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Balkan Marathon Rally 2014

Sunday, August 30; our Ralltybikes are dropped off at EAO, our professional rally assistance organisation this year. This assistance truck carries 8 bikes, each participant may have two 80 liter rally boxes or one box and a bag plus an extra set of wheels. The truck leaves on Monday, September 1st  to Bulgaria and we fly in Thursday morning. The rally runs from Bulgaria to Macedonia and 8 days and 2500km off road. For the first time we will stay in hotels in stead of tents on the bivouac.

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Balkan Marathon Rally 2014″ is a race through Bulgaria and Macedonia and is a true cross country rally. Slopes and beautiful mountain trails are part of this rally. High mountains and lots of forest are on the menu. Here is the route:
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As a consequence  of the bad weather in August the race has been changed and unfortunately some stages were cancelled. Whist these changes the rally was still quite good, high altitudes, grass slopes, stony and gravel high speed race tracks, wonderful. I was 4th overall before I got a flat rear tire which I had to change during a special stage. I couldn’t finish the stage and got a penalty.

At the end I was lucky to finish 3rd in my class, mainly because there were not that much riders in the >450cc category, but hey; podium is podium!

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 The Aprilia was great in it’s first rally lots of power which enables me to keep up with the fastest riders on the straights. They can turn corners faster but I can catch up accelerating, really it works that way: 78 Bhp against 45 from the average 450 KTM. As long as my arms can keep up with it. One oil change and only one air filter. No dust at all, we’ve got rain almost every day..
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Aprilia RXV Rally

This is in fact the “Rally Bike build” part two, my new Aprilia RXV 550 makeover.

In the last few Dakar Rally’s the only serious opponent for the dominant KTM bikes were the two cylinder Aprilia’s.  In fact some say the engine of the Aprilia is the only 450cc engine which will last a complete Dakar, and on top of that it is more powerful than the single cylinder KTM. Rumors are that KTM is lobbying with A.S.O. to allow only single cylinder engines to compete in the Dakar. This would proof the superiority of this unique engine. Unfortunately the Aprilia off road sales department is not as successful as KTM and therefore there is no budget to invest in Dakar anymore. There top pilot Francisco “Chaleco” López Contardo signed at a brand new Italian team called Bordone Ferrari. His results in le Dakar on the Aprilia were 3-rd overall in 2010 and 4-th place in 2011. In 2012, his last year on the Aprilia, he crashed on the stage 7 and was out of the race.

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My choice for the Aprilia RXV is purely based on the engine and because I will not compete in Dakar I didn’t need to be limited to 450cc and went for the 550cc engine. Aprilia off road has stopped producing the 550cc and I got the last version of this model, recognizable by the red frame. Aprilia sells their factory rally replica bike engineered by the Aprilia Racing department complete or as a conversion as a kit, which specialist companies like Giofil in Italy and Behego in The Netherlands have used to convert standard Aprilia RXV 450’s into rally bikes. This kit will set you back EUR 16.000,- (excluding labor and the donor bike) A complete bike costs EUR 37.000,- I decided to make the rally conversion myself.

For smaller rally’s I want to keep the bike light and will not need the extra fuel capacity of the Dakar kit. All I’ll do is swap the standard fuel tank for a larger 12 liter (3 gallon) one. This way I can use the standard exhaust and rear frame. Downside is the limited autonomy of only 125 kilometers (about 75 miles) in competition. The front of the bike is very similar to the Factory bike because of the necessity of the same navigation equipment. In order to be able to read from your roadbook holder and tripmeter, both have to be placed high up on the navigation tower behind a proper fairing.  I was able to get my hands on an original fairing which was used in the Dakar 2011, refurbished it and took a mould. Now I can make my own.

First things on my list were the modifications: new wiring loop and the welding of the frame. The welding I commissioned to a specialized company called Lameier Photowelding here in Belgium. The new wiring was necessary in order to relocate the ECU and power regulator to the navigation tower. They were on top of the airbox not leaving enough space to change the airfilter properly. I placed them high up in the navigation tower together with the fuse box and horn which were also moved from their original position.

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I designed and fabricated the navigation tower with the original Aprilia rally bike as an example. In order to have maximum flexibility during the design process I used 4mm plywood for the prototype. After I had figured out the exact and best position of all the attached parts, I used the plywood plates as a mould for the final aluminum plates.

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The Aprilia RXV is quite an exclusive bike and as a result there almost no special parts suppliers available. I used several parts from Meca’Systems in France, one of the few companies which make some aftermarket parts for the Aprilia RXV.  I have found some compatible components designed for other bikes which will fit to my bike as well. For a larger front brake disc I used a Yamaha bracket (which also has Nissin calipers) from Braking. The navigation tower is held by two adapter plates from KTM and the BRP submount for the steering stabilizer is for a Honda which has the same top triple. I also used a Ducati oil cooler and a replica of a KTM rally front fender.

With a little help from the internet and creative thinking of some suppliers, I managed to get almost everything I needed for the conversion. Only the pin which carries the fairing had to be machined out of a piece of aluminum. The headlight brackets and light protectors are also handcrafted, all the rest is “of the shelve”. Here is the final result:

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What about performance? My RXV was tuned “fully open” by the Aprilia dealership at 78 BHP and has a secondary transmission of 15/50. A 14-tooth front sprocket is supplied with the bike but I won’t use it. With the 15-tooth sprocket at 100 km/h (60 mph) the engine speed is 6.850 RPM… I swapped the 50T rear sprocket for a 46T and now it’s running “only” 6100 RPM at 100km/h.  The Dakar 450 bikes run 15/48 BTW. Downside of this high performance engine is the poor fuel economy, from a full (12 liter) tank I could only manage to get 135km of range off-road, with 0,6 liter left in the tank. This is 30% more than the 690!!

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This summer I added a Baja Designs KTM EXC 5 liter auxiliary rear fuel tank. With some modifications to the rear frame (cutting off a piece of the sub frame and welding a special made aluminum bracket to hold the tank) I managed to fix it to the rear of the RXV nicely, modifying the plastic of the side panel and rear fender. It’s the same width as the exhaust and very lightweight, so I barely notice it even when it’s full. Now the autonomy is about 185 km which is enough for most Rally’s (>150km)

I simply connected the outlet of the auxiliary tank to the air vent of the primary fuel tank. This way an extra fuel pump is not required, you make sure the extra 5 liters are fully used and you get rid of the extra weight right away! The pump is strong enough to suck a strong enough vacuum to empty the rear tank, no problem: It has worked for 1600km now!

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Rally Albania 2012

I attended to the Albania Rally on June 8 to 15, 2012. Starting from Tirana via Razma, Voskopoja, Himara and finish in Tirana again. A total of 4 bivouacs and 1785 promising and challenging off road kilometers (1115 miles).

The Rally Albania was fantastic, wonderful off road, beautiful nature, a huge variation of terrain, from mud and grass to beach sand and from gravel to all kinds of stones, river-beds and river crossings. The Rally was well organized, but I had some worries about the safety: Even on the special stages you could be faced with an old Mercedes 207D coming towards you in opposite direction… It surprised me there were no severe accidents because the traffic on the liaisons was pretty unpredictable too. Mainly because of the massive holes in the tarmac, cars turn left and right without giving any notice. Roadbooks looked great and were free from mistakes and more important: not subjest to last minute changes like in the Breslau..  Navigation then again wasn’t challenging at all.

I joined Henno’s Rally Team (HRT) with two of my friends. Henno is a Dakar competitor and used this Rally mainly for his crew members to get acquainted with the normal practice of an international rally.  After the showstart in the centre of Tirana with the Minister of Tourism present, we took off towards the prologue on the beach. My relatively heavy motorcycle is very powerful and therefore I could take the change to be amongst the fastest drivers and it worked: I finished 7-th overall out of the 150 participants.

As a consequense of this result, the next day’s special I had to start in the top 20 in reversed order, on 14-th place. With a one minute interval at the start, several riders passed me on this stage, except for my teammate Henno who started at 23-rd position. In this terrain I could keep up with him pretty well and I was surprised that we had almost similar race results during this rally. 

Every day we got one or two special stages at race speed and liaisons before and after thye stages each with a speciific target time. If you’d fail to reach the target time you were charged with penalty time which was added 1:1 to your race time. This was a little strange IMHO. As a consequence some jeeps were driving 140 km/h in villages to avoid penalty time.. this is something the organization should avoid. Because of a flat tire, waiting for my friends after the stages and some vital lunches during the >400km days, I faced several hours penalty time and as a consequence finished 43-rd overall. I didn’t fall down or crash, my motorcycle did OK and I got home in one piece. Maybe I could have taken a little more risk and be faster… but I’m happy with the result.

Together with a good friend and a guy we met on the plane on the outward voyage, we drove the Van and trailer home in 36 hours. What a journey! From Albania via Montenegro, Bosnia, the fantastic town Dubrovnik in Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany and finally Belgium. On the picture below left we are on a Ferry in Bosnia, the pic on the right is the bivouac in Razma. 

Great Rally!


Dresden Breslau poster 2011

Lucky me: the Breslau organization chose a picture with me on it for the 2011 poster. Here it is:


Dresden-Breslau Rally 2010:

A bivouac of a thousand people travelling from Dresden to Wroclaw(Breslau in German) in 8 days. Lorries, 4×4’s and just over a hundred motorbikes attended to this event. I took part in a Rally team with three drivers and an assistance Van with chauffer. During the rally the bivouac was often moved to a new location and therefore you can’t do it without a service Van or truck. The 2010 rally was dry, meaning it was easier than the previous years. Whilst the dry tracks, the Breslau is famous for its wade through waters, a lot of them are deeper than what your bike can cope with.. Photographers are “helpful” with tips how you will end up in the deepest part of the water (so they are guaranteed with action, be aware!) Sometimes we managed to get through easily, sometimes it took 15 minutes to pass a river. Navigation was not easy, the roadbooks were always subject to last minute changes and some of the checkpoints were hidden very well. Most impressive were the brown coal mines, sometimes it looked like if you were riding in the middel east. The enormous military terrains are also a fantastic scenery. Every time we would pass a normal road, traffic was put to a stop by the local Police. The Breslau Rally is a truly professional organization. Here are some pictures:


Zululand South Africa Raid

Peter Huysamen of ZBA Racing has organized a fantastic raid in the green hills of Eshowe, Zululand South Africa, what a wonderful scenery that is! Peter is a very experienced enduro rider (he was second in the South African enduro championship, after his good friend Alfie Cox).  Peter showed me all the steep hills in the area, with surfaces of grass, mud and stones. I didn’t know South Africa was so green, it showered all day, but it was warm enough so it didn’t bother me al all. We also visited Shakaland for a coffee…  The bike was a rental, nice and light bike for these conditions. I couldn’t have done this with my 690. The BMW is extremely good in hill climbing due to the rotation of the crankshaft, but with a 52 rear sprocket it didn’t feel very powerful.

I enjoyed every second of this trip, go experience it yourself!

 


How to build a Rally bike

In this post you will see how I build my Rally motorcycle. Not from scratch, but with a solid basis: a brand new KTM Enduro motorcycle. As you will see the modifications are substantial and the number of tailor made parts to. On the internet you will find a number of professional rally bike builders (such as Meca’System and Rally-raidproducts) and a large number of people on forums who have tried to do it themselves. I like to share my version with everyone who wants be inspired to build there own Rally bike.

The Bike: KTM 690 Enduro R

It all starts with a solid basis for the project: the bike. I choose the KTM 690 Enduro R for its combination of power and durability whilst being relatively lightweight. I”ve looked at the KTM 530EXC for it’s lightness, but this bike would need a larger fuel tank which -in combination with other parts it missed in standard configuration- would add so much weight the difference with the 690 was reduced to only 13 kg. So here it is, the brand new bike.

Considerations:

What to do? Where to start? So many options… I knew I wanted a high rally fender to be able to enjoy the protection against the wind on long and fast stages. Furthermore the roadbook holder, ICO, navigation and digital instrumentation should all behind the fender. Nobody makes something like that, so the only option was to custom built it my self.

Lucky enough a friend of mine owns a KTM 690 RR Factory replica which I used to copy some parts. This motorcycle is far too heavy for technical enduro and rally stages due to the almost extreme fuel capacity. My version of the KTM 690 didn’t need extra fuel tanks because it runs over 170km on the standard tank in competition cercomstances. On the road it will be able to reach up to 250km on the same 12 liter fuel! After the bike was finished, I attended the 2010 Dresden Breslau, the autonomy of 170km was sufficient. See how the bike was build and take a look at the details.

Rallye Fairing:

I purchased the fairing from an Italian guy called Alberto Dottori because it looked good and it was relatively cheap. When I finally got it, cheap was the only thing it was; the shape was bad, it didn’t fit properly and Mr. Dottori didn’t use any gel coat, so it was full of small holes and impossible to paint. What a disaster. After redesigning the points of attachment on the bike, I ended up making a mould to be able to make my own fairing. From a distance it looks the same but it isn’t, believe me.  I changed the way it is attached to the bike completely and used quick locks from the KTM factory rally bike. The head light (a halogen version from the old 690 Enduro model)  is fitted to the fairing. Here you see the first fitting of the fender on the bike:

Welding the frame:

If you take a closer look at the KTM 690 Factory Rally bike, you will see a support which is welded to the steering head of the frame. This piece of metal carries the rally tower, a light-weight, robust and good-looking part which is laid out to fit the instruments and bear the fairing with head light. I used Steel52 for this part to match the Chrome Molybdenum steel of the bike’s frame. The actual welding was commissioned to a specialized company. The complete bike was stripped at the front and all wiring, CDI, battery and sparkplug were disconnected. The welding destroyed my frame number because the number was only smashed into the paint, not into the steel.. It was a lot of work and it took some precise measurements, but after painting it looked like this:

Rally tower and support:

All instruments including a toolbox would be placed on the rally tower. The incorporated materials would have to provide stability at race speed and are therefore a mix of OEM parts and specially made parts. It took me a long time to figure out where to put everything. The Dakar Rally bikes always have the Sentinel and Iritrack which are mounted on top of each other on the handlebar. The roadbook holder is therefore placed in a very high position. This will increase the visibility and is necessary to be in line with the Iritrack/Sentinel. Downside is the higher point of gravity and vulnerability in case of a crash. I choose to have the Roadbook, ICO and KTM instrument on one frame and a separate spot for the GPS on top op this. Both holders are rubber damped. The rally tower also holds the fairing with rubber dampers on both side. Mounted together without the fairing it looks like this:

Electrics:

The standard bike has two accessory 12v wires behind the headlamp, one after ignition and one continuously powered. I used both and wired them to a fuse box with four fuses. Roadbook holder, ICO, GPS and 12v socket are powered and fused separately. The road book holder and ICO are connected to a combo remote on the left of the handlebar. The original light switch (with indicator switch) is changed for a smaller CEV switch. I also fabricated a map switch to adjust the throttle mapping. This self made electronic device is connected to the socket under the seat where the original mapping switch was located. Now I can change the mapping easily, unfortunately still not ‘on the fly’;  the CDI unit has to “read” the resistance when the ignition is tuned on.  On the right of the handlebar I placed the remote switch for the KTM instrument. For rally purpose an extra taillight (same as the KTM 450 factory rally) was mounted on the rear fender. By using a relay it was possible to get it operated properly. Last but not least the sidestand safety switch was disconnection by fitting a KTM powerparts device and connect it to the switch wire. Warning: never disconnect or bridge the clutch switch, the bike will think it runs idle and runs on a different mapping.

Engine and exhaust:

There is not much you can do to improve the engine of the 690. I replaced the paper air filter with a large foam filter and needed to upload a special open-air mapping. This was also necessary for the bike to deal with the new exhaust. I lost the standard exhaust because it was very heavy and also dangerously hot. The new stainless steel one is quit, light and cool.

Other modifications:

  • new thermostat switch for one that starts at 88C in stead of 105C to prevent the engine from overheating in arduous conditions.
  • new fuel tank filler cap with hose on aluminum neck from Rally-Raid products UK
  • Scotts/Ohlins steering damper for stability in sandy conditions,
  • Underground Machine USA 2 inch handlebar riser,
  • Progrip foam rally grips,
  • Acerbis spoilers on the hand guards,
  • PHDS: progressive handlebar damping system
  • cable protection,
  • Touratech crash bars to protect the radiators,
  • Flatland Racing USA aluminum engine guard,
  • Touratech brake cylinder guard,
  • clutch guard to protect the slave cylinder in case of a broken chain,
  • brake pedal cable (brake snake),
  • repositioned the horn,
  • replaced the wheels for lighter and narrower Thalon wheels with excel rims and aluminum hubs,
  • lost the indicators, mirrors and large number plate holder,
  • upholster the seat with leather
  • ….. and much more: details, details, details.

How does it cope in a 8 day rally under extreme conditions?

Remarkably well I have to say. Of course I managed to solve some issues before attending to the rally, after they appeared during one day events. After a bad crash the aluminum bar riser (the piece that holds my steering damper) was bended badly and my fender was cracked. So I will need to take a spare bar riser, some duct tape and I will be fine. Never ran out of gas, no mechanical problems; just change the air filter (browncoal mines in Poland are pretty nasty BTW..) and check the oil level. Here you can see me in action during the Breslau 2010