XT660R Heaven

XT660R Heaven
Life on the road is fab...

Bikes, Gear & Equipment

I'm planning to write a bit of a gear list & a review of all the kit we've used for the trip here, (be warned I'm quite geeky about gear so if it gets a bit much just skip the details & go to the pictures!!)

So to start - the bikes, Yamaha XT660R

The write up on these isn't actually that good, but that's mainly because they're often compared to the full on off road bikes such as the KTM's etc. They are a bit heavy for serious off-road use, I prefer a 250 ish machine like the WR or the Yammy Serow etc, but for this kind of trip & for the next planned trip, (An overland to India from the UK), they do a good job. These were Geoff's well informed choice & they've certainly lived upto the expectations we had from the start.

In the states they fall into the category of 'Dual Sports' bikes but ironically they aren't even imported into the states at the moment, just their more famous sister bike the XT Tenere.

Geoff's 2006 XT660R

Steve's Yamaha XT660R 2007

We found that the engines, once we'd fitted the recommended fuelling mod, K& N filters & the 2:1 exhausts, were very on/off at low revs, (the same on both bikes), but that was more acceptable than the jerky throttle response before the mod was put in.
It can be a bit disconcerting when your dependent upon a smooth throttle response whilst hopping over a little rock step etc when the bike suddenly spurts forward or just cuts out... quite a few times now I've stalled & ended up jumping off the bike, partly the bike, partly my shite off road skills I reckon!! :-)
Build quality is excellent, in a short time we've dropped them in all kinds of terrain, they've taken the knocks well, with only a few cheaper replacements needed so far.
I've had to replace the front mudguard, (a bush & fence ate it on a downhill section in Yorkshire!!). The Yamaha one was £70, painted n all & a cheap aftermarket Acerbis one off Ebay was £20, this will be the one to go on the trip.

We fitted a Sump Guard from Off The Road, a German company for all things for off road biking & a set of their bigger off road foot pegs to make it easier to stand up for the long periods needed on the TAT. Other than this there was the usual hand-guards for both wind & fall protection. Mine came with the bike & were the standard Yamaha ones, they took some knocks & even ate the tarmac on one day out as I avoided a car on a very gravelly lane in the South Lakes, they look a bit more battered now but still going strong!!

We also added a raised screen for a little extra wind protection whilst on the Blue Ridge Parkway & braided hoses to the front brakes which has made the brakes better for the road but a little too good for the off road stuff, so having to learn how to 'feather' them more instead of grabbing a handful when I shite myself about something scary!.

We decided to put on some smaller number plates too, but after using them, decided to keep the standard underseat mudguard that was originally fitted as it reduced the amount mud being thrown up onto our backs...

Off The Road Sump Guard - great piece of kit

We also fitted a set of engine bars to protect the fairing & engine casings, these required a bit of modifying as with the sump guard & the 2:1 exhaust they didn't just bolt on, they've made the bikes a bit heavier but that said they now allow us to be a bit more thuggy with them, plus it's something else to grab when they are lying on their side!!

Butcher that bash plate!

Oooh shiny new bits...

Almost fitted...

Err... where does this bolt go??
So that was it for the bikes themselves... this is the most mods I've done to a bike since I've been riding, great fun looking at all of this, properly satisfied my geeky fetish needs!

17 June 2014.
Things that we have had to replace/repair on the bikes on the trip..

Steve's Bike -
Rear Tyre, & tube, Front tube.
Two new tyres in Nevada

Geoff's bike -
Rear tyre, bolts on front disc, a weld to side stand, brake & front headlight bulbs.
Two new tyres in Nevada

After the rear end session, Geoff's bike needed a makeshift rear light & the exhaust looked battered, but was still working so it was left as was. The bike developed a rattle a few days before the end of the trip & actually died as it got it's front wheel onto the shipping offices forecourt, a bang, a longer rattle & that was it.. we reckon it maybe the balancer shaft gone but we'll know more when it gets back to the UK & gets stripped down.

So next we looked at the extraneous additions:-

Handlebar setup for the GPS, Rollmap & USB charger, (Black bit under the rollmap case).

Garmin 78s GPS Units - I'd used these before in some very remote & harsh environments so decided to use them for my future trips. Good points for them are they can take a micro SD card, so you can download loads of maps to them & store other data on them like photos etc, they can be powered both by battery & from a 12 volt power lead & they are fairly compact & have a colour screen which can be seen in bright sunlight better than most I've used.
Downsides are the screen is a bit smaller than other models, they have an unusual method of storing waypoints, they go into a separate daily file under the GPX file which takes a bit of getting used too.
Another downside for me was that Garmin seem to have got rid of their software Mapsource, I've used this for a long time & know it reasonably well. Its intuitive & easy to use, it's been replaced by Basecamp, which is not as good or easy to use, its very gimmicky & seems to be aimed squarely at the people who love to dabble with software rather than use the units in the outside world. I'm slowly getting my head round it but its almost as bad as iTunes or Windows 8 in my opinion. Designed by a bunch of people who live in a virtual world & have no idea about practical daily usage needs! (Ooops a little rant there, apologies...)
We wired the GPS into the front side light, again so when the engine is off, they are off, they can still continue to run on battery power if you need them to though.
On the trip, these units worked faultlessly, the maps we downloaded were really good, the GPX files from Sam were pretty much spot on & in the end but above the 78s was really easy to use & was totally reliable. Even Geoff, who is a bit of a technophobe became a fan. The 12v power source & the waterproof connection were tested in all conditions & worked faultlessly. 
Plan for the next trip is to have both a satnav & one of these, then you're covered in both the cities & the wilder areas.

Mapping & Navigation -Maps were provided by Sam Carrero, he's spent years writing the roll map directions, then he's printed off maps for each section of the trail & finally he's set up a series of GPS waypoint files that take you along the whole route.
The cost for all this wasn't cheap, the maps  & charts were $372, (We bought 1 each), the GPS files were $216 plus we bought the roll map holder at $28... total of $616 but I felt that it was only fair to put some money back into the project as Sam has given so much time & effort to make this feasible, plus they are a memento of the trip for future gossiping at home!!
This is like the one we received from Sam

I know you can get this information for free from GPSKev's site & if you live in the States or can't afford it then fine but  for me it was a way of saying thanks to Sam for his hard work in a tangible way.
Maps for the GPS' came from the GPS file Depot website, you can download the free state maps, (Topo maps or Topo 2011, depending upon the State), & install them into your unit, it took quite awhile to figure the process out in Basecamp then download them to the units via this, you can also overlay all of Sam's waypoints onto the maps so you can compare/study the route in more detail, happy days... I'll let you know how this goes in reality... I'm guessing we'll use both the paper maps, the GPS files & the roll map directions all at the same time, it takes a bit of the wilderness adventure out of the trip but adds in an additional problem solving ethic which appeals to me!

Odds & Sods -
We also added charger units for the phone, laptop, GPS etc, a joint cigarette/USB unit was found, again on Ebay, only £11, I wired this into a spare fuse in the bike's fuse box so it can only charge when the bike is running, a flat battery in the middle of nowhere is not fun!

19 June 2014 - These are excellent, I'll be fitting them to future bikes from now on!

Heated Grips - these came on my bike, they were Oxford ones, the switch broke within a couple of days so I had to find a replacement & fit that, Geoff's family bought him a set of Dr Bike ones,  oh my god how much do I love these grips... the Oxford stuff is fairly cheaply made in my opinion, but for as long as they work, I'm happy, when they break again I'll know whether Geoff's ones are any better & if not I like the look of the Datatool versions as they are very neat & the switch & cable is not so bulky. (mmm think I'll fix a set to my Gixer!!).
NB: My Oxford grips pull 0.2ampseven when they are turned off, so I found this out the hard way & it cost me a new battery, so I've wired them into the starter circuit so that they will only draw power when the engine is running, that said if I leave the bike for any length of time the battery seems a little slow, so not sure if they are still pulling power in some way or if it is the clocks etc which also pull power all the time - stupid design in my opinion, means you have to have a battery optimiser attached whenever you leave it for any length of time or disconnect the battery.

I made a small aluminium plate that sits on my handlebars to hold all of the gadgets, then fixed them to this, I can then remove it as I need at a later date, Geoff has mounted them all onto his handlebars separately as he has no cross bar on his after market bars.

Geoff used the same bit of aluminium plate to fashion 2 exhaust guards for both bikes, these should prevent the panniers from melting, especially with the bungs able to take 300'c heat, at least we hope so anyway!! As they're not really load bearing we've just fixed them on with one of the rear rack bolts, (that was fun lining up 5 bits of metal to get the bolt to screw in, much swearing ensued :-)). Guess we'll have to see how the hold up to the shaking & bouncing around but they look good!

Exhaust guard for panniers
There was a rear rack fitted to my bike already, it's a bit weird to say the least, it has all these little bits on it that don't appear to have any other function that get in the way, I'm thinking to get an angle grinder & cut them all off, it would save some weight & as I can't find a use for them it might make them more usable than they are at the moment, we'll see.

 12 June 2014 - Bike Update

We've done nearly 1000 miles of road riding so far & the bikes are running well. We're getting around 170 miles to a tank, & they are costing between $8 & $10 depending upon local prices. The tyres are wearing well too, you can see they've put some miles in but they are still good enough for the next 500 miles of off road stuff that is coming up.

18 June 20141790 miles, fitted a new rear tyre, it is a Michelin T63, the Metzler has died with two nails in it & virtually no rubber blocks left on it... excellent confidence inspiring tyre though, road or rough ground!

Issues so far have been all on Geoff's bike, with his back light not working until yesterday, then for some reason it came on & has been fine ever since. We've bent his side stand using it to pivot the bike so we could lube up the chain & one of the brackets on his engine bars has just snapped for not real reason, so must have been a weak piece of steel we reckon, we'll see if we can get it welded or replaced somewhere.

OK so here are some of the bits of clothing & personal gear we're taking on the trip...

Starting at the head & working down...

Helmets - We both bought the Wulfsport Prima 2 lids. They fit pretty well, have a full face visor & an internal sun visor which after using goggles in the cold weather over here we decided against very quickly, plus they are better for the road bits of the trip. These lids were £50 & £9 postage off good ole Ebay, we put them straight on & just rode... easy as that!

19th June 2014 - These helmets are turning out to not be that comfortable on long distances, they are fine for the UK short daily stuff I'd been doing, but now on the trip, we find our ears go numb as the chin strap pieces & the internal foam presses on our ears in various places. They are also quite noisy, even through the earplugs we wear, so you end up tired by the end of the day's riding... spend more money on something better for the next big trip...

We add to them a set of blue tooth intercoms that were recommended by my brother in law, Mark.
They're pretty good for the short distance chat about directions, pee stops etc. Their downside is you can't turn off the humming sound Geoff makes as he rides along or my mad giggle every now & then, they work on line of sight, so if you go round a corner or there is a big truck in the way, the signal can be blocked. We found they worked upto 50mph, then the wind noise in these helmets became too much for them. That said the earpieces need to be better sited inside the lids as currently they crush your ears a bit. But for the price they are pretty good & should do us well for the trip. We can recharge them via the USB charger on the bikes so very little in the way of wires & no batteries to change. They cost us £60 for the two & took about 10 mins to fit & about 1 hour to charge.

19th June 2014 - The blue tooth headsets have died, no reply from the supplier with any help to get them fixed so off the land of refuse for them I think. I'll keep the mike & earphones from the setup as this may come in handy another time, but Geoff's unit has been playing up since we got here with only one earphone working, the other just buzzing, mine has been fine, but it can't cope with the distances we travel apart when the roads are really dusty, plus the earphone volume just isn't loud enough over here. good for the slow speed stuff around town but otherwise its time to buy something better wuality I think.

Next comes the Jacket & Trouser combo... I've had an old Spada Jacket for a few years now, its nice & comfortable so I'm taking that, for trousers I normally wear leather jeans, but they would be way to hot for this so opted for some fabric ones instead, I had an old pair of Akito trousers in the loft that I've never worn, they do suit this type of riding really well though! So there is some cash saved for fuel instead!. -

Update on the trousers, I broke the zip & they leaked around the crotch area in heavy rain so will have to go shopping I guess!! Bugger...

March 25th - I've actually decided to upgrade both the jacket & trousers now as I found a couple of really good deals on Ebay... so I bought a Spada touring jacket for £30 & some Goretex pants for £20, the jacket fits much better than my old one & is just a better quality garment. The Goretex in the trousers should be a better quality waterproofing, but we'll see, (In my experience Goretex leaks as fast as any other 'waterproof' membrane it just cost a lot more when you buy it new). Update: The pants were very sweaty on this trip, there was no venting anywhere, but they were comfy for the most part, but I swopped to using my motocross trousers as they were more comfortable in the heat.

Warning: Geeky moment - There are two types of waterproofing used in motorcycle clothing, membranes & coatings, the coatings are like a thin film of paint sprayed onto the inside face of any fabric, then the item is manufactured & any seams are taped with a special tape applied most of the time under heat. Membranes are like a very fine plastic bag, they are often bonded to the inside face fabric of any garment & again the seams are taped over similar to the coatings. 
Both have pros & cons as to their effectiveness under certain conditions, both are 'breathable', (allows sweat vapour to pass one way through the proofing), often the coatings are more breathable as there are no layers of bonding glue to hold them to the fabric & so it can be lighter too, the membranes are generally more 'waterproof' (ie they have a higher hydrostatic head measurement than the coatings - look this up on Google, it's a very sciency way of measuring waterproofness). 
Old membranes, (ie 1980's etc), last much longer than the newer versions, but were less breathable & heavier than the current crop of 'modern' stuff. In general you pay more for membranes as they are more expensive to manufacture & they have huge investment costs in development.

Gloves will come in 3 different ones, leather winter ones from Bikers Paradise in Coventry, they make them in the UK & they are a lovely old couple to boot, I've had three pairs now, all excellent. They are the Stealth Winter Glove, I also want a light weight set of armoured gloved for those warm days, so I'm going to look at their Cruiser summer glove, that looks good... I'll also take my motocross gloves as these are really lightweight & dexterous...

Boots were the Forma Adventure boot, these are waterproof, lightweight & very comfortable from the moment I put them on. The sole has really good traction in mud & on rock & they easy to change gear with... they're well tested now!!

I bought these from a local shop in Kenilworth  whilst I was down visiting family, the guy was cool in the shop but then massively overcharged me on the boots, needless to say I haven't been back since, especially as I found out he'd done the same thing to 2 of my friends on multiple occasions!! sheister.com I reckon...

19 June 2014 - These boots are excellent, well worth the £150 normal price, they are comfortable, they dry quickly when wet & are just a pleasure to use, I'll happily buy another pair for another trip.

Forma Adventure Boots

For the Pannier Set Up we opted for soft panniers for this trip..

Geoff has a pair of Oxford Panniers that he likes well & a 70 litre dry bag that he bought off Ebay & is very proud of, it's a good piece of kit & should keep his gear nice n dry through those river crossings in Tennessee!

Geoff's Oxford Panniers
I have a pair I designed & had made a few years ago for an old RRW Fireblade I used to own. I did around 60 thousand miles on that bike, mostly with a set of these panniers on it, they worked excellently & Aiguille Equipment in Stavely who actually stitched them together for me did a great job.

At the time I had 10 sets made, sold about 7 to friends etc & kept the rest for my use. I have 2 sets left now & one of them is going on this trip along with my little top bag made by Mountain Equipment. It's a duffle bag of around 40 litres in pack size, it sheds rain really well & takes a fair bit of abuse from the various straps & bits I attach to it. I can also use it as a day bag getting onto the plane etc. Very versatile little bag this!

Panniers & Top Bag set up
The one thing that both of us are struggling to find is a decent little tank bag for the XT. The tank is quite an awkward shape for a bag to sit on it, so it needs to be small with a piece of clear vinyl that we can pop a map behind but at the same time big enough to take a phone, wallet etc... we want to also pop little things in there to charge as we ride, not found anything as yet, so keep looking, if we can't find anything I may well just try to make something, watch this space!!

Quick update on the tank bag situation - Geoff has settled for a Trik Moto tank bag, which he's fitted to his bike as a trial, but he likes it already so it looks like he'll take that one. I've tried a couple of different ones & haven't found owt I like yet, gonna look at the Great Loop bags & the KTM bags to see if there is anything there I like...

Geoff's Trik Moto tank bag