Day 12 – Busan, South Korea
In my opening two posts, I talked about the why and I talked about the where. Now that all the other crazy stuff is behind us and the bike and I are now reunited, I reckon it’s time to talk about the how. The faithful steed. My two wheeled obsession. The petrol powered stress reliever. (that somehow sounded dirty) Those of you who ride are already nodding your heads in understanding. Those of you who don’t, you really should. Life would be so much simpler if everyone rode motorcycles, don’t you think? When was the last time you saw a motorcycle parked outside a psychologists office? The only stress we would encounter is wondering how far that next service station is or if you should switch to reserve. Or hoping you beat the rain home.
My passion for balance-based motorised transport bloomed quite late in life. I’ve always been interested in mechanical things. A bit of a heartland motoring enthusiast, you’d say. I still own my first car, I’ve had it for 23 years now, others have come and gone since but this one will stay with me forever, I worked in the automotive industry for over 10 years, most of those as a mechanic. My allegiance to automotive marques and styles wavered over the years but they were always firmly entrenched with four wheels. I didn’t grow up riding dirt bikes as a kid. The lure of death-defying speed on two wheels fuelled by fresh licenced bravado wasn’t there as a 20 year old. I was happy modifying and personalising my own metal box you sat in.
A career change in 2009 began the change in thinking however. I started working with a whole new group of people with a variety of automotive passions, both two wheeled and four. This and the realisation that it was a lot easier and faster to customise and build a bike and you can fit 4 bikes in the space a car takes up at home. So I bought my first bike, an old Suzuki GR650, off eBay in 2010 and started playing around with it and I was hooked pretty quickly.
Fast forward to 2014 and with prompting from my wife, an understanding bank manager and an impending 40th birthday, I bought my 2008 Suzuki DL650A Vstrom. I chose this bike mainly due to good reviews at the time and within a reasonable price range for what you get. For the uninitiated, the Vstrom is sometimes referred to as a Dual Sport bike or a bike that is not a pure road bike but not built to be an off-road machine either. With its sweet fuel injected 650cc V-Twin engine and 6 speed gearbox, these thing gobble up the miles on the highway with ease while delivering great fuel economy. This and the comfy seat and upright position make it a great way to see a lot of the country while enjoying the outdoors on road. It’s capable off road with the right mods but when I say off road think dirt roads and fire trails more than Dakar-esque sand dunes or the jungle single tracks of the Amazon. A more apt description then I suppose is Adventure Tourer (if it needs a label). A bike that can to take you most places around the world from the smooth motorways of Europe to the graded dirt highways of Alaska.
So I buy this bike back in 2014 and it already had some worthy touring mods and additions like hard luggage and top box, GPS and bigger front screen. There were a few extra things it needed before I took my first trip down south through NSW. Being the resourceful chap that I am, I made a bash plate for the bottom of the bike, a mesh headlight guard and radiator guard. As many Vstrom owners know, the positioning of the oil filter at the front of the engine makes running on dirt roads a precarious proposition without some sort of protection. As for the headlight guard, you don’t hear of many Vstrom headlights being broken by a stray rock but I’d hate to think what they’re worth to replace. Plus the mesh guard looks cool.
After I returned from my first bike holiday, the V took up commuting duties while I slowly made small improvements when funds allowed. These all followed the same basic idea of making the bike more adventure worthy.
You’ll notice a common thread as you read on throughout this blog regarding cost savings and making stuff. Those of you into Adventure Touring will agree that most bikes aren’t perfect straight off the showroom floor and companies like Touratech survive quite well on the need for us all to want the best (and coolest) additional accessories. If one so choses, he (or she) can double the value of their steed with a catalogue full of trinkets and add-ons. Cool if you can afford it.
I’ve had some requests from Vstrom guys to list down the mods and accessories I’ve decided are required to ensure safe and reliable passage to the other side of the world.
Starting from the ground up, I’ve chosen the Motoz Tractionator GPS tyres to get me through the first half of the journey. Prior to these I ran Heidenau K60’s which I found to be a great tyre, albeit on the high end of the pricepoint. Aggressive enough to give you confidence off road but still with some quite good road manners. I put almost 15k kms on these K60’s before swapping out to the GPS’s but if I wasn’t taking off on this trip, I’m confident I could have got a few more thousand k’s out of them before they needed changing. I chose to go with the GPS’s mainly due to some great reviews, with many riders comparing them as equals to the K60’s with similar mileage. They’re also an Aussie owned company so it’s nice to support local brands. Oh, and they’re cheaper. This trip will most certainly require another change in boots before arriving in the UK but I’ve decided to wait and see when instead of carrying another set from home. If I can make the GPS’s last til Moscow, I’ll consider running a more road oriented tyres to hit Scandinavia with.
To protect the bike from the inevitable falls through the off road sections of the journey, I’ve gone with SW Motech crashbars and Barkbusters Jet hand guards. I’ve recently modified the aforementioned home made bash plate to tie into the crashbars for a sturdier mounting.
On the comfort/ ergonomics front, I’ve changed out the stock bars for ProTaper SE ATV Hi bars, a popular option for Strommers. SW Motech 1” risers secure these to the bike to make it more comfortable in a standing position along with Pivot Pegz footpegs mounted to 1” lower peg mounts. Along with some shorter dog bones in the rear suspension link, these all come together to make the bike a lot more comfortable for someone pushing 6’3”. Some Oxford Heated Grips round out the controls to help out on those chilly mountain passes. These were one of those ‘deals too good to be true’ moments, picking them up on ebay for about $30 (when they run to about $140 new) with the promise of ‘only used for one trip’. Yeah, not so much. Looking slightly worse for wear, setup for an quad with the sleeve glued into the RH grip and a couple of cooked chips in the controller, these grips had only one setting (Nuclear) when hooked up to power and could not be switched off. So the solution came with a waterproof, backlit rocker switch and the orginal controller tucked up under the cowl. Just have to remember not to leave them on. An Airhawk seat pad looks after the only other part of my body attached the bike.
I haven’t done much to the mechanical side of things apart from an Akrapovic exhaust, another awesome deal second hand. Running at over $1000 to buy new, this pipe woke up the bike and gave the exhaust the note it was meant to have. Almost Ducati-esque in my opinion.
Everything else mechanical was done recently as part of a major service. Chain and sprockets, filters, oil, spark plugs, valve clearance check (all in spec luckily), fresh oil in the forks, brake pads front and rear, new battery and a good check over of everything else.
So there you have it, not a huge amount of changes to go half way round the world but enough in the right places to make it comfortable, safe and protected. If you see anything on the bike I’ve forgotten to mention here, drop me a line in the comments.