA I see no problems selling that bike if you have the title. But I'm no expert on that subject either.
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Old 06-21-2014, 03:33 PM   #6
shaner1100gs
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Theirs a couple on the forum that did it with a R100. She wrote a book about it. http://www.amazon.com/Beads-Headligh.../dp/B00H5BZ4L2 They cracked a rim somewhere in Central America and the guys here got a used rim and other parts to them.
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Old 06-21-2014, 05:32 PM   #7
sky44 OP
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thanks for all the input..

I actually just test rode my first airhead today.

first impression- terrifying. weird clutch. sounds like a tractor.

once i got settled in (happened pretty quick) i was impressed with the smoothness, torque, and incredible sense of stability. I rode an R100RS, I think I'd probably go for one of the "standard" styles with the more upright bars- no fairing.



as far as selling a bike in SA- the big issue is most countries have restrictions on import of vehicles. I think basically to help local dealers sell new motorcycles and cars. There are some workarounds involving "antique" or "classic" vehicles, or selling to a diplomat of some sort. I could see a used airhead being welcome for parts and stuff down there though. I have heard of a few people selling their bikes in AR or chile "illegally" to locals. Maybe I could sell it to one of yall to fly down and ride it back up, who knows.

I'm pretty set on staying down there... but the ride comes first.
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Old 06-21-2014, 06:34 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sky44 View Post
you did it with the GSPD?

I probably will be attempting it on a non-GS... just because the GS bikes tend to be harder to find in good condition at a good price.

I hear SA is more and more paved each year. I doubt I'd really be using the KLR to its full ability anyway for dirt out there.. It'll have all my worldly posessions aboard and I really wouldn't want to risk breaking it and thereby ending my trip anyway.
It was an r80st with GS forks on it and a longer than stock rear shock. It worked out fine, but there were a few failures along the way. I hit a monster of a pothole in mexico doing 70 and broke a few spokes, the rear main seal let loose in Colombia, cracked the sump in Bolivia, fork seals took a shit in Bolivia, shock failed in northern Argentina, then again in southern Argentina, and that was about it. Depending on the kinds of roads you're riding, any bike would fair the same (or worse). Everyone else I was with had to have things welded on a semi-regular basis, so the airhead did better than par for our course.
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Old 06-21-2014, 07:03 PM   #9
sky44 OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Airhead Wrangler View Post
It was an r80st with GS forks on it and a longer than stock rear shock. It worked out fine, but there were a few failures along the way. I hit a monster of a pothole in mexico doing 70 and broke a few spokes, the rear main seal let loose in Colombia, cracked the sump in Bolivia, fork seals took a shit in Bolivia, shock failed in northern Argentina, then again in southern Argentina, and that was about it. Depending on the kinds of roads you're riding, any bike would fair the same (or worse). Everyone else I was with had to have things welded on a semi-regular basis, so the airhead did better than par for our course.
so adding a longer shock is doable? This won't bring the wrath of the splines?

I'll be enlisting the help of a race truck building friend for skid plates and crash bars.
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Old 06-21-2014, 07:15 PM   #10
Airhead Wrangler
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well, in my case a longer shock was pretty well travelled territory - the R80ST uses an identical frame and swingarm to those of the R80G/S. So I replaced my shock with one that was the same length and travel as a G/S shock. Twin shock airheads and paralevers are a different matter though. It's doable on twin shocks, but the major weakness is that the shocks are mounted to the subframe rather than the main frame. Paralevers it's just a bad idea as the u-joint angles are already pushed as far as they should be.
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Old 06-21-2014, 07:54 PM   #11
knary
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If I wasn't going to live with and appreciate the tool after the task, I'd get the simplest sturdiest and cheapest tool. In this case, a KLR or DR650.
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Old 06-21-2014, 07:57 PM   #12
bgoodsoil
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Any vintage bike is going to take more effort, both physical and mental, since you don't just have to do the repairs but also learn how to do them.

For $3500 you can get a bike that's 25 years newer. The rubber won't have rotted so you won't be swapping gaskets all over the place or rebuilding carbs. You're riding maybe 10,000 miles or so. Plenty of people ride 10k on new bikes without knowing every nut and bolt on them. Get one in decent shape and you'll be alright. You're not riding to the moon. If you don't plan on sticking with the airhead after the trip I don't think I'd buy one.

AW's right--you'll spend the majority of your time on highways and thumpers aren't very comfortable for that type of riding. That being said, they're cheap, they're simple, and the one's you're looking at will be much newer. For one trip you can put up with a little vibration. I'd go for a DR and a duffel bag if I were in your shoes.

*edit: I had a KLR for a year and 23,000 miles. I had a great time on mine, lotsa road trips and lotsa offroading, but the DR is a better bike. Lighter and more reliable. The water-cooling on the KLR isn't an advantage since it sucks so bad, I've personally swapped engines on a grenaded KLR due to a doohickey failure, and the KLR weighs 50 pounds more with all the weight high up--right where you don't want it.
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Old 06-21-2014, 08:55 PM   #13
Runaway Train
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Selling a bike in SA

Quote:
Originally Posted by sky44 View Post
thanks for all the input..

I actually just test rode my first airhead today.

first impression- terrifying. weird clutch. sounds like a tractor.

once i got settled in (happened pretty quick) i was impressed with the smoothness, torque, and incredible sense of stability. I rode an R100RS, I think I'd probably go for one of the "standard" styles with the more upright bars- no fairing.



as far as selling a bike in SA- the big issue is most countries have restrictions on import of vehicles. I think basically to help local dealers sell new motorcycles and cars. There are some workarounds involving "antique" or "classic" vehicles, or selling to a diplomat of some sort. I could see a used airhead being welcome for parts and stuff down there though. I have heard of a few people selling their bikes in AR or chile "illegally" to locals. Maybe I could sell it to one of yall to fly down and ride it back up, who knows.

I'm pretty set on staying down there... but the ride comes first.
Okay so a little background on me. I had an R65 and rode it up to over 100k kms. I was planning a trip to Ushuaia in 2008. I sold it to buy a KLR because I didn't think it would survive the trip. I rode the KLR to Ushuaia and it performed well, I love the KLR! In hindsight the R65 would have quite likely been just fine.
This opinion is based on my having owned the R65 for 7 years and knowing well its service history.
I ended up selling my KLR at the end of the trip and flying home, this decision would have been much more difficult to make had I ridden the R65.
There are two "finca" free zones in Chile: Iquique and Punta Arenas, so if you are wanting to sell your bike this is where to do it. I can put you in touch with the importer who bought my bike (for himself actually) if you want.
In short, I think a non-GS airhead would do just fine, but definitely get to know you airhead and service it extensively as a preventative measure. I saw lots of KLRs in my travels, and a few airheads too. When and if I do that trip again I will choose the KLR just because it handles way better in the twisters than an airhead, and there are plenty of heavenly twisties to be enjoyed.
Good luck, I hope this helps.
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Old 06-21-2014, 09:54 PM   #14
sky44 OP
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If I wasn't going to live with and appreciate the tool after the task, I'd get the simplest sturdiest and cheapest tool. In this case, a KLR or DR650.

maybe i'll just find myself a legal airhead in whatever country i end up and ditch the klr then....


I'll give DR's another look too... I'm pretty tempted by the v-stroms.. Out of all the bikes i've test ridden lately it was probably the best all around... I've seen some good ones for under 4 grand used too....

I gotta get an airhead someday just to get myself over it though....
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Old 06-21-2014, 10:22 PM   #15
bgoodsoil
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I've ridden a few 650 stroms and a 1000 once. They're great bikes. Plenty of power, good suspension, good brakes. It'd be better than either a KLR or a DR for a trip if you can get one in your price range.

Man, I love my airhead. They're simple enough that you can dig in to them without needing a degree or $1,000 worth of special tools and they're old enough that you'll have to do it. Folks tend to build a relationship with them because of that and those folks form a great community. There are a lot of reasons to get an airhead that have nothing to do with cost or performance. I'm not saying that one is right for you or your upcoming trip but I went with an airhead on my big road trip a while back and I'm glad that I did. It requires a bit of a commitment, and can sometimes be frustrating, but it's rewarding.
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