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How to prepare your Adventure Bike – Pt.1

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KTM 990 Adventure motorcycle undergoing preparation in the workshop

Good bike prep is an important part of any adventure. Knowing your bike is well prepared (and therefore reliable) not only provides peace of mind, but means your bike will perform better, be more fun to ride and ensure the longevity of your rather expensive pride-and-joy. Doing the work yourself helps familiarise yourself with your bike so that when something needs attention out on the trail you know where the fuses are, how to take the panels off, what tools you need etc.

We’re going to break bike prep down into roughly 8 stages:

  1. Service & Maintenance
  2. Protection
  3. Ergonomics
  4. Gearing
  5. Tyres
  6. Luggage carrying
  7. Navigation & Electrical
  8. Suspension set-up

This article covers the basics that are applicable to most bikes and is primarily to help our customers get the best from their bikes. Beyond the basics, bike prep becomes much more focused on the particular requirements of the rider, the journey being undertaken and of course the bike being prepared.

An advanced list would include things like the fitting of oversize and/or additional fuel tanks, suspension modifications, auxiliary lighting etc.

Here in Part 1 we’ll look at stages 1 -4 and in Part 2  we’ll look at 5 – 8.


1. Service & Maintenance

Prior to embarking on a long journey, your bike should be serviced and inspected by someone competent. If that’s you then great; if not then you need to find a local dealer/independent mechanic who can do this for you. Make sure the service includes wheels & brakes. Be sure to leave sufficient time to allow for any parts to be ordered and for you to test ride your bike prior to departure.

Far from being the end of your bike prep, a full service is just the beginning. You now need to do some preventative maintenance. And yes, this is relevant to new bikes.

– Lubrication

Correct lubrication ensures everything moves as it should, increases the longevity of components and in doing so, keeps your maintenance bill to a minimum.

Steering head bearings, suspension linkages, swingarm pivot and wheel spindles all require lubricating with waterproof grease. In the case of steering head bearings, this means packing the bearings. Other parts not to forget include the top shock mount, rear brake pivot, side and centre stand pivots.

NOTE: Some suspension units are supplied with teflon bushings that must NOT be greased. Check your manual.

How to pack steering head bearings – courtesy of Rocky Mountain ATV

Just because a bike has been fully serviced doesn’t mean that all (or any) of this has been done. Most new bikes are supplied with a minimal amount of ‘assembly’ grease, rather than sufficient to provide long term protection in the environments we all ride in.


Front Wheel

Before greasing and re-fitting the front wheel spindle, check its alignment. With the front wheel removed, the spindle should slide into place and be easy to rotate by hand. If it doesn’t rotate freely, first check that it is straight by rolling in on a flat surface (glass is ideal). Having confirmed it is straight, adjust one fork leg up or down in the triple clamp until you achieve perfect alignment.

With the wheel re-fitted and the spindle tightened, roll the bike off it’s stand and with the front brake held on, ‘bounce’ the forks up and down several times. This ensures the fork legs are parallel and operating freely before tightening the pinch bolts.

Tighten your wheel spindles using a torque wrench, or with the tool you will use when out on the trail. This will ensure you can loosen them with the tools you’re carrying.

Contact cleaner, Waterproof, copper and dielectric grease and a torque wrench
Contact cleaner – Waterproof grease – Copper grease – Torque Wrench – Dielectric grease

Apply anti-seize lubricant or copper grease where aluminium and steel interact. ie Fork pinch bolts, brake caliper mounting bolts, chain adjusters etc. Brake calipers need cleaning and lubricating too, but for the purposes of this article we’ll assume this has been done correctly as part of the FULL service.


Your bikes electrics need some lovin’ too. Un-plug all your electrical connections (one at a time!). Where necessary, clean them with electrical contact cleaner and a toothbrush. Once they’re clean, apply some Dielectric grease and plug them back together. This repels water and will protect against corrosion.

Whilst looking over your electrics, check for tight cables and chafing, particularly around the headstock. This is especially important if you have fitted additional wiring.

– Address the Achilles Heel

Every bike has it’s ‘Achillies Heel’. Do you know what yours is? Have you taken action to either prevent or prepare for a failure? Some bikes have multiple issues that need to be addressed. The best place to find out what they are and how they are best resolved is in the bike specific threads of forums such as ADVRider and amongst the various owner groups on Facebook. You will also find information regarding common modifications specific to your model of bike that it will benefit from.

Typical common failures include fuel & water pumps, regulator/rectifiers, alternators, slave cylinders etc

For example. The KTM 990 Adventure is prone to seal failure of the clutch slave cylinder. The best solution is to replace the OEM unit with one from Oberon.

Aftermarket clutch slave cylinder fitted to KTM 990 Adventure motorcycle
Oberon clutch slave cylinder – KTM 990 Adventure


2. Protection

It’s a good idea to protect your bike against both the terrain, and minor accident damage. We recommend the following additions:

– Bashplate

Most adventure bikes come fitted with some form of bashplate, but rarely is it up to the job. What bike you ride will determine the aftermarket choices available to you but look out for 4mm thick aluminium and additional protection.  The photo below shows just how much of a beating (and therefore protection) a quality bashplate offers.

Adventure motorcycle bashplate showing lots of damage
A quality bashplate like this one from Guard-it Technology (GiT) is cheap insurance
Adventure motorcycle bashplate with waterpump protection
Wraparound design protects the waterpump on this Suzuki DRZ400
– Wraparound handguards

There are several types of handguard available, from the basic plastic brushguard, designed to prevent branches activating the levers and to protect the riders fingers, through to the aluminium wraparound style that have the added benefit of protecting the levers when your bike falls over. Trapping your hand in a fall is often sited as a reason for not using wraparound guards, but several manufacturers have addressed this by forming the alloy support bar with a bend at the end of the handle bar. The idea being that this allows your hands to slide off the end in the event of a fall. Handguards also help protect against wind and rain, something BMW have concentrated on with the shape of their handguards.

Handguards fitted to KTM 990 Adventure motorcycle
Wraparound handguards with curved ends
– Independent mirror mounts

Most manufactures use a mirror mount cast into the master cylinders or clutch lever perch. Whilst this is the tidiest way to mount mirrors, it can also be the most expensive. Breaking that casting in a fall is likely to see you with a bill upwards of £200. There are two ways to avoid this:

  1. Folding mirrors
  2. Independent mirror mounts.

Folding mirrors work well but they’re not a guaranteed fix as it is possible to impact the mirror at such an angle that it doesn’t fold. The safest solution is therefore to fit both. Folding mirrors of course have the added benefit of being able to be folded out of the way completely.

Folding motorcycle mirrors in the folded position

Fitting independent mirror mounts eliminates the possibility of breaking your master cylinders. However, as the picture below shows, they can’t be fitted in exactly the same position. Whether or not this is an issue only you can decide.

Two right-hand motorcycle mirrors fitted showing the difference between OEM and independent mounting ositions
OEM vs independent – The difference in mirror extension
– Crashbars

Back in the old days, crashbars were designed with the intention of preventing a rider from trapping a leg under the bike in the event of a fall. These days they’re more of a protection for the motorcycle rather than the rider. Whether they actually offer any protection is a contentious issue. Stories abound of both positive and negative experiences. Speed, terrain and the nature of the accident all play their part, as does the design and location of the mounting points of the specific crashbars.

Some swear by them – others swear at them. It’s a personal choice.

Crashbars fitted to a BMW1 R1200GS Adventure motorcycle
This rider was delighted with the protection afforded by the Wunderlich crashbars during a couple of low speed tumbles in Morocco

Lighter weight Adventure bikes like the KTM690, Husqvarna 701 etc don’t require crash bars as their design (basically a big dirt bike) and lower weight mean they crash much better than heavier bikes.

– Engine casing guards

Whilst lighter weight Adventure bikes don’t require crashbars, they can benefit from case guards. Many bikes are fitted with lightweight magnesium engine casings which are unfortunately susceptible to puncturing. Adding thin aluminium ‘case savers’ vastly reduces the chance of this happening.

Aluminium case saver fitted to a Suzuki DRZ400 motorcycle
Case saver – DRZ400
– Case saver

A case saver can prevent a broken chain from jumping off the front sprocket and cutting through the engine casing. Again, cheap insurance.

A motorcycle case saver
Example of a Case Saver


3. Ergonomics

Ergonomics make a huge difference to your comfort and fatigue levels, which in turn affect your concentration. When your concentration is distracted you make mistakes. Making mistakes is inherently tiring and so you set in place a downward spiral of doom that normally ends with a phrase like “WTF am I doing here?”

Getting your ergonomics right make your bike a pleasure to ride. Your weight is in the right place so it responds to your inputs and handles as it should. It is comfortable to ride for hours, allowing you to relax and enjoy your surroundings – the main reason we enjoy Adventure motorcycling.

Setting-up your riding position to suit you can include choosing the right seat, correctly adjusting (or possibly changing) your handlebars, fitting oversize footrests and even replacing the screen.

– Footrests

Larger footrests will provide a larger contact patch for your boots. Not only will this provide more grip, it will spread your bodyweight over a greater area and therefore be more comfortable for long periods of standing up. Longer footrests will also provide more leverage, making your bike more responsive to footrest weighting.

Size difference between STD and Rally footrest on KTM 990 Adventure motorcycle
KTM 990 Adventure STD vs Rally footrest
– Seat

We all want a comfortable seat, but comfort isn’t just about how it feels under your backside. It’s height determines the angle of the bend in your knees and the angle your arms reach to the handlebars. Tall riders have the luxury of choosing their seat height to ensure a comfortable transition between seated and standing positions, whereas shorter riders may need the lowest seat possible just to help get a foot on the floor. If you have short legs, this can lead to the need to run your handlebars slightly lower than the ideal position when standing in order to prevent them being too high when seated.

Lightweight adventure bikes have narrow seats which makes standing up and moving the bike around between your legs easy. The downside is that the limited support makes them uncomfortable for long journeys.  Some aftermarket seat manufacturers (notably Corbin & Seat Concepts) offer designs with a narrow front and a wider rear in a bid to overcome this.

Seats that slope heavily towards the tank often cause pressure points that can become extremely uncomfortable if not painful, over a long journey. Having your seat re-shaped by a professional, or with some DIY surgery can transform a seats comfort and is generally cheaper than replacing the whole seat.

There are numerous accessories on the market from sheepskins to Air Hawks that offer relief. If you’re considering using any of them, think about how likely they are to stay in place with you constantly alternating between sitting and standing.

– Handlebars & controls

Handlebar position effects your riding position and therefore weight distribution. Adventure bikes often have the handlebars rolled too far backwards in order to make for a more relaxed on-road experience. This compromises your standing position by putting your hips too close to the bars and shifting your weight too far back. The best position for your handlebars is with the grips parallel to the ground. To achieve this, slacken the pinch bolts and roll them forwards or backwards as necessary).

You’ll now need to re-position your levers. The best position for them is just below horizontal. This will give your palms maximum purchase on the bars when standing and allow you to comfortably reach the levers when sitting.

When you tighten the lever mounts, do so sufficiently that they won’t move in use, but that in the event of being knocked in a fall, they can ‘spin’ on the bars. You can help this effect by wrapping a couple of turns of electrical insulation tape around the handlebars where the clamps sit. The clamp bolts are steel and the clamps aluminium so don’t forget a dab of copper grease.

If you’re still not comfortable once your handlebars are correctly positioned then you may want to replace them a different ‘bend’. With Renthal alone having 80+ to choose from, you’ll want a good idea of what you want to achieve before making a purchase.

Renthal mtorcycle handlebar bend chart screenshot
Renthal Handlebar bend dimensions


Important – Once you’ve re-positioned your handlebars you’ll need to do a lock-to-lock check. With your bars fully turned in each direction, check that your levers/handguards do not foul the screen, GPS etc and that your hands cannot be trapped. Check that all cables and hoses still have some free play in them, are not pulled tight around the headstock or chafing on anything. A rise tickover when turning the handlebars from lock-to-lock is a UK MOT failure.

– Rear Brake Pedal

The rear brake is overlooked by many with a road orientated background but it plays an important roll in riding on the dirt. As such, it needs to be adjusted so that you can use it. A good starting point is to set the height of the pedal so that it is slightly higher than the the footrest. To do this, hold a straight edge on the top of the footrest and adjust the brake pedal accordingly.

Depending on your bike and your choice of riding boots, this may not be sufficiently high in which case you need to modify the pedal to suit you.

– Lock stops

Finally, if your bike is fitted with adjustable/removable lock (steering) stops, adjust them to allow the maximum rotation of the steering. Be sure to watch for for any trapping hazards whilst doing this. Screens, bodywork, radiators, GPS etc.

– Screen

Something else that can take a lot of experimenting with to get right is the screen. Height, width, shape and angle all contribute towards a screens performance. All screens create turbulence and noise, but that’s relative to where the riders head is positioned (determined by the riders height), and the choice of helmet. Therefore what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. It’s trial and error.

A screen that offers perfect protection for motorway cruising is likely to be too big for dirt riding and so a compromise has to be made. Too tall a screen can limit vision, prevent you from getting your weight far forward enough on steep climbs and become a chest impact hazard. Too wide and your re-positioned handlebars, especially with handguards fitted, may foul on it.

Height comparison of KTM 990 Motorcycle Brittania Composites screen
This Britannia Composites adjustable screen does a pretty good job both on and off road

If you’re adapting a dirt bike that doesn’t have a screen it’s a good idea to fit one. The difference in windchill is extraordinary. Search the web for images of your bike+screen and you’ll find plenty of ideas.

A Royal Enfield Himalayan motorcycle screen fitted to a Suzuki DRZ400
This Royal Enfield Himalayan screen works well, grafted onto a Suzuki DRZ400


4. Gearing

If you’re planning on riding slow, technical, steep, twisty terrain then you may want to consider lowering your bikes gearing. This will allow you to ride at a slower speed without constantly riding the clutch and will make controlling your speed much easier and far less tiring; not to mention better for your clutch. Remember though that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction and in this case what you’ll gain at the bottom end you’ll loose at the top end. ie less top speed. This isn’t a problem for big adventure bikes with 6-gears and oodles of power, but small capacity bikes will want to strike a balance with on-road cruising speed.

If your speedometer is gearbox rather than wheel driven, changing the gearing can effect the reading. The solution would appear to be a third party re-calibrator. Do a web search.

Lowering your gearing is achieved by changing the size of the sprockets (number of teeth) that comprise your final drive. Final drive ratio is calculated by dividing the rear sprocket by the front sprocket. The higher the number, the LOWER the ratio.

Final drive gear ratios for Suzuki DRZ 400 motorcycle

In the above chart you can see a range of gearing that includes some overlap. ie 14:44 and 15:47 are effectively the same. Also note that one front tooth is approximately equivalent to three rear.

– Considerations

Front sprockets are cheaper than rears but have approximately 3x the effect.

Fitting a larger sprockets may require a longer chain, whilst fitting smaller sprockets may require shortening the chain.

As with many things, gearing comes down to personal preference. Again, the best place to start looking is in the numerous Facebook user groups for your bike and ADVRider.

– Be aware

Fitting different size sprockets can cause clearance issues. The red 13 & 16 in the above chart highlight sprockets that cause clearance issues and are to be avoided on a DRZ400.

  • Too small a front sprocket can cause the chain to cut into the chain slider (and and eventually the swingarm).
  • Too large a front sprocket can cut into the chain slider as it wraps around the end of the swingarm.

  • Too small a rear sprocket can cause the chain to cut into the chain slider.
  • Too large a rear sprocket can cut into the chain guide.
– Wear

With a final drive ratio of approximately 3:1, it should come as no surprise that front sprockets wear approximately 3x quicker than rear sprockets. By replacing the front sprocket when it starts to show wear rather than when it’s worn out, you will reduce chain wear and therefore rear sprocket wear.

Larger front sprockets wear slower than smaller ones.

There is a line of thought that suggests avoiding gear ratios of equal numbers (ie 15:45 45= 3:1) can also increase longevity. This gets rather technical so we’ll leave you to research it for yourselves.


In Part 2…

We hope you’ve enjoyed the read, created some food for thought and perhaps even coaxed some of you off the sofa and into the garage.

In part 2 we’ll look at stages 5 -8.

  1. Service & Maintenance
  2. Protection
  3. Ergonomics
  4. Gearing
  5. Tyres
  6. Luggage carrying
  7. Navigation & Electrical
  8. Suspension set-up

Who’s writing? – Adam Lewis


Our other ‘How To’ posts

How to prepare your Adventure Bike – Part 2

How to choose soft luggage for Adventure Motorcycling


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