New Kid on the Block

Stretton anon

There’s a new addition to the AdventureRide fleet – a KTM 640 Adventure. The Adventure was KTM’s initial take on the big trail bike theme, at least it was until they launched the 950, which was a more appropriate corporate response to the ubiquitous BMW GS . To put it in context, the 640 Adventure is the bike Ewan and Charlie really wanted for their round the world motorcycle glamping trip before being lured away by BMW’s more TV-savvy marketing department. The 640 Adventure is more Barry McGuigan than Bruno and gives away almost 100kgs to the Bavarian bruiser . No doubt Ewan and Charlie figured a lighter bike such as the KTM might provide more scope for carrying laptops, camera equipment, Satphones,  a Corby trouser press, a Yurt and all that other essential motorcycle touring equipment they toted about with them. Not to mention a weighty script…
Joking apart, I like the GS and, having owned an R80 G/S back in the day confess to having a soft spot for the early air-cooled models . My good chum Craig has a new 1200 Adventure and by any yardstick you care to measure it by, it’s a spectacular and extremely capable motorcycle. Choosing an adventure bike was a toss up twixt an 1150 GS [the only derivate my meagre budget would allow] or a middleweight 600.
My problem, when choosing an adventure bike is this;  I’ve got a dodgy back and shoulder and if I dropped a GS [which would be inevitable given the amount of trail miles I travel] , there is no way I could pick it up again. No, I needed something lighter and when you start to look at what’s available in middleweight adventure bikes the choice is very narrow. In the end it boiled down to Yamaha’s excellent 660 Tenere, a Kawasaki KLR . a Beemer 650 Dakar [21″ front wheel] or a KTM 640. I’ve not ridden either of the Jap bikes [although I had an MZ fitted with the 660 engine which I liked very much], I like the Beemer’s engine but even the 650 is still a bit heavy for me. I’d ridden a 640 Adventure when they first came out and I knew they were good . The KTM won.

KTM

Tall, wide and handsome. And that’s just the rider. Hepco and Becker Gobi panniers. Would you believe these have a tap arrangement on the outside of the case and hold 3 litres of fluid in the sidewall of each pannier. I always knew there was something missing from my motorcycling life and now I know what it is.

Riding the 640 is like being aboard a very torquey set of stepladders. It really is unfeasibly tall and riding it home from the vendor’s house found myself looking across into the cabs of HGVs, nodding knowingly at the drivers as we surveyed lesser road users from our lofty perches. To me it feels like the World’s Tallest Motorcycle but despite the high c of g the KTM handles superbly. I’m not sure how big trail bikes manage this , but manage it they do. It’s a well known phenomenon that GSs and such like will handle a twisty road as well as a sports bike and presumably this is one of the reasons for the extraordinary growth in the adventure bike sector. Your average modern adventure bike is quick, it’ll stop well, go round corners and take you and the missus plus the kitchen sink across continents, you really can have your cake and eat it, and if you’ve got some Hepco Becker Gobis with optional taps you can make yourself a brew to go with it. Try doing that on an R6.

So, what’s not to like? Ah well, I was just coming to that…
The thing with adventure bikes is they don’t work very well off road in the UK. I emphasise the UK bit in case I get sackfuls of hate mail from disgruntled GS owners, fresh back from epic trips across the Namibian desert . In Blighty our green lanes are more often than not , brown lanes and full of thick, gooey mud . Heavy bikes laden with luggage and equipped with 50/50 road and trail tyres can find themselves floundering in these claggy conditions. This is where I come in and neatly brings me to the reason I’ve bought the KTM. I’ve been putting together some routes specifically aimed at adventure bikes which avoid treacherous , energy sapping ,muddy trails and allow these bikes to shine at what they do best, covering big mileages and able to cope with poorly surfaced roads and hard packed trails. The routes I’ve picked can be navigated on dual purpose tyres and will give an opportunity for adventure bike owners to sample some proper trail riding and get their bikes dirty without having to spend half the day extricating it from a Welsh bog. We’re going to be clocking up some big miles whilst taking in some of the ancient Welsh droving routes on the high overland trails. It’ll be great and it’s going to add a new dimension to AdventureRide . I’m looking forward to the possibility of 350 mile days and perhaps even making it across the mountains to the coast during a typical ride. All you’ll need is a big trail bike and a sense of adventure. Full details will be up on the website quite soon, in the meantime has anybody got a pair of platform boots I can borrow?

Coates pegs 2

Tank

We’ll be avoiding this kind of stuff when we go out with the adventure bikes. This is Strata Florida in Wales after a very dry summer… I kid you not. Imagine this in February. Some people like this kind of stuff. I don’t. There’s no skill involved, it’s just a war of attrition between man and mud.

Weights and measures.

Don’t get me started on the fuel range of modern bikes. Oh, go on then…

Has anybody else noticed the disturbing trend of fitting modern bikes with pathetically small fuel tanks? A lot of modern sports bikes won’t manage more than 100 miles before the warning light comes on, some even less than that. On a road bike this can be inconvenient, on a dirt bike it can be potentially quite serious especially if like me, you ride in some of the more remote parts of the UK.

Fuel range on trail bikes is usually the most critical aspect to consider when planning a ride. It certainly dominates my thoughts when planning a customer day out. I can plot any number of 100 mile loops around these parts and I guarantee there will only be one fuel stop option available on any of the rides. The closure of rural petrol stations doesn’t help but it’s the bike manufacturers who are the real culprits.

Fill ‘er up please mate and don’t forget the Green Shield stamps

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Consider this; I reckon the average fuel consumption of a smallish dirt bike is around 10 miles per litre when ridden off road. In English money that’s around 50mpg.  KTM’s Freeride is the Austrian manufacturer’s take on the current  trail/trial hybrid genre which is slowly taking root in the market. It’s got a 5.5 litre tank.

Let me tell you, you won’t be riding free on that for very long. Even worse is Scorpa’s ironically named Long Ride with its 4.5 litre fuel capacity . I dunno about you but 45 miles isn’t a particularly long ride in my opinion. And that’s assuming the quoted tank capacity is correct…

On a couple of occasions I’ve had to top up the Gas Gas Pamperas from the stash of fuel I carry in my rucksack for such emergencies. The Pamps had run out of fuel almost an hour earlier than I had calculated. The Pampera handbook states very clearly the fuel capacity is a class-leading 9 litres. Allegedly. The sensible tank capacity is one of the reasons I chose the Pamperas for the trail riding business. Consequently I was  puzzled when they ran out of fuel prematurely on these two occasions and put it down to the customers being a little throttle happy. A few days after  the second incident it was still gnawing at my subconscious and I decided to measure the tank capacity properly.Just for the record let me state the fuel capacity of a MK3 Gas Gas Pampera is not the useful 9 litres quoted in the handbook. It’s a barely acceptable 6.8 litres. Shame on you Gas Gas for telling such porkies. On Offa’s Dyke running out of fuel was mildly inconvenient but easily resolved due to my OCD habit of carting around spare fuel . Imagine if this had happened in the wilderness? With four customers in tow ?

I’ve solved the problem on the Pamperas by purchasing some natty Acerbis auxiliary fuel tanks.  These carry two litres and handily replace most of the mysterious missing capacity from the Gas Gas gas tank [ sorry, couldn’t resist it ]. The Acerbis tank is plumbed into the Gas Gas gas cap [again, sorry…] and works by syphonic action – you have to make sure the bike’s tank is full to make this work. The handy thing about this is the handlebar tank drains first thus relieving the weight off the handlebars early on in the ride. Neat.

Once it’s empty the Acerbis handlebar tank doubles up as a useful buoyancy aid

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So what is it with these small tanks? My 1975 Laverda Chott had a genuine 9 litre capacity which gave 110 mile range. It was also light and quick. How come Laverda [and other manufacturers] managed to get it right 35 years ago and nowadays some aspects of bike design seem to going backwards?

It’s a combination of things . Packaging for one. Bikes have more and more mass centralisation and manufacturers pack a lot of stuff towards the centre of the bike such as carbs, exhausts, ECUs, radiators etc etc leaving less room for fuel. The manufacturers also have to quote competitive wet weights to stay ahead of the competition and a small tank helps this. Air cooling would resolve a lot of this and allow more room and fuel capacity. Unfortunately manufacturers would struggle to get the high specific power outputs customers now demand [even though very few of us can actually use it].  Indirectly, water cooling also helps to reduce emissions and controls decibels. In the end bike design is all about compromise and deciding which set of compromises will be acceptable to the market. Latterly , it seems , manufacturers have decided modern riders don’t ride their bikes very far and therefore the designers can cut down the amount of space devoted to carrying fuel.

Now then, don’t get me started on seat height and dry weight. Oh go on then, maybe next time…

This is the reckless consequence of an inadequate  four litre tank capacity. Taken some years ago this pic shows me filling up five x 1 litre Sigg fuel bottles to augment the small trials tank on my Yamaha Majesty during the  Edinburgh Trial. At one point during the twenty hour event I was falling behind on standard time and through a dangerous combination of fatigue, desperation and stupidity I actually removed a bottle from my rucksack and attempted some in-flight re-fueling whilst traveling at 40 mph. Good sense prevailed prior to spontaneous combustion and I pulled in to continue refueling in a more responsible manner. Happy days.

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