Tuesday, June 7, 2011

You'll not see nothing like the mighty Sym(ba)

The key to the trip is in the bikes we would be riding. Our original plan involved riding two-up on one motorcycle, but this arrangement has some potential problems – chief among them would be the limited carrying capacity and Re's difficulty in riding a bike big enough for the two of us if I were unable to.

So the obvious solution would be two motorcycles, a solution that many RTW riders use. The question then is, which bikes? All the advice says to take identical bikes, that way you only have to take one set of spare parts and can both ride each other's bike if necessary.  So we had to find bikes that were suitable for the short of leg (Re's inseam is only about 29").  We looked at a variety of smaller enduro-type bikes, such as the CRF230 and XT250, but finally found our answer in the mighty SYM Symba.

What is a Symba, you may ask? It is a modern version of the venerable Honda Cub, the best selling motor vehicle ever. More than 60 million Cubs have been produced and sold all over the world, and SYM manufactured Cubs for Honda in Taiwan for many years. When Honda shifted production of the Cub, SYM continued manufacturing a very similar bike known as the Wowow. The Wowow was then re-badged as the Symba for the North American market.

So why the Symba? For starters, since the rest of the world rides on very similar bikes, mechanics everywhere know how to work on them. Mechanically, they are very simple, having no electronics, no ABS, and no fuel injection – just good old-fashioned bikes. Parts are also easily available on all the continents we plan to travel, unlike some other popular RTW brands. They wear a standard and very popular (at least outside of the U.S.) size 2.5x17 tube and tire . Symbas are also small and lightweight, only 200 or so pounds, so it is easy to pick one up if it decides to take “a nap,” cheaper to ship, and easy to maneuver and park. They don't look expensive (and aren't, at $1999 apiece, brand new), and they look like what everyone else is riding, (hopefully) allowing us to blend in and not scream “wealthy westerner”. The low purchase price gives us more money for traveling and also means that the cost of Carnet de Passage is much more affordable (and leaves more money for beer). In addition, 100 miles per gallon is hard to beat!

We also chose the Symba because it seems like more of a challenge. More and more people go RTW on motorcycles, but usually do it on big, fast (expensive) bikes. If you have the time and the money you can go RTW in a couple of months, blasting your way through smaller countries in a day's time (border crossings allowing). We like that our Symbas will enforce a slower pace; we aim to average about 35mph overall. On our recent trip in SE Asia, we rented small bikes and rode through the countryside several times and really came to appreciate the ability to enjoy the scenery that riding at a slower pace allows. It was quite a change from the way we normally tour in the US- I've always been the type who looks at a route as a challenge to see how fast we can get there.

We also have to acknowledge Nate thePostman and Dabinche for their inspiration, two other riders who showed what you can do on underbones if you really are crazy, err I mean dedicated!  You can read about their adventures by following the links.

More soon about buying the bikes, breaking them in and fitting enough luggage capacity to keep us clothed and comfortable for the journey. 

Oh, and about the name of our blog... An underbone is a type of small motorcycle with a “step-through” configuration similar to that of a scooter but with the powertrain of a motorcycle. A Symba is an underbone. Plus it also sounds vaguely dirty.

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