My last post received several comments about the unsuitability of the KTM 350 EXC-F (referenced as KTM in this post) for riding the TAT. Sadly I have to agree with several of the comments but not that the KTM is unsuitable only because I don’t think there is such a thing. If you read lots of Blogs as I do you realize all sizes and types of bikes have been used to ride the TAT from Honda 90’s to super-sized adventure bikes. We even pasted a group of TAT riders in August riding gas-powered bicycles! Each trip is unique and you have to recognize the bike and rider capabilities and adapt your riding approach as necessary. That is what I plan on doing and the KTM will be going on the next leg of the TAT in 2017.
I’ve posted details of my concerns with the KTM in earlier posts so won’t repeat them here. Note that I didn’t say KTM shortfalls, only my concerns based on my abilities and the type of riding I expect to do on Leg 3 & 4.
Fuel Range – The stock 2.25 gal tank just won’t provide the range necessary for the TAT. My last mpg check indicated I was getting 60 mpg but I don’t trust that number. I expected more around 50 or less. 60 mpg gives a range of 135 miles and 50 mpg gives a range of 112 miles. Both are too low. I want at least 150 or better range so I had only 2 choices; bigger tank or carry fuel in a RotoPax. My experience carrying a 1 gal RotoPax weighing 9 lbs on the 130 mile Sooner Adventure last month proved that the rear frame isn’t able to carry heavy weight mounted far to the rear on the rack. Therefore I purchased the KTM OEM 3.45 gal (13 liter) tank. With this tank my range should be 60 mpg = 207 miles or 50 mpg = 172 miles, both which are acceptable. BTW the KTM tank is so easy to remove, I love it. They even provide quick disconnect for the fuel line. I installed the new tank today and it is big compared to the stock tank. That being said, it doesn’t appear to impact the riding position but I won’t know for sure till the bike is reassembled in January.
Soft Suspension – As I stated in an earlier post, the KTM suspension was set up for a rider weight of around 175-185 lbs. I guess they thought only skinny kids would ride this bike. Well I’m not skinny and my weight info is provided below (I only provide this info so you can understand why I’m upgrading the suspension)
Rider weight out of the shower (please ignore the visual this may generate) - 197 lbs
All riding gear, including boots, helmet, armor, and heavy jacket and pants - 23 lbs
Normal riding gear - Tank bag, 2 GPS, cell phone, spare AA/AAA batteries, tools, first aid kit, rain gear and the extra fuel in the new tank – 26 lbs
This means that for normal riding in cool temperatures my total load is 23 + 220 + 26 = 246 lbs. This is the weight being used to upgrade the suspension.
I shipped this morning my front struts and rear shock to KTM World in Georgia to put heavy weight springs and re-valve for a smoother ride (I am 69 after all).
Seat Height – It is entirely too tall for me. I’m 5’ 10” and I can ride the bike just fine and even reach the ground on tiptoes at stoplights. The fact is that I don’t need the full suspension range of the KTM for my type of riding but I do want more feet on the ground so I can manage the bike in tough terrain. While KTM World is replacing the springs they are going to lower the suspension by 2”. That combined with the ½” I got by installing the Seat Concepts low boy seat gets me closer to the ground by 2 ½”. We’ll have to see how that feels.
Tame The Beast – Wasn’t sure what to call this section but “Tame The Beast” pretty well sums it up. If you read my previous couple of posts you could definitely tell I was surprised by the power and performance of the KTM 350. I’m just glad I didn’t find a 500, which was my original choice. The 350 has more power than I need but I have to be able to manage this power in critical situations. I don’t ride nor plan to ride serious single track through deep forest with radicle climbs embedded with rocks and tree roots. What I will be riding is steep mountain pass switchbacks with slick rock and loose gravel made for 4X4 vehicles. This requires a bike with great traction that can make the turn at 5 mph then climb a 30-40 degree incline. It also will need to ride through long stretches of baby head rocks, sand and mud. We encountered all of that on our recent CO to AR TAT ride in August and expect more of the same in Leg-3 next summer (CO to ID).
After much research and talking to riders who use the ReKluse auto clutch, I have received one made for the KTM 350 EXC-F and will install it in the near future. You can watch several YouTube videos for this product if you’re interested but it provides me several advantages:
1 The ability to climb in a higher gear, which will hopefully stop my inclination to do a wheelie due to using too much power in a lower gear.
2 Prevent the engine from stalling in critical situations due to hitting ruts, rocks, etc.
3 Eliminates the need to use the manual clutch, which is just one more thing to deal with in tough riding situations.
I know, this is considered cheating by serious dirt riders and that I should just learn to use the clutch or go back to my Honda CRF250L but sorry but that ain’t going to happen. One very good reason is that I don’t have the nerve to tell my wife that I spent this much money on a bike that I won’t be using on the TAT. For my own self-preservation she better see me ride off following the sun on an orange bike.
Modification Road Map – The pictures below show different steps of my disassembly this weekend. BTW the bike is on its side to get all the fuel to one side so I could siphon it out before removing the tank. This brings up a question I’ve had for a long time that maybe someone can answer. How does the fuel from the opposite side of these saddle type fuel tanks get over to the fuel outlet? There isn’t a crossover fuel line and the right side of the tank is lower than the center. Laying the bike over was my solution but I’m curious what the real answer is.
1 Today I shipped the struts and shock to KTM World. I expect to get them back around mid January. It’s too cold to ride anyway.
2 I received my new KTM fuel tank yesterday and installed it today.
3 Although I have received the ReKluse auto-clutch, I won’t install it until the bike is back together in January. The reason is that the set-up and break-in of the clutch requires the engine to be running and multiple high-speed starts. I want to ride the bike with the new suspension before I jump into another serious change of the bikes performance.
I may consider changing the sprockets based on several forums I’ve read but not until I have ridden the bike with the three above mods installed.
With these modifications completed I hope the KTM will be better suited for my TAT 2017 adventure. As a side note I discussed with KTM World the fact that I’ll probably be carrying an additional 40-50 lbs in a GL horseshoe bag on the rear seat/rack. They advised to set up the suspension for my normal riding weight (246 lbs) and just use 2 turns of the pre-load on the shock when I’m riding with the extra gear. The GL bag lets me put the weight in the ends that hang over the seat/rack. This will put less strain on the rear frame than carrying a 9 lb RotoPax mounted solely on the back end of the rack.
Bike will be down now for several weeks waiting for my suspension to return but with the holidays and cold weather, I’ll suffer through.
I had planned on talking about our Leg-3 plans but will save that for the next post.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!