The rules: Sports bike adventure travel

Published: 23 January 2013

More often than not, when the magical words adventure motorcycling are thrown into pub conversation, images of a pannier clad dusty GS equipped with dual tyres spring to mind.

The adventure bike is universally assumed by all as the weapon of choice for intrepid over-landers, a wise choice for such an arduous task.

That is with the exception of Dutchman Sjaak Lucassen, a prolific motorcycle traveller who has only ever used a Honda Fireblade and a Yamaha R1 to travel the world.

In 2001 Sjaak embarked on a 155,000 mile journey spanning five years and five months through 77 countries, all on his beloved R1.

When asked why, Sjaak says: "Motorcycle vacations were never long enough and I wanted to see the world. Doing it on a motorcycle is the best way to do that.

"I am not riding around the world; instead I am just living my life on a bike. It is a life style choice."

If anyone has any rules for sportsbike travel, Sjaak is our man. These are his rules.

1. Take the bike you love
Travel on whatever bike you want and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. For me, I love sportsbikes and the sound of an inline-four. If I see a nice twist in the road I want to be able to corner it and I want to do that on a sportsbike.

My heart is in those bikes, they make me happy. When I first rode to the start of the Sahara on a sportsbike, a guy in a jeep asked what I was doing there, when I told him he shouted: “Not a chance!”

But the bike made it across, just because it isn’t built for the Sahara, it doesn’t mean it can’t do it. Chose the bike you love and make the best out of it.

2. Don’t worry about terrain
If you’re going to travel the world, you will find most of your time will be spent on asphalt. Of course at times the road ends but that doesn’t matter, any bike can go anywhere.

Back in ’97 I was on my Fireblade with three Yamaha Tenere’s in Kenya. We were in deep, thick mud and only the Fireblade and one Tenere got through. The other two bikes got completely stuck.

The sportbike doesn’t have a big tyre to dig itself in so I could just slide and walk through little by little. Don’t be put off by mud, sand or anything for that matter.

3. Use a tank bag
This is such an important rule for sportsbike travel, take a tank bag! Strap the bag down and put something firm inside so you can lean on it. By leaning you take all the weight of your wrists, lower arms, back and legs. I can sit quite straight with absolutely no aches, even though I am over 6ft. 

I put as much heavy stuff as possible in there and all of my important stuff like laptop, papers and my camera, that way I can take everything important with me when I leave the bike.

4. Decide on an appropriate luggage system
There is a lot of choice for luggage so take the time to decide on a system that is right for you and your machine. I have always used a homemade box which is welded and bolted directly to the sub-frame.

It makes life easier. I can keep all of my gear in compartments and I can grab what I want with my eyes closed. I have seen riders stopping in Africa to take their big GS panniers off, just so they could fit in and through the ruts.

My box may look big but it’s only 86cm wide and is much easier for me than bags and straps.

5. Keep an eye on tyre pressures
A lot of people think that a sportsbike cannot ride over sand, but with the right tyre pressures you can ride over anything.

Unless you’re doing the Dakar, standard hard compound tyres are fine, you don’t need knobblies.

For sand the pressures should be near flat, the flatter the better. I use 10psi front and 7psi on the rear. Once you get used to it, it becomes really fun, your bike just floats over the sand.

When I am back on straight roads with minimal cornering opportunities, I like to keep it on 43psi, that way the tyres don’t eat up as much rubber; they stay cooler and last longer.

6. Change your rear shock
Every bike has its weakness. For the R1 it was the rear shock. I have an aftermarket Hyperpro shock, it’s a must. The standard just can’t handle the extra weight of luggage all the time. The springs get constantly hammered.

I had a girl on the back of my bike once and that weight with the top box broke the frame. Hyperpro built me a new one and once it was fitted I realised what a fool I had been all that time. It was like riding a camel before.

I can now carry spare fuel on the back. It’s a good idea to get one and have it personally customised for your own weight including luggage.

7. Weight distribution
It is important to use all empty space available on your machine in order to distribute your weight properly. This is really important when you have heavy loads on the back of your bike.

You will often see people with big tanks and extra full containers mounted under back seats but how often would they need all of that fuel? Don’t carry anything unnecessarily and keep the weight evenly distributed.

Having a homemade box built to fit means all empty space is used up where pannier racks would be. Things like sprockets and other spare parts can be strapped all over the bike itself to even out the weight.

8. Be prepared
Take everything you need to be self-sufficient. Every bike has its own problems so know your own bike inside out before you go and it definitely helps to know basic mechanics.

Although that’s not a necessity, I know people who know nothing about bikes and still have great stories. It is a good idea to carry spare parts otherwise you will find yourself standing still when something blows.

I carry spare tyres, repair kits, bearings, pads, clutch levers, throttle cables and so on. Finally octane booster always comes in handy, sometimes fuel is so bad the bike starts pinging so the booster really helps.

9. Follow your own path
A KLR overtook me in Argentina once on route 40. It was wet and there were potholes and mud everywhere. He rode around each puddle and shot off. I took my time, kept my own path and rode straight through each puddle.

The next day I caught up with him. Mud had caked between his swing arm and back wheel; he had ruined his clutch plates and had no spares.

The water from each puddle had cleaned the mud off my bike, tyres and brakes. Pick the path that makes sense to you. 

10. Take your time
Taking your time is so important. Things always go wrong when we rush. What is the point in trying to cover as much mileage as you possibly can in one day? Just ride as far as you feel comfortable.

In one day I may cover 600 miles but then it might take me another 28 days to cover that distance again. It’s not a race so I stop every hour or two and relax as I don’t have to be anywhere at any specific time.

If you are in a rush then you would probably be better off with a big adventure bike. But really bike travel is supposed to be fun, so take your time, relax and enjoy a life on the road.

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