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Ultimate two-wheeled explorer: Suggestions needed!

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Hi there all,

My name's Nick, and I hail from Johannesburg, South Africa.

I need advice! :bonk:

Before I explain the dilemma, a little background:

I first learned to ride in 1987; I was 11 years old back then. On a farm about a hundred miles to the Northwest, first on a little PW80, then on a 'big wheel' KX125.

In those years, I grew quite good at offroad riding. But then came a long hiatus, and the first bike I ever bought with my own money - a Suzuki Katana 650, in 1999.

From that point on, the only bikes I've owned are road bikes. Offroad biking definitely took a back seat.

I currently ride a 185 BHP BMW K1200S streetfighter which I built in my garage, and on which I've managed to put about 30 000 Km in two years.

The trouble is, I've started to want much more from biking. Tarmac holds no more surprises for me, and I don't believe it will unless I go down the 'Stupid fast' route (turbo Hayabusas and all that stuff), and I'm not particularly interested in that. It'd just be the same, but more of it, and this time with bankruptcy-type costs involved.

Over the last 18 months or so, my focus has been shifting more and more in the direction of offroad bikes.

I realise that's an impossibly general term, so let me narrow it down: I want to explore. Go

offroad for huge distances, into places that are impossibly remote, and spend time in philosophical mode.

Part of wanting to go in this general direction encompasses wanting to build my own bike for the job.

I've built race cars, and many of my own bikes. There's very little I don't know how to do in a workshop, and for the stuff I don't, I know skilled peeps who can - that's not my issue. The problem is that after some thought, I have a very specific configuration in mind - and I have found that some of the components involved are going to be hard to find at reasonable cost.

To begin at the beginning: I want to start with a lightweight single-cylinder enduro bike as my base platform, making necessary (and sometimes conflicting) additions and alterations until I have something that I know from experience will do the job with capability to spare.

Big stuff like KTM 990s and BMW R1200GSs are not even a consideration. I know what I'm doing better than McGregor and Boorman, and no way am I ignorant or stupid enough to take a bike weighing 260 Kg through deep mud and sand.

Bear in mind: I haven't bought or acquired ANYTHING yet. My mind is open; I wanted to tap the pool of knowledge before going in ANY specific direction.

What is the bike going to do, and where is it going to go?

For those of you who don't know SA, a geography lesson might help: Johannesburg is a regular, concrete-jungle metropolitan centre with very little 'true offroad' conditions for about 200 Km in any direction. But out of the major centres, anything goes. Most of what you'll find is what we call 'Bosveld' (open, semi-sparse scrubland, in places dotted with trees and bush). But all the places really worth getting to are surrounded by some of the hardest offroad conditions in the world - dirt-tracked mountain passes, dense forest, mud and gravel.

Getting towards our Northern borders (ie approaching Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana), we also share vast tracts of desert with our neighbours. To the Northeast lies Mozambique, which is boiling hot, humid and densely vegetated. A lot of jungle there.

Within our borders is also an independent territory called Lesotho (aka the 'South African Himalayas'). It has some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery you've ever seen, no matter who you are or where you've gone before. It's also where the annual 'Roof of Africa' rally is held - if you've never heard of it before, it's one of the toughest enduro events in the world.

So firstly, the bike must be able to do tarmac for up to 700 miles before reaching any really interesting offroad. Once there, it must give outstanding offroad performance, and be able to take genuine offroad punishment whilst staying 100% reliable. After all that, it must get me home again without any complaint. Simple.

I also have specific goals in mind WRT overall usability: it must have excellent lighting, decent wind/rain protection, and also carry enough fuel to provide a buffer against running out of the stuff if I get lost (in the sticks, you sometimes won't see any sign posts, let alone a filling station, for hundreds of miles).

For me, exploiting synergistics with the goal of making the bike as lightweight as possible is a major consideration.

The overall motto here is not 'Is there another toy I can add?' but rather 'What else can I make better, with the goal of leaving an unneeded feature or tool behind?'

So this is going to be an 'Endurance explorer', not a Dakar racer (even though it will have a lot in common with that genre).

With that in mind, my spec outline is:

  • Single-cylinder engine, preferably water-cooled. No multi-cylinder engines.
  • Four-stroke engines only; no two-strokes (long-term reliability).
  • Electric starting isn't essential (I may consider leaving it off to save weight), but would be a 'nice-to-have'.
  • Minimum 250cc, preferably 300cc to 450cc. Absolute maximum 660cc.
  • Nominal maximum power of around 45 to 60 BHP.
  • Engine built for reliability, not outright power, and it's greatest strength will be power-to-mass ratio (making the best use of the power it has available). One thing I do NOT want is regular engine rebuilds, and I hear that some current four-stroke 450s need them.
  • Carburettor or injected, but preferably carb.
  • Engine mods limited to lighter, less restrictive exhaust, bigger and freer-breathing PAPER (NOT K&N, BMC or Pipercross) air filter, and re-jetting. (If head is off at same time, port polishing to be done, and MAYBE a very mild increase in compression. No radical power mods at all.)
  • Extended engine oil capacity (by approx. 500 ml). Integral spare-oil tank, linked by tube to sump.
  • Raised air intake to enable deep-water crossings. Maybe extendable by an extra tube?
  • Overall mass preferably 140 Kg or less.
  • No CANBUS. Traditional electrics only.
  • GPS-based navigation (It won't need a roadbook, multiple trip meters etc).
  • 21-inch front wheel if possible.
  • Based on established technology, so only bikes from Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, BMW, KTM and such. I have no brand preference - I'll happily go with what WORKS.
  • Extended fuel capacity (totalling approx. 15 to 30 litres).
  • High ground clearance.
  • Long-travel, adjustable suspension.
  • Good wind and rain protection and screen.
  • Extensive weight-saving measures.
  • Reasonably comfortable seat.
  • No need for pillion accomodation.
  • Single front disc and 2- or 4-pot caliper. No twin-disc front setups.
  • No ABS.
  • LED or HID headlight(s). Main lights must be powerful enough not to require additional spots.
  • Careful tyre compromise for good offroad traction in sand and mud, but also reasonable traction on tarmac.
  • 'Rallye'-style front fender, not an 'Enduro'-style high fender (I need to be able to do reasonably high speeds on tar without stability issues).
  • Large-area sidestand 'foot'. No centre stand.
  • No panniers or topbox. Everything needed for a long trip can fit into a medium-sized backpack or be held to the bike with bungees.
  • Easy access to everything for dismantling 'in the rough', incl. battery. Possibly using Quick-release fasteners?
  • Standardized Allen fasteners of only 3 or 4 sizes (reduced need for tools, and only simple, compact tools needed).
  • Battery/alternator cutoff switch or quick-disconnect (to avoid frying the alternator and/or voltage regulator if emergency welding is needed).

Seeing pictures of it, I took a lot of inspiration from the Speedbrain G450RR, which is a German Dakar rallye conversion of the BMW G450X.

Now, what I need are suggestions and opinions on:

  • What specific bikes, given the above spec, will do the best job for the least amount of money? (This is not a 'Money no object' project - if it was, I'd simply ring up Speedbrain and book me a 'fully loaded' G450RR.)
  • What tyres, in the community's opinion, will best do the job? (To recap: bike weighs roughly 140 Kg, plus an 80 Kg rider and no more than 10 Kg luggage. Long-distance tarmac, plus fairly serious mud, sand and gravel. I'm prepared to use fairly soft-compound rubber if needed - if it means I won't have to worry about traction issues, I'm prepared to live with faster-than-normal tyre wear).
  • The big one: Given any specific enduro bike, where on Earth can I find rallye accessories for it that don't cost stupid amounts of money?
    My main considerations are a much larger fuel tank (whether in the 'right' place, or auxiliary tanks below and either side of the seat), weather-protective front fairing, and a 'Rallye'-style front fender. Whether or not it's specific to the exact model of bike is largely irrelevant - I can make it fit. I don't need carbon-kevlar or such, and fibreglass probably won't be durable enough unless it's overbuilt, in which case, it will weigh a ton. Polyethylene plastic would be fine.

I've trawled Polisport, Acerbis, UFO and Cycra's websites. All of them seem to make very

decent replacement plastics for enduro and MX bikes, but that's not what I want, and I can't seem to find any manufacturer anywhere that makes what I want. I don't know if I'm using the wrong keyword searches or what, but it's driving me nuts. Suggestions for the needed bodywork, anyone?

Handguards = I can buy 7x different kinds cheaply off the shelf here.

Alloy parts, such as bash plates, brackets etc. = I can build and have them welded easily.

General bike surgery/modification = Can do that with my toes.

What I can't do is injection-mould polyethylene... Someone, anyone, please HELP!!...

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KTM 500exc with rally fairing. The 500 (2012 model) may not yet be the most popular bike around like the older ktm but it will soon be. Of course other european rally converted 450cc and so would fit the bill too but I think ktm is the most popular, cheapest and pretty much the toughest. And it has good resale value.

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Working my own carbon fibre is something I'd considered - but I always thought that you couldn't do it without an autoclave and facilities for vacuum-bagging.

Can you point me towards any threads or articles that explain wet lay-up in detail? I presume by the name that it's a similar procedure to fibreglassing (release agent, gel-coat the mould, first layer of resin, first layer of glass matting, second layer of resin, second layer of glass matting and so forth up to thickness required, allow to set, pull from mould - and that's it)?

I would go for the KTM 690 in a heartbeat if I could afford one - the trouble is that if you can find a good second-hand one with low mileage (and you can't, because their owners don't want to sell), they cost about the same as an equivalent-vintage BMW K1200S. A little outside my price bracket...

Besides, I want something cheap enough that I won't mind dropping and generally abusing it.

After it's been through every pass in Lesotho, it WILL look like it's been dragged backwards through a hedge - I'm already resigned to that. I don't want to be like these nob heads who buy the most expensive toy on offer, load it with every accessory they can find so they can look like Adventure Man, and then spend every outride s#!tting bricks over whether their billion-dollar baby's gonna get scuffed - just ride the f*n thing and get on with it!

Truthfully, I don't really want to go larger than 450cc anyway. The Yam 450 sounds like a better bet.

Assuming the motor is well looked-after, what's long-term reliability like on these Yamahas?

Any hidden faults I should know about?

Scriberman: any particular Oz sites you'd care to recommend?

That DR650 conversion looks like an excellent start... a guy after my own heart, that is. I used a very similar 'cardboard buck' technique to build the current, very minimalist front fairing for my KS streetfighter - but I made the fairing out of perspex sheeting in various thicknesses, bonded together with methylene chloride. Exactly the same technique used by signwriters.

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No other specific sites to check, wouln't mind a 690 but into short course racing at the moment (thats about all were going to get on a overcrowded island, that hates bikes).

Yes, wet layup carbon is like fiberglass but looks better and a bit lighter. You dont need a autoclave but a vac pump and bagging works best.

http://www.thumpertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=855696&highlight=

What ever you build will be a compromise, it just depends what's going to annoy you most- lack of speed/range/comfort or weight handling.

What sort of speed do you want to cruise at on the road sections?

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Lots off RFS engine option bikes - even mix and match cranks/pistons. most spares cover lots of models. Big tanks and oil tanks/coolers.

Pages of info on http://ktmtalk.com/index.php?showforum=7

Engine can be started and run with no battery. Stator can put out plenty of power with simple rewind. 500+ hrs with good inlet valves fitted.

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http://www.thumpertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=855696&highlight=

What ever you build will be a compromise, it just depends what's going to annoy you most- lack of speed/range/comfort or weight handling.

What sort of speed do you want to cruise at on the road sections?

I took a look at that thread yesterday. It's very good!

I particularly like the approach of publishing notes on what's intended, then describing in detail what worked and what didn't, with notations on what's been learned and where to improve. It's what I do.

Tarmac speeds will depend a lot on what kind of top-end power the bike has, but I habitually cruise at 130 Km/h, and like to be able to reach 160 to 170.

I know that any thumper is going to struggle to get any more than that, anyway.

Lots off RFS engine option bikes - even mix and match cranks/pistons. most spares cover lots of models. Big tanks and oil tanks/coolers.

Pages of info on http://ktmtalk.com/index.php?showforum=7

Engine can be started and run with no battery. Stator can put out plenty of power with simple rewind. 500+ hrs with good inlet valves fitted.

Scriberman, I take it you're implying ditching the battery and starter motor, and relying on kick-starting only?

? I would think that the really critical valves would be the exhaust (much higher sustained temperatures)?

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Not saying ditch the starter, just stating how simple the electrics are.( unlike the >07 sxf's that need a battery to run).

The inlet valves on the RFS engine are made of cheese.

Some of the yanks run big bore RFS in the desert and can make them very reliable.

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why not get somthing more dirt specific and just make the long haul on the pavement with the bike on a trailer or in the back of a truck?? That would take all the road going stuff out of the equation?? 700 miles on a wound up one cylinder 4t set up for off road is gonna suck!!

Barring that look at getting a used kawi klr 650 ... it already has a 6 gallon gas tank!! it has weight issues but if you are as good in the shop as you say you can make it into the bike it should have been. Don't know what they go for in SA but in the states they are dirt cheap!!

and if you really want to get way off road ....

try one of these!!!

http://www.rokon.com/index.htm

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"So this is going to be an 'Endurance explorer', not a Dakar racer"

whats wrong with a dakar rally bike for what you're asking of here ???

are you sure you're to engage this solo too...most dakar people would highly advise you not without a support team for real reasons...:bonk:

what's the gun laws there?(i'd have a side arm at least) and do you have survival skills/training (stuff breaks that can't be fixed)

write a will before i say

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I'm doing some symilar type of riding. Adventure exploring. I bought a Yamaha WR250R. I am expirimenting with seat, tank, bars, lights. It is working out very well. The bike is impressive. I does very well on the highway, and it does very well in the dirt. It might be a good choise for you as well. I would also like to learn how to mold plastic parts.

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good on the road for 700 miles and good in the dirt dont go together very well.

You will end up riding a street bike in the dirt or a dirt bike on the street.

What do you want to have more fun doing? I would want the bike that does the worst stuff the best. XR 400 with a big gas tank. Or for e start and a little more road ability a XR 650 L. They can go anywhere any more modern bike can, big afternarket support.

A DRZ 400 would also be a good choice, a little more modern. Dont expect to much power from a ultra reliable bullet proof off road bike.

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