Category Archives: Project: BMW Xcountry

BMW G650 XCountry ~ 10,000 mile report

XCountry Index of Posts
Introduction
• Stage 1 mods
• Swapping the subframe
• X-tank and X-rack
• Suspension
• Tutoro chain  oiler
• Midsummer update
• The Spanish Plain
• Mitas E07 tyres

msu-70

The BMW 650X range came and went between 2007-08. They were light and powerful but early reliability issues as well as a high price saw the models sell poorly and then get dropped. After a pause which saw the 800cc parallel twins make their mark, within a couple of years the lardy Sertao and later G650G reset things back to the pre X-bike F650s in terms of weight and performance. Some people think that was a shame.

bmw-650x-series

The bikes from Planet X were a one hit wonder and you get the feeling that the X range – helped in no small way by Walter Colebatch’s extensive Siberian travels and associated development of his XChallenge – might be turning into a cult travel bike, not least due to their limited availability. There’s more on the history of X on the XCo intro index page.

My plans for my XCountry were to run it on a couple of Moroccan tours and maybe take the bike deeper into Mauritania. The later part didn’t pan out this year, but over ten months I racked up 10,000 miles, including 4000 to Morocco and back. I sold it at 16,000 miles.

mitaspiste
Photo: David W

My XCo set up
Soon after buying it I adapted my X bike as follows (see intro index page for more details on fitting these accessories).

  • xco-bishbashUsed Touratech bash plate (right)
  • Used Barkbuster Storms
  • Used Spitfire screen (right)
  • Full width KTM wheel nuts (right)
  • Throttle handrest
  • Used Yamaha steel shifterxco-shield
  • Assembled a used tool kit from ebay
  • Added a 12v accessory plug on the bars and a DIN plug under the seat for the air pump (Later discovered OE accessory plug near the shock top)
  • Replaced alloy subframe with steel unit off a MkII XCoxco-nuts
  • Hyperpro 3D shock and progressive HP fork springs and oil change
  • Hot Rod Welding Xrack and Xtank
  • Hot Rod brake/sidestand protectors (right)
  • Adv Spec Magadan II Bagsxco-protek
  • Booster plug (fuel mixture improver)
  • Used RAM mounts on the bars
  • Mitas E-07 tyres
  • Tuturo chain luber
  • Wunderlich fender extension
  • Used Touratech sidestand foot
xco-footer

All those items I’d fit again without hesitation except maybe the TT side stand plate which fell off in Morocco as I was warned it might. I spotted a better, vibration-proof solution (right) while at Hyperpro. Not totally won over by the Booster plug, but if it runs cooler (richer) and hardly affects mpg then probably worth it.

Comfort
When I first sat on the bike I was surprised how small and short it felt and wondered if this might affect comfort. I dare say I may look big on it if I saw myself reflected in a shop window, but at 6′ 1′ and ~92 kilos the XCo proved to be much more comfortable than it looked. By the time I sold it, 700-km days in winter didn’t mean flopping onto a hotel bed exhausted.

Soon after buying it I refitted the small and cheap Spitfire screen from my CRF. There are doubtless better and flashier windshields, but the Spitfire did a brilliant job in keeping most of the wind blast and rain off me. It did this without introducing any handling anomalies at high speeds or in strong winds, nor feeling like it was in the way when riding technical dirt. Fitted on just a pair of stalks clamped to the bars, it didn’t ever budge in all that time. I may well fit it to my next bike.
Following a trip to Scotland, at round 8- or 9000 miles it felt like the foam in the seat had collapsed a little and the pad was less springy. However, that didn’t have any effect on long-day back-end comfort which suggests the shape and profile of the seat works as well as the foam in it. I came off a 750-km day in Spain with no soreness in the limbs or my butt, even if getting off to refuel every 2–3 hours revives the circulation. I also suspect leather trousers – or perhaps any fabric that doesn’t slip on the seat vinyl – extends posterior endurance. This whole experience was the opposite of the crippling seat pf the F650 twin I ran on a similar trip a couple of years ago.
Vibration at cruising speeds was never intrusive, though as with all big singles I’ve had, air-cooled or otherwise, some days at some speeds or engine or ambient temperature or load or fuel quality it feels harsh. I’ve never got to the bottom of it, but as it’s common to big singles it must just be the way they are. My main theory is fuel octane and overall engine temperature.
I bought some Wunderlich bar risers but never got round to fitting them. I had a feeling the added leverage on the rubbery bar mounts might not do them any good. On the dirt in Morocco I was a little stooped when standing up, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Had I also fitted the Hot Rod footrest lowering brackets I would have had a very comfortable standing stance, though I can’t say my legs felt cramped during regular seated riding. Part of the reason was I suspected that lowering the gear lever and brake lever may have been a faff and made them more exposed to damage on the dirt. As it is, on the dirt I tend to sit when I can and stand when I must. The Hyperpro suspension went a long way towards enabling such lazy riding.
The OE cast-alloy gear change lever is light but too strong and is said to transmit shocks to the gear shaft rather than bend. I fitted a folding-tipped steel gear change lever from some Yamaha or other. Although it was identical to the OE unit, it never felt in a natural position for easy gear changes, though the long throw of the clunky gear change doesn’t help.
Although they’ve been around for years I’ve never used a throttle hand rest (or whatever they’re called) but this XCo really benefited from one. The throttle spring must unusually hard. Other’s who rode the bike also commented on the handy hard rest which can be spun out of the way in a jiffy when off-road.

xco-shifter

Fuel economy and Booster Plug
Like my Tenere which I ran over similar mileage and use, the fuel consumption on the XCo varied for not always obvious reasons. Twenty four fill ups before the Booster Plug saw an average of 70.5mpg. Worst was 53mpg (18.8 kpl) – the only reading below 60mpg so may have been a miscalculation. The best was 79mpg (27.5 kpl) with a few others in the high 70s, so probably not an error.

boosterai

With the Booster Plug (~£100, right) I expected slightly worst readings: the average was 67.2 with a low of 56.5 in mid-Spain cruising at up to 70mph (on under inflated tyres, it turned out) and 80.5mpg over the Tizi n Tichka pass in Morocco (the same place my Tenere recorded a similarly high mpg one night). Reading the ambient temperature below the headlight and not in the air box, they say the Booster increases (richness) fuelling on acceleration but levels off back to normal settings at cruising speeds. If Morocco could be said to be less cruising and more accelerating on and off the piste, the lower average is less bad than it looks.

xco-dww

To double-check and to see if I could feel any difference, I unplugged the Booster on the way back. Within a couple of miles tooling round a small Spanish hill town looking an ATM, I’d stalled a couple of times at low speeds; never did that with the Plug. And later, pulling off the motorway to do something, the fan soon came on. The bike was running a little hotter as expected, but two fill ups saw an all time low of 56.5 and 54mpg for no good reason. Can’t think why that was unless the ECU mapping had adjusted to the Booster settings and was over compensating. Apart from the stalling and possibly mpg, I can’t say I detected any genuine difference with the Plug while riding the bike. I replugged the Plug in north Spain. Next mpg was 61.5 – less abnormal.

xtank2

As is well-known the X bikes come with a 9L tank giving a range of 150 miles/250km -too small to be useful. The 6.7-L Xtank increased this to a comfortable 370 clicks/230 miles at average mpg.
After fitting the Xtank, a couple of times I got outlandishly high readings of over 100mpg when filling only the Xtank which I assumed emptied before the BMW tank. On the second occasion I realised that with both tanks full, the bike probably initially draws some fuel from both tanks, but definitely drains the Xtank first.

BMW Xcountry fuel data

So overall the X bike’s average fuel consumption was identical to the F650 twin at 68.3 mpg, and about 5% less than the XT660Z Tenere while being a lighter, lower and more powerful machine (Had I meddled with a similar Booster on the XT it too may have used more fuel.) Click Esso for Xcountry fuel data pdf.

Oil and water consumption; drive chain
I changed the oil to fully synthetic at around 10,000 miles and used about 1.5 litres on the 5000-mile Moroccan run – more than a Tenere, iirc. I was told the bike might consume more oil using fully synthetic. But the bike also felt like it ran better by this mileage, though that may have been the more open, day-long steady riding doing the engine some good. It sure would have been handy if they’d designed the dip stick to be more accessible without removing the seat. And I never really got the whole oil level business: run it till the fan turns on, then walk round the bike three times, turn off and wait two minutes. I’m sure previous dry sump bikes weren’t so fussy (actually they were). Good thing is it’s an oil tank and so has more leeway for running low than a wet sump engine.

One hot summer’s day in London I noticed the coolant level down an inch – it may have been that way for ages. Again, it’s hard to tell the level without carefully peering in the slot. Once I topped it up it never went down again. I’d heard of X bikes suffering mysterious episodes of coolant drop with no actual leaks. The bike will get hot and the fan come on in town or on slow tracks with a backwind, but the fuelling never went off in such conditions, as it did with the F650GS twin in Morocco.

With help from the Tutoro oiler from about 7000 miles, I only adjusted the chain twice in all the time I had the bike and when I sold it at 16k, there was still had plenty in it. Was it these bikes that had chain problems when they came out? Whatever’s on there now is as good as anything.

msu-40

Performance
The XCo was one of the most powerful 650s around. I imagine a KTM 690 has more poke (but closer gearing?) and the Husky TR650 I rode last gear has five extra hp and certainly sounded more sporty but carried proportionally more weight. There are times on technical dirt when the X power feels too much with the hot engine and pokey response, but of course there are as many other occasions when you blast past a vehicle with assurance. This extra power didn’t seem to affect the fuel consumption or chain and tyre wear, but does make the engine harsher and lumpier than say a Tenere or a docile Sertao/G650G. The fastest I ever went was a true 85mph, briefly. The Xco was happy to sit at a true 65-70mph (75 indicated).

The brakes feel pretty ordinary but there was only a small single disc up front. The front pads were going by the time I sold the bike so lasted at least the 10,000 miles I had the bike, maybe more. The back wore very quickly – at 9000 miles they were gone and I didn’t notice till I damaged the disc. A used rotor off ebay.de was £30. ABS works fine. I never had to rely on it on the road and on the dirt it could be forced to actuate, but in a useful way. I don’t see the need to turn off ABS for the sort of dirt riding I do.

Suspension
On the road, initially the OE suspension felt pretty good and firm compared to Jap bikes and considered it had been a BMW Off Road School bike. Best thing was the easy-to-use knob on the Sachs shock though on the front the UPD forks are unadjustable.
But what works OK riding UK roads may come up short loaded on the piste. After just a couple of thousand miles the rear Sachs gave out no matter how high I cranked the knob. Various options existed to re-spring the back end including rebuilding the Sachs unit for about £120 while maybe adding a firmer or progressive spring. That’s probably the route I’d have taken but for an intro from Walter Colebatch to Hyperpro suspension in the Netherlands. I rode over and got the full custom set up from Bas at the HP workshop. The full story is here but there are more or less three levels of shock: a progressive spring replacement; an emulsion shock and spring; and the full-on gas-charged, remote reservoir, preload, compression and rebound adjustable version.

P1150379

That was what Bas did for me, along with a fork oil and progressive fork spring replacement, chrome slider polish and neoprene gaiters plus a new headset which had gone in an incredible 7000 miles?!
It was only months later when I experienced the real benefits of the custom Hyperpro set up while battling with five other bikes over an abandoned old track up the Jebel Timouka in southern Morocco. The difference is control: correctly tuned suspension responding predictably to riding over football-sized rock cubes without bottoming out. Although the Desert Riders Honda XRL was notably better sprung than the XTs I’d used up till then, I’ve never had the luxury of a properly suspended machine. And certainly on the dirt I can now see the value.

hebs8

I bought a chunky and adjustable 48mm DRZ400 fork (right) but never got round to fitting it so assumed the reworked OE UPDs would be ill-matched with the full-on 461 back shocker. But over the Jebel and on other tracks the fork responded predictably and the whole bike felt well-balanced. At the bottom of this must be the progressive springing front and rear and the shock’s adjustable damping. Progressive is nothing unique to Hyperpro but it works in using the near-full range of movement without bottoming out. That and the hydraulic preload adjuster knob similar to the OE Sachs made the shock very useful. The settings for compression and rebound damping on the remote reservoir I didn’t touch. The Hyperpro set up transformed the XCo on the piste and I’ll get one or something similar for the next bike.

Road riding
With its do-it-all 19” front wheel, the bike swings predictably through bends compared to the more dirtsome 21″. After a few months the front end developed a heavy feel which I put down to the weight of the gear (rack, screen, plate, etc) I’d fitted. Turns out it was just the tyres and on replacing the worn Tourances which came with the bike with more dirt-ready Mitas E-07s the bike was entirely transformed in the bends – maybe even  better than when I bought it. I won’t be in a rush to buy Tourances – not the sort of tyre I use anyway – though by this time I had the Hyperpro set up which probably didn’t do any harm to the handling.
The XCo was notably better – lower C of G – than the XT660Z on the road, though not as low and long and stable as the F650GS twin. And the XCountry was a lot less scary than the Tenere in gale force crosswinds too.
In town the worst thing about this bike is the clunky gear change, especially from neutral into first. Add to that the length of the throw needed. Trying out an XR250 Tornado in Morocco was snick-snick-snick and this unobtrusiveness to something you may be doing every few seconds makes a real difference to riding enjoyment.

Off road riding

Photo Chris W
Photo Chris W

Off roading in Morocco mostly involves rocky or gravel tracks, and while not TKCs, the Mitas E-07s did the job without any drama at full road pressures. Add to that the top-notch suspension and the XCo – loaded with maybe 15-20kg – never got out of shape on the dirt. I never came close to falling off and rode some gnarly shite on occasions.
Like all trail bikes, the gearing is too high and especially on the 650X, too widely spaced for technical off-roading. You just can’t go slowly enough at tickover in first gear which at times was too fast to negotiate some hairpins or rubble sections. The clutch worked hard on Jebel Timouka but with frequent rests for bike and rider, it never complained. I can’t say I missed a 21-inch front wheel on the dirt – that only comes in to play if the bike is usefully light and agile. I’m 6′ 1″ and the XCo was easily low enough to get my feet on the ground when necessary. I didn’t have a single hit to the bashplate. Again, I put that down to the progressive springs.

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Even at £450 I didn’t hesitate in replacing the OE alloy subframe with the steel version from the Mk2 XCo (right). having said that  it’s unlikely my Morocco trip would have stressed the alloy item. As on my Tenere, this is one part of a travel bike where I don’t resent the extra weight.
On the side the Hot Rod Welding Xrack gave the Magadans something to lash to and I especially like the wide ‘sheep rack’ design at the back (Walter C’s idea – right). I know it’s not the latest in adv bling, but a wide back rack made of good old-fashioned tubular steel is much more useful than the mini CNC plates you get these days, especially when it comes to manhandling the bike or even just tying things on. CNC is just flash and quick/cheap to cut. On my next bike I hope to adapt a Hod Rod sheep rack.

xco-speedo

Equipment
The dashboard is about as basic as they get – just the speed reading (can be changed to kph with a bit of a faff disconnecting the battery) and a trip or odometre plus an array of colourful warning lights. I would have liked an oil or water temp gauge but didn’t go as far as fitting my Trail Tech gadget. A fuel light comes on with about 2 litres or 40km left in the main tank.
The speedo was typically 8% over compared to a GPS read-out, but the odometer (used for mpg calcs) was spot on over 100 true ground kilometres. No tools came with the bike and even if they had, they’re probably not enough to be useful, as is the trend these days.

Durability and problems
With BMW’s reputation of late, initially I didn’t feel so confident in this bike. Using it as a tour support vehicle you can’t take chances. One time in Wales the ignition didn’t come on with the key, but switching on and off again fixed that and it never happened again. When did that last happen with a Jap bike? The coolant level drop proved to be a one-off anomaly and in fact the XCo took its month and 4000 miles in Morocco in its stride.
I sold that bike feeling a lot more confident about it than when I bought it. A better gear change and smoother running would have made it much easier to live with, but the answer to that may be just round the corner.

xco-cw-draa
“You go first.” “No, no, after you, I insist.” Photo: Chris W

Morocco gallery

Click this for the long version with captions

Want to do it in 2015? Click this

 The rest of the photos are here

BMW XCountry – On the Spanish Plain

bullToday the XCo was humming away like a generator, covering 760 clicks of deserted dual carriageway and Autovia strung out in an arc between Madrid and the Portuguese border. All at a 95kph average but never exceeding 110. A week ago I was bracing against deeply unnerving gales in northern Scotland. Today it was the easiest 470 miles I’ve ridden since I came back this way from Morocco  on the F650 twin a couple of years ago. No wonder Spain went bust – they spent it all on great roads and I passed more unfinished. They say motorways are boring, but they’re also free of any ‘sorry-mate-I didn’t-see-you’ perils and so quite restful if the bike is comfy and the weather fine.

It’s good to be reminded what it’s like to leave for distant lands, even if it’s only Morocco. All the usual anxieties flit about, then – with years of doing this under your belt – you relax until the next challenge and the one after that. And so it could go all the way to Cape Town or Vladivostok. Gaining confidence with each new hurdle as you master the game with satisfaction, energised by the newness of things. It’s what they call adventure motorcycling.

The fuel consumption has taken a hit – down to 20kpl or 56.5mpg – nearly the X bike’s lowest ever figure. But that’s the only way to eat the miles if I’m to be in Marrakech by Tuesday. Partly this may be down to the fuel richening booster plug I fitted at the start of the summer, though I realised the the tyres were a bit low. I won’t begrudge the engine-cooling properties of a richer fuel mixture down in Morocco, but when I come back in December I’ll temporarily unplug it and see if I can detect the slightly harsher engine response along with better fuel consumption.

As always I fail to get into Spain, and I’ve been trying long enough. This time I’m on a mission, but over the years I’ve taken various cross-country routes looking for something arresting. But it’s the same old high plains – farmed or grazed and interspersed with higher ranges or deeper valleys. What few towns and villages there are tightly clustered around a hilltop church. Ride in and no one’s around.

a4I’m reading a book about an 18-year-old Scottish anarchist who came here in the 1960s with a bomb in his backpack to do in Franco. He found something arresting all right. Lucky not to be executed or simply disappeared as 1000s of others were, he got 20 years but was out in three and seemingly had a great time in jail advancing his political education. Ironically back then prison was the only place in Spain where people could talk freely away from the secret police. They’d already been caught. Our man was sorry to say goodbye to the inmates. Less Midnight Express – more Express Checkout.
Perhaps in Spain it’s the people more than the land that give the place its appeal – not something you’ll encounter averaging 95 clicks to an hour. But right now with a Euro 25 to a pound, Spain is as cheap as ever. Did the acute financial collapse here bear down on prices? Two lip-smacking coffees, big bun and a fresh OJ – 2 quid por favor. Overnight hostal around £25. Fuel about 20% less than the UK. And at a balmy 20 degrees plus few tourists to be seen, big bike touring here right now could be a treat.

Another interesting X-factoid for you. Using a satnav reveals the speedo is about 8% over – you’re not going quite as fast as you think. But today I finally got round to calibrating the odometer against the roadside PKs which are accurate to within ambient thermal tolerances (and more accurate than a GPS for this task). It’s how you establish your true mpg and so, range. Over 180kms the odometer was just 3 miles out, reading 109 for the 112 miles I actually covered. It makes you think if they can get it that accurate, the over-reading speedo must be deliberate and factory set just within the (UK) legally allowed error of 10%. So you always think your bike is a tad faster than it is.

hs1The big question is how will the X machine manage Morocco’s rocky pistes. Somehow I’m not convinced it will be an improvement over the rorty 21-inch Husky Terra I used last year. I had a blast on that bike – same engine and power, near enough – but as heavy as my modified X bike is now.
As always the compromise is in the getting there as well as the being there. I’m just about to cross from one to the other.

Mitas E-07 tyres on BMW G650 Xco

mitai

With so many good tyres around these days, for each trip I try to use something different. For me that’s usually a trail tyre for the getting there and being there (Morocco in November). So far, in terms of all-surface grip and longevity, it’s hard to beat the Heidenau K60s I used a couple of years ago. Someone told me recently that Heidenau is the modern iteration of the notorious Pneumant East German brand from the 1970 and 80s. Many a prematurely grey MZ rider will know what I’m talking about.

This time round I’m trying the similar, Czech-made Mitas E-07. Front and rear delivered to the middle of nowhere for under £100 a pair. That will do nicely. In the Mitas  range you could say it’s the trail bike tyre out of the four pictured above left. I did consider the 09, but it’s a long winter’s ride to Morocco and once there, on dry rock pretty much any tyre will do. Knobs only help on the occasional loose surface like sand. I’d like to try an 09 one time to compare with the much admired but fast wearing TKC80.

mitas2

Getting the old Tourances off proved the usual struggle. The Mrs had to drive repeatedly over the tyre to break the bead that it had me convinced there was some annoying, tubeless-style safety lip in there. Far from it, so you do wonder how you’d manage alone out in the desert. It’s why I prefer tubeless with Slime. The less need for lever swinging the better.

mitas-lever

But when there’s no choice I’ve found tyre mounting is greatly eased with a pair of 350-mm Italian Buzzetti Pro tyre levers. I’ve had my pair for years, as well as a little BMW number which is so old it says ‘Made in W. Germany’. Quality steel means both can be as narrow and thin as possible to help tuck under the bead without bending. In the UK this place in Buxton sells then for about £11 each.
The other thing I discovered recently is using Aerospace 303 as lube. It’s actually a UV vinyl/rubber protectorant I use on my kayaks, but lubes up nicely. Anything will do of course, but once dried 303 gives a teflon-like slipperiness, rather than an oily or soapy film. Next time I’ll pre-spray the beads and the rim and let them dry – less wasteful that way. The blue things in the picture are home-made rim savers (bits of thick split garden hose), though they work best when removing a tyre. Going the other way, there’s a risk of them being pulled into the tyre. That will not do nicely.

mitass1

Despite all this superb equipment, a task that requires some application can produce a hasty ‘right, let me at ’em’ attitude – or perhaps that’s just me. So much so that I fitted the front against the recommended rotational arrow. It’s not that critical unless I start pulling stopies for a living, though the tread pattern may wear better (i.e.: cup less) in the correct direction. And on the back I failed to give the tube a few psi to give it some shape so as to clear the levers – with predictable results. Oh well, all good practice which I clearly need. AdvSpec were doing Conti tubes for under £11 a shot.
It does remind me that familiarising yourself with the whole wheel-removal/tyre changing/wheel refitting business back home can save a lot of stress on the road. When you’ve done it once in the back garden (however much of a mess you made of it), you know you can do it again and are familiar with any required knacks or order-specific procedures unique to your bike.

mitas5

Even with the 303 all over the front, it took a lot of pressurising/deflating/lubing/a run round the block and more repressurising up to 75psi to get it to sit fully. With that done it was time to do the 50-mile round trip to the shops as the larder was looking as bare as my old Metzelers.

Most of that run is a bendy single track road between mountain and loch (left) with plenty of hard breaking into pull-outs to dodge oncoming traffic. With the new E07s the XCountry was transformed, reminding me how it ran when I picked it up less than nine months and a surprising 4000 miles ago. Where have I been? Since that time the bike has acquired a lardiness which I put down to the 10-15kg of extras I’ve fitted. Including a steel subframe it adds up to 10% extra weight. The front end especially felt heavy, even after a Hyperpro make-over.

Seems it was only the worn down Tourance after all. Now that both tyres have round profiles, the 650 swung along that narrow road as if on rails. Cornering confidence was much improved and there was none of the new-tyre edginess that the ‘Catspaw’ K60 initially demonstrated on the BMW twin. Far from it; it just encourages you to push on towards the new limits. I did feel a bit of headshake at 70, but that could have been the strong crosswinds, the surface, the screen or just the fresh tread.

mitass6

I imagine the chevron-bar ‘tractor’ pattern will work well enough on gravel, letting the tyres roll off small stones which will fall between the tread’s bars. In mud I’m not expecting miracles unless I drop pressures substantially. The depth of the centre tread – about 6mm front and back – seems less than the K60s. We’ll see how it performs on the road to Morocco where, as long as it was dry and you rode accordingly, last year’s Husky TR650 managed pretty well on the Dunlop Trailmax tyres. I expect the Mitas to be a bit more sure-footed on the pistes.

mitas-f5k
mitas-r5k

Three months later
Back from Morocco, Xco sold and as expected, I’m a convert to the Mitas E-07s. Sure-footed on the road, rain or dry, and for the way I ride, fine enough on the piste at road pressure. No weird edginess when running in, rarely made any road noise that I could hear and about half worn at 5000 miles (pix left and right) after a lot of fast road and a few rough stony tracks.

mitaspiste

Reviewed: Tutoro and other chain oilers

Updated Summer 2020

Although I haven’t scoured the internet to establish
every possible alternative, to me the Tutoro auto luber is all you need to get
the job done at a reasonable price
and without unnecessary complication and.

scrub

It’s not sprocket science
Even if your bike has a centre stand, some sort of automatic chain oiler is the best way to keep you chain lightly lubed all the time if you do a lot or riding. On the long road a bulky aerosol will eventually run out and while brushing on manually (left), is as good if not better, it’s a faff to do regularly. Sealed-ring chains are amazingly durable, but that range can easily be doubled if they’re coated in a near-constant film of oil, and cleaned once in a while.

tur-scottoi

Scottoilers have been around since I started biking – or so it feels – but I never bought into their idea of plumbing the unit into the carb vacuum, or these days, using electronics. Why complicate things, it’s just an oil dripper? Do you really need a £240 piece of kit including a digital read-out on ambient temps and G-force (left), when you can make your own crude manual oiler with a squeezy bottle and a tube? Fit-and-forget automation is great of course, but I prefer an autonomous set up which, should it pack up up the Khyber, will be independent of other bike systems. It’s one less thing to eliminate when fault finding.

tur-osco1

At Hyperpro one time I saw an 650Xcountry with the Dutch Osco system. It’s a stand-alone unit  tik  but turned out to be a manual, ‘actuate-the-plunger-once-in-a-while’ operation (see instructions below right) cros. Way too much faffing to remember at the end of a long ride.
At less than 20 quid, the Loobman is another manually actuated dispenser of chain oil which, for that price, is probably less hassle than making your own. But the word seems to be that Loobs don’t survive rugged riding and there’s the problem with all manual oilers: remembering to use them regularly or forgetting they’re on and losing all the oil/making a mess.

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turtauto

A bit of research led me to Tutoro oilers who’ve come up with the best solution to motion-actuated and adjustable chain oiling at a reasonable price, as well as offering manual drippers costing little more than a Loobman.
The auto Tutoro (left) uses a finely balanced weight which moves up and down a stem, reacting to the movement of the bike and pumping or releasing oil as it goes. It might well resemble the ‘triple-axis accelerometer’ that Scott mention on their e-oilers, but without all the electronics. The Tutoro uses the free kinetic energy of your moving bike. Set the reservoir’s drip dial (reachable on the move) at whatever level is needed to oil the chain. If it starts raining maybe turn the wick up. Heading for the desert sands? Shut off the drip valve. Other than that, you don’t have to remember to do anything: when the bike’s at rest the plunger weight blocks flow – no drips. Once on the move again the bike’s motion and road irregularities will set it off. Simple and ingenious.

jacko

The Auto Delux edition I was sent came with a 100mm x 45mm reservoir (above left), delivery hose, a variety of reservoir mounting brackets, a forked nozzle, zip ties and cable guides, the helix flexible tube, a small top up can and 500 mil of Tuturo oil. And this is not just any oil, this is a lushly blended, thick and sticky blue goo, just like you get from the best spray cans.
They now offer two weights of oil, depending on ambient temperatures in your locality. And if you run out, Tutoro specifically advise mineral hydraulic oil (example right). I bet you’ll find that cheap anywhere where there are cars or machines. Other stuff like ATF, EP gearbox oil, or any oil with additives may degrade the unit’s plastic and acrylic parts (but are all fine for the chain, as is waste motor oil).

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Fitting the oiler
I fitted mine on the pavement in a bit of a rush, while at a Touratech travel event. On my GS650X there was a way of routing the hose neatly in and out of holes in the swing arm, but that looked a bit tricky to pull off in my situation. With just the zip ties, the reservoir was easily fitted to a bolt on the subframe down tube: out of the way but easy to reach and about 20° off vertical which is probably outside recommended operational limits, but worked OK for me. Vertical is best, even taking into account your typical 11-12° sidestand lean. The hose ran along the outside of the swingarm using stick-on hose clips (below). I thought they would be vulnerable off road (a slab of gorilla tape over the hose may help), but months of riding later, including Morocco and back and everything remained intact.

On the road
Some Tuturos come with a rubber forked nozzle which I thought was to get the drips close to the o-rings on either side of the chain.  I guessed wrong. Due to unavoidable chainslap, my nozzle got damaged almost straight away (right). Had I seen this later video, I’d have seen the forked nozzle is supposed to ‘bite’ either side of the sprocket at ‘3 o’clock’ (left) and well out of the way of the slapping chain. From here the oil gets thrown out onto the chain. No matter; it’s only a bit of hose dripping oil. Zip-tied to the chain guard, I repositioned my single hose feed at the back of the lower chain run, just as it goes onto the sprocket (the place they tell you to spray a chain). Tutoro say a single feed is as effective but a bit more wasteful at lubing the chain than forked, and there’s nothing to get damaged or pulled off.

Setting the feed dial positioned at the bottom of the reservoir took some experimenting, or it’s quite possible that again, I didn’t rtfm. I didn’t bother priming the unit and just left the valve wide open to let it happen on the road. From Touratech I set off north for a early morning ride through mid-Wales and forgot all about the oiler until fuelling up in north Wales. Here I noticed the reservoir was empty, oil was all over the back wheel and the chain glistened like an eel that had just stepped out of a steaming shower. With enough lube on the chain to last a few days, I shut it off then forgot all about it again as I rode up to northwest Scotland and then rode back home to London via the Outer Hebrides.
Over the weeks and months, I’ve settled on about one turn out from fully closed; perhaps a bit more in chilly conditions.

motobriiz
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Lately I came across Motobriiz (right; $92) which similarly uses motion-actuated automation: this time wind pressure off an intake tube pushing oil out of a reservoir down another tube and into a felt pad tucked under the chain on the slider. There are no moving parts at all.
In the US one time I was offered a kit by a distributor, but wasn’t convinced the way they do it was that much better than Tutoro. The best thing is that, like some Scottoilers, the reservoir mounts on its side and out of the way and under the seat (but also where it’s easily forgotten about). Less good is the oil-soaked felt pad you glue to the chain slider needs regular replacement. Plus I have to say I’m not fully sold on the wind idea – won’t riding fast into a headwind prematurely empty the tank? I prefer the Tutoro’s adjustable valve.
All the ideas gadgets on this page are better than no oiling and less faff that manual application, but for me Tutoro’s simplicity combined with mechanical fit-and-forget ‘autonomous motion-actuation’ works best. And compared to the other products mentioned above, I think they’re a bargain.

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Update after Morocco with XSR
The benefits of a chain oiler are greatest on a long trip covering big mileages. A bulky aerosol won’t last and you don’t have to prop up your bike and get on your knees every morning to give the chain a squirt. I topped up my Tutoro and left for Morocco with a 200ml bottle of oil.
All went well until I had to give someone a lift off a mountain pass one evening when things turned a bit epic. Because there were no pillion footrests on my Xbike, her feet flailed around and knocked the reservoir about, losing its cap and contents. A flush out with petrol and an oil bottle cap with a bit of inner tube worked for the rest of the trip. That’s what I mean about simple, in-the-field repairability. I came back with Morocco with the reservoir half full.
I adjusted the BMW chain twice in the 10,000 miles I had the bike (8000 miles with the oiler). The chain looked like is has 1000s of miles left in it.
Pictured left is the same type of unit fitted with a little more know-how to my Kawasaki Versys. I then took the unit off that bike and put it on the CB500X (above left) and fitted what bits I had lying around to my XSR700 Scrambler.

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I should have remembered that the anchor plate or helix they offer are both useful devices to keep the forked nozzle in position, biting the sprocket at ‘7 o’clock’, especially on rough roads and tracks. Tbh, I expected a stone to knock off my nozzle much sooner than it did.

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Instead, the hammering regularly twisted the nozzle arms out of position on their forked mount attached to the delivery hose, and by the end of my third lap one nozzle arm was MiA. I plugged it up with a twig and pointed the remaining ‘single feed’ nozzle arm onto the chain (below). If the forked nozzle was a single piece, this would not be a problem.
I’ve since ordered the anchor plate which I used on my CB500X RR and fitted it in with a strip of inner tube (the supplied zip ties didn’t stay in place on my tapering swingarm). That’s about all there is to say on the subject.

tutbandy