Bike & Modifications

2006 KTM 950 Adventure
Selecting a bike came down to a few things – which bike(s) do I have and what are the requirements. And FUN was a very strong requirement. My KTM 530 EXC would find no technical challenges on this ride but lacks a sufficiently lofty air intake necessary for fording the many high water crossings and the electrics would require a stator rewinding and still be lacking for just a GPS, electric vest, heated grips and necessary headlight upgrade (even riding primarily in the long summer twilights of the great Siberian north). Finding a tire that would work well and last the necessary mileage isn’t easy, either. Speaking of tires/wheels – a 21″ front was deemed necessary, not the 19″ front wheel on many BMW “adventure” bikes and no gas shocks or auto-leveling mechanisms . . . also on many BMW “adventure” bikes. A 19″ wheel makes great sense on a 90% tarmac/10% gravel road motorcycle but physics sides with a 21″ when on tougher off-road or dodgy road stuff, especially as risk integrates (over time), and this trip is far removed from a two-hour moto. Simplicity has it’s virtues, too and there are few air shock repairmen on the steppe.

My KTM Adventure is a bit heavy, has a silly high air intake, can be straightforwardly configured to provide more than 300 miles of range, has suitable alternator output and can easily be shod with tires that will last 8,000 miles that are decent in mud and good on everything else. The OEM KTM is 200 pounds heavier than the EXC but through a Jenny Craig program she’s shed considerable weight via ditching the hard bags and racks (>50 lbs), the lead-acid battery (>8 lbs), the OEM exhausts (2-1 and aux gas tank yielding >15 lbs). Crash bars have been exchanged for plastic tank guards. I don’t expect any high-speed getoffs but slow speed tipovers will probably be a regular feature. :) This drops another 20 pounds. While I’d prefer something in the 300lb/140kg range she’s down to 410lb/190kg. I’ve dropped >25bs/12kg and have reduced my packed weight drastically. Now it’s just a matter of execution.

Other upgrades have included Nuetech’s Tubliss system in the front wheel, Woody’s Wheel Works dirt rims (21×1.6 & 18×2.5 replacing the OEM 21×2.5 and 18×4.5) providing much better traction in all conditions but pavement, a Scotts steering damper, KTM heated grips, Highway Dirt Bikes Godzilla-approved handguards, and a KTM high-fender kit. Fastway footpegs provide much better grip and a better platform for long periods of standing.

Ken Nelson 0f Adventure Machines provided a jet kit that did wonders for the big bike’s running. Ken’s Rally Fan Kit provides a 2nd cooling fan.  A set of FlexJets facilitate easy tuning of the IMS as the bike moves from sea-level deserts to 15,000′ passes with every humidity level in between. James Siddall of Super Plush Suspension provided the big girl with astonishing suspension, including increasing her to an ‘S’ (additional 1.3″ to 9.6″ of F&R wheel travel) which as a side benefit makes her so tall that anyone with less than a 37″ inseam can’t really mount or steal her. :) James Renazco built a saddle that allows for joy while sitting, even after an 800-mile (or 16-hour day).

Power is managed by an Eastern Beaver PC-8 fusepanel and some 3BR cables (a baryl connector for my Garmin 60CSX GPS and EXO2 heated vest) and a USB connector for charging my phone and iPad (in the future), etc. The PC-8 is in a class of it’s own and the 3BR cables allow me to relax about the wires being continually bounced and rubbed against the bike during the first 8000 miles or riding, just 10% or less of which is paved. The GPS MUST work in several locations where no path/way is evident for quite a distance or without X-ray vision. I simply won’t have the fuel range to go wandering about. So powering it is non-optional unless I want to carry lots of batteries as backup where “convenience stores” are conveniently absent and weight is my greatest enemy. My gigantic feet (size 15/16 US, 50/51 Euro) necessitated a fantastic innovation by an SF Bay Area company, the Hammerhead Designs extended shift lever – and it comes in the correct COLOR. :)

The KTM, like the venerable GS (the OLD GS, not the new Goldwing with knobbies . . .) has a few well-known failure modes which can be addressed beforehand and prepared for during the ride. For the carbureted model (ie, mine), the OEM fuel pump is curious in that a few water crossing will almost certainly doom it, the clutch slave is well-known for fading in the wrong places and the water pump on earlier (ie, mine) was known for a leaking shaft seal. All have been replaced with, respectively, a Facet 40171 (made in the USA), the upgraded OEM water kit (on replacement my original showed NO wear at 15K+ miles), and an Evoluzione clutch slave (though I’m carrying extra o-rings, just in case). A Scotts stainless steel oil filter means that even IF the water pump shaft leaks I won’t have to worry about the paper filter clogging the engine’s oil pores. Other “extras” include a full-set of brake pads, a water pump re-build kit, an extra (!) 5aH battery (~1 lb), extra H7 bulb (euro headlight), spare Tubliss bladder, slime, puncture kits, tube valves, spark plugs, filter skins (2+1), two spare tubes (21″&18″), spare brake/clutch levers, a Aussie tire bead breaker, and just enough tools, in lighterweight versions, to take care of it all. A foldable fuel filter will screen dust in the Gobi and water from those lovely Siberian tanks whose conditions ensure high levels of condensation. The clutch cover is protected from falls by a GB Racing composite protector which I deemed much more effective than a Touratech folding lever. The OEM skid plate on the KTM is . . . an ash tray. For this trip I purchased the Weld86 skid plate and sidestand relocation bracket after learning of it off of ADVRider.com. (The OEM sidestand has been known, due to it’s placement and mounting, to be a conduit for impact energy to . . . crack the engine case.) The headlight is shielded, too. Lastly, a small but important addition when parking a heavy, loaded bike in soft surfaces – a camel toe.

I like the KTM very much for what it can do and how much fun it is to ride. A DRZ or KLR would no doubt be as effective but the one feels as heavy as the KTM and provides little in the way of a grin (I have one in Thailand) and the other is as reliable as any beast of burden. But I don’t want a beast of burden, I want a grin factory and so . . . it’s the KTM, who, it must be granted, reminds me of a joke – “always live in the ugliest house on the block, that way you don’t have to look at it.” She ain’t pretty on the surface but is a beauty for how well she does in so many environments.

UPDATE 2013: My September 2012 visit resuscitated the water pump, added an HID headlight, provided a new dash mount for the GPS which will greatly ease simultaneously watching the way ahead and GPS information. The forks will be rebuilt in July before departing for Siberia. Jeff Douglas’ excellent upgrade to the fantastic Tubliss system on the front wheel will also be added. Enduristan Monsoon saddle bags will ensure dry gear and move the weight lower and more forward while affording me full access to the saddle to stretch my legs and to get back in technical riding. Tools have been enhanced and weight significantly reduced – by nearly 2kgs. I’d hoped to use a Zumo 550 GPS to replace my venerable (and small screen) 60CSX but the Zumo isn’t sorted for off-road usage and is pretty miserable at following tracks. SuperPlush (James Siddall) completely rebuilt my rear shock which was re-installed in September. A smaller, lighter, and more waterproof Enduristan tank bag has also been added. A switch to enable easy adjustment for low-octane fuel has been added.

UPDATE 2015: The San Francisco Giants win the World Series in even years (2010, 2012, 2014) and I get to ride in the odd years (2011, 2013, 2015). May these streaks continue. I visited the Duckling after a business trip in Kazakhstan (!) where staying at the Intercontinental meant smoked horsemeat at the breakfast buffet. A flight from Almaty to Bishkek and then from Bishkek to Osh (on a flight that the UN FORBIDS its’ staff from taking !) meant a chance to visit and do some prep/checking. I discovered that my oil sender failure was actually an assembly error. A 21-mm bolt head drives a 10×1 (fine) threaded sender into the cylinder wall. INCREDIBLY easy to overtorque (this would normally be a 1/2″ drive socket when 10Nm of torque (1/4″ drive) would suffice). Shit. There’s not a machine shop I’d trust within 1,000 miles . . . So I left bit anxious. But Michelle’s dad, a skilled and very experienced machinist made up a tap kit. Still not the kind of thing one wants to try as an error means DIW. But Scuderia in San Franciso suggested simply using a longer bolt as the sender doesn’t reach all the available threads and a generous amount of Loctite 660. I’ll try this FIRST and then presumably ride to Bishkek for my Tajik and Uzbek visas before doing a loop of the more interesting routes in the Kyrgyz mountains. Then on to the Bartang Valley in Tajikistan followed by the “humdrum” of the silk road (Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva) on the way to Europe. I won’t retrace my route out exactly, diverging through Georgia and Armenia before entering “pedestrian” Turkey and the run to Frankfurt where the Duckling will board a flight for it’s first visit to north American soil in over 4 years. Small upgrades but significant ones: a new Garmin Montana 600 GPS, new Enduristan panniers, a completely new drivetrain (chain, sprockets) and a Delorme InReach Explorer which gives locational information about my whereabouts AND provides SMS abilities should something need attention at BankersLab the startup which has consumed 110% of my time and seems on the precipice of immense liftoff. Finally, a small gas stove, which I’ve avoided until now (cooking pasta in camp is a necessity for a long back pack but on a motorcycle ride some local bread and tinned fish are easier and ALOT more calories) means REAL coffee (Artis Ethiopian Yirgacheffe) via an Aeropress promise EXCELLENT mornings no matter the conditions. Ah . . . yuppie crack in the midst of horsemeat, horse liquor (Arak) and plov of varying quality.