I was sent a question via Quora.com, and thought it was interesting enough to share it (and my long-winded response) here. A rider in the United States is looking to do a motorcycle trek from the US all the way down to Argentina, and wanted some advice on what the best bike would be for the trip.
First, I have to ask if I can go, too. This sounds like the road trip of a lifetime, and I have to admit that I am more than a little envious. With that thought out of the way, here was the question and my answer:
Q: What is the best motorcycle for long distance travel, such as a 3-6 month trip from the USA to Argentina?
A: Like most "which is the best motorcycle for [blank]" questions, this one comes down to personal preference. There is no right answer, but there are plenty of wrong ones. (That said, here's the right answer for those of you who want to skip past the rambling and get right to it: Kawasaki KLR 650.)
Obviously, budget comes in to play a great deal — it's tough to find a clean Harley that's suitable for long distance for less than eight to ten grand. And BMW's are not much cheaper. That said, I don't think that a Harley "dresser" is what you are looking for. If you wanted to go cross-country, a Harley Electra Glide to Road King is fine, and people in the middle states love when you pull into their cafe riding them. If you are headed south of the border, these bikes are not what you are looking for — and neither is a Honda Goldwing.
Why? Because if your headed south — and I mean south of the border, and then south of the equator — it's not going to be smooth-sailing all the way down. Leaving the states, you'll find devastating potholes, roads that just kind of end for awhile, and roads that resemble a hillbilly's driveway more than an actual "road."
This, of course, is part of the fun. But on the wrong bike, it's no kind of fun. Don't look for a "full-dress" motorcycle (i.e., one with luggage, radios, etc.). Look for an "adventure" bike — basically, an over-sized dual sport. Not a full-on desert/off roading bike, but something that can handle the fire roads and trail riding if necessary.
The BMW R1200 GS Adventure or the KTM 990 are ok. However, for my money, I prefer the Kawasaki KLR 650. Also, and this is just my gut instinct, but I suspect that parts and expertise are easier to find for the Kawi than for the BMW or the KTM. Also, the Kawi is a single-cylindar engine, which means there's less to go wrong and it's easier to work on when things do. On top of this, you can usually find them used, in decent shape, for less than $3,000.
Whatever you are looking to buy, ride it first. Any bike that "fits the bill" but that you are uncomfortable riding is the wrong bike.