Tuesday 30 September 2014

KTM 690 Enduro R Bash Guard/Plate - Adventure Spec

The main body protection problem with the 690R is the plastic bash plate. Its not bad if you are just flopping around in the mud but if your trails are rocky or very rough then you'll want to protect your engine with something better.

Having looked at pretty much all the alternatives, including the KTM Powerparts plate, (which the machine should come with) The Adventure Spec plate comes out tops. 

It has a flat base so you can sit the bike on a stand
It protects the oil pump better than the competition
It protects the rear brake better than the competition
It's beautifully made (look at the welds)

It is also very easy to fit and then remove for servicing. 

It makes a rather hollow sound when the engine is running unless you damp the bolts with inner tube. 
(I have now strapped a tool tube to the front of the plate and the reverb has gone) 

It's a 10min job to fit and inspires confidence when riding.
Another great piece from Adventure Spec - Thanks

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Adventure Spec

When I bought the BMW F800GS 3 years ago, I went to one source for advise and bits. David Lomax at Adventure Spec can be trusted to give the best advise and to supply you with the best bits available. But, if Adventure Spec does not have the right bits for you, he will know a man who does. From the start of this adventurous journey he has always suggested it was a learning process.  Dave was one of the first to suggest that light was right. So when I told him I was selling the BMW and buying the KTM, he hinted I was in the now on right track.

Dave like myself is a climber, and at the start of this learning process he said "compared to alpinism, adventure motorcycling will be the easiest adventuring you will ever have". In a way he is correct. Compared to climbing through a storm with fading light, freezing hands and teetering above a dodgy piece of protection, way too far below you, knowing that if you fall, doom awaits. Or trying to calculate if the snow slope you are about to try and ski, is going to stay in place or trigger and leave you buried in a cold tomb, he is totally right.

As an adventure sport, "ABRing" between one campsite in Sussex to one in Somerset, on a big bike, with a heated vest covering your gut, leaves me cold. At best, its uncomfortable camping, at worst its fooling your self is somehow, adventurous.

So obviously I am looking for something else, mountains, skinny trails, distant horizons, solo expeditions and rough riding is what I am searching. Something with a fizz of excitement, something a bit more unusual, something sweaty, dirty and physical.

Hence the KTM and my return to the shelves of Adventure Spec to source the best bits for the best adventures.

McCallum Ice Climbing in the French Alps 

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Pirelli - MT21 Rallycross

Despite the fact that I asked, more maybe in hope than anything else, KTM Laguna did not supply the bike with the tyres I wanted. The bike came with the UK street option, Metzler Sahara's. Whilst these are amazing on the road and can cope with moderate tracks and trails, they are very poor on loose rocks, mud and the side walls seem soft. Oddly the KTM is supplied with the MT21's in the USA. So the MT21's arrived yesterday, they look taller than the stock and the business for the off-road. Described at a 10-90 or an 20-80 road/off-road, fitted with heavy duty tube, with tougher side walls and with a very aggressive looking knobbly tread, if they are not to loose on the hardtop, these maybe the perfect tyre. 

Thursday 4 September 2014

New Bits 1. Adventure Spec - Double Take Mirror

When standing up going over rough ground I found the stock mirrors a distraction, and once you notice them flapping about your ears they have to go.  So I wanted two things from my new mirrors...

  1. They would fold away when off-road
  2. They looked better when in use but could be removed completely

These Ram mounted Double Take mirrors work well and look much better. You get a bit of blurred vibration induced vision which you did not get on the stocks. But they are so much better.

Monday 1 September 2014

What a stupid idea!

What on earth would make you buy a food mixer that would only do dry food, when you really like smoothies, or a coffee maker that only did filter when you love Italian espresso. Buying a KTM 690 Enduro R is a little like that. It's really, really good at being itself, but its neither as stock a lightweight MX ragging machine or a comfortable travelling bike that is capable on the dirt. What it is good at is being an evening ride where you can zip along a bit of road before launching on to you favourite dirt trail. It does this very well. But if you dirt ride
more than 130 miles, this bike is not right.

So why get one. Well good question. I believe looking at the competition and there is not much to really compete with the bike in stock forms and it forms the idea platform to build into the perfect super lightweight Enduro tourer.

The competition comes down to the expensive untried CCM 450 Adventure, The Yamaha 660 XT and its big bro the 660 Tenere', or the lighter Yamaha WR250R. The XT is the closest and the newer ones are quite nice, but even then it needs tweaking for the type of trips I have in mind.

So to change a good bike into the machine that works for me I have to

  • Add fuel range - about 100km
  • Get a seat that is not like sitting on a knife after an hour
  • Find a lightweight luggage system
  • Add wind protection - not imperative but if it comes with better lights then great  
  • Change the stock Metzler tyres for something more dirt capable 
  • Change the plastic bash plate for one that has a flat base for propping up the bike
  • Find an Aluminium Bash Guard that protects as much of the engine as possable
  • Add some luggage carrying potential on the tail
  • Change the grips so they are a bigger diameter and warmer

Cosmetically I don,t like the mirrors, so they will go, the stock exhaust is hot and heavy so maybe that will go to.  The foot pegs feel narrow.

Then I will hopefully will have created a great machine.

Part of the beauty of the KTM is that there are many companies who make aftermarket parts to do just this. The secret will be to choose the right bits for my job, and thats part of the fun.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Morocco - Bike Magazine Sept 14 Travel Competition

A story from Morocco May 2014 in Bike Magazine



These are the first 4 runners on the 168km Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc; they run over 3 days and 3 nights without stopping, making over 9600m of ascent. They don't need much really for this the toughest off-road trail race in the world. Some tights, poles, a hat and lightweight waterproof jacket. They know that to carry to much slows them down. Just shows you you don,t need panniers full of stuff for a good journey. Inspiration for lightweight KTM packing.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

KTM 690 Enduro - How it rides?

Its temping to get stuck into the discussion about after-market parts, tyres, lights etc before actually looking at the basic bike as a riding experience. But lets not, just yet.

Well, its amazing, but thats not quite enough if you are about to spank close to £8000 of your quids!
Ok, it rides like a hot wind stripping a cat?, a deification on a polished shovel or other meaningless superlatives. I have read so many of these types of comments they blur into cliche'.

So really, this is how I see it. It's a tall bike that feels small and light, a friend commented on when following me on and off-road that I looked completely "at one" with the bike. This is so, its very natural and balanced, with handeling that really inspires confidence.

The lack of screen at the moment, and having no petrol tank at the front of the bike leaves you feeling a little exposed but then off road you ride it like an MX bike, shifting your weight forward and dropping you leg out in the bends. It's a totally normal action and great fun.

And fun it is, it feels like more of a toy than anything I have ever ridden.

The short gear shift criticised by some is not an issue for me, yes you do use the gears a lot more on the road but the slipper clutch works very well on the road and downshifting even at high revs is smooth and very predictable. It feels safe and very useable.

When standing and downshifting without using the clutch is smooth and easy, great when you need a spurt of power on a steep trail.

When using the Yamaha 660 or the BMW F800GS I used to stand a lot, but on the KTM I find myself sitting a lot more especially in the corners, leg out and weight forward. It is the real deal off-road where as the BMW especially, was a big bike with an off-road sticker on it.

Throttle response - Well its very quick indeed, it will hike from slow speeds to overtaking much faster than the two bikes mentioned above. I have not been brave enough to put the bike in sport mode as the "Normal"map  is more than enough at the moment, and I am still riding it under 6000rpm.

The suspension set up may take a bit of tweaking. I though I would follow the manual and set it to "standard" after a couple of days on very rocky trails the rebound seems a little harsh. The result is that the rear end skips over loose ground a little to quickly and you don't have the lovely weight and unweighting I have on my DH MTB. So I have dialled the bike (in the slow settings) to 12 clicks softening the bike. Its much better, Maybe with another few long rides it will loosen up.

So on the trails I have gone from BMW survival mode to attack. Well more like go, it feels very planted and safe. Although travelling faster if something goes wrong it will will be a faster fall.

It rails in corners, accelerates quickly, the brakes on and off-road are very good indeed. I have to say its a bit of a revelation.  I its un-farkled state the bike is very good indeed. Its not a long distant traveller but an amazing platform for the evolution.

Saturday 23 August 2014

KTM 690 Enduro R 2014 - Performance Test

So the machine has just drunk its first tank of full and surprise surprise its not close to the 80 mpg claimed by some of the bloggers , writers or KTM.

It used 10.55 Ltrs for 215km. Which is 57 Mpg.  The trails were steep rocky and often dragging away in 1st and 2nd. A pretty tough intro for the poor machine

But my riding has been typical of how I would want to use the bike ongoing 50/50, i.e. loads of time off-road and using hardtop to link the dirt sections. I also have been following the running in guidelines and have kept it below 6000 rpm (for the first 1000km)

So unladen and not run in, on typical ground and some riding above 2000m close to 60 mpg is pretty good. However on a long day out, I think the range is short without a refuel.

So what to do?  I am looking for 300km between fills minimum.

The rumour mill has long suggested that KTM will make a 690 Adventure with fairings, better lights and crucially a long range tank, but they don,t. and there is no signs they will. So best get on with what we have.

I have looked at many, if not all of the options available and though I would wait a few weeks before looking seriously at after market tanks etc.

Here are the options as I can see them.

Rally Raid UK - Front tanks adding 9.5l in total
Pros - keeps the look of the bike
Cons - very expensive and may never really need the full range provided

Rally Raid UK - Single 4.5l rear tank
Pros - Small and simple to install, would add 100km
Cons - Sits exposed on the rear of the bike - not the cheapest

Safari Tanks - Single 14L Front Tank
Pros - huge range - 26L in total
Cons - Ugly, and heavy, apparently can affect handling more than Rally Raid.

Meca System - 7l Rear Tank
Pros - looks great and a good size
Cons - Can,t find a right hand side version - unknown by UK riders

Fuel Bladders - Desert Fox 5l  - http://www.bikegear.co.za/
Pros - Super Cheap
Cons - not legal in the UK

There are quite a few hard plastic tanks, Rotopax  http://rotopax.com/  and Fuel Friend for example.  www.fuelfriend.de/

I think these are great for adding and emergency 50km but I don,t really think is a permanent solution. So I bought a Desert Fox Bladder from South Africa


When it arrived from South Africa, It was much wider than I thought it was going to be. Shame as it will hang very close to the hot exhaust. Not a great look. So as a full 5L option its not great but with 3L folded in half it will be stiffer and not flop onto the hot pipe, I hope. So its only a temporary solution in limited circumstances.

Time to think again...

Here are some range workings...

215 kilometres = with 10.55 litres
133.50 miles  2.32067 Uk gallons
240km with 12 litres on hard off-road.
340km with 17 litres

Thursday 21 August 2014

KTM 690 Enduro R 2014 - Trigger Pulled!

This has been a long time coming. Actually about as long as an Elephants gestation, 22 months. Finally the bike has arrived. Bought from Laguna KTM in Maidstone Kent, and delivered to the Alps by Andy Hillman's van service, it dropped onto the gravel with 12km on the clock. I actually had not seen the 2014 model before I bought it but it does not disappoint.  Buying a new bike is a big commitment to say the least, buying a new model which has seen some signifiant changes adds to the risk and excitement.

The changes to the 2014 model include 

  • Bosch ABS as standard. Which can be switched off using a mode button on the dash.
  • A ride-by-wire throttle which gives you the choice of four different riding modes - Standard, Sport and Comfort, with a 'Bad Fuel' mode that KTM claim will allow the bike to run on fuel as low as 80 octane. 
  • Apparently the different riding modes only adjust fuelling below 4,000rpm, meaning the 690 will deliver its full 67hp in whichever mode is selected.
  • The engine has the new twin-spark ignition shared with the Duke, with individual maps for each plug. According to KTM it makes the bike 8-10% more efficient than the 2013 model.
  • KTM or journalists writing about the bike are suggesting 80mpg, and the twin-spark is supposed to reduce vibration and give you 10,000km service intervals.
Cosmetically there are a couple of things I don,t like, the antenna like wing mirrors, the plastic bash plate and the huge number plate. 

I bought the bike with the Ergo seat and as soon as I sat on the bike I doubted the claim it is softer for longer trips. But as the dealer had omitted to send the standard seat which I also bought its hard to compare.  

For the next 1000km, before is first service I have to keep the revs below 6000rpm. 

I can't wait to get it dirty...

Monday 18 August 2014

Desert Rose Riding


Before meeting Patsy I have to admit feeling slightly wary, she is a woman whose forthrightness and opinions are formed from much experience, and I was a mere journalistic upstart. A brilliant rider and having to spend her time dealing with Richard (Bro inLaw) and I two middle aged would be adventurers may not have been her idea of fun. However I could not have been more mistaken or surprised. A straighter more likeable  character would be hard to find. After a cup of tea sitting in a field at her training venue and a quick once over on the bikes we were off.

"You know any idiot can ride a bike fast" she said "but when its tight and narrow thats a different matter".  We spent most of the morning on narrow single track trails that would have been a challenge on a good mountain bike, standing on some sections and sitting Enduro style through others.

Steep descents, off camber trails, mini clutch control circuits with a few zips around the Enduro Hare and Hounds trail to let the bikes cool-off. For me most of the technical stuff was actually surprisingly ok but where I did suffer was not looking far enough ahead and and therefore not setting up the ride well enough for some of the tighter corners. Its really the same for any sport, snowboarding in trees, Down Hill riding and climbing for that matter, all require forward vision and anticipation. Once we got used to the bikes this did come.

The bike was revelation, bigger and heavier than the 250 exc Patsy was riding, it still was mighty capable. It was like riding a big down hill mountain bike in comparison to the lumbering GS and the top heavy Tenere'.  I had never ridden a bike where you could move around so easily and get you weight so far forward on the bends and loose corners. A bit of Motocross skill would have been a help but by the end of the session we were both letting the back end slide out a bit and cornering foot out and pushing through the outside pegs. Sliding the bike around a dirt hairpin using the back brake, did however elude me. I was more concerned that if I messed up, Patsy who stood at the breaking point, was in maybe more danger then maybe she realised, and hospitalising a biking icon may not have looked like such a good move.

Suitably pumped in the forearms and after having been given the chance to stretch the 690,s legs all to soon the day was over.

Convinced the 690 was more capable, I and knowing that a return visit to learn more from Patsy was required, we left with MX shirts proudly tucked away in our arms.

Friday 15 August 2014

Patsy Quick and the KTM a "Gateway to New Horizons"

You know when you bought that album based on the one good track you heard, or the top selling single you liked, and then you get it home and the rest is awful, its a bit like being cheated. It may it only have been £15, but there is sits, its spine or case a reminder of an impetuous moment of excitement. It leads to an age of disappointment, until that moment 10 yrs later when you take it to the second hand shop, where there it sits, marked down to 50p for another ten.

I have done this with cars, the MGB GT which would never start on damp mornings, the third edition of the Land Rover LR Disco which died at 3am in Chamonix when it was -18deg c. and now a Vuaxhall Antara which I have inherited from my mum.

Whilst the BMW F800GS was a nice road bike it did not fill me with confidence off-road. Falling out of love either with a woman, man or a thing, often starts with an off-hand comment. This fateful end of life comment for the F800GS, came from Patsy Quick, famed  Dakar Rally Rider and boss at the Desert Rose Riding Academy. When I visited her stand at the Goodwood Festival of speed in 2014,  the rot set in. So now the BMW is gone, what to do?.

The Yamaha Tenere' 660 for me was too heavy, Morocco proved that, the Beta Alp 4.0 was a small mans toy, Yamaha WR250's looked good but a clean one was rare, the promising new CCM 450 Adventure thingy way too expensive, untried and just maybe 450cc was just too small on high Alpine roads where I love to ride (lack of a dealer/service network for the CCM was a huge issue for me). So I kept coming back to the KTM 690 Enduro R, with all its know short comings.

Lack of fuel range, poor lights, seat etc are all well discussed, but the number of companies making bits for the KTM are huge and there is an active eBay market for the add-ons if required.

My first experince with a KTM 690 Enduro was on a trip in 2012 when a friendly German we were riding with lent me his 2010 machine for a short road section. My first impressions were that it was slow, agricultural, rattled all over and had an awful gear box. I was not impressed. But I have been watching the slow evolution of the 690r for the last few years and at last EIMCA show in Milan the bike looked vastly improved. New Fly by Wire throttle, new Duke engine, and slightly more refinement. But before I was going to spank nearly £7000 on an "album" that promised a lot but ended up in the local Cancer Charity Shop I though I had best try on before buying.

So I called Patsy Quick's  http://www.adventureridingacademy.com/  and headed to Englandshire to learn something and see what I and it could do. After all she promised a "Gateway to New Horizons" 

Thursday 14 August 2014

Morocco Late Spring 14


It's not often you manage to pull together 6 busy bikers and get them to commit to downing tools and heading off to Africa together.  But this spring we managed it. Organised by our local Yamaha dealer Moto74 in Sallanches, France using there linked travel company Anarouz Voyages from Geneva Switzerland, Greg, Will, Brain, Alun, Jon and myself headed to Marrakech in early May  to test our skills on the Yamaha 660 Tenere' that we were using for the trip. 

1300km later most of us had dropped the bikes at least once, and had gone through many moments of sweaty hot amazing riding. The full article will appear in the Sept edition of Bike Magazine in the UK, so I can,t give to much away here suffice to say, although heavy two of us on the trip have bought Yamaha,s and one more has bought a 660 Tenere' on recommendation. For my tastes coming from the F800GS the weight of the bikes was too similar for me to go for one. But once the Yamaha is up to speed it's more balanced, more capable off-road and more fun than the BMW.

On this trip we were followed by a 4x4 with cook, driver, spare machine in a truck and rode with a local bike guide. Hardly out-there in terms of comfort and the 5 hotels we stayed in over the 5 days of riding, all had swimming pools and most had importantly beer. For those wanting to dip into desert riding it was a great introduction and great value. The full article will be in Bike Magazine soon. Once it is published I will copy it here. 

In the mean time if you fancy a Moroccan moto trip which offers you good value without the need to ship your own bike try Anarouz Voyages.

Guid 2 Roues
64 Avenue de Champel – 1206 Genève 
email : contact@guid2roues.com 

Wednesday 13 August 2014

BMW GS or Bust

A fully kited out ABR  - Icon Suit notwithstanding

The BMW 800GS was my second bike, quickly purchased post a brief and profitable foray with a Suzuki VStrom which I picked up for a song. Suckered into the GS fraternity by promises of adventures by Ewen Macgregor,  (Charley, was the sidekick at that time) it was fully kitted out with Caribou Panniers, Jesse Side Bars and Heidi Tyres and it really looked the part. The 30th Anniversary Paint job finished off the required ABR look. A frustrating digital subscription  to Adventure Bike Rider magazine complete with articles by "Dave an ABR from Brighton" on his latest foray though the Rhine Valley war fields via some rubbish cafe in Strasbourg should have sounded the warning bells, but no.

It took a hairpin 2000m up an Italian Alp to really seal the deal. "ABRism" and its love of the tank like BMW GS was fetish I had finished with. A marketing con for me at least, which came crashing down in a heap of dirt and rubble. These machines I now believe are the motorcycle riders equivalent of the Caravan Club "car of the year recommendations".  Great for towing you home about behind you but rubbish in a fight.

Its the add-ons which turn an already Scorpion Tank like ride into a Chieftain Tank width and weight machine. Don,t get me wrong they handle the weight of the 4 lights, steel panniers, engine bars, bash plates, huge luggage racks strong enough to anchor a Mule to and a repair kit so extensive you could repair a jumbo jet with, quite well, and they are good on the road. But when you drop them you need your entire family and a the accompanying film crew to pick them up. (Episode 2 - The Long Way Round)

Having ridden quite a lot of mountain dirt roads with my GS, it was not until Greg Watts, a fellow, at that time GS owner, struggled up and down the Col du Prapaillion, described the experience as "survival riding and not that much riding fun" did the penny really drop.

The suspension sucks, they dive and wallow under the weight (even with progressive springs), they are way to heavy by at least a 100kg loaded and impossible to pick up on your own if you happen to drop them on a road thats even just off the flat. The 800GS seems worse the the 1200GS as its carries its weight differently. Furthermore they are way to pretty to scuff, scratch and dent. Fine if your using someone else's on a dirt course in Wales, but drop your £15,000 machine on a sharp Italian rock and you will cry. Its not the zippy carefree fun it should be. Time to move on.

The Col du Prapaillion - France

Jupiters Travels

If you have never read this book maybe you should. Written by journalist Ted Simon it tracks his progress as he circumnavigates the globe on an old Triumph. Heralded by the Moto community as the best and first Adventure Motorcyclists bible, it has inspired many a budding adventurer to say goodbye to their jobs, family and friends and step over a smoking beast and ride off into the Blue Yonder. 

It is inspiring, as it tracks both the physical and metaphysical journey which he goes through. Loneliness, fear at times, despair, reflections on lost love, fantasies about love sought and the excitement and boredom of the open road. For me it highlights one of the great problems for the modern Adventure Motorcyclist (whatever that is); its been done before. Most of the wild roads have been ridden, documented and mapped. Magazines are full of dull accounts of many miles of mud and dirt roads, the "escaping from the humdrum" however real to the individual, is a cliché and the majority of the writing as tedious as the motorway and dirt miles they cover. So many blogs, books and films are being produced about "great motorcycle journey" that what was once the abnormal is now it seems the norm. For me however motorcycling has always been less about the road and more about the emotion, less about the miles covered and more about the internal journey explored, and this is truly unique to the individual. Ted Simon's book for me only really comes alive when he strays from the road into the mind, and these internal conversations only really exist in the last couple of chapters. Maybe you need the preamble of the miles to enter the minds own rambling, but I am not so sure. So as I embark on a set of new journeys I think I maybe more interested in the mind than the matter.