Just the other day I received a Scandinavian bike magazine, BIKE 4-2010, in the mail. On the front cover there is a very nice picture of the new Yamaha Super Tenere XT1200Z. The headline, in bold letters, states, “BMW KILLER – The new Super Tenere is finally here”.
Will the Yamaha live up to the headline, only time will tell. The Yamaha is only one of many brands that have tried to match the strength of the BMW GS line lately. In my opinion it is also the closest to meet the goal that I have seen so far.
Competition is good for all of us riders of these wonderful machines, so bring it on. For now I will stick with my trusted and proven BMW GS. If you wonder why, read on.
After numerous email requests in responds to our latest Tierra del Fuego Expedition Journal I have decided to write a little story about how I outfitted my latest BMW R1200GS Adventure 2009 model and how it all performed on the ride to the end of the world.
Late last fall, 2009, BMW North America and Ride West BMW in Seattle sponsored me with this great bike. The first question I had to Ride West BMW GM, David Swezey, was what color am I getting? The choice is between Red and Gray I were told. Wish they had more choices in colors; two alternatives just do not cut it for me. That might be why the 3 of us that road together on the last Tierra del Fuego Expedition all had chosen red. Dan’s choice of color was blue for his HP2, not much of a choice with blue being the only color that bike came in.
So why is color so important to me? It is all about photography and how the bikes will show up in pictures and video. You might not care, but to me a bright colored bike makes for a better visual experience.
Color aside, lets talk a little about the bike itself. The main reason I chose to go with the boxer engine and not the vertical twin like the BMW F800GS, or a single cylinder 650 is that I have a long love affair with the boxer engines. Since 1981 I have been riding BMW boxer GS bikes around the world. But it is not just the engine; I also enjoy riding a bike with shaft drive. I feel at home with this configuration, the cylinders protect my legs and center of gravity is low. The shaft drive makes cleaning chains and keeping up with lubrication of sprockets and chains a no issue, less to worry about.
For this particular journey I chose to use the BMW R1200GS Adventure and not my older, ready for world travel, BMW HP2. The HP2 is a wonderful bike that I have used on many rides around the world. But it is also a bike that begs to go off-road and is not the most comfortable bike on long haul open road riding fully loaded.
In my opinion the more luxurious 1200GS Adventure is the better compromise of the two for this particular journey. As long as your physical build meets certain criteria’s like an inseam of 32”, this is the closest you can get to one bike fits all terrains.
I rode the 1200GS from Seattle, USA, to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and recorded 14,500 miles of incredible riding. Of course there were days that I wished that I had a smaller lighter bike, but for most of the journey I really enjoyed the Ride. I do not know of any bike on the market today that can handle such a variety of terrain and road conditions and still be such a pleasure to ride. The bike never let me down and it is still going strong and ready for next journey, Africa in October 2010.
To prepare for the journey I contacted another of my sponsors, Touratech, and started to explore their 1000 page catalog to prepare the bike for the upcoming journey. My main incentive was to do preventive preparations ahead of the journey. I knew that the road would be rough at times so a stronger engine guard would be crucial, better hand guards, oil cooler protector, throttle potentiometer cover, rear forward splash guard, fuel line protection, hand protectors and the list goes on. To see a 5 minutes video about what all I did click here. Update: Here is a newer video about my 2012 model, click here.
I have been working with Touratech for many years now and the reason is simple, they are the best of aftermarket producers for motorcycles. In the later years there has been plenty of new companies popping up copying and some times making there own concepts of accessory for our bikes. I look at these now and then, but keep coming back to Touratech where I know for the most I will get excellent quality products.
One little story that I would like to share with you happened on this last trip. Vincent told me that he had purchased a throttle potentiometer cover for his 1200GS ADV. It looked very similar to the one that I had on my bike made by Touratech, but it had one major shortcoming. I pointed this out to Vincent early on in the journey. A few weeks later Vincent told me that he had his pants caught in the so call guard when he were to get of the bike. The shortcoming of this brands throttle potentiometer cover was that it was open towards the air intake of the fuel injector and just sitting there waiting for someone to get his or her pants caught. Vincent was lucky that he did not fall as a result of the stuck pants leg.
It is sad to see products like this being produced and sold; obviously the manufacturer had no clue what they were selling.
Wherever you choose to purchase your aftermarket parts make sure to do your homework and test it out carefully before leaving on a major journey. The biggest mechanical problems that we have had on any of our GlobeRiders Adventures has been from modifications to the bikes done just days ahead of shipping the bikes. Proper time to test any modification is crucial to a trouble free ride.
Both Vincent and Roger used the BMW metal panniers on their bikes for this journey while Dan and I had the Touratech Zega Pro panniers. All panniers are very well made and held up good on this journey. Even after a few falls they were easy to bend/hammer in to shape again.
The reason I chose to go with the Zega Pro bags is that I could get a set of panniers that are less wide compared to the BMW panniers. I also really like the design and new locking mechanism on these new Pro models. The anodized units makes for a cleaner finish that does not have aluminum smear on your luggage.
Another essential part in the preventive department is a headlight protection for your bike. The market is full of variations, but I will argue that you will not find a better concept than what BMW sells. What made me a believer is when I found out that the protective cover could be pulled of the headlight without any tools. Great for cleaning, something you need to do often while on the road.
Being on the road for months at the time several times a year together with different people and their individual set up bikes has thought me a lot up through the years. I have seen the worst to the best of outfitted bikes. The worst is usually those that in the last minute before the journey have implemented some drastic changes, also called upgrades, and not had the time to test these properly. Not much fun when these so called improvements fail in the middle of Siberia. Those that fair the best are usually the ones that have more miles in the saddle and for that reason knows that you do not head out the door to travel the world with a bike that has not been properly tested. When I say tested I do not count commuting to work. Load the bike as if you where going on a ride around the world and ride the worst back roads you know in your area. That is real testing both for bike and rider.
I do not travel with a lot of spare parts, but here are some I never leave home without: Spare headlight bulbs, complete set of brake pads, brake and clutch reservoir, extra clutch lever, spare ignition and pannier keys hidden on the bike, front and read inner tubes and extra tubeless valve stem. A micro electric pump from www.advdesign.com together with tubeless repair kit is a must have on any ride. Ride West BMW in Seattle, my favorite bike dealer, is good at stocking much of these parts, but if I can’t find it there I visit my local automobile store. Here I stock up on Loctite 242, puncture repair stuff and the 3 essential chemicals that we all need for the ride. They are superglue, J&B Weld and black Silicon, can’t live without them.
Unfortunately some fellow at BMW in Germany decided that they needed to save a few dollars and eliminated the so famous tool kit that all of us BMW bike owners were so proud of. I used to brag to my bike friends on other brand name bikes that all BMW bikes were fully equipped for real adventure touring and even came with a complete set of tools, quality tools. Well, that is not the case any more.
To deal with this my best advice is to purchase a universal kit from your local BMW dealer or at a online store like Touratech-USA online. Test it out and every time you use a tool mark it with a colored tape. Keep doing this until you have marked all the tools. If you need to supplement the kit, well that is what this exercise is all about. You might even have found a tool that you have no need for so why carry it along?
On this journey we did some camping and for that reason had brought Hilleberg tents and the model we chose is called Allak.
Hilleberg tents are worth every dollar you pay for them, it is an investment that will be with you for years. We really enjoyed ours and I kept hearing from my traveling mates how impressed they were with these tents. On a nice sunny day you might not care much about what tent you have, but when the storm comes you better be prepared.
My sleeping bag is made by Feathered Friends here in Seattle and it is filled with goose down. The reason I went with this particular bag was that it has a zipper that makes it possible to open the bag completely so that I can use it as a blanket when it is very hot. It is rated down to -20F.
My addiction of choice is camera gear, lots of lenses and cameras, both video and still cameras. To carry all of this I removed the rear seat on the 1200GS. When you do this there is a great cradle like space to mount a camera backpack. On this journey I used the model called Airport Addicted V1.0 from Think Tank Photo, LLC. Vincent used the same mounting system, 4 fast mount hooks, but opted for a smaller backpack from LowePro called Vertex 300 AW . Whichever bag that you use make sure that they have a good rain cover that is secured to the bag in case the wind get a hold of it, ask me how I know.
To carry our tents and sleeping bag we use Ortlieb dry bags and secured these to the top of the panniers using the best thing ever, Rok Straps. Never leave home without Rok Straps. Forget bungee cords unless you are jumping of a bridge. Regular straps do not work since they will not take up the slack as luggage settles in as you are riding.
If you read our Live!Journal from this last Expedition to Tierra del Fuego we shared with you our great experiences and a few mishaps along the way.
The biggest problem that I had with my bike was when the side stand neutral switch was crushed by a rock in Patagonia. The bike immediately died and I had to do some thinking and testing before I figured out that it actually was the switch that was broken. First I turned off and on the ignition and saw that I had information in the instrument panel, but the bike would not start until I put it in to neutral gear. Immediately when I put it in to gear the engine would die. Conclusion, broken side stand switch. You can test this on your own bike by having the side stand out, try and start the bike while in gear, then change to neutral gear and the bike starts. Keep the side stand down and put the bike in gear, it dies. End of test, take up the side stand and go for a Long Ride.
I fixed my broken switch by cutting off the broken switch mechanism itself and short cutting two of the wires leaving the brown ground wire alone. After insolating all of this with electrical tape I secured the wire to the frame. The bike was ready for new adventures and all I needed to be concerned about was not to leave the side stand down while riding.
Both Roger and I lost our plastic mud flap that sits at the end of the final drive preventing mud to reach your luggage. On every oilhead GS I have owned, 5 of them, I have lost this mud flap. I have seen BMW try to reinforce the design of this part, but they most definitely have not solved the problem yet. We also met two other 1200GS riders that had the same happen to them. Come on BMW, it is time to get this figured out.
From earlier models of the BMW GS bikes I have always had bad luck with their rear shock absorber. They usually lasted one long trip and that has been the end of them. I always had the original replaced with an aftermarket shock that I had custom configured for my riding and weight. Since I live on the US the best man for the job is Stig Pettersson with Pettersson Pro Suspension. Every Ohlin shock absorber that he has set up for me has been great. I also make sure to send the shock absorbers in for full service after every major tour. This I consider to be cheep insurance for the ride ahead.
My 2009 model GS was outfitted with what is called Electronic Suspension Adjustment or ESA for short. I was skeptical to this from the very first time I went for a ride. Would it last the journey, always been skeptical to new technology. But it had to be tested I thought to myself as I headed south. Vincent had the same technology on his GS and it was first mid way through Mexico that one day he asked me about the settings I used on the ESA. We compared notes and that was when I realized that I had misunderstood some of the settings of the computerized electronic set up of my shock absorbers. I had not realized that there were so many different combinations of setting up the front and rear shock. I guess next time I should read the user manual better.
The verdict at the end of the day was that both Vincent and I had great pleasure of being able to change the dampening on the fly while riding and adjusting the preload with the push of a button while stationery. No problems what so ever with the shocks, a pleasant surprise to me.
I could go on and on writing about equipment, but I am going to leave you with this for now. If anyone would like to hear about other topics just send us an email and we will see what we can come up with.
Finally I would like to take the opportunity to thank Ride West BMW here in Seattle for their great support. I am very lucky to be able to work together with such a great BMW dealership. It is very important for me to be able to have this support in preparations for my motorcycle tours around the world. My bikes need the best care they can get before and after each journey. I encourage you all to build a good relationship with your local dealer and if you ever come to Seattle Ride West BMW will take good care of you.
I am also honored to be able to work together with Touratech for so many years now. Since our first encounter in 1993 the company has grown to be the aftermarket motorcycle accessory company that everyone else looks up to. I am amazed at their skills and passion for Adventure motorcycle touring, keep up the good work.
Thanks for your time.
Helge Pedersen - Founder
Photographer, Journalist, Traveler