We both have Arai Tour-X Helmets. They are fitted with Autocom intercom headsets (see below). The helmets offer excellent visibility. They are light and comfortable, with no problem wearing them all day. Removable liners mean the helmet inners can be kept relatively clean & fresh. Out only criticism is that they are noisy and proved useless with the Duocom earphones (see below).
We have an Autocom bike-to-bike intercom and, once we got over the initial frustrations of setting it up, it proved to be an invaluable piece of kit. Consisting of a control unit and a walkie-talkie for the bike-to-bike comms, it lived in our tank bags where it plugs into the bike for power and the leads reach easily up to our helmets. We opted for the hands-free kit, which employs voice-activated mikes so once plugged in all you do is talk to make it work with no fiddly thumb switches etc to worry about.
The Autocom intercom is very expensive and we nearly didn’t bother with it for that reason, but we now rate it as one of the best and most essential bits of kit that we have with us on our trip. The advantages of riding with the intercom are that you can ride up to several km apart and still stay in contact with each other. This avoids getting separated in traffic and you can point out potential dangers on the road. More practically, you can request stops for wee’s & munchies, point out photo-opportunities and say ‘OOH AAH’ together at all the lovely scenery! Finally, you can also enjoy music plumbed into your helmet – useful for relieving some of the tedium of long journeys on big straight roads (interstates, deserts etc).
Hearing Protection (Duocom Earplugs):
To be honest this wasn’t something we gave a lot of thought to pre-trip until we spent 4 days in Northern Mexico and into Texas riding across flat boring terrain at 60mph with a vicious buffeting side-wind. After this our hearing was seriously impaired – both of us. On returning to the UK we invested in some customised ear protection from Advanced Communications Solutions (through Bike Stop in Stevenage and www.hearingprotection.co.uk). We opted for hand made Duocom ear sets with built in speakers that plug in to the Autocom kit instead of the helmet fitted speakers and planned to use these on the 2006 leg of the trip. They were an expensive disaster. We eventually found after a lot of experimenting and investigation that the peaks on our Arai helmets were thrumming in the wind; unnoticeable under normal circumstances, but now the Duocoms were picking this up and amplifying it giving us worse earache than we had before. They remain the most expensive set of MP3 headphones we ever bought!
Selection of what to wear whilst riding the bike was one of the biggest and most important choices in preparing for the trip. Given that you can expect to encounter all ranges of climate, even in one day, whatever you wear has to be comfortable, durable whilst offering adequate protection against the elements.
Maggie: Hein Gericke Maxwell Gore-Tex 2-piece riding suit with detachable thermal liners. The jacket has leather shoulder and elbow pads fitted with Hiprotec armour inserts. It has some ventilation zippers and is fully waterproof. Most importantly it comes in ladies cut & small sizes, so it fits well and is very comfortable to wear in moderate and cool climates. It is an excellent suit, but the trousers are too warm for most of the Latin climates so most of the time I wear a pair of Moto-X jeans. When it gets really hot (in deserts and in the humidity of Central America) the jacket is discarded for a set of Thor Moto-X body armour. After my spill in Argentina I always wear elbow & knee protectors. Had I had these on at the time I may well have avoided the broken elbow.
Norman: Hein Gericke Tuareg jacket with a detachable waterproof / thermal liner. Another excellent piece of riding gear from HG, being extremely comfortable to wear with loads of ventilation zippers for the hot climates. The jacket has leather shoulder and elbow pads fitted with Hiprotec armour inserts. For 2005 I used a lightweight Hein Gericke Mesh jacket for hot conditions (you can cook in the Tuareg when it gets really hot). It was lovely in the heat of Northern Mexico & Texas but useless if the temperature dipped even slightly & was too awkward to carry so it was left at home for 2006. For trousers I mostly wore a pair of Dainese Gore-Tex enduro pants, swapping these for Moto-X jeans in very hot climates (HG do a Tuareg trouser but it only comes in a standard leg length, which is much too long and cannot easily be altered). The Dainese enduro pants were only good for temperate climates so in 2006, anticipating colder climes in Alaska, I exchanged these for some Arlen Ness Gore-Tex pants that came with a zip in fleece lining. These proved to be reasonably waterproof and very good in cold weather with the fleece liner in.
Maggie has a pair of BMW Savanna boots and Norman has a pair of Hein Gericke Tuareg boots. Both have been superb throughout the first year of our trip – comfortable to wear and remaining waterproof in spite of the abuse they have taken. The BMW boots are a little more expensive than the Tuaregs. Both are made in Italy to a similar standard (they actually have the same rubber soles) and in the end, choice came down to individual fit & comfort.
Although our riding-suits are Gore-Tex and therefore supposedly waterproof we never quite trusted textiles for motorcycling applications, especially on a trip like this of such long duration. Given that the waterproof layer is in the linings of these suits, the clothing material itself gets soaked and that can make you very cold. For this reason we both carried one-piece nylon oversuits that we used on all our previous trips. These are light, small to pack and relatively easy to put on & take off and make an excellent wind/thermal barrier if it suddenly gets cold and you don’t want to pull the bike apart to get at a thermal liner that you haven’t worn for weeks and is buried somewhere in the deep recesses of a pannier. To be really honest we could have done without them in North America as the Gore-Tex gear worked well enough on its own. We did on occasion feel a little damp but none of the gear leaked badly.
Probably the worst climate we encountered was the rainy season in Central America where it was very warm, sticky and humid. We were soaked to the skin with perspiration within seconds of donning our wetsuits and it was extremely uncomfortable. We did try once in Panama to ride in heavy rain with no waterproofs but you would not believe how cold it got once we were wet. Not recommended!
We both mostly wear lightweight leather gloves using the BMW heated handlebar grips on the 650’s when it gets a little cool. Nothing special here – Norms are Reusch touring gloves picked up in Germany and Mags are BMF cheapies. We both have Hein Gericke ‘Pathan’ lobster claw waterproof / thermal mitts for bad / cold weather; they were superb in Alaska.
We both had BMW heated vests and Maggie insisted on some Clansman heated socks after reading a rave magazine review (she suffers from cold tootsies). We carried all of this kit right up into Canada never once using it. Then on the Icefields Parkway, the temperature plummeted from 25ºC to 8ºC in the space of an hour. The heated vests were extracted from the depths of the pannier where they were stored all that time and within seconds of plugging them in we were toasty hot! We wore them for the next 2 months all the way through Northern Canada and Alaska. We don’t believe we would have survived the Dalton Highway up into the Arctic Circle without them. The heated socks were less successful. They have wires that run inside your trousers and over the waist to plug into a socket on the bike. The wires have connectors at the top of the socks and once you get everything on, they unplug the first time you bend your knees. OK – easily fixed with insulating tape but then the socks had no thermal controller – just an on/off switch – and they were uncomfortably hot so you had to fiddle about switching them on & off to thermally cycle your feet. Mags persevered with hers as they did keep her feet from being ice-cold but I got fed up with them and they’ll end up on E-Bay.
Update 2012: Norm’s BMW heated vest packed in – broken wires in the vest proved unrepairable. BMW no longer make the heated vest (due to numerous wiring failures) so replacement is now an EXO Stormrider which has so far been excellent. Check the Stormrider out at www.exo2.co.uk
Day to Day Clothing
What to wear, what to wear??? Our basic wardrobe each consisted of:
- 3 t-shirts
- 2 travel shirts
- 1 fleece
- 2 pairs of lightweight trousers, one with zip-legs that convert into shorts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 fleecy hat
- 1 set thermal silk undies
- 1 lightweight Gore-Tex hiking jacket
- 1 pair hiking boots
- 1 pair sandals
T-Shirts – wear’em, wash’em, clean-the-bike-with’em and buy the odd new one as you go along! Shirts and trousers come from Mountain Hardware, North Cape etc. A little expensive but durable (last longer so are probably more economical) and most importantly dry out quickly both when you get wet and when you wash them.
Although we carried camping equipment, we only really used this in national parks, designated secure campgrounds and it was always there for emergencies or when there was no other accommodation available. Most of the time we stayed in budget hotels, hostels, Posadas, Hospedajes, Cabanas, motels, etc, etc. The calibre and quality of these places varied from stunning locations that are an absolute must to see to hellholes that you wouldn’t send your worst enemy to stay! The majority were somewhere in between with friendly helpful staff, clean beds and a secure place for the bikes off the street. We rarely pre-booked any of our accommodation in advance as, given the wandering and rambling nature of this journey, we could never say for sure we’d arrive on time at any intended destination! We maintained spreadsheets of these places with names, addresses, facilities, costs and our very own star rating! To put it all on the website would bore the pants off most folks but if you are planning a similar trip and would like to look at this information, please contact us and we will be glad to send you the lists.
Shelter & Bedding
Although accommodation was reasonably cheap in South & Central America, we carried camping equipment for use in the National Parks and other designated campsites. It was also useful to have an immediate shelter that could be erected if we should get caught out by an emergency e.g. puncture / breakdown etc (in the event this never happened). Our tent is a Sunncamp Voyager III. It was a relatively cheap (£60) Dome tent with a porch & 2 openings (a porch is always useful for keeping messy things like foodstuffs, wet boots, towels & clothing separate from the sleeping area). It packs up reasonably small and is relatively easy to carry across the back seat of one of the bikes. It is a little on the heavy side, but lighter weight models could easily treble the price and concerns over them being possibly stolen.
We used Vango (3-season) Voyager 300 sleeping bags, selected for their compactness and light weight. These form a bed with our 2 Thermarest self-inflating bedrolls. We bought these on our Coast-to-Coast trip across the US in ’93 and they are excellent. They are expensive to buy (unless you purchase in the US where they cost the same in dollars as they do in pounds back home) but don’t need an air pump to inflate & are virtually puncture proof (they come with a lifetime warranty). Most importantly they are like sleeping on a bed & have been the best kit ever for comfortable camping. We’ve used ours for over 10 years now and no longer worry about whether we’ll sleep well in the tent. We also used our sleeping bags / bed rolls in some budget accommodations, where bedding was suspect or not provided.
The centrepiece of our kitchen was the dinky little MSR Dragonfly, a wonderful lightweight, compact cooker with a variable flame adjuster that runs on unleaded fuel straight from the bike! We found an excellent Made-In-China Teflon coated aluminium pots & pans set that all folded into the largest pot and even had an egg-poacher set! We also carried a Wok as we have done on most of our major trips. Quick stir-fries are easy to knock up and very tasty but the wok was discarded in Argentina, as the little cooker set was so versatile. Half way through we had some lighting problems with the Dragonfly and remedied this by changing the jet. Even if you are not camping, having he ability to cook your own food was a big bonus and we used the kit everywhere we could – in apartments, flats & some hotel rooms.
We augmented the standard tool kit with each bike, with a few extra spanners, a set of mole grips, a ratchet driver and a small good quality (Teng Red Devil) socket set to enable us to perform most routine maintenance and servicing on the bikes. For spares we carried:
- One set of spare levers
- One set of cables
- Spark Plugs
- Oil Filters
- Duck Tape
- An assortment of useful nuts, bolts & washers
- Spare light bulb kit & fuses
- Brake pads
- Mirror mounting bolts (these shear if the bike has a minor spill & it’s useful to carry one or 2 spares)
- Foot pump – Initially we were going to carry a full size foot pump but then we found the very compact lightweight
Motrax mini-pump from a local bike shop. It will blow a deflated tyre up in a few minutes and was invaluable when adjusting tyre pressures on going from good to bad road substrates. It broke down after a few months use (wouldn’t hold the back pressure from the air in the tyre) and we binned it and replaced it with a little 12V electrical pump that runs off the electrical accessory socket on the bike in the US for $20).
We had a BMW workshop manual on CD-Rom but to be honest the Technical Pages on www.F650.com were a much clearer & better source of info.
Photography & The Office
Our main weapon of choice for photography in 2004 – 2005 was our little 3.2 Mega pixel Canon Ixus V3 Digital Camera (I think in the US this model is called the Elph), with 2 x 128mb Compact Flash cards and a spare battery. It is pocketsize and unobtrusive – ideal for photos in crowded markets etc. Photos can be taken and downloaded on our laptop on the same day and organised / labelled up in the evenings (this would be a mammoth task to leave until later on). It was a fantastic little camera and we have nothing but praise for it. Sadly it died in 2006. It was in my bike jacket pocket in Anchorage, Alaska when we encountered some torrential rain. My pocket wasn’t waterproof and that was the end of the Canon. It was replaced in Anchorage with a Pentax Optio W10 – a 6.1mega-pixel camera – an even more awesome piece of kit in that it is waterproof down to 5 metres. We have since used this snorkelling underwater and it is superb.
In 2004 we carried a Pentax 35mm SLR camera for shooting slide and B&W film. To be honest it is just too bulky and awkward to carry & use (doesn’t digital make you lazy!). Film purchase, their bulk in carrying them around & processing costs are so horrific that we decided not to use this again in 2005 (we took around 7,500 digital photos in 2004 – that’s the number we actually kept after deleting all the crappy ones at the end of each day). For 2006 we had a Digital SLR – a Canon EOS 350D (Rebel in the US) with a stock 18 – 55mm lens + a Sigma 28 – 300mm zoom. Whilst both the Canon Ixus & the Pentax Optio compacts are amazing little cameras, the DSLR allowed us to take more dramatic and creative photographs and was worth every penny we spent on it.
We used an HP Pavilion ze4300 laptop. It’s an ordinary of-the-shelf laptop and was excellent throughout the trip with no problems. It has an AMD x86 1.66GHz processor, 256mB RAM, a 40Gb Hard drive, and a DVD Player / CD burner (please forgive the scarcity of specification here as neither of us are computer literate!). It travels in a ‘Caselogic’ padded laptop rucksack, which is wedged into one of the Hepco & Becker panniers with thermal jacket liners, maps & books. We extended the memory later on using a tiny 60Gb Philips external hard drive. This was a useful backup drive for all the photos and web stuff and travelled on a different bike for security. We used the laptop for Website maintenance – writing articles, preparing / formatting photos etc – in the privacy of a hotel room and then burned the updates onto a rewritable CD, which was then downloaded in the next Internet Café. The laptop was also used to carry music (MP3) for download onto our MP3 players and played on the bike through the Autocom system. We also collected a lot of music along the way – ripping local CD’s onto the laptop and then discarding them or using them as thank-you presents along the way.