After hours of research, reviews and conversations with motorbike mechanics and enthusiasts I chose a Suzuki DR650. Her name is Dorris, the DR.
The prime reasons are that it is relatively cheap and considered to be bomb proof. It is a single cylinder which means it is mechanically simple and will run on fairly low octane fuel without too much concern. This could prove of benefit in South America and Asia. Additionally, it is oil cooled – no radiator or water system to worry about, has a host of after-market parts available and being a Suzuki, has a world-wide network of dealers for spare parts. It is reasonably light compared to say the BMW GS1200 however the trade-off for a lightweight and manoeuvrable option is that you probably want to limit yourself to 150kg’s on the bike (including yourself and any passenger) plus you lose a little bit of grunt, but I am not trying to win a rally and I will go for reliability, simplicity of mechanics and availability of parts over a fancy badge or a few more horses.
EFI v Carby
The only real debate that I could not separate in relation to the Suzuki DR650 was carburettor as opposed to Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI). A carburettor is a simple set-up of jets and slides – all moving, mechanical parts to mix air and fuel. Easy enough to maintain however prone to suffering from poor mixing ratios and is affected by weather conditions. For example, the air is lighter in oxygen at the top of the Andes and so your fuel ration may become too “rich” or too “heavy” on fuel. However, the air is also cooler, so more, smaller oxygen particles will enter the chamber which can also have an impact. Put simply – fuel/air ratios are difficult and EFI computers will manage those problems for you. For this reason, EFI is preferable to a carburettor however comes with its own concerns in that being electronic, you need a computer and the relevant software to diagnose and fix any problems that may arise. Carburettor mechanics simply requires a screw driver and a selection of small, lightweight brass jets. I have gone with a carburetted bike based on the remoteness of my travel, otherwise I see no reason why you would not choose EFI given that they are highly reliable systems these days and most cars operate with them now anyway. This means that even in some relatively low-fi towns you will likely find a mechanic with the relevant software and know-how to diagnose and fix electronic problems on cars, taxis, trucks, tractors and motorbikes.
The majority of my mods were in respect of comfort rather than performance. To this extent the bike has bar-raisers to Renthal bars for a higher riding position, bush basher hand guards, thick grips, Sergeant seat with a sheepskin throw-over and air cushion, flexi-pegs and a small wind shield. I have installed a simple piece of metal under the tank to operate as cruiser-pegs to allow for a change in riding position whenever the back or legs start to seize up and on the subject of metal – a bunch of bash plates and guards for added security against nasty rocks and tree stumps.
In relation to performance there is a stiffer rear suspension and spring (necessary for the additional weight of baggage), Staintune exhaust and the rear sprocket went up to 45 to provide a gear ration of 3.0.
Additional mods include a brighter headlight, USB charger tapped into the ignition cable, 35 litre Safari tank, tool tube and an electronic speedometer.
Something I debated for a long time was whether to include a centre stand on the bike. The huge benefit is that you can work on your bike from the side of the road. The cost is that you add weight and reduce clearance. I chose not to include it as I already had the front mounted footpegs.
There are also, of course, racks installed. I chose soft luggage rather than metal panniers. They are lighter, less bulky and easily removable. If in the event of catastrophic bike failure I need to change bikes, the soft luggage can come with me. I have capacity for around 40kg’s of luggage.
Come on Dorris, you can do it!