Journey Start Photo Shoot

March 1 – 3, 2010Permit me a few glamour shots that my friend Kristen wanted to take before the trip began. It was still snowing and freezing cold in early March, Chicago.

The bike’s fenders and the helmet were originally white and I spray-painted them Olive Green, using Krylon Fusion paints with a clear coat. Yes, I know it’s not the most bright and visible color scheme, but I had a vision about the look 🙂

Setting sun on my last 5 years in Chicago. It’s been a great home and I’ve made many close friends.

Going bald should be useful in the warm climates, but brrr, it’s freezing up top for Chicago’s winters.

With my close bud, Allen, from New Mexico, who helped me a lot in getting going on this trip and who’s taking care of a few things for me back in Chicago while I’m on this trip.

sanDRina and I ready to head South!

It’s not as icy as it looks, was more slushy, but thankfully I didn’t drop the bike.

A backlit black and white shot of rider and stead.

In action thru foreign lands materializing out of the dark…

My home for the next few years. Let’s get rolling!

Next: The Trip Begins

Previous: Last Days Before Leaving

Last Days Before Leaving

February 28 – March 4, 2010With the bike all setup and packed, the last few days before leaving the house was as expected hectic. Moving out of the house I lived in for the last 4 years required help from friends as there was more to throw away than expected and I guess I couldn’t bare to throw away so many useful things. The house, car (Mini Cooper) and sport bike (Suzuki GSX-R600) were sold and besides the DR, the only possessions I was keeping were my Definitive speakers, racing leathers and one suitcase of photo albums and things that couldn’t be thrown away that was going to be shipped home to India.

I had been selling as many things as I could on craigslist and ebay over the past few months, liquidating all my possessions but there were still so many things of value that I felt bad about throwing in the trash. Anything useful was donated to the Salvation Army and I got my friends to take a lot of things like furniture and posters.

My good friend Allen helping clean out the kitchen. Besides the garage, the kitchen is what I’m going to miss the most, being a cook. Felt bad throwing away so many spices and other cooking items 🙁 The last few months leading up to the trip start I tried to finish up all the food in the kitchen, but I could only get so far.

Almost empty kitchen. So many good memories from parties and Thanksgiving dinners here.

Kristen is a pro photographer in the making and she wanted to do a photo shoot with the bike playing with lights and such. Her and Allen helped me a lot in the last few days getting things out of the house and helping me organize. She also helped by taking a lot of my furniture and movie posters.

One of my favorite songs and I love the guitar solo in the extended version.

Taking away my movie posters

Making runs to Salvation Army giving away useful clothes and other household items.

Getting rid of my trusty Sidi Vertebrae Tepor boots. 5 years old and about 60,000 miles on them. My riding friends couldn’t stand that I had holes in the boots, haha. Wringing as much value as possible out of them.

Setting up the bike in the garage for her photo shoot.

Kristen having fun with the bike and playing with back lighting.

One last dumpster run and bye bye Mini, great car for the past 5 years.

My close motorcycle friends at my farewell party. We’ve been on some great rides around the US and I learnt a lot from these mentors of mine. I hope to do them proud.

Saying good-bye to all my friends from work and around Chicago. They’ve considered me the crazy biker for riding to Mexico and Alaska and for bouncing off the concept for this trip amongst many of them for the past few years. Everyone was happy to see my dream come into reality.
That’s it, no more possessions! Feels great to off load everything.

Next: Photo Shoot

Previous: DR Bike Setup

Trip Preparation: Bike Setup

February 6 – March 2, 2010

After getting the bike maintenance tasks done, it was onto other setup tasks on the bike.

Cleaning the sludge that had built up on the skid plate as it came from the previous owner. Mostly chain lube and probably engine oil.

30 minutes later with lots of kerosene (great cleaning solvent) and elbow grease.

Installing a Stebel Nautilus Compact horn – super loud aftermarket horn, 139 dB – so that I can be heard among all the trucks and traffic chaos along the way. Reading other travelers’ reports, I noted that most of them wished they had had a louder horn.

It barely fits under the Aqualine Safari tank and the front fender needed to be cut for clearance.

Aligning the horn to make it as level as possible as it’s only supposed to be +/- 15 degrees to function optimally. I’m using an app on my Android phone (Motorola Cliq) that utilizes the built-in accelerometer.

Installed with the relay and heavy duty wires. The Stebel draws a lot of current to produce that loud noise and thick wires are needed. They only require 14 gauge wire but I had some 12 gauge lying around, so used that liberally to ensure no melted wires. I’m also keeping the stock horn and switching between them as needed because the loudness of the Stebel might not be needed in all situations. While the horn is loud, it has sort of a fruity two-tone very Euro truck sound and makes you smile when you hear it.

Using heat shrink on all the connections. Looking at the bottom of the horn.

Enjoying the many months spent in my garage fabricating devices for the bike.

Setting up a 10 W, 0.6 Amp solar panel on my top box to provide additional electrical juice to recharge my laptop and other electrically gadgets. My bike doesn’t produce enough electrical power to safely charge things while on the bike and I’m expecting to be in some remote places with no electrical connections and would still like access to my laptop during those times.

Making some brackets to secure the solar panel to my top box.

Getting the s-bend was a little tricky not having a proper vice, but this rig worked out.

Painting the solar panel black, because it’s got to look good 🙂

Connecting the solar panel into the top box. I used RTV silicone on the edges of the panel to provide some dampening.

Fabricating a switch box. I’ve always wanted some switches to control various things on the bike and finally found a nice aluminum box that would do the trick.

Rounding off the drilled holes.

The solar charge control module, covered in silicone RTV for electrical and mechanical insulation. This board makes sure the DC output from the solar panel is in a healthy range (12-14 V) and also prevents the reverse flow of power to the panel at night. The board also features a trickle charger that I plan to use if not riding the bike for a long time to keep the bike’s battery healthy.

I drew up an extensive wiring diagram and set about creating all the little jumper cables and appropriate wires needed to execute this project. It took about a month to fully complete.

The Solstice LED lights’ power source switch. Besides just charging electronics on the bike, I’ve also setup the LED lights to be either powered by the bike or the solar panel so that during the day I can have the LED lights on providing a wider frontal light foot print without drawing more power from the bike’s battery.

The switch box all wired up and ready to go. I made a bracket that comes off the Vapor Tech mount. And the nice thing was that everything worked as intended on the first try.

Every electrical connection was bathed in dielectric grease (to help keep moisture out from corroding the contact) and where possible, the connection was wrapped in insulating heat shrink tubing (I had lots of it that came with my tool box, so might as well use it up).

And with so much heat shrink tubing still left, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to protect other connectors on the bike.

Snug and insulated. Hope I don’t need to disconnect that connector :p

Heat shrinking all other blade-style connectors before assembling in the switch box.

Running all electrical gadgets through a Centech AP-2 fuse panel so that if something does go wrong it wont affect my bike’s main electronics.

The Centech AP-2 fuse panel positioned under the seat, above the air box.

My dash board almost complete (the LED lights haven’t been secured in this picture).

The switch box. First two from the left are on/off for the two Solstice LED auxiliary lights. Next up is power source for the LED lights and master on/off for both lights and main head light on/off. Then it’s the voltage monitor for the bike’s battery or the solar panel output and the horn switching from the stock horn to the Stebel, both running through the switch on the handle bar. Next is heated grips and solar panel battery trickle on/off and last is power source on/off for 12V sockets under the seat and in the top box. And a note to self 🙂

The solar panel installed and the bike coming together.

A lexan cover for the solar panel, held down with 3M dual lock velcro.

My paint booth. Spraying clear coat on the front fender to prevent rock chips in the paint. It was freezing cold outside, so yeah, there wasn’t much proper ventilation but I wore a make-shift breath mask and hopefully didn’t lose too many brain cells :p


Next: Last Few Days Before Leaving

Previous: DR Bike Prep

Trip Preparation: DR Maintenance

I’m enjoying some down time in San Francisco and soaking up the warmer temps, staying with my friend Shridhar.Before I head south and cross the border, here’re some pictures of the preparations done leading up to the start of the trip.

October 2009 – February 2010

I know there are mechanics all along the way through South America and Africa but I wanted to replace some parts and do some preventative maintenance on my own time and not be rushed, unlike having to do it en route after things fails. I know things are going to fail that I didn’t anticipate, but I’ll handle them as they arise.

First up, I replaced all the bearings: front and rear wheel and swing arm bushings. I’m a decent wrench myself, but I know when some tasks are beyond my abilities for lack of experience or proper tools. I have a good mechanic friend, Gus who helped immensely in all the following tasks. He lived 80 miles from me (on the other side of Chicagoland) but it was worth it as he taught me a lot about how to service the bike if I need to on my own down the road.

Removing the swing arm from the bike to access the swing arm bearings (as it pivots on the frame).

That’s Gus heating up the swing arm…

…to plop in the new bearings.

The rear wheel bearings. The bike had 26,000 miles and the bearings probably would’ve lasted another 10K or so miles, but the factory bearings aren’t sealed and look at all that crud and rust that gets in there. I put in new All Balls bearings that are sealed on both sides. These should last for the next 30-40K miles at least.

Heating up the rear wheel hub.

Putting in the new All Balls bearings and dust seals.

Eww, the rear sprocket bearing, haha.

I then planned to rebuild the Front Forks (new oil and seals), but started reading about a potential issue in the transmission of the DR650 and figured a full engine rebuild would do me good. For certain model years, the 3rd Drive Gear in the transmission is known to fail unexpectedly and as a precaution you can replace it with a newer part. I figured a rebuild would be good as well to take a look at all the engine internals and see if there were any other problems that might arise down the road, and if I was going in, I thought I might as well replace the piston and rings and other aged parts, such as the plastic oil pump gear. I also had the cylinder head rebuilt to restore compression.

The engine removed from the frame.

This is probably as naked as she’ll ever be 🙂 The forks removed from the frame. One can see how simple a motorcycle the DR650 is. That’s a big reason why I chose this bike – it’s not too complicated and it’s very basic in its design, because it just works.

Cycling the new fork oil. That’s Nick who came to hang out while I was down there. He’s an amateur sport bike racer and participates in CCS races on a Suzuki SV650. Him and Gus are constantly rebuilding SV motors. These guys said they would be factory support for me on my trip and if I needed any parts sourced and shipped, they were ready to help.

Slipping on the new seals. Using some plastic to prevent the seals from catching a sharp edge and tearing.

Slipping on the new seals. Using some plastic to prevent the seals from catching a sharp edge and tearing.

Setting the new seals in.

Now the engine rebuild:

The engine on its bench, where it would be for the next 2 months as the rebuild went on for longer than expected as we waited for the right parts to be shipped.

The old piston at 26K miles. Not bad. Replaced it with a new forged aluminum Wossner piston (stock compression).

The rebuild required a few special tools, such as this generator rotor remover (50 mm threaded pipe). Had to wait a few weeks for the right part to arrive.

Splitting the engine cases required a plate that a threaded rod when turned would lift the outer case up.

When everything was set just right, it was magical to see the cases come apart with so little effort – hand turning the rod to split the cases.

Voila, the insides of a DR650 engine. Simplicity shows through again. It’s a single cylinder, so a sole piston spins the crankshaft around and the transmission is built into the engine case (like in most motorcycles).

The transmission gears. The part to be replaced is in the middle of the left stack. It looked fine and there was no unexpected signs of wear on any other parts. Even the cylinder walls with their Nikasil coating looked perfect. I was pleased that everything in the engine was running as expected and looked normal.

The clutch also looked like it had very minimal wear, so I didn’t replace it and will do so as needed down the road, probably in Argentina.

Putting the engine back together. Spinning the clutch basket on.

Re-assembling the cylinder head. Cam chain in place.

That right there is one mighty fine rebuilt DR650 engine. If something happens along the way, I’m not too worried about going in and working on it, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Shifting through the gears to make sure everything works as intended.

Getting the engine back in the frame with the help of my friend, Cesar who acted like an engine hoist while I positioned the engine to get the mounting bolts through.

Servicing the big items on the bike was done. New tires were planned to be mounted in San Francisco and the chain still had lots of life, so that would get replaced along the way.

Next: Bike Setup

Previous: FAQ