One of the most important things you take on a bike mission, is your bike (d'uh). With this choice comes a rabbit hole of options and if you take any customization into account, your little bunny rabbit hole gets the size of a medium weight astroid crater...
Strap in and I'll take you on a little ride...
For me, it all started by making a mental list of the requirements of the bike and trying to categorise / find ways to make the decision making proces a bit easier. In the end, I believe there is no such thing as a right choice, it will always be a compromise, so it’s all about figuring out which compromise is best for you. Below is a little write up of my requirements and the way I went.
I love to ride offroad, and a lot of my route will be all about tackling offroad sections. I did two Ducati enduro riding experiences on a Multistrada Enduro and spent 10 days riding a proper little enduro machine (Husaberg FE450) through Morocco. The bike that I’ll be taken will definitely have to handle a proper amount of off road riding. This means some things:
- Proper Suspension
- Can take a beating (i.e. won't break if you let it drop)
- Is relatively light (I will always need to pick it up myself)
- 21 / 18 inch tyre setup (more / better choice of knobby tyres)
- Proper gearing for technical sections and hillclimbs
Some of the stuff that my travel bike should be able to easily handle...
I’ll start my trip in Amsterdam and ride down through Germany and the Alps in the middle of winter. That means I would prefer to take the highway through those first sections until the temperature becomes bearable. This means that the bike I’ll take should support being ridden at 130kph comfortably for quite some time. So the really small enduro bikes (< 250cc) are not going to cut it for me.
Some may disagree and I have read stories about people riding the Honda 250 rally thingy around the world. But there is something about riding on the ‘Autobahn’ stuck at ~ 100kph on a slightly too light bike while Porsches blasting past at double that speed that just doesn’t appeal to me. Some things that I need here.
- Not too light (so light that every time you pass a truck you leave a little skidmark)
- High last gear for long highway sections
I do know a little about riding comfort. I once rode through Italy on a hard sprung Café Racer with no windscreen. It's hardly comfortable, but it was a lot of fun. My ride this time will take me quite a bit further, so I will need that comfort this time round. I did figure out a nice system for storing things in an easy way, but more on that later.
"When your ride into the Sudan from the top, the border guards said there wasn’t a fuel stop until a couple of hundred kilometers"
I want to carry as much fuel as possible while still having the bike ridable. There are many ways to do this, anywhere from strapping 1.5l bottles to your bike to ropax jerrycans to extra fuel tanks bolted to the bike. For me, there is only one way and that is fixed to the bike. I don’t want to hassle around with loose fuel canisters and stopping once in every while to put it back in the bike. I just want the bike to keep on riding.
For me, this means having a range of around 500 kilometers between fuel stops. Which, with a bike that runs around 20 kilometers to a liter means carrying around 25 liters of fuel (preferably a bit more)
- Minimum of 25 liters of fuel
- No external systems
Maintenance / Reliability
I’ve put maintenance and reliability in the same category because they kind of intertwine. Some bikes can be really reliable but only with a bunch of maintenance. The ideal combination is as little maintenance as possible, with the upmost reliability, but I don’t think that those bikes really exist, especially when punished offroad. When I was in Morocco, I had to clean / change my air filter every day because it got clogged with sand. While this was mostly because I was riding behind other riders and it was their sand that got into my filter, I do want to make sure that I don't have to change it that often.
Looking at both reliability and maintainability, there are some bare minimums though.
- Oil change interval no less than 5000km’s
- No ‘every other day’ air filter changes
- No rebuilds needed for the whole trip
There is the left of bang maintenance / reliability stuff, but right of bang needs to be addressed as well. What if I’m on the side of the road and my bike doesn’t start. Would I need some diagnostic kit only specialty mechanics have to see what the issue is on my bike? Or can I just fix it myself? As I’m quite mechanically inclined and did quite a bit of work on other bikes, I feel I can fix most of the issues that can be fixed on the side of the road. Below are some considerations
- Carburetor over Fuel Injection (with a carburetor, as it’s completely mechanical, the fixability is higher) - not a requirement, but is a nice-to-have
- No extremely complicated electronics (mostly sensors that can break down)
- Easy access to most engine parts
Preferably no engine swaps on the road...
I’ve found there is a bit of a spectrum all the bikes that are possible options fall under, where they compromise a little bit more on one aspect and the others on others. Below are the three most important I’ve found. For each of them I’ve rated them 1 out of 3 points for each of the sections above. I did consider some of the fixes I would do to them to make them a better fit.
- Offroad: 3
- Onroad: 1
- Fuel: 2 (with fixes)
- Maintenance / Reliability: 1
- Fixability: 3
The enduro bikes (450cc ones, like my Husaberg) are extremely capable offroad machines with high suspension, an extremely snappy gearbox with a proper low first gear and a really low weight. That low weight is a great thing offroad and when lifting the bike, but works against them on the highways though. It also feels like I’m just smashing that little engine to make it do highway speeds.
Normally, the fuel tanks on these bikes are really tiny (8 liters), but with the fuel efficiency in mind (~20km’s on a liter), a bigger front tank and an added rear tank, we can get up to a theoretical range of around 460km’s. Not quite what I wanted, but really close.
Then there is pretty much the dealbreaker. The maintenance intervals for these bikes is incredible. If I chose one of these bikes, I would have to change the oil every 1500 to 2000km’s according to The Rolling Hobo . That means at least 20 oil changes on my trip and that’s quite a lot (basically, changing it once every 3 to 4 days)
The positive thing is that these bikes are built to be worked on. Everything is out in the open and wrenching on these things is really easy.
Offroad focussed dualsport bikes (~ 150kg dry)
- Offroad: 3 (with fixes)
- Onroad: 2
- Fuel: 3 (with fixes)
- Maintenance / Reliability: 2
- Fixability: 2
Bikes in this category are basically bikes like the KTM 690 Enduro R, the Husqvarna 701 and AJP PR7. They weigh about 150kgs dry and are built for dual sport riding with a strong focus on offroad riding. They do have their limitations offroad when compared to the enduro’s though. They are a bit heavier (around 50kgs) and the suspension on these bikes is a bit worse. Those can be fixed though, there are 300mm kits out there for both the KTM and Husqy and forks can be swapped. The AJP’s forks are already 300mm if I’m not mistaken.
Riding on the road with these bikes is a lot better compared to the enduro’s. The added weight makes them more planted and the gearing is more suited for highway riding.
Fueling is still a bit of an issue, but this can be fixed for both the KTM and Husqy. The AJP doesn’t have any external tank kits as far as I could find, but there are a bunch of rally kits for the other two that include the bigger factory rally tanks taking up the fuel capacity anywhere from 27 liters to 33 liters.
With maintenance intervals being a bit higher than the enduro’s, things are a little better. The reliability for these machines is a bit worst though. I’ve heard stories on OEM fuel pumps being a bit dodgy, cam chains jumping of their cogs, clutches that are gone within 2000kms and rear brakes being set to tight from factory resulting in warped discs. In theory these things are fixable as long as I know them beforehand, but then budget wise things may get a bit worse (although, if I buy a new bike, perhaps I can get some stuff done under warranty).
Even though euro 4 emissions are adding a bunch of extra little features to these bikes making them a bit more complicated to fix, most of these things can be solved by replacing some of the exhaust system and fitting a power commander. This means a simpler bike that is relatively easy to work on. Unfortunately, fuel injection is a big thing these days and while I hear good things about it, a carburetor conversion would be preferable imho (but expensive).
Onroad focussed dualsport bikes (~ 175kg dry)
- Offroad: 2 (with fixes)
- Onroad: 3
- Fuel: 2
- Maintenance / Reliability: 3
- Fixability: 1
These bikes are the ones like the XTZ660, Africa Twin, BMW GS range and Ducati Multistrada (which is the odd one out, being a bit more heavy, but it is quite capable offroad so I’ve included it anyway).
These too can have suspension upgrades, but some of the bikes in these categories have suspension that ties in with the ECU and have sensors that stiffen up the suspension dynamically based on the impact. Those are tricky-er to fix. However, the added weight and (the Africa Twin being the odd one out) 17 inch / 19 inch wheel configurations (also fixable, but €€€) make these bikes slightly more awkward offroad.
The onroad capabilities are way better though. These bikes all have windscreens, comfortable riding positions and are more geared towards onroad riding.
Fueling is a bit different with these bikes though. Even though the default tank is quite a bit bigger, there are no ways to add extra tanks (there aren’t really any extra kits other than external ones). This means that an auxiliary fuel system should be found / built using jerry cans or bladders. The Multistrada is the exception here, it carries around 30 liters. Unfortunately it also has a 160hp 1200cc engine and the fuel efficiency is a bit worse on those.
The maintenance / reliability is relative to the other bikes a lot better. Imho, maintenance intervals should be upped a little bit from factory if one rides more offroad than the bike is actually geared towards, but it’s still really good.
The fixability of these bikes is dreadful though. Everything is made to be a tight, neat little package for the customer and the expectation is that every bit of maintenance is done by a garage (definitely need one of those special little error code reading tools).
Carefully weighing all the options and bikes, I eventually decided it would have to be either a KTM 690 or a Husqvarna 701 with a rally kit. Looking at both of them, the Husqvarna had a further developed engine with a little more horsepower, but more importantly, a balanced camshaft. That thing will reduce quite a bit of vibrations on the highway and make it feel a little more refined. Lastly, I do like the looks of the husky slightly better.
In terms of mods I’ll be adding a rally kit, after much contemplation I went with the KIT701 (link) because it mostly consists of factory rally parts and a really helpful owner that is quite knowledgable. This adds fuel capacity, upping it to 33l, a baseplate which protects the engine and a windshield (that protects me) with an aluminium tower for navigation equipment. In terms of less visible mods:
- Squadron Pro headlights (4600 lumens)
- A Power Commander V to get rid of the Euro 4 stuff they did to the ECU
- A different air intake (link) that takes regular Twin Air rally filters (smaller when packed up and allow the engine to breath better)
- 300mm Rally Raid rear suspension
- 300mm EXC forks (will be resprung / revolved) - may go cone valve depending on pricing
- Upgraded tank bolts
- Lowered rally width footpegs
- Heated grips / proper hand guards / foam grips
- An offroad dongle for the 701 so ABS can stay off when offroad