Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Side car pros & cons - questions from the audience

I got this PM and below are my answers...

Okay you two...really enjoying your ride report and insight. We have been planning on an extended Alaska to South America adventure leaving next summer on our two hacked 2015 1200GSA, but on the way back to Alaska last month with our rigs there was an equipment failure in the Yukon resulting in my bike being totaled and rather significant injuries that will have me laid up for some time to come. The front wheel assembly (including forks) broke off my one bike when I encountering a pothole. The bike had had a trail modification done to the front end by the sidecar fabricator that I am all but certain was the cause; and as a result we are looking hard switching to a leading link front end for both bikes. Have you had any problems with your leading link front end when off-road? Another more basic question we have is this...what are the pros and cons of the sidecar in Central and South America? Your insight is welcome and appreciated.
Glad to hear you enjoy our RR and find it useful. I would say that you have a fantastic ride ahead. Enjoy and looking forward to your RR :)

About front fork assembly/leading link. There is an entire thread on this topic in ADVrider.com and believe me everybody has an opinion. Here is mine. Using the stock front fork and only changing the trail is ONLY useful if you ride your hack to the next ice cream bar. Any serious riding i.e. curves and/or gravel requires to replace the front fork with a swing fork. There are several manufacturers in Europe which sell it off the shelf and ready to install (as far as I know). You can check what my sidecar builder has to offer (www.mueller-gespanne.de). I perceive the comments from the sidecar builder in the US more like that they are pushing their own "brilliant" solution to you without listening.

My swing fork is extra heavy duty (according to the builder) and some American hack riders do not like my design (see leading link thread). Peter and Elsbeth have build sidecars for 30+years (meaning I trust them). I know experience is not knowledge, so I also have some critique. The design lasted thousands of km on gravel roads as well as the Alps, West-Africa and in the US: Cinnamon Pass, Marshall Pass, Shafer Road, Potash Road and more. Those are not easy roads/paths to ride and I do not know of many who did it (Doug did the Marshall and Cinnamon in a sidecar from east to west as a part of the TAT).

Everything has its limit and I obviously found the one of my front fork system in Death Valley (see post here http://www.sauerkraut-tofuwurst.com/2014/12/drama-in-death-valley-wolfi-trashed-his.html) on the racetrack valley. If you follow up the posts you will see that afterwards I strengthened the trailing arm. In hindsight the metal piece could have been even longer going much more towards the bike and supporting the trailing arm even more. I think that this is a cheap and good enough solution for that problem. Let it powder-coat and it will even look nice (I think one sidecar builder wanted 5000USD for their custom-made stainless-steel trailing arm replacement but that is a rip-off IMHO, also s.a.). Of course you need to replace the front shock with something solid. I am not sure if I have pics about my solution but I can check if you want more info.

The broken ball-joint (in Mexico) has IMO nothing to do with the broken trailing arm (because it was anyway another ball-joint and many thousands of km later). Either I installed the ball-joint wrong or most likely it went broken when I destroyed my rear shock on one of those famous "topes".

That brings me to your next question:
Sidecar pros and cons. I assume you have your reasons to ride a sidecar instead of a solo bike. I know sidecar riding is fun but so is solo bike. Well, here are a few thoughts.

It's fun.
You will be a totally exotic thing which means plenty of honking, waving, blinking lights, admiration.
People will come to you and start talking (better know some Spanish).
Food shopping is easy (try to get 5 gallon water barrel on a solo bike AND the groceries).
You can take your dogs/kids with and they travel safer compared to a solo bike.
You cannot fall on those bad gravel roads (ok, not so easily).
You will not be that tight on luggage space and weight.
Knock on wood - I doubt anybody will steal your sidecar. Its more the kids who like to fiddle.
You can invite people for a fun ride in the sidecar and make plenty of friends.
You have space to rescue and adopt a dog or cat or two (per sidecar).
More fun on snowy and icy streets with studs on the tires (however that fully depends on the time of your travel and might not be applicable at all in your case).


You will be a totally exotic thing which means plenty of honking, waving, blinking lights, admiration.
People will come to you and start talking (better know some Spanish). That might become annoying if you want to be alone.
You easily take too much stuff with and the weight will take all fun out of the riding.
Parking is more difficult. With a solo bike you could easier park in the inner secured yards of the hotels. But I always got a good spot too maybe one block away.
Speed bumps - total nightmare and because of the asymmetry it will be constant rocking and bouncing. Very often there is a small opening somewhere and with a solo bike you can ride through without slowing down much. Loaded sidecar => 1. or 2. gear.
Avoiding pot holes becomes an art and you will drive on the opposite lane facing some traffic far away to avoid those potholes and missing manhole lids.
On bad gravel roads (tested on Potash Road and White Rim Trail), you will be much slower compared to an experienced solo rider. As of now, I have not seen good gravel roads in Central America i.e. the ones where you can ride peacefully with 60mph.
Shipping is more expensive and when crossing Darien Gap you might need to disconnect the sidecar from the bike in order to lift it on/off the boat.
Driving in some cities with a sidecar is a challenge because the streets are very tight there.
Higher petrol consumption - more costs.
More complex maintenance (you better know something about your bike because the BMW guys will not know what to do). Remember that your sidecar needs maintenance too. (I do all maintenance by myself and have basic set of tools with to do that).

Latest experience. There are a few toll booths in Panama City and plenty in Colombia. Those are tricky with the sidecar because you might need to ride through the car lane and then they want money even though motos are for free. If you want to collect stories for your RR, sidecar is the way to go.

I have been riding Skippy's V-Strom a few times and I really liked it. To be honest, if it would not have been for the dogs, I would opt for a light solo bike. I mean that when you travel alone on one bike, there is no need to take so much stuff with that you would need in a sidecar, so why the sidecar?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Panama City sightseeing

Panama Sight seeing

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crossing the Darien Gap: How to get your dog papers ready for Colombia

Special Episode

Additional info:

VET: Vet4pets, Via Italia, 215 0114, 215 0115 (GPS: N8.97693° W79.51567° about there)
Ministry of Health: Calle Gorgas and follow the signs Ministerio de Salud, (GPS: N8.96049° W79.54613°)
MICI - "ventanilla unica": Plaza Edison, Edison Tower (GPS: N8.99540° W79.53230°)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Border crossing Costa Rica - Panama with motorcycle and dogs

We arrived at the border in Paso Canoas on the September 7th 2015 around 8AM and left more than seven hours later! It was our longest border crossing ever in the past two years. Here is what happened.

We left our hotel in Ciudad Neily and rode the 18km to the border. The Costa Rica immigration is easy to find once you are familiar with Central American border crossings (they follow a similar pattern). Immigration and customs are on your left a few meters before you see the big truck hall on the Costa Rica side.

Unfortunately there was a huge load of school kids from Honduras on their way to Panama, I would say all together some 50-60 people and there was only one counter available to handle the rush. I organized me the exit forms and filled them while waiting. Some 30 minutes later it was my turn and then the guy told me that I first need to pay the 7USD exit fee. It took me a while to find the bus where this exit fee can be paid. The lady charged me 1USD extra. I am not sure for what but she had our passports and insisted on the extra 2USD. Obviously some additional service fee.
Re-using the copies of passports as entry/exit form ... Data security is important :D
This was the bus to pay the exit fee - figure that!
I paid the fee and made it back to the counter. I was able to get both passports stamped even though Skippy stayed at the bike. The customs were very easy. I filled in the form and the guy asked me several times whether I am sure I do not want to come back to Costa Rica. Yes, I am sure. No additional costs here. Without this enormous cue because of the kids, this would have been done in 30 minutes total.

I wanted to change our CR money at the Bank of Costa Rica in the no-mans land but the cue there was already pretty long and the sidecar with the kids and Skippy parked in straight sun, so a no-go here.

The Panama side started so that a helper approached me and asked whether I need some help. I replied no and he told me quickly what to do and in which order. Anyway, he spoke so quickly that I was not able to follow him. Who cares. I figured it out anyway. The customs staff was always helpful and spoke enough English to explain what to do next. Here are the things in correct order:

1. Get an insurance for your vehicle. I paid 15USD for a one month period. (Note: If you stay longer pay attention to the dates!) The office is on the right side at the same height as the customs office. Most likely blocked by a truck or two so it might be hard to spot. It says "seguros" on the office and that means Insurance :) (Yep - my Spanish is improving). Make sure you get a copy of the insurance paper (Hint: Just turn around and on the opposite side of the corridor there is a copy/exchange office where I got my money changed. Not the best rate but I did not have much Colones left anyway.)

2. Go to immigration, show the insurance paper and get your passport stamped. The officer will take a picture of your face with a tiny camera (==> personal presence is mandatory).

3. Go to customs and give them copies of title, insurance, passport and the passport itself. Wait for 25 minutes and then get your papers.

4. I went back to immigration (cannot remember if the guy did something again to my passport or not) and then Skippy got her passport stamped and her picture taken.

Here is where the mess started with our puppies. If you travel without pets you are almost done.

5. Get the stamp on the back side of the customs paper signed by a appropriate free-running-and-hard-to-spot customs officer.

6. Pay 1USD for fumigation and drive NOT forward through the hall (I mean read the sign, it clearly says there no persons allowed) because it is an automatic spray system. Of course if you like disinfecting yourself, this might be your chance. Get the bike fumigated and welcome to Panama.

You will see many street dogs crossing the border.
One of the street dogs having a nap.

Here is the chapter for all pet travelers.

The agriculture guy at the border was going all ape when he saw that we have dogs. He said it will cost about 430USD and if we are not willing to pay, go back to Costa Rica pointing friendly north where we came from.

We took the risk and did not inform upfront by email that we would come. Thus THE vet was not waiting for us. We waited about 1.5 hours for the vet to come but he did not.

I walked then with the agriculture officer and our dogs to the place called "cuarentena agropecuaria" which is about 300m inside Panama and then the first street left up the hill. There are quite a few trucks there. There, this local vet (not THE one we waited for) gave our dogs a short examination and then the waiting started. It looked to me that the people in the office did this paperwork for the first time in their life. The lady called the vet a few times to ask this and that.
I went here to get transit papers done for the dogs. 12USD lighter as well as one major rain shower and two hours later we were done.
Looooong waiting.
In the end I got two transit permits (6USD each). One for our girls with Finnish passport and one for Peto (as he is born in Costa Rica). Actually I am not sure what papers I got, because they told me that they will send some papers by email within the next two days (which never came).

Many street dogs were crossing the border.
Skippy took a nap at the border.
After that I went back to the bike and THE earlier called vet waited there patiently with Skippy for about one hour already. I went with him and he filled in some other paper which costed me 130USD per dog - the notorious home quarantine thing. Since the banks were already closed, I paid the money cash to him and he promised to send me the receipt via email (which he did). Actually the vet wanted to have a copy of the paper which he wrote but since there was an electricity cut the copy machines were out.

Almost done. Obviously the vet did not know that the agriculture guy had some own agenda. So some more papers to be filled and an additional 10USD examination fee per dog to be paid. Finally I could proceed with the last signature in the bike papers and the fumigation.

Whereas many street dogs were crossing the border (I might have mentioned that earlier).
Layout of Panama border check point
About 800m after the border there was a filling station and all five of us were very hungry.
We had first a break at the filling station a few hundreds meter later. We were really hungry and blood sugar was rock bottom.

A short while later was the usual police check-point and the guys were all very happy with our paperwork especially for the dogs.

We paid in total 464USD (2*8USD for exit fee, 3*130USD per dog, 2*6USD for transit license, 3*10USD for examination, 15USD for bike insurance, 1 USD for fumigation, 1USD for copies).

In hindsight the pet fees feel like an official rip-off. However the agriculture guy was pretty clear from the first second that it will cost us. I guess Skippy could have smuggled the dogs somehow into Panama since the shopping mall system is pretty chaotic and I am not sure how the border control is 50meters to your left or right. The biggest hurdle will be the police check point which is about 1km after the border station. If you know your way around that one you might be able to save a lot of money. On the other hand, if you come on a weekend and you think you get through by bribing the officials, remember to stay below 146USD per dog.

Of course at this stage I do not know how the export will go but typically nobody cares about dogs when leaving a country.

Monkeys and more... Adios Costa Rica

Peto is hoarding all toys on the bed :D

A whole bunch of rambutans for 2USD
3 legs from Atenas to Panama border (330km)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Adios Atenas

Last clips from Atenas (you can see here how we now travel to Colombia)

Tired doggies
And Ulpu collected nice sticky stuff again
Went to the Green Center and discovered this roof construction. Hundred of empty beer (and soda) cans up there... maybe for isolation???
I had a vegan hamburger. A few days later I went again and wanted the same burger again, then they told there was egg in the burger. Well, I did not die the first time but I was very unhappy with the service. Besides that a few packages of cheeze were rotten and then I got as a compensation the worst smoothie ever. After all it left a bit of a bad taste on this place even though it had great vegan and organic food options.
Walmart's fire extinguisher properly marked with "Wallmart" ;) who cares - right?
When I went to the huge MultiPlaza mall in Escazu, I found this puppy horror shop.
Saw this bus stop in front of Recope oil refinery. It was build out of scrap material.
Cheerful flowers in Florences' garden.

Our tracks around Atenas (800+km)