The XT660Z Tenere ‘R’ – An Accidental Rally Bike


When I was looking for a moto back in July 2012 to take on this journey, I was lucky to find a bike which had had a lot of money already spend on it.  The previous owner had bought it new and had comprehensively prepared it for an overland trip in Africa…. which never happened.  I was therefore the proud owner of an XT660Z Tenere with 3000 miles on the clock and loaded with high quality after-market parts: the suspension had been upgraded, with an Olhins shock on the back and progressive springs in the forks; the lump of an exhaust had been removed (saving several kilos) and replaced with a beautiful titanium pipe; the engine had been further enhanced with a better air filter and a Power Commander to optimise the engine’s electronic fuel injection; a GPS was wired into the system; and a whole raft of protection had been added to the bike.

It should have been enough, but it wasn’t long before I caught the well-known motoquero’s disease known as ‘farkling’ – namely, swapping out parts on the bike, making modifications and customising it to your needs (or perhaps more accurately put as, “customising it to your wants“).  I started changing even more parts; a new and much stronger Rental handlebar, a radiator guard to protect from flying stones, strong hand guards, auxiliary LED lighting, heated grips, short brake and clutch levers….. and more.

With all this work done, I had a superbly-appointed machine, tailor-made for overlanding. The bike handled beautifully as I rode her 40,000km around the mountains and deserts of South America, fully loaded with panniers and kit.  But after a while, I developed an itch for a lighter and more off-road capable bike.  The Tenere is heavy, and its weight becomes very noticeable on technical ground and in deep sand and mud.  I spent hours upon hours on-line researching KTM 690s which had been upgraded for overlanding.  And then I looked closely at the CCM 450 Adventure which culminated with a two-day test ride when I was back in UK.

The reality is, however, I am here in South America with my Tenere.  It would cost me thousands of pounds simply to ship my Tenere home and return with a KTM – and then several thousand more to buy and prepare a 690.  And the CCM wasn’t sufficiently ready or proven for such a journey.

Whist all this research was being undertaken, a ‘Plan B’ started to form in the back of my mind, almost unnoticed at first.  Keeping the trusty Tenere, I could upgrade her further to bring her closer to being a genuine off-road machine.  Jenny Morgan had ridden her Tenere through the North African deserts to Dakar in the Heroes Legend Rally 2009, and Jaume V is currently rallying (and winning) on his beautiful upgraded Tenere.  So using those bikes as templates, I looked at what further modifications I could do.

This was obviously destined to happen.  As soon as I started inquiring about upgrading the front suspension, Jenny steered me towards someone who was selling a complete front end for my machine – WP48 rally forks set up specifically for the Tenere, a custom triple clamp built by OFF THE ROAD in Germany, and a complete Brembo brake setup.  When I was in UK in the summer I bought it, took delivery and packed it into my holdall (which was already half full of new bearings, gaskets, cam chains and other parts needed to overhaul the moto after 40,000km of hard riding) to take back to Peru.

20141223-untitled-11The next challenge was to get a front wheel and rotor (aka brake disc) which fitted the new forks.  The axle size of the WPs is different to the Yamaha, and now I would have only a single brake caliper which requires an over-sized rotor.  Finding a second-hand KTM front wheel in Peru was going to be difficult and expensive, but fortunately I had a trip to the US coming up.  When I was there, and with the help of Dan DiMaio at Adventure Motorcycle Magazine with whom I was staying, I got in touch with the guys at Warp 9 Racing in Utah.  They make motocross wheels, and very generously sent me a new wheel complete with a 320mm rotor for the heavily discounted price of $280.  Armed with a set of fork protectors from eBay, I returned to Peru with all I needed.

The forks are now on. The Tenere new looks the superb, but I’m yet to really test the forks yet – I’ve got a problem with the steering head (incorrect bearing bought here in Peru, it seems) which I am resolving as I write.

So I now have a credible off-road / rally machine – albeit a heavy one.  Looking through the list of modifications that Jenny and Jaume have made to their bikes, there is little else I need to do.  An 18” rear wheel would be nice (I’m talking to Warp 9 about getting a new rim) and I’m eyeing up a steering damper from OFF THE ROAD.  Remove the pannier racks, centre stand and mirrors and I’m good to go.

I never planned to end up with a bike like this, but it has opened up new possibilities.  I’m looking into the idea of making 2015 the ‘Horcamoto Year of the Rally’. Since following the Dakar in January, I’ve had a persistent itch to get into desert ‘rally raiding’.  With Paulina’s financial situation demanding that she works for at least some of next year, I am hatching a plan to spend time training in the deserts of Peru and Chile, and perhaps heading north to California to train and race there.  Ideally I’d pick up a secondhand 450 enduro bike for this, but without a truck to transport it I need the ability to ride the bike between ‘training grounds’ – possibly even all the way to the USA – and with all my gear.  If someone would give me a KTM 690 I’d be made, but that’s unlikely to happen.

So step up the XT660Z ‘R’: with her new legs on, she’ll handle the rough tracks and sand with ease; she won’t need constant maintenance like a highly-strung 450 enduro bike; and she can carry me and all my kit wherever I need to go.  And as Dave Lomax from Adventure Spec in UK said, “If you can handle a [200kg] Tenere in the sand, getting on a 450 later will be a breeze.”


For any Tenere or would-be Tenere owners out there, I did a detailed right-up of the mods to my bike back in Sept 2013 on, which can be found HERE.  I shall also do an updated description listing all the mods, in ‘The Bike’ section above.

And if you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you visit Jaume’s blog at TRAILDREAMER.COM. His XT660Z is, without question, the most beautiful out there and his blog details all the modifications done to, and his exploits done on, his moto.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 12.54.41I’ve got quite a bit of kit from OFF THE ROAD on my Tenere now.  They have an extensive catalogue of aftermarket parts for all XT660 models. Check their website out HERE.


2 Comments on The XT660Z Tenere ‘R’ – An Accidental Rally Bike

  1. Hi Paul. Incredible trip you are doing mate!.
    You can race with te 660 but it is not the ideal bike, specially in the sand.. but as Dave said: excellent training to go to a 450!! hahaha.
    I love your blog

    Good luck!!

    Jaume V (traildreamer)

    • Hi Jaume! Really enjoying your blog too – but yours is dangerous as it makes Tenere riders want to soend lots of money on their motos!!!!

      Got a couple of new ideas and opportunities for USA and rally / enduro bikes. I’ll drop you a line and tell you about them.

      Happy Christmas!


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