Saturday, April 2, 2016

What I'm riding

I'm often asked about my setup, so here's a round-up of my mods and farkles you may find helpful.

Excruciating details of each mod with product links are posted somewhere on my blog. Just enter keywords in the search bar at the top of the page and you'll probably hit paydirt.

Riding profile

My typical adventure rides entail about 300-500 km in a day and consists of about 50% roads and 50% bush roads and rough ATV trails over Canadian Shield with lots of mud holes and loose rock. Where possible I try to stick to dirt/gravel as part of the challenge, so pavement often ends up being about 25% of the mix. Except in the driest part of the summer I tend to run the knobby combo (TrakMaster and Scorpion) for the confidence in dirt it provides. The TrakMaster is inexpensive enough that it can be replaced frequently, and the Scorpion on the front seems to hold up 2x as long as the TrakMaster. In dry conditions I can usually get away with Heidenaus. This year I may look at an alternative if budget permits. I'm also planning to build up a second set of wheels soon so I can have one set mounted with knobbies, and one with a more road-oriented tire. This will be a big convenience over having to change the rubber. 

I almost always ride alone since I like to explore and take my time. In my area there seems to be few rider who enjoy the combo of small bike, long distance,  and lots of dirt. I've ridden with MXers on long trail rides but feel I'm not well kitted (or budgeted) for that kind of challenge, nor up to the constant stress of wipe-outs and breaking myself or my bike. I save that for mountain biking and road riding where I'm still fairly competitive although no longer at an elite level.

The bike

2009 WR250R bought as a dealer trade-in with low kilometers. Looked like the previous owner didn't do much maintenance and basically rode it from the showroom until the stock tires and brake pads needed replacing. Otherwise a great find. I'd also considered a DRZ400, the new CRF250L, an XR650L, and a couple of other 250's. Coming from a 2000 KLR650 (what beast!), I wanted something less top-heavy and much easier to haul out of the mud holes, but fast enough to ride on secondary highways. The WR has surprising power for a 250, reliably gets 150km on its stock 7.2L tank (extended by 100km with the RotoPax), and is smooth enough to ride all day. While I miss the low-end torque of the KLR, it doesn't take long to get used to working the gears and throttle of the WR to get up to speed. A 350cc variant would probably be the perfect DS size for traveling with luggage while still giving the joy of a small bike.

Basic mods
  • Flatland Racing skid plate with sound-dampening
  • Flatland Racing rad cover
  • Custom counter-sprocket cover
  • Barkbuster hand guards
  • Double-Take mirrors
  • Custom rear rack
  • Removed pillion pegs, seat strap
  • Pressure-equalizing valves on fork caps
  • DID chain
  • IronMan 13T counter sprocket and IronMan 47T rear sprocket. This combo gives a good compromise between trail torque and low-speed control, and highway top-end.
  • Custom GPS mount for Garmin 60CSX
  • Renthal fat bars with low-mount adaptors (the Yamaha ones)
  • Dirt pegs (can't remember brand - they are the common ones, nothing special)
  • RotoPax mount for rear rack or side racks, plus 1 gallon RotoPax can
  • 90/10 trail/road: Scorpion Pro FIM front with TrakMaster II (110/100 - 18) rear for mud, or MT43 rear for hard-pack
  • 80/20 road/gravel: Heidenau K60 Scout, front/rear
Electrical and lighting mods
  • Eastern Beaver switched power kit
  • Fenix LED lights, 40W x 2
  • Headlight relay and custom mount
  • Skene 175 light controller with bar-mount brightness switch
  • Battery tender plug
  • Bar-mount USB port
  • Bar-mount GPS power plug
  • Moto-Racks side racks
  • Wolfman Expedition Dry bags 
  • Vaude Silkroad tail bag with custom mount. I don't use this much now, finding that a simple dry bag bungied on is usually more convenient.
  • 7L tank bag (Bag Connections). While this is great for touring it gets in the way when you need to stand on the pegs for trails. 
Riding impressions

My set-up is certainly much heavier than what a top-tier trail rig like a KTM 350EXC delivers. There isn't gobs of power or a sense of flickability. However, it's also plenty fast enough and nimble enough for my purposes, and the carrying capacity of the bags allows me to bring food, shelter, and tools to be self-sufficient for a weekend jaunt to the middle of nowhere.

The Expedition bags and side racks provide excellent low weight distribution and the racks themselves make great handles for muscling the bike. When using the side racks I mount the RotoPax on the side opposite to the muffler to balance the weight and space the bags evenly. This works great. You have to cinch the bags down tight to the racks or they will rub through the powder coat--especially in mud (I repainted them after only 2000 km). The bags themselves have held up remarkably well to abuse and I am impressed with them, although they can be a pain to open and close if you want to grab something quickly. For that reason, I tend to use a 35L dry bag bungied to the top rack facing backward. There it's easy to unroll and access without taking it off the rack, and it sits low enough that you can get your ass over it if necessary on technical sections--even if I have the RotoPax mounted under it. It would be handy to use my tank bag more but it just gets in the way of standing on the pegs--which really is essential on my rides.

For more technical riding I'd certainly consider the Giant Loop racks bag system, mainly because it eliminates the weight and failure risk of the racks. However, it doesn't seem to be as easy to load or access.

The LED lights are a godsend in twilight or rain--especially given the anemic stock light of the WR. I have them set to flood the road and edges of the road so I can see hundreds of feet ahead as well as whether there are any animals about to spring across my path (deer are a constant threat in my area). They are also awesome for reminding oncoming cars to turn off their high beams. The light relay and other wiring I installed has worked flawlessly despite some serious mudding and flooding. 

Overall the WR is a great rig that I enjoy riding. It would certainly benefit from some suspension tuning to open up more of the bike's capabilities and maybe a reshaped seat, but I haven't gotten around to those. My wish-list would include another 100cc (but no more!) to make riding in the wind or climbing long highway hills just that little bit easier when loaded down. However, that's new bike territory and the rumored Honda CRF Rally adventure bike also looks like a very attractive option for my next bike--assuming it's released in Canada.

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