1997 KTM 620 Adventure
Paris - Dakar Rally Bike for the Masses

Cifu Motorsports Home / Motorcycles / 1997 KTM 620 Adventure

By now, it should be obvious that at Cifu Motorsports, we are huge fans of the Paris Dakar Rally. In fact my interest in sports is zero. I'm the guy at work who doesn't know who's playing in the Superbowl or the World Series. I don't watch the Olympics. I don't watch Nascar, the Indy 500 or any other motorsports event. I can even go to World Superbike weekend at Laguna Seca Raceway and spend the whole time walking around looking at bikes, never once watching a race. The above is 100% true...with one glaring exception: the Paris Dakar Rally. Every year, from the first few days in January, until it ends 18 days later, I am glued to my TV, every night, video taping and watching intently--don't bother me.

The year of 2003 was to find another Paris Dakar inspired bike in the shop. I've already criticized KTM for this on my Duke page but here it is again: they don't market their bikes very well. I didn't even know this bike existed until KTM showed up at the Los Angeles Motorcycle Show in 2000. At that point, the bike had been around for four years. In fact, AFTER buying THIS bike, I begged my local KTM dealer to get me the Acerbis Saddle Tanks that the Paris Dakar Rally racers use. She didn't know anything about them, what they looked like or where I could get them. Guess what? They're FACTORY KTM PARTS! Yup! Through digging around on the web, I first discovered that KTM PRODUCES the race bikes you see in the Dakar Rally. Yup, the KTM 660 Rally--a model that she also doesn't know about, how to get or how to get parts for. How hard can it be to buy a motorcycle or accessories for it? I have zero pity for a dealer that cries poverty when I'm standing there with my credit card in hand, wanting to buy something and they can't sell it to me due to their own ineptitude.

Okay, back to the bike. I'm in the middle of watching the race in January and I am pumped. The lead 5-8 bikes are all KTM and most of those are the single cylinder models. Curiosity gets the better of me and after one night's highlights, I go to the Cycle Trader Website to see what the going prices are. I'm not looking to buy--just curious. Like most of my bike stories, this was a bad choice. There were a number of them around the country for $4000-6000...and at the bottom of the list was ONE in Los Angeles for $3200. The next day, I called him. Without even asking, he came down on the price twice. It turned out that he was leaving town in a week and couldn't afford to move the bike with him. The bike had previously been in a minor street accident and had some battle damage. Nonetheless, I wanted it as a true adventure tourer so that didn't bother me. Before I bought it, I took a short test ride up and down the street. As I turned out onto the street and accelerated away I spontaneously yelled inside my helmet "I'm Fabrizio-freakin'-Meoni!!!" That 's it. I was sold.

Once home, my normal new-bike-teardown began. It turned out the triple clamp was slightly tweaked, the front disk was bent, the chain and sprockets were completely worn out and assorted other maintenance items were needed. Nothing too dramatic. I straightened the fork and disk, rebuilt numerous other parts and ordered a DID Gold chain and steel sprockets for her. It took a little more than a month to get her trail ready. The plan was for a trip through Death Valley with stops at Trona Pinnacles, Ballarat Ghost Town, Goler Wash, the Manson Ranch, Geologist's Cabin, Striped Butte Valley, etc. I've been wanting to do this trip for years and the big KTM seemed like the perfect partner. In mid March 2003, the Adventure and I took that trip.

The trip began early on a Saturday morning. The plan was to meet up with a 4wd club from work who was taking the Goler Wash entrance into Death Valley and planned to camp overnight somewhere enroute to Badwater road. I decided that I would ride in behind them, catch up, hang out with them for a few hours, then ride out to Furnace Creek Ranch for the night. Well, you know about the best laid plans of mice and men...

I got out ahead of the 4wd guys but I planned to stop at Garlock for pictures (seen at right) as well as Trona Pinnacles (also shown on the right). Garlock was on the road but Trona Pinnacles was about a 12 mile loop off the pavement. I spent about an hour in there taking pictures and I think that's when they got past me. Following the Pinnacles, I stopped at Ballarat Ghost Town before taking off on Goler Wash road. Unfortunately, I was about to discover the limitation of the big Adventure. The first three years of production brought the twin, low-pipe exhaust (just like the Rally bikes). In 1999, they went to the 'normal' LC4 high pipe exhaust.

You have to understand the Goler Wash entrance. It's a very narrow, rock canyon. The road is literally just the bedrock at the bottom. Winter flash floods alter the character of this canyon every year. Back in the 60s, it was good enough that Charles Manson and his crazies made it through here in a school bus! This day, I would be lucky to get the KTM through it at all. There was one particular rock-fall that featured an 18" ledge, followed by about 3 foot of run and another 12" ledge. You'd clear the first one with the front wheel but just as you needed to clear the second one, the rear would hit the first ledge and slam the front end down. It took me more than an hour to clear that one 25 foot section of trail. Eventually, I had to unload my luggage and just slam into it with enough energy that the bike would carry through. It did, but not before I cracked the bottom Y connector between the mufflers. I was not to discover this until 12 hours later on my way home.

Once through Mengle Pass, I started to enjoy things. The stock Metzeler Sahara 3 tires really perform well off road. Numerous times I was in deep sand and while it's no knobby, it still gave enough feedback and works great on the street--much happier with them on this bike than on my BMW (no doubt the result of being 100+ pounds lighter).

The picture of the Geologist's Cabin at the edge of Striped Butte Valley is very misleading. I took that picture with a fisheye lens. That rock outcropping in the background is about 1500 feet higher than the surrounding valley floor and striped with a myriad of colors. Truly an awesome sight.

As it turned out, Furnace Creek Ranch was in peak-season. They would not rent a room for one night: two night minimum and $175 per night--OUCH! Stovepipe wells was booked. Beatty was booked. I decided to just ride home. When I returned to pavement at Badwater road, I turned South and enjoyed the 'other half' of the big Adventure's flight-envelope. Winding up and down the mountain sides, I made my way out the south end of Death Valley. This photo was taken in Shoshone where I made my 'safe arrival' phone call. At this point, with no hotels available near the park, I rode home--425 total miles in one day: a third of that in the dirt.

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