When choosing a motorcycle for an around the world motorcycle trip many factors come into play. Mostly however these are personal preferences and mainly based on your perceived expectations of your trip. Do you plan to test yourself by riding a motorcycle that is directly not suited to riding around the world such as a sports bike or scooter? Or take the tried and tested road of cruising on a BMW R1200GS kitted out with all the adventure options?
All of these choices can ride around the world and also tailor the overall feel of your trip so that no trip will ever be the same and this is for the most part where you should begin the search for your ideal bike.
For our ideal trip we wanted to be out of our comfort zone. This would be inspired by in part the long distance off road trips of Walter Colebatch and Lyndon Poskitt but of course also by the much more mainstream exploits of Charley and Ewan.
We needed to visit remote, hard to reach places and conquer some of the most adventurous and wild off road tracks on the planet and for this we would need light. With a heavy bike it would sap our energy moving through technical terrain and deep rivers and of course there are only two of us to man handle the bikes so bikes too heavy to lift solo were a no go.
We also however needed to cover huge swathes of tarmac and with a truly lightweight bike this would have been a huge chore. In this particular bracket of motorcycle there is not much choice available in the UK. We needed single cylinder motorcycles that were close to enduro bikes in weight but also had the power to cruise at highway speeds. They also needed to have good service intervals so that we would not be changing oil and filters every week.
If you wanted to buy a new motorcycle there was only two real options in my opinion. The KTM 690R or the Husqvarna 701. Although both based on the same motorcycle they are slightly different. At the time of buying bikes we could have bought the last model of the 690 or pay top price for the latest 701. The sad reality of the current new bike market is that in standard form neither of these bikes were suitable for our needs and would need numerous,expensive upgrades. To tailor a pair of these bikes new we would first have to pay around£8500 plus for the bikes each and then up to£4000 -£5000 for extended range fuel tanks, suspension upgrades and luggage set up.
With buying two bikes and also saving the large amount of money this would be impossible for us. I also still have doubts about the long range reliability issues with the KTM Lc4 engine that is used in both bikes, not to mention the list of electrical complaints people have reported. So for us buying new was out of the question. We needed a bike with equivalent weight, suspension travel and engine capacity to the KTM but at a much more agreeable price. It also had to be long distance proven and have plenty of available travel upgrades.
Enter the X
Walter Colebatch on his Sibirsky Extreme Route
From following the many Siberian exploits of Walter Colebatch we knew the BMW G650X could be the perfect match. With a fully wet weight of 155kg the bike was certainly light enough and had the suspension travel to match the KTM . The 650cc Rotax engine was lower powered in comparison at 56hp to the KTM’s 67hp but with a much better reliability track record. In fact Walter had managed to put over 75000 miles on his engine before tearing it down to find minimal wear! They also have a service interval of 6000 miles for the oil which is excellent especially compared to gen1 690s in the same price range with their 1500 mile oil service interval.
The Issue with the G650X was that it had been out of production for 8 years and were particularly rare in the UK. Worldwide production of the X challenge model only reached around 1600 total bikes so even worldwide they are hard to find.
We found Jenny’s bike first. As she was working for a large motorcycle buying company at the time we were notified of any G650X’s they purchased and they had recently found a 2007 model BMW G650X Country. This is the sister model to the X challenge and features the same engine and frame but has a lower seat height and has a 17-19 inch wheel combo instead of the X challenge’s 18-21 inch enduro wheel sizing. It also featured a more retro body styling which Jenny much preferred as she could modify it further to look exactly how she wanted it.
With such a long term, life change trip as ours length of initial planning was crucial. From the day we decided we were going to the day we left took 3 years of constant planning and work to happen. We had bought Jennys bike with 2 years till departure. Having this bike available allowed me a good amount of time to get to know the model and begin planning and testing upgrades that would be needed on the X challenge when we finally purchased it.
The problem with buying bikes that are 10 years old already is that you must not only purchase and install the upgrades you need for your trip but you must strip and rebuild all the perishable parts such as seals, bearings, sprockets, chains, rusty bolts, electrical components and many engine parts too. These parts all age badly and go stiff and rusty and must be replaced for safety. It could potentially ruin the whole trip should you chose not to replace a particular component due to cost and then have it fail at the most inopportune moment.
To take this philosophy to the Nth level we ended up changing an entire engine less than 10 days before we departed. On a routine inspection and adjustment of the valves we found score marks in the camshaft and bearings. At this late hour we voted against replacing the camshafts and cradles as we could not be assured the main bearings in the bottom of the engine did not have the same level of wear. So we ended up forking out£900 for a lower mile engine and luckily it showed no wear on the cams and bearings!
With the bikes being 10 years old we also struggled to find many of the upgrades we needed. There were two main options for increasing the bikes piddly 9 litre fuel tank. First was a plastic fuel tank made by Touratech that fitted where normal bikes have their fuel tank (the x tank is under the seat) and would increase our fuel capacity by 16 litres. This is a bulky and not very attractive option as by straddling the bike in front of the rider it takes up space where the knees would go. It would also dramatically increase the centre of gravity by holding the fuel up high and being rotomolded plastic was impossible to repair should it puncture. Price was also crippling at around£600 for a new unit which we found impossible to find.
The second and best choice was a smaller rear mounted fuel tank made of pressed aluminium made by a company in Holland called Hot Rod Welding. Aided in design by Walter Colebatch this tank fitted below the rear luggage rack and could be bought in sizes for 8.5L to 10L. Due to this being a bespoke, hand made item the cost was very high as well as the need to purchase the matching luggage rack. We would be looking at a cost of£900 per bike.
At this point I decided the only real option was to make everything myself as this would reduce costs dramatically while allowing us to have our own individual, personalised bikes. Having dabbled in car restoration work and engineering I began collecting some used welding equipment and all the tools and materials i would need. Welding Aluminium especially for a fuel tank takes a special recipe of preparation, equipment and technique. I started by building a very basic copy of the touratech tank. It actually looked kind of ok but when it came time to pressure test it for leaks it was like a sieve! This was slightly crushing but I had plenty of time left so did some more research and experiments and started a fresh. I decided on splitting up the tanks and used a thicker sheet which allowed me to have much more substantial welds and these tanks finally passed the pressure test!
To be continued...
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