Adv Bike Selection 3

Bikes – A Couple of Suggestions

When I look at the most common selection of bikes going into the Sibirsky Extreme part of the world, taking on the BAM Road, Old Summer Road etc, usually after blasting through Mongolia, there are three models that stand out as the most commonly used and in my view, they are three of the most logical bikes to take for those challenges. The KTM 690, the BMW G650 X-Challenge and the Suzuki DRZ400. The latter two are not made any more (or at least availble in Europe), so I will begin a look at suggested adventure bikes for this part of the world with the only one of the three that still is in production, the KTM 690.

As one of the first KTM bikes to feature EFI, the 690 did pick up a reputation for fuel pump related issues in its early years (2008 in particular). In the half dozen years since the bike was launched, there have been countless small refinements and current versions enjoy a much more trouble free reputation. The bike is exceptionally light (138 kgs) for its power (65hp), and remarkably fuel efficient, both for its power level and for KTM in general. In many ways, it just doesn’t fit in KTM’s catalogue as an EXC (Enduro / Cross-Country) bike. It’s around 25 kgs heavier than all the other EXC bikes. Unlike all the other EXC bikes, it’s not built for racing (it has an economical engine and 10,000 km service intervals). Unlike all the other EXC bikes it has lower quality suspension, and much shorter suspension travel. It really does not belong in KTM’s EXC line up and consequently, I would not be surprised to see KTM offload the 690 to a sister brand.  But some of those qualities that clearly mark the 690 as NOT a competition bike, are exactly what make it suitable as a base for an adventure bike. The long service interval, the efficient engine, the sturdy frame are an ideal base for an adventure transformation. The last 12 months or so has seen the range of adventurisation products for the 690 expand considerably. For the first 3-4 years after its introduction, the challenge of adding fuel capacity and wind protection to the bike was one without options.

Safari Aqualine in Australia made a heavy, fat, ugly 14 litre blob that took the place of the side panels, and added to the bike’s internal 12 litre tank. 26 litres in total was more than enough fuel, but the tank was ungainly, held the weight of the fuel both high and forward, and the feedback I head from many 690 riders was that it seems to contribute to front wheel washouts.

Safari Tank

By 2011 a number of front fairing options were available to suit the Safari tank, the best of which was Rally Raid UK’s adventure fairing.

RRUK Fairing with Safari Tank

Also around that time Rally Raid UK developed their own set of auxiliary fuel for the bike in the form of two side tanks that fitted in under the normal side fairings. This provided a sensible total of 21 litres, without the bulk of the Safari tank and was designed to fit with their own KTM 990 style front fairing. This became known as the “Evo 1” kit.

RRUK Evo 1

In 2013, Rally Raid UK designed an all new fuel tank and fairing kit, to be known as “Evo 2”. This also provides for 21 litres, but in a narrower (more manoeuvrable) format which keeps the weight of the fuel more centralised. Again it is complemented by their in house fairing. This strikes me as ideal for the rider seeking the lightest possible adventurisation of their KTM 690.  Note that these 21 litre options (the Evo 1 and Evo 2 kits from RRUK) can be complemented by an additional rear tank of 4.5 litres, seen in black behind the luggage rack in the picture above.  This can increase fuel load to over 25 litres, and increasing range to over 500 km.

RRUK Evo 2

Also in 2013, an energetic KTM dealer in Switzerland (KTM Basel) released a stunning looking kit for the 690 emulating the looks and design queues from the KTM 450 Rally. This is a more comprehensive kit than any of the above as it relies on the relocation of the exhaust system to get the fuel down as low and central as possible, as per the rally bikes. All in all this kit provides for a massive 30 litres of fuel. This kit suits a rider after the most comprehensive adventure kit for the 690, one after maximum range, or just for an aesthete who agrees with me that the style, lines and shape of the kit make for the finest looking adventure bike money can buy.

KTM Basel “Quest” kit

There are a number of known weak spots with the KTM 690, and these need to be covered by anyone adventuring on them into remote areas. The voltage regulator, fuel pump and subframe bolts / bushes top that list. Not much can be done about the narrow gearbox. Rally Raid UK makes an excellent luggage rack for the bike while top quality bashplates are available at Adventure-Spec or RRUK.

BMW’s entry into the official Sibirsky Extreme suitable bikes section starts and ends with its G650X bikes. While these bike are effectively 10 kgs heavier (about 148 kgs with a proper coil over shock) than the KTM 690 (weight difference is all in the engine), the engine is even more economical, very reliable and has unusually strong torque down low, which can be an invaluable feature off road, as can the wide ratio gearbox. Weak points are dominated by the poor OEM suspension. As it was a bike with a very limited production run the range of parts for adventurisation is much narrower. Safari made a (again) heavy, fat, ugly 16 litre tank sold via Touratech, that took the fuel capacity to 26 litres, alongside a not-quite-matching Touratech front fairing. I used this fairing but not the fuel tank in 2009 and 2010 and found the fairing and subframe very heavy and not as effective as it could be in preventing turbulence at speed.

XC with touratech fairing

Hot Rod Welding in Holland have stepped up to develop an excellent fuel tank (taking total fuel to 19 litres), luggage rack and fairing combination, while Scheffelmeier in Germany has developed a bashplate range made out of unbeatable 7000 series aluminium. As I have had significant input into the design of the Hot Road and Scheffelmeier products, it’s not surprising that I believe they are absolutely the best G650X products on the market.

BMW XC with full Hot Rod / Scheffelmeier ensemble

The DRZ400 is an earlier generation of motorcycle about 5 kgs lighter than the KTM 690, but only half the power (34 hp), but never the less still quite popular among adventurers. There are two main models, the easier to modify S model and the more challenging to adventurise (but lighter and slightly more powerful) E model. A number of smaller fuel tanks from Clarke, IMS and Acerbis can push the fuel capacity to 14-17 litres, but there is only one option beyond that … the huge Safari 28 litre tank. Happy trails make good pannier racks for the bike and Adventure-Spec make a tough bash plate. As the DRZ400 is less suited to 100+ km/h riding with its much lower power engine and narrow gearbox, there is not much in the way of aftermarket fairings for the bike and many adventurers cobble together their own. Thin engine side covers, cam tensioning issues and charging system can be reliability issues.

Adventurised DRZ

My view is all the above bikes (none of which were designed or made as adventure bikes) would benefit from better suspension and quality headlights. There are probably the two most overlooked areas in adventure bike preparation. Headlights in particular suffer from the idea from the novice adventurer that “well I don’t plan to be riding at night so its not necessary”. The reality is that long trips NEVER go as you plan. You WILL end up riding at night, a lot more often than you would ever think, and when you do, there is no substitute for high quality lighting. Like weight (discussed earlier) it’s one the most common things returning adventurers admit they misunderstood the importance of before their first trip.

 

Finally, a newcomer on the scene is offering a light 41 hp 450cc EFI engine, good suspension and 17 litres of standard fuel range in a 130 kg adventure bike package.  The CCM 450GP.   The production models of these will finally be on show at the UKs Motorcycle Live at the Excel in a week or so.  With a BMW 450cc engine running at a low state of tune, CCM is reckoning on an impressive 8000 km service intervals.  Everything from the triple clamps to wheel hubs are slick, high quality, CNC machined billet components, good quality rims, fully adjustable front (Marzocchi 45mm) and rear suspension (Tractive) are all standard.  The bike even can be bought with factory luggage rack, a real rarity for light bikes these days.   I am told the headlight is more substantial than the usual 450 bike rubbish, but that is one of the few areas I would still be looking to upgrade on the stock bike.  Other than that it looks promising.  I look forward to hearing from someone taking the first CCM 450 to the BAM Road!

CCM 450 with low seat

16 thoughts on “Adv Bike Selection 3”

  1. Spent about 4 years on a Safari/Touratech equipped BM-X and recently moved over to a 690, which I’ve done one major rough trip to Angola on. I must say I was surprised how completely different the bikes feel. The KTM has much more power and significantly different geometry. The X is a much more relaxed and stable high speed, long distance bike; on the other hand the 690 feels MUCH lighter – more than the numbers suggest – and is more exciting ridden aggressively off road. Having said that, it is a lot more twitchy on fast open gravel, and many riders complain of headshake. Spent the first couple hundred k’s in Angola wondering what I’d done, but eventually got my groove on with the 690 and am now infatuated. It’s a sensational rough touring bike if you really love the riding. There are more kit options – at least three different kits are made in South Africa for the 690 and there’s a new one available in Oz very soon.
    Although it’s a little heavier the DR650 is a no-nonsense option in Africa and Australia. Pity we don’t get the WR250R here in South Africa – looks great.

  2. Why not the Tenere? I’m a Tenere fan and owner but the clue as to why not is probably the ‘extreme’ in Sibirsky Extreme. It’s unnecessarily heavy compared to the G650 or 690 Enduro. A modern lighter-weight version of the XT660Z preferably with a more flexible engine would be interesting.

    As a 690 owner I agree with everything Walter’s written above, especially the mention of the narrow gearbox ratios, which is a bugbear of mine (the Tenere isn’t so bad in this respect).

    I don’t like having to carry out lots of customisation. Not only are you paying twice for things (once for the discarded original, then again for the improvement), but in some countries this gives you problems with registration (e.g. Spain) or raised eyebrows and raised quotes from insurance companies (e.g. UK).

    So CCM is to be commended with its GP450 and I hope it does well. Perhaps it will encourage KTM to then bring out a 690 Adventure.

  3. One un-fixable downside of the KTM 690 is the alternator output. It’s essentially the same as a DRZ. :(

    The bike hits all the fun buttons but the tranny, alternator output and steering lock (!) diminish what could have been a runaway winner.

  4. Tim, for me the key issue with the Tenere is the weight. Its the same weight as the F800 with just over half the power. I often complain that the F800 could have been made 20 kgs lighter, so for the Tenere, which doesnt have to manage that power, or speed, and has a cylinder less, its shockingly overweight – 40+ kgs. I dont really see Yamaha building a 145-150 kg version of the Tenere because of the cost and effort involved. I think that while a light adventure bike or two are feasible in the market, its only feasible if all the components are basically in place. For KTM, who has a suitable engine, suitable frame, swingarm etc, the cost to produce a light adventure bike is very small and therefore feasible. For Yamaha it would be a massive commitment. They do not have a light single cylinder engine, nor a light frame and swingarm. Everything would need to be designed from the ground up – it would need to be an all new bike. A new 660cc engine designed and built from scratch – with weight in mind. I dont see that happening. MAYBE, they could do something based on the WR450, but my gut feel is that the market for a 450 adventure bike will be smaller than the 650-700 cc market. Perhaps when they get around to building a replacement large bore single engine to power all their current 660cc range (snowmobiles, waverunners/jet skis, quads, XT660R, etc) then they could look at making something suitable. But I do agree that for many reasons, including insurance and legality, its better to have the bike with the range and fairing straight from the factory. For me tho, one of the biggest issues is cost. The cost of good quality rims vs cheap ones is a dramatic case in point. At OEM level it would cost the factory 2 EUR extra per rim to have top quality rims vs cheap ones. To buy the bike and have to swap the rims over aftermarket, costs over 500 EUR for the pair, vs 2 EUR each at the factory. To me that highlights the enormous economic inefficiency that consumers have to pay for having to do most of the adventurisation after market – and why I feel so strongly about encouraging manufacturers to produce light adventure bikes out of the factory.

  5. Agreed 100% on the DRZ being one of a select few perfect bikes, although I’m not sure where you read they’re no longer available (at least they are here in the USA for 2014 on). I actually started out with a stock SM model for the USD forks, and have been working my way backwards. 18/21 wheels, IMS 4gal. tank, better exhaust and jetting, 434 BB kit, and I’m really enjoying it so far. I recently put in the ACT wide-ratio gears for more top end, will be experimenting with that a bit in the coming months (as weather permits). Changed to a manual chain tensioner for more reliability, and have fit on a set of the Magadan soft bags. The hope is for next year to travel the American southwest with this baby, doing mostly desert and true “adventure” travel (or as much as one can get here in the US nowadays). I figure I’ve got about 40-45hp in this baby which, for a 300lb bike, is fairly decent. Upgraded the fairing to the Brittania Composites Lynx which looks sweet.

    Damn, just talking about the mods makes me want to ride off into the sunset looking for adventure with this baby NOW! ;)

  6. After a DR650 and a KTM 950, I am now on a KTM 525. So far the signs are encouraging for a light weight, powerful single with good out of the box suspension.

    I know of others who use the FE570 or the WR450 for their “adventure riding”, both of which are also road registerable in Australia. We also have cheaper access to the safari tanks as well.

    The service intervals can be an issue for some, but this maybe addressed through an extended oil capcity on some bikes and acceptance that the adv bikes are not ridden as hard on a daily basis as their original enduro/motocross design brief.

    An Australian designed product kush sprocket maybe a solution for the lack of cush drive. Or you just bit the bullet and source a new/secondhand cush hub rear wheel.

    Some companies are currently making pannier racks for the KTM 500exc, so while you may not load the bike up like a 650 single, there seems to be a viable option to strap on luggage such as the giant loop range.

    Either way this size bike is putting a grin on my face and is allowing me to be much more flexible with my choice of terrain.

  7. Hi Walter, great information as always. I already have an Africa Twin, and now I want another “old school” lighter bike.
    What do you think about the Honda Dominator nx650 ? I’ve heard that they are bulletproof.

  8. Hello, I am riding a KTM 690 Enduro R and i love to read on your side about your trips & tours! Congrats!! If I would have time (and money) I would also like to travel (more) with my KTM..
    Question: how can I order your DVD?
    with best regards- Peter
    Peter Pech
    Trappelgasse 9/19
    A-1040 Vienna
    Austria

  9. Another excellent page after page after page of solid reasons to select a particular bike for a specific task albeit being “Ride the world” a fairly big task I might add.
    Hearing rumours about a new Africa Twin I do wonder if Yamaha will step into the game using the engine from the new MT-07 bikes. KTM could do with a +/- 800 cc bike in the Adventure segment as well.
    After having had a BMW Funduro and finding it inadequate to be taken any further than a gravel track I wanted something lighter, with a bit more power. The BMW G 650 X series is just that so I got one and love it as it is so incredibly light in comparisson. The CCM 450 is just a class into its own. Were I to spend some serious cash I’d get me one although I might miss the power that the X has on a day to day riding around basis.
    Please do keep up the good work Walter !

    Best regards, Ard

  10. Why no mention of the yamaha wr250r? Not enough power? With a much wider ratio gearbox than the DRZ it seems like a better adventure bike than the DRZ.

  11. What about Husqvarnas Strada/Terra? Same XC engine but with a few hp more. Can’t understand where the surplus in weight (>35kg+) is coming from compared to the XCh. Wondering if it could be made lighter?

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