> The Story of the XRL (so far).

Read here about the story so far, when it comes to my volatile relationship with this bike. Click your back button to go back.

The Set-Up

It was undeniably a good plan. Preparation is everything, so they say. I had the bike, and I'd been preparing it for the Big Trip for a good couple of months. I thought it was going well. With my track record, I should have seen a catastrophe coming, I really should.

Why not go to Spain and Portugal on a bit of a jaunt to test everything and make sure that any annoying issues became apparent? After all, they test in Formula 1 don't they? A "shake-down" run was just what the XR650L (and I) needed.

The bike had been immaculately behaved ever since I had bought it, with the exception of some head-bearings, a few oil changes and brake pads, and a little charging problem. Not bad. I was feeling cocky. I was even looking forward to being on the road, shaking off the stresses of making ends meet in London.

The First Mistake

Before I left for Spain (via the Poole-Cherbourg boat) I had fitted a race exhaust from an XR400R, which was about the size of a baked-bean can (stupid idea, if you were wondering). When I started the bike in London, children’s ears were bleeding in Liverpool. It was that loud that my tools were vibrating off the workbench on tickover! The popping and banging on the over-run was so bad that I decided to get the jetting all sorted with a Baja Designs kit before lift-off. No problem so far.

Scrapheap Challenge

Sensibly, I took it to a Dyno-centre where the air/fuel mix could be precisely tuned. Only there was a breakdown in communication of Herculean proportions. Think the fall of Rome, or Pompeii. When I went to collect the bike, there were several, erm, "issues". Such as a broken exhaust stud. Oh, and a stripped spark plug thread. And they'd had to take the engine out. And then they'd tuned it for power. Not torque and reliability. Hmmm. My lovely soft XRL was now bit more highly-strung than stock. As was I.

Moving On...

Still it wasn't the end of the world, and my sister's wedding was on the next day, 200 miles away. So I paid (ouch!) and drove away. The bike was a hoot to ride. Like upgrading from a beach mule to Shergar (before he went into hiding). The fuel consumption was outrageous - due to a 180 racing main jet - but I could live with that for the time being. Wedding went fabulously. The next day I packed all of my stuff, and set off, fresh and happy with my riding companion. By coincidence, he was also my Dad, riding his glossy Teutonic beast, an F650 Funduro.

To The Continent!

We got to Poole in a grey drag of Her Majesty's roads. No problem, but no thrills or excitement either. Trying to be thorough, we checked lights, tyre pressures etc in the ferry port. My Dad checked his oil - mine obviously didn't need checking, as I'd only had it back from the dealer for 48 hours, right?

Reader, if alarm bells aren't ringing for you now, they sure as hell should be.

Flying South

The first night abroad was in Brittany. We left through a hanging mist of drizzle between verdant meadows, travelling south to the sun, through Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux and Dax.

500 pleasant miles of trouble-free roads populated by laughing truckers and inquisitive back-seat kids. The Rance and Dordoigne, speeding towards scents of resin and sun, tarmac and hot soil.

Second stop was camping in les Landes, in the comforting shadow of the French foothills of the Pyrenees. Wild boar skipped across the road ahead of us, birds and butterflies flitted in the heat haze. People working in petrol stations and cafes were suntanned and friendly. There were fountains and good coffee. Ah, the life of a traveller?

Impressed am I.

I was amazed at how the bike handled, even bearing in mind the luggage. It didn't vibrate too much - partly due to Avon Distanzia tyres with no rimlocks - and was really comfortable for a long time. Covering distance was no problem, even in temperatures of nearly 40C. My XRL loved the twisty roads and gravelly hairpins, eating the F650 alive in that sort of terrain. In fact, the only comment I would make was that changing the front sprocket for a bit more road speed would have been a good idea.

Click for a larger version (350k)

There followed a relaxed day of cruising through the back-of-beyond Pyrenees, hunting for the most picturesque and undiscovered roads between A and B, before heading back to A for a spot of lunch. It was a great day, which saw us riding into Vittoria Gasteiz in mid-afternoon. We stopped for a look round, commented on the nice buildings and had a coffee and a bite before heading off on the Autovia, southeast towards the Picos de Europa mountains, and eventually Portugal.

Things Get Bad Kind of Interesting

Until something unusual happened. The bike spluttered, as though it was about to run out of fuel. I flicked the Rallye computer round to the trip - tank was nothing like empty for a long while yet. The bike regained its composure, and I wrote it off as a slight carb blockage, a bit of bad fuel or whatever. "One of those things". I pulled out to overtake a row of five or six 18-wheelers, and my Dad (who was riding behind me) said he saw the faintest little puff of white smoke from the exhaust. This was when my luck changed. Into an angry Pitbull with a bee up it's arse.

All hell broke loose - or more literally, the engine stopped doing what it was supposed to do. Again, it felt just like it was starved of fuel. But there was suddenly a black line on the road behind me, and I had slowed down quite a lot. The rear wheel had locked until I pulled in the clutch. I had no drive, and had to force my way with much arm-waving and beeping into the hard shoulder (all of 1m wide). I looked at the bike. My Dad looked at the bike. Passing traffic looked at the bike. Nothing appeared amiss - no oil from anywhere, didn't smell hot, no oil residue on the exhaust. Nothing. Except a bike that wouldn't turn over on the starter. I push-started it in 5th gear, and it was like hitting a brick wall.

Oh Boy. Big Trouble Now.

Completely seized. I now had two options - start to take it apart, or call the RAC. "Hello, is that EuropAssist?" When I'd finished on the phone, the local hick psychopath with a "Ute" showed up and took us into town, tying my bike down with a liberal sprinkling of Blu-Tack and dental floss.

Onwards, Upwards (deeply into the red).

> 3 days later we had an air-conditioned hire car and a fortnight in Portugal to kill.

> 4 weeks later and there was a seized XRL in my parent's garage.

> 6 months later and I was saving up to repair the damage, working nights and couriering.

> 1 year later and I'm nearly ready to set off again, after paying out lots. I'm broke again.

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