Saturday, December 17, 2016

TAT 2017 Post 7 12/17/16

It’s been almost a month since my last post so decided to provide an update on my KTM modifications in anticipation of Leg 3 (Colorado to Idaho) in 2017.

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.

KTM modifications:

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!


  1. Hi Mike, great choice on the bike!

    IMO, any KTM is a great bike for the TAT. I rode the TAT last summer on my 2007 525exc and for me, it was the perfect bike for that ride. Your 350 is probably a slightly better bike for this ride especially if you are stopping at a motel every night and not hauling camping gear. We camped out, so I had the added challenge of strapping camping gear on my 525, which became a burden at times. If i can offer advise or a tip for your ride next summer. You can change oil every 800-1000 miles but just drop the oil and refill. You do not need to change filters or screens during that ride. My local KTM dealership told me with a full synthetic, you could go 2000 miles on that trip with out changing oil. But since I had an older bike, I played it safe and changed my oil in Moab, UT and Battle MT, NV. The oil came out just as clean as I put it maybe I could have gone more miles??? Also; air filter socks can come in handy if you are riding in a group. The dust will get more pronounced as you go west, UT was ok, NV was dusty, and SE OR.. the dust was thick (trapped by trees on either side of the road). If you have any questions about the western half, let me know and I will do my best to answer them.

  2. Great advice and I will contact you when we get to serious planning. I've bought an extra air filter and dust cover because Okla was terrible dust and as you stated there is more to come out west. Did you ever have a blog or post pictures of your trip? I always like seeing other TAT riders pictures, gives me a heads up what to expect. Thank much

  3. Mike, great post. Have been on the fence to take my GS or my KTM 305 EXC-F and think you have make up my mind for me. Live in St. Louis and plan to ride, at least the east cost to OK section next late spring.

  4. Great read. Does gas mileage get better at higher altitudes?

  5. Mike, real happy to hear from you. Gas milage didn't seem to change much. We all had fuel injection except the Honda 650. He lost power as expected but still managed to make it OK. Take care

  6. Unknown - Heavy bikes are brutal on the TAT. I know many do use them and make it but light bikes work better in so many places. Rider capability and rider age does make a big difference. For us middle to old age, light is better.

  7. Mike,
    Great blog and thanks for sharing all your trials, trails, and tribulations preparing for the TAT on your 350 EXC.

    A few years ago I bought a DRZ400 with plans to ride the eastern part of the TAT. But as usual, work and lack of vacation time got in the way so that is on hold for a while. In the mean time, I'm content to ride my (heavy - 330lbs.) DRZ over the rocks of north central PA and through the sands of the NJ Pine Barrens. But the KTM 350EXC-F has caught my fancy for it's power and weight. I must say that it would be tempting to go the 500 route for a few dollars more. In any case, I am very interested to read about the viability of making it TAT worthy for future reference.

    Keep up the good work and ride ride ride.

  8. Mike, I've been riding a 350 for 2 years now, great bike. I don't think I could comfortably camp 'n ride on it for multiple nights, but otherwise it is a great TAT bike.

    There are big improvements that can be made to your bike, mostly I think you should focus on bottom end torque.
    The guys at BestDualSportBikes are by far the leaders in putting more bottom in a 350 with no frills, just stuff that works. I think they might be changing their name to

    For 1 you bike's TPS is set VERY lean from the factory, it needs to be richened up. You can not do this without a TPS metering gizmo.
    A GRUNT manifold and SNAP air intake will really help too.
    And you need to buy a new endcap for the exhaust or drill out the stock one.
    And ditch all that emissions stuff before it breaks off on the trail and stops you.

    The stock gearing on you bike was chosen to meet EPA regs, not performance. You will benefit greatly by lowering the overall gearing.

    They just came out with a new fuel rail, it's next on my list of 350 wants.

    Anyway, that's my humble opinion. I felt my 350 was nearly unridable and junk right out of the box, now the bike ROCKS!

    The stock suspension takes a good 20-40 hrs to break in and start working. Before that it's mushy and doesn't respond much to the clickers. Once it breaks in you can get it bone stiff with the adjusters. I weight about the same as you and with just a few clicks of the clickers I can set it for road work, single track trails, or motocross.

    Anywho, good luck with the 350 and your TAT adventures.

  9. devrodirt - Amazing but I was watching several of the videos from BestDualSportBikes when I got notice of your comment. I agree 100% and already have most of what you mentioned on my list. I really started regretting buying the KTM until I started making adjustments and upgrades. It is now syrating to grow on me and I'm getting anxious to start riding again when it warms up a bit. Thanks for your inputs.

    Rob - I really was looking for the 500 but couldn't find one close to home so settled for the 350. The more I researched I think I made the right choice. The 350 has lots of power out of the box but can be tweaked with some simple upgrades. The 500 from what I read has much more torque but with the same basic frame and weight as the 350. I always considered more power the better but I guess it does require a better rider to control it.

  10. devrodirt - After your post I ordered several items from BestDualSportBikes; TPS meter, rail mod, emissions removal kit and wheel weights. I wanted to do these mods while I have the bike disassembled. I'll get the GRUNT and end cap next. Thanks much.

  11. Sounds like your mechanic is going to be busy....

  12. Exactly so when are you going to get started?

  13. Nice winter are going to enjoy that bike after its lowered.

  14. I'm loving it more each day. Since I had it disassembled already I've made a few more mods I got from now named I've installed wheel weights to balance the wheels for highway speeds and removed all the emission junk. I have the fuel rail kit that I will install next and also the TPS adjust tool. I'll adjust the TPS after I have it all back together. This bike is so easy to work on compared to my Honda CRF.