the faithful steed…….

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. IMG_6871As 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. IMG_8047I 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. IMG_8053Along 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.

IMG_6784Everything 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.

the wait…..

Day 11 – Busan, South Korea

In my last post I mentioned some stresses currently with regards to my bike so this time I’d thought I’d explain a little more. Let’s go back maybe a year or so when I first contacted Bikes Abroad, a company in Australia that facilitates exactly that, getting bikes overseas. I found their details through my months of researching which came with many recommendations from fellow travellers using their services. Communication was great with Ivan throughout the ensuing months and as the leave date got closer, everything seemed to run smoothly. He gave me some options as to which ship to use for the journey depending on my timetable and we decided the ANL Warrnambool would suit our needs.  A 249m container ship sailing under the German flag, she’s not a pretty vessel but I’m sure she’s got plenty of nautical miles under her belt since the wife of some CEO of a ship building company broke a bottle of champagne across her bow back in 2009.

So with the booking in place, the only thing left to do was get the bike crated up and prepped for its 26 (give or take) days on the water, sailing from Brisbane to Singapore then onto Busan. I was able to luck onto grabbing a steel crate from the local Suzuki dealer for free. I think it may have been for a large cruiser-style bike as the length and width were right but I had to extend the uprights another 130mm for the height of my bike. I was working to a certain cubic capacity as that’s what shipping rates are calculated on and Ivan had given me quotes based on 2.6cu.m. At this dimension all I had to do was remove the screen and unbolt the handlebars to turn them sideways as with full width bars and Barkbusters, they were a bit too wide. I could however leave the front wheel on which is a bonus. Some others choose remove it to reduce the size but its a bit awkward due to the weight to get it back on by yourself. One less thing to worry about. So we delivered the bike to the shippers facility after I rode it over there with my wife Trina following in the car with the crate on the roof racks and the luggage in the back and packed it all up one last time for it to be loaded and set sail on the 8th April.


Fast forward to last week. It was my second day in Japan and I was checking in on the progress of this ship thinking how close it would be to arriving in Busan. I’d been using the Vessel Finder website which tracks any and all commercial ships all around the world the last week or two to follow it on its journey. The last time I looked which was around the 20th April, it had just left Singapore as scheduled and, as I’d thought at the time, was continuing on its journey to Busan. When I checked on the 2nd May, it was showing as sitting back at Port of Brisbane preparing for its next sailing to NZ.

Huh? Hang on. Wait, what? OK, so that didn’t make sense. What happened to Busan? Was there a problem with the ship? But more importantly, where’s my bike? All these questions were running through my head along with scenarios of what would happen next. I emailed Ivan straight away to check in but understandably would not know an answer straight away. As the days went on not knowing, the anxiety levels were rising and Ivan hadn’t gotten an answer either. To make matters worse, I’d picked up a bad cold along the way due to probably running myself ragged, not eating properly, the flight over or a combination of all 3. So Friday comes and still no word from Ivan. I assumed I’m not going to hear anything over the weekend either so resigned myself to continue with the plan, get the ferry to Busan and hopefully Monday I’ll hear something. Monday comes, ferry ride is done and I check my emails every chance I get. Luckily free wifi in Korea is in abundance it seems. By 3pm I hadn’t seen anything so decided to call Ivan back in Australia hoping he had some news for me. Which he didn’t but was confident by the end of the day of Tuesday he would hear back from his contact at the shipping agency. He’d forwarded on my email from last week to chase the info up and when he himself hadn’t heard anything by Friday, he had to harass them again. See where this is going? Ask a question to one person, they have to ask the next, then the next and so on. It all takes time.

So to assure I get any communication as it comes in, I confine myself to the guesthouse in Busan. Luckily its an awesome spot with all the wifi I can use. I’ve been the lone boarder since I arrived so I have just been extending my stay each day until I can leave on two wheels. Then Tuesday I finally get the confirmation I was waiting for. My bike did in fact change ships in Singapore and was aboard the KMTC Shenzhen and was due to arrive in Busan that day. Hooray! Technically 6 days later then we had all planned but confirmation it wasn’t lost or sent back to Australia was good enough for me!! Now the wait began to see how long it takes to be made available. I assumed nothing would happen until Thursday at the earliest as it would’ve needed to be unloaded, move from warehouse to warehouse and so on which was cutting it tight as I need to be half way up the east coast first thing Sunday morning to catch the once a week ferry to Vladivostok.

Thankfully, I received an email from Wendy, my shipping broker yesterday saying I needed to go to the Customs office today (Thursday) to start clearing the bike through customs. Hopefully that means I can ride it back here to the guesthouse this afternoon and we can get this adventure going proper.

So that, dear reader, was the additional grief I had been having with the bike shipping. I’m sure to all involved, it was just the normal thing that happens all the time and in the big scheme of things, I’ve maybe lost 2 days? of riding in South Korea. It’s just the additional grey hairs and ulcer I didn’t need!