20150702-Blog bike-1Below is a lists of modifications made to my XT660Z Tenere and some observations on each.  I was lucky to find a very well-appointed second hand bike, already prepared for a long overland trip (Africa) which never happened. After I made some additional modifications, I felt I got close to optimising the bike for long-distance, dirt-orientated travel – although inevitably there is more that could be done!

I have compiled this list in three sections: parts swapped, parts added and parts modified. I have included hyperlinks (blue text) to web pages for most of the parts.




Shock (Ohlins).  I haven’t ridden a Tenere with stock suspension off-road, so it is difficult to compare. The Olhins has handled the rough stuff superbly, especially when the bike is fully-loaded. (I would like to have a manual pre-load adjuster fitted to negate using the  ‘screw-driver and rock’ technique, but an Ohlins shock for the Tenere with one fitted is not available.)

Forks (WP Forks with Off-The-Road Triple Clamp).  I started with stock forks fitted with Touratech / Hyperpro progressive springs – a big improvement on the stock springs and a reasonably-priced upgrade. I now have WP forks from a KTM EXC fitted, which have been adjusted to compensate for the Tenere’s extra weight (shims to increase preload, smaller air chamber). This is a major upgrade, as it requires the OTR custom triple clamp and a new front wheel with a 26mm axle and 320mm rotor (see below).

Front Wheel (Warp 9 Racing).  Warp 9 Racing, from Utah USA, built me a front wheel to pair with the WP forks.  The OEM from rim was damaged twice on impact with big rocks; so far the Warp 9 rim has proven to be much more durable. The single 320mm rotor has notably less stopping power than the twin caliper stock set-up, but it is nevertheless perfectly adequate.

Exhaust (Off-The-Road 2-in-1, Titanium).  Removing the stock exhaust saves a lot of weight and opens up the engine. With the OTR foam air filter and a Power Commander, the bike feels a lot more responsive than the stock bike I have ridden. A lesson learnt after the silencer cracked in the Atacama – choose stainless steel, not titanium, for big trips, because you will struggle to find someone who can weld titanium in the event of damage.

Air Filter (Off-The-Road Foam Air Filter Kit).  The engine breathes much more freely with this mod, though the main advantage is not having to carry extra paper filters – or search for a shop which stocks them.  Filter oil was fairly easy to find in South America.

Bash Plate (Touratech Engine Guard, Large).  Being a 2010 model, there was no option but to upgrade the bash plate. I’ve been pleased with the Touratech one – very solid, and with the hinge at the back only the front two bolts need removing when changing the oil.

Handlebars (Renthal Fatbar RC High).  I’ve gone down hard a few times, with the barkbusters and the bars taking the weight of the fall. The Renthals seem rock-solid. I wouldn’t have trusted the stock bars. (Note they require new 27mm clamps or adaptors – I am using the OTR clamps with extra long stems.)

Pegs (WORKS Long Distance Pegs – from Touratech).  The stock pegs are sub-optimal. The Works pegs are much stronger and provide sufficient surface area for prolonged standing. They have taken a beating, being mangled on a couple of occasions after crashing, but are still alive having been bent back into shape.

Chain Guard (Motorrad Planet, Stainless Steel – via eBay).  I have broken two stock plastic chain guards, so I chose a stainless steel option. A bit heavier than aluminium, but this particular one is very strong and good value.

Headlight (HID).  The HID makes a substantial difference to the stock light. Only the dip beam is HID; full beam is stock, with the LEDs wired to come on with the main beam. The only minor negative is the few moments of relative darkness when the HID warms up on switching over from full beam after several minutes – not ideal if you’re going round a bend on a country road. I intend to solve this by re-wiring everything so that for full beam, the HID remains on and is supplemented by the LEDs only.

Indicators (LED Mini Indicators from Touratech).  Brighter than the stock lights – and smaller, so less likely to get damaged. I’m no electrical expert, but I suspect they are more robust than standard bulbs when under constant vibration for long periods on the dirt. The stems on two of them eventually broke after some rough handling, but a bit of insulating tape resolved that.

Clutch / Break Levers (Short levers from eBay).  Once I had fitted Barkbusters, the stock levers were a tight fit fit, so I opted for some short levers from Hong Kong via ebay (one from a GSXR 600 and and the other from a FJR 1300).  They are cheap, fit perfectly, work well and whilst they have now lost their black finish, they remain in perfect working after 3 years.

Front Fender (Off-The-Road Rally Fender).  One very muddy day on Route 40 in Patagonia justified this mod. When all the BMWs were getting stuck with blocked front wheels, the Tenere kept sliding onwards. I won’t be changing it back for the stock mudguard.

Sprockets.  For most of my S America trip, I had a Renthal 14-tooth front sprocket with the stock 45-tooth rear. This made first gear a little short but notably improved the bike’s ability to pull in the dirt.  I later switch to 15/46 – a better ratio for cruising on the highway, but for some reason always left me in the middle of gears when riding on twisty mountain roads.  Conversely, with 14/45 I always seemed to be in the right gear for such riding.  I’ll probably switch back to 14/45 in due course.

Tyres.  I have run Heidenau K60 Scouts front and rear, Continental TKC 80s front and rear, and a TKC front and Heidenau rear combo.  The Heidenaus last for ages – I got 21,000km out of the rear – and for me provide a good compromise of on and off road.  The TKCs wear fast, but are obviously better off road. The combo worked well, giving the front end more grip on the dirt.


Power Commander V.  It maximises the advantages of a new pipe and air filter.  I’ve had no problems with the constant vibration from riding off road – it is protected with a jacket of high-density foam.

Radiator Shield (Metal Mule).  A piece of protection I consider essential if you spend a lot of time on the gravel.  The Metal Mule guard has proved to be perfectly adequate, at half the price of other brands.

Rectifier Cover (Touratech).  The rectifier on the Tenere is in a vulnerable position (some owners move it), so some form of protection is a good idea.

Roll Bar (Touratech, upper part only).  When I first saw them, I thought they might only provide limited protection. After numerous drops, I’m happy that they are all I need. The geometry of the Tenere means that the Barkbusters take most of the fall on flattish ground (and of course panniers help further in holding the bike off the ground). The plastic crash panels on the fuel tank also do a good job at soaking up the shock.  In fact, after testing the crashability of the Tenere several times, I am considering removing these bars. (The connection points are weak and one sheered when I slid the bike down a gravel road on its side.) I think the big crash bars such as the SW Motech ones are over-kill and do nothing more than add weight.

Bark Busters + VPS Handguards + Bar-end weights.  I’ve dropped the bike so many times now, and only once managed to bend one of the Barkbusters when I came off heavily. Nearly every time the bike goes down, the Barkbusters take the brunt. I started with Storm Handguards fitted, which offered great protection when I was down in Patagonia but were overkill in hot weather.  VPS are a good compromise.

Steel Mesh Headlight Guard (Touratech).  The Touratech grill-style guard came with the bike and I thought it was a bit of overkill, until a 4×4 passed me at speed and threw up a big stone, right on to the headlight guard. I was very glad I had it. (The stone then ricocheted into the hand guard, convincing me of the importance of them too.) 

Centre Stand (SW Motech).  Weight versus convenience. It has certainly made life a lot easier when working on the bike, repairing punctures etc. If I had a lighter bike and really wanted to stay light, I’d go without and accept the inconvenience. But the Tenere is heavy enough to justify the extra weight for convenience. The SW Motech stand has withstood a couple of heavy crashes, requiring bending and welding. After two years the spring has weakened, allowing the stand to jolt on rough ground.

‘Camel Toe’ (Touratech).  Essential in a place like S America to stop the bike toppling over on soft ground. The Touratech one has proven robust.

Heated Grips (Oxford Hot Grips, then Symtex).  I include heated grips on my ‘essentials’ list.  In S America, conditions vary hugely, sometimes in the course of a single day; heated grips help deal with such changes and limit the number of times you need to change gloves.  The Oxford grips were superb – ie, hot! On the contrary the Symtex, fitted underneath Pro Grips Pro Grips, are at best warm.

Automatic Chain Oiler (Tuturo).  Extending the life of your chain / spockets doesn’t just save money, but reduces the logistical burden of either carrying spares or trying to source new ones. Carrying aerosol lube takes up valuable pannier space and is usually difficult to find (good quality stuff, at least).  A chain oiler is the obvious solution.  I steered clear of the Scotts due to price and the need to plumb it into the bike. But then I found the Tutoro – far simpler and cheaper.

Pannier Frames (Touratech).  I started with hard panniers (Touratech Zegas) and hence the frames.  When using the Zegas they held up well to the stress imposed by riding long hours on rough gravel.  They now help keep my soft panniers stable, though I could get away with (and would prefer) smaller and lighter frames.

Luggage Rack, Large (Touratech).  Big, stable, lots of options for strap positioning – does a good job.

GPS Mount (Touratech) and Zumo 660.  Mounted on the mounting bar above the clocks, the GPS in an ideal place for visibility. But this set-up has one big disadvantage – the additional weight, high and rearwards of the headlamp stay on which it is attached, increases the load on the stay when driving for prolonged periods on the dirt. The stay has sheered three times, despite reinforcement at the base. I now have a new stay which is even more heavily reinforced, but I am going to cut the mount down so that the GPS sits lower and less rearwards – hopefully putting less stress on the stay.

LED Lights (X-Vision 5 Inch Xmitter, Narrow Beam).  The X-Vison is very bright and produces a narrow beam. I have the light wired into my main beam, which gives me ample light (whereas the main beam on its own very suboptimal). Initially it was mounted on the bottom of the headlight stay, but now it is upside down on the towing hook, which works really well. My logic for fitting one was validated when my main lights failed; the X-Vision provided me with both light and the means to be seen during a very foggy ride through the Atacama. After 3 years the lights failed.

12V Power Socket (Touratech).  Another on the essentials list. I charge my phone, camera battery, AA batteries and iPad (stored inside my tank bag) on the move, and run my electric pump off it.

Engine Guard Toolbox (Touratech).  I was hesitant about getting one of these, but I tried one out after 6 months on the road and am really pleased I did. It’s not the best design for ease of access (I’ve seen a neat mod on one of the forums to allow the lid to open more fully instead of knocking up against the headers), but it means I can keep some essential tools on the bike at all times, and more importantly I can get some of the small heavy items like spare brakepads and my chain breaker down low. It handled the knocks fine. The lock, like all TT locks, is a bit cheap.

Break Fluid Reservoir Cover (Touratech).  It was on the bike when I got it, but not sure it serves much purpose.

Manifold Middle Heat-shield Plate (Touratech).  As above, but this one probably does help a bit to prevent melting your trousers.

Pinion Gear Guard (Touratech).  This provided a major headache when my chain jumped off the rear sprocket in a crash and jammed up in the front sprocket, but maybe it actually limited the damage.

Swingarm Axle Covers (Off-The-Road). These are much more than cosmetic additions.  When I had the swingarm bearings checked at 40,000km we found they had all but disintegrated, no doubt due to the constant ingress of dust.  That prompted me to buy these axle covers.

Post Trip Additions:

Oil Drain Valve (Off-The-Road).  I wish I had known about this simple mod before the trip – a replacement for the lower oil drain bolt, which allows oil to be drained through a tube which attaches to the valve with a quick-release bayonet fitting.  I always change the oil myself, and usually in the lobby or courtyard of a hostel.  This would ahve saved a lot of mess, and the occasional lost O-ring.


Rear Brake Pedal.  The toe on the OEM pedal offers minimal grip and protrudes too far, asking to be damaged in a crash. So I got a local welder to cut the toe off the pedal, weld a little block on the end with a couple of vertical holes, and then I screwed a cheap KTM replacement toe on -good serration and thus good grip, low profile and easy to replace if it gets bent. I have also shortened the length of the pedal by 20mm to make it easier to reach when standing on the pegs.

Shift Lever.  Similarly to the brake pedal, I have shortened it by 20mm to aid shifting when standing up.  It has also resulted in making shifts feel more crisp and solid.

Centre Stand Feet.  I more than doubled the surface area of the centre stand feet by welding a couple of small plates to the base of them. Makes a BIG difference when using the stand on soft ground.

Seat.  The previous owner cut away half of the pillion seat to allow him to slide fore and aft. It is much more comfortble than the stock seat, which I found restricts movement, but it makes it less comfortable for a pillion. I can go for hours on this seat without getting a numb butt.

Front Headlight Stay.  See above under ‘GPS mount’. A serious weak point of the bike in my opinion. My current stay is heavily reinforced at the base and sides.

Clutch Actuator Lever.  To lighten the clutch, I extended the clutch actuator lever by 20mm.  It has made a noticeable improvement.  When the clutch gets very hot, you may need to adjust the cable tension in order to ensure the plates fully disengage – a minor inconvenience.

Numberplate Holder / Numberplate.  After losing my number plate when driving out of a deep storm drain, I replaced the back end and cut off the section which holds the plate.  I had a new and smaller plate made to attach directly below the brake light.  This mod will probably not get the bike through the MOT due to a lack of a number plate light, and the smaller plate (and letters / numbers) will no doubt attract the attention of the police back at home.  The OTR tail tidy is an option I am considering now.

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