M/Cing to South America: Prepping “Now Voyager”.

18 months and $20K later, Now Voyager is ready for crating in front of the shipping company in Los Angeles

Toys Gone Wild: Now Voyager Gets All Dressed UP

Just about ten years ago we were driving through Haines, Alaska and I saw a motorcyclist parked in town.  The guy was outfitted from top to bottom and his GS was dripping with gadgets and bags and stuff.  He  looked like an Adventure Dude, ready for anything, and I was immensely jealous.  KR and I had done a fair bit of motorcycling by that time, including a trip to Alaska, but it was always on our Honda Pacific Coast — the antithesis of what a Real Adventure Bike was suppose to look like.  Sometimes an image just gets burned into the brain, and o, the GS in Haines

Roll camera forward and the world was about to unfold at our feet via our new 2009 BMW F650GS.  We needed to get Now Voyager outfitted for our trip and I was determined to replicate that ten year old image.  No catalog would be left out, no accessory would be left off the list, no gadget or gizmo would go unchecked-out.  I was a man with a mission — build a world class adventure bike and have fun doing it: )))))!

Now, there was a serious side to this as well.   First, Karen and I would be living on this bike for long stretches at a time and it had to be comfortable and safe. Second, and this won’t be news for those who know me, I’m not particularly mechanically (nor electronically, pneumatically, etc.) inclined.  I wanted to build something that would take care of itself, or at least I wanted to be prepared for almost anything.  And, of course, it needed to go most anywhere we would want to go — hill, dale, expressway or back alley.

OK, it had to be cool too.

Trust But Verify: Planning, Mounting, Configuring, Repairing and TESTING

As I write this, I have an 85-page journal chronicling our prep for this trip.  While I’m tempted, I won’t put the whole thing up here:)  I’m going to summarize our efforts starting with some basic stats:

  • We’ve gone to 4 seminars/conferences and countless dinners/lunches to meet as many people as possible who’ve done something like this.  We wanted to learn from them.  There are lots and lots and lots of knowledgeable people out there who’ve done this kind of thing before.  Really.
  • We’ve used almost every adventure accessory maker for various things:  Touratech, Wundelich, Adventure Designs, Wolfman, Starcom, Garmin, Wilbers and many, many more.  There’s nothing like coming home to a new UPS package every week: ) Suffice it to say that we’re not likely to be sponsored by any one of them.
  • We’ve taken eight test rides covering 9,000+ miles, ranging in length from a weekend to two weeks, to test various aspects of the bike and its new parts/configurations.   These have been invaluable and prevented numerous mistakes that we would have had to live with if we were on the road.  These tests are in addition to the 6000 miles that I rode a rented 1200 GS in Argentina and Chile Chasing the Dakar in January 2010..
  • Hollywood BMW and Ryan Reza have done most all the work on the bike.  He’s terrific and I wouldn’t have been able to do all the prep without him.  We have spent hours and hours  and hours together getting Now Voyager ready.  Unless you’re able to do the work yourself, you need to find someone you can trust and make sure you take good care of him/her.

What’s The Goal(s)?

I’ve written about why we selected a BMW F650GS in another post — light, comfortable, go-anywhere, highly configurable.   Now our challenge was to make Now Voyager into a bike specifically for us and for our intended uses.  Sounds rather simple doesn’t it?   Well, while its not brains surgery, there were a lot of moving parts and issues to deal with…

  • We’re small people.  I’m 5’5″ on a good day and way 170lbs.   We need a bike low enough to the ground that I can wrestle it at very low speed situations when its fully loaded with KR and gear.  Moreover, weight is a big deal for lots of reasons including the heavier the bike, the harder it is to wrestle at slow speeds.  We also like to talk while we’re riding, sharing what’s going on.  This is especially important on long stints or riding through cities in which one has to do the navigating and the other does the driving.  Finally, we like our stuff.  For KR, that can mean anything from kitchen stuff to pieces of art that we gather along the trip.  My stuff is almost all electronics:  two computers, backup drives, cords, batteries, headphones, etc.
  • The Lower Suspension/Payload paradox. I was extremely disappointed to learn that BMW accomplishes its “lower suspension” option by making the shock softer.  This causes one really significant problem for serious tourers:  because the shock is just soft, the payload is sharply reduced for a lowered suspension bike.  This was a huge problem for us  because I know we’re going to end up carrying a bunch of stuff in addition to us.
  • How do we keep it as light as possible, yet meet all the above? Not easy, but that’s one of the prime reasons we chose the 650 vs. the 800 as a starting point.  Everything that we put on the bike and intend to take is as light as it could be.  We weighed everything and then we calculated spring rates and dampening for the shock absorber.
  • It’s going to be a moving office. Yes, I intend to work on the road, which is why I need so much computer equipment and while I’ll need a little bit of space for files/papers.   Honestly, if I could have found a small  enough and compact enough printer, I would bring that too:)
  • It has to be comfortable for both of us. This is especially true for Karen since she broke her  back in the Sportsmobile accident five years ago.  We changed seats, put in a back rest, raised the handlebars, etc. all in the pursuit of making Now Voyager a Bark-O-Lounger.

The Parts, Accessories, Gadgets and Gizmos on the bike

Here’s a stream of consciousness list of the stuff that I’ve (Ok, Ryan) put on the bike.  For those of  you who have questions or want more detail, just email or call.  Each piece was put on and then tested.  If it worked, it stayed.  If it didn’t, then it was fixed, modified or eliminated.

The Bike/Bags/Suspension/Body

  • Touratech Panniers (as big as I could get),top box and matching inner bags.  Solid pieces of equipment priced to match.  Aside from the top box, they mounted as advertised.  One of them leaked during a rain storm, though, so they have to be rain-proofed.
  • CeeBaily lowered seat with back restWas made to fit our butts.  Lowered as well.  Very good (so far)
  • Wolfman water proof bags including soft gas tank pannier. Untried, but they look great.
  • Wunderich tank bagFinding THE tank bag was one of the most difficult decisions.  There are lots of tank bags out there, but none seemed perfectly suited for what I wanted.  The Wunderlich bag mounts VERY EASILY, has plenty of nifty pockets, looks like its rain resistant, and has a place in the front where you can run electrical sockets into it.
  • All available Touratech crash bars including oil pan protector and radiator guard.  Lots of folks make these things, these just looked like they were sturdy and they were so convenient, since I was in the Touratech catalog/web site every day 🙂
  • Wilbers shock built specifically to my physical and weight specifications and mud flap.  The shock was one of the best things I’ve done  for a wide range of reasons (bought it from Ted @ beemershop.com 831.438.1100).  We bought it to solve the height/weight problem.  The shock was specifically made for our weight (full up and loaded) and the desired ride height (after sag) that we needed.  The bike ended up being about 1″ higher than the stock shock, but way more stiff and able to handle weight.  And here’s the shocking thing (did I say that) — it improved the precision of the handling of the bike to the point that it was immediately noticeable.  Especially two up.  To compensate the increased ride height, we lowered the bike on the front forks by an inch.
  • Center stand. BMW does not offer a center stand for a lowered bike.  So I bought a after market center stand and a friend, Ron Cottriel, shorten the stand to match the bike.  Works great and it doesn’t scrape at the speeds and lean angles I’m going.
  • Wunderlich throttle cruise controlWouldn’t ride without one.  Very, very high quality piece that works fine.  But its set up backwards so that you lock it ON when you rotate forward
  • Wunderlich adjustable clutch lever Small hands require small levers
  • Wunderlich rear view mirror extenders. So I could see  around KR.  Does the job, but the stock BMW mirrors still suck
  • 20MM Touratech handlebar risers.  I put these on because I had read so much about risers, but I wasn’t really convinced.  I am now, its just more comfortable
  • Air Hawk passenger seat. This is an adjustable seat (by blowing into a little tube) in which KR can make it softer or harder depending on the terrain.  She seems to like it.
  • Two Rotopax1 gallon gas cansI’ve been looking for extra gas cans for bikes for years.  These are definitely very, very trick.  Highly recommend them.
  • Three GT Moto Tool Tubes. I originally expected to mount it inside the panniers, but there’s no room on the F650GS, so I ended up mounting them on the bottom of the panniers.  Since I’m taking a lot of spares and tools, I bought three.  Very high quality stuff.
  • Knobby tires front and rear. After I went over the Andes on a GS 1200 equipped with knobbies, I decided that the standard tires wouldn’t cut it.  On dirt, they make a big difference.  On pavement, I never reached their limit in the mountain sweepers on the big GS until you get well over 100mph.
  • Two thermos mounted with a Touratech mount. Keep drinks hot or cold out in the middle of nowhere can’t be over-rated.
  • Two helmet locksI don’t suspect they will prevent a theft from someone who has the time and tools to have at it, but they will work for quick lunches, etc.


  • Starcom rider to rider communications systemAside from not crashing/breaking down, being able to communicate with one another is really important.  As a result, KR KR and I have gone through many, many communications systems looking for the answers.  I think the Starcom 1 Advance system is very, very good and we’ve now mounted it properly so it should work well.  But IT DIDN’T WORK FINE FOR VERY LONG.  Various problem kept coming up during our test trips, everything from buzzing to not being able to hear the iPod.  I tried getting help from everyone including the factory but was out of luck until I contacted Jeff at Biker Effects (see links).  He totally solved my problem(s) and impressed me that he actually knows something about the system.  Ryan mounted the unit under the EMU under the seat and put in a couple of helmet wire connectors and we’re set to go.
  • Garmin 660 Zumo GPS and various maps. GPS’s are another black box area for me and I finally picked the 660 Zumo, which works fine.  The problem with this is threefold:  (1) Garmin’s user interface/customer support/web site sucks big time  (2) Their mapping software for Mac is not particularly intuitive;  and (3) I still haven’t found the right maps for South America…
  • Gadget Guy GPS mounting kit. The Gadget Guy was another hugely helpful guy.  Genna spent three hours on the phone with me talking me through GPS, the pros/cons of mounting them particular ways,etc., etc.  And his mounting systems are works of art.
  • Adventure Design  VOP 1.5 video camera and mounting system.   Haven’t tried it yet, but saw Jim Hyde use it on our Dakar trip to great affects.  My suspicion is that it will be weak on the software side.
  • Scott automatic chain oiler.  I’m a lazy guy and figured its best to get something to do the daily stuff.  I replaced the standard chain with a much better one too.

Bike Preparation

Not only does all the above stuff need to get put on or mounted, there was a ton of specialized stuff that I wanted done. Here’s a list of the key things

  • Center stand shortened.  See above
  • Back box moved back 1/2 inch.   This little bit made all the difference to KR
  • Panniers lined with foam. I carry a lot of electronics
  • Starcom system was wired to the ignition system, the Starcom box was located under the seat, the helmet wire connectors located at the back and gas tank
  • EVERYTHING was siliconed and or Locktited
  • GPS was mounted as ignition dependent
  • The video camera was mounted in two ways:  forward-looking  and flexible hand-held.  See above
  • Suspension was adjusted numerous times with various loads.  This is an art of which I’m not too skilled.  We tried to reach a balance between ride height, shock travel, and stiffness.  Only time will tell, but there are not a lot of alternatives for us vertically challenged guys.
  • The front forks were lowered about 1 inch to compensate for the above suspension adjustments
  • The Scott Oiler was mounted and tested for flow rate.   When we first tested it, it threw oil over everyone and everything for the 100 miles the oil lasted.
  • A complete service, including new spark plugs, oil/air filers, brake pads, etc.,etc,
  • A spare clutch cable was installed next to the existing one.  Ryan mounted the cable right next to the existing one, just in case I lose one, its a five minute replacement. Very trick.

Pictures of the fun along the way

A rare photo of me working on NV and getting something done

A rarer shot of KR polishing NV's new panniers

One of my favorite shorts. It's very early one Sunday morning and I'd just spent 10 hours trying to get the top box installed.

Many of our tests were weekend rides with the BMW of So Cal folks. The rides always included new and interesting roads to places that we hadn't been to before. They were very useful in testing various things on the bike. And they were also a fun group to play with.

We went to anything we could to learn. This was a well-attended talk by the Simon and Lisa Thomas (see 2ridetheworld link on the links section) at BMW Ventura. If you're thinking about taking a long trip, go to as many of these as possible.

Learning on a whole other level, the Horizons Unlimited meeting every summer in Colorador and California are the single best places to go to learn how to do "this." These folks are the real thing.

Another way of learning -- the hard way. NY stopped running in Gallup, NM on our first significant test trip and we spent FOUR DAYS while a BMW dealer tried to diagnose the problem. We (I) found the answer in the AdvRider Forums of course. 40 pages on F650GS fuel pump problems...

NV will serve as mobil office as well

I've found that the best relationship between rider and technician is based on mutual respect. The guy on the right is Ryan Reza, the best technician I've come across. He needs some training in people skills, though 🙂

One of the last things I installed (OK, Ryan installed) was two one-gallon Rotopax gas tanks. Very trick. They're easy to fill and lockable. Range for NV is now about 280 miles. Definitely cheaper than buying the Touratech large gas tank for $2K.

This is what the electronics look like now. Garmin and POV1.5M camera mounted. The lipstick camera is in its resting place. There's also a mount under the windscreen for road shots. My intension is to hold the camera -- or have KR hold it-- while we're riding.

Gadget Guy GPS mounting brackets

Staging area! My m/c stuff in my temporary living room in Steve and Rita's basement

All suited up and nowhere to go -- yet! First test of my first ever riding suit -- the Revit "Dakar" suit. It's a very good suit, but I wonder whether the whole rain/winter layer underneath is going to work in climates where it rains off and on every day. Bought on sale, of course.

Now Voyager waiting to get crated. I'm feeling a huge amount of separation anxiety...

1 reply
  1. Neal says:

    Ok, so, you need to let us know if – when you open the crate in Argentina – Now Voyager is actually still inside and made it safe and sound.

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