There is so many choices to make in preparation for a big trip. And there is a lot of great advice out there in the Adventure Rider Community and our many internet forums. These are the choices I made for the big ticket items of preparation:
1.) Where to go?
Africa and definitely Africa. Its been my dream for a long time and Africa just simply casts a magic spell on me. Connecting my new home in Sydney to my old home in Germany by a journey through Africa will make an awesome adventure.
2.) How to go?
Easy answer: motorbike. Firstly because I love riding motorbikes. Secondly it is less intrusive into local communities than cars by at the same time not putting up any protective barriers around you. Travelling by motorbike exposes you more to your environment and also gives you the opportunity to move at a considerable pace. And bikes can go where many other forms of transport can't.
3.) When to go?
There is two time constraints on this trip: don't arrive in Europe in Winter and avoid the African wet season as much as possible. Starting and finishing in August will give us the best chance to do it both.
4.) Which bike?
I chose a Suzuki DR650 to be my bike. Firstly because I like Suzukis since having a little DR-Z250 as my first ever motorbike. Also because the DR650 is a very simple bike. No electronics. No fuss. Just a simple single cylinder, five gear carburated bike. This model has been around virtually unchanged for decades and been proven in many adventure trips before. It is fairly light weight for a 650 which makes it easy to handle. You can maintain and repair most of it yourself with normal standard tools and so are likely to be able to do stuff in Africa with it. There is also many cool aftermarket bits and pieces available to make it truly your bike for your trip. Mine is a 2010 model and will have around 10000km on the odometer when I leave Sydney. Simple bike. No fuss. Perfect.
5.) Which modifications have been done on the bike?
To get her ready for the job my little Suzuki got a few modifications done. Most importantly a 30 litre long range tank which makes her go for more than 600km. Also a bash plate to protect her underside from the rough African terrain. And Barkbuster handle bar protectors to prevent levers from breaking should I ever drop my bike (won't happen). The original rear shock was a bit soft for constantly carrying luggage around so the spring got replaced by a stiffer one. She has got beautiful pannier frames as well to carry all my stuff. To make sure my camera, mobile phone and tablet computer is always ready I added a 12V cigarette lighter socket to the pannier frames which is switched with the main ignition. So whenever the engine is running I can charge batteries of any gear in the rear panniers. And lastly the front light now has an off switch to it. This will not just save battery power and make starting easier but also enables the bike to ride in stealth mode. As one last mod I installed in-line fuel filters for both fuel lines coming from the tank. These will prevent any particles from a dodgy batch of fuel getting into the carburator or, even worse, into the motor. Apart from that she is still the original simple bike as Suzuki made her.
Before we leave Australia I will invest some more money and get a new set of tyres, a new chain and sprocket set and new break pads fitted. Hope that prepares us for whatever Africa will throw at us.
6.) Hard luggage or soft luggage?
The old question for bike tourers. I decided for a set of soft panniers made by Steelpony in Western Australia. There will be two big side panniers at the back with pretty much everything apart from camping equipment in them. From my time of bicycle touring I will take a waterproof bag which will go across the back on top of the side panniers. In there will be all the camping gear for quick and easy access. Wrapped around that one there will be an empty little backpack for day tours without the bike. And underneath the camping bag will be an empty set of small panniers which I can fit to the front as tank side panniers. These are for times when additional storage room is required e.g. to temporarily carry extra food, water or fuel etc.
I prefer soft luggage over hard luggage because it is heaps lighter and rather snug on the bike without sticking out to much. The light weight is a huge advantage for rough terrain and makes a big difference in the bike handling. Which means more fun riding. The trade of is security as soft panniers don't come with a lock and can in theory easily be slashed open with a knife or just cut off the bike. But having the choice between more fun riding and security I will always choose fun and rather trust people. For obviously dodgy situations I carry three lockable hardened 'Pacsafe' steel meshes which will enclose one bag or pannier each and lock them to the bike. However, they are a hassle and it feels better to trust people and not be paranoid about stuff so I don't expect to use these steel meshes often.
7.) Which spare parts and tools will I take?
Thats another tough one and it is impossible to predict which parts and tools will be needed and which ones will be locally available. It's a gamble and my take on it is to rather leave things at home and travel light. As spares I will take a tube for each wheel, two oil filters, two spark plugs, spare fuses and light bulbs, levers for clutch, gear shifter and front brake; clutch cable and seals for front and rear shocks. I will also take along a spare front socket in the original size with 15 teeth and another smaller one with 14 teeth. The smaller one will come handy when conditions require a slow going over long distances where the original sprocket would mean riding the clutch constantly. One last thing to take is a spare fuel tap. The original taps on the long range tank are made of plastic and are sticking out a bit which makes them easy to brake if the bike ever drops (which of course wont happen).
To keep the tool bag as light as possible I got a set of nuts and a ratchet instead of spanners. Also a screwdriver shaft which fits the little changeable screwdriver bits in. Plus the tools to get the wheels out and the tyres off and on again. There will be a spoke spanner too and the original tool set that came with the bike and includes pliars, small spanners and tools for spark plug removal. I will not take a spare tyre and just cross fingers that Africa will have tyres in the size we need available. I also have trust in all bearings, clutch plates and the battery so I wont replace any of those or take spares. What I will take is the Suzuki service manual specifying all part numbers so that parts can be ordered if there is no other way.
8.) GPS or not GPS?
There is some advantages to have a GPS on the trip. Things like the ability to backtrack when unsure where a certain path goes. Or to find points of interest which other travellers identified by their coordinates. Or to simply send a message with our location in emergencies. Or to find back gear that was left behind for some reason. All this can be done with a very simple GPS unit and I bought the simplest of all: a Garmin Etrex H. It is waterproof, shockproof, runs on normal AA batteries. And does coordinates. No maps. Simple, easy and all we need. It will only be switched on when required and our main means of navigation will be paper maps and asking locals and a bit of good luck.
9.) Computer or no computer?
It is quite nice to be able to use your own computer to write trip reports, backup photos, to carry electronic copies of important documents, bring along some music or even movies. But then laptops are notoriously hightech and fragile and therefore not really compatible to adventure touring where dust, vibration and humidity is a constant occurance. They are also hungry for power and an attractive target for thieves. After much consideration between laptop or netbook or no computer at all a new idea came to my mind: why not trying a touchscreen tablet? They are cheap and small and light weight. There is no mechanical parts on them such as hard drives or keyboards which can be shaken into oblivion. And they are capable of writing texts, storing photos and music. They need less power and can easily be charged on the 12V socket and once charged last for a long time. And they can use SD memory cards to transfer files to computers (for copy and paste into emails or blogs) or from cameras. So there was the solution - I will take a 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab with me. The very same one I am writing this text on.