Thursday, October 31, 2013


I'm not one for buying a bike and then replace half of it's components with after market stuff to make it 'better'. Motorcycle manufacturers should be able, with their extensive R&D departments, to make a proper motorcycle. In my view most of them do a better job than the aftermarket bunch, but there are a few exceptions. There are also a few trip specific changes we made to the bikes. Not massive re-designs, because if that's needed I would buy another bike, just things to make it more suitable for what we wanted to do.

Crashbars from Triumph
You hope you never need them but it's always better to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Triumph has crash bars in their accessory range and after reading the sale blurb I expected them to be well made. They aren't. They are flimsy, don't fit very well, don't protect the engine casing or your feet and wouldn't survive a simple fall, so I returned them.

Crashbars from Renntec
More Google 'research' brought me to Renntec. Very heavy duty, well thought out and properly designed crash bars. I fitted them to both our Bonnevilles and they certainly saved Jeanette's leg, engine casing and exhaust when she fell in the pouring rain over a railway line that runs over a wooden bridge on the West Coast of New Zealand. That bridge has claimed quite a few riders and the construction workers there said she was lucky as most who fall there end up in hospital or worse...

I bought two Renntec bars, as we have two Bonnevilles. Somehow I expected them to be the same, having the same order number and the same colour. But I was wrong. One of them was only half painted… being in Tasmania made returning them to England more expensive than repainting them myself.

They are generally well designed and made… apart from using 12mm holes for 8mm bolts! I found the only thing missing is a bracket to the head steady at the rear. The result was that the bar that runs around the cylinder becomes a tuning fork amplifying vibration. The bike vibrated more than before fitting the Renntec bars, so I made a bracket from the rear join to the head steady to stop it.

The Yamaha XT660R came with a very sturdy bash plate of unknown manufacture and Barkbusters. We guess the bashplate is a one-off job. Whoever made it has done a superb job out of 4 mm thick aluminium and had it powdercoated in black too.
Still, we looked at finding or making crashbars for it, but as the engine is much narrower than the Triumph, being a single, we can't actually see the need for a crash bar on the XT. We gently laid the bike on the ground and it simply rested on the bash plate and Barkbusters without anything else touching the ground; the radiator, water pump, crankcase etc where well out of the danger zone.

Centre stands
What can I say? It's criminal that centre stands have now become an expensive accessory with so many manufacturers. I bought them for the Bonnevilles. Chain maintenance, changing tyres etc. is so much easier with them. Yamaha doesn't even have them as an accessory… As Mike's XT660R has a very sturdy bash plate we use that to 'jack' the wheel off the ground. To lube the chain on the XT we use a shortened ex-tentpole under the swing arm to lift the rear wheel off the ground, lightweight and easy to carry.
Possibly the best 9 dollars ever spend! We all know that long distances, especially over boring roads can give cramped fingers from squeezing the throttle for prolonged periods.

Of course you could fit a cruise control to your bike, but that's not a real simple operation. Nor is it an inexpensive solution to a simple problem. Crampbuster has one. They make a simple plastic clamp that slides around the throttle grip takes care of it by falling into the palm of your hand.
If you don't need it for whatever reason, simply rotate it away. What a brilliant idea!

Ikon shockabsorbers Triumph
Triumph Bonneville rear shock absorbers are criminally bad. Have been for years and Triumph doesn't do anything about it. If you want to keep your back alive then change them asap. Shockabsorber manufacturers know and several options are available from people like Hagon, YSS and Ikon for instance. Being in Australia Ikon was an obvious choice as they are made in Oz. Geoff from Ikon is a very helpful guy who not only makes good shockies for a good price, he can also modify them for your specific needs or request. They come with a four-way dampening setting and three-way pre-load. I found the standard damping to stiff for my liking so Geoff made some changes. He also suggested a lighter spring with more pre-load, which I did by turning down the Ikon adjuster and combining it with the Kayaba ring of the original shocks, giving me not only more pre-load but also a 5-way pre-load setting.

My Ikons thus have 4-way damping and 5-way pre-load. Jeanette likes her suspension a bit stiffer and opted for the standard damping, I still modified the Kayaba adjuster to fit the Ikon so that she too has 5-way pre-load. The Kayaba adjuster works really well as it offers smaller pre-load steps giving finer tuning options. Ikon shocks are very similar to the old Dutch Koni. Geoff used to sell them in Oz and when Koni went belly-up he started manufacturing himself. They have been fitted to my Bonneville since 2009, have been halfway around the world and had to operate under very difficult circumstances. You won't believe how hard they have had to work on roads like the Dalton in Alaska, or even the Cassiar Highway in Canada which is riddled with potholes, cracks and frost damage. For hours and hours they are continuously being hammered and yet just do it without failing. I've truly come to appreciate their quality and their looking after our bikes and backs! Ikon shock absorbers are available worldwide, or contact Geoff at

Update Ikon shock absorbers: 04-2014
With just over 40.000 km on the clock and just over one year old, Jeanette hit a pothole. One of the shock absorbers spat all it's oil out on the spot and we found it's damper rod bend and piston damaged. As the Ikons have a bump stop, this shouldn't have happened. There clearly is a manufacturing fault in that particular shock absorber which allowed it to compress too far and destroy itself. The Triumphs front fork doesn't have any damage and the other shock absorber is fine too while hitting the same pothole.
When I contacted Ikon, the response was that as they had covered 40.000 km they were up for replacement anyway as that was their life expectancy(!) Ikon also claims that ideally after 25.000 km they should have been replaced… yet the Ikon website states that their shock absorbers outlive most motorcycles… and are rebuildable, which is why we bought them. This one isn't rebuildable according to Ikon and Ikon was not willing to replace or repair the shock absorber either, instead they asked me for my credit card. To me a $400,- shock absorbers should last longer than a mere 40.000 km and this one clearly has a manufacturing fault. Manufacturing faults can happen, it's the way they treat it which has me looking at alternatives, including the original Triumph shock absorbers with lighter springs or Hagon who offers 2 year warranty.
It's the first problem we have had during this whole trip with one of the Triumphs, and it's a non-original Triumph part that failed! We have replaced them with Hagons, see
Shock absorbers Yamaha
We haven't changed anything, suspension wise, to the Yamaha. It's suspension is absolutely brilliant, straight from the factory! Triumph should have a real hard look at the XT660R, it's so much better than their Tiger. The only thing we'd might do in the future is fit spacers on top of the fork springs, putting a bit more pre-load on them. 

The Mike Mod
We found the XT660R's computer turns the fan on rather late. The engine is probably fine with temperatures over 100°C, Yamaha's R&D would have tested that I presume, but it gets rather hot for the rider's legs when stuck in traffic. To combat the problem we've done two things: attach a temperature switch, like fitted to computer power supplies for instance, to the top radiator hose with simple zippy ties (see photo).

This will switch the fan on when the water temperature reaches 90°C making life for the rider's legs much less 'cooked'. We've also fitted a manual switch to turn the fan on. In hot weather and slow moving heavy traffic this will keep temperatures at bay. These mods will not affect the computer or fuelling as the only thing it does is generate more airflow through the radiator. The engine temperature is still regulated by the thermostat. We haven't tapped into the computer wiring either but simply connected the temperature and manual switch to the 'switch' terminals of the fan relay. Going outside the relay means we can still operate the fan even if the relay fails. The manual switch is also handy in wet-muddy conditions where still standing fans would clog up with mud, like the BMW 800GSs do for instance. Simply turn the fan on manually when riding through wet mud and rather than clogging up the fan it will simply be blown out of it.

Bungy cords are dangerous things. The hooks come off, they come off unexpectedly and many an eye has been hit by them. Still; the idea of spring tension is a good one. Rokstraps have taken that idea a step further, eliminated the dangerous bits and come up with something that's brilliantly simple and works a treat. They are well made too. We've used them on all three bikes every day for almost a year and haven't found anything that can be improved upon. Well worth the, small, investment. 

Cable locks and dog clips
We fitted dog clips to our bikes to quickly hang the helmets on by the double-D ring. It's simple and works well. If we want to leave the bikes and go for a walk, we don't want to take our helmets and jackets as well. We leave them on the bikes locked with a spiral type long cable through the sleeves. A $10,- investment that works well. When we park the bikes overnight on the campgrounds we lock them together through wheels and crash bars. This makes wheeling them away impossible.

Charging batteries
Triumph has incorporated a charging point in it's wiring harness. Good idea but I wouldn't use it as it's ON all the time, even if the bike is parked and the key out of the ignition. If you forget your laptop is connected to it, it will certainly drain the battery. What I've done is make a charging point that's only ON when the ignition is on. Simply locate the wire that goes to the rear light and connect the activation wire of a standard automotive 30A relay to it. Connect the main feed to the relay directly from the battery (+) terminal via a fuse. The relay can be fitted under the seat and thus out of sight and out of the weather. From the relay I've run a wire into my pannier, through a waterproof gland and siliconed off on both sides (just in case). This means my iPod and notebook are locked inside the pannier and are being charged while I ride, while they won't drain the battery when we stop.

MacBook charger
Apple makes great laptops and notebooks. I won't go into a discussion on Apple versus Windows other than saying I've tried Windows and won't do it again. Apple has a great magnetic connector, on which it has of course a patent. Legally nobody can make that connector and therefore you can't buy a 12V laptop charger with an Apple connector (unless you don't care and buy a badly made Chinese copy as the Chinese don't care about intellectual property). There is a legal and better way around this. Every Apple laptop and Notebook comes with a mains charger with that magnetic connector. Cut the cable and find there are two wires inside, the central insulated positive (+) and the outer negative (-). Buy sturdy male and female connectors like the ones in the photo and solder them on the ends of the cut cables. The mains charger will now work again. Get another female connector and solder that onto the cable of a universal 12V laptop charger. These are mostly multi volt and 90W, which is plenty for an Apple laptop or notebook. I've used this setup in the pannier of my Triumph and it has worked perfectly. Everything works as per standard, including the little LED in the connector showing green and orange depending on charging or full and you have the good quality original connector. We haven't had any issue with this system despite covering some very rough roads.

Chain links
Chain manufacturers will tell you to fit soft-links to their chains. They claim they are much stronger than clip links. I'm not going to argue as they have the R&D department and facilities to test these things and I'm not one to claim I know better than the experts. All I can say is that I'm old school, from before soft-links became the norm, and have used clip-links all my life.
They have never come undone and they never showed me any signs of wearing quicker than the rest of the chain. Even the last chains I fitted, the JT Sprockets heavy duty X-ring, I fitted with clip-links (I had no choice anyway as I don't have the tool for soft-links and neither did the local bike shop).
Make sure the links are very well greased, that the clip is facing the right way (the closed end in the direction of travel) and that they close well. One little thing I've done the last couple of years is fit a small zippy-tie over the clip, a trick I learned from a motocross mechanic. So why clip links over soft-links? Easy to fit, easy to remove and no special tools needed.

Sticking fork seals
Sticking fork seals are a common problem on a lot of motorcycles. The fork seals' job is to prevent oil seeping past them and it has to do this by 'grabbing' tight around the inner tubes. At the same time they should allow for unhindered movement of the inner tubes past the seals, an almost impossible combination. Over time the seals may 'stick' to the inner tubes by, in effect, doing their job too well. The result is a stiff front suspension that can become quite uncomfortable and in extreme cases cause irregular tyre wear. As the 'sticking' problem appears gradually we sometimes don't even realise it's already happening. Fitting new seals is a solution but on the road not something I was looking forward to. To combat the problem I squirted a bit of silicone spray between the dust seals and the fork seals using the tube provided with the can. It worked a treat! The suspension was moving freely again giving a suspension that could act a lot quicker over short bumps. We squirt a little bit of silicone spray on the exposed sections of the inner tubes of all 3 bikes regularly to keep the suspension moving freely. One word of caution: By it's very nature silicone promotes smooth movement between two materials, which is why you have to be extremely careful not to spray it on tyres and brakes for obvious reasons. To prevent any over spray I spray on a cloth, away from the bikes, and rub that on the forks. It's available from any car parts shop for as little as $4,- per can