From Road to Rally – Project 2015


It all started about 16 months ago on Easter Island – the most remote inhabited place on earth.  The urban grind of Santiago, where I had been staying with Paulina in her small apartment on the edge of the city, had become too much for me; I had therefore found the cheapest ticket available to Easter Island in search of some peace an tranquility.  On a piece of rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 15km by 25km in size and 2606km from the nearest conurbation of over 500 inhabitants, I had two weeks to kill and not much to do.

So I had ample time to think – and to interrogate the internet. It was here that I posted, “An Itch to Scratch – XT660 Tenere v KTM 690 Enduro for RTW [Round the World]”, on the bikers’ website ADV Rider.  By this point in my travels I was gradually becoming infected by the Lightweight Moto bug, and a spin around the island on a rented Honda XR250 Tornado had convinced me still further. Based on several accounts by other riders crossing various continents, a modified KTM 690 seemed the obvious lightweight alternative to my 200kg Tenere.

This idea stayed with me for months.  In the summer last year, I temporarily switched my focus to CCM’s GP450 and took the opportunity to test ride a pre-production model.  It seemed a great bike, but it was still unproven and for some reason it didn’t light me up in the way certain bikes can do.  And so the KTM continued to lurk in my peripheral vision – even though I was still yet to ride one.

That changed when I visited the States in September last year and hung out with Carl and his team from Adventure Motorcycle Magazine.  Parked in his garage was a upgraded 2014 690 Enduro – the magazine’s project bike at the time.  It was mine to borrow whilst in the States, if I wanted to – and I did. Now, if we are going to talk about bikes that light you up, I need look no further.  This thing is a beast, and so easy to ride. It was only the prospect of a 900 mile round trip on the hardtop to attend the Overland Expo in North Carolina that pried the KTM from between my legs – Carl’s Versys seemed a better choice for such a ride.

20140110-Concepcion-1The other part of the equation which led me to where I find myself now was Dakar 2014.  Over the seven days and 3500km during which I followed the race on my Tenere, I caught another disease – Rallyitis.  Multi-day rally raiding through beautiful but inhospitable wilderness, testing your riding skills, your navigation and most importantly your personal stamina and mental resilience, seemed an obvious event for me.  I’ve spent years doing something similar – albeit it usually on foot – as a soldier and in my own time.  Complete self-reliance and pushing my endurance to the limit, be in in the mountains or in a kayak, have always provided me with an intense, if not slightly perverse, sense of satisfaction.

It took a year, but finally the stars are aligning. 2015 will see me staying in the Americas but changing hemispheres – and bikes.  The time has come to trade blue for orange and I have found a 690 Enduro with my name on it. With Paulina needing to hang up her riding boots for a while and focus on earning some money in Peru, I will travel to the States in March or April. and pick up the 690 on the east coast. I’ll then ride west, set up base-camp for a few months and focus on learning to ride rally.  Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 21.19.06Bend, Oregon is looking like a good option to base myself, where Harold from Giant Loop can help introduce me to the trails and the local enduro riders from whom I hope to learn (and where I plan to reunite with Pau in July).  And then at the end of September, if all has gone well, I shall step into the rally-ra ring for the first time and ride the four-day Baja Rally 3.0.

There is more planning to do, not least what to do with my Tenere and assuring myself that I can stay in the US on a tourist visa long enough to complete the project.  I’m researching the Trans American Trail as a possible route west, and I shall soon be putting out the siren call on the the ADV Rider to seek more information, ideas and support.

Over the last year I have shared my thoughts and ideas about motorbike riding with those of you who read this blog.  Perhaps in this case, we can turn the tables.  There is a comments box below waiting to be filled. All and any ideas and advice will be warmly welcomed!

[Postscript:  As you will discover is you read subsequent posts, this plan changed for various reasons.  We found ourselves in Spain rather than USA for the summer.]

Related Posts:

Motoqueros of Rapa Nui

Turning to The Light Side – The Argument for Lightweight Overlanding

CCM GP450 – Rally Bike with Panniers, or Dirt-Hungry Overlander?

Bolivia – My Own Mini Dakar

21 Comments on From Road to Rally – Project 2015

  1. Grant Carnegie-Brown // 16/01/2015 at 11:09 pm // Reply

    Good move Pitch! I don’t know if you knew that I was into bikes when we met. I had some success in Army competitions before I went to Hong Kong. I’d been a schoolboy trials rider – without the success in those days but it paid dividends in the Army three stage comps. In Hong Kong I joined a group of trials riders through the SQMS from 29 Sqn HKMSC. You are living my dream!! Soon after I got there in Dec 95, I wrote a proposal to my CO to ride motorbikes back from HK at the handover but he vetoed it saying they didn’t know how the Chinese were going to deal with the handover. It could have been a great trip. I’ve thought about doing it in 2017 as a commemoration ride but after the pro democracy rallies this year I fear the Chinese authorities wouldn’t appreciate it as there may be a bit of aggro at the elections which take place then!!
    I’ll just have to live the dream vicariously through you by reading your blog!! Keep it coming and definitely go for the big rallies!

    • Hello mate!! Long time no see.

      I regularly wish I’d got into riding when I was a nipper – learning young is the only way to really master skills. Hong Kong, Aldershot, Brunei… I had plenty of cash to spunk on a moto as a young subby, but feared I’d kill myself on two wheels. Had to wait for the mid-life crisis!!

      You never know with the Chinese – keep an eye on it, maybe it’ll be an option. It would be an epic trip. You could always cheat a bit, taking the moto on the ferry to Macau and then on to Vietnam and start from there!!!

      Where are you these days??

  2. More great stuff Paul!
    The Baja rally should be a great introduction to Rally racing. But never mistake this Mexican run event for anything close to the SCORE Baja 1000, 500 or 250. But I’m betting it will be a blast. But it only covers Northern most quadrant of North West Baja.

    The Baja Rally guys seem like mostly “older” guys, some retired racers with money and desire. The SCORE events are all pro events with factory sponsored team riders. The Baja Rally would be perfect if not for it’s $2600 entry fee! YIKES!

    For more real experience I’d look to riding events in the Nevada and California Deserts. Join AMA and District 36 and 37. Look at the various Desert series run and see if any interest you. AMA web site should list all the series. The pace will be FAST and dangerous but it will be MUCH less expensive. As a novice, just hang back and let the fast guys go by. After a few races you’ll get the hang of it and fit right in.

    Enduro events may also be possible for you … and even better (tougher) training than Baja or Desert riding.

    I rode AMA Enduro for eight years … starting at the ripe old age of 38. By 40 I was in “Senior” class!
    Your 690 will be a bit heavy and BIG for Enduro but will probably do fine in the Desert.

    I started off riding the BIG desert races in the Mojave at age 14. But could not afford to continue. If you’ve seen On Any Sunday and the start of the Desert races with HUNDREDS of guys all lined up … well, I was there. I took a LONG break from bikes in the 70’s: traveled, worked and got back into riding at 38 and started AMA Enduro as a “C” Rider.

    In two years I made “B”. Not easy to do. To move up you had to place in top 5 in 3 events during the season … roughly 450 racers in “C” class in most events. Making “A” rider is even tougher … I never made it to A.

    The best Dakar and Baja 1000 riders are what’s called “AA” riders. Pros. Fact is, it’s a young mans game if truth be told. Look at the up coming Dakar guys. Most in their 20’s. The really good riders ride (or rode) motocross or super cross, that is where the real money is. A and AA enduro riders are usually failed or retired moto crossers. (IE: Jimmy Lewis, who got 2nd in Dakar riding a 1000cc BMW in Africa … lightweight bike?
    Actually it WAS … I sat on it in the UK at a bike show! Nothing at all like a stock GS. HPN built it.

    Oregon will provide some great trail riding if it ever stops raining. Be sure to drop down to Nevada and check out the Black rock Desert. One of my fav riding areas. Not sure these will display here …


    • Hi Patrick, Thanks again for the advice – really useful. I’ve been having a quick look around the web for clubs, events etc in Utah and Nevada. Where would you recommend I look for insurance for such events?

  3. Stephen Eldridge // 17/01/2015 at 8:05 am // Reply

    Hi Paul, the KTM looks great……but….having read and enjoyed all your musings and enthusiasm for the Tenere, I have just signed on the dotted line for a brand new one.,in fact I pick it up in a couple of hours!!.Hopefully it is everything I want it to be. I’m somewhat emotionally attached to my beloved XR650R. she can rest up while I see if I ‘bond’ with the Tenere. One thing if you do start pushing yourself in a rally/race do consider the body protection side..for yourself I mean. The inevitable , occasional ‘offs’ can be be a bit harsh!! Have fun…Steve

    • Stephen, fear not – you won’t be disappointed by the Ten! I’m keeping mine for now, as I sense I’ll prefer it over he KTM for longer trips which don’t involve too much technical stuff. When I rode the 690 up in the States on the highway, albeit unloaded, I found the lightness of the bike made it less stable than the Tenere which is rock solid – on tarmac and dirt alike. Stick a nice pipe on it and save several kg and if you can afford it, blow some cash on the suspension. Before I put the WPs on the front I had the modestly-priced Touratech progressive springs in the forks and she rode great (ok, the Ohlins on the back helps too!!).

      • Stephen Eldridge // 18/01/2015 at 4:09 pm //

        Hi Paul, thanks for advice on the Ten….my shiny new baby is in the garage with a mighty 20 miles on the clock. I left the shop in torrential sleet , but even on the new Tourance tyres and ‘new to me’ bike she felt great. As soon as she’s run in I will begin to explore further afield…and of course get ‘farkling’, their’s so much good stuff available for the Ten, as and when my wallet allows!. Looking forward to your next update, regards Steve

  4. Piers Hammond // 17/01/2015 at 9:17 am // Reply

    Enjoy the 690 Paul, will be very interested to hear your thoughts on going orange. I suspect you’ll find that you’ll have to modify the 690 more than your Ten to make it it into the bike you want, think of it as a base which you can take in a number of directions depending on what you want to get from it. I’m shortly starting the build up of the Basel kit on mine ready for the RTW trip in 2016/7. We’re also planning on doing the TAT but going against the grain (and wisdom possibly!) and doing it the wrong way. Best of luck in the Baja, interesting times!

    • Hello mate. I’ve got a bit of a head start on the KTM – she already has panniers and rack, bashplate, handguards, fairing, nice pipe, upgraded seat, cam chain tensioner and a few other bits. Need to increase fuel cap – probably Rally Raid EVO2s – and no doubt I will get carried away and swap a bunch of stuff. The original idea behind the USA plan was to buy second hand and then sell at the end of the summer, but I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll keep her so I can justify spending a bit more money on her!

  5. Paul, if you get up to Washington state, mi casa es su casa. Good luck pal.

  6. Dude, it’s like looking into a mirror or inside my own head. I’ve been doing some research and looking into the same bike with an upgrade from KTMBASEL. The BMW F800 of mine is too bloody heavy, great bike that it is but a bitch to pick up with all the shit i’m carrying. I too have been bitten by the same bug but it was when I was doing some off road training with Simon Pavey at his off-road school 3 years back, and seeing the Dakar has just made it worse. I’m not thinking of changing the bike on this trip but maybe the next one, frankly I can’t afford it right now, It would eat up too much travel money. You maybe interested in a website from a couple we know who are travelling on KTM 690’s with the modifications from KTMBASEL the site is: I’ll be following with interest as your story unfolds, and picking your brains no doubt.

    All the best


    • Hi mate! Watching Dakar is dangerous, si?! I’ve felt this coming for a long time, even though I’ve tried to convince myself I don’t need it, can’t afford it, blah blah blah… CCM 450, modified CRF450, DRZ….. Looking at all the options, the 690 seems to be the obvious choice. I’ll probably regret it when I’m trying to survive a sandy, technical 100 miler somewhere in Utah as a very green novice, when I loose control of the 70 odd HP below me mind you! (Did my best to wreck a mild-mannered 250 a few times in Wales.)

      Plan B was buy a second hand 450EXC or WR450 and a pickup. That way I could carry as much junk (aka, my ever-expanding camera bag!) as I want.

      Let me know when you are nearing Peru – I’ll be back up there 27th and may even decide to ride the Tenere down to BA to fly it home.

      • We will be in La Paz tomorrow for a few days, then after the road of death and Lake Titicaca it’s over the Border for us. So I guess before the end of the month we will be in Peru.


  7. Stephen Eldridge // 22/01/2015 at 7:46 am // Reply

    Hi Paul, after watching ‘The Way we Roll ‘ a while ago on my smartphone I was working at a friends place (I do garden design/construction ) who is a film composer . We watched Way we Roll on a big screen with great sound!! Thought it would make you smile to know that in a studio that makes big Hollywood films we enjoyed your creation!! Regards Steve

    • When I started reading your comment, I was hoping you were going to say your buddy got on the phone to the head of Warner Bros!!

      • Stephen Eldridge // 23/01/2015 at 4:29 pm //

        Hi Paul, riding the length and breadth of South America is far better than the bright lights of Hollywood. …but at least your vids are being seen!!. On a more sensible note I managed to get out on my new Tenere today for a hundred miles around West Sussex, and even though there was ice on the puddles and it was FREEZING the bike felt great, rock solid. Riding position, seat..everything. The only thing I found was the much discussed buffeting, but I found that if I reached up and held on firmly to the peak on my Arai lid it stopped…? Going to experiment with stiffening up the peak. Can’t wait till she’s run in !! Steve

      • Hey Stephen. Ah yes, the buffeting issue…. I never really resolved it technically; instead I just learned to deal with it. I tried the ‘bird comb mod’ which some speak of on forums, but I wasn’t convinced it helped – although there is definitely an updraft coming through the forks / tank gap. I also found it changes depending on what you have on the bike and where – tank bag, tail bag etc. If the wind isn’t too strong, I find 120kph fairly comfortable riding with a peak helmet.

        Some owners swear by tall screens, clip-on spoilers and the like. I tried a number of ’em to no avail. Seems to be one of those very subjective things that works for some but not others.

  8. Hi Paul, this is great and exciting news. You’re becoming the British version of Steve McQueen 🙂 Looking forward reading about how things fold out! Good luck and have fun!!

  9. Stephen Eldridge // 03/02/2015 at 11:52 am // Reply

    Hi Paul, hope alls well with you. ….I hope you know we are suffering Horca-moto withdrawal symptoms!! But seriously, how’s it going? , I always think it must be strange after such travels NOT to be heading off on your bike day after day….anyway best wishes and looking forward to the next instalment! Steve

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