Lyndon Poskitt of “Races to Places” has both ridden and raced around the world on a motorcycle he built.
What does it take to build a bike for such a feat?
Where to start? First of all there is the fact that my trip is a little, well, actually ‘a lot’ different to your average ‘Round the World’ motorcycle ride. Sure I am riding around the world and require a good solid adventure bike, but I am also a racer at heart, appreciate a well set-up bike, love riding off the beaten path (off-road) and I am racing in rally races also along the way, so I wanted a machine that is capable of doing all of this.
Most people, unfamiliar with rally racing, confuse my bike (named ‘Basil’ after my late grandfather) for a heavily modified 690 Enduro R. Basil is in fact VERY different. It is based on a 2007 KTM 690 Rally Factory Replica, a bike designed to win the Dakar. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a standard 690 Rally bike. To make it truly ‘Ready-To Race & Ready-For-Adventure’, I’ve invested significant time and resources into developing the ultimate adventure riding platform we now have.
So let’s talk about why I chose the bike I did, how it is special, and the modifications which made my journey possible.
First we’ll look at why I chose the Rally platform and to do this I’ll break it into 6 categories:
The suspension units (forks and shock) are far superior on the Rally compared to all production bikes, it has more travel and much improved performance, specifically at race speeds. While you can add aftermarket forks and shocks to production bikes to improve them or have them reworked, it’s unlikely that you will get close to the setup of the rally bike as you cannot change the frame or other major chassis components so easily and these contribute massively to the performance of the Rally.
The cassis set-up on the Factory Rally bike is much more suitable for carrying weight, it is stronger and is also way more stable, let’s explore why. The wheel-base is longer, obtained by a slightly longer swing-arm and more suspension travel, the swing arm and suspension linkage is stronger, with billet components and larger diameter high tensile pins instead of smaller and typically cast / forged components on production models, and finally, the upper shock mount is not only in a different position to allow a longer shock to be installed for more control but it is also stronger and offers different stiffness characteristics for improved handling. The front triple clamps are stronger for the longer forks and offer 20/22mm adjustable offset. You get a full 320mm race suspension package which is great but the downside, you better have a good size inseam to get on it! Obviously the setup of the suspension (spring rates and valving) is quite unique to work well with the additional weight of my luggage on my travel bike.
For the majority of my adventure riding I use the closed cartridge rally forks with minor modification and quite a heavily modified rear shock to allow me to ride fast over rough terrain and maintain stability even with the extra weight. I tested many different spring rates and shim settings before getting it right.
In the races it is always my preference to use my ‘Race’ Suspension package from WP, with Cone Valve forks and Trax rebound bypass shock but that depends on logistics and how easily it is to get my race suspension shipped to the race. Some races I’ve used it, some I’ve managed with an over-sprung, over-valved travel setup just because it was not practical to change it. Racing the Finke desert race with my travel suspension was a workout. The suspension I use for travel can manage a race no problem, you just have to be aware of the compromises.
I modified the chassis quite a bit also to add strength for the extra weight of luggage.
My bike holds 32 litres of fuel (31 on a cold arctic day, 33 on blistering desert crossing due to expansion / contraction with temperature), using KTM factory tested and produced tanks which are strong and bolted sturdily to the chassis with appropriate isolation to avoid vibration being transmitted to the rider. I’m essentially riding a motorcycle fuel tanker!
A single rear tank and two front saddle tanks help to keep the weight central and low down. I do change the rear fuel tank from the 690 Rally Tank to the fuel tank from the later KTM 450 Rally, this allows me to carry the same amount of fuel but is a nylon structural member so I also have attachment points for a luggage rack, in my opinion a key part of the bike for long distance travel, the luggage rack also helps to protect the underslung dual exhaust system, complete with my own dyno tuned and tested full Titanium silencers (less than half the weight of a single stock silencer combined!).
Moving onto fuel supply, while I appreciate the advantages of fuel injection (FI) and have now even raced FI bikes in Dakar and elsewhere, the carburetor is still my preference for an outback adventure bike. There are much less things to go wrong and when it does, I can see what it is and fix it. I know you cannot get a carb to fuel as perfectly throughout the entire range of throttle openings and engine conditions but you can get them pretty damn close with a bit of knowledge and time (you just need to know what you are doing).
Most peoples argument for having FI is its ability to compensate for the change in air density at altitude. Having raced the Factory FI bike in Dakar 2017 (and Carburetted bike in Dakar 2013), I can honestly say that the slight benefit FI delivers in altitude is not worthy of the additional systems, wiring and complexity for adventure riding. I rode similar altitudes on the Carburetted and FI bikes and you cannot get away from the fact that the air is thinner and you lose a massive amount of power as a result. The fuel injection compensates better for this from an air/fuel ratio perspective but the considering say a 25hp drop at 5000m altitude on a carburetted bike (with a good average setting), this would be say 23hp drop on an FI bike so, for the most part, an un-noticeable difference. There is still a significant drop in performance on both machines. If you have a poorly jetted carburettor….for sure you’ll wish you had FI, but if your bike is jetted correctly for an intermediate altitude it will work adequately at all altitudes, and without any system complexity.
I also don’t believe fuel economy is a real reason why people want FI bikes, I rode back to back with a 690 Enduro (FI) for months and every time we filled up the difference would be between -5% and +15% (more efficient for the Enduro) depending on conditions or choice of fuel map for the Enduro. So far, throughout the entire trip, I have averaged 47mpg (imperial) on my carbureted bike (including races!), seeing just over 62mpg if I ride how I like not to ? Almost 3 years on the road now and not a single fuel related issue has seen me stranded, for that reason, I love the traditional carbureted fuel supply system.
Since we’ve just discussed carb, this brings me nicely onto the electrics / systems side of the bike and the whole simplicity of the Rally bike. While the base components are the same as most production bikes, stator, regulator rectifier etc, without the fuel injection system, things are much more simple and there is much less wiring, less sensors and components and therefore less to go wrong. There is much less draw on electrical systems and its components on the rally and should you find yourself with a flat battery in the middle of nowhere, you can bump start the bike no problem, I’ve done it! In Dakar 2017 I drained my battery running heated gear on the FI bike and was left stranded, no way to start the bike without battery, this for me is a big no-no for riding in remote places alone. Thankfully I was able to get a jump start from another competiors bike on the Dakar but out in the middle of Australia riding remote routes I wouldn’t have been so lucky.
Ergonomics and Durability
The ergonomics of the Rally bike including wider foot pegs as standard, higher and a more ‘attack’ handle bar position due to integrated risers in the top triple clamp, PHDS bar mounts as standard, a higher peg to seat distance to reduce rider fatigue from sitting and standing and narrow fitting front tanks where your legs sit all results is a very comfortable non-cramped feel. The strong front nav tower and proven fairing fits well and works better than others I have ridden. I’m still on the original nav tower and fairing I left left the UK with. Sure, the nav tower will bend in a heavy crash or impact but this is the idea, bend and not break, you can just straighten it. I’ve seen a lot of aftermarket ones just break into pieces and make it difficult to continue without parts flailing around.
Engine and Gearbox
The stock engine in the Rally is one of the first LC4’s and is 654cc as standard and this, combined with the smoothness of the carb creates a really tractable and predictable power delivery. The rally engine is robust, it has some stronger components to the 690 Enduro R and a mildly uprated camshaft for performance. The cooling system on the RFR is also superior to most production bikes, designed for riding in extreme conditions, perfect for my type of riding. The radiator is large, has a big fan and the inclusion of an oil cooler really helps to keep everything at the right levels in extreme conditions and prevent overheating, much more ready for anything you want to throw at it.
In Australia, November 2015 I needed to install new piston rings in my bike after 75,000km of hard riding, nothing major, a simple job BUT I opted to increase the size of the engine to 732cc (by increasing bore and stroke) and use a camshaft I had been testing on the dyno with much more lift and duration. I also installed the Nova Racing Wide Ratio Gearbox which I had helped developed The new gearbox has a lower 1st gear for technical situations and starting and a higher 6th than all singe cylinder production bikes meaning I can cruise at higher speeds, with lower revs and get better fuel economy. We also engineered out the some of the little flaws with the production gearbox, like the false neutrals. My engine runs a lower compression compared to that of typical production models, which allows me to run much poorer quality fuel grades as sometimes 80 grade is the best you can get in some of the places I choose to ride. The 730 kit with camshaft, modified combustion chamber and ported head made a big difference and has now been in the bike for 85,000km, along with the Nova gearbox. Tried and tested, more power and torque, more fun to ride and easier to ride in all situations. Big smiles ?
With the 6 main points considered, I’ll finish up with a few other considerations. The design of the rally bike is simple, it is designed to be functional, light weight, reliable and easy to work on / service, unlike most aftermarket products. Working on the Rally is really simple from a servicing and maintenance perspective. Just accessing parts on the bike and removing panels, tanks etc. is definitely easier than working on most production bikes. If you think everything goes plain sailing on Races to Places, think again, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had to stop and carry out maintenance or fixes on the bike since leaving the UK, it’s all part of the deal but I am confident of one thing for sure, it would have been much more if I was on a standard production bike or any other bike that I put through the ringer like I have with Basil.
Then there’s aftermarket parts selection. Obviously I make a lot of my own parts and components, being an Aerospace Engineer it comes naturally to want to design and build my own things. I have my own (Lyndon Poskitt Racing) frame modifications, luggage racks, bash plate, footrest hangers, battery compartment, rear rack, camshaft, modified piston, modified clutch, modified clutch master cylinder and a load of other stuff. I also choose great aftermarket components that have been tried and tested and proved to be some of the best like Woody’s Wheel Works wheels, Renazco Racing Seat, ICO Racing trip computers, Baja Design Squadron LED lighting, Adventure Spec Magadan soft luggage system and Blunt Force Products custom straps and webbing systems to keep everything in place reliably.
After many years adventure riding, my choice to use soft bags was a no brainer. I’ve seen broken bones and injuries from legs getting struck or trapped under hard cases and I’ve also had to straighten the damn things out numerous times after crashing. The soft bags are lighter, safer and more resilient to everything I throw at them. When I crash now, I never even look at them, just pick the bike up and go. There’s a lot of good cable locks you can get for soft bags if you are worried about security but I’ve never bothered and so far not had anything stolen in 3 years.
The price tag for a bike like this is obviously big. You will still pay more for a used, probably well raced 10 year old Factory Rally bike in stock trim than you would for say a brand new 690 Enduro R or Husqvarna 701. But, if you want to race Moto GP, you need a Moto GP bike and the same applies here. Knowing the above information you might now appreciate why the new price of the 690 Rally Factory Replica was around 30,000 Euro’s, some 3 times that of the production equivalent. To give you an idea of the time I personally invested in modifying and building this bike, I spent around 300 hours modifying components and building the bike and engine from the ground up to make the beast I have today.
I often get asked, “if you started out again, what would you different?” and my answer to that question is “absolutely nothing, I built what I consider to be the ultimate adventure bike and it has delivered everything I wanted and more”. I love my bike, never get bored of riding him, and can see a long and very enjoyable future together as I write this transitioning my journey to the African continent where I plan to spend a whole year exploring there.
Hopefully you have a better idea now what it took to build a bike capable of Races to Places, riding and racing around the world. Ride safe and enjoy, whatever trip you choose, how you choose to do it or what bike you choose to do it on. The main thing is to be happy with your choices.
Lyndon & Basil.