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Almost Fiction: Internet motorcycles

By Sam Jones

There can hardly be a person alive who doesn’t know that you can log on the Internet and find information on subjects both important and inane. Harley riders will share their vacation mileage to Disneyworld with invisible cyber passengers, and some riders will even post photos of the strawberry tart from last week’s dessert run. The computer allows anyone access to personal web pages making available every aspect of Harleydom, anything motorcycle, and permits exhibitionists and voyeurs to enjoy one another’s peccadilloes.

Once or twice a week, I check into a couple of different adventure sites that cater to those of us that are interested in riding motorcycles around the world. The different thought processes that inspire people to put everything aside and travel to far-flung corners of the earth are fascinating. It is particularly instructive to see what they are riding and what preparations they make to complete these expeditions.

BMW GSs have a huge following with the around-the-world set, as do Kawasaki KLR 650s. The GS people add 200 pounds of accessories to deal with every conceivable eventuality, which turns a fine motorcycle into a wallowing rhinoceros and negates the possibility of any serious wilderness riding. If you want to see a great example of this, rent the video Long Way Round and watch Charlie Boorman overload his BMW GS and flop over in the street not 100 yards from his garage.

The KLR people choose this dual-purpose motorcycle because of its light weight and clever simplicity. Being a bit more weight conscious, they are somewhat more judicious with their accessories. They know that somewhere the roads are going to turn into dirt and mud and that’s where this Swiss Army knife will come into its own.

And then there are those who own a motorcycle, any sort of motorcycle, from a great, giant Gold Wing, to Harleys, to Honda dirt bikes, to Vespa motor scooters, who have decided that they want to travel and what they own may not be perfect, but they will make it do. There are Internet stories about Vespas crossing India and riding into the Himalayas and Harleys crossing the Sahara Desert. Neither motorcycle would be the perfect choice for such journeys, but the mileage is completed, proving without argument that the success of any trip is not due to the vehicle, but the mindset of the traveler.

On several of these websites anyone logging on has the ability to create a personal profile and join in the conversations. You can go public and tell everyone who you are, where your interests lay, in what part of the world you live and, if you are brave, you can accept e-mails from others who share your particular interests or wish to meet when they travel through your neighborhood. Of course there are concerns when you get together with any stranger, but with a modicum of precaution one can greet a traveler in your hometown the same as you might connect with a stranger in some far away Internet café in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Relax; we all know the most dangerous place on earth is the mall when arguing over a parking spot with an old lady who has 2-for-1 coupons.

Not long ago, on one of my adventure sites, I saw a thread offering used KLR special engine tools. Owning a KLR 650, I answered the thread and became introduced to a person who was giving them away to a good home. As it turns out, by coincidence, this person lived within 20 miles. We exchanged phone numbers and eventually got together where he gave me the tools.

A personable, bright-eyed young man in his mid-20s filled with youthful enthusiasm, ready for anything, told me that he had used the tools, completed the modification they were designed for and had no further use for them. Paring his belongings down to a manageable size, in the spring he planned a trip across the width of the United States, then south through Mexico, Central America and eventually to the tip of South America.

He reminded me of myself and some of my old school friends. We were always planning some sort of trip to faraway places and discussing in infinite details the hows and whys. In our naivety we thought we invented the concept of the “Road Trips.” Unlike much of his generation who spends their days playing video games, this young man was doing more than just talking to friends about a trip; he was making serious plans and ridding himself of extraneous possessions.

So, what was he going to ride? A Kawasaki KLR 650 was his choice; not a new one, not one with few miles, but a used, 12-year-old semi-beater. It was what he had and it was what he was going to take. Actually, due to the simplicity of a KLR it was not a bad choice. They are semi-indestructible and infinitely rebuildable.

Although this was only his second motorcycle, and his first that was chain drive, he was smart enough to start with proper tire and brake maintenance and acknowledged his mistake of not oiling the chain. We looked at his purchase of new sprockets and chain and talked at some length about how to create a drip oiler to keep them new.

We also discussed a few accessories and how to store things so that they could be quickly found. A first-aid kit that was not buried in the bottom of his pack was the first thing I mentioned. A small fender pack that held what he would need for tire and tube problems, a bag that held only his rain suit, extra throttle cables could be zip-tied to the existing ones and a spare set of wheel bearings were a must. There were some carburetor modifications that had to be made and a suspensions update. Nothing I suggested would cost much and we only discussed what he could fix himself. Anything catastrophic was another story.

After talking for an hour I appreciated his enthusiasm and was amazed at his lack of pretense. Did he have the perfect motorcycle prepared perfectly? Hardly. But that was OK. Sometimes a person can over-prepare and never go anywhere. Sometimes a person will succeed because he doesn’t know he can’t. My new friend was in this second category.

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