Bikes

This page covers the bikes we’re riding, the modifications we’ve made and the spare parts we carry. Obviously, everyone has their own point of view; the following is just our humble opinion.

Choosing your bike:

Deciding what bike was best for our overland trip took up a lot of our time, and justifiably so as once on the road you will have to live with your decisions so you need to be comfortable with your choices for a number of reasons. Obviously, your options will depend on whether you’ll be travelling two-up or not. We aren’t, so this is reflected in our reasoning below.

The Bikes: Yamaha XT660R (2007)

Reasons for choice:

- Reliability: These bikes have a reputation for being ‘bullet proof’ and with good reason. They’ve been dropped on numerous occasions, and been hit by a taxi. The bikes have never missed a beat.

- Maintenance: A single cylinder engine means less work. Everything on the bike is easily accessible.

- Performance: The XT’s 660 engine provides all the torque needed for slow off-road riding and yet has enough power to happily sit at reasonable speeds on main highways without breaking a sweat.

- Dealer network: It’s all very well having an exotic bike but when you have a problem and your nearest dealer is 5000km away, you’re in trouble. Yamaha are known the world over and the XT, in various forms, has been around for years so is not only well known but parts are more readily available.

- Fuel Efficiency: Fully loaded and on varying surfaces we’re still getting anything between 15 miles (24km) and 19 miles (30km) per litre of fuel.

- Cheap to buy: The XTR doesn’t have the glamour of some other makes and models, including the new XTZ Tenere (it has exactly the same engine as the Tenere though), but there are loads of low mileage used bikes on the market meaning you can pick up a 2-3 year old low mileage bike for less than half the price of a new ‘R’ or Tenere.

- Lower cost of Carnet de Passage: The value of your bike has a direct bearing on the cost of your Carnet – cheap is good!

- Lightweight: A heavy bike is a nightmare to control when riding off road and a nightmare to pick up when dropped fully-loaded so the slender XT at 180kg (unloaded) fits the bill.

- Usability: The XT is incredibly flexible. It’ll carry all the luggage you want (there are loads of aftermarket parts available), will perform off road or on motorway, and is great in cities or on any other kind of road. Parts are available for it to be lowered for women and those with a shorter inside leg (see ‘modifications’ below for details).

- Not too ‘flashy’: It might seem silly, but not looking like some ‘fancy Dan’ westerner when you ride into a village or park the bike for the night means not drawing unnecessary attention to yourself.

Overall, the XT does pretty much everything we want from a bike. As you can see, our list of ‘gripes’ is a short one!

Gripes:

- Size of fuel tank: Maybe it’s to claim weight loss at press launches but every time any manufacturer makes a more efficient engine, they seem to lower the fuel capacity. Extremely annoying! The XT only has a 15 litre tank, 5 of which is the reserve. This means a maximum (based on our experience so far, this is best case scenario but certainly can’t be counted on!)  range of just 187 miles (300km) until the reserve light comes on at which point the bike has a maximum of 94 miles (150km) left giving a potential total range to empty of 280 miles (450km). Aftermarket long range tanks are available but why pay £1000 for a few extra litres when a £3 spare fuel can will do the job. It would be nice if the manufacturers (they’re all the same!) could stop worrying about weight saving quite so much and sell bikes with efficient engines AND decent sized fuel tanks.

Bike Modifications:

Although the XT is pretty robust it, like any bike, needed a few modifications to toughen it up before embarking on an overland trip. It is possible to spend a small fortune adding every possible extra and changing every part (and some people do) but you don’t really need to. The following is a list of the changes we made and how they’ve fared.

Metzeler Tyres: The bikes came equipped as standard with Metzeler Tourance tyres and given their reputation for having great grip in all conditions, lasting for ages, and performing well on both tarmac and, up to a certain point, off-road, we felt no need to change them. James had his front replaced with a Metzeler Enduro 3 Sahara in Istanbul and picked up a spare rear at the same time which we carried until it was needed (in Kyrygyzstan, having done 20,000 tough km). Emily continued with on the Tourance, and finally changed the front for an Enduro Sahara 3 in Bangkok (28,000 km), and is still on the rear tyre which is still going strong 35,000 km later! We’ve constantly been amazed by their endurance abilities. The Tourance exceeded our expectations on road and off (bear in mind Emily has done the entire trip to date on a Tourance rear). The Enduro’s have also proved their worth and no matter how bad the roads they’ve always provided great traction. We have great faith in them and wouldn’t consider a change.

Slime (for tubed tyres): We inserted Slime into our inner tubes before leaving on the trip and carry enough spare to see each of us through a change of tyres. Slime is designed to plug any leak in the inner tube  (up to a certain size) and was recommended to us by people who regularly go off-roading. We’ve only had a single puncture (caused by a nail tearing the tube) after 30,000km whilst others around us have had multiple punctures so it’s fair to say it works a treat. It also comes available for tubeless tyres, and is well worth having.

Renthal Handlebars: The standard bars on the XT are pretty much made of cheese and are highly likely to bend in the event of a fall so they were the first things to get changed. We opted for Renthal bars as they are strong, light and are used by motocross riders – a fairly powerful endorsement! With almost 30,000km covered and multiple falls our bars still look like new.

Barkbuster Handguards: These handguards from Australia are an absolutely vital bit of kit. Not only do they protect your hands in a fall or from passing foliage and other objects but they also greatly reduce the chance of you snapping your brake and clutch levers in the event of a fall. They have negated the need for us to carry spare levers. Our Barkbusters have proved their worth time and time again – a great bit of kit.

Metal Mule Exhaust: Yamaha felt it might be a good idea to run the standard exhausts underneath the XT, a bizarre decision given that it is an enduro bike with off-road pretensions. This is something Metal Mule have rectified, and if you intend to fit their pannier frames you have no choice but to fit this exhaust system. An added advantage is that it’s a 2-into-1 system instead of the standard 2-into-2 and weighs a lot less, saving you about 10kgs. The system has been made to order by Scorpion Exhausts and does not require any Dyno-testing. The bikes breathe easier with the Scorpions and sound great. They also allow traffic to hear you coming without being anti-social.

Metal Mule Bash plate: Having invested in Metal Mule’s panniers & exhaust system, we had to change the bash plate for a couple of reasons. Firstly the standard one that comes with the bike is far too flimsy so really wouldn’t stand up to some of the abuse it might be required to withstand. Secondly, with the new exhaust system running round the engine, and not under it, the standard bash plate simply would no longer fit. This new ‘higher’ bash plate not only gives greater ground clearance, but is incredibly strong and has saved the engine from damage on numerous occasions.

SW-Motech centre stand: Centre stands don’t come as standard on the XT but are a vital addition for overland travel, allowing you to service the bikes, change tyres, fix punctures and deal with the chain.

K&N reusable air filter: We didn’t know how quickly we’d be going through air filters on the road, particularly once we got to parts of the world where most of the riding would be off-road and dusty, and we didn’t fancy carrying spares, so we opted for filters we could wash and re-use. The K&N filters were a simple and cheap option (but with the reassurance of K&N’s reputation) and have only been cleaned twice to date on the trip. The bikes still run perfectly and we’ve never given the filters a second thought, which I guess is the perfect endorsement.

Adjusting seat height: Like any enduro style bike, the seat height of the XT is pretty tall making it an issue for anyone under 5’9”/ 175cm, which in our case meant Emily (5’6” or 168cm) Below shows how we were able to lower the seat by an estimated 5-6cm:

SW Motech lowering kit: These bone links are longer than the stock ones – it’s a simple straight swap, reducing the seat height by 3cm.

Seat sculpting: We visited a local upholsterer who specialised in bespoke motorcycle saddles and simply had him cut away and reshape the seat. Hard to say what the reduction in seat height was but would guess about 2-3cm. The reshaped seat is also more comfortable than before. For added comfort and to reduce the temperature of the seat in the heat, we also bought a sheep skin (whilst on the road) and, having cut it into two, fitted them with some elastic. The bikes are now far more comfortable as a result and stop our bums getting too hot!

- Lowering front suspension: To compensate for the 3cm on the rear shock, we dropped the front forks by 3cm.

Adjusted fuelling: Yamaha set the bike up to run very lean in order to pass EU emissions laws, which in turn affects the fuelling. Although won’t find it in your owner’s manual, you can increase the CO mixture easily enough. For details of this and other modifications visit XT660.com.

Additional carrying capacity: With the new exhaust system, each bike had space where the second exhaust used to be – we decided to take advantage of this and add extra, centrally located, storage. To Emily’s bike we fitted a piece of 110mm soil pipe using the old exhaust bracket fittings, and having placed access plugs on the end, this serves as a storage canisters for water bottles, emergency toilet rolls and anything else we need quick access to. The Metal Mule panniers mean that this system didn’t fit on James’ bike (but a more narrow gauge pipe would work).

Recharging device: So that we could recharge devices on the go, we bought a simple and very small cigarette lighter socket from our local dealer (Hein Gericke) for about £12 and connected it to a really small Nikkai power inverter (approx £15) which we bought at a local shop. As we don’t always need it (no GPS or SatNav), we keep the socket under the seat and simply take it out and run it in to the tank bag when we need to charge something. A cheap and simple but highly useful thing to carry which required no drilling for fitting to the bike.

Spares to carry:

Some people carry enough spare parts to build a second bike! Below is a list of the spares that we carry and which we’ve found to be more than enough:

Heavy-duty inner tubes (1 set for each bike), oil filters, brake pads, spark plugs, a selection of bolts and hose clips (different sizes as found on the bikes), spare bulbs, 1 throttle cable set, 2 clutch cables, a selection of different size fuses, puncture repair kit.

 We do not carry spare air filters as we’d specifically replaced the stock ones for washable ones (see above). We didn’t leave with spare tyres as the existing ones still had a lot of mileage left in them. If we later found ourselves in an urban centre (such as Istanbul) and one of our tyres looked to be nearing the end of its life, we’d get one to carry, particularly if about to enter a less developed part of the world. Generally though, we don’t carry spares as it’s a pain and unnecessary.