UK to Australia
...and everywhere in between
Overland by Motorcycle
Most motorcycles are designed by the manufacturers to suit the 'average' rider.
This is not an 'average' trip, so a number of modifications were made in preparation.
These changes were primarily to increase the luggage capacity but also to make the bike more robust, given that it will be used daily and cover many thousands of miles.
If the bike breaks down on the road in a remote part of the world, it will be much harder to find help and replacement parts, so preparation and prevention are the name of the game.
With kind thanks to the following for their support:
Roll over the red dots for brief explanations. Click on the red dots to see more detailed information and modification write-ups.
Model: BMW F650GS Dakar
Engine: 652cc Rotax single cylinder
Year: 2003 model
Mileage: 11,134 miles at the start of the trip
Fuel tank: 17 litres
Range: 210-320 miles (55-89 mpg or around 26km/litre)
Wheels: 21" front / 17" rear
Weight: 192kgs (fully fuelled but without luggage)
Reasons for Choice
The F650GS is a simple bike in terms of engine and electrics and on that basis should be relatively easy to fix in case something goes wrong. It is a proven, reliable model and was in production for over 3 years before purchase, so any design faults should have been ironed out. One key limitation is the quality of the steering head bearings, which is known to be poor (this probably applies more to the 'non-GS' model). This part was replaced prior to travel as a precaution at which point it was found to be the worse for wear (after just 10,000 miles). Apparently, this is caused by the BMW factory overtightening them.
The bike has a good balance between suitability for surfaced and unsurfaced roads. Many other options seem to excel in just one of these at significant expense of the other. The BMW does both, but neither of them exceptionally. One could say dull and dependable, but it's functionality that we're after here. The F650GS does this at a reasonable weight whilst still having a strong enough sub-frame for luggage.
When more than one rider is travelling, it is recommended that similar bikes are taken. This allows the sharing of tools, knowledge and helps with the alignment of fuelling, service intervals and spares. It is also useful to be able to check something that looks strange by looking at the other bike. Both of the Riders are riding BMW F650GS motorcycles (one in standard guise and one in the Dakar version, which has a larger front wheel and longer suspension).
The value of the bike is a consideration for such trips for a number of reasons. Firstly, given that insurance is rarely available for the countries being visited, one must consider how much they are prepared to potentially write off. Next, the bike should look low key as 'rich westerners' can be targets for unsavoury characters. The need for a Carnet de Passage (a guarantee to a country that a bike will not be sold) requires that a bond of up to five times the value be made. For example, this would be £10,000 for a £2000 bike.
BMW service and support was NOT a reason for selection. They are as good as useless and unless you're buying a new bike are totally disinterested in helping either with getting parts to you, following through warranty or any other thing that may be considered to be customer service. Great bike, but you're on your own. I recommend independent dealers and servicing who show some enthusiasm for the bikes.
- Easy to fix / simple engine
- Does not need to be fast (as most roads will not allow it and don't want to speed)
- Decent torque/power as it will be laden with luggage
- Comfortable for the road (seat position, seat softness, suspension, wind protection)
- Able to cope with medium off-road
- Fairly rugged suspension
- Weight under 200kg
- Fuel range around 250 miles (if extra is required, a jerry can can be used)
- Ability to take poor quality fuel and remap at altitude
- General strength / resistance to drops and off-road vibrations
- Strong sub-frame (to take the weight of the luggage)
- Cost not over £4000 (due to carnet and that insurance is not possible in all countries)
- Model has been around for at least 2 years
- Mileage under 20,000 on departure
- Other overlanders use them (so parts and experience can be shared on the road)
The original paintwork for the Dakar is quite bright, in blue and white with graphics on it. Whilst being seen on the road is a good thing, blending in is also important. The tank panels were therefore covered in adhesive matt black plastic. This makes the bike look much more low key as well as protecting the original panels (another benefit of which should become apparent when arriving in Australia where customs are keen for the bike to be clean and the -by then- shabby plastic covering can be removed).
Not all panels were covered in matt black, though, as vehicle documents indicate the colour to be blue, and attention would not want to be drawn to this point.
The result is as below, which successfully made the bike look both older and less expensive!