Taming the Hooligan!

Yesterday I ventured down the rabbit hole on my quest to find the elusive unicorn that so many of us overlanders are looking for. I know I’m very unlikely to find a unicorn in a rabbit hole but, right now that’s what it feels like.

I’ve come to accept that whatever I find it will be a compromise. It’s either going to be dirt focused and not so good on the road or road focused and not so good on the dirt. Either way it has to be a compromise that I’m happy with, one that I can accept and one that won’t constantly bug me during my trip to Mongolia and general riding at home.

So, as I’ve already written here somewhere, there are a number of bikes on the list, namely the Husqvarna 701LR, KTM 690 Enduro R, KTM 790 Adventure S/R and the Yamaha Tenere 700. These can be grouped into two groups, dirt focused and road focused. You can work out for yourself which fall into which group.

Today I had the opportunity to test ride the KTM 790 Adventure S, not the model I am actually interested in but, the only one available for test ride, more than good enough to give me an idea of what the bike is like and one that falls into the road focused group.

KTM 790 Adventure S

Throwing a leg over the the KTM and planting my pert cheeks on the seat I was immediately made aware how hard the seat is, it’s solid, there’s no give in it whatsoever, it’s like planting your posterior onto a plank of wood.

When you buy a new car it comes with comfy seats, not once in my life have I bought a new car and immediately had to go out and buy new comfy seats so, why is it that new bikes today mostly come with seats that are so uncomfortable you immediately have to dash out and buy a new seat to make your new steed comfortable? A bike costing over £10,000.00 should come with a comfy seat, after all it’s sold as a long distance touring capable bike so why doesn’t it come with a comfy seat?

This annoys me no end as you can probably tell.

Back in the old days the seats on nearly all bikes on the market were super comfy, even luxurious compared to today’s standards. It’s time for manufacturers to stop expecting people to spend another £400 on a comfy seat and provide them as standard.

On a positive note, one good thing is that I can get both feet on the ground on the 790 Adventure S, a rarity for me these days on adventure bikes.

Initial shock over I turned the key and pressed the starter button, this is where shock number two hit me. The engine sounds like a sack of spanners when cold. The top end is so rattly anyone would think the valve clearances needed some serious adjustment. I’d already been warned that mechanically KTMs were noisy but, I never expected it to be so bad. Perhaps it was because it needed a service, which I was constantly reminded about on the dash.

Service!

Heading out onto the road I settled in and made my way to a nice little route I like to use when test riding new bikes. It’s a mix of dual carriageway, country back lane and single carriage way A roads. A good mix of surfaces and speeds.

Heading out of town I immediately noticed how twitchy the throttle is in street mode. For every lump or bump in the road that I hit the speed would increase or decrease due to the slightest throttle movement. Trying to hold the bike at 30mph through the town was almost impossible as the bike would constantly surge up and down. The fuelling at slow speed isn’t the best, mixed with the twitchy throttle it becomes a handful at anything below 3500RPM.

Putting the bike into rain mode removes much of the twitchy feeling and smooths out the whole throttle management considerably, it’s still not perfect by a long way but, it’s considerably better than street mode.

Progressing out onto the dual carriageway and giving it the beans to get up to speed it immediately becomes obvious that the power delivery is brutal, its not refined in the slightest, the power comes in hard and it gets bonkers very quickly, so you’d better be prepared.

Powering on and once over the 4000RPM the engine smooths out nicely and the noise reduces considerably however, don’t get fooled into a false sense of security because at 6500RPM the vibrations come back with a vengeance and the whole bike is consumed by high amplitude vibrations that go right through your body.

From the foot pegs through to the seat, tank, handlebars and just about every other part of the chassis, massive vibrations come in and continue way up into the rev range. I initially found it really disconcerting and couldn’t believe how vibrant the engine was. Shock number 3 had arrived.

Pulled over by the Orwell Bridge to gather my thoughts

Determined not to be deterred I pressed on and headed off the dual carriage way onto the small B roads. Once in the twisties and keeping the revs in the smooth zone I began to appreciate how good the suspension and tyres are on this bike. The handling has no right to be as good as it is. With the huge 21in front wheel it shouldn’t turn in anywhere near as well as it does. The steering damper helps to smooth out the steering transitions from side to side whilst the clever lean sensitive traction control and ABS makes sure the rear end doesn’t get too out of shape. It really is a joy in the twisties and grabbing handfuls of throttle coming out of tight turns in low gears will put a smile on anyones face.

The bike feels well planted even on poor tarmac surfaces and gives the rider plenty of confidence. Feedback is good too, considering the mass of electronics on this bike you don’t feel detached at all. Being progressive through the bends even on inverse cambers you know when you are getting close to the limit but, the well mannered handling keeps surprises at bay.

With the power delivery being so brutal it is far too easy to make the frontend lose contact with the road surface but, the great thing is that at no time does the bike feel like it’s getting out of hand. With all the clever electronics it is extremely well mannered on the road and you can get away with a lot more than you should be able to.

After a good few miles it becomes obvious that the switchgear feels cheap compared to other makes of bike that I’ve owned. The indicator button doesn’t have a positive feel to it at all and the menu selection buttons are the small movement PCB type. With thick gloves on you’d be hard pushed to know if you’d pressed the button or not as there isn’t really any positive feedback. On the other hand the menu system is simple and intuitive which is great as some manufacturers have ridiculously complex menu systems making them almost impossible to use on the move, fortunately the KTM isn’t in this group.

On the bike as it comes out the factory there are 3 riding modes available, Street, Rain and Off-Road. These clearly are labelled wrong and should be “Hooligan”, “Semi sensible” and “Take your life in your own hands”. More modes can be added by the dealer by plugging in a computer and downloading the data to the ECU but, you’ll have to part with a fair amount cash to add them.

The 3 standard riding modes available for free!

The instrument display is clear and easy to use whilst riding but, the fuel gauge only showing the level from half full onwards seems a little bonkers especially as it goes down quicker for the last half than it does on the first half. Once you get used to the bike it’s best to zero the trip meter at every fill up and then watch the miles rather than rely on the fuel gauge.

The brakes are stunningly good, they’re in the super bike class for sure. They’ll bring you to a complete stop from just about any speed in an incredibly short distance. The ABS isn’t intrusive either and it works incredibly well. On the standard bike there isn’t any real adjustment available for the traction control/ABS system apart from preselected changes depending which ride mode you select. If you want to have greater control over the TC/ABS system then you need to purchase the “Rally Pack” at a cost of £174.00.

Although the brakes are great on the road I personally think they’re too much for off-road riding, they lack the finesse and feel you’d normally find on more dirt oriented bikes. This of course is one of the compromises you have to make when choosing your bike for long distance overland adventures, there is no unicorn!

Another thing that is missing is cruise control, since it’s a ride by wire throttle you’d expect it to be available on the standard bike but, once again it’ll cost you!
For a mere £217.00 you can have it “enabled” via a computer link to the ECU. KTM certainly make the most out of squeezing every penny out of you to enable the “extras” on this bike.

The gear box is sweet, the shifter is light and direct and not once did I hit a false neutral, it really is a peach. I did find myself having to shift up and down the gears quite a lot to keep the engine in it’s sweet spot and you definitely don’t want to let the engine lug as it all gets rather clunky and nasty, but shifting up and down all the time is great fun and it keeps the ride alive.

The gearing is quite high and very road oriented, you’d probably want to change the sprockets for off-roading unless you’re looking to absolutely send it all the time.

You can also have the quick shifter enabled for a mere £349.00 if that tickles your fancy.

So the question that needs answering is “Is this my bike of choice?”

Well the hooligan in me is screaming “YES!” and wants all the extras to make it even more fun. At a base price of £9799.00 OTR and about £1000.00 more to “enable” the extras it’s a lot of bike for the money however, the more sensible and wise old man in me is saying there are too many things about the bike that I don’t like and it would end up annoying me, especially on a long trip so, at the moment it’s firmly on the back burner.

In summary, the KTM 790 Adventure S is a great road bike if you are willing to put up with the massive vibrations that will plague you every time you want to wind it on. You also have to be willing to absolutely send it every time you ride the bike and don’t mind the clatter of the engine.

Handling is superb as are the brakes but, you will want to do something about the comfort if you’re planning on riding the bike for any amount of time.

Only time will tell if the switch gear will last the course or not and it’s probably worth spraying a little WD40 behind the buttons every now and then to stop the PCB contacts corroding.

The other thing to keep in mind about this bike is that it will raise the risk of you loosing your licence considerably as it needs to be ridden hard to get the best from it, it really is ready to race!

That bitter sweet moment …

Today was the day that Sean came to collect my CRF250 Rally that he purchased ready for his trip to Mongolia. It was a bitter sweet moment for me, sad to see her go but, excited about what I would get to replace her.

Sean, moments before he headed off to Wales

The CRF250 Rally has been a fun little bike to own, we’ve spent many hours and over 5000 miles tootling around together. It’s also been a great little project upgrading the suspension, fitting the crash bars, skid plate and pannier frame along with many other little extras that turned the little bike into a true adventure machine. There’s a great CRF community online and it’s been fun sharing ideas with them all.

I will miss it for sure, although I won’t miss the bum killing seat!

Sean is a really nice guy, if you ever have the opportunity to meet up with him then do it, you won’t regret it. He’s a true biker gent and I hope we cross paths during our adventures to Mongolia and back. It would be great to ride some miles with him.

“So, what now?” I hear you say, well I’m not too sure … I have some thoughts on bikes that may meet my requirements and an even bigger list of bikes that won’t. Unfortunately there is no unicorn bike out there today, there are lots of bikes in the adventure sector but, none come close to the sub 140kg, 70hp unicorn that we’re all hunting for.

What next?

With both my Honda CRF250 Rally and Kawasaki Versys 1000 GT now sold it’s time to seriously start looking at a new adventure bike for the trip and general riding here in the U.K.

Currently on the list are the following:

Yamaha Tenere 700 Rally
KTM 790 Adventure R
KTM 690 Enduro R
Husqvarna 701LR

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of KTM or Husqvarna but, they have to be in the running as they currently have some impressive machines in the adventure market.

The Husqvarna 701 range are actually KTM 690’s rebadged and the only real advantage of the 701LR is the long range fuel capability. Whether this is enough to swing my brand choice remains to be seen

The Yamaha Tenere 700 Rally is currently my favourite. Having owned and really enjoyed a Tenere 660 I know the Yamaha will be super reliable and well put together.

Price wise the KTM 690 Enduro R is probably the cheapest with the Husqvarna and Tenere 700 coming in a close second and the KTM 790 Adventure R being the most expensive.

So it’s now time to start researching, riding and seeing which I prefer!

More soon …

For Sale – 2016 Kawasaki Versys 1000 GT

Bike Now Sold.

I purchased the Kawasaki Versys 1000 GT new in June 2016 from Orwell Motorcycles in Ipswich who are my local Kawasaki dealer. It’s a great bike and I really love riding it but, it’s time to sell it and try something new!

Kawasaki Versys 1000 GT in green

I had the MRA tall screen, Oxford Heated grips and the SW Motech GPS/Phone mount plate fitted by the dealer at purchase time. These simple additions really improve the comfort with the screen throwing the wind up way over my head leaving me in a calm, buffet free bubble and the heated grips keeping my hands warm during those colder months we get here in the U.K.

Please note, the Garmin Zumo GPS mount is NOT included in the sale and will be removed prior to sale as I’ll be keeping the GPS unit for my next bike.

The MRA screen makes a huge difference to comfort especially at speed

The bike has done 11300 miles from new and has been serviced by Orwell Motorcycles with all stamps in the book and on the service key that is included in the sale. The bike is sold with all original paperwork and keys.

The bike comes complete with all the GT extras namely, matching top box and side panniers, spot lamps, gear indicator, 12v socket and fairing protection bobbins on each side as shown in the photos. 

Full service history and only 11300 miles from new

The bike has the Kawasaki KTRC traction control and ABS system with the ability to select power and traction control levels on the fly.

Included in the sale is the Tutoro automatic chain oiler and Optimate Battery charger both of which were fitted by me from new. With the Tutoro oiler fitted I’ve only had to adjust the chain twice over the 11300 miles, it really does make a difference.

New Continental Road Attack 3 tyres were fitted by Orwell Motorcycles just a few hundred miles ago.

There are two tiny marks on the green section of the left hand pannier where I dropped it whilst removing it from the bike, other than this there are no marks on the bike at all.

I’m a mature rider of 40 years and have fettled the bike much more than I have ridden it!
Having multiple bikes none of them have high mileage but all of them are serviced by the main dealer even if they haven’t reached the necessary mileage.

Service details are:

  • 01/06/16 PDI 
  • 22/06/16 1st service, 721 miles
  • 10/07/17 2nd service, 4181 miles
  • 01/09/18 3rd service, 7248 miles 
  • 19/12/19 4th service, 10593 miles

All done by Orwell Motorcycles, registered Kawasaki dealer, where bike was purchased from. In terms of what has been done at each service: 

  • New spark plugs at 7248 miles
  • Oil and filter change at each service
  • Brake fluid change at 7248
  • New tyres fitted few hundred miles ago.

Price £6499.00 OVNO

Payment of cleared funds only via bank transfer before collection please.

First to view will buy.

No Test Rides.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me direct on 0752 6116110 or via email

Thanks for looking!

For Sale – CRF250 Rally with many extras!

Bike now Sold.

For Sale: 2019 Honda CRF250 Rally with many extras.

Purchased new in Jan 2019 for my adventure to Mongolia and back however, due to the pandemic this trip is now cancelled for the forseeable future and so I have decided to sell the bike and will purchase another new bike once travel to Central Asia is possible again

The bike has been well maintained and serviced by the local Honda dealer and had oil and filter changes done by me in between regular services.

The bike has been kitted out for the ride to Mongolia and has had the following extras fitted:

Gecko heavy duty clutch £35
Tutoro auto chain oiler £100
DID 520 VX3 chain £55
JTSprockets £25
Tusk Pannier Rack £292
Oxford heated grips £100
Renthal bars £35
Bar risers £25
Hagon rear shock £300
HyperPro front suspension £120
Continental TKC80 tyres £174
GP-Kompozit Crashbars and skid plate £135
Zeta XC handguards £52
Sidestand foot £5
Rotopax style 5L fuel can £22
Optimate battery charger £56

The sale also includes the following Parts: £165
4 x Oil filters + Gaskets
Front/rear brake pad sets
1 x air filter 
Front & Rear wheel bearing sets
Head bearing set
2 sparks plugs
Front sprocket
Inner tubes

Total cost of extras £1696

Original OEM IRC tyres free!

The bike has now done 5369 miles mainly on road with the bike having been taken on Peddars Way in Norfolk and a week riding soft trails in the Pyrenees. I’m a mature experienced off-road rider and so the bike hasn’t been abused.

The bike has just had an oil and filter change and the next official service isn’t for another 6000 miles.

The bike is in excellent running order but does have a little wear to one of the transfers on the left side where my boot has rubbed, see photos.

The Tusk rack that is fitted to the bike was imported from the USA and fitted by me in my extensive workshop.

Viewing highly recommended as first to see will buy.

£5300 OVNO 

Payment of cleared funds only via bank transfer before collection.
No test rides.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me direct on 0752 6116110 (08:30 – 22:00hrs) or at mike@trailsoftheunexpected.co.uk

Getting back in the saddle post COVID19

Somewhere in the wilds of Suffolk

Now that the UK is starting to relax the COVID19 restrictions it’s been possible to get out on the bike more. Not being able to leave the country and head into Europe has meant that local rides are the only thing available at the moment, especially with Wales and Scotland keeping their lockdown in place and not allowing the English to visit.

The village of Walpole

I’ve been riding on my own on the little Honda CRF2510 Rally and really enjoying it. It’s the perfect bike for riding around the tiny B roads in Suffolk and Norfolk enjoying the countryside. Only problem has been not being able to get a drink very often as there is nowhere open for food or drink.

Not a soul for miles around

I’ve been using the Calimoto app to generate loop rides starting and ending at home. It really is superb for this and created some really interesting rides. The photo above is from an 80 mile loop ride automagically generated by Calimoto.

Being just just 15mins from the coast is handy to pickup the tiny coast roads and head north up through Suffolk and into Norfolk taking in Orford, Aldeburgh, Thorpeness and Sizewell to mention few eventually arriving at Walcott.

Phil and I on another of our coastal rides

I’ve also been stretching the legs of my Kawasaki Versys 1000 riding out with my good mate Phil who lives a couple of doors down from me. The weather has been superb and the riding has been great. The roads are getting a lot busier now which is a shame but to be expected. It’s been great to get out and about again for sure.

I’d really like to take the CRF250 Rally down to the Pyrenees this summer if at all possible and do the coast to coast route through the mountain trails. Whether this will be possible or not is still too hard to predict but we can but hope!

More soon …

Old Skool Tooling

I’m very fortunate in that I have a very well equipped workshop with some tools on the shelves that are almost as old as I am.

Some time back I bought a larger side stand foot for the CRF250 Rally however, when I came to fit it I found that it had been badly machined and wasn’t going to work in it’s OEM state. At the time I had a lot going on work wise and so it got put to one side for another day.

Today that day came!
In the first week of the CoronaVirus lock down here in the U.K. I’ve been going round doing lots of little jobs that I’ve been putting off for ages. Today it was the turn of the side stand foot.

When the foot originally arrived the fixing holes hadn’t been threaded properly and so the supplied screws didn’t fit at all. I guess I shouldn’t of expected anything better as it was from China via eBay.

So, after much offering up and pontificating I decided to drill out the existing holes, rethread them for a larger more suitable bolt and get it fitted properly.

Tap and Die Set

One of the things that I have on the shelf is a tap and die set, not something that gets used a lot but, over the years it’s come in handy quite a few times.

I drilled the holes out to 4.2mm and needed a 5mm tap to thread the holes. Since the foot is made of alluminium threading the holes was fairly easy.

Before putting the thread in I checked to see what spare bolts I had. In the spare bolts jar I found 3 x M5 0.8 allen bolts, perfect for the job. I soon had the holes tapped and checked everything lined up.

CRF250 Rally Side Stand Foot

There’s a certain pleasure to be had from doing these simple but, enjoyable jobs using skills that a were learnt back in your teenage years. Adding a little thread lock to each bolt the foot was soon fitted and tested.

Checking Swing Arm Clearance

With the new suspension the bike sits much taller than it did on stock suspension which means that the bike now leans over quite a bit more when on the side stand. With the new foot added it makes the side stand slightly longer overall and thus stands the bike up a little.

Hopefully now it won’t sink too much in the sand and mud like it used too!

Once the lockdown is over, I’ll get the bike out and give it a proper test to see how it performs in the wet and slippery stuff.

Open Street Maps

Since I’m delayed going on my adventure due to the COVID-19 global pandemic I thought I’d use the time constructively to cover some of the things I’ve been doing during my preparation that I haven’t blogged about yet.

Whilst investigating GPS solutions for the trip it soon became obvious that Garmin don’t really cover the entire world when it comes to maps for their GPS devices, especially the Garmin Zumo 350LM that I have and use regularly on my bikes.

So I started to investigate the Open Source alternatives for mapping and soon discovered that Open Street Maps can be compiled into the correct format for the Garmin series of devices.

Having worked in IT all my professional life I’m am somewhat of a techie and have a good understanding of Open Source Software and how to apply it to everyday needs.

Open Street Map is an Open Source project that has been going for a number of years now. Originally started by Steve Coast in the UK in 2004, it was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and the predominance of proprietary map data in the UK and elsewhere.

Open Street Map User Interface

The Open Street Map website provides a fairly simple user interface to select and generate maps based on squares. For most travellers the easiest way to get the mapping information is to select the country from the drop down lists, enter your email address and then click the “Build my Map” button.

This will generate two emails, one to confirm that the request has been received and how long it is going to take to generate your map and then a second email detailing the link where the ZIP file containing the image files can be downloaded from.

This is the easy bit!

Once you’ve downloaded the ZIP file containing the .img image files you need to use a tool to convert them to Garmin GPS compatible format.

Since I’m an Apple MacBook and Ubuntu Linux user I will show how to generate the Garmin compatible files using Linux tools.

If you’re using a variety of the Windows Operating System please have a look here for the details on how to do this. It does appear to be much more complicated!

Using a Linux Terminal window unzip the ZIP file and list the contents as shown below.

Output from Linux Terminal

Once the files are unzipped you need to generate the gmapsupp.img file that Garmin GPS devices require to interpret the map data. This is easily generated using the mkgmap tool on the command line. Default installs of Linux don’t have this tool installed and so you will need to install it using the following command:

sudo apt-get install mkgmap

Once installed you are ready to proceed by issuing the following command:

mkgmap –gmapsupp ./*.img

mkgmap output during map generation

As you can see above, once the programme has run you will have the necessary gmapsupp.img file ready to go into the Garmin folder on your device SD card. Note that the folder must have an uppercase G for it to be recognised by the device.

Garmin Zumo 350LM screen showing Open Street Map Entry

Once the Open Street Map is on the SD card it will appear on the device under the “myMaps” menu item as shown above. The maps are always called OSM Street Map and not by the country name. It’s also worth nothing that you can only have one gmapsupp.img file at a time in the Garmin folder on the SD card as you cannot have two files with the same name.

If like me you are going on a trip and need to have many countries stored then the best thing to do is create a folder structure and keep each country gmapsupp.img file in a separate folder, then all you will need to do is copy the appropriate file into the Garmin folder for each country as you move around.

If don’t have the facility to generate these files yourself please contact me on social media and I’ll happily generate the files for you.