Tags: backcountry discovery routes, idaho tourism
Tags: cross country motorcycle tour, kawasaki klr 650, transworld tour
Following a 2012 tour across Australia and a 2013 tour through Southeast Asia, I ran into a roadblock of the political and geographic variety. I couldn’t head west from Thailand into Burma, a dark state, and the cost of arranging a tour guide and securing a People’s Republic of China driver’s license—both legal requirements for entering China with a foreign full-sized motorcycle—all became prohibitive.
I had been following in my father’s footsteps: In 1977-78, he circumnavigated the globe on a motorcycle. Feeling a little deflated, I tucked tail and headed east, pursuant of finding my way back to my end point at 90-degrees latitude—approximately Almaty, Kazakhstan. North America, Europe and Central Asia remained. I would still ride around the world, it would just take two directions to finish.
After a three-month-long administrative nightmare to retrieve my custom-built Happy Trails Kawasaki KLR 650 adventure bike from Thailand—and rehabilitating from a broken leg and a torn ACL—it was time to tackle North America. I rode across the United States twice in 2008 during a 31-state, 7,700-mile barn-burner atop a Kawasaki Versys, but this time would be different. Now, I was on a single cylinder semi-dirt machine that is, simply, not intended for interstate touring.
Leaving Boise’s North End on Sept. 13, I had mixed feelings. Touring is a blast, and I love to travel solo, but I didn’t know what a week of mostly interstate riding would do to my recently recovered body. Riding highway speeds on a bike that is best suited to remote two-lane roads and dirt two-track meant I would take a beating. Hunched over my 10-gallon IMS tank at 75 mph, I felt a sense of urgency to find some roads less traveled, which would make this leg of the trip halfway enjoyable. It would have to wait: I needed to make time and had a tight schedule. My return flight, six days away, hung in the distance as both a motivator and an unwelcome reminder of mileage quotas for each day.
I rolled into Salt Lake City that evening and met up with a friend from high school who has carved out a successful niche in the SLC real estate market. We headed out for a night on the town, and an evening of revelry in SLC’s up-and-coming Sugarhouse District transitioned into a foggy jaunt the next morning through Utah’s Uinta Mountains.
Highway 40 was an ideal counterpart on day two. Its scenic twists and turns and lack of semi-truck traffic made it a welcome alternative to the I-84/I-80 corridor. A fuel stop in Vernal, Utah, and a lively playlist in my headphones helped the miles pass quickly before I rolled into Steamboat Springs, Colo.
I needed to snap out of the numb brainscape required to complete as many as 12 hours a day on the bike—I had to make some decisions. I have friends in Denver, but I was burning daylight, thanks to the previous evening’s shenanigans. A dreadlocked gawker at the Kum & Go gas station in Steamboat Springs told me about a “shortcut” sure to shave an hour off my ride into the greater Denver area. Tired and not thinking clearly, I took the advice. It didn’t take long for me to get turned around on Highway 14 northbound, and I ended up at a shithole motel in Laramie, Wyo., where I stayed for the night.
The next morning, I awoke to 33-degree temps and the dread of getting back on Interstate 80. Few things are worse when touring than semi-truck traffic. Semi drivers seldom see motorcyclists and almost never run at consistent speeds. The slight pitches in eastern Wyoming’s geography resulted in playing chicken with two, three or four tractor trailers while trying to pass. These trucks spin off mean vortices that can easily push a bike into the median. For the first time in my riding career, I longed for a big, powerful, midlife-crisis cruiser with a tall windshield and tons of power. From Laramie’s 7,000-plus-foot surrounding plains, I continued east to the Nebraska line.
Through previous rides across Kansas and Texas in 2008, the bar was set pretty low, but I knew two things about the Midwest: 1.) the people are relatively nice, 2.) the scenery is almost nonexistent along major transportation corridors.
I stopped for fuel and a bite to eat in Sidney, Neb., and I still haven’t determined whether what happened next was a stroke of good fortune or bad. After I scarfed down a six-inch turkey sub, I straddled the KLR and performed my pre-ride routine: helmet strapped, check; gloves buckled, check; wallet and phone pockets zipped, check; key on, hit the starter and roll. Not check. The bike gave a groggy squawk followed by an obnoxious buzzing. The battery was toast.
I knew exactly what had happened. While riding into Laramie the night before, I had been running the bike’s high beams and heated grips, which overloaded the battery and charging system, resulting in a dead battery. The bike turned over easily on the cold start earlier that morning but lost its remaining juice across the Nebraska border. Thankfully, there was a car dealership next to the restaurant, so I moseyed over to the shop. One of the mechanics, a squat, friendly guy in his late 20s, said he had a trickle charger at home. He was nice enough to get it during his lunch break, and he let me throw a 4-amp charge on the bike for an hour. As I pulled the plastic side panels off the KLR, I had flashbacks to similar troubles in Australia and Malaysia. After a few thousand miles, I had learned not to panic and roll with the punches. When you’re riding your machine hard, it will occasionally leave you hanging. That’s the name of the game. Being able to expediently review your options, find the right fix and get back on the road is all part of the fun.
With the delay, I only made it as far as Kearney, Neb.
The next day, I stopped in Lincoln, Neb., for a quick oil change. With a reusable oil filter, the whole process took me fewer than 10 minutes, and the guys at Frontier Harley were gracious enough to dispose of my old, blackened oil.
Next up was lunch in Omaha at JD’s Tavern with Dave, another old friend from Boise. He moved out to Nebraska with his wife and kids a few years back to take a job managing a real estate appraisal unit for a major bank. With his thumb on the pulse of land topics in the Midwest, I picked Dave’s brain for a comparison to Idaho. He distilled an otherwise complex answer into a single sentence: “We have awesome public land in Idaho and everything out here is privately owned.” I was suddenly overtaken with a sense of gratitude for my home state. I would hate to have to know somebody who owned frontage on a creek or river in order to go fishing. The majority of Idaho is public land—we’re spoiled rotten.
From Omaha, I crossed the Missouri River into Iowa—roller country. The relatively flat farm lands of Nebraska gave way to a pleasant 200-mile sequence of gentle hills neatly adorned with perfectly manicured troughs of corn. I descended into Davenport, Iowa, and found another cheap motel off of I-80. That evening, I walked over to the Iowa Machine Shed—a legendary restaurant with robust grub and a folksy vibe. The classic tractor collection at the entry and rows of 18-wheelers in the parking lot are indicators of the menu offerings: vegetarians need not enter. Pulled pork, beef brisket and corn bread were favorites at the tables surrounding mine. I opted for a massive chicken ceasar salad, cold Leinenkugel beer and apple dumpling for desert. Full and happy, I headed back to my room, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River and Illinois State line.
The next day was a bastard. It seemed as though every semi in the Midwest converged on the cluster of highways and interstates south of Chicago. After navigating heavy truck traffic into Joliet, Ill., I stopped in Gary, Ind., for fuel. Seldom have I encountered the local stink-eye so fiercely as in this armpit of the rust belt. I gassed up in haste and made my way to the toll road bound for South Bend: Notre Dame country. By now, the farms and fields had been replaced by some nice fall foliage, making the ride more scenic. I cruised through South Bend, noting the collegiate atmosphere, and pushed all the way into Cleveland for the night.
I arrived just in time to take Jake and Camille, two friends from high school, to dinner. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, these two work an intense schedule. Jake hammers out night shifts in the emergency room while Camille works in cancer research during the day. They love what they do and maintain an almost-superhuman level of energy. Jake went straight to work after dinner, and Camille and I returned to their downtown Cleveland condo.
It was great seeing all these people I had remained in touch with, yet somehow rationalized not visiting for many years. For the record, Cleveland was one of the most charming and enjoyable cities on my entire trip.
The next day, I headed north along Lake Erie into Pennsylvania. I made a fuel stop in Erie, Pa., before hitting I-86 east into Binghamton, N.Y. Upstate New York is beautiful in the fall, and the mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees, and clean, crisp air, made for a relaxed ride. I rolled through the Adirondack and Catskill mountains before stopping for the night in Oneonta, N.Y. I was 175 miles from the end of this leg of my journey. I hadn’t been paying much attention to the minutiae of the cultures I subtly experienced atop my KLR but in Oneonta, the thick New York accent gave me my first sense of being far from home, and the people I met in this region were incredibly nice, debunking my previous opinion of “East Coast assholes.”
The next day, I passed through the outskirts of Albany, N.Y., and headed for the Massachusetts turnpike and I-90. I was on schedule, so I elected to take backroads to my final destination of Shelburne Falls, Mass. I stopped at the Creamery in Pittsfield, Mass., for the best avocado and bacon sandwich I’ve ever eaten, and then took my time putting along to my final stop. My GPS routed me all over the place before spitting me out on a long unpaved country drive leading to a 200-year-old barn. The barn and its surrounding 23 acres call Bill Cosby a neighbor, and belong to my friends Josh and Taresa, who offered to store my bike for the winter (in the 200-year-old barn). I had made it across America in six days, rolling 2,910 miles under the tires of my KLR.
Taresa, Josh and I made plans for a night of fun in Boston, 90 minutes away.
Weary from the week, I booked a room in an upscale hotel next to the Boston Commons, and after a traditional Irish dinner and a few whiskeys, I was on a flight back to Boise.
With 13 states and almost 3,000 miles behind me, I learned that every inch of America has something to offer a student of the road; the interstate highway system is an unsexy but extremely important piece of infrastructure; and there’s no place like home.
Europe 2015—Paris to Istanbul—is officially in the pipeline.
Tags: bear idaho, cuprum, dual sport motorcycle, garden valley idaho, hells canyon, kawasaki klr 650, Round Valley Idaho
Here’s an expanded write-up on the first couple of rides of 2014, including Cuprum, the Kleinschmidt Grade, 10 Mile Creek and Garden Valley:
Just over 12 months since I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Lateral Meniscus, broke my leg, and severely damaged virtually every other structure in my right knee, I’m thrilled to report that I’m back to roughly 100%. It’s a good thing too, as throttle lust had been getting the better of me of late.
I hadn’t ridden a single mile of dirt since last fall’s Happy Trails Lolo Motorway Rally in Kamiah—and even that was a weak showing with only 40-50% stability in my right knee following surgery. My orthopedic surgeon strongly suggested I stay away from the bike altogether until spring, but what does he know?
Throwing caution to the wind, three perfect September days in north-central Idaho riding two-track (able-bodied participants at the rally found their way into some way cooler single track rides) reignited a spark that had faded alongside my injury. I left Kamiah, for lack of better words—stoked.
2014 would present the perfect opportunity to relearn how to appreciate what I had long taken for granted—exploration, solitude, adrenaline, adventure—all the things that make a dual sport motorcycle the preferred method of transport here in the Gem State.
So now that spring has begun to fade into summer and the snow is gone from the immediate hillsides around my home in Boise, I scheduled the first pair of rides to see how far and how high I could get into Idaho’s back country. This time of year, the only limitation is snowpack, as the weather is generally pleasant and the landscapes are richly adorned with green undertones and myriad vibrant wildflower accents.
First up, Memorial Day weekend—Rocky Canyon to 10 Mile Creek to Garden Valley to Round Valley to Boise. This little three day, 322 mile jaunt was mostly paved, but presented myself and my riding companion (high school buddy Nolan Smith, and his BMW 800GS) with an opportunity to see how passable Central Idaho’s ridges were. We fully expected to hit snow—the question remained just how much, and whether we could ride around or through it.
Recent rains made for a swift and tacky run over Rocky Canyon to Robie Creek. Burning daylight, we made quick work over Mores Creek Summit on pavement before taking the 10 Mile Creek access bridge over the South Fork of the Payette River. We met a group of friends at a secluded spot along the river, and unwound before the rollicking flames of a massive bonfire.
The next morning, we burned tarmac to Crouch for breakfast at Wild Bills Café. Leafing through some old Forest Service paper maps for alternate routes to Round Valley—in the event that we were bamboozled by snow—we found a less-traveled lower elevation surrogate route that would come in handy a few hours later.
We cruised serenely up the road abutting the Middle Fork of the Payette to the confluence with Silver Creek and headed west up Road 670. We didn’t see a single soul after cresting the ridge at the 693 Junction. There was quite a bit of snow on the side of the road, and you could tell by the uninterrupted condition of the pine needles under tire that few if any travelers had gone this far in 2014. We reached the junction that sends you either west to Bacon Creek or northwest to Landmark, and decided to take the lower elevation route due to the amount of snow we had already seen. Not 300 yards down the south facing slope and we hit our first snowbank.
I carefully aligned my front wheel with the terrain’s flattest trajectory and gave the KLR some gas. I slipped and slid through without issue. Nolan navigated my tire groove without issue. A few hundred yards later, we came across what became affectionately known as “the big one.” This 60-foot long 2 to 3 foot deep snowbank laid between two steep drainage whoops would mean trouble in the event that we had to turn back. Getting the bikes back up this sucker would be impossible. I again lined up my front end and pulled the trigger. This time, I buried the KLR up to the boxes within 10 feet of entry. Frustrated, I hopped off the bike and started walking downhill to see what the upcoming half mile had in store for us. It appeared to clear out, so Nolan and I carefully pushed and feathered both bikes to the bottom of the snow bank. We were the first tracks through in 2014.
We both breathed a sigh of relief when we caught our first glimpse of Round Valley’s prairie through the trees above Bacon Creek. We were in Cascade less than 30 minutes later. We spent the next day-and-a-half riding lower elevation roads and tracks and unwinding by the reservoir with friends.
I debated heading over High Valley on my way back to Boise, but traffic on Highway 55 was surprisingly modest for the holiday weekend, and I had to get a head start on the upcoming short work week.
The following weekend, we commissioned the assistance of my room mate Matt (and his BMW 650 Dakar) for a run over to Cambridge, Brownlee, Hells Canyon, the Kleinschmidt Grade, Cuprum, Huckleberry, Bear, Council and back to Boise. This 360-mile mini-tour took us through some incredible scenery, dramatic elevation changes, and even more snow.
Leaving Boise at 6pm on a Friday, we knew we would be burning daylight by the time we hit Cambridge. We made quick work of Highway 71 down to the Brownlee campground just before sundown. A crisp evening between two rushing creeks was quickly remedied as we dropped the next morning into the low elevation heat of Hells Canyon. A quick run over the dam and we were on our way to the epically steep Klienschmidt Grade—5,000 feet from canyon floor to canyon rim in just a few short miles. The panoramas were incredible, as we transitioned from desert back to high alpine forest. We putted along the Cuprum-Council dirt road without seeing another moving vehicle the entire way. We elected to take the long route to Huckleberry campground along Little Bear Creek—making note of a potential afternoon ride to Black Lake after we set up camp.
After we were situated at Huckleberry, we detached our Happy Trails boxes and made a run for Black Lake. Not 4 miles in and we ran into a mud slick that promptly turned into a deep snowbank. Black Lake would have to wait a few more weeks.
We continued to ride side roads and trails through the afternoon before retiring to camp for dinner. The next morning, we rode through the town of Bear and on to Council for breakfast. We made quick work of Idaho 52 back to Emmett, and Highway 16 into Star/Eagle/Boise.
So there you have it. There is still plenty of snow up in the mountains, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get someplace cool over the next few weekends. One thing’s for certain—you’ll have most of the more remote places to yourself as long as nobody thinks the road is passable.
Tags: 10 Mile Creek, dual sport motorcycle, garden valley, klr 650, payette river, round valley, valley county
Tour de Rad
The first back country road trip of the summer
By Andrew Mentzer
Friday, 8:10 a.m. Me, via text: “Give me a call when you get a second. I have a rad idea.”
8:55 a.m.: ring… ring… ring.
Me: “What’s good, man?”
Nolan: “Nothing. What’s this brilliant idea you have?”
Me: “Let’s fire up the bikes and hit the back roads this weekend. I’d like to see if we can get over the ridge from Garden Valley to Round Valley. There’s still a ton of snow in places, but I bet we can find a clear route.”
Nolan: “Sounds like a plan. When can you get off work?”
Me: “If I put my head down, probably between noon and 2 p.m.”
So it began.
Rigging and loading my custom-built Happy Trails Products Kawasaki KLR 650 for the first multi-day ride of the year brought a Cheshire grin to my mug. I hadn’t been out for a proper ride since the previous September, meaning a winter’s worth of pent-up throttle lust had gotten the better of me. With Idaho’s massive playground–approximately 30,000 miles of two track, fire roads and trails–yet again at my disposal, winter’s fickle barrier was no longer a point of frustration.
Nolan, my neighbor and buddy from high school, rolled up to my house at 1:15 p.m. on his BMW 800GS (also outfitted by Happy Trails). He had a comparable look on his face.
A quick fuel stop and we were making tracks over Rocky Canyon Road toward Idaho City. A few friends were celebrating a double birthday over the weekend at 10 Mile Creek on the South Fork of the Payette River. Nolan and I figured we’d join them for a night instead of heading straight for Garden Valley. After all, it was possible we wouldn’t be able to get over the pass between Garden Valley and Round Valley.
An evening of revelry dissipated into a peaceful night’s sleep, set against the dull roar of the South Fork’s icy spring runoff. Up at 7:30 a.m.–bikes rigged. We burned tarmac into Crouch on Banks-Lowman Road pursuant of breakfast at Wild Bills. A hefty egg scramble was just what the doctor ordered, alongside a dark roast cup of joe. After breakfast, we pored over a series of U.S. Forest Service maps to find an alternate route, in the event that we got stymied by snow.
Cruising serenely up the Middle Fork of the Payette river to Rattlesnake campground, I got the sense that a little adventure might be in store. The farther we traveled, the fewer people we saw. At the confluence of Silver Creek and the Middle Fork, we crossed the bridge to Road 670: gateway to Valley County (and Round Valley). It had been about three years since my last run over this route–a July trip with nary a skiff of snow in sight.
A few Crouch locals had noted that people were still snowmobiling on nearby Scott Mountain. It was not a comforting notion given our mode of travel.
A group of rednecks on side-by-sides nearly ran us off the road about midway up to the summit. Thankfully they were the last people we would see before getting back on pavement.
At the intersection with the 693 loop road, we continued north on Road 670 over to the Bacon Creek cutoff. It was decision time. If we stayed on 670, we would surely run into snow–although the road loses significant elevation quickly, meaning we would stand a better chance of making it to low ground without incident. If we continued to ride the saddles on the ridge, we probably wouldn’t make it more than a few miles without hitting substantial snowpack. It was a no-brainer: 670 all the way.
Not 300 yards down the south facing ridge we hit our first snow bank. The road was completely covered in about three feet of heavy, wet slop for a good 25 feet. I slowly lined up my front wheel with what appeared to be the flattest coverage and gunned it through without trouble. Nolan made it through cleanly as well. There was no turning back, as we could never get the bikes back uphill through that much snow–and neither of us brought a shovel. Less than a mile later we came across “the big one.” A shallow 60- to 70-foot snowbank covered a pitched section of road between two mogul-like whoops. I again lined up my front wheel and went for it. This time, the snowbank won. Not 10 feet in and my bike was buried up to the panniers.
Frustrated, I hopped off the bike, which was now wedged perfectly upright–its full weight supported by the snow–and started walking downhill to scout the next few turns. From the lack of tracks in snow or mud, it was clear no other vehicles had even attempted to traverse this route. Again, not a good sign. While I was gone, Nolan was kind enough to stomp out a path from my front tire to the downhill edge of the snow. With a little bit of lifting and cursing, we got both bikes through.
If we weren’t committed to this route before, we sure as hell were now.
We poked and putted along with the knowledge that we would be the first people to complete this route in 2014, as long as we didn’t have any more mishaps. As I meandered down the rough, rocky whoops of lower 670–feeling pretty good about our prospects–I felt my rear suspension completely compress, followed immediately by a loud, sickening snap. I thought for certain that I had flatted my rear tire–a fix that would likely take us into the evening hours on this steep loose section.
I found a relatively flat spot to pull over and looked underneath my left pannier. I hadn’t flatted. I had however run over a load strap rated at 2,000 pounds that snapped in half under the rotation of KLR’s rear wheel. I was lucky this didn’t damage the wheel, or worse yet, buck me off the front of the bike into the adjacent ravine. I rearranged the load on my bike and we pressed on.
Not far down the road, we got our first glimpse of Round Valley through the Ponderosa pines. We made our way down to Highway 55 from Sixty Lane, and pushed into Cascade for some R&R. Two nights of sitting on the beach and doing some lower elevation rides, and we cruised back into Boise with a few good stories, some excellent pictures and a solid appreciation for our good fortunes.
Total ride: 322 miles–about half on dirt.
Tags: 10 Mile Creek, dual sport motorcycle, garden valley idaho, Rocky Canyon, Round Valley Idaho
Here are a few pics from my Memorial Day weekend ride from Rocky Canyon to 10 Mile Creek to Garden Valley to Round Valley. We were the first ones to make it all the way over road 670 in 2014, as evidenced by the previously untouched snowpack in several places on the ridge. Total ride: 322 miles–roughly half dirt and half tarmac.
Full feature should be out in the Boise Weekly shortly.
Tags: dual sport motorcycle, happy trails products, kamiah idaho, klr650, lolo motorway
Tackling the Lolo Motorway
A motorcycle haven in North Idaho
by Andrew Mentzer
The Lolo Motorway provides the adventurous with access to countless mountain lakes and viewpoints.
From Boise, head north on Highway 55 through McCall. Continue on Highway 95 to Grangeville. Turn right toward the Harpster Grade and take Highway 13 to Kooskia to the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and Highway 12. You can head left to Kamiah or right toward Lolo, Mont. The Lolo Motorway (officially dubbed Road 500) runs parallel to the north of Highway 12, with a handful of steep, often rough, perpendicular access roads along the way.
Peering over the endless expanse of the Clearwater National Forest from my 7,000-foot perch above the Lochsa River, the realization that I had waited all these years to explore one of the coolest places in Idaho settled in. I have reported on dozens of epic stretches across the Gem State, but the Lolo Motorway might take the cake for scenery, solitude and sheer enjoyment.
It may have been the perfect weather that made the trip especially good, but most folks would feel a similar appreciation on their first trip out. Its rugged ascent from Highway 12 to countless mountain lakes and overlooks which provide a peace hard to find elsewhere. This is the backcountry, so staying aware amid the temptation to let your head float off your shoulders is paramount.
My early September run on the Lolo Motorway was with the folks from Happy Trails Products in Boise, a dual sport motorcycle gear company. The second installment of their annual Lolo Motorway Rally utilized the town of Kamiah as home base, which proved the perfect location for each evening’s meeting of the minds.
Each morning, dozens of hardcore dual-sport and enduro enthusiasts convened in small groups to decide which way to go. Some chose remote single-track routes. Others (like myself, coming off a recent knee surgery) chose one of myriad Forest Service roads to explore. While I only completed a roughly 50-mile segment of the Lolo Motorway, there are hundreds of miles of rides/drives in the area that are sure to adequately whet your adventure whistle.
A good orientation point is the Lochsa Lodge on Highway 12, just a stone’s throw from the route’s eastern origin. We accessed our route from Road 107, between Lowell and Lochsa Lodge, and came out at the Powell Junction. Side routes include scenic Horseshoe Lake and the overlook at Indian Post Office. The more adventurous can get off the Motorway and head toward Superior, Mont., from routes adjacent to the North Fork of the Clearwater River. A long weekend is best to cover a respectable amount of ground, but you could spend a week in this region and not scratch the surface. Bring fishing gear. Lastly, be prepared for anything and make sure you have a back-up map in the event that your GPS leaves you hanging.
Tags: international motorcycle shipping, transworld tour
Originally published in Trail Dust:
by Andrew Mentzer
Perhaps the most time consuming, soul crushing and expensive logistic of any RTW motorcycle tour is bike shipping. I can only speak from my own experience—I’m betting there are a few folks out there who have had good experiences—but I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys shipping motorcycles overseas.
For the first phases of my around the world ride, I had to ship my custom built 1988 Kawasaki KLR650 from Boise, Idaho to Sydney, Australia. My father had completed a similar trip in 1977, and upon my return I learned that a lot has changed in the last 35 years when it comes to international freight practices. He told me about the days when you would simply ride up to the port, ask around, and generally within an hour you had found the arrangement you were looking for. This could range from loading the bike in a sleeper cabin and riding along on the boat, to simply leaving the bike at the port and it would be waiting for you on the other end 2 weeks later. The endless import/export red tape and relentless penciling for all sorts of barely legitimate administrative fees didn’t exist in 1977, making the whole process much easier.
Carnet du passages en douane (customs bond)
I had to get a carnet du passages en douane (customs bond) in order to import and export the bike to and from various countries. The carnet usually takes about 2 weeks to secure, and costs a few hundred dollars plus a deposit based on the value of the bike. I ended up getting an “equipment” ATA carnet through my business, which took 2 days and cost about $1,200 in total. When you arrive at a border crossing, you simply have the carnet stamped into one country and out of the other and you can avoid having to pay any duties up front.
Getting the bike to the port at Long Beach was no problem. Using Ebay’s UShip website, I located an independent trucker in Boise who was heading to Los Angeles. 36 hours later the bike was in the hands of Schumacher Cargo. Schumacher had verbally guaranteed me that the bike would be on its way to Sydney by the end of the next week, and would arrive within 30 days of disembarkation. They ended up sending the bike on a transshipment through SE Asia, and it arrived in Brisbane (not Sydney) nearly two months later.
Lesson #1: You get what you pay for. Schumacher is easily the cheapest (my cost was $640) freight forwarder from the west coast, but they make you pay with their lackluster customer service and appalling disregard for time frames.
Collecting the bike in Brisbane, Australia for the start of the trip
After a few days in Sydney, I took a train north to collect the KLR from the port in Brisbane. By then, it had sat in a musty shipping container for the better part of 3 months, which resulted in numerous carburetor and fuel problems.
Following a whirlwind ride across Australia, I ended this leg of my around the world ride in Darwin, Australia—gateway to SE Asia. I left the bike with one of the shop managers at Cyclone Honda for safe keeping, and made arrangements to have the bike shipped from Australia to Singapore upon my return a few months later. Toll Marine Logistics (AKA Perkins) were very helpful and fair in how they handled this shipment across the Java Sea. The bike left and arrived on time, and their staff was very helpful. About $900 later and I was on my way in SE Asia.
There were a few administrative battles in Singapore and Thailand with the carnet, but nothing held me up for more than 4 hours. Crossing into Malaysia was a breeze. When I crossed the border from Alor Setar, Malaysia into Sadao, Thailand, the customs officials appeared to have no clue what to do with the carnet. I attempted to explain that they needed to take an importation sheet from the counterfoil and stamp the “import” box on my carnet, but the futility of trying to navigate the language barrier proved too much. I simply left them with the import sheet and had the official stamp and sign the carnet. They gave me a letter stating in Thai (the lettering looks like spaghetti thrown against the wall) that I would be responsible for 360,000 baht (about $11,000 USD) in customs fees if I were to leave the bike in Thailand. In other words, the bike would have to be exported at the end of this leg of the trip.
Following a mystifying ride across peninsular SE Asia, I found myself at the end of the road. I couldn’t get into Burma or China, so I left the bike with some friends in Bangkok and began working on a plan to have the bike shipped back to the USA before the expiration of the carnet (they are only good for 12 months), which would trigger the enormous customs charge noted earlier.
So here we are today. I first attempted to have the bike exported from Thailand on January 17th. It took nearly a month just to find a freight forwarder who could get it back to the USA, not to mention nearly $2,000 worth of customs, crating and shipping fees. After nearly 120 infuriating emails trying to decipher the freight forwarder’s broken English, and two months of back and forth, the bike ended up being shipped west—through the Middle East and across the Atlantic—instead of east like I had requested. It is now in New York and the shipping company is attempting to charge me more money before they release it for final shipment via truck back to Seattle.
Lesson #2: Getting a bike shipped from Thailand to the USA is a doozy. Hopefully the bike will arrive in Seattle in the next 2-3 weeks…
Next up is a ride back across the USA before heading off to Europe for a barn burner transcontinental ride across Europe, the Stans, and Russia. Keep an eye out for future posts on my father’s ride from 1977-8.
Trail Dust is a publication of happy-trail.com
Tags: around the world, happy trails products, trail dust, transworld tour
Originally published in Trail Dust March 5th, 2013
by Andrew Mentzer
These questions have plagued adventure riders for decades, and absent the introduction of anything too dramatic from the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturers, it will continue to plague us for the foreseeable future. While the one bike quiver appears to be coming ever closer each year—compliments of recent additions like the BMW 800GS and a slough of performance oriented KTM single cylinder bikes—there still isn’t a clear winner that can truly do it all.
I recently returned from the first two phases of what will ultimately be an around-the-world ride that retraces a similar route my father completed in 1977 on a Honda XL250. I began my journey in Southeast Australia and have made it as far as Bangkok, Thailand, thus far. When choosing the right bike, I had to weigh countless elements: weight, fuel capacity, dirt-worthiness, top end, reliability, availability of parts and ease of maintenance—among others. After several thoughtful rounds of ‘what-if’ and an extended Q&A with the guys at Happy Trails Products I landed on the ever-capable Kawasaki KLR 650. There were other suitable options, but having already owned 3 of these bike previously, I decided to go with what I know.
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Collecting the bike in Brisbane, Australia on May 24 after 5 days of planes, trains and automobiles
As most of you are probably aware, the KLR does almost nothing exceptionally well, but everything alright. It is perhaps the most vanilla of the 650-class dual sports, boasting a deadly simple design that has changed very little over the last 20+ years. It is widely manufactured/distributed and parts are consequently available world-wide. For just over $7k, you can get a basic set-up that will adequately address your need for adventure, with aftermarket customizability options galore.
The pros of the bike are its incredible versatility—it’s able to tackle literally any riding conditions you can throw at it—and foolproof ease of maintenance. Its cons are just as apparent—with a limited top end, single cylinder configuration, and obviously simple stock suspension.
So how did this jack-of-all-trades perform in a real world long haul adventure riding scenario?
Just fine, although in all fairness, there were a handful of noteworthy issues, some of which I brought upon myself:
The petcock assembly
The bike was left to sit in a shipping container for roughly 2 months longer than it was ever intended, resulting in several initial carburetion issues on the front end of the trip. Following a sputtering start from the port in Brisbane, the bike made it less than 150 miles before I torched a vacuum seal in the petcock. This was partly because I had the wrong jetting for a sea level ride, and partly due to poor fuel quality. Good gas can be found typically at Shell or BP stations as a 95 octane non-ethanol blend. In SE Asia, this is referred to as gasohol. If you go with Caltex or any other generic brand of fuel, it is likely distributed by one of the big box supermarket retailers, and is generally of lower quality. It took about 3 hours to locate, diagnose and fix the problem, after which I was promptly back on my way without issue. Had I been on a BMW GS or KTM, I probably would not have had any fuel issues in the first place, however I would likely have been delayed several days.
All Cycles and Kart in Gimpie. Wayne Mackaway dropped what he was doing to help me pull the bike apart and diagnose the problem
As previously noted the stock jetting on the KLR was not ideal for my sea level ride across Australia. I elected to have the carb completely rebuilt and rejetted at Trinity Kawasaki in Cairns, before heading out into more unforgiving territory—the Outback. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the bike ran beautifully from the Savannah Way all the way through to Tenant Creek, and into the heart of the Northern Territory.
Riding solo across the outback
Gilligan’s Hostel in Cairns, a massive 700 bed facility bustling with travelers from every corner of the globe
Following a 7 month stint back in the states, I shipped the KLR from Darwin, Australia to Singapore for leg #2 of my ride. This go-round, the issues appeared to be with the bike’s charging system. What I thought was a dead battery turned into a torched stator. Lesson learned: never push start a bike that won’t turn over and has been sitting in a dank storage container for more than half a year. Turns out, push starting the bike can put an excessive load on the stator and regulator/rectifier because it will not get enough juice to charge. This was entirely my own fault, but the repair was (again) fairly quick, affordable and straightforward.
The KLR turned out to be an excellent fit for this type of trip because—despite a few minor issues—it was cheap and easy to fix, and it performed brilliantly on two-lane tarmac and dirt roads alike when I got it settled into its groove. Had I elected to endeavor on a more complicated bike, I doubt I would have had the luck I did with maintenance and repairs.
Atop the tallest peak in Queensland
A nice day at Airlie Beach, Queensland
The pros of the single cylinder 650’s (i.e. KLR, DRZ, etc.):
- Parts are cheap, generic and widely available.
- Fuel efficiency is typically in the 45-55mpg realm.
- Customs bonds and insurance tend to be very affordable.
- Inconspicuous and low profile presence.
- Very capable off-road.
- Extremely simple to repair and maintain.
The pros of the 1000cc multi cylinder dual sport touring bikes (i.e. BMW GS, KTM 990/1190):
- Bombproof durability.
- Typically very comfortable.
- Endless powerband.
- Longer maintenance interval.
The cons of the single cylinder 650’s (i.e. KLR, DRZ, etc.):
- Most stock equipment is of mediocre quality (suspension, seat, etc.)
- Shorter maintenance interval, especially if running highway speeds.
- Functionally tops out at 75mph.
- Requires more preventative powertrain maintenance at over 12,000 miles.
The cons of the 1000cc multi cylinder dual sport touring bikes (i.e. BMW GS, KTM 990/1190):
- Attracts much more unwanted attention in developing and undeveloped countries.
- Expensive to ship, import/export.
- If it breaks down, plan on spending at least 1 week getting it fixed.
- Expensive to maintain/repair.
Next up, the tour shifts directions, heading back across North America before pushing off in Europe—gateway to a massive, 8,500 mile transcontinental haul through Central Asia.
Keep an eye out on Trail Dust for future posts about bike shipping nightmares and success stories, riding misadventures, and my father’s trip from 1977-78.
For those wondering whats going on with Transworld Tour, I did an interview with 100.3 The X’s Nic and Big J this morning about phase 1 of the ride.