Written in 2000 in Moscow, Russia
Many people ask me why I am doing this on a sport motorcycle, and you can see throughout this site I say either sportbike or sport motorcycle. That's because I love sportbikes. I'm not a hog driver or a Harley driver, I ain' t bald, have no beard, and am not a laid back person. I am a competitor by nature and I like racing machines. I bought it in Oxford, England and couldn't have made a better choice. It's a used 1997 Kawasaki ZZR 600 or ZX-6 Ninja in North America. I got it because it's a sportbike with all the performance but importantly it's more comfortable with a slightly lower seating position. It sacrifices a little kick for touring comfort. It's a great bike that goes fast and is fun to drive. I'm really impressed by how reliable it is and it has grown on me. That said there are definitely consequences to making a trip like this on this type of bike, and it makes for good stories.
Doing it with speed and style
Most people that have done long trips have used enduro motorcycles or others that are more suited for long treks. Actually so far I have only read of two people that have done it with such a machine. First off motorcycles such as mine are expensive to run, they have low fuel mileage, spare parts are sparse, hard to find, and expensive, the tires are not meant for this type of travel, the seating position is uncomfortable, no room for luggage.. You get the idea. Probably the biggest problem I found is the high profile. You have to remember that many countries I have gone through and will visit have either never seen such machines or not often. Just in Poland, Belarus, and Russia I had crowds of people around the bike in minutes, sometimes seconds. It's beautiful too so it makes it worse. And that brings a serious headache to this trip. It's a nightmare to find parking, you can't leave it anywhere unattended, finding hotels with security parking is expensive, when you can't find hotels with parking you have to leave it in front of the desk or camp, and when you get to Russia where the parking guards and garages are corrupted it's nuts. All this makes for a lot of headaches, planning, and good stories. But as I said I love sportbikes and would never do it on anything else. I mention all of this so you know some of the difficulties I face on such a trip.
It's not a station wagon
Traveling around the world on a motorcycle for almost two years is a great way to learn how to travel light. If you look at many of my pictures on this site you might notice I'm usually dressed the same way. I only carry what I can and it isn't much, but it works out fine. I got used to it quickly and the only negative thought that ever happened was when I sat down on the bike with all the bags on it for the first time and my heavy backpack, I can remember thinking "damn this isn't comfortable!" And it's not. But as I got under way I forgot about it and since then have had few complaints. I use Oxford Products soft luggage for panniers (at the back) and as a tank bag. Other than that I have a KGB backpack, when full and heavy it's one that doesn't make it comfortable. That's it and I don't need more. Oxford Products probably make the best quality motorcycle bags out there and they'll last a lifetime, and compared to other soft luggage I have seen they can pack more. In the end it won't be a lot anyway and you have to make the most with what you got. Every motorcycle traveler has their ways of doing it, and I've seen on the web machines loaded up with wooden boxes and / or hard cases, and really packed up. As for me I keep it as light as possible, also for the fact I'm on a sportbike and want the machine to still run like one. So what do I bring with me? For clothes I only keep two pairs of jeans, one pair of dress pants, several t-shirts, two pairs of shoes, underwear and socks, and a baseball cap. And it's enough, it just means you have to do laundry more often. And if you meet a girl better to warn her you're probably not going to impress her with variety.
My clothes take a small portion of my load, more importantly I save my space for things I really need such as camping gear, spare parts, tools, books and documents, and also a bike cover. Fitting all this in is not always fun. Camping gear I find is real important in case of emergencies, expensive hotels, and when you can't find any secure parking. I use a Vango 4 person tent which is great, a sleeping bag, and a few other things like a dish set, a fuel cell cooker which is tiny, flashlight.. As far as books I have my bike manual and an invaluable idiot's guide to motorcycle maintenance, it's actually a Haynes Kawasaki ZZ-R600 book. Me being a new mechanic it's real useful, and I've had my goofs already. Then I have my toolbox, set of tools, an extra helmet for passengers, and my sister's laptop. A new addition now is a camcorder I just bought here in Canada. That might mean one less pair of jeans and a few shirts. One more thing I might have to get while crossing any desert area is to get some sort of fuel container. Whether that means coke cans with duck tape or a beer barrel we'll see. When that bike is loaded and you sit on it with a heavy backpack it's a unique feeling. It is part of the adventure of it all and as I said I quickly forget about it. You just get used to it. Except maybe for the tank bag which sits tall on the tank in front at about chin level. That means you can't see any of your gauges or your speed unless you move it sideways or just judge the speed by feel. It can be a pain and I feel crowded and stuck with it in front. One plus of these soft bags is that they are light and can be put or taken away easily from the bike, one big minus though is that people can easily steal them and that even if it's waterproof water can get in. The solutions? Never leave your bike with your bags on, and keep handy garbage bags with a roll of duct tape for water proofing. When I hit countries like India and have crowds around me the duct take will be very useful in keeping the bags shut too. If you look at these pictures you can see how the bike is packed.