Choosing a Motorcycle
Maybe I should actually call this section "why I chose a KLR650 for my trip to South America". I actually picked the KLR out years ago. I had done some initial reading. The thing that originally got me hooked was the KLR's track record. It had been produced since 1987, and barely changed for over 20 years. Even with the 2008 overhaul, it's the same old machine for the most part.
The KLR650 is a great motorcycle. I would call it the crescent wrench of motorcycles. It can do pretty much anything, but isn't particularly good at any one thing. On freeways, I'm kicking my legs up on my highway pegs (aftermarket). On gravel roads, I'm cruising along dodging potholes. In the twisties, I'm leaning until I almost drag my panniers. On a steep dirt road littered with grapefruit shaped rocks, I'm starting to sweat, but still having a good time, even if more slowly.
The KLR comes stock with a 6.1 Gallon gas tank. Some people say they can get about 55 miles per gallon out of them. I don't normally see that. But with such a large gas tank, you can roll quite a ways without an upgrade. With the figures above about 330 miles, and going that far between gas stations is pretty difficult. There are some folks who upgrade them anyway, but I decided that was unnecessary, and so far it has been.
Planning a trip of maybe fifteen thousand miles, you're going to want to be pretty comfortable. In motorcycle terms, this means an upright riding position, alternate places to put feet on long rides, and a squishy place for your bottom. I actually like the KLR's stock seat. I think I'm one of the few people that do.
How Much Power do you Need?
I can't say it hasn't crossed my mind. Having some horsepower gives me a little extra confidence. On the other hand though, it should be noted that you don't actually need all that much. I'd like to make a point of noting that people have ridden mopeds from Alaska to Argentina. It's not the size that matters.
All of the things that one could do aside, a 650 single felt like about the right thing. Enough to keep me feeling stable on the freeway, and small enough that if I drop it on a hill in the middle of nowhere, I'll be able to get her back up.
You'll also likely find that outside of the US and Canada motorcycles tend to be a lot smaller. You see tons of small bikes everywhere. I would consider a BMW GS1200 to be a bit overkill for almost all situations. I'm sure it feels great on the freeway, but putzing around a tiny mountain town with all of the other vehicles, it offers very little advantage.
Potential for Problems, Potential for Fixes
My first reason for not buying a KTM or BMW just comes down to cash. It wasn't even on my options list really. But beyond that, trying to get a BMW or KTM worked on seems like it could be much more of a hassle, and might cost more to import necessary parts. I've even seen some random KLR bits around here and there.
With the KLR being remarkably the same for over 20 years, it makes the availability of parts, and people who know how to work on them, much higher. Of course, this is just one thing to take into consideration.
Now Tell Us What You Don't Like About The KLR
Enough about how awesome it is, what's the truth?
Your Gas Mileage May Vary
I feel like I could be doing better. I'm seeing around 40 miles per gallon. Of course, I put a KLX needle in my carbs, so maybe that's just what I get. I'm also not a very gas conscious driver.
Jealous of Anyone?
Sometimes I wish I had a little more oomph going up a big hill. Then I'm thinking about the KTM 990 Adventure. On the flip side sometimes I wish I had a smaller more maneuverable bike when things get a bit more tough, and then I start thinking about a Suzuki DR400.
It all depends on what I'm doing, and if I feel that way in both directions, it probably means that I've reached a happy middle ground.
In the KLR community, upgrades are called 'farkles'. There are some that are pretty much mandatory, including the 'doohickey'. I'm not going to go any deeper than that here, but if you are buying a KLR, or any other bike, you need to be aware of its idiosyncrasies.
After buying a brand new KLR, you're likely to spend one to two thousand dollars on upgrades, and add ons. These include mechanical things, skid plate, luggage racks, luggage, etc. It's more than you're probably thinking. It's also more work than you're probably thinking, but also a good chance to get to know your bike. I went so far as to add heated grips to mine, and will never look back.
It has its ups and downs. It would be nice to ride off the lot and head for the Darien Gap. On the flip side is that you get to put a lot of custom love and farkling into a KLR.
View From the Saddle
What can I say? It's a motorcycle. You just can't hate on that. Here's a video shot from a gopro a couple of years ago on my way to and around Death Valley for a little trip.