140,000 kilometers around the world in a KTM 500 EXC
World traveler Aaron Steinmann, best known to his fans as Braaping Kiwi, recently completed a trip of a lifetime. Since 2016, Aaron has ridden over 140,000 kilometers across the world spanning 6 continents and 51 countries on “Tess”, his 2015 KTM 500 EXC-F. An atypical round-the-world bike, Tess has held up beautifully and, according to Aaron , it is a sturdy and reliable bicycle for traveling.
However, touring the KTM 500 was not the original plan: At first, Aaron only planned to ride from New Zealand to Portland, Oregon. “My original idea for the trip was to cover 20,000 to 30,000 kilometers from New Zealand to Oregon, so a huge distance just didn’t bother me. That’s why I chose the KTM 500: it’s a light and strong all-terrain bike, and since I wanted to go light and ride a lot off-road, it made sense at the time, ”shares Aaron .
After shipping the bike from New Zealand to Chile, Aaron rode the KTM 500 to Portland where the trip was supposed to end – except at that point, the adventurer realized he didn’t hadn’t quite finished traveling yet.
After spending time in Oregon and rebuilding the upper part of the engine to prepare the bike for another leg of the trip, Aaron rode the bike all the way to Alaska and decided to return to New Zealand on Tess… via the ‘Europe and Russia. “The trip kind of grew on me, as did the biking, and I made the decision to continue,” Aaron says.
The 30,000 km journey through the Americas has become a global expedition adding Europe, Morocco, Central Asia, Mongolia, Russia, Australia and finally New Zealand to the itinerary.
How did the KTM 500 perform? what challenges did Aaron encounter along the way? and where does it go next? We caught up with the Braaping Kiwi to find out.
According to Aaron, at the start of the trip, the KTM 500 was almost entirely in stock. The traveler had replaced the seat with a Seat Concepts unit, added Barkbuster hand guards and a larger twenty-liter tank, and that was the scope of the modifications early on. However, Aaron always kept an eye on preventative maintenance, performing frequent oil changes every 2,000 to 2,500 miles, changing air filters and keeping the bike in good condition.
“I’m not a mechanic, but I knew I had to take good care of the bike if I had to cover long distances. Preventive maintenance is not difficult and if done regularly, that alone will save you a lot of trouble, ”Aaron shares.
The first big maintenance job came after Aaron reached Oregon and decided to continue on to Alaska. After the Alaska leg of the trip was over, the KTM 500 had 67,000 miles on the clock and Aaron had the upper end of the engine rebuilt to make sure the bike would hold up for the next long-distance leg of its trip.
Along the way, Aaron added several other mods to the bike: taller and wider footrests, Renthal bars, Scotts steering damper, FMF exhaust, Haan wheels with cushion drive, shift levers. breaking, a Moto Minded XL Pro LED headlight, a Boyesen super cooler, and various gearshift and brake levers. “The journey continued to evolve along the way, as did the bike,” says Aaron.
According to him, he never had any major problems with the motorcycle. Upon arriving in Georgia after completing the leg of the trip to Morocco and Europe, Aaron left the motorcycle for four months and returned to the United States to work smuggling the dismantled engine in his checked baggage. “At that point the bike had 100,000 km on the odometer and I wanted to rebuild the lower end of the engine, so I took it apart and flew to the United States to catch up with work and rebuild the engine. . “
In terms of luggage, Aaron wore a giant soft buckle configured to keep the bike as light as possible. Its minimalist packaging included a change of clothes, thermal diapers, camping gear, kitchen gear and a few spare parts like air and oil filters, spare wheel bearings and tubes, as well as tools. . “You don’t really need much when you travel; I ride all-season gear, I only carry the essentials, and if something bigger happened with the bike, I would find a mechanic, ”says Aaron.
Getting by on a budget
The Braaping Kiwi financed the entire world expedition themselves, renting out their house and trying to make a living as cheaply as possible. Aaron camped as much as he could and cooked his own meals, especially in more expensive places like North America and Europe.
If he could find accommodation for less than $ 30, Aaron would stay in guesthouses or hotels, but most of the time the traveler relied on camping and pasta and rice dishes to keep the resources going. . “I avoided tourist spots, ate where the locals ate and usually didn’t spend a lot on the road. When you’re away for a week or two you might want to spend more on nicer accommodation or meals, but when you’re on the road for more than three years it’s not a vacation, it’s just life, and you make it work, says Aaron.
The wildest places in the world
For Aaron, touring the world was about exploring remote places and going off-road. The Atacama Desert and Lagoon Route in Bolivia, the Sahara Desert in Morocco and the wilderness of Central Asia and Mongolia were among the highlights of the trip.
However, riding in remote places is not without risk: once, while driving in the Sahara Desert, Aaron could not find the trail to his destination. He was almost out of the water, and although the adventurer finally found his way, he admits the incident scared him. “It was a reminder not to get complacent,” Aaron recalls.
Trying to clear the engine through Georgian customs was also a challenge, but the biggest shock during the whole trip was the theft of the KTM500 in Australia. Aaron was camping near Uluru (Ayers Rock) when his motorbike was stolen outside of his tent overnight, and at first the traveler was concerned that the motorbike would not be retrieved.
“It was one of the worst times, but it also proved that 99.99% of the people in the world are good. I received so much support from Australian riders, including my compatriot Kiwi Chris Birch and the motorcycle community in general, and eventually my motorcycle was found within two days thanks to the efforts of the local police and of the motorcycle community, ”Aaron shares. The bike was damaged – Aaron had to replace the mirrors, license plate, turn signals and decals, and just to be on the safe side it was time to give Tess overall control just in case the riders of joy could have damaged the clutch or anything else on the bike. With the bike repaired, Aaron continued to drive Tess to New Zealand.
Braaping Kiwi RTW Tips
Aaron says the biggest takeaway from his round-the-world motorcycle adventure is that trips like his aren’t as dangerous or difficult as people think. For him, the trip was not fully planned, and his attitude to tackle a huge distance is simple: “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time.
Aaron shares that most of the people he met along the way were amazing, and the world is a much more welcoming place than you think. “The time I have been given for acts of kindness from strangers has been a lesson in humility, and they are the most cherished memories of my trip,” says Aaron.
For someone planning to take a similar trip, Aaron advises not to overthink the logistics and take it one day at a time. Most importantly, the Braaping Kiwi says it’s crucial to trust your instincts and travel the way you want – there is no right or wrong way to go around the world.
After completing his RTW in 2020, just before COVID hit, Aaron now spends his time venturing locally to New Zealand. However, he already admits to being itchy and hopes to make another trip soon – possibly to Africa or the Himalayas, as soon as the borders reopen.
Follow Aaron’s adventures on Instagram @braaping_kiwi