About Mr Beem
The Dakar model features a larger 21-inch front wheel and increased suspension travel. The seat is higher at 870mm, while hand protectors are fitted for the heated handlebars as well as a special aerodynamic black windscreen from the Dakar rally winning F 650 RR model. The Dakar model is available in white, with distinctive chequered Dakar Rally logos.
Let me say before you read this section that at the time of writing I am not sponsored by any motorcycle manufacturer. That is not to say that I would not like to be. The point is that these views are my own personal and honest opinions and should be taken as such. If they are worth anything only time will tell.
Choosing the bike
Frank Butler with the motorcycle sales team at Westco Motors
Choosing the right bike for the task is a major decision. You make the wrong choice here and you will have plenty on time sitting at the side off the road to contemplate the error of your 'impulse buying' ways. Some of the things that I had to consider were, where will I be going and what are the terrain and road conditions likely to be. Here you should be thinking how much of the trip will be on sealed roads how much on dirt roads, will any of it be completely off road ? This will dictate the style of machine you go for.
If you are touring first world countries then the chances are that you will be on sealed roads, travelling at reasonably high speed, sometimes over long distances. So a dirt bike will drive you mad with its low gearing and whining road noise from nobble tyres and you won't want to be slumped over the tank of a pocket rocket for a twelve hour run either.
You may consider something light and cheap to be an option, but we all know that a 50cc step-through is not going to do the Job. On the other hand would it not be one of the coolest things in the world to pull up beside a petrol pump in Nepal on Harley Fat Boy and casually say "fill her up mate!" But then again maybe not, because the chances are that you would have said "fill her up mate" at every gas dtation from Bombay to Kathmandu.
When I first started thinking about buying a motorbike to go around the world on, it involved a few sleepless nights and a lot of list making. The first question was:
New or Used ?
Used is cheaper, but are you buying someone else's problems ? And of course there will be little or no warranty. New, straight away you lose around 20% of the value of the bike as soon as you push it out of the show room door. Then again the chances are that it will be relatively trouble free mechanically and if you do have a problem in some far-flung corner of the world that it will be covered by warranty. Manufacturers' warranties are between three months and two years.
I feel that if you are only giving three months warranty on an expensive item like a bike you do not have much faith in your product or much respect for your buyers. The other thing is that if you buy a current model that spare parts are likely to be readily available, and in theory the machine should be an improvement on the previous models. So my discission, which went against my rather miserly nature, was to buy new.
What Size ? (like it matters !)
I would be travelling alone most of the time, so manageability was important. If the bike was too big would I be able to handle it when it fell over or would it be to big to get in and out of a canoe on some remote New Guinea river. If too small would it be able to handle a heavy load on long fast runs on Malaysian Motorways, and would people laugh at me perched on a moped?
After considering the extremes I settled on something in the middle around the 600cc range, plenty of power and load carrying ability but still light enough to push to the gas station ('boy', I thought, 'I hope that I don't have to do that too often').
Japanese or European ?
I may have been small-minded in limiting my choices to these two groups of manufacturers, but in reality other makers were not an option. The Japanese would be the cheapest and undoubtedly would have the most comprehensive dealer networks and that is a major consideration when you are looking for a clutch cable or a set of brake pads in the back of nowhere. Quite honestly I would have liked to buy a Japanese bike for those very reasons.
But when you look into it, these bikes just do not have the integrity required for the job. The engines are mostly air-cooled, the frames and suspensions are too light, and they have no guts and little or no prestige value. So that left the Euro bikes. The British bikes were too expensive for what they were (the result of a strong £ Sterling). The Italians were too temperamental (the bikes not the people), and for me reliability is everything in this instance. Which brings us to the Germans and Austrians.
Two possible models
For me it came down to just two models. KTM's Adventure, or BMW's F650 Dakar. Once I had identified my two choices then I started asking friends 'which one would you go for?' Their first question was "who makes the KTM?" I would say, "They do". They would say "never heard of them, buy the BM! "
The KTM was a fine motorcycle, made in Austria. Rugged in appearance with many practical features like electric start and manual kick start back up. Long range fuel tank, great suspension and brakes and only weighed 154 kilos, which for a water-cooled 650cc is light. The thing is that it is very much an off road bike. I would say that it is designed for 70% off road and 30% on road. And let's face it, who is going to spend that much time off road ? To go around the world on dirt tracks would take you the rest of your life and most of the good stuff, the things really worth seeing are in places where people have built roads.
The other thing that I did not like about the KTM was the seat; as soon as I sat on it I thought "No way, I am not going to spend the next three years of my life getting a wedgie every day". The seat is simply to narrow for extended travel. On the other hand the BMW is a very good-looking bike and it is beautifully finished. It has a full seat that is comfortable on those long haul days when you have to chew up a few miles. Its on road/ off road ratio was more realistic for my intended journey 40% dirt, 60% road.
A couple of the deciding factors were, the BMW has a two year warranty, it was marginally cheaper than the KTM and when people see it the say "Oh it's a BMW", which might sound a bit of an odd thing to consider, but the sad truth is that in many parts of the world bikers don't have the most enviable off reputations, so every bit helps. First impressions DO count when your time with people is short. Very often the success of the journey depends on the people you meet along the way, how well your introduction goes has a bearing on how well they treat you. People take BMW's seriously and by extension the people who ride them. So I decided to buy the BMW. (I bet you couldn't see that coming)
One of the nice things about the BMW was that it comes with a whole range of really cool accessaries, so you can buy the bike and all the bits to go with it in the same place. You could just throw your backpack on the back of the bike and shout "lookout world, here I come!". But the reality is you have to be a self-contained unit, even if your plan is to ride from one Hilton Hotel to the next. Things will crop up along the way, flat tyres, running out of fuel, torrential rainstorms and the like. So you have to be prepared. To carry the equipment in order to deal with these little inconveniences, you need safe theft proof, waterproof securely attached panniers. This was another factor in deciding on the BMW; it comes with the option of factory made panniers a top box and a tank bag. Which gives you ample lockable storage space for that little tent, that ever so sexy wet weather gear, a descent tool kit, a few spare parts and the shaving kit.
Mr Beem arrived from Australia as a stock standard bike and I had to do very little to fine tune him for the big trip. The first thing I noticed was that his foot was too small and he had a tendency to lean at a precarious angel if parked on sand or soft ground. So I welded a bigger plate directly underneath the original, this was latter modified by a large rock and the claw was born, This allow the bike to maintain the same road clearance and for the side stand to actually grip the ground, myself and the rock are joint holders off the pattern on this process.
There is something about the Dakar headlight that just seems to scream "smash me, I am really expensive." So I set to work with a cigarette packet a beer mat and a pair of dress making scissors that I no longer use (honest) and came up with the 'Deflector 2000' (right).
This revolutionary high tech design could easily be mistaken for a small piece of Perspex bolted over the head light, but this high impact, low drag coefficient, stainless steel bolt mounted accessory has won admiration and praise from villagers all over the country.It will be availably for sale in your area shortly and will include a free set of steak knives.
The Auxiliary Power Take-off Assemble ( APTA) This one causes a few strange looks; "You have a cigarette lighter mounted in your petrol tank, isn't that a little dangerous?" As you know the petrol tank on the F650's is under the seat and the thing that looks like a petrol tank is where the battery and engine oil live. The APTA is for the GPS and a search light
Because I am geographically dyslexic I have fitted a Garmin 1250 GPS to the handlebars. This device (the fucarwe?) helps fuel planning and arrival time prediction, but as roads seldom follow a straight line or the most direct route. I am still not convinced that it is the great aid that the shop-man promised.
This one makes my chest swell with pride. I have taken the ungainly thing that you see above and transformed it into the piece of novo art below...impressed ?
The original BMW top box is basically a helmet holder. It is too small and an impractical shape for anything but a helmet and a pair of gloves, and it leaks. So I went down to the hardware store and bought a patrol box, as much because I like the name as any other reason, and used the mounts of the helmet box to secure it to the bike. Now I am all set to deliver Pizzas as I go around.
The other little modification that I have done so far is with the panniers. BMW panniers were included with the bike as a special offer. They are ever so clever and can be expanded or contracted at will. The only problem is that they also expand and contract sometimes simultaneously if you drop the bike. So I have taken them apart, removed all the clever expand/contract mechanism, and siliconed and bolted them in the fully expanded position, this has also overcome there propensity to leak.
So all in all, it didn't take too much time or money to get the bike ready.
[Mr Beem Website redesigned and maintained by John Radcliffe, Fast Media 2008]