KTM gave me a bike to do the trip. How this came about is still a mystery to me, but I basically just wrote them a letter, told them who I was, what I had done related with motorcycles and what I planned to do. Part of the justification was to increase KTM’s profile via my live updating of this website and getting the word out that KTM don’t just make racing motorcycles. While the KTM brand is pretty much universally recognised today, back in the year 2000 few people outside of racing had ever hear of them. I’d like to think that I played some part in the development of that recognition.
Before you start writing a letter to KTM, I like to point out that your chances are slim. Since then, they have famously knocked back Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, and no doubt plenty of others. I’m not aware of anyone else getting a deal like I did. I think KTM were confused themselves. While they gave me a bike, they didn’t really seem to know what to do with me. I don’t think any links were ever put on their website to mine, nor did they offer any help with my website itself or in any way seek to get any promotional benefits from giving me the bike. When I dropped into the factory on may way back from Africa on my way to Norway, they sat me down and asked me a few questions about how the bike went. I wasn’t forewarned about what the meeting was about, and in fact there wasn’t a single question they asked me about the bike that I hadn’t already written about on this website.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful. In fact I was very impressed with the people, the factory and of course the bike itself. It was pretty much bullet proof. Not bad for a single cylinder bike over that distance with poor fuel, pounding African roads, elevations >5000m (16000′), and to this day, I think of KTM as some of the very best bikes you can buy. I don’t own one now because I’m tied up with mortgages, swimming, football, footsal and music lessons, sleepovers, ferrying kids around and lots of other things a guy my age shouldn’t have to deal with any more 🙂 Still, I regard my second family as a blessing. Having children after your first one has grown up is pretty special and quite different to the first time. I certainly I appreciate them more now, but it is hard work.
Having just dissuaded you from writing to KTM, I plan to ask them again in about 2025, body and mind willing. I’ll be 70 then. I’d like to do Alaska to the tip of South America. They will have longer distance electric bikes by then, and maybe I’ll be wearing motorcycle gear with flexible solar panels sewn in. Seriously, I think it would be great to do a trip like that on an electric bike. Solar will never provide enough energy but it will help get from one power point to the next.
June 2000 and at last! After months of planning and organising, I’m finally on my way. Due to a combination of miss-information about obtaining the Carnet de Passage, delays with preparation of the bike, and a French air traffic controllers strike, my itinerary is almost a full month behind.
‘Sep (Joseph) preparing the bike in the KYM factory
All packed, ready to go. In front of the KTM factory. Waaaayyy too much gear. I ended up shedding half of it before I got to Africa.
I picked the bike up from the KTM factory in Mattighofen, Austria. (Trivia: KTM is an anagram of the founders and the location of the factory. K = Ernst Kronreif (founder), T = Hans Trunkenpolz (founder), M = Mattighofen, factory location) The bike is a 2000 model 640 Adventure R, upgraded to almost 2001 specs, so this trip will be something of a field test.
The changes over the 2000 model include:
New 48mm Up-Side-Down (USD) forks, which allows a 25mm lower seat height, yet the same wheel travel.
New 320mm front disk, up from 300mm.
Improved clutch friction plates
Two extra gussets on where the subframe connects to the frame.
And lastly, improved engine bearings, but as yet I don’t know which bearings.
My first ‘job’ on arrival was to run it in for 1000km, so we could do the first service before the real trip starts. I needed a GPS holder, and the best I have seen is from a company called Touratech, about 450klms away in southern Germany. This shop has to be seen to be believed, but more on them later. I set off at about 9am for Niedereschach, with just my GPS for navigation. I can download base level information like major highways and cities from my PC, but as anyone who has travelled in Europe will know, just about every piece of available land is criss-crossed with secondary roads, railway tracks, and peppered with small towns. Making good time on anything but the Autobahns is impossible. Although some of the way was on the autobahns, I didn’t mind the secondary roads because it gave the opportunity for speed change, which is good for the running-in process. 6 hours later, I finally arrived at the Touratech shop/factory.
They had the GPS holder I needed, and after a brief chat with Herbert Schwarz, one of the partners in the business, he noticed that I had a competitors panniers fitted. Herbert was keen to have his product on the bike, and frankly, so was I. A quick call to the KTM factory, and the technicians were changing the mounting frames in no time. As for the reasons for the change, see the equipment page. While they were at it, they modified my GPS to make it more vibration resistant. My model is susceptible to damage apparently. I would guess the mod would be hot-melt glue applied to some of the free-standing components such as capacitors. Any competent electronic repair facility should be able to make the same modification for you at minimal cost. The wait was entirely pleasurable, as this is a big boys toy shop on steroids. It is devoted entirely to off-road touring, with almost every imaginable bike related accessory.
EDIT: GPS’s back in 2000 were nothing like what we have now. They had an extremely low level of detail. Major highways only, and even then it was like looking down from 10000′. No navigation assistance, low res monochrome screen, big and heavy.
I was finally on my way back to Mattighofen at about 6pm. It is the summer solstice here, so the days are long. Sun up at about 4.30am, sundown at about 10.00pm. I was close to Munich by the time the sun finally disappeared. One thing I noticed was the closer I got to Munich, the faster the traffic. Some of the cars would have been doing over 200kph (125mph), and not just sports cars either, most were 5 series BMW’s and Audi’s.
In my 28 years of riding, I had never fallen off on a sealed road. Off-road, there probably wouldn’t be enough digits on a calculator. Notice I said ‘had’. I was riding through Muhldorf, a small town only about 1 hour from my destination, and looking for the sign to show the way, doing about 40kph. A car was coming up behind me, so I moved over to what I though was the shoulder of the road to let the car by. The shoulder turned out to be the footpath, with a 120mm step up. I was totally unaware of this step up, and before I knew what was happening, I was sailing through the air. The lighting was poor (I couldn’t adjust the headlights down enough), I had already done 12 hours riding and it was midnight, I was on an unfamiliar bike, I was on the ‘wrong’ side of the road etc, but the bottom line is I stuffed up! It should not have happened, and it was a lapse of concentration on my part. How embarrassing, first day on the bike, and I would have to take it back to KTM all knocked around!
I had the bike upright within seconds, but I couldn’t see the damage. I rode it to a petrol station nearby, and parked it under the lights for a close inspection. I was amazed. A pannier that I had fitted only hours before had a graze on the front bottom corner, and the inside of the pannier had deformed where it mounts to the pannier frame. There was also a scratch on the right hand-guard, but apart from that, absolutely not a scratch! Then I checked myself out. My brand-new, expensive, never worn before, top-of-the-line Dainese touring jacket that was waterproof, windproof, warm etc, now has an extra 6 ventilation holes from the shoulder down to the wrist. I was not impressed. I thought they should be able to take a small tumble. One of my boots looks like someone attacked it with an angle grinder too.
I finally made it back to my hotel at 1am, where I had the opportunity to check out the damage to the body. I felt fine, but I new I had a bit of skin missing. I had friction burns on my knee, hip, and elbow, but all minor. I was wearing a Dainese body protection suit, which has back, shoulder and elbow guards attached to an elasticised netting, as well as a kidney belt all built in. I elected to use this for protection, even though it is very bulky, because I have had jackets with the armour built in before, and they are useless. Every time I hit the dirt, the armour would roll away from the parts they were supposed to be protecting. With the Dainese suit, that can’t happen. It worked for me that night, because if I received a 3cm diameter friction burn through a well padded elbow guard, I may have done some real damage without it.
The KTM people had a bit of a laugh about the crash, and said that it was just the first of many on this trip. I hope not! They patched up the pannier like new, and we did the first service, but being a Friday, they finish work at midday. I didn’t realise this, and since I had a late night, I didn’t get to the factory until about 9:30am. We rushed, but still didn’t have everything ready until 3pm. A few of the KTM people stayed back to help me, which was very much appreciated.
After a few photos, I was finally on my way at about 3:30pm, destination Bled, Slovenia. 20Klm out of Mattighofen, I stopped to check the bike out. I had a feeling that in the rush to get ready, something was not right. I’m glad I did. There was oil all over the back of the motor, and dripping from the sump guard. I knew where it had to be coming from, the tappet covers. We checked the tappets as a part of the service. It was only 15Klms to Salzburg, so I decided to continue on to there to do the work, and the oil leak wasn’t bad enough to cause a low oil situation. As I thought, it was the rear tappet cover. In the service, the mechanic replaced the gasket, but a piece had folded in, leaving a corner with no gasket. These things happen when in a rush, and I had it fixed in no time. I also had a problem with the GPS. I had no power to it. That was my fault, and it took longer to fix than the gasket because I didn’t have the right tools. I decided to stay in Salzburg the night in a camping ground, which was very pleasant. It was where I found another problem. The KTM only has a centre stand, which is almost mandatory when you have a lot of weight on the bike, but the stand only has very small feet. That is fine for the road or hard packed dirt, but everywhere else, it is a problem. When I put it on the stand, it started to fall on the off side, but I couldn’t hold it. Down it went, and with a full load, it was a bit of a handful to lift back up. We usually carried a thin metal plate for the side-stand on soft ground in Australia. I nee to find a solution because as I write this, both of the camping grounds I have been to so far had very soft ground.
Expect traffic jams in summer.
Hohenwerfen Castle, south-east of Salzburg. Just one of many but for a small town country boy from Australia where Western civilisation is less than 250 years old, I find sites like these amazing.
This is all I will be writing about for Austria. You could easily spend weeks touring about here. It is a beautiful country, easy to get around, and English is widely spoken. The roads are excellent, and the countryside is breath-taking in places. Riding along the freeways, from the frequent bridges you often see picturesque valleys below, with small towns dominated by churches with high spires, and the odd castle on a nearby hill. I would have loved to pull over and take photos, but stopping on bridges is both illegal and probably not the safest thing to do.