Friday, February 5, 2016

The Yamaha XT660R after 110,000 km

Sometimes it's good to be able to see things in perspective, in order to fully appreciate what you have... in our case a crashed KTM 690 Enduro did the trick. You see, for a long time we had wondered if the KTM 690 would perhaps be a better alternative to the XT, for what we are doing (i.e. travelling over bad roads). We had heard about high mileage 690s, which sort of suggested it could be a viable option for long distances. Having seen a crashed KTM from up close, we have come to the conclusion it's not even a match for the XT... 

Before you explode and start bashing the keys on your keyboard explaining how wonderful your KTM is, how much better it is off-road, how much more power it has and that it's so much lighter too... read on and understand why we find the XT better for what we are doing... it does make sense, believe me! 
First of all we don't care for the motocross capabilities of any bike, because we don't motocross. We don't need anything more than the XTs 48 hp either. Sure the Bonneville pulls away from the XT as it has 22 more horses to play with. But do we need it? We think not. I personally would gladly exchange the Bonnie engine for the less powerful but torquer Scrambler engine. We are travelling, we don't ride fast because we want to see where we are and experience it.

What we were looking for when Mike needed 2 wheels to ride around the world was a travel bike. Not a motocross or sports bike but a travel bike. Something that would be good both on-road and off-road, be affordable, ride well on long distances and which would be reliable. To be honest we could only base the reliability part on Yamaha's long history with the XT, starting way back with the first XT500. We had read comments on forums about the older air-cooled versions up to the XT600 being much better. Maybe, but starting a 100,000 km trip around the world on someone else's reject which could easily have been neglected and mistreated, was not what we wanted. Again, we wanted to travel, not fix someone else's stuff-ups. The plan therefore had been to buy something new, but as luck had it we found a pristine XT with most of the accessories that we wanted and just 2300 km on the clock.

As you can read in our previous reports we have had some issues with the Yamaha, most of which had more to do with poor quality control and poor service than the bike design. But we had really began to like the Yamaha... and then we found more evidence of poor quality control and manufacture which again cost us a bundle. So, were we back to the beginning then or was the XT beginning to earn its keep? 

To start with the last question, this part of the trip the XT has been absolutely brilliant! It has proven to be a real long distance travel bike, capable of overlanding. It has also proven to be nothing short of amazing on bad roads, which to be honest has more to do with the YSS suspension upgrade than Yamaha, but still. It simply eats up the miles in comfort and when the roads turn bad, the suspension just soaks it all up. I must admit that I have been jealous at times, especially so when my eyeballs were bouncing in their sockets on bad roads while junior in front of me was just sitting there comfortably, floating on his sofa...!

Apart from flat tyre number 10 and the bottom chain guide roller disintegrating, nothing went wrong or needed replacing since our previous report. All it needed was a set of brake pads, fuel and servicing. Not bad going, especially as the roads we've had were so bad that the top box rack has broken 3 times(!) and we'd been through the 48°C Kazakh desert for days. It seems the teething problems are over and the changes we've made work. What we have noticed is that the mechanically never quiet engine has become somewhat noisier. It's not the proverbial bag of nails yet and it doesn't use any oil. If it keeps going the way it does now then it will easily make it back to Australia before needing any attention.

The new tyres, Avon TrailRider, suit the Yamaha well. The cupping on the front tyre, which we experienced with both the original Metzler Tourance and the Distanzia, has disappeared since we have the TrailRider fitted. The same tyre also made it much easier riding in sand and we're getting much better tyre life too. The chains last longer with the Tutoro chain oiler, which is a blessing as getting parts in this part of the world is problematic with Customs. The Yamaha is still quite picky on fuel quality, sometimes hard to start even, but is very frugal. The cooling system, with the additional temperature sensor and manual override switch, works fine (even in the hot deserts we have been through).

So what's this about us preferring the XT over the 690, I hear you think. Well, like I wrote above: it's amazing how we take things for granted when they just work... isn't it. We turn the key, press the button and expect the bike to start and take us another day over terrible roads and long distances. Simply because that is what the Yamaha has been doing every day for the last 110,000 km. It's something you can get used to quite easily :-) Sometimes it's good to see it a bit in perspective though and be able to compare it to another bike, like we did the other day when we had the opportunity to have a close look at a KTM 690 Enduro R with accident damage. The flimsy frame made from wafer-thin tubes was broken in three places behind the headstock, one of the tubes was folded up like it was a water hose. Must have been a heavy crash you'd think, but it wasn't. The forks had hardly any damage at all and the aluminium rim had only a slight wobble. But it did need a complete new frame... Imagine the same accident but then with a bike loaded up with panniers and camping gear like the XT is... Imagine it happening in the middle of no-where... trying to get a frame imported and then having to strip and rebuilt the complete bike. Making it light is all well and good but there is a flip-side to that coin as well and we think KTM has taken it too far to consider it a good travel bike. Why KTM hasn't used gussets around the headstock is difficult to understand, especially as they add mere grammes to the weight at best and are used by virtually all other motorcycle manufacturers. It would have saved the frame we looked at for sure. 

We know there are KTMs out there which have achieved high mileages, but then again so has the XT. There are XTs with higher mileages even. But bikes like the 690 don't work for us, we want to travel and spend our money on travelling, we don't want to spend a lot more on a bike that is so much more fragile and much more expensive to repair, while offering little or no advantage over the XT from a travelling point of view. It might be a very good Enduro bike but choosing it for long distance travelling over the XT, doesn't make any sense. 

But there are also reasons why I personally love that bike, even though I don't ride it. Despite having more than enough speed, even with the luggage we carry, it doesn't provoke aggressive riding. Instead it has taken my son safely around the world, allowed us to see things we couldn't even dream about and experience the unimaginable. It's a fuss free bike which just works and which we could rely upon. We've never had to worry about the capabilities of the XT. Of course a big part of this is due to the Avon tyres we ride on, which improved the handling a lot, while the YSS suspension has done wonders too. But the bike handles well, the geometry is right and balance is good, which means Mike has been able to get himself out of tricky situations without ending up in hospital... As I'm writing this, he's sitting next to me... as a 19 year old, unhurt and with all these memories and experiences... and that, as his dad, is all that matters to me. The XT, as we have it now, has proven to be very good. Looking back at the other bikes we had looked at before we chose the Yamaha, we feel we have made the right choice after all.