Friday, January 2, 2015

72,000 km update Yamaha XT660R

This is where my XT660R engine was made, Moto Minarelli in Italy which is owned by Yamaha these days
We’ve had quite a few little issues with the XT over the past two years, as you can read below in the previous updates after 38,000 and 48,000 km. We’ve covered another 24,000 km since then and, again, the XT is ‘in’ for surgery. The suspension front and rear, cush drive rubbers, swing arm bearings and chains and sprockets were up for replacement. But apart from that it seems to have settled down a bit now and in the last 24,000 km it has proved to be a dead reliable bike as well. We’ve grown to like the XT…

Like I said, there was more surgery to be done though. The suspension was well and truly worn out and has been replaced by YSS front and rear as you can read here. Personally I’m not fussed about a suspension that’s worn out after 70,000 km. The YSS replacement is a massive improvement anyway, which is always good. Vibration has caused a couple of nuts and bolts to disappear and chain and sprocket wear is higher than we’d like but the main problem with the XT is one that has plagued Yamaha for decades: rust! My own first Yamaha, an XV750, had the same issue as did my SRX600. Just as well that the XT doesn’t have any chrome to worry about as the people from MBK in France, where the XT was built, have enough problems with painting their handiwork. Rust is everywhere now, from the fuel tank to the spokes and everything metal in between. The spokes in the front wheel are pretty rusty, not at a dangerous level yet but it’s clear something needed to be done if we wanted to keep the XT alive. As a wheel rebuild with new spokes is financially not an option at the moment, Mike has sanded each and every spoke and painted them with a fine paint brush in Hammerite Aluminium. He’s done a great job and the wheel looks like new again.

Looking at his XT in bits again, Mike started wondering if it could be considered ‘normal’ that a motorcycle should need this much work to keep it on the road for two years. This started a discussion on what we should consider a normal service life. The XTs main problem is that we are comparing it to my Triumph Bonneville T100, which has done the same trip under the same conditions and has proven to be unbelievably reliable (it's on 108,000 km now and no problem whatsoever, apart from 2 batteries..). Compare that to the XTs list of 2 sets of fork seals replaced, waterpump mechanical seal replaced, rear shock replacement, front forks rebuilt, clutch cable renewed and brake pads falling apart… Add to that high front tyre wear and its love for consumables like chains and sprockets plus very poor service from Yamaha; and you might wonder if the XT is such a good bike.

To put it in perspective though, the list above isn’t all that long and the chain and sprocket life we’re getting out of our JT Sprockets and chains is pretty damn good compared with other big singles. The waterpump should have been a warranty issue, the suspension had done 70,000 km and the brake pads (Brembo) falling apart was a new one for me too.

Looking at other options, the nearest equivalent to the XT I can think of is, the BMW 650 Sertão which in Europe cost the best part of 2,000 Euro more. Having tried both bikes before we sat off, I found the Yamaha the better bike to ride by far. The Beemer doesn’t offer anything useful which the XT doesn’t have and the small tank on the XT is even smaller on the BM. I’m sure rust issues and suspension can be sorted for less than 2,000 Euro! I’m not sure how an XT compares to a Kawasaki KLR650 as we’ve never tried one, but the XT has a 13 horsepower and 12 Nm torque advantage that Mike doesn’t want to miss. Some of you will think there is also the Suzuki DR650 or KTM690 for instance. The Suzi doesn’t have a seat and rides like a tractor and the KTM is seriously more expensive. 

We left on this trip with a totally standard XT as we felt it should be up to the job straight from the factory. It is after all sold as a dual purpose bike. All we did was mount saddlebags, a bashplate and  Barkbusters. Looking at the XT now, 72,000 km on, only a few things have changed since then. The leaky Andy Strapz saddlebags didn’t work for us and were replaced with Holan Nomada panniers. Their pannier rack has reinforced the XT’s rear subframe in the process, which was a welcome bonus. We’ve also added a manual override switch on the cooling fan, which works a treat, fitted a headlight protector and we’ve just replaced the suspension. Bike wise, as far as modifications go, that’s about it. A virtually standard XT is thus capable of overlanding… 

Engine wise, once the cooling problems were sorted, it has been fine. Fuel consumption is good and works out at roughly 25-27 km/ltr on long runs, giving a respectable range of 375 km from the small 15 litre standard tank. We’ve added 4x 1 litre fuel bottles, which safely increased the range to 475 km for a minimal outlay. The inlet valve clearance of one of the valves was a tad on the tight side, which is odd as the exhaust valve clearances were fine. As long as we don’t use expensive Motorex full synthetic, it doesn’t use any oil. Another common problem on many Japanese bikes is the gear lever rattling loose on the shaft. When left untreated this will eventually destroy the splines. The gear lever has been re-worked twice with an angle grinder and now clamps properly around the shaft again. 

The other day, while painting the spokes actually, we were talking about if we would take an XT on such a trip again? And if so, what would we change? To start with the first question; yes we would take the XT again! It has proven to be a good reliable travel bike and its faults should be put in perspective to the costs. The nearest BMW has to offer would be the 650 Sertão, which everyone seems to rave about but is considerably more expensive than the XT. Having tried both we prefer the Yamaha, and that was before the YSS suspension upgrade! As much as we like Honda as a company, they simply don’t have anything on the market at the moment that comes close to the XT. There is no XR650, TransAlp or Africa Twin anymore and the CB500X is a road bike.

What would we change from standard? Quite frankly, we wouldn’t change a lot from what we have now. We would put a lot of time and effort in preparation though. For starters we would strip the whole thing down, have it sandblasted and properly repainted! As the XT’s engine is in an open frame, and thus totally unprotected, a very sturdy bash plate as we have now is a necessity. We’d change the suspension front and rear for YSS as the improved handling alone is worth it. Depending on funds we would look at different rims, as fixing a flat tyre is quite difficult with the standard San Remo rims. We’ve had to use car-tyre shops and even they had a hard job setting the tyre to the rim sometimes! We would also cut a hole in the airbox to facilitate removal of the rear shock without stripping half the bike and we’d have the seat looked at or fit an AirHawk.

Engine wise it’s fine, although Yamaha could make our life easier by having a look at what the rest of the world is doing for sump plugs… and perhaps fit them under the engine as well rather than at the side and facing the front tyre?