Quit our jobs, sold our home, riding around the world!!!

How to Enduro the Apocalypse: KTM 500 EXC-F & Husqvarna FE 501

Come Armageddon, Come!
Everyday is like Sunday

-- Morrissey

The global pandemic has put a pause on our travels, and we find ourselves temporarily stalled in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada.

So what to do now?

After much extensive research (ie. watching zombie movies and playing video games), I've come to the conclusion that there are two essential items needed to survive an apocalypse: 1) A chainsaw and 2) a dirt bike.

Normally in those movies, you'd just break into a store and take what you want. I figured with the world's economy going down the tubes, I'd saunter into any motorcycle dealership, walk down the aisles overflowing with surplus inventory and basically name my price. A steal of a deal is pretty close to smashing and grabbing... and legal too.

The plan went awry the moment we walked through the shop's door. My voice echoed through the empty store, as I asked the closest salesguy: "Um... where are all your bikes?"

Turns out, during a stay-at-home apocalypse like the COVID-19 outbreak, *everybody* buys motorcycles. Not just motorcycles, but any kind of recreational product: boats, bicycles, Seadoos, RVs, jetskis... It doesn't matter if they are small, inexpensive purchases or big ticket items, they are all flying off the shelves! And to make matters worse, manufacturers have shut down their factories because of the coronavirus, so inventory isn't replenishing.

World economy be damned, people are getting bored at home and they want to play. The salesman confided in us that a lot of product is being bought on credit. Play now, pay later.

It's looking pretty grim for us enduroing the COVID apocalypse.

And then, a ray of hope. The salesguy tells us: "You know what? One of our customer's credit application just got denied for that bike, like an hour ago". He pointed to a brand-new 2019 Husqvarna FE 501 with a "sold" sign stuck to the front number plate.

"Great! Any discount?"
"Ok. We'll take it."

So much for smash and grab. The only thing I grabbed was my own ankles. And then the smashing started...

Well, Neda was now the proud owner of a dirt bike. At least one of us would survive the apocalypse

Same story at the KTM store:

"Do you have any 500 EXC-Fs in stock?"
"No, but I think they may have a couple still sitting at a dealership in Prince George and there's a Six-Days model in Vernon. We can call them up and arrange a transfer"
"Great! Any discount?"
"Ok. We'll take it."


And then there were two!
So now we have dirt bikes!

The primary reason for getting the 500 EXC-F and the FE 501 is that they are street-legal.

The thinking was that we'll eventually convert them to touring bikes, replacing the big adventure motos that we've been traveling the world on.

This about-face in sizing is probably due to our time in Africa, tackling tough gravel and rocky roads with what amounted to street bikes made up to look like dirt-bikes. We found the suspension on our faux-ADV bikes lacking, and the weight was daunting when the gravel turned to mud and sand.

Scaling the Sani Pass in Lesotho with our heavy street bikes

Today Husqvarna is well known for their forest and gardening tools. Their motorcycle division was sold off in the late 90s, and has passed through several hands. It was KTM that bought Husqvarna Motorcycles (from BMW) back in 2013, and the FE 501 is essentially a rebadged 500 EXC-F with a few minor differences and a couple of major ones.

I didn't know this was a thing, but apparently some Husky owners don't like being on Team Orange... *shrug*

Both bikes are powered by the same KTM 510cc single-cylinder four-stroke engine, WP Explor 48mm forks. Both weigh around 260 lbs wet. A bunch of other stuff, but these were the most important details for us...

2019 Husqvarna FE 501 - first mod: GPS!

The biggest difference between the two are the rear suspension. The Husky uses a traditional linkage-style, while KTM is using PDS (Progressive Damping System) with no linkage, the only manufacturer to do so. There are tons of articles on what PDS is and many opinions on which is best, but most say that you'll only ever feel the difference between the two in high speed/hard hit applications (linkage is better to smooth them out). This is something that neither of us will probably ever experience.

KTM didn't think so either, because their motocross race bikes still use linkage rears. Only their trail and off-road bikes are available with PDS.

KTM PDS (l), Husqvarna linkage-style rear suspension (r)

Back to back riding on both bikes felt the same to our novice butts. We're just not good enough to push these bikes hard enough to ascertain or appreciate the finer points of rear suspension. Practical differences are that the linkage sticks out from the bottom, so it decreases ground clearance by an inch or two. PDS is lighter by a couple of lbs.

The Husqvarna also has a different subframe, made of "composite carbon fibre", which is 30% carbon fibre and 70% polyamide (plastic). So basically, it's marketing speak for "Too expensive to do the whole thing in carbon fibre"... It weighs 2 lbs lighter and is more rigid. Said to improve handling and comfort. Our butts couldn't tell the difference on that, either.

Cool "composite subframe" sticker on the tail section though. Bragging rights.

2020 KTM Six Days 500 EXC-F

I got the Six Days version of the 500 EXC-F. Six Days is an annual enduro competition held in a different country every year. KTM puts out a commemorative version of their EXC bikes adorned with the colours of the flag of the country hosting last year's Six Days competition. 2019's race was in Portugal, hence the Portuguese flags and colours on this bike.

Just in case you forget what model it is, Six Days is emblazoned on every body panel and part. Including the exhaust and wheels! :)

Other Six Days differences from the base 500 EXC-F are the cool decal set, blingy orange anodized parts like triple clamps (my favorite part of the bike), quick-release front wheel, orange chain guide. No performance benefits.

But it's oh-so-pretty (pretty, witty and bright orange).

Bath time, so the bikes stay pretty

Current mods on both bikes include a Seat Concepts saddle, GPS mounts and hand guards.

Future mods on order include Double-Take Enduro Mirrors to replace those ugly square mirrors on the long bug-antenna stalks. Those are RAM-ball mounted and can easily fold in when you hit the trails, and don't break off if you take a tumble (which is good feature for us!).

When the original rubber is done, we want to change out the stock Continental TKC80s for Dunlop D606s. Not as long-lasting, but a bit softer for the dirt and should provide more grip.

Also P3 pipeguards, but those are back-ordered till forever...
Okay, enough speeds and feeds, let's ride these damn things!

Fortunately BC is hands-down the best place in Canada to ride a dirtbike!

The western mountain ranges of the continent are our playground. Social distancing is easy when you're out in the woods and you haven't seen another person on the trails the entire day! Thanks to COVID-19, Every Day Is Like Sunday!

This is what it looks like just a few kms away from our house

BC boasts a network of 60,000 kms of hard-packed gravel Forest Service Roads (FSRs), which branch out to smaller dirt roads, provincial parks and recreation areas dedicated to OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) usage. It is a moto-head's heaven out here!

"Trudging back over pebbles and sand, and a strange dust lands on your hands, and on your face. Everyday Is Like Sunday"

The biggest advantage to having these plated dirt-bikes is that we don't need to trailer our motos to the good roads, we can ride straight to them. Rip it up in the gnarly stuff, and then ride straight home. And if we wanted to hop between rec areas, we can do so without having a trailer or truck bed involved.

We used to have both track bikes and green-plated (non-legal) dirt bikes in Ontario, and the loading and unloading part was the biggest pain in the butt.

What kind of bike am I riding? [looks down] Oh yeah...

Some people have complained that the 500cc 4-strokes are a handful in single-track over something like a 300cc 2T. Maybe we haven't hit the gnarlier trails, but we haven't found that to be a issue yet.

In fact, the availability of endless low-end torque means you can be quite lazy with the shifter. Hill climbs don't need a running start and can be done in any gear you choose. Well, maybe not sixth.

Or fifth... Or even fourth. But you get the idea... :)

But this is the real reason we opted for the 500cc dirt bikes

Neda fell in love with snow biking while we were taking a break here a couple of winters ago. Yet another reason why BC is the best place for dirt bikes! We learned that the heavy tracks on the back of the bike require a beefy engine to overcome the resistance in heavy snow. Nothing below a 450cc 4-stroke will do.

The plan is to convert the motos to snow bikes in the winter and then return them to dirt bikes back in the summer. That way we can ride all year round!

Back to how good these bikes are. I think the best part of the bikes are the suspension. Especially coming from the entry-level BMW F650GSes. I had gotten used to expecting high drama whenever those bikes approached road imperfections. Excessive bouncing on rough terrain meant that the Beemer's wheels spent more time in the air than on the ground. Annoying.

With the dirt bikes, road and trail imperfections are soaked up by the long suspension travel and excellent damping. I admit, I'm still used to the BMWs off-road inadequacies. Every time I'd choose a wrong line and hit a rut or rock, my brain screamed, "Prepare For Drama!!!!"

And then nothing. Wheels stay planted, the bike tracks straight. The suspension eats ruts and rocks for breakfast.

This is exactly what we ordered. Love it!

Sometimes the trails throw up the odd obstacle or two, especially at the beginning of the season

I told you we needed a chainsaw!
So, are there any downsides to these motos?

Yes. When you try to tour on a dirt bike, those short service intervals creep up on you fast!

The manual indicates 15-hour oil changes, but we've been monitoring the oil colour and consistency, and the bikes seem to prefer even shorter intervals than that. Right now, we're doing oil changes every 11-12 hours, coinciding with our 5-6 hour rides. Three rides takes us over 18 hours, which is way too long. The oil is midnight black at that point.

Part of the problem is that KTM is on a mission to reduce weight, even doing away with things like the kick-starter. One of the biggest changes that the 500 EXC-F went through was in 2017, when the oil capacity went from 1.5L to 1.2L.

However, the oil change interval remained unchanged at 15 hours. It's common opinion that having that little oil in such a large engine must mean it will need to be changed more often.

When you're used to 10,000 km oil changes (on our BMWs), draining and refilling oil every week is tedious! Thankfully, it's only a little over a litre at a time...

But the biggest drawback is comfort. We are used to the cushy seats of our ADV tourers. In stock form, the dirt bikes come with what feels like a vinyl-covered plank of wood contoured to perpetrate maximum torture to whatever butt comes in contact with it.

We find it difficult to do distance on these seats. Plus the vibrations from the single 500cc cylinder thumper made our feet and hands go numb in an unpleasant and dangerous way.

We both replaced the stockers with Seat Concepts saddles, which flattens and widens the sitting area. This helps with comfort somewhat. But there's only so much you can do on a dirt bike. I don't see any 1000 km days in the future on these bikes. Not without a daily oil change, that is! :(

Thankfully, the tank range is about 180-200kms, which forces us to stop and fill-up quite often. It's not unusual to have to fill up 2-3 times a ride, with our butts dictating the fuel stops, not the tank size...

This realization put us on an entirely different path with respect to mods. Initially, we were going to go the full touring route, replacing the 8.5L fuel tanks with aftermarket Acerbis or IMS 15L tanks, which would have given us the same range as our old BMWs. We also were researching soft luggage for multi-day trips, capable of carrying tents and sleeping bags. We were set on purchasing the Mosko Moto Reckless 40L luggage system.

The inability to do distance on these bikes actually made us appreciate why we got these motos in the first place. Why were we going to indiscriminately add weight to the front and rear, ruining the balance, and transforming such excellent dirt bikes into overloaded and poor-handling pigs again?

Glad I'm not carrying 200 extra lbs I don't need

For the time being, we are carrying all our supplies in our backpacks. Tools, water and food. Enough stuff just to last us for the day, till we return home. But what about overnight trips, or even longer?

So we've had to stweak our touring plan a little...

Problem solved!

So although it seems as if we are nullifying that no-trailer advantage, we still have that choice to trailer or not. We do ride to and from all the trails that are within an hour of where we live, but if we want to ride a different part of the province, country or continent, this gives us more options.

We may still add fuel and luggage options to our dirt bikes in the future. But for the time being, while the COVID apocalypse has quarantined us to Canada and BC, this works out quite well for us. We can pound out the pavement miles in an air-conditioned cabin with a large cooler in the back. Carry a larger tent, with chairs, stove, pots, cutlery. Off-load when we hit the good trails, and still be able to ride legally between rec areas in other parts of the province.

And best of all, no oil changes every other ride!

We just need one last item to complete our Apocalypse Kit. I think I've found exactly the thing:

Hail to the king, baby!

You can follow our travels at www.RideDOT.com

If it's slightly behind, it's because we're busy changing our oil...