Ok, first off, I don’t like doing reviews. They’re shit, mostly biased, and no one cares about my stupid opinions. But I’ll be going on more trips (hopefully) so it’s not the worst idea in the world to take notes on what worked and what didn’t. For me. What works for you might be different.
The bike and it’s features & modifications..
- The bike – Is a KTM 500 EXC the right machine for long distance adventures? No. Absolutely not. It’s not a touring bike and it needs regular maintenance, but it can do it. Would I use it again. Yes. 100%. It’s clearly a compromise on the road sections, and your bum will not like it one bit, but anything else would be a compromise in the dirt, and the only real reason to choose this bike over anything else out there, is for it’s outstanding performance in the dirt. And it is outstanding!!
- Tyres – Michelin Trackers, 140/80-18 & 80/100-21. These tyres were a good compromise. Not great at high speed stability (the front wheel is balanced, rear is not) but on the road at speeds up to 90km/h they’re solid. Once you pass 100km/h the front call feel a little squirrely. On paved mountain passes like the Petit Saint Bernard, Col D’Iseran, Susten Pass, Furkapass etc, they were surprisingly good. There are a handful of Swiss riders on sportsbikes out there who I’m sure were as surprised as I was in the tracker’s performance. Embarassingly so for some of them. Imagine being owned by a loaded up dirtbike on a swiss mountain pass. The shame. From a tyre wear point of view, both tyres are pretty much shagged at this stage. The rear was new going out, and the front had 2500km on it already. Usable life for the tracker on my 500 is about 2500km rear, and 5000km front. On a lighter bike they may do better. With a lighter throttle hand they may also do better.
- Ultra Heavy Duty 4mm Michelin tubes. I had no issues with the tubes, good or bad. I didn’t get any punctures and there were some long-ish road sections at 80-100km/h and I didn’t notice anything unusual or have any pressure issues. Was running 20 PSI with rimlocks front and rear and would use them again. Hit some square edges up mountain passes at speed and no pinch flats either.
- Cush drive KTM 640 rear wheel. This was a used wheel I picked up during the summer after my chain break incident on the last trip. I didn’t notice it was there, felt the same as any wheel, and the chain didn’t break either. Maybe it had an effect, maybe it didn’t. I like to think it’ll lessen the load on the gearbox and countershaft but who knows? Maybe over time I’ll see a difference.
- Giant Loop Coyote and Fandango luggage. Yes, yes, yes, 100 times yes. The GiantLoop stuff is seriously good. I had looked at Kriega and 21 Brothers and Mosko and some other brands before buying my luggage setup, but I settled on the Giant Loop stuff and am very happy with my choice. The 21 Brothers bags from Poland were probably cheaper, but once you add taped seams and inner drybags and a heat shield they cost just as much if not more. The Kriega bags I considered too, but no. The Coyote only has 3 straps to it, it’s easy to fit and remove, and has idiot-proof roll closure. I got a Diablo tank bag too and can swap the Diablo and Fandango as needed while leaving the bases permanently fitted on the KTM and Yamaha.
- Garmin Montana. I like it’s glove friendly touch screen, it’s waterproof & shockproof design, the Garmin Amps mount, and it’s very cool battery compartment that can take both it’s rechargeable lithium battery, or regular AAs if you’re stuck. It’s fast to aquire a satellite signal and functions as a good speedo / odometer. What I don’t like is it’s ability to navigate / recalculate. I’m using routable maps from OpenStreetMap or OpenFietsMaps and it just can’t do reliable navigation. I’m normally following tracks, not routes, and if I come across a barrier or closed road (there were a few) it cannot recalculate a way around. Still a good unit though, light years ahead of my etrex 10.
- OSMand+ on android. As a road based navigator it’s great. Downloadable maps, offline navigation, and if you’re forced to go off your planned route it can and will recalculate a way for you to rejoin the track further along the way. I normally had both devices displayed on the road sections and would prefer using the OSMand to the Garmin Montana for the on-road navigation. Once the terrain got tough the mobile phone went away and the Montana took over.
- Home Made Nav tower w/power. Yes. This worked really well. The home made tower that was originally meant to hold an old android tablet but has survived one or two mods, and now holds a switched Garmin Amps cradle and some USB sockets has proven itself yet again. Between local roadtrips around Clare, and bigger expeditions across Connemara, Kerry, Donegal and now the Alps, the tower has about 7-8000km under it’s belt, and it’s brilliant. I’d recommend it to anyone. And by recommend, I mean make your own. I will eventually update the home made nav tower page to include some electrical diagrams showing how it’s wired up.
- Doubletake Mirrors. They tend to vibrate a bit at moderate-fast speeds, but it didn’t bother me. They work, they get out of the way easily, and stay out of the way. They can be fixed in position one handed whilst on the move. The spring loaded RAM mount is solid. No issues, a proper great piece of kit. Are they worth the price though? Maybe.. They’re not cheap, but then they are very good. And if I could make soething this good I wouldn’t sell them cheap either. Personally I think they were reasonably good value for money, but not everyone might agree.
- The 19litre powerparts tank. Another yes here. I was easily getting 350+ km between refueling stops. No question. No stress. Once or twice she took 15 litres at a filling, but I had no fuel anxiety at any stage on the trip. Was it worth €400 though? For me it was. I can’t put a price on piece of mind, but not having to worry about fuel at all was a huge load off my mind, and that in itself makes the tank worth it.
- The starter button’s white 4pin block connector failed. One of the pins corroded away and I had to kickstart a few times (argument for the 2014-2016 KTM model years with the factory kickstarter right here) – Eventually I stripped and bridged the wires and had no E-start issues for the rest of the 10 days. No-one can carry every available part for every possible failure but knowing your machine and being able to troubleshoot it is a handy skill.
- KTM sidestands are long known for being made of cheese. Mine was upgraded to an Apico sidestand, which, as far as i can tell is made from a stronger, more mature cheese, but is still cheese. It was giving a little trouble during the 2nd half of the trip, the bike fell over once or twice, and she now needs to be parked in 1st gear to not fall over.
And Gear – Clothes – Tents etc..
- Vango Cairngorm 200 tent. Yes I camped on this trip and all my last ones too. I like to camp. When I was tent shopping I looked at 3 things. Size when packed, weight, and price. My tent needs to fit on one side of the Coyote panniers so size packed can’t be huge. In terms of weight, there are some tents out there that weight less than 1kg, but not many, and most of those either don’t include a flysheet or they might require an additional groundsheet. And these sub 1kg super tents also cost €300-€400. My Vango is 1.8kgs. It’s not very big, it’s not very heavy, but it’s also fairly bloody good and was only €120 or so. It’s a compromise, but what isn’t these days. I’m happy with it.
- Snugpak Chrysalis sleeping bag. It’s a sleeping bag. It says good to 0°C on it but I’m not sure I’d chance it. I am a pussy after all. For 3 season camping it’s probably fine but I wouldn’t want to try it in the winter.
- Klim Dakar ITB pant. Ok, these aren’t cheap at about €200 a pair, but they fit really really well. and they have pockets. My #1 fan feature on my new pants was always going to be pockets. And pockets are not easy to find when shopping for in-the-boot motocross pants.
- Buffalo mountain shirt. I’ve been wearing buffalo mountain shirts for years, whether its hiking up a mountain or riding in the snow or whatever. They are without doubt the single best piece of kit for outdoor use that I have. No question. You can get them in Jackson sports in Belfast, around €175 or so. My old one is duct taped together.
- Gaerne SG12s. I had Gaerne G-Reacts before and they’re really good. After many years in the Reacts, when the time came for new boots, I wanted to stay with Gaerne and so got a pair of SG12s. They’re a bit more expensive than the G-Reacts but they’re a safer, better boot too. Am so happy with them that my next pair will probably be Gaerne too. Probably SG12s as well. They’re fabulous, worth every penny.
- Oakley LineMinerXL snow goggles w/prism fire iridium lenses. They fit perfect into the Arai MX-V helmet. They are also available as a MX goggle with a nose shield, but the Arai lid has a little nose thing on it already and I was concerned that the MX goggle wouldn’t fit over it, whereas the snow goggles fit in there perfect. Also, snow goggles in May/June are cheap as chips. 50% off sale on oakley.com during the summer / after ski season.
Shopping list for next trip / or to at least consider..
- A more comfortable seat. Not sure if I really need one, as i did do 2300km over 10 days and my arse is still here to tell the tale. It might not be a nice tale, but it’s still here. But it could have been more comfortable. But if I really wanted comfort maybe I should consider a different bike?
- One of those adventure helmets. The MX helmet is good, but for the extended road segments maybe something with a visor would be more comfortable? Or maybe I need to harden up?
- Smaller size body armour. Back in 2012 the shop I was in only had XL in stock, so I’ve been wearing XL armour since then. But I’m a Medium at best. Some might even say small.
Things that I felt a little uneasy about.
- My single front brake disk. on some of those steep mountain passes (especially downhill) with a loaded bike at 80km/h.. it made me think. Maybe a bigger disk kit is something I should consider. I would feel better about hard braking with a bigger front disk.
- My piston. I didn’t give it a huge amount of thought TBH, but it did enter my head from time to time. The 500’s service schedule says new top end at 135hrs. Now I’m not racing the bike, but I do have over 300hours on her.. The piston kit is already on the shelf but I just haven’t fitted it yet. Is it getting near time? Probably.