Having ridden overland through approximately 60 countries over the past decade, one thing has been a constant; breakdowns. Some people dread them while others fear them however I find it better to expect them and in some cases, even welcome them.
This may sound bizarre but when my motorcycle of choice is a Suzuki GSXR600 sportbike, bashing it through the farthest flung corners of the world, breakdowns are inevitable. What matters is how you deal with them both mentally and mechanically that shape the journey.
While it’s silly enough choosing a bike in the supersport category for overland travel, my choice of bike came with its own challenges with an alloy frame prone to snapping (rather than bending as older sportbike steel frames may) and for a little extra salt on the wound, my exact model (2007 GSXR600) having a regulator/rectifier in a position known to cause overheating and meltdowns!
My first experience with this flawed factory logic (thanks Suzuki!) came when completing a trip through the Australian Outback to suddenly have all my electrics go dark a mere 15km from home! At this point, I had a complete lack of mechanical knowledge so loaded the bike into a passing van that offered to help and got it home; this is where my education began.
This breakdown paved the way to learning the ins and outs of the bikes electrical system and its shortcomings with no more than a few guides on the Internet. Through this research, I replaced damaged parts with (supposedly) more durable parts, now mounted in positions to provide more air-flow and prevent overheating
During a subsequent trip from Netherland to Turkey (and back), I saw my dash flickering once again and knew what was coming! Although I was riding a GSXR00, it was a different one to my 2007 at home; it was a 2003 which shouldn’t have these issues however, here I was, rolling to a slow stop in the wilderness of Montenegro.
A quick check of my map showed a small coastal town where I managed to push/roll the bike to a dead halt outside a small hotel. Within minutes the hotel owner was outside asking what was wrong and dialled up a rider friend of his. The friend was away for the weekend with his family but committed to rushing back the next day to see what could be done.
And so it was that the next day was spent on a farm at the outskirts of the town which hid a small workshop run by Darko which could easily be mistaken for a scrapyard with the plethora of bikes parts littered about and a little hidden treasure of Darkos own Ducati tucked away in a corner under more parts.
The parts to fix my bike were not going to be available and the closest place to even look for a suitable repair was Serbia, however, after many calls, a 3-way trade was arranged. Darko had a Honda part which could be traded for a Yamaha part from a contact 200km away which would then be fitted to my Suzuki as the measurements were only 0.5mm off! After a long day, my broken Suzuki left a farmyard in Montenegro with Yamaha parts powering it rather than a shiny dealership with OEM parts out of the box.
Fast forward a few years later when I was now riding my 2007 GSXR600 from Australia to India and I saw the dreaded signs of electrical failure whilst in Pakistan on my way to the Afghanistan border.
With no phone or means to contact anyone, I gathered my valuables in my backpack, left my bike by the roadside and started walking, happening across a group of soldiers who had also broken down and were kind enough to lend me their phone.
A few calls later, I had my bike loaded into the back of a truck (with the help of the soldiers) to cart back into town.
Once again, the chances of finding replacements parts were slim to none. The failure had not only taken out the stator (for which I had a spare) but also the regulator/rectifier, which was supposed to be bulletproof after the Australian failure!
The calls started once more and took me to a hole in the wall workshop that happened to have an old CBR600 part in his bottom drawer labelled “junk”. Again, it wasn’t a pretty repair but the ‘junk’ got me moving once more.
During each of these cases of breakdown, it wasn’t the initial disappointment of the breakdown that stayed with me, but rather the fact that everyone that worked on my bike refused payment and each day was finished by enjoying a meal with my newfound friends and saviours.
Breakdowns happen, expect them, do your best to work through them and if nothing else, it will be this story that you look back on in years to come and smile.