After Pierpaolo and I  spent 6 months turning them into what we needed, the Yamaha XT660's we took around Sardinia and on The Short Way Round ( were great tools for the job. Lots of power, good fuel range and luggage capacity a-plenty. And not overly heavy either. Had we both held on to them, they would have been perfect for this upcoming trip, but as both garage space and cash were scarce after the last adventure, both bikes were unceremoniously hoiked on Ebay soon after our return to the UK. A bit like the faithful wife getting the heave-ho after 30 years of marriage all because the shared wardrobe was getting a bit crowded, but at the time it felt right.

So when the hamster wheels in our mind started turning for the Wrong Way Down, the first question we asked ourselves was what bike to do it on. The following were considered:

Yamaha XT660 (again)

 + Light, relatively cheap, proven, fuel injection to handle altitude differences a bonus

  - Difficulty in sourcing a good size fuel tank, liquid cooled may be problematic in remote areas if we prang them. Expensive to create right machine from scratch.

2008 Yamaha XT Tenere

            + All of the XT660, but with better fuel tank (22 Litres) and better luggage carrying capacity

            - Relatively expensive, not available in UK or Aus at time of prep, New, so aftermarket add ons scarce.

Kawasaki KLR650

            + Cheap as chips, available everywhere including the US, 20 year pedigree, large fuel capacity

            - Heavy Mama, liquid cooled

Honda XLV650 Transalp

            + Honda Reliability

            - Heavy Mama, liquid cooled, expensive, poor fuel capacity


So building up an XT660 as before had its flaws. The new Tenere was not available back in April when we needed it, and availability is poor to this day in October 2008. Neither of the Yamahas is available anywhere in the Americas, making spare parts troublesome in the event of a breakdown.

The KLR650 was considered if we were buying from the US and driving from the North down to the bottom of Argentina. With 1 buying $2 USD, these were extremely cheap at the time ($4500 USD), but the headache of registering and insuring a US bike and the aggro involved in taking said bike through customs in 7 different countries all to finish in a Patagonian winter - well that was the death knell for that idea. And after all that you have to send the bike back to America! So the American KLR650 idea got kaboshed.

After a chat with experienced long distance biker Steve Crombie, it appeared that we had overlooked 1 obvious contender in this contest, the venerable Suzuki DR650. These bikes have been around for 25 years and are totally bulletproof. Very light (147kg dry weight) and with a never ending list of manufacturers supplying the kind of aftermarket bolt on goodies to do a trip like this. These are the tractors of the motorcycle world - they don't look too sexy or go too fast, but they will get you to the end. Plus they were the cheapest thing on the market out of all the above. So the decision was made to buy a pair of these in Australia and for me to spend the next 6 months in my garage bringing them up to a proper specification for this trip.

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Basic requirements over the stock machine listed below, with detail on work and parts fitted underneath each point.

All photos of the bikes and specific modifications are held in this photo album:

Stronger handlebars

        Pro-Taper Evo 1" Anodised set fitted, with 2" handlebar risers for better touring comfort.

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        Bark Buster Evos - can't go wrong with these.

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Bash Plate / Sump Guard

        B&B engineering, excellent Aussie made stuff

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Reinforced inner tubes

12 Volt Power Outlet

From Jaycar. Best $10 spent! A boon for inflating tyres or charging electrical equipment (Camera, Laptop, Swedish Penis Enlarger) on the go. Help from my 80-something year old neighbour Dougie, ex Bathurst racer and general all round good guy in cutting and installing alloy brackets to fit the unit to.

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Long Distance Fuel Tank

Brobdingnagian Safari Aqualine  30Litre replacing the Lilliputian stock 13 Litre unit. A great Aussie company knocking out fantastic kit, thanks guys!

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Some issues encountered with fuelling low down in the tank - in order to get the last 5-6 litres out,  a few modifications need to be made:

1) Pressurisation - Gravity is not enough to push the last bits of fuel from the bottom of the fuel tap UP to the carburetor. To solve this, you need to get slight pressure in the tank by blowing in the fuel tank breather tube . Not a good look driving along at 70mph with a straw coming from fuel tank into your mouth - better to achieve constant pressure by way of a valve. This was made possible courtesy of a Briggs & Stratton IN line Petrol Tap. bynorm is the brand and stock number is 330-010, replacement part for OEM 494768 and 493960.

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2) Careful bending of fuel inlet pipe from 11 o'clock factory position to straight out, again to aid fuel flow to the carb. Be careful with this one kids - that pipe is easy to break or bend, and its the one part of the bike you really dont want to stuff up. Tight metal on metal join saw me taking this up to my local Suzuki dealer and getting them to execute it. Better they bust it than I! Mission accomplished, bike fuels much better with this exercise completed. No glitches and starts on the button.

Some heat reflective tubing added to right side fuel line as it sits about 3 inches from the exhaust.

Additional idiot markers stuck above both fuel taps so easy to know which way to turn fuel ON / OFF / RESERVE

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Rear Carry Rack

Borrego Rear Rack from Turbo City in the States - another excellent business, thanks guys!

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Side Pannier Frames

Was looking at getting these custom made, but Moto-Sportpanniers had just what I wanted for not that much cash.

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Soft Lockable Side Pannier Bags

Surprisingly the hardest bit to source. Plenty of people make pannier bags but they are either too small, not waterproof enough, lousy zippers or too big and clumsy. All we wanted was a simple lockable zippered soft bag that we could bolt to the pannier frames. Backing plates purchased from Moto-Sportpanniers, 4 Side Bags commissioned and made by BDM, a small friendly outfit in Western Australia.

Tank Bag

Again, another small piece that was relatively hard to find. In the end we went with a Cortech mini bag, with a modification required to create a securing 2-way velcro loop that runs around the seat to anchor the end facing the rider. Not available in Australia, so purchased from a website in the States, I forget which one!

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Adjustable fuelling for altitude

This is one of the dark sciences of our time. All I know is that when you go up high, there is less oxygen in the air so the air / fuel mixture in your carburetor needs to change accordingly (more air needed for the same amount of fuel). I have purchased a $15 extended easy reach screw from Kientech that can do just this job...result! However posting this topic on Suzuki forums opened up a whole horrible world of rejetting this, pilot screw that, airbox drilling vortex holes - blah blah blah. My head was spinning. Local knowledge in Australia on this is terrible (check the topography, no roads over 2000 metres!) so I figure when we start throwing black smoke out the exhaust, its time to see the Suzuki dealer in La Paz.

Inline Fuel Filter system installed

Engine insurance for $12. Fuel system looks like squid ink spaghetti junction with 2 filters from 2 taps feeding into single carb, but hopefully this precaution will keep legendarily awful South American petrol from fouling our carbs and engines.

Improved seat for long distance comfort

I get the feeling Suzuki are still using the seat from the 1984 clay mould concept bike as their manufacturing template. Getting dressed up in leathers and paying for pain may appeal to some Conservative politicians, but it's not where my motorcycling world is at. Having the existing seat refoamed could have been hit and miss - this sheepskin cover from Sheepy Hollow will give us comfy buns and a necessary shot of Kiwi pimp style - crucial when cruising the Argentinean pampas looking for Latino wooly booty.

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Self-oiling chain for increased wear, decreased maintenance

Looked at the Scottoiler system, but availability of their special oil in deepest darkest Peru would have been questionable. We are trialling the ridiculously inexpensive "Loobman" device that uses plain old motor oil to keep the chain in tip top nick. It comes at a cost though - I refuse to put a "Loobman" sticker on the bike with that seat cover. Farmers may get the wrong idea.

Update - Loobman system ridiculously complex and clumsy to fit. We will bring a can of spray lube and do it the old fashioned way!

Headlight protection

Gravel roads = broken beams = broken dreams. Turbo City to the rescue again. 

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Adjustable kickstand and centrestand

Fully loaded up on hard ground, the stock kickstand is just too damn tall., leaving the bike with a tendency to topple over quicker than an English batting order. However this length is good in soft ground or when doing wheel of maintenance (see Centrestand). So simply chopping off some of the length is not a good option.

The solution came through Mike Tucker on one of the forums for the DR650 - make the stand adjustable! This involved cutting it down the middle, lopping off about 40 millimetres, then threading the top portion and welding in a fine thread stud made from a grade 5 or above bolt in the bottom section. Add a nut and you are done. Dead easy! Local Engineering company were able to do this when I gave them the stands and the spec.

A bespoke centrestand was expertly fashioned from some hi-tech wood I had lying around, with some spare tube rubber to stop slippage glued and taped on top. Seems no one makes centrestands for the DR650. This one cost nothing and weighs about 200 grams - perfect for fixing the multitude of rear flats we are certain to encounter! If you want to make one yourself, 43cm seemed to be a good length to cut your wood to.

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It is always a compromise between 

a) carrying everything you might possibly need and riding a very heavily packed bike


b) trying to keep the bikes as light as possible, with enough kit to sleep in the open, fix basic bike problems and also have enough medical kit to get us out of forseeable trouble. 

If you have fallen over in the dirt or sand a few times, or want to maintain an easily maneuverable bike, you will tend to err on the side of Option b). Here is what we have, shared between the two of us.

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> 1 X Tent and Tarpaulin, to be strapped to 1 bike.

> 1 X Spare Parts Bag, containing tube repair patches, cement, sanding patch, Loctite, copper grease, super glue, 2 X Spark Plugs, 2 X Fuel Filters, Long Nose Pliers, Fuel line (repair and syphon), Zip Ties, Rubber, Gaffa Tape, Fuses, line clamps, Cable Greaser. Can of Chain Lube to be purchased on arrival.

> 1 X Standard Toolkit - Green Bag

> 1 X Additional Toolkit - Orange Bag (Socket wrench, socket bar, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 22mm drivers, circuit tester, Allen Keys, Long Nose Pliers, Feeler Gauge, Fine screwdriver, spoke wrench)

Each toolkit bag fits in the standard toolkit tube on the bike - nice!

> 2 X Front and 2 X Rear inner tube. Each box contains one set, only one box pictured.

> Medical kit, comprising standard issue bandages, tape, wraps, scissor etc and

> 1 X Pack of Pills (Malaria, gut, bum, respiratory, neurofen, sudafed)

> 1 X Pack of Medications (alcohol gel wash, betadine, tea tree oil, sofradex ear / eye drops, carmex lip balm, Blisteze cream, roll on insect repellant)

> 1 X Piece of wood for use as centrestand for chain lubing / tyre removal.

All of the above split between 2 bikes.

Each of us has a 65 Litre waterproof barrel bag that will be strapped to the rear rack. This will contain out personal kit such as clothes, washbag, camera, sleeping bag, self inflating sleeping mat, books, sunscreen etc. Plus the tankbag and a backpack with 2 Litre Camelback hydration system.

We will also carry a USB memory key with scanned copies of all important documents (registration, passport etc) loaded on it.


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