Bike Gets an Overhaul

I recently made some significant changes to Bike. I wanted to give Bike a small overhaul for the ride through Africa. Most of the work was done with the help of Hex Microsystems and Bavarian Motorcycles in South Africa. They really did a great job. Here’s a rundown of the things I’ve added or changed.

New Baja Designs LED Lights

The most significant change are my new Baja Designs Squadron Pro LED lights. When driving at night the standard OEM lights are just not adequate. This almost cost me my life in Nicaragua, let me refresh your memory.

Two small lights appeared in the distance. For a split second I thought it might be a house down the street or a small motorcycle parked along the road. And then I realized that they were eyes reflecting the light from my motorcycle’s headlights. But these eyes were in the middle of the road and at least 5 feet above ground.

I suddenly realized I was about to hit a cow. I slammed on the brakes and thankfully my ABS system kicked in. My tires screeched and smoked and I found myself stopped in the middle of the road 15 inches from a huge dark gray cow.

Baja Designs Squadron Pro lights
Baja Designs Squadron Pro lights

The guys over at Hex, the makers of the GS-911wifi really helped me with this project. They loaned me their shop for the day and did most of the work. Peter-John was the mastermind, Vernon did almost all of the installation (with significant help from Zoöl), and Duncan used his engineering skills to test all the power and make sure everything was electronically sound.

The Squadron Pro lights are 4,900 lumens each These bad boys are incredibly bright. The day after the install I tried them out by riding for 3 hours after sunset. These lights make the road look like I’m riding in daylight. When I turn them off for oncoming traffic it’s almost like complete darkness again.

Driving/Combo Pattern

I got the “driving/combo” lighting pattern which is good for lots of light at medium speed. I did find myself wishing I had light farther down the road when I was riding at speeds over 100kph. Baja Designs has a light for that, it’s the “spot” pattern. I may add one or two of these at a later date (if I can figure out how to mount them).

Driving/Combo: Maximum trail coverage in a single light. The Driving/Combo pattern is equipped with both Driving (10°) and Spot (9°) optics to provide you with a smooth blend of light for both near field applications and distance (Lighting Zone 3)

Spot: A longer and narrower 9° beam focus for illumination further down the trail or road. The Spot pattern is designed to be used in conjunction with additional Wide Driving and/or Driving/Combo beam lights. (Lighting Zone 4 & 5)

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Additional Brake Lights

We also added two large LED strip lights to my rear pannier. These light up with the brake light and make the bike much more visible from the rear. Vernon and Zoöl also created a quick disconnect system so I can easily unplug the new lights when I remove the rear pannier.

LED Turn Signals

Although the new lights are pretty awesome there was one big problem – the OEM incandescent turn signals are so large they blocked the new riding lights. I zipped down to Donford BMW in Cape Town and picked up a set of BMW LED indicators.

The installation of the turn signals is fairly straightforward, I replaced all four while Vernon was installing the big LED riding lights. But there was a problem – the voltage for LED lights is not the same as the incandescent lights. The parts department in Cape Town told me I’d need to have my bike’s brain, the CAN bus, reprogrammed. If I didn’t, my turn signals would blink too fast and I’d get an error light on my dash. Eventually the wrong voltage could cause issues with my new signals.

The Hex garage is very close to Stellenbosch, so after we wrapped up the install I rode over to Donford BMW in Stellenbosch and they hooked Bike up to their computers and updated everything. They even let me take a brand new R NineT out for a joy ride while Bike was getting fixed. What a blast!

New Accessory Outlet Added

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I added a DeLorme inReach Explorer to my bike a few months ago. It’s one more measure of safety for the solo ride. Although I’ve had the RAM motorsports mount I didn’t have any way to power it. It requires a large “cigarette lighter” plug for power, but BMW bikes have a much smaller 12 volt plug. Because the plug has a transformer you can’t just chop it off and replace it, it needs a new accessory outlet to work properly.

Vernon and Zoöl took care of this for me. Zoöl found a spare accessory outlet that Hex had in the shop and Vernon installed it for me in about 10 minutes. Now my inReach is powered while I’m riding which means I can have it continuously communicating with satellites instead of connecting every 10 minutes to conserve power. That translates to more timely tracking and better communication if needed. And I won’t have to worry about forgetting to charge the batteries every night.

New Tires

Now that I’m in Africa I’ll be doing a lot more off-road riding. My Heidenau K-60 Sport tires still have plenty of tread on them. I can’t believe how well they traveled, I bought them in Guatemala and they’ve lasted all the way to Africa, it’s pretty amazing. As far as tread life is concerned, these tires are spectacular.

I really enjoyed the K-60s, with one giant exception: rain. These tires are slicker than snot in the rain. They are by far the worst performing tires in rain that I have every experienced. The back end of the bike slipped around every time I rode in the rain, on several occasions I was lucky not to drop the bike. If you are considering these tires and think you’ll be on tarmac in the rain a lot: DO NOT BUY THEM. Stick with the OEM Michelin Anakee III tires.

The Heidenau tires are pretty good for light off-road riding. They are perfect for the tarmac rider who finds himself on gravel occasionally, but I need something that has a better off-road tread pattern. I decided to install some Continental TKC-80 tires.

I’ve only had my TKC-80s for a couple of days, so I can’t really speak to their performance yet. Once I’ve done a few days on the dirt I’ll let you know my thoughts.

Bar Risers are Gone

Next week I’ll be getting more off-road training. I am super excited about this. I’ll be taking the intermediate course with Country Trax. After I enrolled they sent me some documents that told me how to prepare for the weekend. I was surprised to see this:

Important: please remove handle bar raisers if fitted to your bike unless you are taller than 7ft. They interfere with the overall balance of the bike & rider and are considered dangerous. You will not be allowed to ride the oval track if you have handle bar raisers fitted!

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I’ve never heard anyone say that bar risers are dangerous. In fact, I heard from many places to have them installed before my trip, specifically for off-road riding. But these guys are experts, and they won’t let me on the track with the risers, so I had them removed.

Wow – I can’t believe how different the bike feels now! It feel tighter, easier to handle in the corners, almost like the wheel base has been shortened. In biker terms, the bike now feels more “flickable”. I have no idea how it will feel on the tarmac after 10 hours of riding, but I’m certain that my off-road riding will improve. I’ll keep you posted on my thoughts.

Small Fixes

When were were installing the lights I discovered that there were several bolts and clips that had rusted. This happened when I strapped my bike to the sail boat from Panama to Colombia. It wasn’t really an issue but I figured I might aw well replace things now before it becomes an issue later.

The paint on the frame of the bike had worn off in several places. I had Bavarian Motorcycles sand and repaint the damaged areas to prevent rust issues down the road. They fixed the big issues but I think I’ll need another paint job in a few months. There are just a lot of small places on the frame where the paint is coming off. I’m not sure why this is happening, but I’m guessing it has something to do with riding through deserts in high wind, it’s a natural sand blaster. I’ll have to keep an eye on it.

BMW “campaign” changes – finally

When I had my bike serviced in Mexico they told me that there was a “campaign” on my clutch slave cylinder. BMW used the phrase “campaign” as a nice way to say “factory recall”. Evidently the slave cylinder on some of the new R bikes have been leaking which eventually causes the transmission to malfunction.

Unfortunately the shop in Mexico didn’t have the part, and I would be long gone before they could ship it in. When I had my service in Argentina they told me the same thing – I needed to get my clutch slave cylinder replaced, but they didn’t have the part either. They ordered it but it didn’t arrive before I had to move on. These guys worked very hard to get the part, but shipping in South America can be very tricky and it just didn’t happen. It was no fault of the dealer, that’s for sure. I think they made a million phone calls to try and get this done.

When I had the bike reprogrammed for the new LED turn indicators in Stellenbosch they also told me I needed the part. They had the part, they could do the repairs – but – they needed approval from someone in the USA to make sure that I hadn’t had the service done somewhere else first. Because of the time difference they weren’t able to verify things. It was a weekend and I was heading out the next day. So they called ahead to Bavarian Motorcycles in Pretoria and made sure everything was ready to go when I arrived.

As I mentioned before, Bavarian Motorcycles did a spectacular job. They replaced the clutch slave cylinder when they did the rest of the work on the bike. Thanks guys

New Helmet at last!!!

My Touratech helmet just didn’t live up to expectations. It was horrible in high winds, didn’t fit right, and generally didn’t make me happy. I started looking for a new Aria XD4 in Lima, but once again, the shipping issues and import taxes in South America made it unrealistic to buy a helmet in South America. So I suffered with the Touratch helmet.

When I arrived in Johannesburg I was happy to find several dealers. I wound up at Full Throttle and was helped by a great guy named Malibongwe. Here’s a shot of us with the new lid.

Malibongwe and Mark with his new Arai XD4
Malibongwe and Mark with his new Arai XD4

Top Secret Stuff

There are a few more things that have been added to the bike, but I’m not allowed to talk about it just yet. I’ve been sworn to secrecy until the gadgets are officially released. I will tell you this – if you’re a rider, you’re going to want what this stuff.

I was taken to a secret location, a bike shop that Q from James Bond would be proud of, and shown the gadgets. I was asked for feedback. I only had one thing to say, “When can I get this on my bike??”

Lucky for me the super secret gadget manufacturer had production model gadgets and they allowed me to add it to my bike. I cannot wait until the gag order is lifted and I can show you. For now, stay tuned…

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13 comments

  1. My late friend, a very experienced world-traveling motorcyclist, told me that motorcycling is inherently dangerous, and cannot be made safe. The best that one can do is to make it less dangerous in small ways. My friend retired from exploring the world by motorcycle and settled down at home (Germany) at about age 82. Ride long and prosper.

  2. Hi Mark. I’ve been following your exploits for a while now. Thank you for sharing your adventure. I hope you don’t mind if I live vicariously through you and your fantastic journey not only around the world, but through life.

  3. Mark, I like the lights you installed. Is the main center light OEM? Loving your adventures. Any reason you don’t post pricing and what this trip is costing?

    1. Yep, center light is OEM. Prices change, so I post links to products instead. Trip costs vary so widely from person to person it doesn’t do a lot of good posting too much about it. I have posted a bit about the costs of shipping and permits. But if you’re curious about hotels, that’s easy to research if you’re looking to do a trip. It’s just too specific, and who wants everyone to know about their personal finances? 😉

    1. So far, I really like it. I haven’t done a lot of hours with it yet, so I’m going to reserve judgement. I’ll post a new article once I’ve done a few hundred miles with it.

  4. They look like really serious tyres. But be careful with them on wet roads. I can still remember flying through the air many years ago when I was new to off road rubber.

    By the by, love the new logo

  5. Kept scrolling down hoping to read these 2 bike shops had simply sold your 1200GS for scrap metal and replaced it with anything better than that excuse for a motorcycle 😉

    Still blows my mind why people ride the bmw 1200 gs, it feels like a buggy or atv, has terrible turning, weighs as much as a jeep, middle aged white men drop it at least 10 times a day, every part costs at least $1000, require special tools, parts are hard to find and it looks like some overweight deformed shopping cart…

    Yes, it has great electronics, computers and for its weight, is more nimble (experienced riders) than you’d think… but still… just pick anything else !!

    Suzuki DR650 / DRZ400
    Yamaha250 or tenere
    KTM 450 exc / 690 / rally
    Triumph Tigers (meh)

    list goes on…

    Anyways, best of luck in africa Mark,

    please keep writing 🙂

    1. How many times have you crossed Africa on a motorcycle Jonathan? GS reigns supreme here…

      I did Cape Town to Israel in 2011 on a F650 Dakar, biggest mistake, all ten or so 1200GS/A’s made it to Cairo with a single puncture being the totality of issues. My dad and I (both riding 650 Dakars) each blew a shock, and were inundated with issues almost daily, including numerous cracks to our subframes which took two full days of repairs in Addis Ababa while the ‘useless piece of junk GS’s” explored the Coptic churches in Lalibela…

      But that’s just one fools perspective, as long as you exploring the world on two wheels, happy days, each unto his own…

      Mark, where did you source your Baja Designs LED Lights in Johannesburg?

  6. This site is a real disappointment Mark. We are all so interested in your exploits and travels but this site provides virtually nothing (one video in November and nothing so far for December). The Facebook page is pretty much the same. I don’t think we are looking necessarily for ongoing videos, just an update on where you are and what your plans are. Of course there may be situations of which we are not aware or indeed do not have a right to know but a little update would be nice!!

    1. Hi Roger. As someone who has a personal connection with Mark, I can say that his time in Africa has been a special challenge. Imagine that you only have power for about an hour a day and in that hour you have an internet connection that is roughly equivalent to what we in the US call “dial-up”. During that time you will have to do all of your communication with your family, your friends and your job. Which one would take priority? This website or your family? That’s the reality. We here in the “first world” often forget how good we have it. Africa has many, many areas that are very far behind in technology. Many of the places Mark has stopped had no power and the only means he had of communication was a satellite phone charged by the sun. When you have only 20 or 30 minutes of communication, you tend to prioritize to the more important.

  7. Hi Mark,

    I’m not exactly an avid photographer or viewer of Adorama, but I do have it on my youtube list — and I follow it sometimes.

    I’m what you would call a fortunate 55 year old — I retired at 49 after selling my tech company which I ran for 28 years and it was very successful. I retired because I wanted to smell the roses after working my ass off all those years.

    That means that I love to travel with my wife and alone and see cool places. I’ve been to Patagonia, South America, Peru, Antarctica, New Zealand and plenty of other places in past 3 years alone for extended periods of time. I’ve traveled tons in my business career and family life around the world. That said, I live in a pretty amazing place in Florida on the water as home base but always planning my next journey.

    So who cares? Why am I writing? Well, I also ride a GS1200. Rode in Spain and Portugal last year with a friend on a tour. Took my bike for 18 days from South Florida to Los Angeles and just enjoyed America alone — saw some great sites and people — met my wife who flew to LA.

    I plan on going to Utah this spring and learn to ride off-road for my next journey… Find some cool places to travel on my bike for 3-4 months next year.

    I happened upon your site and journey on one of your vlogs. I own a Sony A7RII and am seriously looking at a Leica — but have the same worries as many — focusing. Scares the crap out of me. I have the same issue as you too — I hate traveling with huge bodies and lenses. Just came back from New Zealand hiking for a month and I used my RX100-V more than the 7RII because of the weight. The Leica seems more practical for weight and volume… Your video struck home with me — exactly the same issues as yours.

    Then I see you are going on this bike journey. Super cool.

    I will be watching and following in your footsteps — albeit a few steps behind, but I will be there.

    Good luck on your journey.

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