Sunday, April 1, 2012

Was the KTM the Best Bike?

Was the KTM the best bike?  That is a good question.  Yes and no, and hard to say without actually having ridden another bike on the same or similar trip.  I definitely wanted an enduro type bike, and I would still choose that type of bike without a doubt.  The roads in the Philippines are typically narrow, rough, under constant construction (which has more to do with the topography  than the quality of the roads themselves) and in the provinces, there are a lot of dirt roads.  Some of the dirt roads would have been impassible or very difficult to navigate on any type of road bike.   The quality of the roads can also change quickly due to weather conditions.  Mud slides were commonplace in the mountain provinces and a dirt road that was nicely graded on your way in could turn into a true 4X4 trail  or a clay ice-skating rink on your way out, if a heavy rain came through.  

Hauling the Bike Over a Mud Slide
When I say the roads can be rough, I mean that in every sense of the word.  Most of the roads are two lane concrete.  When these roads start to crack apart, there are huge pot holes and slabs of concrete that just drop off anywhere from a couple of inches to a foot or more.  The travel on the KTM or any other enduro bike suspension will save your back side and the bike in some cases, if you happen to go through these concrete obstacle courses unaware.  We hit more than a few, that would have ended up bad for us and the bike had we been on a street bike.

We also went through the Negros Oriental area after the earthquake and there were at least two collapsed bridges, which forced us to cross the rivers without them.   One was crossed by riding through the 18 inch deep water, after riding through about 6 inch deep very wet and slimy mud that was like riding on ice.  The other river was crossed on a Planck set up by the locals.  The small 150cc bikes got across it no problem, and we managed to get across it OK ourselves, but if we had a bigger bike, I doubt we could have made it.   There were many other instances that we came across that would have been ugly on a street bike, and trying to load a large heavy street bike onto a Bianca boat would also have been difficult if not impossible in some instances.  
Bike Loaded on Bianca Boat (Bohol to Leyte)
I looked at a Tenere, and I almost bought it as I think it would be a good bike for this kind of trip.  However, it was quite a bit older, and I was concerned about the age and that it was also air-cooled.   An older air cooled  bike is OK when you're moving but when you get into some of these towns and smaller cities, you will not be moving that much and even the water-cooled  KTM got pretty hot sometimes.  These are tropical conditions, and every bike will be running hotter than normal compared to the US or Europe.  Another reason I chose not to go with the Tenere was the handling and suspension.  There is no doubt it could have carried the load, and had the travel to absorb the 12 inch deep pot holes you come across, but because it was an older bike, it was heavy and did not handle all that well, which you would expect on just about every aged bike.   I would have been pretty worn out riding this bike any long distance.

As far as the dealers being an issue, even though there are many Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda dealers here in the Philippines, they do not sell big bikes, they do not know how to work on big bikes, they don't sell any parts for big bikes and I don't think they can even order the big bike parts since they don't import the bikes.   So regardless of how many of these dealers there are, it is equivalent to really having none if you have a big bike.  I believe there are a couple of dealers in Manila that sell a few of the Japanese big bikes, but the only ones I saw were street bikes and outside of Manila or Cebu, I never saw any dealers that had any big bikes.  You will have to order or get the parts yourself and do all the work yourself on the Japanese big bikes.

The advantage with the KTM was that, even though there are only three dealers (The one in Davao is new since I bought the bike) You can call them and have a part sent to you were ever you may be, if they have it in stock.  I had to do this once when we were in Bohol, and the part got there about three days after I called them.  However, I was lucky they had the part in stock.  They do carry some stock but I don't think it is a large inventory.

The other thing I liked about the KTM was that, it really is a joy to ride.  It handles wonderfully, and it is about as close as you are going to get to street bike handling on an enduro type bike.  Not only does it handle well on the street, but it does a pretty excellent job in the dirt, and if you really want it to do well in the dirt, a decent set of knobby tires is all you would need.  The bike is a little heavy to be called a true dirt bike, but unless you plan on competing in super-cross, I don't think anyone would have any complaints.  The other thing about the KTM and the part that made it truly enjoyable to ride, was the power.  This bike is a beast, and I believe it is the most powerful big bore single on the market.  It is an exhilarating bike to ride, without a doubt.

That being said, I still think the KLR 650 would have been the better bike.  It comes close to the KTM in all respects, and it has been around since the 80s basically unchanged other than the suspension and a few other things.  I think it would have been a more reliable bike, and parts availability is not a problem since they have been making this same bike for years.  You would most likely have to order parts from overseas, but I am sure you could find them in stock and would only have to wait for them to be shipped.  And, you do not need a Diagnostics tool so you can do all the work yourself.  Unfortunately, I could not find one that had legitimate papers, and I did not have the time nor inclination to import one myself.   

You do see a fair amount of big street bikes here in the Philippines, but you are limited in where you can go and really enjoy them.   There are a few places where you could truly have a fun time on a street bike especially going up to Baguio.  I do think I will end up getting a big street bike here just to take out for the occasional joy ride, but for touring around the Philippines I don't think any type of street bike would be a good choice.  

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