This month I rediscovered Yamaha’s XT660R (p108), which left me mourning the demise of light, single-cylinder trailies. But Duncan Mccallum didn’t sulk — he turned a KTM 690 Enduro R into his ideal adventuretourer. It sounds awesome.
Do you really need a big adventure bike? Duncan Mccallum transformed a KTM 690 Enduro R into the ultimate off-road tourer
BEFORE DISCOVERING MOTORCYCLING, my life was spent in the mountains, summers and winters hanging from vertical ice or suspended above the rock void on a 10mm thread of nylon. So I was a latecomer to bikes and naturally it was in the mountains that I started, trail riding in the French Alps on an old Gas Gas 300 trials bike, no licence required. But the draw of crossing the next range, and the one behind that, grew stronger and following a fraught conversation with a Gendarme, who threatened to take my bike from me, I decided to get a full licence.
Now, ten years and six bikes later, you could say I am hooked. Part of the attraction for me is the ability to go deeper into the rough countryside; but finding the right steed has been, at times, an expensive and steady evolution. A big touring bike may be great for mile-munching but I am drawn to tougher, higher tracks and trails. After a spell with a BMW F800GS, I felt I wanted something more like my downhill mountain bike but with an engine.
It truly was a dilemma: typical enduro machines need oil changes every few hours, are rubbish on-road and have limited fuel ranges; but a bigger machine would limit what I could do, due to my lack of real riding skill, budget and their weight. I knew if I dropped a fully laden conventional adventure bike on a solo trip, I’d either spend a huge amount of energy trying to right the thing or have to wait for a passing goat herder to help out.
I decided the bike would have to cost less
“Nobody makes a machine like that”
than £9000 new, weigh less than 165kg (200kg with gear), do 250 miles on one tank, be usable in the pitch dark, be OK on the road up to 70mph and great off-road. But nobody makes a machine like that.
Still, trying a KTM 690 Enduro R at Patsy Quick’s training base in East Sussex convinced me it was the right bike to serve as the basis for my own lightweight enduro-tourer. I started looking for a post-2014 machine (more power, smoother power band, fly-by-wire throttle and vastly improved fuel efficiency). With a huge array of aftermarket hardware available, I could tweak it to my heart’s content.
When I finally got my 690 in the garage, I also decided to completely overhaul my riding gear as well; forget the hype and pockets and start from first principles.
Back in the 90s, I was a serious rock climber, peaking at 8b standard. In motorcycle speak, that’s not Motogp but more like British Superbike level. With climbing, the goal was always to be light; to have a great power-to-weight ratio. Ropes, tents, clothing and other gear all had to weigh as little as possible. So I turned to my climbing contacts as I stripped back my biking gear. The goal was riding and full camping kit that weighed less than 15kg and took up less than 50 litres of volume.
Meanwhile, I rode the unaltered KTM for a couple of months to work out what I really needed and tried not to rush into buying kit that wasn’t necessary. For my shakedown test, I had the bike shipped out to Chamonix in France, for £230, while I flew out to Geneva. Reunited with the bike in the ski resort of Les Contamines, the plan was to travel from Mont Blanc to the Mediterranean coast on the high Alpine dirt roads and onto Italian salt roads.
The KTM weighed-in at 160kg fully loaded with camping equipment, tools and three days’ food. On a dual-sport bike, you tend to stand and do lots of footpeg steering, especially in the corners, allowing the bigger machines to bounce around underneath you. On the Enduro the ride was much sportier. If I stood up on the loose gravel the bike was so light it skipped over the rocks and lost traction, while sitting down provided much more grip. Sitting forward over the engine in the corners — inside foot-out, MX style — was a very natural position.
It was a totally different experience to the previous year’s journey on the F800GS — much more fun, with much less worry about losing control of the machine. Sliding the bike around corners, letting the back end skip out and bashing on the power to straighten it out is not usually something you do at the start of a 1000km off-road journey on a fully loaded bike, but on the KTM it felt natural and a lot more fun.
Tracks I had only just survived the year before suddenly became part of a huge extended Hare and Hounds track, especially when the weather turned bad. Dirt-track hairpins became enjoyable power-slide exercises, the lighter ,morecapable machine inspiring confidence. It became fun as off-road trails were enjoyed.
As for the lightweight gear — the 1kg tent, the Gore-tex, the Merino wool base layers — it worked. I think I could go even lighter but then I would be moving into the realms of cutting toothbrushes in half.
Further trips in France, Italy, Corsica and Sardinia have helped tweak the setup. I am pretty happy with the build and the base machine, though a 14-tooth front sprocket and a Rekluse clutch are on the wish list.
What started as a project to lighten my touring machine ended up revolutionising my riding and my approach to trips and journeys. Exploring those little side tracks that would have been out of bounds on a big bike, for fear of not being able to turn around on a skinny track, disappeared. Rougher, steeper, tighter tracks opened up, as the adventure became less about the bike and more about the roads I could explore. If you truly are interested in exploring and adventure, go light.
“If you are interested in adventure and exploring, go light”
Duncan has built the KTM to his own specification and it works perfectly
Electronics as well as paperbased mapping. Belt and braces for off-road riding
Light and nimble enough to traverse the roughest and tightest trails
Lightweight and powerful — Duncan and the KTM
Smart packing of lightweight kit keeps the luggage volume — and weight — low
The lightweight KTM allows a much more relaxed riding style
The easy nature of the KTM means it’s all about the riding, not the bike
There must be some sort of fable reference here. Answers on a postcard...