Back in 2014, after a year and a half riding my Tenere through South America, I wrote a blogpost entitled, “Turning to The Light Side – The Argument for Lightweight Overloading.” After losing count of the times I had to pick up my 230kg loaded Tenere, the concept of travelling on a small and lightweight machine became a mild obsession, which never went away. I became a vocal advocate. Finally, I am now practicing what I have so enthusiastically preached.
Moving to Mexico was the catalyst. My Tenere is garaged in Wiltshire, UK and I am not minded to ship it once again across the Atlantic. Furthermore, Mexico and indeed the United States a few hundred miles north offer amazing opportunities to explore on two wheels. After briefly flirting with a long-time admiree, KTM’s 990 Adventure, I settled upon the other end of the spectrum and opted for 250cc – in the form of a Yamaha WR250R.
During the very many hours I spent on adventure bike forums researching lightweight overlanders, I kept coming back to the WR250R. Since its launch in 2008, it has attracted a significant and committed following and proven to be a highly dependable and capable machine. And being a Yamaha fanboy after the near-flawless 40,000 mile performance of my Tenere, it was an easy choice for me.
The only minor problem was that the WR205R is not sold in Mexico; it is, however, abundant in the States. So Craigslist became my hunting ground, and my prey eventually broke cover in Houston, Texas; a mere 930-mile ride from where we have based ourselves in Mexico.
When I flew to Chile for Christmas, I stopped off in Houston and met with Cameron – the owner of the bike – for a coffee and test ride. When I returned north a month later, I parted with my money and went through the process of switching the title to my name. As a non-US resident I was expecting a bureaucratic minefield; it turned out to be very simple. Three weeks later, with the new title ready for collection, I awoke at 3am, took a taxi to Queretaro airport and returned to Houston. That afternoon my Tenere and Tiger 800 gained a stablemate – albeit in a distant stable.
With all my moto gear still in UK, I set off to ride ‘home’ ill-equipped but nevertheless buoyed with excitement. I was back in a saddle after nearly four months. Two hundred miles of interstate highway, and very heavy skies, lay ahead. After an hour, the skies decided to lighten their load, and soon my ankle boots were full of water, literally. Nightfall came and the rain persisted. Eventually I was forced to pull into a service station, to warm up with a coffee and don the few remaining clothes I had in my backpack.
When I swung my leg back over the WR250, I couldn’t find the key. I returned to the cafe and checked around the table and in the restrooms where I had changed my clothes. Still keyless, I emptied by backpack. When that turned up a blank and with two local motorcyclists helping in the search, I was becoming confused; it had to be here somewhere. Then the light-bulb came on. I opened up the door enclosing the dustbin, took a lucky dip and sure enough, there was my key inside the coffee cup I had earlier thrown away. I put it down to being very cold and very wet.
Over the following two days I headed south across the empty expanse of the Texas plains, crossed the Rio Grande and then continued into the mountains of Mexico. It was highway all the way, straight, monotonous and always in the company of long-haul trucks. I also wanted to get the trip done quickly, so both days saw me on the go for over ten hours. On paper, such rides should be mind-numbingly boring, but they have their own quality which make them special.
I reflected on this when my South American travels concluded with a 2200 mile ride from Peru to Buenos Aires, completed in five days. Travelling long distances in a short space of time confers a greater sense of movement, and amplifies the sense of change in the world around you as vegetation, landscapes and the ‘human terrain’ continuously evolve. It also emphasises the fact that everything in this world is contiguous and connected. Every mile traveled is connected to the next, every village and every town – and the people living therein – are neighbours to the next. Your route may follow the migration paths of birds or insects, which proceed unhindered. So too the waters that flow through the rivers dissecting the landscapes. For me, the world makes more sense when you can see and feel the connectedness of it all.
These characteristics are universal, a part of all long journeys. However, this particular journey possessed another dimension which I had not experienced before. Early on a Saturday morning, before dawn, I had left the affluent Mexican town of San Miguel in a comfortable taxi, to be deposited at a modern airport. Two effortless hours later I was delivered into another airport in another country; a process so normalised by repetition that it feels no more remarkable than driving a couple of hours to a neighbouring city.
Sixty-two hours after leaving I arrived back in San Miguel. But on this occasion, every mile that I had been transported north through the skies had been reclaimed on land. There was something surreal and somewhat disorientating about arriving back at the same place I had departed from, so soon after, on a motorcycle with every one of the 930 miles still vivid in my mind.
These sixty-two hours encapsulated all that is special about ‘overlanding’ – travelling long distances across unknown lands by vehicle. Air travel is just one step away from tele-transportation – it erases everything in between airports from the traveller’s experience and removes any reference points which confer to him or her a sense of travel. The world, when experienced this way, feels very fragmented. Conversely, journeying overland – especially by moto where you are in direct contact with your environment – overloads you with such reference points. Distance, change and connectivity are tangible, very real. Every moment is a new experience; in a plane, however, hours and thousands of miles pass unnoticed in a sterile, metal tube – disconnected, literally and metaphorically, from the world.
In the WR250, I once again have the means to enjoy the wonders of overland travel. Cameron, the previous owner, has already done a lot to modify the bike for long range travel; I am looking forward to evolving it further into the ultimate lightweight adventure bike. Mexico, with all its variety and rich culture, awaits.
In addition to my ‘Turning to The Lightside’ article, you can find some more thoughts on going lightweight in the following post, written after 1600 miles on a Ducati Scrambler around NW Scotland: