Visas!

So I’m now in the process of organising the visas for the trip and what a minefield it has turned out to be.
What has become clear is that many of the visa agencies are geared up for your typical holiday visa only, when it comes to anything out of the ordinary, like a motorcycle trip for example, they really haven’t got a clue what they are talking about.

So after being being told many things including it’s not possible to ride a motorcycle in Russia, I have finally found a visa agency who not only knows what they are talking about but have arranged visas for motorcycle adventure trips many times before.

So, without further ado let me introduce you to Timo Taal at the Almont Travel Company in London.

Speaking to Timo on the phone he is an extremely knowledgable gent when it comes to visas. He took me through the entire process for the Russian visa explaining that a multiple entry business visa is what I need and that he has arranged them many a time for motorcyclists in the past without issue. He also advised me on the Mongolian visas and the best place to get it whilst enroute.

Unlike all the other visa people I spoke to, Timo really does know his stuff so, if you are wanting to get a visa for a motorcycle trip through Russia or anywhere else talk to him first.

His contact details are:

Mr. Timo Taal
Operations Manager
Almont Group
6 Snow Hill
London
EC1A 2AY
+44 (0)203 981 3000
http://almontvisas.co.uk/index.php

Be warned, the Russian visa doesn’t come cheaply!
Total cost will be almost UK£511.00, one of the most expensive visas in the world apparently!

A big thanks to Alex Nikonov of Motorcycle Tours In Russia for passing Timo’s contact information on to me.

I look forward to meeting you in Moscow Alex!

More on suspension …

I came across this video on Youtube showing some chaps fitting a replacement spring on a CRF250 Rally. I’ve no idea where the spring can be purchased from or if it was a custom one off manufacture.

The good thing about the video is that it shows how to take the OEM shock apart to fit the new spring.

Once the spring is fitted it appears that the sag is almost non-existent and the rear of the bike is much taller even with rider aboard. There’s very little info in the video description and many have asked for more info but nothing seems to be forth coming.

Suspension!

Ever since I purchased the CRF250 Rally for the trip I’ve been very aware that the OEM suspension really isn’t up to the job. The standard suspension is suited to a younger, lighter rider who isn’t interested in doing some serious off-roading and just wants to ride the bike around the streets with his/her mates, needless to say this isn’t why I bought the bike.

So where do I go from here?

It’s a cheap bike and so I don’t want to spend a fortune on expensive suspension options. I’ve spent a fair amount already adding the rack, soft panniers and reserve fuel tank so the bike currently owes me somewhere around £5900.00 and so spending another £1000 on suspension isn’t an option. So what options do I have?

Ohlins Suspension option for the CRF250 Rally

Ohlins sell a complete kit for the CRF250 range of bikes and sure, it’s going to be an excellent choice but, at almost £1200.00 it’s a very expensive option. To put it into perspective, £1200 worth of fuel (at U.K. prices) will take me around 11,000 miles on the CRF250 Rally which is nearly half the trip!

So what cheaper options are there?

YSS Rear shock absorber for the CRF250 Rally

YSS make a replacement rear shock for the Rally that is reasonably priced at around the £330.00. It gets mostly good reviews and seems to be the choice of many CRF250 riders but, they don’t make any options for the front forks so this is a rear option only.

The British brand Hagon also sell a rear shock option for the CRF250 Rally with a price tag of around £280.00 which makes it the cheapest option for the rear so far but, once again no option for the front suspension.

Another route that many CRF riders seem to be taking is the HyperPro rear and front spring kits for the Rally.

This HyperPro option uses the standard rear shock but provides a replacement heavier duty spring that has to be fitted by the owner. At £84.00 this is by far the cheapest rear option so far. I’ve had conversations with a couple of people who have gone down this route and they have both said they were suitably impressed with the upgrade. This replacement rear spring option reduced the natural sag of the bike considerably and also stopped it from bottoming out when being ridden off-road.

The front spring replacement kit is actually just a single spring not dual spring as shown in the stock photo above however, once again people are telling me it’s a worthy upgrade and at £119.95 it’s not expensive either.

Fortunately I have a really good workshop setup so stripping the rear shock down and fitting the replacement spring isn’t a problem. Replacing the front spring and oil is easy too so, for a little over £200.00 I can upgrade both the front and rear suspension to a point where hopefully it will no longer bottom out when loaded and being ridden on the trails.

So far this is the cheapest option I have found and I doubt I will find anything better unless one of the manufacturers decides to sponsor me, something I doubt will happen!

Biking Jeans

I’ve been meaning to write about my new biking jeans for some time but before I knew it, summer has gone and I’d still not put anything on the blog!

I’ve been wearing these jeans a fair bit over the summer months and have found them to be super comfy regardless of which bike I’ve been on.

I wanted a pair that obviously had some Kevlar stitched in to protect against a slide along tarmac and knee/hip protection was an added bonus. I’ve tried on a few pairs of biking jeans and found many to be tight and not have much give in them, making it uncomfortable when riding.

The particular pair of jeans I’ve ended up with were unique in that they had flexible panels stitched in that allowed them to give in certain areas, making them more comfortable.

Stretch Panels stitched into the legs of the jeans

Having the stretch panels in the jeans meant that when sitting down on the bike the legs aren’t pulled tight by the action of the padded knees being flexed round the curve of the knee. This made the jeans very comfortable for all day riding.

The jeans are made of quite thick material and aren’t light but they do protect quite well against the wind when riding. I was also surprised how well they handled very light showers not letting any water through to my legs.

Nicely stitched together!

The jeans are nicely put together with strong stitching throughout and don’t look too different from a normal pair of Wrangler/Levi jeans apart from the stretch panels. I didn’t find them too warm on the odd hot summer day either which was a plus as there’s nothing worse than riding in sweaty trousers!

Overall, I’m really pleased with the biking jeans and have enjoyed wearing them over the summer on both my Versys 1000 and my little CRF250 Rally, even when riding some gentle dirt tracks in the sun.

More info including the price on the Inpreda website:

https://inpreda.com/collections/denim/products/motorcycle-protected-denim-jean-trousers-with-knee-and-hip-protectors-included-1

Fitting 2in Bar Risers and replacement Renthal Handle Bars with heated grips

After my first venture off-road on the CRF250 Rally the one thing I decided I needed to improve for the trip was handle bar comfort. Ideally I need the bars lifting a couple of inches or so. Being short in the arm I found the bars were a stretch especially when standing on the rough stuff.

After much thought I ordered some bar risers from Amazon, being cheap I correctly assumed they’d be from China and wasn’t sure what the quality would be like. After a few weeks they arrived and much to my surprise the quality was actually extremely good.

Whilst I was waiting for the risers to arrive I ordered a pair of Renthal handle bars from my favourite motorcycle shop, Orwell Motorcycles in Ipswich. The guys at Orwell Motorcycles really are good, James, Dan, Dave and the rest of the parts team are happy to do whatever research necessary to get me exactly what we want.

I wanted a pair of Renthal Aluminium bars that were as close to the dimensions of the original bars as possible and in no time at all James took the measurements of the existing bars and was happily trawling through the Renthal catalogue looking for the closest match possible. 20mins later the new bars were ordered and would be in later the same week.

Original Bars and the replacement Renthal Bars

The bar risers are designed to work with the standard 22mm bar or the larger 28mm bar. Since I’ve gone with the 22mm Renthal bar I’ll be fitting the risers with the supplied 6mm inserts in place.

Getting the bike stripped down ready to replace the bars and add the risers is more involved than you’d first think. It’s important to take photos of the controls on the original bars so that when you come to drill the holes in the new bars for the switch gear to mount to you know you’ve got them in the right place!

It’s important to make a note of the connections on the clutch and brake lever and also make a note of the angle at which the throttle cables exit the switch housing.

Once the switch gear, levers and original handle bars are removed it’s good to loose fit the new risers and bars to get an idea of how things are going to fit and look. The thing I really like about these particular risers is that they not only allow you to raise the bars but also tilt forward and backwards, this allows you to adjust the position of the bars perfectly.

Since I decided to fit some Oxford Heated grips to the bike this meant that I’d need to make some modifications to the bars and the throttle mechanism to accommodate the new grips. If you’re not fitting heated grips then you can ignore this part completely.

The standard throttle mechanism has a ridged grip tube, the problem with this is that it makes it too big a diameter to fit into the hard inner tube of the heated grips and so all the ridges need to be very gently sanded off with a very fine sanding wheel on a disc cutter tool.

On the left is the throttle grip tube once the original hand grip was removed and on the right the gently sanded down throttle grip tube ready for the Oxford Heated grip to go on.

Now that the ridges have been sanded off I refitted the right hand switch gear drilling the hole in the bar at pretty much the same place as on the original bar so that all the switches are in the same position.

It takes a bit of time to sand down the ridges to get the throttle grip tube really smooth for the replacement hand grip to slide on an off without getting stuck but it’s worth the effort. Don’t worry if the new grip is a little loose as it’s going to be super glued into place at final fit. Keep in mind that the throttle tube material isn’t particularly thick so make sure you don’t go mad with the sanding!

The left side of the Renthal handle bars has a knurled effect which has the side effect of making the bar slightly larger in diameter which stops the Oxford Heated grip from fitting. This is a real pain as it means that the bar will need gently sanding down until it’s exactly 22mm is diameter. This takes quite a bit longer than sanding the throttle tube.

I actually found it much easier to remove the bars again and sand the bar end down. This allowed me to work from the end inwards, trying the new hand grip for fit as I went. Go careful not to sand too much off.

Once the grip fits snugly remount the bars and fit the left switch gear and hand grip.

The mount for the Oxford controls comes with a bend in it, I had to straighten this out gently on an anvil and use a large wooden mallet to gently straighten the bracket without cracking it.

You will also need to do some work on re-routing the cables and brake line so that they reach the new bar height. There is actually a lot of slack on all the lines however, this is taken up by a tidying bracket that is mounted on the front of the top yoke. Removing this bracket and moving the cables around gives sufficient extra length that it’s not necessary to replace any of the cables or brake line, the standard are all long enough with a little sorting out.

The power for the grips needs to come directly from the battery as it needs a strong 5A feed. On the CRF250 Rally under the left front plastic panel there is a 10A auxiliary electrical feed however, we’re using this to power our phones, GPS and camera and so adding the heated grips as well would take the power feed almost to the limit when everything is on so another good reason to connect the heated grips directly to the battery.

Access to the battery isn’t straight forward on the CRF250 series of bikes as it’s not under the seat. Since we’ve also got luggage racks fitted it’s even more hassle getting access as the left side of the pannier frame needs to be removed too.

Getting access to the battery on the CRF250 Rally isn’t quick.

Once done and all back together the bike looks great. I also took the opportunity to fit a pair of Zeta XC hand guards to protect the levers and my fingers when off-road.

The small Givi tank bag fits nicely on the little tank of the CRF250 and is perfect for storing my Canon EOS 1300D DSLR camera so that I can stop, grab it and take pictures as we travel without having to get off the bike and open the panniers or a bag to get it.

I had a ride out yesterday with the new setup and it was great! It’s actually much more comfortable in the seated position now as the bars are just that bit higher and standing is a lot better as I’m not so bent over, it’a amazing the difference that 2in can make!

Fitting auxiliary fuel tank to the CRF250 Rally

The standard Honda CRF250 Rally has a 10.2L tank which gives a range in the region of 200 miles, depending how you ride. For my trip I need to be able to cover 300 miles without needing to refuel and so I need to carry at least another 5L of fuel.

Fortunately there are a number of solutions to this problem, some more expensive than others.

I investigated replacing the tank with a larger unit to give me the extra capacity however, the cost was prohibitive.

After much searching I settled on an inexpensive solution available on Amazon. A simple 5L mountable fuel tank that is a copy of the extremely expensive Rotopax system.

The tank itself is pretty solid, in fact it’s strong enough to stand on. The two U bolts that it comes with don’t really lend themselves to mounting on a flat plate and so I replaced these with ordinary bolts with nylock nuts.

Using electrical tape to hold the mount into the centre of the rack plate I used a centre punch to mark the spot for each hole to be drilled. Using a good quality drill bit I drilled the four mounting holes in the aluminium plate and mounted the tank bracket using four short bolts with washers and nylock nuts. Once tight, I mounted the rack plate on the bike and fitted the tank.

As you can see in the photos it’s a nice addition to the bike and isn’t too big or intrusive. Importantly it leaves plenty of room for my dry bag to sit across the back of the seat to carry the camping gear.

Total cost of this little project was £25.08 and about 40mins of my time.

Next project is new handle bars and bar risers, stay tuned!

Fitting the Tusk Pannier Frame to the CRF 250 Rally

The fitting of the Tusk pannier frame got off to a bit of a bad start.

When it arrived from the USA the box was a dreadful mess and it was obvious that bits were going to be missing!

Not quite what I had in mind!

So after carefully unpacking it I found that the frame itself was actually all still there, a huge plus! The same couldn’t be said for the fixings though.

I knew straight away that I was going to have to contact the seller in the USA and get some replacement fixings sent. Not wanting to be perturbed I got on with the mounting of the frame to the bike to see how it matched up.

Initial lineup looked good and with the use of some spare bolts and fixings I had in the workshop I started to get the frame onto the bike.

Generally the frame itself is very well put together and pretty solid however, some of the holes for fixing it to the bike and for attaching the rear rack weren’t in the right places and so some extra drilling and fiddling was required to get the frame to fit the bike with ease and without stressing all the components to make it line up.

Hole alignment was not the best!

Another issue was with the spacers that fit either side of the seat, as supplied they were some 4mm to 6mm too long which meant if they were persuaded to fit the seat would no longer fit. This resulted in taking it apart again and cutting and refinishing the spacers to get the frame to fit such that the seat would also fit at the same time. This alone took most of one evening to achieve to ensure I didn’t cut too much off the spacers.

It’s clear that some of the fixings are off the shelf items and not specifically manufactured for the frame. Fortunately I’ve got a fairly well equipped workshop and this kind of thing is fairly easy to do but for someone who doesn’t have the same facilities this is going to be an issue.

It’s also interesting to note that the two spacers end up being different lengths to fit, something I need to remember the next time I want to take the seat off.

After much time was spent re-drilling holes and cutting down spacers I finally got the frame to mount with ease and without everything being stressed to line up. This means that should I have the need to remove the frame in the future it should come off easily and more importantly, go back on easily.

It’s a nice looking bit of kit and I hope it proves to be as good as it looks as it wasn’t cheap. Total cost including shipping and import taxes took the price to a whopping £291.25 UK Pounds.

I’ve now ordered the Lomo soft panniers to go onto the frame and so will put together some information about how they look, fit and feel once they arrive.

Time to get ready for adventure!

The bike has now had its first service, yes 600 miles have already gone, it’s not been much fun as February in Suffolk is cold and icy but hey, we’re there!

So this afternoon I rolled my CRF250 Rally into my workshop and set to.

First thing to fit a crash bar and skid plate combo from GP Kompozit in Istanbul, Turkey. Really well priced and the only bars and skid plate combo available in Europe.

They arrived extremely well packed in a larger box than I was expecting but I was really pleased to see they’d been packed to survive anything the couriers could throw at them.

The bars are really well put together and are much more substantial than I imagined. Welds are nicely tidied and the paint is good but chips if not careful.

Fitting the bars was fun, I had to remove the front plastics to be able to get in to tighten the clamps at the front and also remove the rear bottom engine mount bolt as a longer one is supplied so that the rear of the bars mount at the same point.

Getting the front plastics back on actually took longer than the fitting the crash bars, getting it all lined up, plastic pegs in their slots and the screws back into their threads needed 3 arms and four hands!

Now that I’ve got a solid aluminium plate under the engine sump I can finally use my bike lift to support the bike without breaking the plastic underbelly.

The bars are really well secured to the bike and very solid. It’s also given me some great grab handles for dragging the bike out of the mud and sand and a place for me to fit my crash bar bags. Of course, primary function is to protect the engine which they do nicely!

What’s also nice is that you don’t have to remove any of the original plastics, the crash bars and skid plate fit around everything, overall a nice design.

I’m now just waiting for the upper crash bar kit to arrive and the bars will be complete.

Next thing is to fit the Tusk pannier rack …

1st Service is nigh …

Mike’s CRF250 Rally

Just in from another winter evening ride, now got 575 miles on the clock, another 25 miles needed before Saturday for the first service. This little bike goes incredibly well, you’d never think it’s only 250cc. Cruising at 70MPH is easy and it still returns 89MPG. Can’t wait until I can open it up a bit as it really starts to get exciting over 6000RPM.