The BMW R1150 GS is a wonderful motorcycle, I really enjoy riding it everywhere but it is a bit on the heavy side, especially when you think about loading it with camping gear, luggage, tools and spares for a four-month trip.
So after quite a few people had pointed out that I might be better off with a vehicle that I could repeatedly and comfortably lift by myself should I drop it, the focus shifted to the little dual sports bike that I use for trail riding.
As my wonderful personal mechanic has done the majority of work on the chosen means of transport, I let Steve tell you about all the modifications necessary to prepare the bike for the journey himself:
Suzuki DRZ 400 S
We’d already decided that a Suzuki DRZ 400 S would be the ideal bike for Ela’s trip to South America as it was reliable, had good aftermarket support and was relatively light (in comparison to her BMW R1150 GS anyway…), meaning that she could pick it up herself if for some reason the bike found itself on its side… Despite already owning a DRZ, we decided to buy another one specifically for this trip, one that was newer, in better condition and with fewer miles on the clocks. Another factor was that in November 2009, the chain had snapped on the old bike, holing the left-hand crankcase in process and dumping most of its oil on the road.
As the bike had covered the best part of 20,000 miles already, rather than strip it down to replace the case, I simply filed a piece of aluminium to shape that filled the 25 x 5mm hole in the clutch arm housing and had a friend TiG weld over the top. Prior to this, I picked out all the debris I could and then changed the oil and filter twice before running the bike as normal. Not wanting the outcome of Ela’s trip decided by what could turn out to be an unreliable bike, starting afresh with another bike was the best option in our opinion. Ela eventually bought a tidy, low mileage (2,600 miles) 2004 DRZ 400 S from MadMikey near Bridgend, South Wales that had been advertised on www.UKGSer.com.
The bike was standard with the exception of a DEP silencer, decent bashplate and handguards. Ela had already bought a second-hand 16 litre Clarke fuel tank in blue whilst the newly purchased bike was yellow. Swapping the panels between the older blue bike and the newer yellow bike achieved two things, firstly, the tank was now the right colour and secondly, the blue panels were scuffed from trail riding and once the graphics were removed, it made the bike look less attractive to thieves but more importantly, it also looked less “flash”, important in poorer parts of the world.
I then drew up a list of modifications that were required to transform the bike from humble trailie to what could be termed an Adventure bike. I soon discovered that as soon as I crossed one item off the list, another idea or part cropped up and was added to the list, at times the list of things to do was growing faster than I could accomplish the tasks I’d set myself; what started out as base list of about 20 mods ended up at just over 60 and that’s not including the little things that I did along the way that I never noted down.
Most of the ideas were a combination of common sense, experience from 26 years riding and spannering and also reading DRZ related threads on various online forums such as Advrider.com and Thumpertalk.com. As a former DRZ owner myself, I had a good grasp of the basics anyway. Having worked on and serviced all of our bikes for many years, owning a double length garage equipped with an old lathe, decent pillar drill, MiG welder, tyre changing equipment and a good selection of power tools meant I felt confident in tackling just about every task on the list.
For those tasks I knew I’d struggle with, I’m lucky enough to have a good friend in Simon Moore who I often run ideas past even when doing all of the work myself, just in case I was doing it the hard or the wrong way. Where I have what I term “hobby” equipment, Simon has industrial tooling to hand including a mill, lathe and all types of welding gear plus he’s into bikes big time, so could appreciate where I was coming from and what I was trying to achieve.
We bought a set of used tubular steel Givi pannier rails originally destined for an airhead GS. Once all brackets and mounts were removed, I was left with the hoops which are hardest part to manufacture yourself in my opinion.
I bought several metres each of 25mm x 6mm thick flat steel bar and 16mm diameter steel tube with a 2mm wall thickness. It was always our intention to incorporate a 5 litre fuel can in to the left hand pannier frame, an idea shamelessly stolen from Louisdut’s BMW HP2. The fuel container was in fact from a boat and measured only 70mm wide which made it ideal. I started by bending lengths of steel bar to shape to form the support for the fuel can before welding them to the pannier hoops. Once completed, I lined up the pannier hoops on each side of the bike via brackets I’d welded in place and through an existing 9mm hole on each side of the subframe that I drilled out to 10mm. Once happy with the location of each hoop, I started fabricating the necessary mounting hardware to hold it all in place.
I’d already decided to weld a 6mm thick steel plate to each side of the frame above the swingarm pivot point to which the pannier frames would be mounted via steel tubes. The idea (not my own) was that additional bracing to the bike’s frame itself would also help brace the DRZ’s aluminium subframe and help spread the load. In addition to the 10mm mounting in the subframe, I welded a bracket to each side of the DRZ rear rack to provide another mounting point via a welded on steel tube and another 10mm stainless Allen bolt. From there, mounts were fabricated to fasten the frames to the footpeg mounts on each side and to the previously mentioned lugs welded to the bike frame.
Finally, I added a removable crossbrace that ran across the rear of the bike, beneath the tailpiece and behind the rear wheel but positioned high enough so that rear wheel removal did not require removal of the crossbrace. This crossbrace would help strengthen the rear of the luggage racks. Extra lengths of flat bar were welded in place to protect the front leading edge of the fuel can in the event of a crash.
Whilst there, I incorporated a Tool Tube in to the left hand frame & tucked in tight to the bike to mimic the location of the right hand mounted silencer, this is to carry tools and tyre levers but was originally intended for a Tractor Operators manual and is a popular addition to this type of bike.
As Ela’s using Ortlieb soft panniers, I welded a steel hoop on to the top of each frame through which to pass mounting straps. All fasteners are 8mm and 10mm stainless steel Allen bolts retained with stainless washers and Nyloc nuts. Where fasteners screw directly in to the frame, longer bolts were utilised with Nyloc nuts on the back, locking the fastener in place to prevent it coming loose on the rougher sections of the trip.
The complete rear rack and pannier frames were powder-coated black at Oxford Industrial Finishers for £20 and weigh just over 5kg including fasteners but not the fuel can itself. The end result is a rack system in three parts, each of which can be removed from the bike independent of the other sections, making it easier to remove and fit to the bike.
As mentioned above, waterproof Ortlieb panniers will be mounted on the racks themselves with Wolfman Expedition Dry Tank Panniers up front. Across the back of the bike are two 30 litre waterproof sacks from Motorrad Louis in Germany. A Kriega US5 pouch is mounted on the front mudguard to carry two spare inner tubes. I extended the Velcro crossover straps on the Ortliebs with lengths of the necessary Velcro riveted on to the standard straps. Slots were cut in the rad shrouds through which the tank pannier straps passed, in addition to straps around the frame above the swingarm pivot.
Additional fuel capacity
The 5 litre fuel can was sourced from an online marine chandlers; it came with a cap but no spout. Trying to pour a full can into the bike fuel tank led to us loosing at least 0.5 litres each time as the fuel dripped down the side of the can. To prevent fuel wastage, I cut a hole in the centre of a spare cap and using silicon sealant, stuck the plastic spout from a 5 litre oil can to the cap; Ela just screws it on as and when needed.
To keep the bike manageable for Ela, I fitted Talon lowering links to the suspension linkage to lower the rear of the bike. To maintain a level bike and retain decent steering geometry, the front needed to be lowered also, this entailed pushing the forks through the yokes but the handlebars position prevented me from doing so, a problem resolved by fitting Talon handlebar risers which allowed us to push the forks through by 20mm.
We used the seat from the other DRZ which had already had about 20-25mm of seat foam removed by a local guy, reducing the seat height even further. The seat was topped off with a sheepskin Ela had given to me years ago but which I’d never used, so it was “appropriated” for the trip, cut to shape and held in place with Cordura straps.
Ela had always found it a bit fiddly to remove the DRZ front spindle as once it was pushed through from the left; there was only a short section of greased spindle to grab on the right. This was remedied by making a spindle puller for each bike. I started by cutting the hex spindle removal tool in half, drilling the centre out to 12mm to save weight and then drilling a 6mm hole near one end of each piece at right angles. Into this hole was inserted a 100mm length of 6mm round steel bar which was then welded in place before the whole thing was welded in to the end of the wheel spindle for ease of use and to save space in the toolkit.
Having experienced the trauma of a snapped chain, I doubled the thickness of the stock case saver to 6mm with the aid of a steel plate cut to shape and then welded to the standard part. Footpegs were also swapped between bikes as the older bike had significantly wider footpegs that offered greater support in the event of needing to stand on the ‘pegs for any length of time. I also cable tied every pair of spokes where they crossed over, hopefully preventing any broken spokes from catching in calipers and discs etc.
I also replaced the standard 5mm and 6mm screws that retained the headlight cowl as they were fiddly to use, especially the 5mm screw beneath the light that screwed in to the front of the top yoke. All three were replaced with long stainless Allen bolts with two Nyloc nuts screwed on to the thread and then tightened together before being fitted to the bike. These extended length fasteners made cowl removal and refitting a lot easier. One of the last things to be done on the chassis side was to weld a large diameter washer to the underside of the sidestand foot to increase its footprint, the idea being to prevent the stand sinking in sand or soft ground.
Not wanting mechanical issues to delay or even ruin the trip, the chain, both sprockets, brake pads and wheel bearings were all replaced with new parts. The stock rubber brakes lines were replaced with plastic coated stainless lines with stainless fittings from HEL Ltd. I also replaced the seal that sits behind the front sprocket along with a stainless spacer instead of the stock mild steel part that corrodes and then chews up the up seal, causing the bike to dump its oil with the inevitable consequences, a known DRZ fault…
Replacement stainless rear wheel spacers were purchased online and fitted in due course. The matching front wheel spacer was no longer available, so Simon Moore kindly turned two up on his lathe, one for each of Ela’s DRZ’s. Another weak point of the DRZ is the brake pad retaining pins that are hard to remove and prone to either rounding out or corroding in place (both if you’re really unlucky). Stainless hex headed versions were purchased from Leisure Trail in Nottingham and fitted when the calipers were overhauled and new pads fitted, money well spent in my opinion.
The bike came fitted with nearly new Michelin AC10 tyres, which although great for trailriding, were not ideal for the trip due to the limited mileage Ela would get from them; they were replaced with Pirelli MT21’s front and rear along with 4mm thick heavy duty tubes to hopefully limit punctures. I replaced the rear sprocket bolts with heavy duty plated steel items as the ones I’d bought from Talon were too short as they were intended for use with one of their billet hubs.
I also used two nuts on each number plastic number plate screw, locking them together to prevent them shaking loose. The stock mirrors are not that great and screw directly in to the clutch lever and front brake perches. Dropping the bike can tear the perch clamps off, rendering the bike unrideable. This potential issue was resolved by buying a set of Double Take mirrors from Adventurespec.com. Basically the mirror stem is connected to the bike by a set of GPS RAM mounts each side, the idea being that in the event of a crash, the mirrors are pushed out of the way on the ball mountings.
As many as possible of the stock mild steel fasteners were replaced with stainless Allen bolts and Nyloc nuts where safe to do so. Stainless is strong but has a low sheer strength and is not ideal for mounting parts that are subject to high side loads such as brake calipers etc. Plenty of Copperslip was used as despite its low mileage, there were more than a few seized/corroded bolts on the bike, all of which took time and in some cases, brute force and power tools to remove. I also turned up a series of six aluminium top hat shaped spacers that were glued in place in to the rad shrouds, they help spread the load of the fasteners and the glue prevents them being lost if the shrouds are removed for any reason.
Not wanting to overload the bike’s electrics or to complicate things for Ela, I limited the electrical modifications to relocating the fuse holder to beneath the seat for ease of access as the stock location near the battery would have meant stripping the left hand pannier frame from the bike to access it. I fitted a 12v cigarette lighter socket to a one-off steel bracket I’d made, mounted on the right of the headlight and fasted via the top yoke bolts.
Ela bought a Garmin Zumo 220 GPS system that was powered by an internal battery that could be charged up by plugging in to the 12v socket. Having an internal battery meant that when the Zumo was not being charged, the 12v socket could then be used for charging other electronic devices on the move.
Heated Grips from Oxford Products were fitted; these later versions are a massive improvement over the primitive items I fitted to Ela’s DR350 a few years ago although the mounting bracket supplied as part of the kit is next to useless. To remedy this, I turned up four aluminium spacers on the lathe to fill the recesses in the Talon ‘bar risers normally occupied by recessed heads of the Allen bolts used here and then mounted an aluminium plate across the riser mounts to which the heated grips switch was stuck on using the supplied adhesive pad. The control box was located beneath the seat with all wiring cable tied to the stock wiring harness.
We thought that replacing the rear bulb with an LED equivalent would be a good idea, in practice it was a waste of time as all of the LED’s faced rearwards with no light aimed at the reflector, resulting in a small dim glow instead of the high intensity light I’d expected, a full refund was soon obtained…
A cheap 12v compressor that plugs in to the 12v socket was stripped of its casing to save space and weight. All accessible electrical connectors were taken apart, cleaned and greased prior to reassembly to limit corrosion etc. The ignition switch bracket was disassembled, flipped through 180 degrees and mounted on the ‘bars using the original handlebar clamp tops that had been rendered surplus by the use of the Talon risers.
After rough jigsawing to shape, I turned up three round plates of differing sizes from 2.5mm thick sheet aluminium on the lathe and stuck them to the clutch, generator and starter motor covers with black automotive silicon sealant. As DRZ cases are not known for their strength, these will hopefully save them from being holed, similar parts on my KTM 950SE seem to have worked on more than one occasion…
Simon Moore then TiG welded an aluminium extension plate I’d made on to the bashplate, to protect the water pump and oil filter cover. A 1” cube of closed cell foam was then “siliconed” in place between the welded on plate and the oil filter cover for additional cushioning and to prevent the plate being pushed inwards in the event of a spill.
I was given a sheet of Perspex by Steve of UKGS’er from which a headlight guard was fabricated, held in place by two aluminium brackets and a few stainless Allen bolts and Nylocs.
Unabiker rad guards from the US were ordered and fitted, only requiring a minor mod with a die grinder to ensure a good fit. We’d originally ordered some UK made rad guards for the DRZ400E, thinking I could modify them to fit Ela’s 400S. Unfortunately there was no way they’d fit, they were then sold on to a 400E owning friend only to find they didn’t fit his bike either? He thinks they’re intended for the very early 400E which is different to the later E versions and all 400S versions. An aluminium front fender brace was also fitted for protection and to provide a decent support for the Kriega US5. A Kriega Haul Loop was also fitted to the forks in case it was ever required.
The valves were checked, with one exhaust and one inlet valve found to be tight by 0.05mm. Once shims of the correct size were fitted and the head reassembled, the spark plug, oil, oil filter and air filter were replaced plus an inline fuel filter was fitted in case Ela ended up buying dirty fuel at any point. The filter was sleeved in a block of closed cell foam to protect it. Although the DEP silencer was significantly lighter than the heavy steel Suzuki item, it was also significantly noisier. To resolve this, a length of 25mm OD stainless tube was cut to length with one end crushed in the 3-jaw chuck on Simon’s lathe to close the end up and hopefully reduce the noise level. Simon then TiG welded it in place, resulting in a quieter bike.
Spare tubes, levers, selection of fasteners and fuses, brake pads front and rear, spare throttle cables, lubed spare clutch cable with sealed ends cable tied in place for quick renewal.
Shortened Buzzetti style tyre levers, chain tool and 24mm spanner/ tyre lever combo from Motion-Pro, spoke key milled from 6mm flat steel bar courtesy of Simon Moore, a selection of spanners, Allen keys and 3/8” drive sockets plus an extension bar. The Motion-Pro spanner/tyre lever came with a hex insert that featured a 3/8” drive tool in lieu of carrying a ratchet or T-bar. Other items in the toolkit include stainless lockwire, emery paper, small Molegrips, various screwdrivers plus Ela’s Leatherman, tow straps and spark plug spanner in addition to small tubs of Copperslip and grease plus a small refillable plastic can of oil for lubing the chain.
The Adventure Bike
Thank you so much, Steve, for all your time, the thoughts and the effort you have put into the engineering and preparation of my bike for the adventure of a lifetime. Thank you for encouraging and supporting my dreams. I love you.