About 6 months before our trip my 91 DR650RS was stolen from my house in Melbourne. Faced with the prospect of having no bike to do our trip and knowing how hard it was to find a big trailie in good condition I was faced with very few choices. One of them was Yamaha's XTZ660.
I guess the most straightforward way to describe the Yam is that it's heavy. With that out of the way I should also say that it's also one hell of a nice bike. On the tarmac there are few bikes in its price range that would be as nice to ride. The seat is reasonably plush and the suspension works nicely on the black stuff.
The fairing also seems to take a bit of the buffeting out of the equation but frankly I don't think it works all that well. Cross winds played havoc with the handling. It felt like the fairing was acting as a sail. The bike would noticeably get pushed whichever the way the wind blew. Not nice. If the majority of your riding is going to be on the tarmac I would have no qualms about recommending the XTZ.
However if, like us, your intention is to take the beaten track and see some of the real outback I suggest you look at something like a DR or an XR. The big Yamaha had a particular dislike for any deep gravel and really hated muddy roads. As soon as it so much as smelt gravel, it started weaving and acting as though it had a mind of it's own. Not nice. Forget even trying to ride through mud. The weight of the bike means that instead of powering through the mud it would just sink into the mud. I had a couple of occasions where it was axle deep in the mud and it was a major effort to get her out.
Another little niggle I had with the Yamaha was that the mudguard is totally inappropriate for off road and muddy conditions. Mud and rocks get wedged between the tyre and the mudguard with the end result being that the front wheel locks solid. The only way to free up the wheel is to unbolt the mudguard. If you've just spent the last 30 minutes fighting the bike and trying to stop if from falling into the deep mud the last thing you want to do is get even more covered in mud trying to remove the bloody mudguard.
Now for my last gripe with the Yamaha. It is a bastard to work on. It seems that it was designed to be as difficult to work on as possible. So many things just seem plain silly and others seem almost like a cruel joke. At least the air cleaner was reasonably easy to service. Try doing a quick oil change.. there's no such thing. Change the plugs in a hurry? Ha ha ha yeah right.
For all the gripes I have to say that the Yamaha can't really be expected to keep up with likes of the Suzuki DR or Honda XR, but given the right sort of roads and a confident rider it's a pretty quick bike. It absolutely loved hard packed clay roads with some sandy patches. Shaun was quicker of 90% of the dirt sections but there were a few occasions where I could go as hard as Shaun and even a few times when I could go past him.
I should also mention that whoever decided to put an electric start on the XTZ should be given a medal. Yes, I know it contributed to the weight but I didn't really care when faced with a bike with water in the carbs.
Some suspension mods would make a big difference, as would reducing some of the weight. However I just don't think that there is a truly capable off-road bike lurking away in there no matter how much money or time is thrown at it... but then I guess it was never intended to be one.
For our next trip I'd like to replace the XTZ with another DR or an XR.... I'm willing to give up some of the comfort for some decent off road ability. However, if I can't find a decent replacement I'm more than happy to put up with some to the Yam's failings. For all its shortcomings I guess I have to admit I have soft spot for the big fat green bastard.
I'm targeting this information mainly to fellow DR owners, however anyone reading will at least discover (and hopefully find useful) how I approached the preparation of my bike for the trip.
OK, first a little history:
When I was looking to buy it, some signs of neglect were starting to show - it was clear that the current (2nd) owner rode it, but didn't do much on the maintenance side of things.
After much umming and ahhing I finally decided to buy it. There was a lot of work needed to get it back up to my level of satisfaction, but I have never looked back. I can't really fault the bike's handling and performance - either on road or off. It's a very reliable, solid bike and completed this trip without any problem whatsoever.
I could go on and on (and in a future update I probably will talk a little more about it in general terms), but basically, I love my DR!
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As the majority of the trip was going to be off road, I decided to go with the popular Pirelli MT-21's front and rear. I arrived at this choice by doing a lot of research on the 'net and speaking with some of the "in-the-know" bike shops. The only other tyres I considered were the Michelin Deserts, but they were much more expensive, and even worse, impossible to get. So, that made it easy - the Pirelli's it would be.
For those that don't know, the MT-21 are street legal tyres, but they have a very aggressive knobby tread pattern which clearly indicates they're made for serious off-road work.
Looking back, they were the ideal choice. I had no problem with them on the tar (even in the wet) and off-road they were superb in all conditions - from the typical hard-pack dirt road, through to soft desert sands and mud.
I completed the entire 11,333 km journey on one front tyre. In fact, the front has barely worn. If it wasn't for a flat spot I developed due to rim damage (click here for a picture of the damaged front rim) the front could easily do another trip of this length. I'm serious!
I also think the rear's last quite well for a knobby tyre. On tar, they do seem to wear at an alarming rate initially, but this does seem to slow down as time goes on. I think this is because as the knobs shorten, they become less flexible and hence more resilient to wear. Off-road, the wear rate is less again.
Even if you spent your entire time on tar, I believe you could stretch the life of the rear to about 6,000 km's (3,700 miles). There won't be much left, but I think it's possible. However, my rear tyres were changed before they got to that stage, but this had more to do with tyre availability than anything else. Which leads me to my next point about tyres. In the Outback towns (even the well stocked ones like Alice Springs) getting 17" tyres is near impossible! We lost a good four days of riding while waiting for tyres to be shipped to Alice Springs! Everyone seemed to only stock 18" rear tyres, which I found really strange because most of the big-bore trail bikes that people would choose for a trip like ours have 17" rear tyres. Definitely something to keep in mind for our next trip!
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In previous trips, I've had a shocking run with flats - with my weight, hitting any sort of decent bump was a guaranteed recipe for a pinched tube. Repairing a tube in the Outback heat is not fun, and besides that, I see a repaired tube as a temporary measure to get me out of trouble and I like to replace them with a brand new one as soon as I can.
Clearly, on a journey like this, there are only so many things you can carry. An endless supply of tubes is not one them...
I wanted to do anything I could to reduce the chance of getting punctures. So, on the recommendation of a local bike shop, I decided to fit Metzeler Six-Day tubes.
These are incredibly thick, ultra- heavy duty tubes are designed for use on bikes competing in the so called "Six Day" Enduro events. "If they're strong enough for them, then they've got to be good enough for me", I reasoned.
They are not available in 17" size (this was the first clue about difficulties with 17" rears), so on the back I used Michelin Heavy Duty tubes. This didn't worry me too much, because it's only the front that I've had trouble with.
Well, I am pleased to report that I did not have a single flat for the entire trip! (Nor did Bart, who also fitted the same combination of tubes.) If you've read the section on tyres above, then you'll know that my wheels got pounded so hard that I wrecked my front and rear rims! Yet, no flats whatsoever. I was and still am amazed!
All I can say is that fitting these tubes was the best thing I could have done. They only cost slightly more than a normal tube, so I would strongly recommend anyone thinking about doing a trip like this to try and get the Metzeler Six Day tubes fitted on both ends if possible.
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Before departing for the trip, I gave my DR a thorough service. New brake fluid and new brake pads were two of the items on the list of things I did.
I use Scandanavian Brake Systems (SBS) sintered pads, mainly because that's what my local shops' stock. I've got no complaints with them, and they seem to last very well too - they're still like new, so I'll be doing my next trip on the same set of pads.
I used Motul Racing brake fluid - the one with a 300°C boiling point. I'm a real believer in using quality oils & fluids. As I'll elaborate on that when I write my section on engine oil, I won't say much more here.
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When I bought my DR, the suspension was in need of serious work. Both ends had so much sag that they could barely support the weight of the bike when I took it off the side-stand.
I removed the forks and rear shock absorber, and took them to "The Motorcycle Workshop" in Eltham who rebuilt them with stiffer springs and heavier oils, taking into account my weight and intended type of riding. I never bothered to note the specifics (spring rates, oil weights, etc) of what they did, but the end result was very stiff suspension - exactly what I wanted.
Now, when I take the bike off the side-stand, there is absolutely no sag in the suspension. The set-up is perfectly suited to aggressive, off-road riding and I believe this was a key factor in making the DR the pick of the two bikes in the really rough sections encountered on our trip.
I haven't had to do anything to the suspension since.
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To the best of my knowledge, the engine in my DR is stock standard.
(Well, that's all I have time for at the moment - much more to come in future updates! Shaun)