Firstly, it is quite obvious that this is an off-road oriented bike, yet most of the travelling I will be doing will be on sealed roads, so why this bike?
1. It is far easier to ride an off-road bike on the road than it is to ride a road bike off the road. Some of my travels will take me off road.
2. Stronger frame, wheels and suspension.
3. Cost. It is one of the cheaper bikes capable of doing the job. There are cheaper, but if you really look into it, maybe not. Take a Suzuki DR650 for example. An excellent bike, strong motor both in power and longevity, but weak on suspension and the usual rubbish Japanese handle bars and fittings. To bring it up to scratch, it needs fork springs, a whole new rear shock and spring, alloy bars, big tank, centre stand, lever guards, alloy sump guard, and you still don’t have a package as good as a standard KTM. Most Japanese dual-sport bikes don’t have a strong enough rear sub-frame to carry big loads over rough roads.
4. Fuel consumption. I expect distances of over 500km between fuel stops in a few places, and I have already proven that I can get over 550km to a tank on the KTM
Other bikes I considered:
The BMW R1100/1150GS is a beautiful bike, very comfortable, economical, strong wheels, low centre of gravity, and proven reliability. The down side is weight, cost and sensitive to poor fuel. I have seen people ride these in the sand, and I know which bike I would rather be on, the KTM. Until recently I owned a related bike, an R1100RS.
BMW 650. The old Aprilia built Funduro and the new BMW built 650 suffer from being overweight (over 40Kg’s more than the KTM). Seat height is OK. Fuel capacity is poor, though the power and economy is good, especially the new true BMW’s. To increase the fuel capacity is a very expensive option. Suspension is nothing special, even the ‘Dakar’ model is nowhere near the same class as the KTM. All but the Dakars’ have 19″ front wheels, which makes them even less dirt oriented.
The Honda Varadero is not a serious adventure bike in my opinion. I will probably cop some flak over this, as it seems Honda can do no wrong in some people’s eyes. I think it is an ugly, heavy, oversized, fuel hungry, poorly designed bike (for it’s supposed purpose), though I’m sure it is a great road bike. One decent rock or pothole is all it takes to destroy a cast wheel, which rules out the Honda instantly.
The Honda Africa Twin. Only available in Europe, and extremely popular there. Three of the guys I travelled through Asia with had these, and they did go well. They bikes look comfortable, but at the end of the day, the riders looked every bit as sore as me. They don’t have much ground clearance, but they do have a low seat. Power and economy was a little lower than the KTM. probably a good choice if there isn’t much off-road.
Honda XR600, Kawasaki KLX 650. Very much sport oriented, very light rear sub-frame, and in the case of the Honda, unlikely the gearbox or the motor would last. Until recently I owned a ’97 XR600.
Honda Dominator. Weak rear sub-frame, and a shock that self destructs regularly on corrugated roads. They have a similar looking motor to the XR600, but they are made in Italy, and seem to be more robust.
Honda XR650 water-cooled model. Still an unknown quantity, but like the DR650, you would have to spend a lot to get it up to touring standard. The aluminium frame would worry me, especially the rear sub-frame. I would be interested to find out how they cope with poor fuel, which is an issue in Northern Africa and Pakistan. Like the KTM, it is a very tall bike. The suspension is way too soft. Most Japanese bikes are set up for 56kg riders with no luggage. All I did on the KTM was increase the preload on the shock spring to carry me at 90Kg+ and about 50Kg of gear.
Suzuki DR650. Strong bike, but like all Japanese bikes, needs a lot of money to get it to touring specs. Like the XR600, XT600/660 and the Dominator, the Suzuki is oil/air cooled, which can be a plus or a minus depending on conditions. I prefer water-cooled bikes.
Yamaha Super Tenere 750. An old design now, and a real handful on anything but the smoothest dirt roads. Very thin frame that cracks on corrugated roads, and no power down low. I believe the 850 version is better. Similar weight to the BMW, and very fast, but the wrong type of power. I owned one until recently.
Yamaha XT600/660/Tenere. This model was probably one of the most successful models Yamaha ever built. Unfortunately, the design dates back to the late 70’s, and they don’t make them anymore. Most are getting too many years and too many miles on them to be considered a reliable bike. I must have seen at least a dozen of them on my trip, and almost every one had a serious mechanical problem.
Yamaha 600 Belgarda. The Italian made model. I have heard of too many problems with these bikes to consider them seriously. Getting an aftermarket tank is a big problem too.
The KTM ADVENTURE:
This was an interesting test to see if the bike could do 70,000 without any mechanical gremlins. I am happy to say that it survived with flying colours. I doubt any bike would have fared better, considering the conditions. It didn’t stop me once, for the entire trip.
Performance: This is a very potent motor, certainly more power than my XR600’s, or any other similar bike I have had. (KLR 650, Husqvarna 510TE). Despite the high state of tune, the bike handled poor fuel better than BMW’s. Servicing was relatively easy (I thought it was hard until I saw what the guys on the Africa twins had to go through). The motor didn’t give me any trouble at all. Not even the battery. It almost always started on the first press of the button, and starts easily if you have to kick which I only ever had to do once (I ran the battery flat once, charging my computer).
Comfort: One of the biggest criticisms of the KTM motor in the past is the vibration. My bike does have a counter-balance, but it is not a full shaft like on the Japanese bikes, it is just an idler gear. Therefore it does vibrate more than most other singles. I don’t know if the design has changed since the older KTM’s that people complained so much about, but I didn’t find the vibration too bad at all. It is not at all fatiguing like my Husqvarna was. I have done 14 hour days on the bike, and never had my throttle hand go to sleep on me, which it does after about half an hour on an inline 4 cylinder bike. Although inline fours have less vibration than a single, it is a high frequency vibration, and causes numbness in my throttle hand. That is one reason I used to ride a BMW boxer road bike. I can cruise all day long, and my hand doesn’t go to sleep. Even the seat is OK. I can’t say great, but it is better than my XR600, and I wasn’t too sore after 14 hours in the saddle. Because the bike is designed for the rider to be in the standing position when negotiating rough terrain, the seat has to be narrow. The fairing effectively deflects wind away from my body, but not the helmet, which is good. If it is very hot, I will sometimes stand on the pegs to get a blast of air on my chest. Perhaps the biggest problem is actually getting on the bike. It is very tall, and when I had the top box on, I had to kick my leg forward, over the seat, while balancing the bike with one hand. I have had a few near misses, where my foot didn’t clear the seat properly, or the bike started to roll away, but so far I haven’t dropped it. If the ground is level, I often climb on the bike while on the centre stand, and rock it off.
My wish list for make this a better bike is:
Lower seat height (of course this means compromising clearance).
Optional wider touring seat
Proper balance shaft to reduce vibration.
17″ rear wheel, only because the availability of big 18″ tyres is poor in all third world countries. Note that the BMW’s and most big Japanese bikes use 17″ tyres. 18″ is better, but how good are they if you can’t get them? I had to run Honda 125 road bike tyres for about 15,000km.
That isn’t too big a list, and I feel certain that any other bike’s list would be much bigger. None of these items was an impediment to the trip, just comfort and convenience.
Handling: I don’t know how to answer this one yet. I can go faster than almost any car on fast sweeping bends, but on low speed tight corners (with a lot of lean), the tires slide badly. They are Metzler Sahara 3 dual purpose tyres, and I have never had a bike move around so much before. It is very disconcerting, and I have had a few occasions where the back has stepped out badly, and the front once. I thought maybe it was the weight of my luggage, but even with no luggage, both tires let go unexpectedly around corners. I have mainly ridden with Pirelli and Dunlop tyres, and I have never experienced the trouble I am having now. Even full knobbies perform better on the road than these tyres. There is another possibility. Maybe European roads don’t have as much traction as Australian roads. Maybe the number of diesel vehicles causes a film of oil on the road. Certainly there are wheel ruts on some roads, that cause an off-camber situation occasionally, and they can be hard to see when the sun is overhead. I don’t know what it is, but I am not game to push the bike too hard until I am confident that it isn’t going to spit me off. I do tend to ride quite hard, with late hard braking, and I actually like to get the tyres drifting, but only when I want them to. I later switched to Michelin T66’s. I was familiar with these on other bikes, and I found them great on the road, OK on the dirt, and absolutely terrible in the rain, but you can’t have everything. They are also a dual compound tyre, hard in the middle, soft on the edges, so they give better life than most tyres.
Note: Re the tyres, someone offered the theory that the Mediterranean roads are made with limestone aggregate. Limestone wears to a highly polished and shiny finish, which is extremely slippery. It makes sense to me, but I am sure the diesel is a factor too. In Australia, we use mostly granite in our road surfaces, and diesel is no where near a popular as in Europe. Diesel actually costs more here than unleaded. There is no doubt in my mind that Mediterranean roads are far more slippery than any other roads I encountered in my whole trip (excluding the diesel spill in Indonesia).
Fittings: One of the things I have always liked about European bikes is that all the fittings are of superb quality. The Adventure is fitted with Magura pro-taper handlebars (the toughest you can get), Dominion levers and throttle, Acerbis tank and hand-guards, Mikuni CV carburettor, White Power 48mm USD forks, WP shock, and absolutely the best lights I have ever seen on a dirt bike. The plastics are strong and well designed, as is the fairing, which actually looks like it could stand a trip to Cape York in Australia without breaking. Every faired Japanese bike I have seen have problems with severe corrugations. The tank is very well mounted, and can be removed without removing the fairing. A problem of aftermarket tanks is that they usually use the same mounts to carry 25Kg as what was designed by the factory to carry 10Kg. This has caused tank failures, and plastic tanks cannot be welded for some reason. I don’t know why. I have seen fairings welded, but no one seems to be able to fix Acerbis tanks at least.
In the past, some European manufacturers have had problems with electrics, causing them to be hard or impossible to start, but now they use Japanese electrics, solving the problem.
End of the trip, September. 70,000km. The only problems I had with the bike for the entire journey were:
1. A small crack in the frame in Northern Kenya. The conditions were extreme, and I was riding way too hard. I’m lucky that was the only problem I had considering the speed, the rocks, and the corrugations. Although KTM could have just welded the tiny crack, they replaced the entire frame so they could destruction test the old one.
2. The rear subframe was bent from the crash in Turkey. Not the fault of the bike. I didn’t even notice it was bent until about 12,000km later. KTM replaced this too, even though it could have easily been straightened.
3. The rear shock linkage bearings wore out. They probably would have kept going for another 70,000km, but there was visable play in the suspension. These are a consumable part.
4. The low beam headlight had a come loose inside. It was only a simple problem, but it was unrepairable. I think it happened when I crashed in Turkey. The impact was enough to break a H1 element in a rubber mounted headlight, so I would call that abnormal circumstances. Actually, the fact that the bike survived the crash with such little damage is a testament to the strength of the bike.
5. The front wheel bearings wore out at about 35,000km. That would be quite normal, but no doubt helped by the monsoon conditions in Indonesia. Again, these are consumables, and can bought at any bearing shop.
6. The clutch started slipping in South Africa, but that was because I put the wrong oil in. It was a friction modified car oil, which destroys wet clutch plates. I managed the clean them enough so that they made it another 20,000km back to the KTM factory. In fact by then, they were back to normal. KTM replaced them anyhow.
7. Fifth (top) gear was pitting, and was replaced when they rebuilt the motor. I don’t know how bad the pitting was.
8. I was going through clutch cables at an alarming rate. Finally I found out that the Italian supplier, Dominion, had a design fault, and that was replaced. Since then, there has been no perceptible wear on the clutch cable.
9. Two bolts used for the Touratech pannier racks broke. Without the pannier racks, the bolts only hold on the plastic side covers, so they only need to be 6mm bolts. I drilled and tapped the frame to take 8mm bolts, and I didn’t have a problem again.
If anyone has any queries about the reliability of KTM bikes, I’d have to say this is proof that these bikes are well designed, well built, and very tough. I don’t believe there is another bike out there that would have worked better for me on this trip. In particular, I love the suspension. This would have to be the biggest differentiating factor to all other similar bikes. Nothing else even comes close.