Bike Selection

I officially started my South America bike trip around two weeks ago. I’ve been in Uruguay for over two months now, but after far too much waiting my bike arrived at the end of April, and the official trip is now underway.

I’m riding a 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R. After much research on the perfect bike for the trip, one thing was clear. A KTM of just about any kind was a terrible idea. Yet here I am.

What Didn’t Happen

The 1090 was definitely not my first choice. It was this.

The Yamaha Tenere 700. This was perfect. A tried and tested engine. Lightweight. Dirt oriented. It was more comfortable than an enduro machine but was touted as far more dirt oriented than the Super 10. I had a Super 10. One sad day, I crashed it badly enough that it flipped over twice and bent the frame. Yet I was still able to ride it 250km home. I was sold on Yamaha’s reliability.

The problem is Yamaha still hasn’t released the damn thing. The bike may be available in South Africa later in 2019. Maybe. Even if it was, I considered the risk of purchasing a first generation bike in its first year of release too high. Despite all the testing on Yamaha’s part, once the product is released into the market people will almost certainly find new faults. Maybe enough to initiate a recall. I didn’t want those problems in a foreign country.

Naturally my other bike of choice was this

Unlike Yamaha, KTM announced the 790 and actually released it. They are in short supply in South Africa, but they are at dealers now. Still, the problem was getting a first generation bike in its first year of production. So that dream died.

Criteria For A RTW Bike

Conventional wisdom is best here. Get a simple, reliable, lightweight, preferably single cylinder bike like a DR650, KLR650, or similar. In no way am I arguing with that. It’s just not what I wanted. Here’s my thinking:

  • The bike must be at least a twin. Why? Because after riding a single for 10 hours, all I want is for the vibration to stop. I had a KLR650. I think the most I did was around 750km in one day. It was not fun. I ended the day with a migraine. So if I’m going to be using the bike indefinitely as my primary means of transport, I wanted to be riding something more pleasant.
  • Ground clearance and suspension needed to be excellent. This still left many choices but eliminated options like the VStrom.
  • Weight is a big concern. There were no good choices here. Big adventure bikes are heavy. The lightweight options like the KTM 690, DR650, etc are all singles. If you’re going for a twin, the best you can do is select the least objectionable option.
  • Simplicity. Here as well there were no great options. Pretty much every bike has complex electrical systems these days.
  • Age. An old Africa Twin is simpler than a new Africa Twin and has sufficient power. Similarly a KTM950 is simpler than a 1090. At some point, obtaining parts for older bikes becomes problematic. My thinking was a relatively new bike is less likely to give problems than an older bike so firstly, it’s unlikely I would need to replace parts as often and secondly, if I did need to replace parts, they should be easier to order.
  • It needs to be fun. Why would I pick a bike I don’t like?

Bike Choices

After much homework online, as well as observing problems typically experienced by guys I knew locally, my offering were:


These bikes are masterfully engineered. My biggest concern was price. The cost of the initial motorcycle was high, but so was your value for money so that didn’t bother me too much. My real concern was maintenance costs down the road and of all the popular brands, BMW was routinely the most expensive to fix and maintain, even more so than KTM. Additionally, BMW parts were far too expensive for my liking. This is all based on what I read online. Of course your mileage may vary.

If I went the BMW route, I would have chosen the F800. Relatively lightweight, 18-21 wheels, simpler than the 1200, more dirt oriented, and an engine with no personality. The power delivery was so damn linear. That’s great technically, but it really lacked the fun factor.


Too many people I know have experienced odd problems with their bikes that were generally easily fixed, but that often required they take the bike into a dealer to fix. The problems varied and included things like parts coming loose, and the engine not turning over because of problems with the ignition system.

I’ve never ridden one, but from what I hear the Tiger 800 is an excellent bike, and those who own them swear by them. Often, they swear by them from their couches because the bike isn’t working well on the day but they also swear it will be fixed by tomorrow. So I’d be happy to own a Triumph, just closer to home.


I had a Super 10. The bike was amazing. I was also hugely impressed by Yamaha’s reliability and their customer service, at least at the dealership I used, was superb.

I just didn’t want another Super 10. I really wanted to 700, but they really screwed up on delivery of that bike. Had they released it a year prior, I would have been their first customer for the 2019 model.


I did test rides both on and offroad of the Africa Twin manual and DCT bikes. The DCT was a shock. It is so damn good! Honda dealerships around Cape Town arranged for a weekend away where the bikes could be tested and about 50 people attended I think. Everybody was curious about the DCT, but nobody took it seriously. By the end of the weekend, I doubt anyone would have minded riding the DCT version of the bike. Hats off to Honda.

Offroad, the bike felt amazing. The riding position, power delivery, handling, suspension, all felt brilliant. At very low speeds, I suddenly became very aware that I was riding a heavy bike. My perception may have been skewed since at the time, my bike of choice was a Yamaha WR450F modified to run as a lightweight ADV bike. Offroad, it would easily run circles around any big adventure bike, but that’s also hardly a fair comparison. Regardless, the Africa Twin was the best big adventure bike I had ridden offroad up to that point. I planned on buying one.

Then I rode the bike on tar and what a disappointment. I hated the 21 inch front wheel. I could feel it when I changed lanes. The impressive power delivery from dirt riding felt lackluster on the freeway. In traffic, the front nosedived if I hit the brakes too hard. None of these were problems, just disappointments. The bike I loved in the dirt simply wasn’t fun on tar. I didn’t buy one.

Suzuki and Kawasaki

The VStrom looks fugly, the newer models less so. While I’m sure the bike is very capable offroad, everything about it suggests it was made more as a daily city run around bike, with some touring and light offroading capabilities. It’s just not what I wanted.

I would love if Kawasaki released a more dirt oriented version of the Versys. From the homework I did, the Versys has the potential to be a great ADV bike, but for now it’s more of an on road tourer capable of riding some easy service roads. Again, not what I wanted.


They have a reputation for making the best offroad bikes. They have a reputation for being expensive. They do not have a reputation for reliability.

Still, it was part of my homework so I took both the 1290 Super Adventure R and 1090 Adventure R for a test ride. The 790 was my bike of choice but it had not even been officially released yet.

The 1290 was ok. It was big. The engine had lots of power, but in a very boring way. It felt like it had more power for the sake of having more, rather than for any real purpose. The LED screen looked amazing, but who focuses on the screen when you’re riding? So the novelty quickly wore off. By quickly I mean within 10 minutes. And they did something odd with the fuel tank. Standing felt weird.

The 1090 was something else. It felt more nimble. It had more than enough power. Lots of people complain about the outdated user interface but it didn’t bother me at all. The suspension felt great. Sitting and riding felt great. Standing and riding felt great. It felt like a big dirt bike. No other big ADV bike I’d ridden before felt like a dirt bike. It certainly didn’t look like a dirt bike, and there was no confusing it for a dirt bike when considering the weight. But for me, it just felt right. It was as if the engineers from KTM found a test rider my height (1.89m) and designed the bike based on his feedback. It was the best ADV bike I had ever ridden.

And The Winner Is …

The KTM 1090. Duh. I said so right at the top of this article. There are tons of reasons purchasing one was a bad idea. It’s only marginally cheaper than the BMW to maintain. Dealerships are much harder to come by, especially as you go further south in South America. The bikes are complicated to work on, relatively speaking. KTM does not have a great track record when it comes to reliability though I must say, the 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R seems to have very few problems overall. And it’s a pain to lift once it falls down, even more difficult than the Super 10 which was over 30kg heavier.

But it’s my only bike. And it puts a smile on my face like no other big ADV bike ever did. So screw it, I’m crossing my fingers and making the unpopular choice. Because I love riding that bike!

Someday …

I always thought that someday I would travel. It was never a plan, just the idea of seeing the world, trying new things, breaking away from regular life.

But there was always a reason not to. I had a demanding job. Where would I go? Who would join me? What would I do? How would I pay for it? Going on a two week vacation to touristy places isn’t my thing. So the idea of travel remained just that, an idea.

I’ve been riding motorbikes for around 12 years now. Back in 2013 I traded in my totally awesome 2006 Kawasaki Ninja ZX10R for a slow and clunky KLR650 with the idea that if I had something more practical, maybe I would ride more.

Riding the KLR introduced me to the world of adventure riding. Suddenly I had riding buddies. Dirt roads were fun. We were traveling hundreds of kilometers a day exploring mountain passes and service roads. Falling down became part of the adventure. Soon after I upgraded to a Yamaha Super 10 and the adventure continued. I was traveling.

Not far. Not even out of the country. But strapping tools and luggage to the back of my bike and heading out, often alone and off the beaten track felt right. I didn’t stay in fancy hotels. I didn’t visit touristy places. I loved riding out in the middle of nowhere, with no one around. I loved the solitude, the scenery, everything.

In 2017 I decided to visit Chile. It’s one of those places I always wanted to see so I bought a plane ticket and for 10 days, I rented a car and headed off in a different direction every day, never knowing in advance where I was going, where I would sleep, what I would find, or when I would stop. Every morning I would pick a direction and drive off without a plan. It was awesome. And for 10 days my biggest regret was that I was in a car, not on a bike. I was on vacation and a car was both more practical and much MUCH cheaper to rent. The trip was excellent and when I left, I decided I would return with a bike someday. I just wasn’t sure yet how to make that happen.

So the idea of a long motorcycle trip was my next big goal. I wanted to see Patagonia. I had seen relatively little of Chile, but that short trip left enough of an impression that I knew I wanted to see more. Of course there were complications. Like money. Like my work. Like how do I see a continent on a two week vacation? And, as someone from South Africa, how would I even get my motorcycle to a different continent? Of course it could be done, but nobody I knew at the time had done anything like that. These were all things other people did. The idea was there, but how to get started?

By 2018 I’d done almost nothing towards my bike trip. The truth is the problem was just too big. There were too many unknowns. One of the biggest was would I even enjoy traveling for so long? I mean, it’s great thinking about traveling the world, but actually doing it means leaving home for a really REALLY long time. I’d never done that before. What if I went to all the effort and all the expense and realized that it’s just not for me?

So in early 2018, with a whopping one week of planning, I decided to head off to South East Asia. This trip was a test. I wasn’t going on holiday, I was going to travel. That meant I needed to work to ensure I still had an income. This limited where I could live to places with WiFi. I wouldn’t travel around much. I would be in the capital city only of four countries, in a stable environment that would allow me to continue my life from South Africa, just in a different location. I would need to travel (relatively) light because you can’t fit large suitcases on a motorcycle and that was the final, albeit distant goal. My expenses while traveling would need to be similar to my expenses back home. Every day I would get up, do whatever work was required of me, and once completed I would be free to explore my new city. The trip would be for four and a half months and cover Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and England. I hadn’t visited my sister in forever so I figured since I was traveling, I may as well stop by England.

The test was a huge success. I absolutely loved it. There was always something new to see, to do, to learn. It didn’t matter that I was alone. It didn’t matter that I hated the heat. The monotony of daily life disappeared. I knew this is what I wanted to do. I returned home towards the end of August. My final flight from Dubai to Cape Town was awful. The flight itself was fine, but all I could think of was that it was over. That evening I would be back in my boring flat, living my boring life, being bored. Suddenly a motorcycle trip around South America wasn’t an insurmountable problem. It was just the next challenge.

I took a week off everything travel related after getting home. I was tired and I needed a bit of a break. On 1 September 2018, I started working towards a South America trip by motorbike. The plan was simple. Get rid of everything, buy a motorbike, go to South America, and see what happens. That was considerably more difficult than I expected.

Over the next few months I sold, donated, and threw away almost everything I didn’t need which, as it turned out was almost everything I had. I sold all my vehicles (2 dirt bikes, a bakkie (pick up truck), and bike trailer), and replaced it with a KTM 1090 Adventure R (a dubious choice for a South America Trip, but what a spectacular machine!!). I notified my landlady that I would not be renewing my lease. I got a new passport, driver’s license, credit cards, and generally spent far too much of my life dealing with admin related tasks. I notified my clients that I would be leaving the country again, but that work would continue as normal, just with a few timezone adjustments. And that even though I was not emigrating, I was not booking a return ticket.

My bike was dropped off for shipping on 24 January 2019, from Cape Town to Montevideo, Uruguay, via Rotterdam. I arrived in Montevideo on 14 March, with no place of my own to return to in South Africa. Sure I can crash with friends or family, but there’s something about not having a place of your own to return to that drives home the idea that your old life is over. Something different has started. Yes it’s very new. Who knows how long it will last? Who knows how successful I’ll be? But none of that really matters right now. It’s like ending one chapter of my life and starting another.

After many delays. And problems at customs. And having to extend my accommodation twice with a host who thankfully was exceptionally understanding, I received my motorbike on 30 April 2019 in Montevideo. I connected the battery and it started without any problems. It was as if a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

I left Montevideo a week later. I’m in Punta Del Este now. In the next three weeks I plan on visiting a few more cities and heading off to Argentina. This time last year I was in Kuala Lumpur, without the slightest notion of how much my life would change. A year prior in 2017, I had a vague idea of a motorcycle trip I’d like to do around South America. And back in 2016, these were all just things that would happen someday …