The first of our two part series focused on Adventure Riding, an overview identifying the types of riding and bike selection recommendation based on two riders of opposing skill level. For part two, we will continue to use both myself, Scott Wright, owner IMS Products and Chris Hardin, IMS Products General Manager, contrasting the differences between an experienced racer and an entry-level rider, respectively.
As we referenced in Part 1 of this blog, we will focus on excellent machines for each of our abilities, myself and Chris. My weapon of choice and the model I’ve chosen to build out for my adventure riding is the KTM500EXC. Chris Hardin, choose the Honda CRF250L, an excellent and reliable machine for any novice rider. We have modified each bike, and in detail, will review our project and detail our build. I hope by breaking down each model I can provide a platform that may be used as a guide for you for your bike build and next adventure.
The Build: KTM 500 EXC
In stock trim the KTM is well suited for me, although for those longer Adventure rides, even the KTM needs to be properly set up. First off, the KTM is good for maybe an 80-to 100-mile loop depending on how hard the bike is ridden. The stock tank on the KTM is only 2.2 gallons, and unless you wish to carry extra fuel on your back or strapped to your belt (which I don’t) jumping to a larger tank is one of the most important components of this build. I definitely wanted more fuel, but wanted to stay as near as possible to the OEM feel of the bike. For this I chose the IMS 3.1 gallon tank, which extends fuel stops up to 50 miles and provides the added security of not running out in the middle of who knows where.
Now that I extended the ride between stops, I needed to make sure I was comfortable as I’m not 20 anymore! When racing or hard-core trail riding, most of the time the rider is standing and having a comfy seat is not as much of an issue. Yet with Adventure riding, the pace is slowed down and the rider spends more time sitting. Because we have all done the butt dance to relieve the pain during an 8-hour ride, I opted to upgrade to a Seat Concepts dual sport/Adventure seat. The SC units are designed to reduce the pressure points of a long ride by creating a wider seat and using unique seat foam for added comfort.
Since I will be putting this bike through the paces on a regular basis, a host of Enduro Engineering components were added for increased protection and to avoid potential problems on the trail. The stock handguards were swapped out for wrap-around guards with debris deflectors. An EE skid plate as well as rear disk guards were installed to protect the undercarriage and rear rotor. The stock radiator hoses were also replaced for more durable units from Samco.
With regard to performance, there were a few changes including the addition of a Yoshimura slip on exhaust with spark arrestor, which presented not only a better note but more low-end performance off idle. The suspension was also sent off to Precision Concepts. I wanted the bike set up for my weight and riding ability that garnered a plush ride for those long treks, yet could still handle more challenging terrain when it came time to have more fun and attack a trail with aggression. When setting up suspension for an Adventure ride, it is a good idea to consider the added weight if you plan on strapping on a lot of gear to the rear of the bike or even the possible 15-20 pounds you might be wearing as a backpack. Be sure to inform your suspension tuner of the possible added weight, it could affect the spring rates and settings. To also complement the suspension changes and riding ability, a GPR steering stabilizer was installed to calm down any twitchy feelings in the handlebar when the bike was put through the paces in fast, rough sections. The GPR units are adjustable so you can change the resistance depending on riding conditions.
Other changes will depend on the rider. For example, the stock EXC gearing is good for well over 100mph, but on tight trails even first gear can be too tall. Consider changing out at least the countershaft sprocket from a 14 to a 13 tooth. This is an easy change and does not require altering the chain length. This will split the gap and give the bike a comfortable road speed of up to 70mph and make negotiating tight trails easier.
At this point the KTM has been elevated to the next level and should be ready for any Adventure. There might be a little fine tuning and setup to suit your exact needs but, for the most part, my outfitted KTM 500 EXC is easily ready for 100-300 miles per day.
The Build: Honda CRF250L
Because the performance difference and the intended use between the KTM and the Honda differ so much, the direction of the build was also altered slightly. The 250L is more of a recreational use, entry-level machine but that also means it will need some upgrades to become a true dual sport Adventure-level motorcycle. Even though Chris is considered a mid-level novice rider, he will still find the limits of the stock CRF fairly easy, and all of these factors were considered.
Like the KTM, extending the distance between stops is paramount. With an IMS 3.1 gallon tank installed, it ups the capacity by over 1 gallon. The fuel injected CRF250L gets very good mileage and with the IMS tank it should garner up to 200 miles between stops. The stock CRF seat is soft and comfy, but for long rides it is almost too soft. This is why Chris also upgraded the seat to a Seat Concepts seat. The wider seat will help on long rides and it will give the bike a better feel because Chris will not be sitting in the seat, but on the seat.
Tuning the ergonomics is key on the CRF, trying to step up the gap between an entry-level bike and a full race bike will make all of the difference on a long ride. First we swapped out Chris’s stock foot-pegs for IMS Pro-Series foot-pegs offering a wider platform for comfort and grip on his boots. To increase strength and improve crash protection, the stock steel handlebar was replaced with a Renthal aluminum bar and grips. From there, Cycra ProBend CRM Enduro handguards went on to help shield some wind on the road and protect the controls during a spill. The sprockets were also upgraded to Renthal components with a 13-tooth countershaft sprocket and 42 teeth in the rear.
Tuning the suspension was more of a factor on the Honda than the KTM. The stock CRF250L suspension is set up from the factory very soft and works decent for fire roads, but even a novice like Chris will find it too soft once he starts hitting trails, dips, and g-outs. Precision Concepts tuned the suspension to offer a smooth ride for the fire roads but with an overall firmer feel to better handle off-road conditions. These changes helped improve the overall handling of the 250L in more traditional off-road conditions.
Performance-wise, Chris swapped out the stock CRF250L muffler to a less restrictive Yoshimura slip on spark arrestor for added throttle response and it also helped shed a few pounds on the 300-plus pound motorcycle.
The changes to the CRF250L were just enough to improve the feel and help create an Adventure-worthy motorcycle. This is a great starter bike packed in with Honda durability and the low seat height is ideal for inseam-deficient riders.
Additionally, all of the fluids in both bikes were replaced with tried and true Maxima products and every nut, bolt, and spoke was tightened, torqued or adjusted to the proper specs. Remember that just because you build it once, doesn’t mean the work is done. Double checking the essentials before you start every ride is very important. Tire air pressure, sprocket bolts, spokes, chain tension, oil and fluid levels, axle nuts, and anything and everything that can and will fall off should be given the once over. Another added note is that we have found balancing the wheels, especially on the KTM, can make a big difference if you plan on doing long stretches on pavement as the front wheel has a tendency to have a slight hop/vibration at higher speeds.
Choose your Weapon:
With two types of riders and abilities, we now Now we have two bikes ready for a dual sport or an Adventure ride; the KTM500EXC and the Honda CRF250L. Chris Hardin’s CRF250L is ideal for a beginner to novice-level rider and my KTM, armed for seasoned expert.
I hope my blog was informative and helpful and welcome questions and comments adventure riding community. Stay tuned for my next series which will cover proper riding gear for an adventure ride and future blogs covering what to pack for a multi-day outing, as well as some neat gear to stow your goodies on the bike.
Life is an Adventure, enjoy the ride!