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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!