Having transformed his KTM 690 Enduro into an Advernture Tourer, Costa puts it to the test with a tour down south on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
As you read in our first instalment of CMG’s KTM 690 Adventure project bike, we transformed a 690 Enduro using original KTM accessories, as well as a few aftermarket items designed to make the Enduro more tour friendly.
And what better way to test its long-distance capability than a ride from my hometown of Montreal down the eastern U.S. via the famed Blue Ridge Parkway? It’s a ride I’ve done several times in the past, though this time I’d be going with my girlfriend, Roxanne, and she’d be riding her Kawasaki Zephyr 550.
But we almost called it off before even turning a wheel. The weather forecast looked grim, really grim. Hurricane Bill was riding up the east coast and blocking the path of a cold front making its way from the west, thus locking a strip of clouds, rain and utter misery over our intended route.
We’d been looking forward to this trip all summer so we left nonetheless, gambling that the sliver of clear skies riding between the two weather fronts would eventually line up with our ride. Our gamble paid off and except for a couple of brief downpours, we kept pretty much within the sunny sliver.
CARRYING THE LOAD
With a total of 124 litres of storage capacity between the aluminum panniers, tank bag and tail pack, I was able to carry all of our camping gear, 10 days of clothes, rain gear, some spares and all the tools I thought we might need. What didn’t fit inside the luggage, like the tent and camping stools, were strapped atop the panniers using their lids’ convenient metal loops as anchors.
To cope with the additional 40 kg, I cranked up the rear preload and firmed up damping front and rear, though this didn’t help when it came to trying to mount the stacked KTM. I eventually adopted a method much like straddling a horse, placing my left foot on the left footpeg before swinging my right leg over the bike. Fortunately, the Corbin seat’s different profile lowered seat height by about 25 mm, which helped the process.
I also put the EFI power mode switch on the most aggressive map so full power was available for passing, a task the loaded bike handled easily.
The added weight was immediately noticeable once moving, but what impressed me was how the KTM’s rigid chassis resisted flexing. Winding our way south through the back roads of New York and Pennsylvania, the bike maintained a firm line through corners.
A true testament to the tautness of its chassis was when I released the handlebar and even tried provoking a wobble by smacking the handlebar while riding, to which it responded with only a slight twitch and immediately straightened without further commotion.
THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS OF VIRGINIA
On the third day into our trip, we entered Shenandoah National Park and began the gradual climb up the Skyline Drive, which winds about for 105 miles, mostly at elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 feet.
We kept speeds just above the park’s posted limit, which is a lowly 35 mph, meaning I rode most of the Drive in third and fourth gears. This posed no problem, and fuel consumption remained low — besides, I’d blasted through this area in the past, barely noticing the breathtaking scenery.
Despite our leisurely pace we reached the Blue Ridge Parkway welcome sign by midday and I was glad to see we were allowed an additional 10 mph over the Skyline Drive. We continued along the wondrous mountaintop road until the early evening, stopping at a park campground near Roanoke for the night.
The next day we meandered south, past Mabry Mill, one of the countless sights tempting a respite. If you’re into the touristy thing, it’s worth a stop, especially since it’s right on the Parkway. I found the mechanical inner workings of the mill of some interest, but was much more captivated by a handcrafted wooden pickup truck I saw in the parking lot.
Our destination for the day was Blowing Rock, North Carolina, home of the Woodlands Barbeque restaurant. I’d first stopped at this haven for the meat-obsessed on my first trip to the Parkway in the mid 1980s, and have returned every chance I’ve had since.
Roxanne and I ordered the Pig Out Special, a $23.99 feast that included barbeque ribs, chicken wings, chopped beef, pulled pork, and is claimed to be “just enough for two.” Enough for two families of four!
So we duly devoured everything, causing both of us to later break out in meat sweats. It was the least we could do for the barnyard full of livestock slaughtered for our benefit — I was passing the stuff for a week … can’t wait to return.
On our last day on the Parkway we entered its most beautiful portions, along the highest elevations on the east coast. Mt Mitchell, at 6,684 feet, is near the southern end of the Parkway and worth the detour.
A benefit of riding the Blue Ridge Parkway in late August was a rewarding lack of automobile traffic. We crossed about as many motorcycles as we did cars, and interestingly, every rider we spoke to was Canadian.
FROM RIDGE TO TAIL
The Blue Ridge Parkway ends at the entry of Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee, another visual splendour intertwined with wickedly winding roads.
We camped just outside Gatlinburg, a town festooned with go-kart tracks, museums, Ripley’s curiosities and everything else designed to beguile tourists. I was inexplicably drawn towards Cooter’s Museum, a homage to a minor character from the ’70s TV show, The Dukes of Hazzard, a childhood favourite of mine.
Unfortunately, we arrived after closing, so I missed my chance to see “such relics as original scripts, costumes, and, of course, the 1969 orange Dodge Charger known as the General Lee,” or ride a General Lee replica go kart on Gatlinburg’s only indoor track, “at speeds up to 23 mph.”
Although we weren’t planning to ride the legendary Tail of the Dragon — an 11-mile stretch of road wound up tight with 318 curves — we decided that at just a couple of hours from Gatlinburg it was too close to pass up.
Officially known as US 129, it was one of the most convoluted strips of pavement I have ever ridden. Tight first-gear switchbacks are connected with straight bits barely long enough to accommodate an average sized SUV.
Although I had been within a rearview-mirror’s image of Roxanne for our journey so far, I couldn’t help but let loose a little on this road.
The Dragon is such a draw that it now has professional photographers making a living out of shooting snaps of passing riders and then selling them online. Rode the Dragon recently? Log on, enter the date you rode and there you are!
However, after seeing my pictures I was relieved that I hadn’t ridden at a more aggressive pace, as the photos revealed my panniers were dangerously close to touching down.
US 129 ends at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, where Roxanne and I hung out for a couple of hours, exchanging stories with other Dragon slayers. Riders present made the trip from all over North America, some of them just to ride this piece of asphalt over and over again.
The Dragon proved to be a pleasant and worthwhile distraction, but there were so many winding, scenic roads in the area that it was also a bit anticlimactic.
From there, we began our return trip to Montreal, and for a change, I tried letting my Garmin GPS guide us home using its auto-routing feature. I immediately discovered that a software glitch would have had me riding northwest and around the top end of the Great Lakes (!) and then finally eastward to Montreal.
I tried recalculating, resetting, and unplugging to no avail, and finally settled on the time-honoured method of navigation: using a map. I reinstalled the software once I got home and it has been behaving ever since, but I will never rid myself of the habit of bringing maps on my two-wheeled excursions.
We returned through the Poconos of Pennsylvania, the Catskills of New York, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and finally the Green Mountains of Vermont before parking the bikes in our garage, not far from Mount Royal, the solitary bump in my home city.
690 ADVENTURE TOURER
The KTM 690 Adventure project bike handled the trip without a hitch. Entire days in the saddle were handled effortlessly, even during a couple of 400-kilometre interstate stretches we had to make to save some time. A large part of that comfort can be directly attributed to the Corbin seat, without which I would not have attempted the trip.
The windscreen provided minimal protection, cutting wind pressure to the chest and making the highway stretches tolerable.
The tank bag held items that required easy access; sunglasses, spare gloves and such, and once expanded to full capacity it provided additional space for souvenirs and trinkets we picked up along the way.
The tail pack was my repair-shop-on-the-road and contained tools, shop towels, spare inner tubes, bulbs, tubeless repair kit, as well as a power inverter for the various battery chargers we brought along (cell phone, iPod, etc.).
When we set up camp and most of the luggage was removed from the KTM, the bike became our shuttle into town, Roxanne and I doubling up on it for convenience. Its empty panniers served as impromptu beer coolers by the campfire.
On the winding roads, as well as during a couple of the rainstorms we encountered, I came to really appreciate the Continental Trail Attack tires. I had chosen these tires for their rounded profile, and claims of high grip and high mileage. They delivered on all counts, and they looked barely broken in after our 5,000-plus-km ride.
I had to double- and triple-check my low fuel mileage figures, but since we mostly adhered to the lowly speed limits and secondary roads, the KTM consumed a very impressive average of 3.8L/100 km (75 mpg). This gave a range of just over 300 km from the bike’s 12-litre fuel tank, and since Roxanne’s ZR550 allowed about 220 km between fill-ups, I never saw the fuel light come on. The engine consumed all of 100 ml of oil for the entire trip.
I’ve been asked how the Enduro compares with the BMW F800GS. With the KTM’s revised (taller) gearing, engine speed in top gear was nearly identical to the GS, with the engine spinning about 4,400 rpm at 110 km/h.
The main difference is that the GS is able to cruise smoothly at even lower speeds in top gear, while the KTM’s single, big piston caused it to shudder, prompting a downshift or two to smooth the power pulses. With all the vibe-reducing hardware I installed, however, the ride was comfortably smooth if the engine was kept above 4,000 rpm.
In short, the GS is a much better road bike — it’s smoother and more powerful, and is more comfortable as delivered; it probably uses no more fuel if ridden accordingly, and has a more refined overall feel.
Where the KTM 690 beats it out in my books though, is that beneath the tank bag, the tail pack and the saddlebags, lies a real off-road bike that is lighter and capable of following the most agile dirt bikes along single-track trails.
And if you live a multi-bike lifestyle but reside in a one-bike household, after a few accessories have been added, there’s no other bike that will quite fit that bill.
For for the aluminum panniers, tank bag, tail bag, windscreen, sprockets and footrest rubbers.
For the pair of Trail Attack tires.
Rox Speed FX
For the anti-vibe risers.
For the comfy seat.