I tend to overthink things. A lot. All the time.
One of the things I wanted to do when I started this website and started writing these articles was review some of the equipment that I used – either in the creation of the van or products used while traveling in the van. Since the van has been finished and continues to perform extremely well, I have spent some time optimizing the motorcycle for some upcoming short trips and hopefully a substantial trip when summer rolls around.
The motorcycle. A 2016 BMW R1200GS Adventure. Also know commonly as a GS. I am not here to debate the superiority of one brand over the other or one style of riding over the other. KTM, Honda, BMW – Street, Tour or Dual Sport – Honestly, I don’t care what other people ride. What often bothers me are the riders that have to justify their brand of motorcycle or style of riding by stepping on others. If you’re that guy, stop. No bike is perfect for every situation. And not everyone likes all types of riding. Be glad others ride and do your own thing. No bike is perfect for every situation.
I have wanted a GS for a while. In fact, I can prove it. Here is a pic of a post I made in 2007. At the time, I was riding a Kawasaki KLR. I loved it. I never should have sold it. It was fun, reliable and cheap enough that I could take it anywhere. Here’s a tip. Don’t sell your stuff to pay for a divorce. The point here is that I was already a fan of the GS.
If you have checked out some of the later Road Reads here on Spoken Compass, you already know that I was an even bigger fan of the GS after having the opportunity to attend the Rawhyde Adventure School in Hartsel, Colorado. It was a fantastic learning experience that I would recommend to anyone who plans on riding off road. The instructors were incredibly skilled riders and were able to convey information to the class in a way that made me a more confident rider off road as well as on. Seriously, this was an incredible course. I took the course with about 12 other guys and I had a fantastic time. I am still good friends and ride with some of the people I met in this course.
Once I got back in Houston, I started looking for a GS. New or in immaculate shape, I didn’t care. I had decided to part with the money and now it was just a matter of how much. Good fortune smiled on me and I found a used one at a dealership north of Houston. As I mentioned before, BMW MC of the Woodlands was a pleasure to deal with. I wasn’t even planning on buying the day that I did. The bike was just so nice, exactly what I was looking for and the customer service and sales rep was amazing. I bought a helmet and rode it home. After 10 years of wanting one, I finally got a GS. It was long overdue but better late than never. Now, all I need to do is make up for some lost time.
The GS is a big bike by anyone’s standards. It is taller and wider than most and designed for RTW (‘Round the World) Adventures. They are extremely capable and even more so when paired with a rider with proper training and good technique.
One of the things that most riders do is add additional equipment to the bike. It may be additional protection for vulnerable components or electronics for music and navigation. Additional storage in the form of saddle bags or panniers can be helpful for long trip or even trip to get groceries.
It’s just not in me (and many other bikers) to leave it the way it came from the factory. Necessary modifications for specific purposes or just things to personalize it and make it your own, accessories are just part of motorcycle ownership.
Another big investment is personal protection. Helmet, gloves, jackets, pants, boots, glasses and neck protection are all things to have. I am a big fan of good riding clothing. Lots of people have different opinions about what is necessary. To each his own but I would encourage anyone just starting out to spend them money on quality riding gear. There is a lot of options out there and you don’t have to break the bank in order to get some really substantial protection. Road rash sucks.
I have done several modifications to mine in all of the categories listed above. Communications, bike frame and motor protection and storage for travelling have been big investments. The GS has racks to mount hard cases to and the cases are super nice. They are made out of aluminum and are outstanding in quality. Not only lockable and very water resistant, they also offer lots of storage room for a long trip. They do have some drawbacks though. If the bike goes down, the pannier usually hit the ground first. Even in a simple low-speed or stopped tip over, the hard cases can take a beating. Being made out of aluminum, they are light and tough but also can bend given enough force. And, speaking from experience, once bent, they are difficult to get back to spec.
A small side note here. I spent years as a Risk Management guy in the Oil and Gas Industry. I am a natural at looking for risk and then figuring out ways to mitigate it. It’s in my DNA. It’s just how I think. When reading some information about long distance off-road travelling, I found that many riders frown upon hard cases. Not due to the damage that they can be dealt in a fall but due to the damage that hard cases can due to your feet and ankles when falling. When beginning to tip over, instinct tells you to put a foot down. The forward momentum of the bike tends to drag your foot backwards once the boot touches the ground. Then the boot can get trapped under the hard case and can cause some pretty ugly injuries. I was made aware of this possibility first hand while riding in Big Bend. I managed to not only damage my pride but also twisted my ankle under one of the hard cases bad enough to cause me to limp for a few days.
But there are safer alternatives. Soft bags. They can take a beating and be pushed back into shape and they are also a bit gentler on the ones extremities in the case of the unplanned dismount.
I’ve spent a bit of time and money in order to get the soft bag configuration together that I think is functional and safer than the hard cases. I have decided to document the creation of the soft bag configuration in another post so there may be some overlap from here to there.
My goal is to pull together a trip that I could take on the motorcycle. Long distance. Maybe head up to Wyoming and see Devil’s Tower. I could do it via the van but the motorcycle is mine now and I might as well learn more about traveling on it.
There is a huge difference in between the safety and convenience of the van and the more exposed mode of travelling on the bike. Lots of people have done it. I can, too. Probably some good fodder there for another article or podcast.
Off to work on the soft bag article.
Stay safe and keep the course.