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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.
I took the unusual step to take the train down to London and visit the Adventure and Travel Show at Olympia.
I didn’t really know what to expect and so I went completely open minded.
The show was made up of many interesting little booths each selling their adventures or providing information. There were a number of different sized seminar rooms where well known individuals were giving talks on a wide variety of subjects.
I was particularly interested in the seminar by the the now famous Austin Vince and his wife Lois Pryce. Two intrepid adventure motorcyclists in their own rights.
There were a number of representatives at the show from various Embassies providing information on visas and travel arrangements. This was of particular interest as it is great to be able to ask questions directly to the people who really know what the rules are.
Kazakhstan was of particular interest to me as this is one of the countries on my route. I spent some time at the booth and eventually left with the contact details of one of the visa processing team at the Kazakhstan embassy in London.
Another booth of interest was the Fleet Street Clinic where the extremely well information nurses were able to advise us on what vaccinations we needed for each country.
It wasn’t long before I had a tick sheet detailing exactly what vaccinations I needed and detailed information why they were so necessary. Some of the nurses were also seasoned travellers so it was interesting to hear their experiences too.
The highlight of the show was of course the 2 hour seminar by Austin Vince and his wife Lois Pryce. Two extremely interesting people to listen to who are very experienced adventure motorcyclists in their own right.
Austin has ridden around the world taking the longest route possible and crossed the Sahara desert whilst Lois has travelled Alaska to the southern tip of south America and all the way down through Africa, both trips solo.
The two hour seminar soon went by with Austin and Lois sharing information on why they recommend using small capacity bikes, the type of luggage to use and why, clothing, food, routes, off road training and more.
It was a fun day meeting lots of people from so many different countries albeit a long day with a very early start. It’s certainly well worth anyone who is thinking of going on pretty much any kind of adventure around the world visiting the show as there is something there for everyone.
Booking seminars in advance is highly recommended as they sell out fast!
Today marked the first big step of my adventure.
After 3 months of research, watching videos, test rides, bike shows, conversations and disagreement, we finally collected the bikes that we both agreed were ideal for our trip.
To say we were like two young lads getting their first ever bike is an understatement. The excitement of getting a new bike always puts more than a smile on every biker’s face but for us it was more than that, it was about us taking the first big step into our adventure.
Out of the blue came a bike that caught our imagination the moment we sat on it. The feeling of the long legged suspension, the feather weight, the ruggedness of design, the ground clearance, comfort and simplicity of function was everything we had been looking for and yet it had never made our list for consideration. How had we missed such a pearl?
Honda have a long history of building trail and adventure bikes and with the launch of the new Africa Twin bringing such technology as DCT to the adventure bike market they have once again moved into one of the top spots in the sector.
Unfortunately as much as we both loved riding the Africa Twin, especially the DCT model, it wasn’t within our budget, weight limits or Mike’s short legs.
So we needed something smaller, lower and much lighter but just as functional and capable and that’s where the Honda CRF250 Rally comes in.
Weighing in at 157KG this bike is light, its peppy little 250cc single cylinder engine only makes 25hp but it’s ample, torquey from way down low in the rev range but eager to please. The 6 speed transmission is a peach, no false neutrals, lovely clutchless changes and a good spread of gear ratios, everything we need and to top it off Mike can touch the ground, with both feet … at the same time!
The bike comes with ABS as standard but the great thing is it can be turned off for off-road use with the press of a button, no hunting through menus, no selecting modes, no trying to find the right setting just a simple on/off button, just what us old boys love!
So after parting with our hard earned cash, the signing of documents and shaking of hands we were finally on the road. Initially it was a bit of a shock, the bikes were so light, turned in so easily and the knobbly tyres so strange compared to what we’re used to but we persevered and soon found ourselves on the coast at Aldeburgh.
Some 70 miles later the tyres had settled down and were much more confident on the wet salty roads, we’d both started to get to know the bikes and how they behaved, stopping frequently to chat with excitement in our voices.
This is the beginning and it is good!
A huge thanks to Tom, Mark, Steph and Millie at Lings Ipswich for putting up with us, we’re not the easiest of customers and we know we go on a bit but this has been a big thing for us and it had to be right.
Following our continued search for the ideal bike for our trip we decided to take the Kawasaki Versys 300X out for a test ride after having a look at one at our local dealer.
There are many reviews on this little bike on YouTube some of which claimed that it really does make an ideal lightweight adventure bike. Coming from the factory with spoked wheels (19in/17in), a good sized seat and panniers it certainly seems to have potential.
I went first whilst David followed on his Triumph 800. Throwing a leg over it and planting my pert cheeks on the seat the very first thing to strike me was how hard the seat was, it’s beyond firm and well and truly into the realms of hard to the point where I even wondered if they’d forgotten to put the padding in it. Initial shock over, the handle bars are exactly where my hands naturally fall and the foot pegs are a good distance down and back to be comfy.
Pressing the start button the little 300cc parallel twin bursts into life and purrs quietly out of the rather large exhaust can.
Dropping it into 1st gear we were off and before I knew it I was up into 3rd gear and already hunting for 4th. The first 3 gears are so short that you are looking for 4th gear by the time you reach 15mph, by 30mph I was into 6th gear and from then on it was rev, rev, rev!
The little twin cylinder engine revs incredibly freely, in fact the more you rev it the more excited it gets!
There is very little in the way of torque at the bottom end but once rolling it revs out all the way up to 13000RPM making 40hp. It’s not a huge amount of power but it’s enough to have a lot of fun.
The only problem we both had with the bike is the amount of buzzing through the handle bars and foot pegs that’s present when up in the high revs, it really is bad and after sometime makes your hands go numb, not something we want on a long trip. The suspension is also firm to hard which added to the hard seat makes for quite a hard ride.
The bike isn’t light either, coming in at 175kg and being tall it feels much bigger than it really is. The front brake isn’t bad but the rear doesn’t do much at all and so I found myself dropping gears and leaning on the front brake to bring the bike to a stop smartly.
Since there is no low down torque the engine really wouldn’t be suited to off-road adventures and lends itself purely to road use, which it does well however, the really surprising thing is that the most comfortable way to ride the Versys 300 is stood up! In the standing position the ergonomics really are very good with the bars and switch gear being perfectly placed as are the foot pegs. Such a shame the engine, gearing and suspension aren’t more adventure oriented.
Overall it is a fun ride, buzzy and sure footed it’s more like a sports bike than a serious adventure/touring bike and would suit a taller younger rider looking for some fun in the twisties.
For me it’s not the bike I want to take on a 20,000 mile trip and Dave’s overall response was pretty much the same.
Thanks to Orwell Motorcycles for letting us take the bike out for a few hours.
Welcome to the new blog site of Trails of the Unexpected.
This is where I will be blogging in almost realtime my “Once in a lifetime” motorcycle adventure trip.
Who I am, where I’m going, what routes I’ll be taking, what bike I will be riding, equipment and more will all be appearing on this site as soon as I can get the articles written.
I’ll be covering every aspect of the trip, from the initial ideas, planning, equipment, bike test rides, purchases and shake down trips, it’s all going to be here.
So if your an adventure bike enthusiast then add my site to your favourites and drop by regularly to see what I’m up to!