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I know this section is supposed to be about the bikes but first I have to preface it with a little background that Spice conveniently left out. This is the one section I get to do. For years I have dreamed of taking a big BMW GS into the jungles of Brazil, the deserts of Africa and the villages of Tibet. I managed to track down a few books authored by otherwise normal everyday folks that had done this very thing. Everyone was doing it and I had to too. I didn't know how or when but I knew it was going to happen. That was about five years ago. The books were the inspiration but I knew nothing about the actual execution. I had ridden for years but no real touring experience to speak of and certainly nothing even remotely close to this. Oh did I have a lot to learn.

I did some more research on sites like Horizons Unlimited(an absolute must!) and sort of set the plan in motion. Up until only a couple years ago it was going to be a solo trip. No room for a passenger. Besides, this was going to be the adventure of a lifetime and a girl simply was not in the plan. Did I have a lot to learn, Part II.

I sort of set a tentative leave date of August '01 then I met Spice. Small change of plans but not by much. I figured, "alright, if there WAS going to be a woman on the trip then Spice would certainly be a perfect candidate". We had the conversation about my dreams and the trip that I had to take. I asked her like a big tough guy if she would like to ride around the world thinking, of course, that she would think I was a tough guy and secondly she would say 'no'. I was both surprised and elated when she agreed. It was a little hard to take at first considering her lack of emotion about the whole thing. Little did I know Spice was going to turn out to be about the toughest person I had ever met despite her calm demeanor, sweet disposition and calculating intellect. Not only did she not know how to ride but we were leaving in a year and that was going to be a challenge. I had hoped more than ever she was going to see this thing through but I was prepared for her to abandon the plan after realizing just how foolish it would be to leave a very good job, our entire families and the city we grew up in to trade it in for a life on two wheels. A lot to learn Part III. She was actually going to do it.

The plan was set and now we needed bikes. I bought a big GS just like the dream said but quickly realized it may not be the most practical thing in the world. The weight, cost and sophistication may overwhelm my feeble abilities. Next we started to check out the F650 Dakar. We both rode a few but no matter what we weren't sold on the BMW. Around this time I flipped through a few old issues of Motorcycle Consumer News and came on a series written by the renowned world tourer Greg Frazier. He bought and built an adventure touring dual-sport bike, a Kawisaki KLR 650 ready to go for less than ten grand. Eventually we found two young KLRs with not very many miles on them in Alabama. Mine was an '02 model with zero modifications and we found an '01 model for Spice with a few little mods here and there. Now we had to build them.

I knew this was going to be a challenge but I figured if we were going to ride these around the world I needed to know the bike inside and out. Greg Frazier mentioned a number of venders in his articles but one that seemed to come up again and again was Dual Star. I put a little list together of all the things I wanted to order for the trip and put in a call to Dual Star. At this point we were slated to leave in month. I got ahold of Jeff and let him know the plan. After I let him know I wanted all this and I wanted to leave in a month he was silent for a few seconds and then he said, " Hold on, I am going to let you talk to Mike." Mike, I find out later, is the owner and also develops every product they sell there at Dual Star. Phonecall after phonecall revealed to me I found our best resource yet as he has ridden just about everything there is to ride in every condition. A veritable encyclopedia of information about dual-sport riding and international motorcycle travel. Mike, knowing fully well I was a little ambitious to try to get out of town in a month, said nothing but," I'll do whatever I can". We refined the list over weeks of converations about what we hoped to accomplish. I basically ordered two of everything in the Dual Star catalog. I would call up and ask something like, "Do I really need the billet rear brake mount?" And Mike would respond with a resounding" I wouldn't even leave my driveway with the stock one". It was obvious at that point that a month was not going to be enough time to get all this together. The following list is what transpired over the next 8 weeks:


There is a lot to consider when thinking about modifications for a two-year round-the-world trip. Comfort, reliability, ruggedness, power, practicality, availability of parts, so on and so. The plan was to ride the TransAm Trail as a sort of off-road boot camp for both Spice and I as well as the bikes. Could they handle the constant pounding of 4,000 miles of dual-sport trails completely loaded down? That was what we set out to see.

Mike suggested first dialing in the suspensions to handle the extra weight and terrain. That included chucking the stock fork springs and rear shocks into the trash in exchange for some very trick Progressive units. Progressive offers a shortened rear shock that was going to gain Spice a much needed inch in seat height. I also dropped the front tubes in her bike another inch and a half to level it out. That is about the limit as you start to run into clearance issues both front and rear. I topped off both with some good quality fork oil, 15w in mine and 10w in Spice's. He also suggested converting the rear to an 18" wheel due to the shortage of 17" tires throughout the rest of the world but that would have cut into our leavetime so I opted to nix that one. We'll just have to stay on top of tire wear and try to foresee when new ones are going to be needed. Another item essential for the KLR suspension was the need for a fork brace. For this we clicked on the Happy Trails website take a look at their K-9 Fork Brace. I was promised the K-9 would be okay for any tire without clearance problems. It did not disappoint. The spindly KLR forks are in great need of some support and the K-9 helped out tremendously for stability both on and off road. They include in the package a supposed fork seal but I couldn't figure it out so it's still in Atlanta.

Since right out of the gate we planned to ride nothing but dirt we mulled over all the tire choices and decided to go with the Continental TKC-80. The Conti looks like a full motocross tire but is remarkably quiet on the asphalt and the wear turned out to be about what we expected considering the tread. I later switched to a Maxxis on the rear halfway through the Trail but found that on the road it suffered when leaned over and the noise started to get to me. When the bike wasn't all loaded down the Maxxis was fun to rip around on and predictable in slides on the road but I don't think that is what they are really designed for. Now having finished the 7,000 mile "boot camp" portion of the trip on dirt we have switched to a more highway oriented tire that will hopefully last longer. Mike suggested the Avon Distanzia. We also tossed the stock tubes for some much thicker Monster Tubes, an absolute necessity on a trip of this nature. They are 4mm thick and super heavy duty. We absolutely beat the living daylights out of those tubes and tires(especially with my butcher-like tire mounting abilities) and were fortunate enough to not experience any punctures. I would highly recommend both. On the Transamtrail we ran the tires as low as 13 psi in the sand and as high as 34psi on some of the longer highway days. We'll see what happens and keep you updated.

One ride on the KLR reveals a few weak points but even stock it is a very competent bike. The brakes needed a little beefing up but that was easy enough with some braided lines, front and rear, and some aftermarket brakepads from EBC. That coupled with some high-quality fluid made all the difference in the world. Now, not only could the bikes roll over all the crazy stuff but they could stop too.

Get-offs were going to be ineveitable so next we had to consider how to protect the bikes vital parts. Dual Star offers a number of protective accessories and I think we ordered just about everything. Skid plate, Acerbis handguards, water pump guard, radiator guard, heavy-duty shifter, billet rear brake mount, and a rear master-cylinder guard. I knew there were going to be times when the bike and us would go down but due to the nature of the Transamtrail and, more likely, our riding abilities, Spice and I ended up crashing a lot more than we anticipated. I cannot tell you how many times the handguards and all the other guards saved us from being stranded in the middle of nowhere. I didn't think it was possible to actually bend handguards that were made of steel inside but I proved more than a few times it is. The good thing is that a few allen screws and you can pull them off, jam them between the slats in a picnic table and tweak them back to some semblance of normalcy. I also ordered a coupled of lower profile magnetic drainplugs to lessen the chances of ripping those off in the middle of a rocky hillclimb.

The electrical system is another item that had to be toughened up a bit. I wanted to be able to run a couple accessories such as heated grips and a heated vest so Mike suggested a new higher output stator and regulator/rectifier from Electrex. I had no idea what either of them did but he assured me I needed both. I was terrified of cracking open the motor and modifying all this stuff but it was remarkably easy even for me. I have since blown two of these regulator/rectifiers since I left Atlanta but found out it was a result of my ace wiring skills and not the units themselves. The stock battery also went into the trash(not literally) and in its place Mike sent us a couple heavy-duty dry cell units made by Odyssey.These have been tested by the Marine Corps in their KLRs and have proven themselves time and time again. Apparantly the stock ones can break internally during hard off-road use. Cheap insurance as far as I am concerned. Tammy at Dual Sport Rider.org has figured out a way to replace the stock glass fuses with some heavier duty automotive-type fuses. As this mod required zero wiring skills I figured this again was cheap insurance. You literally unplug the stock ones and plug in the new ones. Simple. While I was in the motor I replaced this thing that would come to be known as the "Doohickey" in KLR circles. It is actually a balancer chain tensioner and another weak point on the KLR. It is a very cheap modification but can potentially frag the motor if it malfunctions. Jake at the Sagebrush Machine Shop in Utah sells these to most of the KLR crowd with tremendous success. A necessity for the KLR.

Next was the issue of comfort. Neither of us had any delusions of Iron-Butt days. The KLR is not the bike to cover hundreds and hundreds of miles in a day. There were going to be days where we would need to make time and cover some distance but time is on our side and the goal is to take our time and see the world. Still, there are a couple things we could do to make our time in the saddle a little more bearable. First I took the seats off and restuffed them. There are a number of manufacturers out there that make aftermarket seats for the KLR but none of them are cheap and unless you have tried them all for a few hundred miles each you are sort of stabbing in the dark. I had nothing to lose by trying my own. This would also give me the opportunity to shave some foam out of Spice's seat for something a little more dense, giving her yet another inch of seat height. To date, I think we are both satisfied with the seat modifications all things considered. We have yet to cover more than 300 miles in a day which is fine by us. Some gel grips helped out with the vibration issue a little but then again, we ARE riding a 650cc single. It comes with the package.

The engines we left alone for the most part. A little attention was needed for the carb. I bought a couple DynoJet jet kits from Dual Star and the response was noticeable right away. They recommend backing out the pilot screw 3.5 turns, which is twice as much as some of the KLR folks recommend on the user groups but no complaints so far. They also include in the kit a drill bit that helps out with the throttle response. Again, immediately noticeable results. One luxury item I afforded myself after we completed the TransAm Trail was the addition of an aftermarket exhaust system. I didn't need it. The stock system is fine but I just really like afermarket exhaust systems. I bought a Laser Pro-Duro and Big Gun header from Arrowhead Motorsports. The whole thing isn't cheap but it looks pretty neat with its stainless steel polish and the sound is a definite improvement over the stock "tweet". Spice thought the purchase was a little silly but I think she understands. I really don't think I gained much in the way of power but I did lose about 5 mpg in mileage. A tradeoff? Probably. Worth it? I think so. In the interest of convenience I ordered a couple stainless steel oil filters from Dual Star. They supposedly last forever and the idea of never having to track down an oil filter no matter where we are is appealing. Simply blow it out with some parts cleaner or something and refill. The engines otherwise were completely stock in the interest of reliabilty.

Searching for electrical gremlins in the parking lot of a Marvel, AR diner revealed nothing

There are a few more things that we did to the bikes that I felt were essential but don't really fit anywhere: The stock footpegs are pretty crummy, especialy when they get wet. Dual Star sells a really trick set of serrated motocross pegs that do the job just fine even in the nastiest mud. You can't ride if you can't keep your feet on the pegs. One other item I cannot over stress is the importance of upgrading the subframe to a beefier setup. Dual Star again sells a kit that comes with drill bits and much heavier-duty stainless bolts. Much needed. Our plan was to carry a lot of weight in some really rough conditions. After some of the trails across country I felt sure we had really overstressed the subframe and I continued to check it day after day. Every crash and getoff I just knew I had cracked something. Nothing. Good stuff. Another little thing we opted for was the billet oil filler cap. Apparantly in some places in the world it is kind of cool to open peoples oil fillers and put foreign objects in there, sand, sugar or whatever. It comes with a key take on and off. At the end of our cross country trip it was time for sprockets and chain. We had planned all along to replace these but not until we were about to leave the country. Both of our front sprockets were pretty worn and did not look as though they would last. I thought I would replace everything while we had the chance. Jeff up at Dual Star had 2 RK x-ring chains, AFAM rear sprockets and PIB front sprockets sent down to Vegas where Spice and I had planned to get a major service on the bikes. They arrived before we did. In that same shipment I also had them include some tank panniers but that's for the packing section. Greg Frazier installed a Scottoiler on his bike and I thought I would too. These little resevoirs feed a constant stream of chain oil to the chain right above the rear sprocket. The rate of feed is fully adjustable depending on your conditions with only the turn of a knob. It took me a while to figure out the whole flow thing. Sometimes the entire rear of the bikes would be covered in oil and other times the thing would be dry as a bone. I tried to keep an eye on both bikes and WD-40 them to clean when I had a chance. The jury is still out on the Oilers. I'll keep you posted.

Sometimes all the gear in the world won't help

So now the bikes are built but now how are you going to carry everything? I have had Touratech bags in the past and had no reason to think there was anything better. The only problem with Touratech and Cycoactive, the importers, is that they don't actually make a rack to hold the panniers for KLRs. The only way to make the whole system work is to buy a rack made by Happy Trails, the same people as the fork brace. I figured if the rack is of the same quality as the brace then everything would be fine. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. I had some problems mounting everything up. Unlike other Touratech units, they don't come premounted so you are left on your own to figure out what is going to be the best setup as far as front-to-back and up-and-down. Nothing seemed to lineup so a little bit of force was needed. Mounting the second set was a little easier since I had already made most of the mistakes. I like the panniers a lot but the mounting could be better. A couple of low-speed tipovers revealed some more weak points. The reason we chose aluminum bags was mostly for security. If I were only doing domestic dual-sporting I would opt for soft bags if only for their resiliency in a crash. I hit a very immobile rock at around 15mph and literally pretzeled the rack. It cracked at the mounting points and twisted to the point where I couldn't bend it back. I banged on it and bent it every way my ax would let me but it was not going to happen. I had hoped it wouldn't be so easy to put a $100 rack(for one side) out of comission. I ordered a new to be delivered in Vegas. The other one I tossed in the trash.

Spice and I both looked around for tankbags for the trip. Dual Star came through with a fairly new model that seemed to fit all my needs. It is expandable and has a window for the map that is attached with heavy-duty velcro that can be transferred to the solid black raincover. Spice opted to keep a little lower profile with a small Wolfman unit, which was fine by me. The only thing she has to say about that is that it absorbs gasoline rather nicely in an extended tipover. I bought a couple of fairing packs to hold some spare tubes and a fullsize cover for both bikes. I bought one cover in Atlanta from a BMW dealer but the cover came from a small company called E-Z Touring in Bend, Oregon. Spice and I ended up meeting Peter Dempsey, the owner of E-Z Touring, while we were in Bend and bought another one. We called him up to get our cover and took a short ride to his house just north of town. I think in some of the more unsavory places in the world a cover will be a wise accessory. The tank panniers came when we got to Vegas and solved a packing problem. With an already overloaded bike we needed to get more weight on the front end. These little guys hang off the tank and hold an amazing amount of stuff,WD-40, air filters, chain oil, parts cleaner, etc. They don't have raincovers, however, but for stuff that won't get hurt by water they are perfect. Apparantly Greg Frazier had some part in the development of the tank panniers as they would occasionally move around in crazy conditions before the latest version. They haven't budged yet save for a local Tucson derelict that wanted to see what exactly was inside. Comes with the territory I guess.


The last couple bits of luggage were the addition of a topcase and some drybags. I ordered a topcase from Cycoactive, the same folks as the panniers, and when it arrrived it was of the same stunning quality I expected. It was made clear to me when I talked to Lynn at Cycoactive that is was not made for the KLR so I was going to have to do some custom modification to mate it to the KLR rear rack. I think she is the resident KLR expert there and proved to be a great help in making some decisions about our luggage. I had an idea for the topcase. I needed a safe place to carry our laptop and video camera. I was going to try to rig up a little battery charging station complete with an inverter in the topcase. I glued high density foam all around inside the thing, screwed it down into the stock mounting points for the rear rack and set about to make a charging station. Everything seems to have worked okay so far and even in the roughest conditions the laptop and camera show no signs of abnormal wear. My drybag came from Dual Star. It is an Ortlieb XL and basically just a big bag. I ordered yellow bag which I wouldn't do again. Anything that comes in contact with aluminum turns black and as a result my bag look about 9 years old. I think the thing even has a little leak in it somewhere but I can't trace it. Spice is using a bag that I have had for a while now and seems to be working great. It holds her sleeping bag, sleep pad and most of her clothes. In hindsight I would have bought another bag like Spice's. I think it came from Aerostitch but I can't be sure. There isn't a single label on it.

Spice at the Slickrock Trail in Utah

Most of the decisions we made prior to leaving Atlanta about the bikes have proven to be right on target. There are very few things we would have changed except for starting earlier than a month before leaving. We were fortunate enough to cross paths with the folks at Dual-Star.com early on. Had we not who knows what we would have ended up with. We may still be in Fort Smith, Arkansas waiting for constrruction on the State Park to be completed so we had a place to camp for the night.