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Setting up my two stroke for the desert.....

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I went to Cali for a wedding last week, and of course, I took my KTM 300 with me.  Never before had I ridden this bike in the desert, so it was an eye-opening reminder of the high speed out there!!

6/15.. Honda Valley, 7:30 am

My old riding partner Phil met me at Honda Valley, south of Hesperia.  We took off on some awesome, elevation changing trails... yes, they were ALL ILLEGAL.  But it was mid-week, and we didn't care.  Phil told me he's run into cops during the week, they just wave and drive on as long as you aren't being stupid or creating dust clouds that cover the pavement.  Nonetheless, we avoid being near pavement.  We're on dirt bikes.  And we want nothing to do with cops.

My bike setup was for tight woods of Texas.  Last Man Standing stuff.  The first thing I noticed was that above 3rd gear--and most of what we rode in Honda Valley was 3rd gear or higher--the front end felt twitchy.  I didn't feel comfortable twisting 6th gear to the throttle stop like I should have.  We got back to the truck and I lowered my fork legs in the triple clamps. I was on what you might call the 4th setting.... flush, 1st line, 2nd line, 3rd line, etc.  I set the forks just above the 1st line, and it helped tremendously with the front end's handling. 

And always remember, the front end affects the rear end's performance.. and visa versa.  THE WHOOPS.  Wow, I didn't forget how big and numerous they are, but holy cow.. some of the whoop sections could swallow a Volkswagen!  Before I dropped the forks, I started to swap out in a rhythm section sized whoops.  I was able to hold the throttle steady enough to straighten it out (steady throttle control was also obtained by ODI Lock-on grips, and sticky gloves).  My old philosophy when riding a CR 500 in SoCal: "hold it WFO and pray."  Not anymore.  I had a few bad high speed crashed and concussions, so having more throttle control was a great feature.

To all you desert rats.. do you recall that District 37 racing club, High Speed Bale??  They didn't last long, probably all crashed out of riding.

After a few hours of Honda Valley, crossing Deep Creek, climbing into the Mariana Mountains, then riding west of the aqueduct, trespassing gov property and breaking through a fence, we had 3 hours of riding done.  And it was nearly 95°. 

6/18.. Cougar Buttes, 7:00 am

I drove to Cali for a wedding, my uncle's wedding.  He picked me as his best man, which was a real honor.  But I was careful not to make this a dirt biking trip.  I was there for Mike and his weekend.  So after riding Thursday morning, we prepared for his wedding on Saturday night.  When all was wrapped up, guest left the reception, I packed up all the gifts to bring back to the house, I got a call from Phil at like 9:45 pm.

Phil: "Hey, I got the camper packed up.  You're heading out tomorrow morning to Phoenix, right??"

Josh: "Yup, staying there the night with my buddy and his family, then driving home..."

I was getting all giddy inside.  I knew where this was going.

Phil: "Why don't you come camp out, we'll ride in the morning?"

It took me about 2 seconds of deliberation, and I came to my verdict.

"Lucerne Valley is on my way to Phoenix...... LET'S DO IT."

I'll spare you the funny stories of drinking round the fire, but suffice to say we had a lot of fun.

6:30 am

Phil slaps my foot, which is hanging off the edge of the mattress in his camper.

"Bro, it's almost 6:30, we missed the sunrise."

That's over an hour of lost riding time in the cooler weather.  Dammit.

Me: "Dammit, I'm hung over.."

Phil, in a non-judgemental tone: "Yeah, you drank at the wedding, started shooting Fireball when we got to the desert, washed down the cinnamon flavor with a strong Long Island, then had a beer!"

Me: "I knew I shouldn't have drank that beer.."

No breakfast, no coffee (total bummer).  We geared up, watered up, gassed up, and took off for Anderson Dry Lake.  With my forks being almost flush in the triple trees, the bike handled a ton better.  I wondered how much increasing the sag by 1-2 mm would help with the desert handling, but I didn't have a lot of time for testing.  Besides, this is a woods bike.

We rode to the desert mountains that border the west side of Anderson, and headed north across Camp Rock Rd into the illegal riding area.  Who cares?  There's this trail there we call the Needle Rock Trail, because it winds its way up the mountain right next to this tall, thin, smooth rock that you can see from miles away, sticking up outa the ground like a needle (or something else.. lol). 

After going back to the truck and gassing up our bikes for a 2nd ride, we headed toward Soggy Dry Lake.  This is where my bike needed an 8th gear.  Several sand washes, I was pinned wide open for 30 seconds.  It sounded like my engine was going to blow, but it was jetted one stage rich on the main and felt great.  Phil was nowhere to be seen, he was riding a '96 KX 250 with motocross suspension.  He rode it well, despite its MX setup.

We rode to the southwest side of Soggy, where there's a steep sand dune littered with volcanic rocks.  You cannot blast up this hill, you have to pinball your way through the rocks with a certain finesse, and a certain aggression.  Otherwise your knobby will just dig a hole in the sand, and you stop to 0 MPH.  On top of this sandy rocky climb, we could see score trucks out to the East of us.  That was impressive.  These trucks were driving fast, and the dust trail behind them was 100 ft high, and 1/4 a mile behind them!  These were obviously professional racers out there. 

We crossed Soggy Dry Lake at low RPM, because if I'm going to seize my bike on vacation from TX, it will NOT be doing some stupid goon run across a flat dry lake.  We headed north to the Rock Pile camping area, where many District races are staged.  Well, this was another astonishing stretch of riding.  Those score trucks I mentioned??  They have 26" of suspension travel in the front, and 32" in the rear.  Plus the truck chassis is much longer, wider than us, and they travel much faster than dirt bikes.  Consequently the whoops they leave behind are giant and far spaced.  We avoided them as much as we could. 

Can you believe how freaking stupid the government is??  Much of the desert east of Bessemer Mine Rd is now part of the military practice ops of 29 Palms.  North of the Rock Pile, as Bessemer continued northeast, there was a gate.  A wrought iron steel gate pained gray (probably military), but no fence on either side.  I don't mean someone cut the fence to sneak their dirt bikes into the bombing zones of Marine training, I mean there was NO FENCE anywhere.  Retarded, I know.

Phil's gas tank was only about 2 gals, so we had to head back.  Worst case scenario, he'd run out of gas and water, but I could leave him out there because he knew his way back to the truck.  We both ran out of water, but neither ran out of gas.  So it was a mid-case scenario.  Our heads were pounding from the heat, we were both dehydrated, and generally warn out.  We got back to camp at about 11:30.

My Bike Setup

If I were to ride the desert all the time, here's what I would start with changing.  Of course I would fine tune it after this.

  • Suspension revalve.  My bike is setup very well for the woods, but the high speeds coupled with miles and miles and miles and miles of whoops demands stiffer suspension.  The shop that revalved/resprung my suspension told me that if I were to take my bike to a MX track, all I would have to do is stiffen my front compression 1 click, the shock 2 clicks, and increase the high speed on the shock 1/8 of a turn.  That's it, that's exactly how they would setup my suspension for MX.  I didn't have time to test this out, but it would have been interesting to see how the bike handled with these changes.
  • Tires.  I installed brand new Bridgestone X40 tires, which are a mid to hard terrain tire.  I didn't want to run something only usable in Cali because I was taking them back to TX where the woods would reject the (non)gripping action of desert tires.
  • Increase race sag 1-2 mm.
  • Gearing.  This one was significant.  I was shifting all the time because of the closer ratio of the XC transmission.  It's geared 13:50 and can do exactly 89 MPH on pavement WOT.  Running 14:50 or even 14:48 would not only increase the bike's top speed, it would widen the spread of all the gears 1-6.  For desert, I reckon this would be much more user-friendly.
  • Dick's Racing carburetor mod. Dick at Dick's Racing taper bored the 36 mm carb out to 39 mm, which increases the atomized fuel velocity above 1/2 to 2/3 throttle for major overrev.  I've considered spending the $425 for this, even here in TX, because below 1/2 throttle the bike maintains its stock power characteristics, but it turns on like a turbo charger in the high RPM.  I just got off the phone with Dick, he actually suggested I modify the carb for enduro, which enhances the low end torque, along with the taper bore for high RPM.  That's a cheaper option that the InteliJet modification.  Since desert racing includes so much slow rocky canyon riding, that's what I would do.

I watched a Kurt Caselli helmet cam race.  He lost the holeshot to a racer on I think a YZ 250.  The YZ seasoned pro, because Caselli had a hard time getting around him.  At one point, Caselli lost the race course and got passed by like 3 other guys.  ALL WERE ON TWO STROKES.  Not Caselli, but these other racers who were running way up front were on smokers.  That told me a lot.  You don't have to have a four stroke to race desert. 

Any other suggestions for desert racing setup on a 300 two stroke??  Who knows, I may transfer to Mesa, AZ sometime in the near future.



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Up a tooth on the countershaft is a good start.  Might even go two.  Its better to be aerodynamically limited for desert riding to keep the engine out of the overrev.  That's where you burn down motors.  I've run my KDX literally wide open for minutes at a time, between about 75 and 85 MPH.  I do suspect that proper jetting in conjunction with tall gearing is the key.

Suspension wise you need a fast rebound and stiff compression.  Keeping the forks and shock up in the stroke makes high speed whoops very doable.  You get into trouble when the suspension packs up.  It negatively affects frame geometry and makes the bike want to deflect and kick around.

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