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!).
Break - Fuel Supply
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.
Break Simplicity of Systems
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.
Break - 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.
Break - 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 🙂