August 11, 2016
As I said before I ever left over a year ago, there is a place and time to take a big bike on a trip around the world, and there’s a place and time to take a small bike. For the trip I chose to take, the small bike made a lot more sense. But, what if I had chosen to take my 1200cc Yamaha Super Tenere?
Below is a comparison of various costs of the last year on the XT250, versus the same route (mileage) on the 1200 (okay, realistically, you probably wouldn’t go some of the places on the 1200 that I went on the 250).
Miles Ridden: 32,270
The XT250 averaged around 72 miles per US gallon of gas. My Super Tenere averages around 46 mpg. So while I used around 454 gallons of fuel on the 250, the 1200 would have used around 686 gallons for the same miles, which adds up to an extra $834 spent on petrol over the year.
The cost of shipping the bike from Panama to Colombia on the Stahlratte sailboat is the same regardless of bike, but the other three shipments I made were by air: Buenos Aires to Capetown, Nairobi to London, and Zurich to Houston. The air shipments are based on volumetric weight — the size of the crate (unless the actual weight is more). I was able to put the 250 in a crate that measured approximately 2.0 cubic meters, whereas the 1200’s crate would be a bit larger at 2.6 cubic meters. This larger crate would have cost an extra $1500 over the three shipments.
The 1200 wins when it comes to drive system maintenance. I had to replace the chain and sprockets on the 250 in Argentina, which meant spending an extra $130 over the price of just changing the shaft drive oil in the 1200.
Although I could have done with only two sets of tires on the Super Tenere (the Heidenau K60s are very, very hard tires and last a long time), I used five sets of the soft knobby tires on the 250. Part of this has to be attributed to the different route I took on the 250, which I wouldn’t have taken on the 1200, but I’m trying to compare actual cost for the mileage here. So in the end, the cost of five sets of tires on the XT250 is actually $15 more than the cost of two sets of tires for the Super Tenere.
The difference in the cost of oil and filter changes is a bit more significant. I used synthetic oil as much as possible, which is expensive, but worth it in my opinion, and I changed oil every 3,000 miles. The 250 only holds 1.5 quarts of oil, whereas the 1200 takes just under four quarts. So the cost of ten oil changes works out to an extra $330 on the Super Tenere.
I used six total sets of brake pads on the 250: three front and three rear. On the Super Tenere, I estimate that I would have also used six sets: two rears and four fronts (dual discs), although this might be generous given the weight and conditions. If I did use these numbers, the difference would only be about $40 more for the Super Tenere (the pads are a bit more expensive on the bigger bike).
Besides the above costs, here are a few other considerations when determining which bike to take:
If you are going to countries where a carnet is needed (and if you are going to ride the world, you most likely will), keep in mind that the cost of the carnet is based on a multiplier of the value of your vehicle. Thus, a 2014 Super Tenere versus a 2014 XT250 can mean a difference of $30,000 valuation on the carnet (value times as much as three hundred percent for certain countries). An older big bike might be a worthwhile consideration here.
In some countries you’ll feel more secure if you can park your bike inside the lobby or courtyard of a hotel. This may or may not be possible on the larger bike due to the width of a hallway or the stairs leading up to it. In all honesty, I can only think of one hostel I stayed at (in Peru) where I wouldn’t have been able to get the Super Tenere up the steps and through the door, but it’s something to bear in mind. Sometimes removing the luggage and having someone else to act as a spotter might be enough.
On either bike, if you’re going alone, be sure to practice picking it up, especially with it fully loaded. This might mean removing the panniers and other luggage first where possible to reduce the weight. If you’re going where I went, it’s probably not a matter of if, but when you drop it, and there might not be anyone else around to help for hours. Learn the tricks to getting it back on its’ wheels before you leave home.
And if you’re taking the big bike, be prepared to stand out like a “Rich American” (or Brit, or Aussie, or whatever your license plate says you are). While none of us will ever blend in with the locals, my 250 attracted much less attention overall than the guy in Argentina on the BMW 1200 GS with the fancy paint and all the lights and the two extra tires strapped to it, which looked like a two-wheeled version of a Hummer pulling into the small villages. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be that guy. Just realize that you may be treated differently by the locals. It may be a bit more work to negotiate prices on hotel, border crossings, etc and the prices will likely start higher.
So as I said in the beginning, and even before leaving on my trip, which bike you take is really a matter of what kind of trip you plan. Yes, taking the big bike can be more expensive. But if you can afford it, and are planning more pavement, and/or are going two-up, then the bigger bike probably makes more sense. On the other hand, if you want to spend more time off-road, or on the less-traveled and more challenging dirt roads in the mountains, don’t want to stand out quite as much, and don’t plan to have a passenger (much), and are looking to either save money or make your money last longer thus being able to travel further, consider the smaller bike.