Preparing & planning for adventure – Part 4: Protection

In previous issues we’ve taken a close look at luggage, clothing, and riding suits, and in part four of our ‘Packing For Adventure’ series, we delve into protection – both for you and your bike.

Naturally your bike will come with standard features that will help to protect your machine during use, but as adventure riding sees the bike put in a far wider range of conditions, it’s often worth up-speccing to cope with whatever road surface or weather is thrown at you.

As we’ve stated previously, where you are riding and what speed you’ll be averaging has a big impact on what extremes you need to go to in order to improve the protective features of the bike.
Generally speaking, when adventure riding you’ll either be on established roads, or on tracks and trails. Here’s a brief explanation:

Established roads: roads where the ground clearance of your bike is not a consideration, and where an impact from something on the road surface into your bike’s sump is not an issue.

Tracks and trails: where extreme conditions are involved, and the chances of falling off and the bike hitting the ground are a possibility. Rough, rocky surfaces where you need extra ground clearance for dry gullies, river crossings, eroded or washed out tracks.

The Suzuki V-Strom is a good example of an adventure bike that has limited ground clearance, while the KTM 950/990 has plenty.
So let’s look at the key areas to consider.

Many adventure bikes come with light bash plates that have mounting points not always capable of supporting the full weight of the bike in the event of a ‘case out’ – when the weight of the bike sits on the crankcase. Most original bash plates won’t cope with this.

Consider how far the bash plate comes up the side of the engine. If riding in narrow and rocky terrain, the front and lower sides of the engine can be damaged, including oil filter housings, clutch and alternator covers. Side protection of your engine is critical in rough conditions.

How the bash plate mounts is also important. Do the mounts distribute the load, and are they capable of taking the whole weight of the bike?

On BMW’s 1200 models, where the sumpguard is supported completely on the sump, not on to frame rails, a heavy impact can crack the mounts in the sump, and a large impact distribution pad was developed to sit on the bash plate to distribute the load more evenly across the bike.

Of all add-ons for your bike, this is possibly the most important, as a heavy impact could easily result in a major (and expensive) engine repair.

Engine and fairing crash bars are sometimes one and the same. In most situations, when you fall off the bike they will contact the ground first and can well and truly cope with the weight of the bike skidding along. However, you need to make sure they are robust enough to take the weight.

Fairing crash bars protect the upper fairing, so if you fall off on the tar, your fairing usually won’t contact the road, because the end of the handlebar will hit the ground first. On tracks and trails, however, the uneven surface means you may need both, so they are highly recommended.

Engine crash bars will generally suffice on established roads, but there’s an advantage of having fairing crash bars on tracks and trails, because if you do happen to fall off, side impact damage to the radiator could easily end your ride there and then.

Handguards are not only there to protect your hands, but also serve the purpose of protecting your brake and clutch levers in the event of a fall.

Bark-BustersBreaking a lever not only makes it difficult to ride, but worse still, if you break your clutch or brake master cylinder, these are quite expensive to replace.

Hand guards with an aluminium or metal spine in them (such as Bark Busters) are certainly more effective. You can purchase heavy duty plastic ones, but these generally aren’t as robust if you drop the bike.

Radiator and oil cooler guards are also very important for just about any type of adventure riding, keeping stones, sticks and other foreign objects from causing major damage that could put a halt to your ride.

Most of the damage to a radiator on an adventure ride will come from stones from other vehicles passing in the other direction – similar to what you’ve experienced in your car when a another vehicle passes and showers your windscreen with stones.

Stones pierce the cooling tubes between the fins, creating slow leaks that you may not pick up, and could result in your water and oil draining out without your knowledge.

Headlight protectors are made from either clear plastic or mesh. The mesh protectors have a nice adventure look and offer good protection, but they do reduce the amount of light that your headlight produces.

The clear, plastic protectors certainly give you a better view at night, although this may not be a concern as, to avoid wildlife, you’re usually off the roads by the time the shadows are getting longer and night is approaching.

Most headlight protectors come with a quick release system that is ideal for removing and cleaning during your adventure ride.

We often fit additional lights ourselves if we’re planning on long days in the saddle, and therefore protecting these lights is important. With the advent of Xenon and LED auxiliary lights, there are some great after-market options, and brands such as Clearwater offer a high quality range.

While it won’t be the first thing on your list to buy, a case saver (or pinion guard) is useful in the event of a chain breakage. The case saver helps to stop the chain grabbing and looping up on itself and cracking the case.

After-market manufacturers such as Force Accessories or B&B Offroad are a good place to start looking.

There are also a number of protective items you need to consider, depending on the bike you’re using. Some bikes require additional protection in some areas, while other bikes may not.
Items to consider are:

• Exhaust guards
• Critical electronic componentry (such as the Potentiometer cover on a GS 1200)
• Fluid reservoir guards
• Frame protectors
• Footstand extender – this will stop your side stand from sinking in to soft or loose surfaces
• Spring loaded gear and brake levers
• Heavy duty chain guards

Now you’ve taken care of the bike, don’t forget about the most important part of your adventure ride – you! Without protecting yourself, your ride may be compromised, and all the fun will be lost.

Full hand guards with extensions will give you additional knuckle (impact) and wind (environment) protection. For a small cost, it can save you a lot of pain and suffering.

Some single cylinder adventure bikes, such as the Suzuki DR650, don’t come with any form of windscreen, while some bikes have a small screen. Even a small windscreen will make a big difference to your riding comfort and protection.

The type of riding you’re doing and your average speeds will have a bearing on whether you need a screen or not, but from our experience a windscreen is just about a necessity in most circumstances.

MRA produces a great universal after-market screen that is compatible with all models. We’ve used the MRA ‘Roadshield RO’ on the Suzuki DR650, KTM 950 Super Enduro and Huqvarna TR650 Terra, and they are easy to mount, offering great adjustability via balljoint adjusters that allow you to move the screen up or down to suit the weather conditions. (Part number KBA379960 from Bolton Motorcycles).

The addition of a steering damper is a safety consideration. On certain bikes it makes a much bigger difference than on others, but when you’re riding in loose conditions, it makes the bike so much safer.

Steering dampers are the most use at speeds above 60km/h, and every bike will benefit from fitting one. Some bikes benefit more than others. The DR650 is a bike that they’re not commonly fitted to and they are quite stable without it, while the KTM 950 Super Enduro really benefits from it – in fact it can be almost dangerous to ride without one.

The BMW 1200s and KTM 1190s now come standard with steering dampers.

There’s a reasonable argument to say that this is a safety consideration if you’re going to be doing long days and extended travel. If your hands get cold, they won’t get warm again on the bike, and then your reflexes and response times can suffer as a result.

Many of the Dakar riders use heated handgrips for this reason, and while your mates may consider that you’re soft, believe me when I say there’ll be occasions when you’ll be glad you made the investment.

A comfortable seat to suit the riding conditions can be worth it’s weight in gold. In adventure riding there’s usually a lot of time sitting down, so you need something that is comfortable.
Ideally, your seat should slightly concaved, or scalloped, where the main weight of your body contacts the seat.

Your seat requirements will depend on your riding style and your height, as to whether you need a higher or lower seat, or if you’re doing a lot of moving around in hardcore adventure riding.

An Air Hawk seat pad, or even a piece of sheepskin on your standard seat can make a huge difference to the comfort factor.

There are plenty of aftermarket seats available, from companies such as Touratech, Custom Seats, and Comfort Seats.

In most cases, there are some benefits in having handlebar risers. In particular, if you are doing a lot of standing when riding, or if you are a taller rider. This will give you a good triangulation when you stand, so that you are more comfortable and don’t get tired as easy.

Think of it like orthotics in your shoes – in may not seem like much, but it can make all the difference.

If you’re riding on narrow, standard foot pegs in a standing position, no matter what boots you have, the pressure point is very small and you will get sore feet.

Adventure foot pegs (such Pivot Pegs or Touratech) are a lot wider than standard, which give you a much more comfortable riding position, distributing the load more evenly in both a standing and sitting position.

If you do retain the standard foot pegs, make sure you pull the rubber inserts out in wet conditions, because they will be dangerously slippery when standing, and your foot will slip straight off the pegs.

There are also products that aren’t necessarily protective, but will sure add to your comfort as an adventure rider.

We’ve covered tank bags in an earlier story, and we’ll look at GPS and mobile phone mounts in a future issue, but here’s a couple of others to consider.

In the mobile age we can never have enough power sockets. Charging phones, GPS units or even camera batteries is a real factor now, and you need to ensure you have all your devices covered.

These power sockets can come in the form of USB or the 12-volt cigarette lighter, and there is now a good range of adapters on the market, that can be fitted to your tank bag to give you a number of outlet options inside the bag, from companies such as Adventure Moto.

Chain lubricators (or chain oilers) are a lot more reliable than they were in the past and will help to prolong the life of your chain. Scott seems to be a brand that is the most popular.

That’s all for this issue of ‘Packing for Adventure’. We’ve been distracted writing, when we should be out riding, so we’re off to do some adventuring.

With the weather warming up in the south of the country, you should follow our lead!