Head in the Shed

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Lyndon Poskitt of ‘races to places’ has ridden and raced all around the world on a KTM LC4 Factory Rally-Adventure that he constructed himself in his garage. But what does it take to build a bike that will withstand the rigours of such riding?

Where do I start? First of all, there is the fact that my trip is a little, well, actually a lot different to your average ‘around the world’ motorcycle ride. Sure, I am riding around the world and require a good, solid adventure bike, but I am also a racer at heart, and I appreciate a well-set-up bike, love riding off the beaten path, and I am racing in rally races along the way, so I wanted a machine that is capable of doing all of this.

Strong chassis
A Strong chassis is the basis of the bike

Many people get confused and think my bike (named ‘Basil’ after my late grandfather) is a 690 Enduro R, modified for adventure and racing. It is in fact very different. It is based on a 2007 KTM 690 Factory Rally bike, developed specifically to win the Dakar Rally (which they did multiple times). But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a standard 690 Rally bike. To make it truly ready to race and adventure, I spent a lot of time in the garage making it exactly what I wanted.

So, let’s talk about why I chose the bike I did, and what makes it so special, as well as some of the modifications I made. First, we’ll look at why I chose the Rally platform, and to do this I’ll break it into six categories

Suspension and chassis set-up

The suspension units (forks and shock) are far superior on the Rally compared to all production bikes. It has more travel and much-improved performance, specifically at race speeds. While you can add aftermarket forks and shocks to production bikes to improve them or have them reworked, it’s unlikely that you will get close to the setup of the rally bike as you cannot change the frame or other major chassis components so easily, and these contribute massively to the performance of the Rally.

My WP factory race Suspension
Top-quality suspension

The chassis set-up on the Factory Rally bike is much more suitable for carrying weight, it is stronger and is also way more stable.

Let’s explore why.

The wheel-base is longer, obtained by a slightly longer swingarm and more suspension travel. The swingarm and suspension linkage are stronger, with billet components and larger diameter high tensile pins, instead of smaller and typically cast/forged components on production models. Finally, the upper shock mount is not only in a different position to allow a longer shock to be installed for more control, but it is also stronger and offers different stiffness characteristics for improved handling.

The front triple clamps are stronger for the longer forks and offer 20/22mm adjustable offset. You get a full 320mm race suspension package which is great, but the downside, you better have a decently-sized inseam to get onto it! Obviously, the setup of the suspension (spring rates and valving) is unique, allowing it to work well with the additional weight of my luggage on my travel bike.

Built from scratch
Lydon built is bike from scratch

For the majority of my adventure riding, I use the closed cartridge rally forks with minor modification and a heavily modified rear shock to allow me to ride fast over rough terrain, maintaining stability even with the extra weight. I tested many different spring rates and shim settings before getting it right.

In the races, it is always my preference to use my ‘race’ suspension package from WP, with Cone Valve forks and Trax rebound bypass shock, but that depends on logistics and how easy it is to get it shipped to the start. Some races I’ve used it, some I’ve managed with an over-sprung, over-valved travel setup just because it was not practical to change it. Racing the Finke Desert Race with my travel suspension was a workout. It can manage a race no problem, you just have to be aware of the compromises.

I modified the chassis quite a bit also, to add strength for the extra weight of luggage.

Fuel Capacity

My bike holds 32-litres of fuel (31 on a cold Arctic day, 33 on blistering desert crossing due to expansion/contraction with temperature), using KTM factory tested and produced tanks which are strong and bolted sturdily to the chassis with appropriate isolation to avoid vibration being transmitted to the rider. I’m essentially riding a motorcycle fuel tanker! A single rear tank and two front saddle tanks help to keep the weight central and low down.

I changed the rear fuel tank from the 690 Rally tank to the one from the later KTM 450 Rally. This allows me to carry the same amount of fuel, but it is a nylon structural member, so I also have attachment points for a luggage rack. In my opinion a key part of the bike for long distance travel. The luggage rack also helps to protect the underslung dual exhaust system. Speaking of which, it’s complete with my own dyno-tuned and tested full Titanium silencers (less than half the weight of a single stock silencer combined).

Fuel Supply

Moving on to fuel supply. While I appreciate the advantages of fuel injection (FI) and have now even raced FI bikes in Dakar and elsewhere, the carburetor is still my preference for an outback adventure bike. There are far fewer things to go wrong, and when it does, I can see what it is and fix it. I know you cannot get a carb to fuel as perfectly throughout the entire range of throttle openings and engine conditions, but you can get them pretty damn close with a bit of knowledge and time.

Most people’s argument for having FI is its ability to compensate for the change in air density at altitude. Having raced the Factory FI bike in Dakar 2017 (and carbureted bike in Dakar 2013), I can honestly say that the slight benefit FI delivers in altitude is not worthy of the additional systems, wiring and complexity for adventure riding.

I rode similar altitudes on the carbureted and FI bikes and you cannot get away from the fact that the air is thinner and you lose a massive amount of power as a result. The fuel injection compensates better for this from an air/fuel ratio perspective, but in terms of bhp, you’ll usually only notice a difference of about 2bhp between the two (a loss of 25bhp at 5,000m for carbureted, 23bhp for FI).

At home in the garage
At home in the garage

There is still a significant drop in performance on both machines. If you have a poorly-jetted carburetor, of course, you’ll wish you had FI, but if your bike is jetted correctly for an intermediate altitude, it will work adequately without any system complexity.

I also don’t believe fuel economy is a real reason why people want FI bikes, I rode back to back with a 690 Enduro (FI) for months and every time we filled up, the difference would be between -5% and +15% (more efficient for the Enduro) depending on conditions or choice of fuel map for the Enduro.

So far, throughout the entire trip, I have averaged 47mpg on my carbureted bike (including races!), seeing just over 62mpg if I ride how I like not to. After almost three years on the road, not a single fuel related issue has seen me stranded, and for that reason, I love the traditional carbureted fuel supply system.

Racing Hellas Rally the first rally

Simplicity of systems

Since we’ve just discussed carbs, this brings me nicely onto the electrics/systems side of the bike and the whole simplicity of the Rally bike. While the base components are the same as most production bikes, stator, regulator rectifier etc., without the fuel injection system, things are far simpler.

There is much less wiring, less sensors and components and therefore less to go wrong. There is much less draw on electrical systems and its components on the rally, and should you find yourself with a flat battery in the middle of nowhere, you can bump start the bike no problem (I’ve done it).

In Dakar 2017, I drained my battery running heated gear on the FI bike and was left stranded with no way to start the bike without battery. This, for me, is a big problem when riding in remote places alone. Thankfully I was able to get a jump start from another competitor’s bike, but out in the middle of Australia riding remote routes, I wouldn’t have been so lucky.

Baja Designs LEDS
Baja Designs LEDs

Ergonomics and durability

The ergonomics of the Rally bike, including wider footpegs as standard, higher and a more ‘attack’ handlebar position due to integrated risers in the top triple clamp, PHDS bar mounts as standard, a higher peg to seat distance to reduce rider fatigue from sitting and standing, and narrow fitting front tanks where your legs sit, results in a very comfortable, non-cramped feel.

A good, strong front nav tower and proven fairing that fits well and works better than others I have ridden. I’m still on the original nav tower and fairing I left the UK with. Sure, the nav tower will bend in a heavy crash or impact but this is the idea, bend and not break, you can just straighten it. I’ve seen a lot of aftermarket ones just break into pieces and make it difficult to continue without parts flailing around.

Engine and gearbox

The stock engine in the Rally is one of the first LC4s and is 654cc as standard. This, combined with the smoothness of the carb, creates a really tractable and predictable power delivery.

The rally engine is robust, it has some stronger components to the 690 Enduro R and a mildly uprated camshaft for performance. The cooling system is also superior to most production bikes, designed for riding in extreme conditions. Perfect for my type of riding. The radiator is large, has a big fan and the inclusion of an oil cooler really helps to prevent overheating.

In Australia, in November 2015 I needed to install new piston rings in my bike after 47,000 miles of hard riding. It was nothing major, a simple job, but I opted to increase the size of the engine to 732cc (by increasing bore and stroke) and use a camshaft I had been testing on the dyno with much more lift and duration.

I also installed the Nova Racing wide ratio gearbox which I had been helping to develop (now available from Lyndon Poskitt Racing). The new gearbox has a lower first gear for technical situations and starting, and a higher sixth than all single-cylinder production bikes, meaning I can cruise at higher speeds, with lower revs and get better fuel economy.

The LC4 Engine
The LC4 Engine

We also engineered out some of the little flaws with the production gearbox, like the false neutrals. My engine runs a lower compression compared to that of typical production models, which allows me to run much poorer quality fuel grades, as sometimes 80 grade is the best you can get in the places I choose to ride.

The 730 kit with camshaft, modified combustion chamber and ported head made a big difference and has now been in the bike for 53,000 miles, along with the Nova gearbox. Tried and tested, more power and torque, more fun and easier to ride in all situations. Big smiles.

With the six main points discussed, I’ll finish up with a few other considerations. The design of the rally bike is simple. It is designed to be functional, lightweight, reliable and easy to work on/service, unlike most aftermarket products. Working on the Rally is really simple from a servicing and maintenance perspective. Just accessing parts on the bike and removing panels, tanks etc. is easier than working on most production bikes.

If you think everything is plain sailing on Races to Places, think again, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to stop and carry out maintenance or fixes on the bike since leaving the UK. It’s all part of the deal but I am confident of one thing for sure, it would have been much more if I was on a standard production bike, or any other bike that I put through the ringer like I have with Basil.

Then there’s aftermarket parts selection. Obviously, I make a lot of my own parts and components, being an aerospace engineer it comes naturally to want to design and build my own things. I have my own (Lyndon Poskitt Racing) frame modifications, luggage racks, bash plate, footrest hangers, battery compartment, rear rack, camshaft, modified piston, modified clutch, modified clutch master cylinder and a load of other stuff.

I also choose great aftermarket components that have been tried and tested and proved to be some of the best like Woody’s Wheel Works wheels, Renazco Racing Seat, ICO Racing trip computers, Baja Design Squadron LED lighting, Adventure Spec Magadan soft luggage system and Blunt Force Products custom straps and webbing systems to keep everything in place reliably.

After many years of adventure riding, my choice to use soft bags was a no brainer. I’ve seen broken bones and injuries from legs getting struck or trapped under hard cases and I’ve also had to straighten the damn things out numerous times after crashing.

Dyno Tuning Basil Bike
Dyno-tuning Basil Bike

The soft bags are lighter, safer and more resilient to everything I throw at them. When I crash, I don’t even look at them, I just pick the bike up and go. There’s a lot of good cable locks you can get for soft bags if you are worried about security, but I’ve never bothered and so far, not had anything stolen in three years.

The price tag for a bike like this is obviously big. You will still pay more for a used, probably well raced 10-year-old Factory Rally bike in stock trim than you would for say, a brand new 690 Enduro R or Husqvarna 701. But, if you want to race Moto GP, you need a Moto GP bike and the same applies here. Knowing the above information, you might now appreciate why the new price of the 690 Rally Factory Replica was around €30,000, some three times that of the production equivalent.

To give you an idea of the time I personally invested in modifying and building this bike, I spent around 300 hours modifying components and building the bike and engine from the ground up to make the beast I have today. There is even a YouTube time-lapse of the complete build called “The Genesis of Basil Bike” (check out the full video here: http://bit.ly/2pKH7mZ).

I often get asked, “If you started out again, what would you differently?” And my answer to that question is, “Absolutely nothing, I built what I consider to be the ultimate adventure bike and it has delivered everything I wanted and more”. I love my bike, never get bored of riding him, and can see a long and very enjoyable future together as I write this, transitioning my journey to the African continent where I plan to spend a whole year exploring there.

Hopefully, you have a better idea now of what it took to build a bike capable of Races to Places, riding and racing around the world. Ride safe and enjoy, whatever trip you choose, how you choose to do it or what bike you choose to do it on. The main thing is to be happy with your choices.

Follow Lyndon’s epic RTW ride at www.facebook.com/lyndonposkittracing.