Saturday, December 17, 2016

Trailer Queen

It's kind of strange, but the KTM has more miles riding behind me in a trailer than it has on it's odometer.  I bought the bike in Buffalo, which is 400 miles away.  That would have been close to the sale odo miles.  But I couldn't tell very much about the bike's character from riding around a parking lot on knobby tires set at off-road pressures.  You could tell that the bike hadn't been bent, but that's about all.

So rather than go home or try to ride the thing in Buffalo with snow in the forecast, I headed south.  To Charlottesville, Va., to be exact.  From the weather forecast, it looked like my best chance to see some warm, dry roads.  And it's near the Blue Ridge, so there are small twisty roads about.

I had planned this, so I was carrying on-road tires that fit the KTM and I arranged with a local motorcycle shop to swap out my knobbies and put on the road tires.  That took the morning of Dec 1.  So in the afternoon, I got to ride in the foothills for about an hour and a half and put 57 miles on the bike.

Since the tow from Buffalo to Charlottesville to home was a little over 1000 miles, the 731 miles on the odometer makes this a true trailer queen.  Of course, I hope to change that this spring.  My thanks go out to John Chamberlin who so graciously lent me his lease car and trailer for this little expedition.  I feel so much more confident in making the changes that I need to the bike having actually gotten to ride it and know it will work well for me.

The reason for the Virginia leg of my trip was not only to discover the overall character of the bike, but to see if it was different than the KLR.  After all, I haven't ridden that many motorcycles and I have so many miles on the KLR, I have adapted my style to it's character.

The differences were there.  Some expected, others unexpected.  Of course, I haven't ridden the KTM very hard.  I'm still learning.

The first difference that shows immediately is the stiffness of the KTM.  With the KLR, you can feel the flex in the frame, in the forks, in all of the controls.  The result is the KTM is more direct, more immediate in it's response.  I can effectively feel the higher torsional stiffness of the frame by the responsiveness in changing direction.  I can even feel the stiffness in the shift lever.

The other way this shows up is in ride.  With the KLR, when you hit a bump, especially in a corner, it is forgiving but may flex a little after the fact.  With the KTM there is none of the aftershake.  Another ride difference is the amount of shock control.  The KLR is plush, but a little lazy.  With the KTM, I really felt connected to the road.

The KTM also has the rider sitting further forward on the bike.  With the KLR, the front wheel it pretty light.  I have developed a technique where I lean forward at the entrance of a corner to put a little extra weight on the front tire and sharpen the turn-in response.  The KTM already has that front end weight, so you don't need that forward lean.

An interesting point.  All these things I'm talking about make the KTM a better road bike and the flexibility of the KLR are said to be desirable on dirt.  Somehow, I never expected the KLR to be the more off-road oriented bike.

This theme continues in other ways.  For example, the KLR has only 5 gears to the KTM 6.  But the KLR gears are wide spaced ratios with 1st gear good for slow crawling in difficult off-road conditions.  In contrast, the KTM has close ratio gears with 1st gear quite tall for off-road use.  Get into something gnarly and you would have to be slipping the KTM clutch to go slow.

This is especially true because the KTM doesn't have much torque at low rpm.  The KLR has excellent torque from about 1200 rpm and "comes on cam" at 3000 rpm.  In contrast, the KTM has noticeably less torque than the KLR at low rpm, made worse by the tall 1st gear, and doesn't "come on cam" until 4000 rpm.  On-road, this is no problem.  There is enough torque to launch and close ratio gears to stay on cam, but off-road, this is interesting.

As far as peak horsepower, it is definitely a lot more in the KTM.  Rated 65 to the KLR's 40, it feels like even more.  But that brings another interesting point.  The KLR is tuned to run on any crappy octane fuel.  It just doesn't care.  That should be a good thing for adventure excursions.  The KTM is tuned for 93 octane premium.  It's fuel injection has a map that you can select if you get poor fuel, but the risk that you wouldn't change maps in time and that make the KTM modern but high strung.

Overall, I learned a lot in a short time.  Since I ride most of the time on-road and not that aggressively when off the pavement, I think these differences will all make for a better bike for my usage.  But it remains kind of interesting that the vaunted off-road brand of KTM has made such a road oriented enduro.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Something New

It was probably 3 to 4 years ago that I solved most of the problems that I could fix on the KLR.  New projects have been rare and I have mostly just been riding and maintaining the bike.  That may be one reason that I started thinking about something new. 

But then again, every time I came home from a multi-day ride on the KLR, I had a smile on my face, so I really didn't need a new motorcycle.  Need versus want, always an issue.

Because of my height, an adventure bike is the best choice for me.  Also, I don't like being limited to only pavement, so a bike capable of touring, enjoying the twisty bits, and a moderate level of dirt road/off road is what I need.  Unfortunately, I also like and believe in light weight.  This comes from an environmental viewpoint to some extent, but also because one uses body english to control a motorcycle and I feel that the lower weight bike is more responsive to my body english.  Naturally, that's not the only thing that matters, but it's high on my list, which explains why I am not enamored of these large, 1.3 liter, 180 HP, adventure bikes.  I want a little and light one.  And that has been hard to find.  So I keep on enjoying the KLR and keep on looking for that elusive better bike for me.

About 2 years ago, I thought I had found the right answer.  The CCM GP450 came out in England and offered just about everything I wanted in a motorcycle.  At a curb weight of about 320 pounds, it is the lightest mid-size adventure bike in production. They claimed they would come to the US, but no firm date was attached.

After years of saying that the KLR's 40 HP was enough, I finally ran into situations this summer where it wasn't.  I was climbing a long and curvy grade in the mountains at highway speed.  The others in my ride group disappeared up the hill, while I had the KLR at full throttle in top gear and was unable to keep up, even accelerate.  So maybe the time for a little more horsepower had come at last.

EICMA Motorcycle Show

Following the rumors of new motorcycles, this November's Milan Motorcycle show promised to be interesting.  KTM, Ducati, and Yamaha all promised adventure bikes in the mid-size range (about 800 cc) and some of them were rumored to be 2017 models.

The KTM is a real project with an 800 cc parallel twin and a Duke (street bike) prototype shown in Milan.  If anyone is going to make a light bike to meet my ideas, it's likely to be KTM.  Unfortunately, no specs were available and timing looks like late 2017 at the earliest for the Duke.  2018 at the earliest for the Adventure bike to follow.  Seems like a long time to wait.

The Ducati is a real 2017 production bike, but it's curb weight is expected to be almost 500 pounds.  I guess catalytic converters, fuel injection, ABS/traction control, etc. are really adding the pounds.

The Yamaha T7 looks tasty.  It looks like a 2016 Dakar race bike.  But then again, this is only a concept.  I can't find out when the Yamaha production bike hits the streets, if at all, but it's hard to believe that it will be earlier than 2018 given the concept bike nature of the T7.

Guessing that the Yamaha production adventure bike would be based on the FZ-07 street bike and heavier due to bigger wheels, more body, more fuel, and more luggage capacity.  Considering that the curb weight of the naked FZ-07 is 400 pounds, the adventure version might be 450 which is better than most other mid-weight adventure bikes, but still on the heavy side.

Finally, I emailed the CCM people to get an idea of when the GP450 might make it to the US.  They were actually kind enough to reply and tell me it wouldn't be until 2018.

What to do?  What to do?  Clearly, I was itching for a new motorcycle. 

I have a million projects that take up my time.  I don't need a new motorcycle where I have to invent all the required mods.  That would take too much time and push back other projects.  It turns out that there are a small set of enduro bikes that people "convert" into travel/adventure bikes.  A little online research narrowed the field to one.  The KTM 690 Enduro is the best bike suited to travel/adventure and has the advantage of lots of aftermarket parts availability. 

The way I look at it, the 690 Enduro has a curb weight of 326 pounds with 65 HP.  It also has a trellis frame which I consider to be street oriented.  Of course, with extra fuel, a luggage rack, and a fairing, it would likely end up between 350 and 360 pounds, but that's 20 pounds less than the KLR and at least 100 pounds lighter than those promised 2018 bikes.

KTM 690 Enduro Issues

There are challenges.  The metal frame stops at the back of the engine.  All the weight of the rider on the seat and any rear luggage is supported by a plastic fuel tank.  That's a little scary.  But it turns out the tank is designed to carry two people and there are luggage racks that "help" support the weight of luggage.  Worth a try anyway.

The electrical system is maxed out at 224 W.  Unfortunately, there is no room for improvement within the existing alternator package, so I would have to work within the available power.  For contrast, the KTM 1290 Adventure has 450 W and the vaunted BMW GS has 600 W.  For those bikes, heated gear, GPS, etc are trivial.  The 690 Enduro will have to trade off efficiency for heated gear.  LED's anyone?

It turns out there are only 2 choices for street oriented tires that fit the 690 Enduro.  OK for now, but the risk is that I could have to convert to smaller wheels at a later date.  Happily, that only takes money as the Supermoto uses 17" wheels.

Fuel capacity is a challenge with only 3.2 gallons, but several aftermarket solutions are available.  Fairings, luggage racks, lowered foot pegs are all available to suit in the aftermarket.

Get ready, get set, .......

So here is the definition of the project.  Find a used KTM 690 Enduro.  Modify it with bolt-on parts to fit me and my kind of riding, and see if it's as good as I hope. 

As for the first step, I found one in Buffalo.  A 2014 with only 674 miles on it.  Time to order stuff on the internet.