Magazine article Geographical

Get Your Motor Running: Revving Up a Powerful Bike and Heading off into the Sunset to the Refrains of Born to Be Wild-That's the Romantic Image of Motorcycle Adventure, and the Reality Can Be Achieved on a Modest Budget. but Choose the Wrong Machine or Attire and You Could Be in for a Rough Ride

Magazine article Geographical

Get Your Motor Running: Revving Up a Powerful Bike and Heading off into the Sunset to the Refrains of Born to Be Wild-That's the Romantic Image of Motorcycle Adventure, and the Reality Can Be Achieved on a Modest Budget. but Choose the Wrong Machine or Attire and You Could Be in for a Rough Ride

Article excerpt

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Palpitations and trepidation: these are my principal reactions when facing a river crossing on a motorcycle. No matter where you are in the world, once you venture off the beaten track, you can be certain of two things: at some point, you are going to have to cross a river; and when you do so, you will get wet.

The thought of crossing a river on a motorcycle is enough to make some riders retrace their route and travel kilometres in another direction to find a dry crossing. Rivers come in many shapes and sizes, and all create problems for the two-wheeled adventurer. A rider's first river crossing is a tense affair. For me, it came in a remote part of Iceland. With no bridges for hundreds of kilometres, it was a simple choice of get on with it or turn round and give up. I got on with it.

Safety is of paramount importance when attempting to ford a river. Blasting across a tributary in a shower of spray looks good on film, but it isn't the ideal method for riders wishing to complete a journey in one piece. I will normally walk across first to determine the best entry and exit point (not always directly in line with the road), as well as the depth across the entire route. I want to ascertain the state of the riverbed and to search for hidden rocks that could knock the bike over and into the water. At best, this could result in a flooded engine; at worst, a bike washed away. I usually push it across in all but the shallowest water, sometimes with the engine running and in gear. I haven't dropped a bike in the water--yet--but have often come close to doing so. River crossings remain my least favourite activity.

CHOOSE YOUR RIDE

The choice of suitable machines for motorcycle expeditions is huge and somewhat daunting. Although a purpose-built adventure bike will take you virtually anywhere you want to go, almost any kind of motorcycle will usually suffice. It's a myth that one has to spend thousands of pounds to go on a motorcycle adventure. You only have to look at the plethora of small, lightweight bikes used as daily transport across the developing world to see how successfully a simple machine can cope with the most arduous of conditions. In 2006, I completed a 2,000-kilometre double-crossing of the interior of Iceland on a 125cc Hartford motorcycle. The bike was built in Taiwan, cost 1,400 [pounds sterling] new, and performed exceptionally in conditions that riders of larger machines avoided.

Your choice of motorcycle will be a matter of compromise. You have to balance your requirements for economy, reliability, comfort, weight, agility and simplicity. If you're a solo rider, the machine is your lifeline and you need to be comfortable riding it, pushing it, lifting it, and repairing it.

There are several factors to consider when choosing a motorcycle. The true adventure rider will be off-road for large portions of their journey, so a machine that can deal with this is essential. Road-touring bikes are often large and comfortable but come with the penalty of extra weight and limited off-road ability. They are ideal for long-distance 'tarmac touring', but are simply not designed to cope with a corrugated track in the Sahara.

By contrast, a trail bike is designed for off-road use, but is less smooth and relaxing to ride on tarmac. Trail bikes have greater ground clearance, longer suspension travel, larger (21-inch/533-millimetre) front wheels and a stronger construction than touring models. They do, however, have their problems. They are designed to be ridden while standing, so the seats are often narrow and uncomfortable for long journeys. In addition, the seat is often high off the ground, which is not ideal for short riders. A trail bike has a small fuel tank, so you must either replace the original with a larger capacity one or carry additional fuel in cans strapped to the bike.

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Although most motorcycle manufacturers produce a range of bikes suitable for adventure riding, only a few specialise in the field. …

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