It could have been a Triumph, or a Yamaha, or any of a dozen other new bikes, but it’s a BMW.

The more you know the harder it gets. Back in ’73 the choice was simple. There was BMW – and then there were British bikes. Of the latter, the Triumph was the obvious one to take (Nortons were considered too temperamental). I chose the Triumph for largely sentimental reasons, but it was a tad lighter than the BMW. Also the British factory, though strife ridden and doomed, was enthusiastic. BMW on the other hand were very luke-warm about the whole thing, and they haven’t changed much since. How different everything else is today! Every Japanese firm is a contender. Bikes are now designed specifically to cope with conditions that were a severe challenge to my old Tiger. The range of choice is tremendous. Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Motoguzzi, Cagiva, KTM, Aprilia, Triumph, BMW, even Ducati, all have bikes to consider. You notice that I’ve left out Harley Davidson. It is true that my friend Dave Barr rode one around the world, and that was with most of his legs missing, but he didn’t have a very good time doing it. Dave specializes in trouble. His favourite fairy story is probably Jack and the Greasy Pole.

For a while I was set on a lighter bike. Europeans rave about the Yamaha XTs, and they are impressive. So in England I rode one for a while, and thought, after 60,000 miles on this I’ll be worn out. It was just then that the R80 GS came along, and I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The bike

  • BMW 1997 R80 GS,’basic’
  • Converted by CW motorcycles to 1000cc.
  • Additional equipment included:
  • A beefed up front brake with a modified four-piston brembo caliper off a 16v K100RS
  • UK Police spec. alternator and regulator to power larger battery and to supply power to three independent 12v sockets.
  • White Power front springs modified by CW to give optimum progressive damping.
  • Ohlins rear shock with independent compression and return damping controls.
  • Garmin GPS hard-wired into bike and carried on special damped mounting plate.
  • Renthal handlebars with 50mm risers
  • Acerbis brush-guards
  • BMW heated grips.
  • Acerbis 43 litre fuel tank with disposable external fuel filters
  • UK-made ‘Sure Foot’ side stand with desert pad
  • Tesch TT4 49 litre aluminium panniers, on Tesch square section steel frame.
    Visit for more info
  • Zega 33 litre aluminium QD topcase. This got damaged in Africa and I later changed to a case from Al Jesse which I actually preferred.
  • Kick and electric start.
  • All gearing and engine internals are standard BMW.

David Wyndham of CW Motorcycles (
proudly astride my new R80, outside his shop in Dorchester.

Contrary to what some think, I was not planning to deliver hot meals in that fancy top box. It’s where I thought I would store all the electronics – my communications center, as it were. In fact, the Pelican box didn’t fit there, so it went into one of the Tesch boxes instead, and the top box became my kitchen.
This arrangement took me through Africa and the Americas to Australia. However, I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of weight I was carrying, and in Melbourne I made the drastic decision to take off the big panniers and replace them with some soft luggage specially made for me by Andy White.
The new set up is shown below. For more details of what he made for me go here.

All of this worked well, but we did change the alternator to one that put out a few more amps. However, since coming to grief in the mud of northern Kenya (see journal for April 22nd) I have concluded, reluctantly, that I’m overloaded. Particularly with my right leg still vulnerable after the break, I am planning to reduce the load drastically. See above left

Here’s a partial list of other equipment I chose to bring on this journey.

  • I began the journey with a tank bag by RKA of Santa Rosa, California. I had been using it for some time, and found it to be well made, durable and convenient to carry on and off the bike. The map holder is a good shape and it held up well until Melbourne. But after 80,000 miles the zips were beginning to show signs of wear. I changed it for a Hustler bag, which is more capacious and has very handy external pockets.
  • In the bag I carry a Nikon N90s body with a 70-300 mm. This camera’s capabality far exceeds my expertise, and I have it programmed for point-and-shoot. On my belt I also have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, which is so convenient that 90% of the time this what I’ve been using. I also carry a wide-angle converter, which is very effective. Without the Coolpix I doubt that there would be many pictures on this web site at all. And however bad the internet connections have been, they still beat the uncertainty of the mail service combined with the time it takes to develop , deliver, and scan film. However I am still trying to build up a record on film, for later use in print and maybe slide shows. A generous supporter, Simon Nicholls, has offered to supply the film and developing cost for free, and has provided me with a watertight Cannon Sure-Shot as a back up camera.
  • In the front compartment of the bag I carry a battery charger that runs off an accessory socket. The Coolpix consumes batteries at a high rate, and the charger is a pretty essential accessory. After many failures I finally found a charger that works. It came with two packs of four AA batteries, and is in use most of the time.
  • In the left hand Tesch box, I had the Pelican case with a Macintosh G3 Powerbook, an Iomega CD writer, a card reader to transfer digital pictures to the Mac, an external floppy drive, and CDs, cables and plugs. Under the case was a thick strip of foam. Against all predictions and expectations, the Mac and the CD writer survived through an incredible pounding over many hundreds of miles of terrible stony roads and tracks. In the same box was an inverter, an electric pump, a towel, and shoes. I also brought a Psion hand-held as a back up, in the belief that they were about to make it compatible with the Mac.
  • In the right hand box I had books, maps, manuals, collections of small items like adapters and connectors, spare film, and a collection of spare parts assembled by CW Motorcycles, packed into a smaller Pelican box to resist vibration.
  • I started with two Ortlieb bags strapped behind me. Both of them proved to be totally watertight, and durable. In the larger one I carried a small tunnel tent, a luxurious pad for my old bones, the same Point Four sleeping bag I took around the world in the seventies, recharged by North Face in 1975, a down parka also from North Face in a disgraceful state of disrepair which I use mainly as a pillow, a leather jacket, a sweater, and Gerbing’s electrically heated clothing. In the smaller bag I have shirts, underwear, toilet stuff, spare pants, and odds and ends.All this gradually changed.
  • I could never get the Psion to work with my Mac. The one day while it was charging it wiped itself clean, so I sold it in Nairobi. The fellow who bought it still gets good value from it, he says.
  • After I’d broken my leg I wanted more protection for those dangling appendages. Steve Burgess sent me a pair of used boots with a bottle of wine in each one, and I used them as far as Cape Town, but they were a shade too small. I got some BMW Kalahari boots, and I think they’re marvellous.
  • When I got to Arizona, Al Jesse gave me one of his top boxes to replace the Touratech version, which had got badly beaten up in Africa. The Jesse box is better. It looks smaller, but is actually bigger. I think all his stuff is exceptionally good, but i was already thinking of abandoning side boxes altogether.
  • In the States I replaced the G3 Mac with an iBook, so I didn’t need a CD burner any more. After Australia I gave up on the idea of camping. I sent half my gear home in the Tesch boxes, and found I could get all I needed into the top box, the smaller of the two Ortlieb’s, and the two soft panniers I had made for me in Melbourne (see above).
    That meant the Pelican case had to go too. But by then I’d got a lot more confidence in the ability of the computer to stand up to the hard going, so I packed it into the top box in a soft bag.
  • The spare parts I managed to fit into a tin cash box, which Phil Pilgrim managed to fit, cunningly, into the back of the frame. 

I think, all in all, I must have reduced the total weight by a good 100 lbs.