Martin Fitz-gib­bons

Deputy edi­tor

RiDE (UK) - - Welcome - Dun­can Mccal­lum Words and pic­tures

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...

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