Wednesday, May 31, 2017

TAT 2017 Post 14 05/27/17

Several days ago I posted an update to the modifications I’ve made to my 2016 KTM 350 EXC-F in anticipation of using this bike on the next leg (3) of our TAT adventure in July this year. This past weekend (26-27 May) I had the opportunity to try out the KTM in real world riding conditions and this post will summarize the pros/cons of the modifications I have made and the status of my KTM for the TAT leg-3.

Four of the five core TAT riders decided to do a 300 mile overnight ride in the Ozark Mountains of Western Arkansas. The riders were:

  • Mike on his highly modified 2016 KTM 350 EXC-F (moderately loaded)
  • Jeff on his heavily loaded Yamaha WR250R (several years old and the same bike used on Legs 1 & 2)
  • Steve on his recently purchased used KTM 690 (also heavily loaded) (he’s still trying to decide between this bike and his trustworthy WR250R for Leg-3)
  • Woodrow on his reliable 2015 Honda CRF 250L (lightly loaded) (same bike used on Legs 1 & 2)
  • New rider Matty (Woodrow’s son who just graduated from High School). He was riding my 2015 Honda CRF 250L (lightly loaded) that I used on Legs 1 & 2 and recently sold to Woodrow for this purpose. Matty is joining us on Leg-3 so this was his first real experience on dirt, rocks, mud, hill climbing/descending and switchbacks.

Terry couldn’t join us on this ride because fishing took priority (crazy talk I know).

BTW – Mike, Jeff and Steve camped on the trip while Woodrow and Matty elected to ride to a motel. As a result the campers had to carry camping gear while the motel crowd were traveling lightly loaded.

Our route started and ended at Clarksville, AR because this was centrally located between Tulsa and Little Rock where the 5 riders were living. We trailered 4 of the bikes and riders from Little Rock and Jeff drove his truck with the WR in the back from Tulsa. We all met at the local Wal-Mart early on Friday 26 May, unloaded, geared up and were on the road around 9 am. Because we were making a big circle to return to the trucks, this meant about half of the trip was on secondary 2-lane paved roads. This was also a test to see how the bikes dealt with 55+ mph travel for extended stretches. The map below shows our route. The red line is our actual track while the dark blue line is our originally planned route. We had to deviate several times from our planned route due to closed roads and a deep water crossing we elected not to try. In addition we did cut some of the route off due to time constraints.

I had planned the route based on a Dual-Sport route I had found on an Arkansas State Web Page. The directions were not very clear and I made the route using detailed Topo maps and my best guess in some cases. The ride west to the start of the track near Natural Dam, AR was uneventful and we made good time with no traffic to deal with. At Natural Dam we refueled and started on the track heading back east to our destination of Ponca, AR where we would then take highways back to Clarksville. My computations using Garmin Base Camp said this would be 150 miles of dirt with about 150 miles of highway to/from the start/finish. Our mid-trip camping site would be Turner Bend, AR on the Mulberry River about halfway on the total trip.

Our actual first days ride turned out to be 174 miles due to back tracking due to closed roads and side trips to see some of the local points of interest. We had to cut off one section of the dirt track in order to get to Turner Bend by 4 pm which was our goal.

Day two started from Turner Bend and would have ended at Ponca per the original plan. I knew this would be the more difficult stretch due to some pretty steep inclines on poor roads plus a water crossing near the end. We reached the water crossing early afternoon and it looked deep with very poor exit road conditions. Several of the riders walked out into the water up to boot height and they weren’t even close to the middle with the water depth was unknown due to the murkiness of the water. The shore line on entry was river rock and would have worked ok but the exit side was steep with what looked like a shelf that had to be climbed from deep water. We all decided it wasn’t worth the chance of dropping one of the bikes, especially with a new rider in our group. We backtracked to the highway and headed to Clarksville.


I got several pics of some of the local attractions which are provided below.

We had a number of dropped bikes (except for me!). No injuries and minor bike damage (always carry a spare shift lever is the lesson learned). The dirt track was very steep in some sections with switchbacks and deep ruts due to recent heavy rainfall. Matty got a good sampling of it all and did very well considering this was his real first taste (but he’s young so that helps). The CRF 250L is a great bike but you have to keep it in the power band on climbs and he would let it bog down with the expected results of stalled engine and drop. Even with this he managed to maneuver through some pretty intense rutted climbs/descents.

KTM performance:

My opinion of the KTM modifications have been finalized based on this ride.
  • Replaced stock 2.25 gal tank with KTM OEM 3.45 gal tank
    • Must have modification. I’m getting at least 50 mpg and maybe more but fuel for me was never a worry.
  • Removed all environmental control hardware
    • I’m glad I got rid of all the junk but the bike pops and backfires excessively. Not sure if this is part of the reason but it is VERY annoying.
  • Installed new end cap on muffler
    • This is my first guess for all the popping and backfiring. I will fix this one way or another.
  • Installed new exhaust port
    • See #3
  • Installed airflow vanes in intake
    • See #3
  • Installed new fuel rail on throttle body
    • See #3
  • Installed wheel weights, front and back
    • Must have mod. The bike can do highway speeds with no indication of out of balance wheels.
  • Installed heavy weight springs in struts and shock
    • Must have mod for any rider over 175 lbs. My suspension handled great and never seemed to be close to bottoming out.
  • Re-valved struts and shock
    • See #8
  • Lowered suspension by 2”
    • Love this mod. I have no problems with the bike seat height now.
  • Installed Low Boy Seat
    • Rode 174 miles on day 1 and although had a sore butt, it was not that bad and I got up the next day ready for another 150 miles.
  • Adjusted Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) with electronic meter
    • See #3. I’m already higher that I had expected on the setting but will go one more step to see if it stops the popping. If not I’m removing some of the other mods to get it to stop.
  • Installed Scott Steering Dampener
    • LOVE THIS MOD!! We rode lots of gravel, mud, rocky climbs/descents, etc. and this bike rides true through it all.
  • Installed ReKluse Auto Clutch
    • REALLY LOVE THIS MOD!! The reason I didn’t drop my bike was I always had full control of the engine power during climbs. It will creep along at 5 mph while I maneuvered through the rutted roads and I never worried about stalling the engine. It was also a dream while turning around on narrow roads while the other guys stalled several times.
  • Installed ReKluse Left Hand rear Brake
    • Still undecided on this mod. It works but not sure I would spend the money again for the added control it provides.
  • Full hand guards (KTM)
    • Must have mod for this type of riding.
  • Handlebar end weights to reduce vibration
    • I like this mod only because my hands never felt like they were buzzing due to vibration.
  • Metal skid plate
    • Must have mod for this type of riding.

In my next post I’ll describe our Leg-3 plans. Only 6 weeks to go before launch and I still need to order and install new tires and have the bike serviced.

Ride Safe!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

TAT 2017 Post 13 05/20/17

It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has happened in that time. I’ll start with describing the mods I’ve made to the KTM since my last post:

I installed the ReKluse left hand rear brake on my KTM. I wanted to try it out before I made another post and I did that by doing a 100 mile ride with one of my TAT partners, Steve. I was of course on my 2016 KTM 350 EXC-F while Steve was on his KTM 690 (a couple years old). We rode west of downtown Little Rock about 20 miles into the mountains (for Arkansas) comprised of lots of logging roads and steep hills and power-lines. Got to try out the gear on some pretty steep and rutted roads, rocky stretches and even a couple of water crossings about a foot deep.

This was really the first time I had taken out the KTM on some real dirt to really try out all the gadgets I’ve installed over the last couple of months. They include:

·      Replaced stock 2.25 gal tank with KTM OEM 3.45 gal tank
·      Removed all environmental control hardware (KTMH kit)
·      Installed new end cap on muffler (KTMH)
·      Installed new exhaust port (KTMH)
·      Installed airflow vanes in intake (KTMH)
·      Installed new fuel rail on throttle body (KTMH)
·      Installed wheel weights, front and back (KTMH)
·      Installed heavy weight springs in struts and shock (KTMWorld)
·      Re-valved struts and shock (KTMWorld)
·      Lowered suspension by 2” (KTMWorld)
·      Installed Low Boy Seat (Seat Concepts)
·      Adjusted Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) with electronic meter (KTMH)
·      Installed Scott Steering Dampener (Scott Performance)
·      Installed ReKluse Auto Clutch (ReKluse)
·      Installed ReKluse Left Hand rear Brake with slim line switch group from SICASS

The info above was about a month ago. A few weeks ago I was going to ride my KTM to work so had it running on my driveway while I closed the garage door. As I turned down the driveway towards the street I hit a wet spot on my slick driveway caused by the yard sprinkler and the bike went down HARD! The front wheel just slipped out from under me in the turn and it was all over before I even recognized the problem.  I landed on my left chest and hit so hard it knocked the wind out of me for a minute. I also felt extreme pain in my rib cage so figured I either cracked or bruised my ribs. Three weeks later and they still hurt, especially while sleeping. Only damage to my bike was it broke off the end my clutch handle.

As a result I accelerated the installation of a few more mods I had been planning on accomplishing before our next TAT ride:

1               Full hand guards (KTM)
2               Replaced broken clutch handle (KTM)
3               Handlebar end weights to reduce vibration (Standard Dead Ends from
4               Metal skid plate (KTM Aluminum Skid Plate 250/350 11-15 (77403990100))

Last week-end I decided to do a 150 mile ride on back paved roads to try out my Grand-Loop (GL) bag and the approach I am using to mount it to the KTM. This was also another test ride of all the modifications under highway conditions. I was riding to meet up with my wife and some friends at a kayak school in Western Arkansas where my wife was one of the instructors. She had taken our pickup to the school the day before my trip.  I had planned on loading the bike onto our pickup for the trip back home a few days later.

50 miles into the trip the KTM would occasionally hic-up like it had a fuel blockage but then continue on at full speed. It gradually got worse until at 75 miles it completely died on a stretch of highway between two small towns. I still had cell service so called my son Jeff to vent my frustration and to get his input on what could be the cause. I had thought it was a fuel problem because it acted just like I was running out of gas although I still had half a tank. What finally gave me a clue was when I noticed the headlight was no longer on. The KTM is odd because the speed-o unit isn’t powered by the bike battery but by a small enclosed battery. It comes on only when it senses the front tire rolling. I only could tell that the electrical power was totally off by seeing that the headlight no longer worked.

 I took off the front headlight unit and checked for loose connections especially around the ignition switch. Everything look good so that meant I had to take off the seat and my neatly tied down GL bag to get to the guts of the electrical system. Meanwhile I had pushed the bike under a shade tree alongside the road before starting the disassembly. I do have to say a couple of folks stopped to ask if I needed help but I said I would attempt to fix it myself before throwing in the towel and seeking rescue. Thanks to all those who help stranded bikers. Luckily I had packed the KTM provided tool kit in my GL bag after I had tightened all the external bolts on the bike the day before.

As soon as I got the seat off I started moving wires looking for the cause of the total electrical failure. Quickly I found the positive battery cable about to fall off the battery!! Problem solved. I know I tightened that connection so it just vibrated loose over the last few months. This bike vibrates more than any bike that I can remember so I usually Lock-Tight everything but I’ll put a lock washer on this connection in the near future.

Back on the road and not another hic-up the last 75 miles. For a 150 mile ride it took 3 ½ hrs, 1 hour of which was caused by the break-down.

We are planning another overnight camping ride next week and I’ll report how the KTM performs on real dirt after the ride.

One more note of interest. I had mentioned previously that I had adjusted the Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) using the test meter from KTMandHuskey from its original .55 to .65 after making the exhaust and fuel rail mod. The bike was still popping some so I adjusted the TPS to .70 just prior to the 150 mile ride described above. It is still popping more than I want so I’m moving it to .75 before the ride next week. If this doesn’t stop the popping then I’m taking the tail pipe extension off to see what effect that has.

Long post I know but now I’ll give a brief review of most of the mods in the remainder of this post.

The short review is “I Love This Bike now”!

Long Review:

·      The 3.45 gal tank is great and saves me from having to carry a RotoPax on my rear rack which isn’t really strong enough to carry heavy items. On a previous ride I got the yellow low fuel light so I stopped and filled up with exactly 3 gals. Must mean I have just short of ½ a gal when the light comes on. Good to know. (Update after 150 mile ride) I have ridden 150 miles on the tank and the low fuel light has not come on. That should mean I have around 175 mile range which is FANTASTIC! I’ll have more info after the next ride.
·      Environmental control removal – Still glad I did this but the engine is still popping slightly so I will adjust the TPS from the current .70 to .75 in the near future.
·      Muffler end cap – This engine is now very loud and I have to blame this mod. It does increase the horsepower somewhat so I’m still glad I did it but I could barely hear my intercom with it up full volume when anything over 45 mph.
·      Exhaust Port – This helped with the exhaust flow and contributed to the total H.P. gain.
·      Intake vanes – Same as item 4
·      Fuel rail – Same as item 4 but it is also supposed to make the engine more responsive. All I can say is if you turn the throttle any at all this thing will accelerate! (Update) I am a bit concerned that my fuel line is getting crimped because it has to make 180 degree turn from the tank to the fuel rail input. Something to watch in the future.
·      Wheel Weights – I really think this helped balance the wheels. I was riding at 65+ mph several times on the ride on highways and the bike never felt like the wheels were out of balance. This wasn’t the case before I added this mod.
·      Suspension heavy weight springs – This really helped me handle this bike. I do think they are a bit stiff now but that’s because I used a fully TAT loaded bike weight when I had them installed. So far I have ridden at least 40 lbs lighter than I would be on the TAT. I will play around with the suspension adjustments to see if I can soften it up for day rides.
·      Re-valve struts – same as item 8
·      Lower suspension 2” – I love this mod. I actually feel comfortable on the bike in all terrain now.
·      Low Boy Seat – This helped with the total lowering goal but my butt was still tired after the 100 mile ride a month ago. It is much better than the stock seat but it’s still pretty narrow and I had to give up some padding to get that extra ½”. (Update) On my recent 150 mile ride I wore mountain bike shorts under my riding gear. These shorts have a pad in the crotch. This basically eliminates the advantage from the low boy seat but it sure made my butt feel better after 150 miles. I would still get the Seat Concepts seat but probably not the low boy version.
·      TPS – Hands down this makes a lot of difference on this bike. (Update) still trying to find the sweet spot but it is easy to adjust and makes a big difference.
·      Steering Dampener – FANTASTIC!! I rode with confidence over real rocky trails, slippery water crossing, gravel and dirt and this thing just keeps going straight.
·      ReKluse clutch – This took some time getting used to but I love it. Where it really comes into play (for me) is in rough terrain and climbing hills. I would just put the bike into 2nd gear and go up the hill. If I needed to downshift I just step on the gear lever and go, no clutch handle required. It let me lug up hills I would normally be slipping the clutch all the way. Another time it worked great was turning around on narrow roads. Steve killed his engine several times trying to back up/ go forward/back up while I just turned around with no worry about the engine dying. Setting at a stop light in 1st gear without holding the clutch is great.
·      ReKluse rear brake – I wasn’t sure I made a good decision to add this until I started coming down some steep hills with loose rock and gravel. This let me stand on the pegs and work both front and rear break without touching the foot break. I really like this feature and it now works just like my mountain bike (except they are reverse sides). One note: several times I grabbed the break handle thinking it was the clutch with unexpected results so I focus on using the right handle more now.
·      Hand Guards – The stock hand guards are not adequate for any real dirt riding. When (not if) the bike goes down they will not protect the clutch/brake handles or any other gear on the handlebars. I installed the KTM handguards and they fit perfectly and seem pretty robust.
·      Dead Ends – Anti-vibration plugs for the end of the handlebars. I wasn’t sure how well these would work but they are great. I can tell the difference and glad I made the modification. They come with a tap that is used to put threads into the ends of the handlebars so the Dead-ends can be screwed into the bars. I was a bit concerned they would cause the hand guards not to fit but they all work great together.
·      Skid Plate – This bike needs protection on the bottom. The stock plastic one works ok for anything but rocky terrain and we hit lots of that on our last AR to CO ride.

I know I have spent a lot of money putting modifications on this bike. Much more than most other riders would I’m sure. If money is an issue I would prioritize the mods as listed below. I’m sure others would have a different priority based on their riding needs so just realize these are mine only:

1                ·      3.45 gal tank

·      Low Boy Seat
·      Removed all environmental control hardware
·      Wheel weights
·      Full hand guards
·      Metal skid plate
·      Scott Steering Dampener
·      Handlebar end weights
·      Lowered suspension by 2”
·      Heavy weight springs in struts and shock
·      Re-valved struts and shock
·      ReKluse Auto Clutch
·      ReKluse Left Hand rear Brake
·      End cap on muffler
·      Exhaust port
·      Airflow vanes in intake
·      Fuel rail on throttle body
·      Adjust TPS with electronic meter

If you noticed I put all the mods that improved engine performance at the bottom. This bike already has more power than I need so the increase in HP wasn’t something I really was trying to obtain. I also love the ReKluse auto clutch and Scott Steering Dampener but they are expensive and I could have survived without them.

We have also firmed up our TAT 3 riding plans but will put those in the next post.

Ride Safe!