The Perfect Bike for the Job

We have, and have had, many bikes. MANY bikes. Periodically I hear people string together the oddly incongruent words “I have too many bikes”. Once my brain accepts the fact that those words can legally be strung together, and they do, in fact, sort of translate to a real sentence in English (no matter how bizarre), I point out that all our bikes are uniquely well suited for all different things. We have two FJRs, one for each of us, for all the best touring and combat commuting. The FZ1 held that role before the FJRs came around, but it’s just so dang fun to ride that I haven’t been able to justify parting with it. The Suzuki Bandit with the sidecar: Fun AND practical! The dirt bikes, big and small. Vintage stuff. The rickshaw. Oh, and don’t forget the Cushman. There are just so many cool bikes out there, and I wouldn’t want to make any of them feel self-conscious by giving the impression that one was more worth owning than another. One of our old customers named it best: This is indeed Wendy’s Home for Wayward Bikes. I also point out that when we added our 11th bike to our insurance policy, our premiums actually went DOWN $14 a year. We reached the point where adding bikes began to earn us a return. At that point, how can you afford NOT to have more bikes?

My point is, we have a lot of bikes to choose from. We’re not opposed to buying a new bike if we thought it would fill a need that couldn’t be filled by one of our current herd. If it was just Mike and I making the trip, we’d most likely just buy bikes in South America. Shipping our bikes, especially the sidecar rig, is going to be one of (if not the) biggest single expense of the trip. This is going to be a trip of mellow exploration, not a time-limited attempt to cram as much vacation into as short a short window as possible; that being the case, we could happily settle for a smaller displacement dual sport as opposed to a bigger sport tourer. Additionally, it looks like a lot of smaller ferry services charge higher prices based on motorcycle displacement, so a little dual sport could save us a few bucks in that way as well.

Unfortunately, traveling with a Small One with a short inseem who is still somewhat prone to spontaneous napping (I’m talking about Montessa, not Mike) means that the sidecar is a practical necessity. I haven’t seen a single sidecar rig come up on any of the overlander forums in the months I’ve been frequenting them. I’m sure we could scare one up, but at what expense? How long would it take us to find a safe, reliable rig at a palatable price? How far would we have to travel to buy it, and how much would it cost us to get there? That just seems like way too much of a gamble with our travel time, so the sidecar is going to be locked down ahead of time and shipped from here. We wouldn’t be opposed to an adventure rig with a pulling sidecar wheel or a dual-sport-specific hack rig, but not at the expense of reliability. That really limits the options. We like our Bandit rig; it’s proven reliable, it’s relatively easy to find parts for, and the car is spacious with plenty of storage space and a fully enclosed passenger compartment. Unless something awesome comes along in the meantime, the Bandit is almost certainly making the trip.

That brings us to my ride. We had a Gen 1 Kawasaki KLR 650 that we loved, which we bought specifically for a South America ride. Alas, that bike recently met its demise when someone couldn’t be bothered to look both ways before pulling out of a driveway. After a stuntman-worthy tuck and roll over the top of the offending vehicle, Mike walked away with just a few bumps and buises. RIP KLR. The second bike I considered was my FJR, but I discounted that fairly quickly. Not because I don’t love it but because of how much I love it. I’ve easily put another $12,000 into a bike that cost $12,000 new, and it is my perfect finely-tuned endurance rally machine. It fits me like a glove, it’s comfortable, reliable, and functional, and has every piece of tech I need to pull off an 11-day, 11,000+ mile Iron Butt Rally. I need virtually none of those attributes for a mellow, meandering family adventure. Most importantly, Mike proposed to me with our matching set of FJRs. There’s no way I’m going to part with either FJR willingly, and if something major happened to it in South America it could potentially be very cost prohibitive to get it back home.

9/24/04 – The day our adventure really began!

That brought us around to the Yamaha FZ1. As I mentioned, it was my all-around tourer/adventurer/commuter before the FJRs were added to our stable. I’ve ridden it in all 48 lower states, plus Mexico and most of the Canadian provinces. It’s fun, reliable, and significantly lighter than the FJR. I also recently came into some awesome hard luggage – saddlebags and trunk- that I think I can attach to the FZ1 without too much drama. One of the biggest “pros” for the FZ1 is this: Shipping to South America is expensive. Shipping back to North America is expensive. Our bikes aren’t wildly valuable, and we’re seriously considering just selling one or both of them in South America at the end of our trip as opposed to shipping them back home. As much as I love the FZ1 – I bought it brand new and I’ve put over 130,000 miles on it – it’s value just doesn’t justify shipping it home. I could reasonably spend a year convincing myself to part with it, whereas the FJR will have to be violently pried out of my cold, overfilled garage.

So is this going to be a YamaSuki match made in overlanding heaven? It’s currently the most likely match up. We’re definitely still open to other options; maybe we’ll ship the sidecar and we’ll buy a bike for me when we get down there. Maybe we’ll come across another smaller-displacement dual sport up here and bring that in place of the FZ1; smaller displacement, smaller footprint, lower shipping costs. Maybe some wealthy benefactor will want to buy us a couple R1200s with DMC Expedition sidecars for maximum storage and full-on family-style motorcycle touring awesomeness. Or maybe we’ll be shipping my faithful ol’ FZ1 and Monty’s magnificent Bandit and have an absolute blast.

For our honeymoon, Mike and I rode our bikes beyond the Arctic Circle to the Canadian town of Inuvik. I can’t tell you how many people have said “Why on earth would you take FJRs up there? That’s a terrible choice for that ride! You SHOULD have gone on a…” Except those comments invariably came from people who did little more than commute on their bike. My reply? “We rode the FJRs because we owned FJRs. We could have waited forever to identify, purchase, and outfit the ‘perfect’ bike, or we could go with what we had. At the end of the day, we’ve been to Inuvik and you’re still dreaming of the perfect bike.” Both the FZ1 and Bandit are up to the task, so if they’re the two who make the trip with us, at the end of the day, we will have spent a year enjoying South America together as a family. And in my opinion, that’s what makes them the perfect bikes for the job.


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