Mutley has now travelled over 90,000 miles. It has proven a superb long-distance mount. The key to reliability has been regular preventative maintenance, some carried out by the owner and the more technical tasks, plus pre-trip servicing/fettling by Woolaston BMW of Northampton.
The main issues found with the bike have been:
- A tendency for the rear bevel bearing to wear to tolerance limits. During the trips we replaced the bearings twice (before the second and third trip as a precautionary measure).
- The fuel gauge on the 2008 machines is a known weak spot. We are now on our 5th (!!!!) gauge. The pick up is an electronic strip which is useless. BMW have done nothing to rectify this, but I think they reverted to a traditional float arrangement on later models.
- We had an output shaft failure on the gearbox. This didn't actually cause any problems. It just meant that there was a distinct rattle (almost replicating a Ducati dry clutch which, as we all know, sounds like a bag of nails). We actually travelled 17,000 miles with this rattle niggling the rider.
- The standard suspension started to fail at 40,000 miles. In fairness, it only failed when it was introduced to Russian roads and an unfeasibly heavy baggage load. We replaced it with Wilbers, front and rear, fitted and fine tuned by the amazing chaps at Revs Suspension. They provided us with regular springs for UK and European riding and super-heavy-duty ones for trying to negotiate Siberia. The Wilbers have been faultless and are a more economic option to Ohlins.
Good points about the GS:
- It has a range of up to 400 miles if ridden gently - having a 32 litre tank. For remote riding we add a second 5 litre tank to the back of the left-hand pannier.
- It has electronic adjustable suspension. Initially, I thought this was a mistake (and it probably is) for unsupported long distance riding. But it helped us cope with rider, pillion and luggage load, which it did admirably.
- The engine reliability (caress wood carefully at this point) has been outstanding.
- It attracts attention in remote areas. This might seem a bit of a glib point, but BMWs seem to be admired in such areas and it becomes a point of discussion - normally using the sign language of the plains.
- I have ridden the later models of the GS when it goes in for servicing and, put bluntly, find myself waiting eagerly to get the Mutt back. For me, it is the best of the range that I've ridden. I think the R1150 GS would probably work it's way into my affections too, were I to buy one - the 1150 engine is, IMO, a work of engineering art and lovely to ride.
- After all those miles, it still feels fresh and tight. A fantastic machine, often derided by those who want to have a pop at Ewan and Charlie wannabees (less so these days), but quite awesome in its capabilities all the same.
- Mutley is Diane's favourite machine. She always turns her nose up slightly when I try to persuade her onto the Harley's sumptuous seat but leaps on the Mutt like a fine-tuned mountain goat when offered the chance.
My first advice is: don't take any advice from me regarding tents, or living rough in general. I was always Navy and never a Royal Marine. I'm not purporting to be an expert in survival techniques... Having said that:
Deciding to camp on a trip is quite a big decision. On all the trips we've carried out, we have always managed to find accommodation if we wish to use it, sometimes by the very skin of our teeth. You could decide to take a very basic shelter and save all the space and hassle of lugging around camping gear, which is the numero-uno eater-upper of space and weight. One day, we will do just that but, for now, we are committed campers. Yes matron!
We have a chequered career as far as travelling tents are concerned. I think the key to a successful choice comes down to the following key attributes:
- Packed Size
- Ability to keep out the elements (probably should be first choice! More of which below)
- Size when put up
Our first choice, in 2009, was a Big Agnes Emerald Mountain. It was a fine tent and, basically, ticked all the boxes. Large enough for two normal adults or three very small ones, very waterproof, with a small vestibule and the option to buy a second larger one (which we bought). It is very small packed. It even survived an elk attack. In summary: it was perfect. And guess what? I was beset by a fit of anger on Vancouver island when one of the inner zips failed and threw it into a trash skip whilst in the grip of a monumental huff - something I bitterly regretted a day later whilst in the grip of a financial catastrophe. The latest (2023) offering from Big Agnes, that seems to be very similar to the Emerald Mountain, is the Blacktail Hotel 2. I'm starting to hanker after one....
In 2012 we used a Redverz Gear Atacama. It's like a Big Agnes on mega-steroids and then some. It has a massive vestibule, which allows you to park your motorcycle inside - that's right - it's got a garage! And the sleeping area is not to be sniffed at either. You could sleep a modestly sized ladies beach volleyball team in there if you can secure one (I struggle to find any who are willing to camp under canvas, normally, and my pillion passenger might complain if I did find any). The vestibule can be used for entertaining guests, and you can easily stand up in it. We still use ours. There is an issue though: It is heavy and quite large when packed. It will fit in one of our panniers, but takes up 80% of the space. The result is that it eats into space for other things so, not really ideal for very long trips two-up and most likely too big for solo missions. You would get lost in it. If you are travelling with more than one bike and can share luggage carrying duties, then it might be the perfect choice.
On our 2016 trip to Japan, having learnt all the requisite lessons, we - and I mean mostly 'I' - decided on a super-light, all singing, all dancing Tepee tent. I'm a big fan of Tepee tents. We also have a Tentipi, which I can wax lyrical about ad-Infinitum. It can be lugged around on the Mutt, but is too big and heavy for a long-distance trip. The tepee we/I chose was a Wikiup 3. These are super-light, tiny when packed, big enough for 2, high enough to stand up in - they're perfect. Right?
Unfortunately, the design hides a fundamental problem with tepee tents. The door lets rain in as soon as you open it. We've tried to resolve this by using a tarp but, having left the cub-scouts at an early age, I haven't quite managed to get to grips with tarp erection, despite many attempts - you can see a pathetic example in the photo below. It's a work in progress. Until the point that I give up and buy that Big Agnes. Or expire.
One final point: We have always managed to include two bivvy bags in our kit. This gives us the option, should the need arise, to hide the bike from curious eyes and sleep in the lee of it. They remain completely unused.
A constant obsession of mine, since deciding to ride to remoter parts, has been: 'what happens if I need to change the tyres?' The answer was to get booked on one of Simon Pavey's Adventure Motorcycle Maintenance courses in darkest Wales and to learn how to do it from the professionals.
Simon taught us to use the side stand to break the bead (a critical part of changing a tubeless tyre) - genius! But the downside of that is it is very difficult to accomplish if you are riding on a single machine... fine if there's a bunch of you.
The answer was to buy this super device from an American company and to practice using it over a couple of tyre changes back at home. It comes with integral extensions made up of tyre levers and its own carry bag that is big enough to stuff some inflation canisters in for good measure. Love it!
As a footnote: on our journey around the world, we never got to use it. In fact, we didn't suffer a single puncture :)
One of the debates you hear amongst seasoned two-wheeled travellers, is whether to use soft panniers or hard ones. We do use soft panniers on some of our smaller bikes, but we opted for the BMW hard ones when we bought the machine, basically because it was already fitted with them. Having said that, I don't regret the choice, because hard panniers offer a degree of security and peace of mind. They are also surprising effective at protecting the machine in low speed tumbles, which are almost inevitable at some point in covering long distances.
We changed our BMW panniers and frames for ones made by Metal Mule. I swear by these. They are very tough, very secure on the bike, with excellent locks and, most importantly, they don't leak. The standard BMW ones did.
Our Touratech tank bag is still going strong after 15 years. We use it to pack light-weight items that may need to be grabbed at short notice (such as rain gear). The aim with panniers and the various bags is to get weight as low as possible, as close to the centre of gravity of the machine, whilst making sure that items you may need can be found ready to hand when you need them. We stow very heavy items, that might be needed less frequently (such as most of the tools), towards the front of the panniers at the bottom, then pack camping gear above them. Tools that can afford to be lost, if stolen, go in the lower front crash bar bags (if they will fit). Lighter, sundry camping gear, such as our Trangia stove and eating utensils go into the front pannier bags (which are very useful and made by Wolfman).
The other bags we swear by are the red, heavy-duty Ortlieb bags that sit neatly on top of the panniers. We bought these in Switzerland in 2008 and they are still in excellent condition and totally waterproof.
We normally pack a lighter weight bag on top of the top box, tied down with red cycling straps which, for some reason, I'm very precious about. Whenever we see some for sale, I buy them in the fear that one day they will become unobtainable. Quality kit never seems to get better, it just gets worse with the interminable drive to shareholder value for companies that have been taken over by some conglomerate or other. Rant over.