Why buy motorcycles in USA

Initially we didn’t want to start in the US. Our plan was only to do South America (SA), but after many many hours on the web we found out that buying bikes in SA can be very limited. It seems pretty close to impossible to buy locally, get proper registration and bring the bikes out of that country. If you only want to tour one country, like Brazil or Argentina, buying a bike locally seems feasible but don’t count on crossing any borders on it. So the only real South American option was buying from other travellers with a foreign registered bike, forge the title with photoshop, and do the handover in no-mans land on a border crossing. But since we need two bikes at the same time, this option seemed risky. So we ended up in the US, in our case San Diego, where it’s possible for foreigners to buy motorcycles legally. The prices are good, there is a selection and you can buy the necessary equipment and gear if needed. But remember that things take time.. Shopping for used bikes is normally done through Craigs list (www.craigslist.org) and Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com) can give an indication of price, though the price level is normally higher.

What motorcycle to choose

There seems to be three options:

1) Kawasaki KLR 650
2) BMW GS of some sort
3) Suzuki DR 650

Pros: Simple mechanical and big tank (23 l)
Cons: Heavier than the Suzuki, tall and mods need to be done (like the doo-hickey)

Pros: Light and equal simple regarding mechanics as the KLR. The police use this bike in many countries through out the Americans, so spare parts and tires are more available than for the KLR.
Cons: Small tank and not that many used ones for sale in the US.

Pros: Well, it’s a BMW
Cons: Expensive and parts are more expensive and difficult to get throughout the America.

The most popular choice is the KLR, so we went with two KLRs from ’04 and ’06 (which mean they were identical beside the colors since nothing has changed with the model until ’08).

How to buy a motorcycle in USA

When buying used the safest way to change the ownership is to go to a DMV office together with the seller and do the paperwork there. If the paperwork is not in order the DMV will tell you. If the seller don’t have time to go (most won’t) they will hand you the signed “pink slip” (title), which you then has to bring to the DMV. Make sure the title is “clean” (that the bike isn’t salvaged, which means has been damaged). Do not buy if the seller don’t have the “pink slip” no matter what insane reason they might come up with – NO exception – else you can not be sure that the seller is the legal owner of the motorcycle. Check the “pink slip” to see if the owner name fits the seller’s (see seller driver license) and check the VIN of the motorcycle (it is stamped into the frame usual in the front). Any DMV office can be used, so pick one with the shortest wait (can be checked on the web) and an appointment (which can be booked online) can shorten the wait though it isn’t necessary. The time from when you have declared title transfer to you actually get the new title with your name on can take long time (you need a US address), up to three months though two to three weeks seems to be the norm. If you want to travel beyond USA before you get it, then bring the registration DMV gives you. Remember to send the “release of liability” (attached to the top of the “pink slip”) back to the DMV when you sell the bike to release you of ownership (this release form can also be obtained from the DMV without having the “pink slip”). Do note though that your name will still figure in the records until the new owner do the registration.

Buying gear in USA

Though some of bike shops are the sizes of hangars, their stock (for jackets, pants, boots and protection) is surprisingly small. Count on having to order gear, but luckily the wait is rarely more than a couple of days. We used South Bay Motorsports in Chula Vista in south of San Diego.

Needed modifications and extras

Any KLR going on a journey needs the “doo-hickey” upgrade (use google if you don’t know what it is). We were so lucky to be taken under the wing of Eagle Mike himself, which gave us a much needed insight in the for us secret world of the KLR.

The following upgrades/accessories are what we after month on the road consider a must:

1) Doo-hickey fix
2) Handguards
3) Skitplate
4) Panniers

and the following will be very very nice to have

1) Gel or custom seat (like Corbin or Sergeant)
2) Motorcross pegs
3) Progressive springs, both front and rear

Fixing and maintaining the bikes

The KLR is lucky fairly easy to maintain and the stuff that broke on the road we were able to fix ourself with our small tool kit.

Maintenance we did on the road:

1) Cleaning and lubing the chain
2) Changing oil and oil filter
3) Cleaning and reoiling the air filter
4) Tighting bolts and screws
5) Changing brake pads

Things we managed to fix on the side of the road:

1) Flat battery
2) Loose connections in the electric system
3) Broken wires

Things we got done at a workshop:

1) Change tires (make sure you supervise any service done by so-called mechanics… most don’t have a clue about parts that they are not use to fix… in Costa Rica they manage to damage the rear brake pads when changing the tire)
2) A broken control grip from a knock while sailing from Panama to Colombia (not really fixed, just made working).