The person who came up with the slogan “Keep it simple, stupid” knew what he was talking about. In fact, the more complex our lives become, the more these words ring true. It seems we are constantly being led to believe that we must embrace the latest technology because it will make our lives better. Not necessarily! Motorcycles are a good example.
When I bought my first motorcycle, a Triumph, in 1955, electrical problems were not uncommon. However, I never experienced an electrical failure on either my 1955 Triumph or my 1955 AJS500 single. That was because early on I was advised by mechanics I trusted to keep all electrical contacts healthy, prevent shorts and to replace any battery that tested weak. Fortunately, I established good maintenance practices which I have faithfully followed for more than 59 years and a million plus motorcycle miles.
In 1990 I went exclusively to Japanese big singles: the KL650A, the DR350SE, and the DR650SE. I did so because top experts like Paul Tomlinson, Vey de la Cruz, and others had convinced me of the simplicity and reliability of these models, especially where electronics were concerned.
More than 500,000 logged multi-surface motorcycle miles later, I have had only two failures. One was a broken ring in a DR350 which increased oil consumption but got me home. The other was a plugged tiny fuel filter on my DR650SE, which I replaced with a larger in line filter.
Now, compare that reliability record with that of three friends of someone I know in Arizona. The three guys in question all bought brand new GS Beemers and headed for Alaska from Phoenix. All had stopped running before they reached the Canadian border. GS Beemers are becoming famous for having electronic, transmission and driveline problems, but three failures in less than a thousand miles is shocking.
If someone invited me to ride to Tierra del Fuego from San Diego on a GS Beemer or any other super heavyweight, knobby-shod sports tourer, I’d pass. On the other hand if they’d give me a little time to prep my 125,000 mile 1993 KL650A or my DR650SE, I would feel confident in arriving at my destination.
As I write this, Jay and Emily Wilgus are in or near Colombia on their DR650SE’s headed for the tip of South America from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Assuming Jay did good prep work and all goes well, they should reach their destination. At least they are very unlikely to have any driveline, fuel supply or electronic failures. Follow Jay and Emily on their web site at www.liveitrightdreamride.com.
I would love to buy a new multisurface motorcycle, but, alas, the manufacturers are forced by government regulations to make them more and more complex. At the same time, consumers are not demanding light weight, good suspension and simple reliable electrical/mechanical components. I guess I’ll build my own based on an air cooled and carbureted DR650SE. Stay tuned.