RTW X-Challenge Adventurization
Well not quite RTW, but Trans-Siberia, four times on this bike. 135,000 km (which is 3 - 4x more than most RTWs) and about 80,000 of them off road.
I have a few PMs in the past week asking me for more info in what I did to 'adventurize' my X-C to make it suitable for RTW travel, and why ... and what do I think of the mods now, having done the miles. Its easier to post here than to reply to the PMs.
The answers are probably mostly on here in various bits n pieces and spread out over a bunch of threads and times, and on my blog site. But for the sake of completeness, its a good chance to put it all together in one place.
This is where I wanted to get to .. a bike thats happy on the steppe in Mongolia, having done over 50,000km to get there.
To save newcomers to the post wading through all 100+ pages, here is a summary of the noteable modifications:
- "Hot Rod Welding" 9.5 litre "Jumbo X-Tank" (page 24)
- "Hot Rod Welding" custom luggage rack (page 24)
- "Touratech" rallye fairing (page 1)
- "SR Racing" exhaust (page 64)
- "Rayz" seat (page 1)
- "Hyperpro" rear shock (page 2)
- MaxKools airbox mod, with Unifilter
- "Touratech" rear chain guide (page 2)
- Bixenon Projectors with "HID50" bulbs and ballasts (page 5)
- "Scheffelmeier" wheel spacers (page 15)
- "Touratech" rear steel subframe (page 22)
- "Barkbusters" handguards (page 22)
- "Scheffelmeier" case saver (page 22)
- "Double Take" Ram mount mirrors (page 22)
- "WP" 48mm forks and triple clamps from 640 Adventure (page 23)
- "Hyperpro" fork springs (page 23)
- "Hyperpro" custom fork revalving (page 23)
- "Excel" A60 front rim (page 23)
- "Haan Wheels" KTM front hub (page 23)
- "KTM" 990 front fender (page 23)
- "Scheffelmeier" rally bash plate and Odyssey battery (page 25)
- "Ironman" rear sprocket (page 25)
- "Excel" rear rim (page 59)
- Hot Rod "X-Rack" luggage rack (page 80)
- Hot Rod KTM 690 Rally Replica Fairing (page 74 and p106 & p109)
- Shorai Lithium battery (page 68)
- Marzocchi 50 mm dual chamber (closed cartridge) forks (p 112)
- Adventure-Spec Magadan soft luggage (page 112)
- OSCO chain oiler (p118)
The bike began its life as BMW off road school bike, based in what is now becoming BMW aftermarket HQ in the UK ... Ystradgynlais in Wales. The BMW off road school is there, Touratech is there, the BMW road riding school is there, Globebusters (BMW UK's touring affiliate) is there, bike builder Bernie Wright is there ... etc etc.
I only got to collect the bike on February 20th ... I had less than 6 weeks to prep the bike for the whole Sibirsky Extreme Project ... 50,000 km full of unknown and unridden roads across Siberia. I was scheduled to leave, from Touratech, on March 29th. The bike was pretty much stock when I got it from the Off Road School, but it had 600km on the clock and had just had its 1000km first service done. There was a new Talon sprocket on the front, an Afam on the back and a F650 gear lever on it. It also came with one cracked mirror and a whole bunch of scratched plastic.
As Evan, the Off Road School mechanic, knew what I was going to be using it for he had gone over the bike quite thoroughly and done a few small bits n pieces. For a lighter throttle (feels like better throttle response) he had removed one of the two throttle springs ... that will save the wrist when riding all day.
I had my own wishlist of general things I wanted to get done to the bike, but when it came down to specifics with the bike ... what was crap and needed to be replaced, or if I want to improve this component, whats the best option etc, I turned to MaxKool - of this parish.
Max had built up a good knowledge base, thru trial and error, of what could and should be done to the X, and I have to say now, looking back, Max's advice has been spot on. I cant think of anything he advised or recommended to me that I now disagree with having done the miles. Hopefully this doesn't mean Max gets bombarded with PMs now that he is officially "Master of the X". :gerg
So the first thing I did with the bike was to take it direct from Wales to Holland. I didnt even pass go. Didnt even go home. There was not enough time. I just picked the bike up from Wales and headed for Holland.
I had been trying to find a decent aftermarket exhaust for the bike. My first thoughts were not to worry about it, save some cash and stick with the stock exhaust ... but I had a dream of having problems with the catalytic converter out in the middle of Mongolia or Siberia, and along with my drive to save weight and get more throttle response out of the bike, made me seek a new exhaust option before departure.
As I picked the bike up from the Off Road School, Evan, the mechanic there, suggested Simon had a spare Remus lying around that he wont be needing now that the 2009 Dakar is finished and BMW would be going forward with 450s from now. I jumped at it, strapped the exhaust to the back of the X (we couldnt fit it as we had no gasket) and told Simon and co the cheque will be in the mail :wink: :evil
And so my ride to Holland was actually with a small backpack and Remus Titanium exhaust strapped to back of the bike - this in itself was quite a feat as there are no mounting points at all on the back of the stock bike.
I'm in! :lurk
Have read a bunch of stuff about the bike on the SibirskyExtreme page already but am very interested in more details.
Erik and the X-Tanks
In Holland the destination was Erik's skunkworks. Erik is the welder / fabricator who along with Max put together the X-Tank. I had initially spoken to Erik about the X-Tank ... but as time progressed we talked about more tweaks I wanted to do and Erik was going to help with with some of those other things too , effectively becoming the central figure in the whole X-Challenge adventurization project. Home base for the bike while the adventurization was going on was Erik's workshop.
One of the obvious needs for the bike was a larger tank. I had toyed with the idea of getting a Touratech tank, then an X-Tank ... and even at one point considered both ... over 30 litres of fuel both forward and aft. I had seen Erik manufacturing the X-Tanks on an earlier visit to Holland, and asked if it would be possible to make a custom wider X-Tank ... with an extra couple of inches between the two pressed shells. When Erik said yes it could be done, it swung my mind in favour of the Xtank. If I could get a 10-13 litre X-Tank, that would be enough, and it would be a neater, simpler solution than the Touratech tank. It would also keep it nice and simple for cleaning air filters etc.
The initial plan was to add 50mm of width to the X-Tank. Erik felt this would be the maximum he would feel comfortable with. The wider the tank, the more offset the mounting regime is, and this will lead to additional torsional stresses - especially with the increased weight as well as the increased offset. At the last minute, as he was about to cut the 50mm strip, I got greedy. To hell with the risk, lets do 60mm I said. And so 60mm was added to the X-Tank, giving the tank a volume of 12 litres (and the bike a total of 22 litres).
Looking back, I probably should have stuck with 50mm. Erik was right. There are some signs of torsional stress and the extra 0.8 litres I pushed for was probably not game changing. However the tank has worked very well.
The only problem in the whole fuel set up was a result of an air leak where the electric connection for the main fuel tank penetrates the tank. Once that connection was sealed up with silicon, normal X-Tank service has resumed. So no problems with the X-Tank, but need to keep an eye on the airtightness of the main tank.
here's Erik welding the X-Tank 'fat boy' custom:
Fitting the X-Tank
The combined 22 litres at my average consumption for the whole trip of 4.3 l/100km gave me an average range of about 515 km.
Note: With 15t front sprocket (often highway miles) my average consumption was 4.1 l/100k and with 14t sprocket (often dirt miles) my average consumption was 4.5 l/100km ... really not a lot of variation (less than 10%) between highway miles on taller gearing, and dirt miles on lower gearing. You wouldnt get that on a KTM!
How nice. I'm taking a subscription to this thread :D
Walter, I can't wait for you to show up here and discuss the details of your trip (and of course the mechanical/technical ins and outs) over a few beers
Back-on-topic again :wink:
The next essential stage was some sort of luggage system.
I always work on the basis there are three essential mods to sort out an adventure touring bike (1) make sure it can take enough fuel (2) make sure it can take your baggage and (3) make sure it can take a few hits (protection).
Everything else is optional.
With fuel now sorted, the next "essential" was luggage. I personally have never subscribed to the germanic notion of steel or aluminium boxes. They are heavy. Very heavy. The frames required to support them are even heavier. A solid steel frame plus pair of aluminium boxes will typically weigh about 20 kgs empty. (Many custom made 3 piece sets are a good 25 kgs a set.) I don't want to start a debate about hard vs soft luggage here, but I will say I have been riding to every continent over the past 15 years, and never used hard luggage, never needed hard luggage and do not see the need to start now. My opinion on then is that they are fine it you are sticking to highways and fast dirt roads, but are a major liability on anything more adventurous. ... P.S. and they are also up to 10 times more expensive than soft luggage
I had decided to try something different on this trip,and picked up some ortlieb bicycle panniers. They were super light, waterproof and easy to mount. When I got them in the mail I did have a few worries about the mounting system. They mount with 15mm closeable plastic loops. In falls, I wondered how the plastic loops would hold up. Only one way to find out ... suck it and see.
Erik started from scratch with the rack. We had a few mounting points on the bike to work with, and we knew we needed 15mm steel tube.
Later on down the line - with the Ortlieb bag:
One huge advantage of both soft bags and custom racks is the ability to move the bags forward. Standard fittings for hard luggage, even for bikes that are only going to ever be ridden solo like an X Challenge, always have the luggage positioned as far back as possible. So not only is the hard luggage heavier, but it sits higher and much further back. This is really bad for handling and puts additional stress on both the subframe and the suspension.
The flexibilty of soft bags allows you to paddle, even with the luggage close in. We managed to rig it up so that the ortlieb bags were carrying the weight in the same plane as me riding in a sitting position - i.e. very close to the shock.
It all seems a long time ago now!
Will be back in NL 23-27 Dec ... might be a tough time with Xmas and all that ... back in January for longer. Let me know what works for jullie
Over time and rough roads, the luggage rack that we originally made came under a lot of stress. I had asked Erik to make it as light as possible. As it was, it was probably too light. It was beefed up a couple of times en route. There were roads where the tube had cracked and the beefing up tube had cracked and broken too.
This might sound like bad news but in fact revealed one important piece of good design. Erik had made the rack to be attached to the subframe with 8 screws and deliberately put a lot of the load through the mounting points low down on the subframe. The result of this was that the aluminium subframe was able to take all the stress Sibirsky Extreme could throw at it, without any cracks.
The steel tubed luggage rack on the other hand took the beatings, but was easy to weld, easy to brace.
One thing was learned about X-Challenges and luggage systems on the trip ... dont believe for a minute that the aluminium subframe inserts where the mountings are located are man enough to do the job. Over the course of the first half of the trip as the threads all gave up, they were increased from M6 to M8, and then M8 to M10. Each time it was just a matter of time before the next thread gave up. The only durable solution was to drill all the way through the frame and mount things THROUGH the square section frame using steel bolts, big washers, with nylock nuts on the other side. Since modding several of the mounting points in this manner, I have had no mounting point failures - despite carrying this amount of luggage over 20,000 km of dirt roads:
While we had been working on the luggage system in Holland, a phone call came in from Touratech UK, the front fairing and mounting system had arrived - in Wales. Sadly I was now in Holland. It was due to arrive just before I left the UK, but thats the breaks. I told them to next day courier it over to Holland so we could play around with it.
The kit comes with Hella Premium DE lights as standard - a halogen low beam and 35 watt HID high beam, but as Touratech were backing me on this trip, I told them to save their money and not give me the Hella lights. I am not a huge fan of them. The light spread is poor. They are nice and compact and weatherproof, but lighting mods are my forte, and I was determined to do a lot better than the standard DEs.
The Touratech tower mounts easily enough, and the lightweight fibreglass looks like this:
There were two additional support brackets to double up the strength of the base of the tower (where it joins the neck of the frame) but the instructions said "to be used in the event of extra hard riding". I didnt think what I was planning to do qualified for that so left them off to save weight.
I shouldnt have. The tower mount broke exactly where the additional support brackets would have braced it in the middle of one of the toughest roads in the world - the BAM road in Siberia. I limped over 150km to the nearest village and had a couple of steel 'bandages' fabricated to hold the whole front of my bike together.
Lesson: if you get the Touratech fairing for X-Challenge, those additional brackets are there for a reason. If you are doing anything challenging, fit them. :gerg :gerg
Earlier this decade I was riding 2 up with my girlfriend in Bolivia. For whatever reason, one day we ended up having to ride the last 150 km to Potosi in pitch darkness on a moonless night on a dirt track through steep mountains, 4000 metres up. All I had to see by was the pathetic standard H4 headlight of a F650GS. It was the scariest 3 hours of riding in my life. It was largely guess work. 'I think the road is curving around this way'. if I got it wrong, there was a 500+ foot drop waiting to break me, my girlfriend and the motorcycle.
I didnt plan on riding in the dark ... no-one really plans to ride in the dark when touring thru the 3rd world - but it happens. And if it happens when you have crappy lights, you start crapping yourself.
Ever since I returned from that trip, every bike and car I have had (and many friends bikes) have had countless headlight modifications and experiments, in search of the ultimate lighting.
For this project I decided to take a pair of Audi A6 bi-xenon projectors. Twin HID high beams but most importantly twin HID low beams. The lights would not run the standard Hella ballasts (which are bulky and heavy and a standard 35watts) but HID50 slimline ballasts. They are about a third of the size, half the weight and about 150% of the power of the stock ballasts. With twin 50w HID low beams, I would have the equivalent of about 350 watts of halogen light ... on low beam! One big advantage of projector lights is the precise light cut off on low beam. Despite pumping an enormous volume of lumens forward and onto the road, the razor sharp beam cut off ensures no stray light into oncoming traffic .... except under hard accelleration :evil :wink:
While I worked out how to seal them (the Audi projectors - like most car projectors - are open to dust and the weather at the bottom since they normally sit in a closed plastic box in a car) Erik built up a mounting plate for the two bi-xenon projectors:
Headlight beam aim and adjustment comes from using two nuts on long bolts, one nut either side of the headlight fitting.
The lights were to be wired up with individual switches so that we could have:
(a) no lights on (useful when charging the battery or not wanting the drain the electrical system),
(b) either light could be on, or
(c) both could be on.
The front was rounded off with some LED running lamps which serve as parking lights / side lights, and would be always on when the ignition was on.
Sometime after this was done, and with just one week to departure, some rationality crept into my head and I started imagining killing the electrical system with the heated clothing and then twin 50 watt HIDs as well. I switched back to standard 35w HID ballasts and bulbs to save 30 watts of power.
The electrical system on the standard bike is not the beefiest in the world, and the battery flattened a couple of times on the trip when running all my heated clothing. A mod I will do in the new year is to put a 400w generator on the bike from a F650 single, to replace the 280w stock unit. At that point, I will revert to twin 50watt HIDs.
Verdict: Outstanding light both on low beam and high beam, particularly when both lights are on. My attempts at sealing the lights worked OK over fairly dusty conditions - for the 60% of the trip. Since then water and dust has been getting into the lamps, and they now need a very thorough clean out and are working below peak efficiency with all the dust over the reflectors and lenses. Have been talking to Les at HID50 about getting some new bi-xenon projectors for 2010 and will take more time and effort to ensure they are well sealed.
Seating Arrangements: The stock bike seat needed to be changed. I can ride 15 hours a day, 7 days a week on a good seat, but 1 hour on the X-Challenge and my butt needed changing. It is not a sustainable proposition. Modifying the seat is essential. When I picked the bike up from Wales and rode it to Holland, I was ok for the first few hours, but after that I needed to stop every hour to get some blood flowing again in my butt.
The Dutch connections again came into play. Ray de Vries (www.rayz.nl) is unique among motorcycle seat makers. He actually rides bikes all over the world himself. He knows what it means to do long days on gravel roads, sitting down as much as standing up. He's done Bolivia, Mongolia etc himself. He KNOWS what its all about! For this trip I needed a seat for all seasons and all purposes. It had to be wide and softer at the back, where I sit, and it had to maintain the narrow profile at the front so that it was un-noticeable when standing. Ray completely modified the stock X-Challenge seat shape and padding and reupholstered it in black (thus eliminating the last vestige of that horrible blue).
When it came to what material to use, Ray used three different types. I cant remember what and where, but think it was tough artificial leather under the tank bag, a slippery leather for the front where there would be contact with pants when standing up, and a grippier leather for the part of the seat where you actually sit when cruising. Its all thought of, designed for, and taken care of.
So how did the seat perform after 50,000 km? This is what I wrote on my blog not long ago when evaluating gear:
Perhaps the biggest unsung hero on the bike for me, is the seat. I go for weeks on end without thinking about it and then suddenly realise the fact I havent thought about means its perfect. Quite literally perfect. When I get back to Holland I will get Ray to make a plaster mould of this seat because what he has done to this seat is utter perfection. Everyone with an X-Challenge NEEDS to have this seat - exactly like mine - because its absolutely perfect for every kind of riding.
I cannot recommend Ray enough - for any bike ... I am surprised he is mostly unknown outside of Holland and Belgium, because he is very good at what he does. :thumb Certainly the best bike seat maker in Europe.
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