By late May, I had arrived back in the UK. I had 5-6 weeks to prep the bike for my 2010 travels, which would begin by joining up with a couple of young, enthusiastic riders from other parts of the world to tackle the legendary Road of Bones from Magadan. First I began with general maintenance issues. The bike had done 65,000km (40,000 miles). The fuel pump and fuel filter were changed. The clutch was changed. Normal consumables (oil, filter, plugs, brake pads, wheel bearings and seals) were changed. Then it was onto the modifications and improvements.
(1) Steel Subframe: Touratech make a replacement for the stock alloy subframe. My original had an unhealthy amount of flex, and on stripping it down, I found there were a couple of cracks which contributed heavily to that flex. It may have been possible to weld it back up, and bend it back into shape (the subframe was quite bent, such that the tail light was a good few inches from the centreline on the bike and the rear tyre.) So I decided to bite the bullet and change the subframe for the steel one. Its about 2 kgs heavier, but will be easier to attach things too and easier to weld in the field.
(2) Barkbusters: A refresh of the bike was also a chance to up-spec some of my protective bits. Some alloy Bark Busters from Adventure Spec went on, and some 50mm (2 inch) Rox risers joined them in the bike’s steering department.
(3) Scheffelmeier Case saver: 2 chains broke on the bike during the 2009 ride and so the case saver (front chain guard) was very much worse for wear after being called into action twice last year. An excellent item is now produced by Scheffelmeier Metall in Germany to protect the engine housing from stray chains.
(4) Fork Transplant: The stock forks, while reasonable, are far from ideal. One fork handles the compression and one the rebound damping, and a test of both forks shows how completely different each fork feels. Further, the damping is done inside sealed cartridges, and is therefore impossible to play with the damping mechanisms. A number of different fork transplant options were considered, including Marzocchi 45mm shiver forks from a Husqvarna or Aprilia, Marzocchi top-shelf factory series 45mm forks, or the “generic” option, WP 48 mm forks available on a variety of KTM models. Each choice had its advantages and disadvantages: The Shiver fork transplant would be the simplest, as it meant the forks would fit straight into the X-Challenge as it was … straight into the existing triple clamps – but I had trouble locating any in the time space available. The Marzocchi Factory Series were the best forks among the candidates, with the lowest friction, best damping and the most adjustment. I located a second hand set for under £200 (normally about £1000 a set new) but they require different top and bottom clamp sizes. I would probably have to get all new triple clamps machined up for them.
Finally, thanks to Lukas, a front fork transplant guru in Vienna, I was able to get a hold of all the bits required to put in a set of KTM WP forks. WP forks have a bit of a reputation for being sticky, with questionable quality bushes and less than ideal standard damping stacks, but they are the default choice among people transplanting forks, mainly because there is a wide selection of bits available for them. So from Lukas in Vienna came the forks, axle, triple clamps, stem, steering damper mount and brake mount from an assortment of KTMs, that would suit my needs. The main components, the forks themselves were from a late model 640 Adventure. That meant the fork length and suspension travel of the new forks were basically identical to the old forks. I specifically asked for large front axle clamps on the WP forks and Lukas obliged with the largest possible 30mm axle. My old axle was 20mm – larger than the 17mm on some other bikes like the F650 single, but the larger the axle, the stiffer the axle and the larger the bearing surface – meaning less stress on the wheel bearings. The suspension all came together for me (as usual ) at the Hyperpro service centre in Alphen, in Holland. Bas first serviced my existing Hyperpro rear damper with new seals and oil and then went to work on the front forks. A quick test before we began illustrated the issues we needed to overcome. The WP forks had significantly more friction than the Marzocchi forks that come stock on the X-Challenge, but on the other hand, the WP forks had much better damping, both due to compression and rebound being in each fork and having a much greater range of adjustment.
Bas took a look at the stock valve stacks in the WP forks and a look at Zerodogs suggested 640 Adventure stacks and decided he didn’t like the look of either, so customised the valve stacks himself. Along with the new Hyperpro progressive springs in the forks, the result should be soft non-sticky damping at the beginning to soak up small bumps and quick hits while remaining in control under heavy compression and with no bottoming out. Triple clamps and axle clamps together had roughly the same offset, so all I needed to do was work out a way to get a steering stem to fit. The steering stem for the KTM and the BMW triple clamps were both 52mm, but the KTM steering stem was 29mm while the BMW stem was 28mm. The BMW size allowed for a common bearing size – 28x52x16mm – while the KTM size was a wacky one, seemingly unique to KTM. We decided to machine down the KTM stem, to take the standard 28x52x16mm bearings … handy as I have a few spare sets of that size steering bearings anyway. Erik at nearby Hot Rod welding pressed out the stem and machined it down. The new forks and KTM triple clamps allowed for a new wheel to be used. My front rim was about as beaten up as it could get, so it was clear I needed a replacement. The obvious choice was a Excel A60 unit – the toughest rim out there , which I paired up a Haan Wheels KTM 990 Adventure fitment hub. The final piece in the front end puzzle was to fit a 990 front fender. I wanted to mount a low fender to increase airflow to the radiator, and to increase stability at speed
(5) New Paint: While the suspension was being done, I stripped off the old stickers and sanded down the plastic panels and front fairing. A day and a half, about 50 EUR, a small tin of filler, 8 sheets of sand paper, and a total of 6 can of spray paint (1 primer, 3 gloss white and 2 clear) later and the bike was ready to be white again … this time a nice new shiny white, highlighted with black.
(6) New rack, new front sub-frame: Ever since the village repair in Khani, on the BAM Road, my front fairing had not been straight. It was a temporary fix in a out of the way location. The whole front of the bike including the headlights were pointing off somewhere to the right. Erik the welder / fabricator from Hot-Rod Welding stepped up to the plate again and built a new front subframe for the fairing. When that was done it was time to build a new luggage rack. We had learnt a lot of lessons from the last time I asked Erik to build me a rack, the most important of which was that I should be shy and underestimate how rough I was going the treat the bike. This time round Erik knew the rack needed to be tough as hell, so instead of the hardware store grade 15mm tube with 1mm side walls, we went for a hydraulic tubing, 18 mm seamless tube, hi quality steel, 2mm side walls.
(7) New Tank: Last year I had oversized my tank and it had resulted in stresses on the subframe resulting in cracks. While I had a stronger steel subframe this year, I decided to be a bit more conservative re tank size, and Erik from HotRod Welding whipped me up a 9.5 litre version of the very durable X-Tank.
(8) New bash plate: I had earlier stayed with Stephan Scheffelmeier while passing thru Germany. Stephan is a German metal worker who has an X-Challenge and has been developing his own aftermarket parts for the bike, based on his own observations of the bike’s factory shortcomings.
One of the products he makes is a range of bashplates for the XC, and he has a jig set up in his workshop for making them. He asked me if there were any other products I felt might me useful on the XC and my first thought was a rally style bashplate. When BMW raced the XC in rallys, Touratech made a rally bash plate for them. But they stopped making them 2 years ago, and there is now nothing on the market. I wanted a bashplate that would allow me to move the battery down to the bashplate, some tools down the the bashplate and a small removeable reservoir for 3 litres of water or fuel. Stephan said it would be possible, but time ran out before this mini project was completed. I had to settle for the new bashplate with battery compartment only, and would look to adapt it to take fuel, water and tools later in the year.
(9) NewElectrics: Steve Hallam, my electrical guru, wired up a second tail-light / brake light, a couple of new fuse boxes, rewired the battery now that it was down near my toes, and sorted out a new dashboard.
(10) New Tank Bag: I felt the previous tank bag was a big big in the sense of it limiting how far forward you can get in a standing position. I had to switch to a smaller, narrower one – and the guys at Adventure-Spec came up with the goods in the form of a Giant Loop tank bag.