By Surj Gish, Gwynne Fitzsimmons & Fish
Photos by everyone except your mom. Artwork by Mr. Jensen.
None of us are hardcore EXC-owning desert racers—this is CITYBike after all— but we’re firm believers in enjoying our two wheels both on and off the pavement, even if we don’t have the requisite DS equipment. Every year, Bungee Brent’s Backroad Bash kicks us into dirty action a little more than usual—you can read more about our adventures at this year’s Bash on page 17, but here’s some background on some of our bikes.
The Return Of The CRFin’ Bird
It’s been too long since I last wrote about our CRF250L long term dual-sport project. I crashed it at last year’s Backroad Bash and broke my foot, and the subsequent recovery time kept me out of the dirt for a while, although much to my doc’s chagrin, not off bikes in general. Maybe that’s why my foot is still acting up.
The CRF waited patiently, and is now better than ever, better enough to actually be good, not just ok.
As a refresher, the plan with the CRF was to take a perfectly good, inexpensive dual-sport and turn it into a kickass, still kinda-inexpensive bike that works pretty well everywhere from single-track to San Francisco. I’ll admit that we’re straining the logical limits of “still kinda-inexpensive” to the point where some of the orange crew have started saying stuff like, “You know, you can buy a real motorcycle for that much,” but hey—it’s an experiment. We gotta see it through.
Previous modifications to the 250L, which is well on its way to becoming the sweetest CRF west of the Pecos, include a lot of function and a bit o’ bling. I immediately added a Hammerhead CNC shifter, which while burly as hell, ultimately suffered a rather ignominious defeat in the crash that busted my foot—but I liked it enough that I replaced it with another Hammerhead. Zeta provided sweet adjustable clutch and brake levers, a skidplate, and miscellaneous pieces of red aluminum to sprinkle over the bike.
A Seat Concepts seat kept me from feeling so violated by the stocker. Doubletake mirrors gave me a nice view to the rear, in the unlikely event there was someone behind me, and easily fold away to prevent crash damage. To give it more range to go with that comfy saddle, I added an IMS tank that gives me probably 150+ miles of full-on romping, maybe more if I ease up on the throttle and can stay upright. Extreme Dual-Sport turn signals rounded out this round of upgrades, and the whole thing rolled off on a set of Metzeler’s very good MCE 6 Days Extreme tires.
Sounds pretty sweet, right? It is, but the L was still pretty jouncy with an old fat guy on top, and some of the running gear was still a little… well, cheap and shitty. This is a $5,000 motorcycle, after all.
So the Doubletake mirrors—which were great—got replaced with integrated mirrors attached to a set of super-beefy Highway Dirtbikes handguards mounted on ProTaper Contour bars. I can’t say enough good things about these handguards—you’re basically bolting a cylinder head’s worth of aluminum to each side of your bars, providing equivalent protection and strength, with cool little mirrors that fold in behind the guards. I loved ‘em so much that I put a set on the XT225 project too, in an attempt to define overkill, and Gwynne loved ‘em too when she rode that bike at the Backroad Bash.
The stock suspension—the weakest part of the bike, really—was seriously upgraded with parts from Race Tech, installed by the good dudes over at Superplush Suspension. We did Gold Valves front and rear, and of course springs.
Here’s the part where I can’t shut up about how awesome this stuff is. Imagine you’re having a conversation about motorcycles and the other person won’t stop talking about how rad their bike is. I’m not gonna bore you with paragraph upon paragraph of OMG! Race Tech RULEZ! But that’s the real deal…
Look, the CRF is still a tragically underpowered, overweight 250. But the Race Tech bits took it from being a heavy handful to an eminently rideable, proper dual-sport, made the porkiness more manageable. It handles bumps better than most riders, and is now a pretty much the quintessential “a 250 is all you need” kinda bike.
So what’s next? Realistically, more crashing. But now that I’ve got the bike kicking proper dirty ass, I’m thinking I need to work on the street capabilities of our CRF, too, so to that end there’s a sexy set of Warp 9 supermoto wheels waiting in the CityBike World HQ garage—stay tuned for more on that.
Cheap Ecstasy 225
By Surj & Gwynne
Surj: A while back, I started to look for a smallish, relatively light dual-sport with a low, anyone-can-put-their-feet-down seat height—primarily for CityBike Master of Puppets Angelica, but also to serve as an occasional loaner bike. There aren’t really a lot of options for this, and it ultimately came down to CRF230Ls and XT225s, both of which are apparently made of gold based on the pricing of decent examples on Craigslist—people are asking for original MSRP for these 10-year-old bikes, or more.
After wasting a lot of time going to see a pile of “trust me, it’s in great shape” piles of way-overpriced shit, I found an ’06 XT225 on BARF, then discovered that it had previously belonged to our Delivery and Operations Wizard and backroad tactician, Gwynne. I picked it up for $1,800, well below the $3,000+ prices they often show up at on Craigslist.
I immediately went to work on it. I added a black 4.1 gallon Clark tank to extend its range, and beefed up the controls with riser/adapters and 1 1/8” Contour bars, both from ProTaper. I capped the ends with Highway Dirtbikes handguards with integrated mirrors—a trick setup that is also extremely rugged. The bike already had DMO Specialties footpegs on it, which I discovered after I ordered a set and upon arrival said “Oh, yeah, these are the same!” Either way, they’re great pegs—grippy and broad—and now I’ve got a spare set.
To keep things street legal, but impervious to the occasional tipover, I mounted Extreme Dual-Sport LED signals. You may have seen these on our CRF250L long-termer (or on the Carducci Dual-Sport) and they’re cockroach-level tough—the CRF has been treated badly at our hands and while we’ve replaced lots of parts as a result of that abuse, the EDS signals have not even blinked.
Wait. They blink—they’re turn signals. They’ve held up real well. How’s that?
The last touch (for now) was a set of Kenda Trakmaster 90/10 DOT knobbies: an 80/100-21 up front and a 100/100-18 out back, which fit the li’l XT’s li’l swingarm nicely. These tires are serious business—to quote Tony from SF Moto: “looks burly for a DOT tire.” I’ve heard they last well, too, and at about $150 for a set, they’re a strong value for cheapasses looking for grippy, long-lasting dirty rubber.
Back to the bike’s previous, previous owner Gwynne. She had an old injury nagging at her and asked about riding the XT on this year’s Backroad Bash, instead of her ATK. “Sure!” I said. “Perfect testing ground of this thing in its new, hopefully-improved form.”
Gwynne: Rigged out with a big tank, handguards with integrated mirrors and those knobbies, the bike certainly looks the part. I quickly got the drop test out of the way in the morning and even with a full tank the bike is light enough to easily pick up solo.
Following Sam’s DR350 and Fish’s inappropriate Trail-Hawk on Saturday, I figured we were in for an easy two-track fire road day, but one missed turn later and the XT had some serious proving to do. Sure, it’s a tall-geared, low-powered little machine, but it rose to the challenge nonetheless. Keeping it in the lower gears makes it a decent mountain goat.
Sunday saw us putting more street miles on before the dirt, and the XT had no problems maintaining 55-65 mph. Once we got beyond maintained forest roads, it was rocks and more rocks but the XT handled it like a champ. I was comfortable blazing through gravel, rocks and sand in third, but I felt my legs and shoulders begin to ache as they substituted for the bike’s lacking suspension.
After two days on my old bike I found it greatly improved by the modifications, most noticeably the risers and wide bars. The light weight and low seat make it a good entry level bike; however, it still lacks the power and suspension travel that help conserve the rider’s energy off-road, but it’s certainly capable in the right hands.
Surj: Master of Puppets Angelica has done further testing at Carnegie since the Backroad Bash, but I’ve still got plans for our little XT. Hopefully some simple suspension upgrades will make it a little more manageable in the rough stuff, and that taillight is just begging for a less-gargantuan replacement, which I’m currently hacking together with some Kydex and Skene LEDs.
Sure, the cost of the upgrades has brought the price of the bike up to around $2,600, but that’s still the floor of pricing on low-n-light dual-sports, and this one is way more capable than a “super clean” $3,400 CRF230L with 1,200 miles and (somehow!) a bent frame.
Moral of the story? Hell if I know… buy cheap, add good shit, enjoy?
Doing It Wrong Feels So Right: Honda Hawk GT “Dual-Sport”
This is what happens when you answer Editor Surj’s questions with “why not?” When you’re faced with an opportunity like CityBike favorite Bungee Brent’s Backroad Bash, but lack a proper dual-sport, you get creative. Editor Surj had offered me a proper dual-sport loaner, but then countered his own offer with, “Why don’t you slap some TKC80s on your Hawk GT?”
I didn’t really know if he was serious, but I took the bait. Turned out he was.
I’ll take a step back here and give you the rundown on this particular Hawk GT. It’s an ’88, period-perfectly modified. The basics include a Fox shock, Race Tech Gold Valves, an AP Lockheed front brake caliper, Kosman-widened front rim, and a Supertrapp exhaust. The crowning jewel is the custom bar clamp-and-bar conversion, the key to making this bike really work.
My shop is stocked with quite a few spares, so the TKC front was mounted on a CBR F2 wheel to save the unobtanium Kosman wheel from possible damage. If you’re not familiar with the nearly thirty-year-old Hawk GT, the handlebars are usually riser style clip-ons that mount above the upper triple, so I had an extra two inches of fork tube to slide down in the triples for ground clearance.
The rear of the bike features a trick single-sided swingarm that uses an eccentric to adjust the chain. It usually sits in the upward position of the circle, so rotating it 180 degrees added a matching two inches of additional height at the rear. I did have to extend the brake caliper anchor, but this, along with the sidestand modification necessitated by the increased height, was a pretty straightforward modification.
The last bit of prep required a cheap set of handguards be bent into shape to protect the levers from the inevitable tip over. Looking back (or maybe up at the sky from a pile of snow) I was glad I did this—the inevitable did occur. Inevitably.
Total time on these mods was about two hours; probably the best return on two hours spent on a bike ever, at least in my garage. I now had a fully-functional scrambler on my hands. Not like a wear flannel and look cool “scrambler,” but more like a Steve McQueen wants to roost you with cow shit scrambler.
The road experience was not completely transformative. The front got a little more elevation change than the rear, manifested as a slower steering angle, but that ended up being an asset, I think. The playful-but-balanced nature of the Hawk chassis remained intact: steering had minimal weight added and acceleration did not suffer. My Hawk was like a lighter, nimbler, less retro (hah!) version of Triumph’s Bonneville Scrambler.
A brief off-road test on some trails near my home-away-from home in Nevada revealed the bike to be an absolute hoot. I’ll admit that the weight and narrow bars are not ideal, but the TKCs are great off-road tires, and the Hawk’s eager power plant works very well in loose dirt and rocky hill climbs. It does have a tendency to tuck the front in low speed turns, but it’s manageable.
My Nevada hillclimb tests required unwavering commitment. The ergos of the bike dictate a sitting riding position—you can’t really stand on the pegs very well—but it’s a reasonably capable dual-sport-ish bike.
Saturday morning at Long Barn, the Hawk did elicit more than a few odd looks and comments on my sanity. After the riders meeting, I headed out with Sam and Gwynne to ensure there’d at least be credible witnesses to my exploits. On pavement, I have to give credit to the TKC80s. Despite the aggressive knobs, they are completely reasonable at freeway speeds. And when the pavement ended, I discovered that the Hawk can really fly in the dirt. The TKCs are as good off-road as they are on, and the little V-twin’s on-tap wheelspin gives the Hawk a very enjoyable off road demeanor.
The day’s adventures are recounted elsewhere in this issue, but they included a wrong turn and serious lapses in judgment on my part—all solved with judicious amounts of throttle and clouds of dust.
I won’t say that I’d rather have a TKC-shod Hawk instead of a proper dual-sport bike, but I will say that the short wheelbase and torquey powerplant make for a fun off-road bike off road, as long as you have the (lack of?) common sense to solve all issues with throttle.
This story originally appeared in our August 2016 issue, which you can read in all its high-res glory here.