Thursday, November 24, 2016

TAT 2017 Post 6 11/24/16

Thanksgiving Day! I’m the only one up this early, having coffee and blueberry muffins. It’s quite and it doesn’t get any better than this.

It’s been a month since my last post so thought I would post an update of my Love/Hate relationship with my KTM 350 EXC-F dual-sport motorcycle.

I bought the KTM to replace my Honda CRF250L for two main reasons:
1               60+ lbs lighter – 250 lbs KTM vs. 310+ lbs CRF
2               Much more power and I mean a LOT more power

Before I start talking about KTMs I have to note that they are a very loyal and vocal group. I owned/rode a Harley Davidson FLHTCU Ultra Classic for a number of years (rode it to Yukon Territory in 2012) and I thought HD riders were the most loyal/vocal. Wrong! KTM guys are more extreme. This isn’t meant to be a negative comment. I say it because me being a new KTM owner and not loyal to any brand of motorcycle, I make statements that hit a nerve with KTM folks so I get occasional negative reactions. Please no hate mail. This post is to give honest opinions (mine) for anyone thinking of buying a KTM.

I just got to the 600-mile break-in point last weekend so taking it in for an oil change and check-up next week. If you read my last blog you realize that I’m not a hard-core dirt bike rider and the KTM so far has been a challenge for me to keep under control. Every time I get on this bike I feel a bit nervous and that may be what is causing me to re-evaluate my decision to buy this bike. Here are the good and bad points I’ve found up to now.

1               Very Light which helps in tough riding circumstances
2               Lots of power (also in the bad list)
3               Engine can be lugged down in a higher gear and still keep moving up hill
4               Gearing seems perfect for off-road

1               Seat is hard as a rock (great for hardcore dirt but terrible for long distant rides like the TAT)
2               Vibrates at any speed above 35mph causing fatigue (foot pegs buzz under feet at 55-65 mph)
3               Vibrates causing every bolt to work loose so needs to be checked after every ride to tighten bolts
4               Requires much more maintenance
5               Lots of power (very easy to overpower on climbs)
6               Throttle very sensitive (on rough terrain it’s hard to keep engine from surging caused by small throttle movements)
7               Stock tires are great on dirt but right down dangerous on paved roads at speed (65-75mph)
8               Front-end jumps around a lot at speed on pavement but I think this is more the tires than the bike.
9               VERY TALL!
10            Rear sub-frame very flimsy to reduce weight but this limits carrying ability for TAT riders
11            Electrical system limited power so won’t accept a lot of extras like heated jacket/gloves (I assume this is correct based on bike specifications but haven’t tried to hook up my jacket/gloves yet)
12            Air box is much lower than CRF and not watertight.
13            Idle speed seems high and not consistent
14            2.25 gal fuel tank
15            Suspension springs too light for my weight

As you can see the bad list is much longer than the good (IN MY OPINION ONLY). I’m hoping to overcome some of the bad items as described below to fine-tune it for my riding style.

My approach to eliminate some of the bad items:
1               Seat – I’ve replaced the stock seat with one from Seat Concepts. It is much better and dropped the seat height ½”. I rode it 100 miles last weekend but my butt still felt the burn; still better than stock. TAT averages 150-200 mile days so this could still be a problem.
2               Carrying capability – I installed a rear rack made by DirtRacks. After using the bike on a long dual-sport ride on rough terrain I found 3 of the 4 mounting bolts MISSING! I was carrying 1 gal. RotoPax and a small dry bag on the rack. In fact the right top bolt had broken off in the nut. I had not used lock tight on the bolts so I take responsibility but I hope this isn’t a problem in the future. I plan on using a large GL horse-shoe shaped bag on back that will better distribute the weight plus will not carry fuel on back. We’ll see if this configuration is reliable on future rides.
3               Power – I love the power but I have to be able to control it. I’ve ordered a Rekluse Core 3.0 auto-clutch. From everything I read, this clutch is fantastic. It is considered cheating by real dirt bike riders but for me, I’ll take any advantage I can get. This should let me control climbs and single track riding a bit better. More on this in my next post after it’s installed and I put some miles on the KTM.
4               Sensitive Throttle – I’m hoping the ReKluse solves this problem but if it doesn’t I will try to get the fuel injection remapped to soften the throttle response. I get lots of conflicting info on this issue. When I asked my local KTM dealer if they could do the remap they adamantly said NO. I read on KTM blogs that other dealers will do the remap. More on this in future posts.
5               Tires – I’ll keep the stock tires on for a while but will eventually replace with Dunlop D606 tires. I used D606’s on the 3000 mile SC to CO TAT ride and they performed perfectly on dirt and pavement. I don’t need radical knobbies for where I ride but I do need tires that will do 55 mph on pavement comfortably.
6               Seat Height – I can manage the tall seat most times but it is a problem trying to brace with my feet while riding slow through rough terrain. I know, real dirt bike riders are on the pegs and going fast but I still like to be able to push the bike backwards if I need to turn around and I can’t do that on tip-toes. I plan on having the front/rear suspension lowered 2” by a professional. I will also have them put in heavier springs to handle my bulk and the load I plan or taking on the TAT next summer. More on this in future posts.

Points to consider if buying for first time:
1               The bike manual says the piston needs to be replaced after 135 hours! After talking to the KTM dealer this may not be necessary but only time will tell.
2               Valve clearance needs to be checked/adjusted with shims regularly
3               Air filter needs to be kept clean, especially after dusty riding
4               Water crossings have to be handled conservatively because air inlet is mid frame and if bike is dropped, you know what could happen (CRF was just under the seat)
5               The suspension (springs) are for riders in the 175 lb range. I haven’t seen 175lbs for many years, which means I need heavier springs installed.

I’m sure this post is coming off as that I don’t like this bike but that’s not the case. I do love riding it but I want it to better suit my riding needs. Several readers have pointed out that this is not an adventure bike and I should not have selected the KTM 350 EXC-F for the TAT. Interesting I got similar comments when I selected the Honda CRF250L to ride the 3000 miles from Charleston, SC to Lake City, CO this year. The CRF did great as long as you worked around its limitations. I carried a heavy load between SC and AR with no problems and a light load from CO to AR, again with no problems.

The KTM will be used on the 2500 mile Colorado to Oregon stretch in 2017, which is much tougher than the 3000 mile SC to CO stretch. I wanted a bike that is made for rough riding. We’ll see if the KTM (or me) is up to the challenge.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

TAT 2017 Post 5 10/30/16

I rode the annual Sooner Adventure Ride (SAD) yesterday for 121 miles of gravel and dirt roads intermixed with several single track routes plus some interesting features I’ll describe in this post. The link to the organization that held this event is provided below.

My son Jeff got me interested in this event a couple of months ago so we both did our on-line registration and started planning the logistics. Since he lives in the Tulsa area I drove over Saturday morning pulling my trailer with my new KTM 350 EXC-F on board and all my gear in the back seat. Early (real early) Sunday morning we took both our trucks and headed to Chandler, OK which is about 12 miles from the start of the roundtrip OK ride; i.e. Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum. Well worth the side trip to see this museum.

This is a well-planned event and evidently been held for a number of years but this was both Jeff and my first time to participate. Since we both like being early on most things we arrived at the Chandler Wal-Mart parking lot well before sunrise even though we only had 12 miles to ride to the museum and didn’t need to be there until 8 am with the ride starting at 10 am. We weren’t sure there would be parking for our trucks and my trailer at the museum so we decided to park in Chandler. As it turned out there was plenty of parking at the museum; something to remember for next time. As we unloaded our bikes and started gearing up we saw several other groups doing the same thing so we weren’t the only ones worried about the museum parking.

We arrive at the museum shortly after 8 and there were already a number of bikes/riders there and the numbers continued to grow up to the rider briefing at 10. The estimated number of bikes is somewhere in the 70+ figure and they were comprised of many mid-size dual-sports with a few 250cc but what was more surprising, a large number of big adventure bikes. I was getting a bit nervous wondering how this many bikes would start and keep out of each other’s way while on the route. We met up with a friend of Jeff’s, Russ (riding a Husky 701) and Russ’s friend, Jay (riding a Honda CRF650). Jeff was riding his Yamaha WR250R and we four decided to ride as a group.

This was my first organized motorcycle rally so didn’t really know how they were accomplished. For those as uninformed as me, I’ll explain how this one was planned based on the rider briefing given by the organizers.

1               The ride would officially start at 10 am with lunch and drinks provided at the halfway point with return to the start via a different route.
2               Riders could start at any time after the rider briefing so to my great relief, a motocross start wasn’t planned.
3               A GPS GPX file wasn’t available but a paper route description was provided with every turn identified and miles between turns.
4               On the route, each turn would have an orange arrow posted with orange tape a short way past the turn to verify you were on the correct path.
5               The single track sections, and there were several, would have an alternate bypass suitable for the adventure bikes or the less skilled dirt riders.

The riders started to depart in small groups or single riders but there wasn’t a mad dash as I had feared. We had been told that from the start, 1 mile down the road would be the first single track section. We four agreed we would take the single track and rode off. As we took the single track section, Jay or Russ was in the lead with Jeff then me in the rear. I had 200 miles on the KTM at this point and only about 50 of that riding gravel/dirt roads. The single track was nothing more than a marked path through the trees with many short turns and twists with the ground quickly being stirred up by the previous dirt bike knobbies. I tried to keep up with my group but quickly fell behind and out of sight. I eventually came to a sharp 90 degree turn to the right with an immediate climb up what looked like a small levy. I swear it was 10 feet high (probably more like 5 or 6 feet) and made of loose dirt and grass with a bike and rider laying on the left side of the trail. I immediately powered up to attempt the climb and made it almost to the top but had overpower my KTM and the front wheel lifted enough to loose directional control and fell to the right side of the trail on the incline. We now had the trail totally blocked and other bikes started queuing up on the trail ready for their attempt.

Bike drop #1 - I was attempting to lift my KTM and somehow get it to the top of the levy when a young guy, who was taking video of the riders at this spot, asked if I wanted him to do it. I said yes and he made it look easy by dragging the front wheel towards the top, lifted the bike and after starting the engine powered it up the rest of the way with the front wheel in the air. I was very grateful for his help but later at the lunch stop I heard him talking about all the carnage at this spot and I realized the organizers knew this would be a spot to strategically place a video camera to capture carnage for their web site! I made it back to the main road and continued with the rest of our group.

Lots of dust is one thing I can report. During Jeff’s and my TAT ride through northern OK last August I thought I had seen all the dust OK could provide. I was wrong. There is plenty of dust in central OK as well.

We then came to an interesting feature which was a large rolling pasture that had a winding path mowed through it until it came to a creek and trees. This was the start of single track #2. I had decided that single track was not one of my strong points and told my riding buddies that I was taking the bypass and would meet them on the other side of the single track. As they rode down into the creek bed I continued on the mowed path back to the road and immediately came upon a big muddy spot that extended completely across the road. I saw no other tracks so wasn’t real sure I was on the right route but after rechecking the paper route description, realized I had to be. I was about to attempt a crossing in the least intimidating spot when I did notice a tire track at the very edge of the mud but on a sloped surface that didn’t appear to be very stable. Rather than go straight into the mud I decided to try this narrow route along the side. I had just started when I hit a rut from a car and the bike stopped and the engine died. I can barely touch the ground on a flat surface so I expected I would drop the bike into the mud because the ground towards the mud sloped significantly away from my dangling foot. I managed to get the bike leaning to the high ground on the right and saved it. I restarted the engine and his time powered up much more with the result that the front tire lifted slightly and the rear tire drove me across the last bit of mud. Problem was I almost hit a bunch of bushes on the other side due to the excessive speed. At least I wasn’t laying in the mud. I met up with my group a short time later down the road and we continued to the next single track turn off.

We had been briefed that the route would take us over a closed bridge but that a clear path had been made to the bridge. When we got to this spot we could see the single lane old steel girder bridge above the weeds but could not see the road across the bridge or what the ramp looked like to get to the bridge. It was a single path that descended into a gully then a left turn up a dirt ramp to the bridge. Problem was all you could see was the decent with a blind turn towards the bridge. Russ and Jay took off down the gully. BTW these two guys are very good dirt bike riders. Jeff and I were on intercom so I said go ahead and tell me what to expect when I round that blind turn. Jeff sped off and disappeared around the corner. A few seconds later he told me “it wasn’t too bad” and it would be a sharp turn then an immediate climb to the bridge but to be sure and “NOT RUN OFF THE BRIDGE”! What does that mean? I started my run, made the turn and here is another dirt hill to climb with the top not visible from the bottom. I powered up and again the front end became light but I made it to the top. When I reach the top I was going way to fast and that’s when I could see that I was heading directly towards the side of the bridge with maybe a 10 foot drop with rocks at the bottom. I somehow managed to get the bike shut down and the front wheel back on the surface on the single set of boards that ran across the bridge. It was one of these old single lane wood floor bridges with two sets of boards for the tires to ride on. That one scared me since going off the side was not going to be pleasant.

Bike Drop #2 – We continued to the next single track entrance which was a dirt climb off the gravel road to the pasture where the single track began. The dirt climb had a deep rut caused by water erosion that left a narrow strip of dirt to ride to the top with a bunch of brush and a wood fence post to the side. The other 3 made the climb and sped off. I was tempted to take the bypass but decided no guts no glory so I made my approach to the climb. Once again the bike’s front tire lifted slightly, I lost directional control and crashed into the brush and the fence post. Do you see a trend here? The others were gone so I’m alone with my bike on its side against a fence post. This was the first time I had actually tried to lift the bike off the ground by myself. It was no problem and that’s why I bought this bike because it was 60lbs lighter than my CRF. I found no damage and moved the bike onto a clear spot, restarted the engine and went back down that damn hill to take the bypass to the lunch stop.

Lunch was being provided at one of the organizer’s work shop and it was great meeting and talking to a lot of the other riders. A big shout out to Robert H. I even met a few that were older than I am. Most of these guys have ridden dirt their whole lives so what I expressed in the previous paragraphs is probably vey humorous to them but everyone was very good about it and offered lots of helpful suggestions.

After lunch we all headed back in small groups or singles for the ride back to the museum. Not much happened on the way back since it was all gravel/dirt roads except that I’m eating dust like crazy in the back plus we were riding 45-55 mph on these roads. Several times I almost missed a turn due to the dust with a barbed wire fence straight ahead. In fact, Jay did go off the road into the ditch at one sharp turn but managed to get stopped before the fence. We completed the ride somewhere around 2 pm.

Back at the Wal-Mart parking lot, Jeff and I loaded our bikes and I decided I was going back to Little Rock rather than spend the night in Tulsa. I took off my very dusty riding clothes and boots but kept on the shorts and T-shirt I had worn under them even though they were also full of dust. I arrived home at 9 pm, unloaded the truck, took a shower and told my wife how much fun we had.

Conclusion – The ride was good except for my terrible riding demonstrations. I have got to get control of the power on this bike. It is significantly more powerful than my CRF but more importantly is that the throttle is instant on. Every time I had an issue with a climb it was because I had too much power and the front tire would start to rise. I’m sure I was probably not leaning forward enough to counteract this but it all happened so fast I couldn’t say yes or no to that. On the roads and at speed on gravel/dirt, the KTM is exceptional. It does seem to be pretty skittish with the front end jumping around a lot but it still keeps going forward. I assume this is why I see lots of KTMs with the front stabilizer installed. I did get some advice from one of the riders about remapping the fuel injection system to reduce this throttle problem I’m having and that does seem to be a viable fix. I have yet to get a solid answer how this can be done on my KTM but it will probably be the next modification I do.

P.S. I must add one more thing. My wife has accused me of embellishing my stories and as you know wives are always right, aren’t they? The events I stated here are from my perspective only. I’m sure most of the riders thought this was an easy ride and feel I’ve blown the seriousness of the climbs way out of proportion and they are probably correct. In my defense in the last 5 years I’ve ridden motorcycles to Yukon Territory (2012), the Arctic Circle (2014) and 3000 miles of the TAT (2016). But all those miles were on roads of varying condition, some very bad conditions but no single track. I last rode a real dirt bike some 30 or 40 years ago. I hope to get better at it but for now I’m pretty bad.

P.S.S. It’s the next day and I was planning on taking out all the comments that made me look like a fool or a rookie but finally decided it’s my Blog so I can write what I want. You’re reading the original version as a result.

Here’s a great video of the ride posted by one of the organizers: