A fellow Honda Turbo owner suggested we make an adventure ride around the world, his first and my sixth. My initial response was “No, I’ve been around 5 ½ times, that’s enough.”
And then he suggested we do it differently than my previous global loops. My “No” thinking was associated with the time lost and high shipping costs. How we could do a unique circumnavigation of the earth with motorcycles that would be a different adventure for me? This was his challenge.
I was able to take a motorcycle rented in Thailand out of the country into Malaysia and here pictured into Laos, so one rental could be used for several countries.
I still wanted an expedition of sorts, not just a highway ride. However, I did not want to experience the downsides of some of my earlier global loops like frustration and loss of days trying to clear motorcycles out of foreign customs warehouses, corrupt customs officials, slippery “fixers,” air cargo or shipping port closures due to strikes, errant shipping containers and increasingly outrageous shipping costs.
Looking at a map of the world I pointed to places I never wanted to see again using a motorcycle. These included Cairo, Egypt, downtown Mexico City and Bangkok, Thailand. I wanted to give New York City a pass too, as well as downtown London. As my “no go” list got longer my friend suggested we merely ride around those places. After looking at the geography and some of the impossible visa and transit requirements to get around these spots, that option became less attractive.
With nearly 75% of the earth water, and two large pieces ice, what remained to cross over really was not that far in miles to make one loop. While we were totaling airline costs for us, transport costs for the motorcycles, down time for import and export requirements and equipment costs we each had a revelation, an adventure seeker’s epiphany, or maybe it was an economist’s moment of clarity: why not rent motorcycles some of the places we wanted to tag versus using our own?
Earlier we had been lusting for some of the newer offerings in the adventure motorcycle class, like the BMW F800GS or the Triumph Tiger 800XC. I was leaning in the Kawasaki KLR650 direction for value and simplicity when we got to the purchase costs. My pal was looking at the new Honda or a Suzuki DR650 or V-Strom for light weight and carrying capacity.
However, when we looked hard at the new adventure specific motorcycles or simpler dual purpose motorcycles, the economics of using our own motorcycle kept being conflicted with our egos, thinking that we must use our own motorcycle. I suggested we consider renting motorcycles while we moved ourselves and our riding gear around the world, a Plan B to purchasing new or fresh motorcycles specifically for our global loop.
A fleet of rental motorcycles pictured here in Thailand ranged from 110 cc to full-on sport bikes rented by the day, week or month. A downside was leaving a passport as a security deposit.
One country we both wanted to travel through was New Zealand. When we computed the cost of flying or shipping our motorcycles into New Zealand, and added in the associated costs for bonds and downtime to clear customs, New Zealand on our own motorcycles became expensive. With numerous motorcycle rental companies offering a wide range of bikes, the three to four rental weeks needed to cover both islands would cost less than half of what it would to use our own. The other half of the money saved could be used for gas, sleeping, eating, swilling and chilling. The deal maker for New Zealand was our ground costs would be nearly free and we would not have to pay to ship or fly our motorcycles out of New Zealand and on to Australia or Southeast Asia.
I had rented motorcycles in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, so knew we could make rental deals in all of those countries. While some of the rentals were small motorcycles, they were still motorcycles, and in all cases I did not have to deal with routine maintenance items like replacing chains, sprockets, batteries and tires.
Next we looked at Europe, likely where we would find the most expensive rentals but also the easiest. From London to Greece we could find rentals, and in some cases quite reasonable when compared to the costs of shipping of flying our own motorcycles in and out of Europe.
Then we looked at Africa, and where we wanted to ride on that continent. Morocco had rental motorcycles, and there were numerous offerings in the Republic of South Africa.
Alaska had rental agencies for Kawasaki KLR’s to Harley-Davidsons to BMW. Daily rates were similar to those in the Lower 48. Some “off-road” provisions applied or a premium was paid in some cases to take the motorcycle on gravel.
The big “hole” in our rental adventure was if we decided to cross Asia via Russia or through India. I had been across Russia once before on a Kawasaki KLR650. It was easy enough to do, but renting something in Europe and returning it from the east side of Russia was going be expensive if not nearly impossible.
The other option of trying to go through the central part of Asia scored low on our list of places we wanted to see when compared to New Zealand and Southeast Asia, so was not incorporated in our rental adventure.
Finally there was the United States, where rentals were easy but the logistics of starting on one coast with a rental and getting it back to the start point was only time consuming if we merely rode from coast to coast and returned the rental via overland transport like a truck. However, it could be done, and if we wanted to do a circle and had the time that problem was solved.
We therefore had a working plan. When my pal said he would like to see some of South America, we knew rentals could be had there too. We opted out of renting in Alaska, as both of us had been there before. But we knew rental motorcycles could he had for a lesser cost than riding our own from the Lower 48 up and back.
One barrier to the rental plan was overcoming the feeling that the motorcycles we would be renting were not our own, that there would be no pride of ownership or some mystical existential sense of oneness with the motorcycle.
I argued that the motorcycles were merely tools, mechanical tools to move us through the environments. To this I added several of my personal techniques to give my rental motorcycles a feeling that I had some metaphysical relationship towards oneness.
Of course this was mostly psychobabble but my friend seemed to accept a good portion of it.
Part of these personal techniques I suggested were for physical comforts and part for common sense. Over time, however, these techniques became standard use on my rental motorcycles for extended periods and thus felt closer to being one of my own.
- For seating comfort I carry a butt-pad, either made of sheepskin or inflatable. Rental motorcycles have some of the most uncomfortable seats I have used, and it is easy to attach one of the pads to make an iron-hard off-road seat something I can sit on for more than a few hours.
- A small windscreen, attached to the handlebars, not only cuts the wind but easily attaches to many rental motorcycles.
- Soft sided carrying bags for the rear of the motorcycle. Often rental motorcycles have no carrying capacity other than what can be tied on to the back of the seat. The bags I carry can be used as luggage holders both on the motorcycle as well as for travel by airplane, boats or trains.
- My own tool kit, made up of generic tools that can be moved from one motorcycle to another.
- My enlarged tire repair kit with fresh patches, glue and plugs.
- A tank bag, as universal as can be found, and which can be used as a luggage carrier for non-motorcycle transport like a small backpack.
- Good bungee cords or tie down straps. The rental companies seldom provide these and when they do the ones supplied are usually of poor quality.
- Locking mechanism, whether a chain and padlock or a hardened padlock. Some motorcycles I have rented had no locks. In fact, several I have rented had no keys for steering locks or ignition.
- Good quality and waterproof soft bags for carrying gear on the back of the motorcycle.
- My own stickers for affixing to my windscreen, luggage or non-painted parts of the motorcycle. Those affixed to the motorcycle should be easily removed without damaging the motorcycle plastic or paint.
When I have finished outfitting my rental motorcycles they often are mistaken for my own versus a straight rental. I have individualized or customized the rental motorcycle to my liking.
Some rental agencies do not like to see their bikes being customized, so as a general rule I make the changes away from the rental office. I, of course, assume all risks associated with the modifications if any damage occurs to the rental motorcycle and realize responsibility for the costs associated with the changes.
Some strong arguments can be presented that a rental motorcycle comes with a degree of risk associated with the maintenance done by the rental agency versus knowing your own motorcycle. However, part of the definition of adventure includes the word “risk” and I try to manage that risk to an acceptable degree. That means I test ride the rental motorcycle before accepting it and give it the best inspection I can with regard to its mechanical worthiness. If a tire looks bad I will ask for a replacement and even agree to pay part of the costs. If a battery is close to dead I will do the same for a new one.
For me, some of the element of adventure includes being able to manage and maintain my equipment, whether it is my own or a rental. It is part of the challenge.
My potential ‘round the world riding pal is making plans and modifying them for our future joint global adventure. He has accepted as Plan B the idea of renting our adventure rides as we work our way around the world. He did so based on what I termed the Spring Garden Rototiller Analogy: that one only needs a rototiller once in the spring to ready the garden for planting so most gardens are tilled by a rental. The analogy was we only needed once a motorcycle for parts of ground we wanted to cover as we moved around the globe, so rather than buy an adventure motorcycle, we will each rent them.