This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Dirt Rider.
It’s five days until the Rattlesnake National Enduro in Pennsylvania, and Mike Lafferty is desperately trying to get in touch with Quinn Cody, KTM’s rally ace and newly appointed “Adventure Ambassador.” Mike is getting ready to compete in national competition for the first time since retiring from professional racing at the end of the 2014 season, and the eight-time National Enduro Champion is getting nervous. The catch? He’ll be riding one of the most technical courses of the National Enduro circuit on KTM’s 1090 Adventure R model—a big V-twin that’s some 250 pounds heavier and has twice the cylinders as the factory 400 Mike last raced at a national, and Quinn has information Mike is looking for. Quinn and New Zealander Chris Birch were both preparing identical 1090Rs to ride in the Iron Man class at the upcoming Romaniacs Hard Enduro (Birch had recently competed on a similar 1090 Adventure R model in the Hellas Rally in Greece), and Mike is hoping to glean whatever information he can on modifications the two had made to adapt the 1090R to tighter, more technical trail.
A few days later, Mike was able to talk to Quinn, and he got the information he needed.
“I knew Quinn and Chris were racing Romaniacs on the 1090, and I’ve been riding it in some pretty extreme conditions at some of the dual-sport rides I do, so I just decided to take it to the next level and race it in a National Enduro,” Lafferty said when he revealed his plan to Dirt Rider over the phone. “I’m a little nervous, but it’s that normal nervousness you get before a race and I haven’t felt that in a long time. The 1090 is a big bike, but now that I’ve set it up for racing, it’s not going to be as difficult as I thought. The number one thing I’ve got to keep telling myself is I want to get to the finish. I definitely want to get to the end.”
According to Mike, the purpose for KTM’s Ambassador Program that he’s also a part of is to encourage people to be more adventurous with the Adventure bikes. “Right now, it seems it’s such a West Coast-based thing, and that’s why I picked Pennsylvania. I wanted to ride something back East,” Mike told us. “I want people to see what you can do with one of these. It’s an adventure bike, and there isn’t a place I have found that I can’t take it. That’s what I’m trying to prove.”
When we met up with Mike at the race, he went over the major modifications with us.
“The main things we did were we beefed up the fork, softened the shock, changed mufflers, and put on a smaller wheelset with narrower rims on so I could run Dunlop AT81s with mousses,” Mike said. “The guys at WP in California stiffened up the suspension a little bit for me before they shipped it, just because of the conditions I was going to be riding and the speed. We went one size stiffer with the spring rate in the fork and added a bit more oil. They also made a few valving changes, just to give it a little bit more control. On the rear shock the spring is the same. They just changed up the valving a little. It’s a little stiff in stock trim, so they loosened it up a little bit more so it’s a little softer.
“Additionally, I removed a few things like the buddy pegs and the brackets for the saddlebags, but the other big change was switching to the Akrapovic exhaust from the Super Duke 1290, which is smaller and lighter.
“Also, I’m afraid of punctures so I wanted to run a mousse, which is why I went with a narrower wheelset so I could run a Dunlop AT81 [Mike ran an AT81 RC on the rear, which has a tougher carcass]. The wheelsets are available through KTM Power Parts, as are most of the things I added.
“For the gearing I went down one tooth in the front from 17/42 to a 16/45. But performance-wise, everything is stock except for the exhaust. Lastly, I replaced the stock seat with a narrower one from Seat Concepts, just to give the bike a narrower profile.”
Topping off the mod list are removing the rear fender section, a BT skid plate, PHDS handlebar clamps, and a lower Fat Bar plus hand guards from the Power Parts catalog.
The all-day rain on Saturday made an already tough and technical course a very slippery one too. The fact that Mike was riding from row 51 didn’t help, as the ruts would be pretty deep by the time he got to them. Slippery roots were getting exposed as well. Just to finish this year’s Rattlesnake would be a major feat on an adventure bike.
At the end of the day, Mike finished 19th in the Pro division, and after the race he assessed his performance.
“At the start, I made the mistake of forgetting to turn off the traction control, so I wasn’t able to spin the rear wheel, so I had to stop and turn that off. And once I got going, I kind of over-rode it a little bit too much. The first test wasn’t the greatest, just because it was so hard to get into a rhythm with that thing, and the track was so beat up, so I’m like, ‘Man, this is going to be a long day.’ But from there on out, it got better. I think the course got better and then I started to ride it a little bit differently. You have to stand up and let it do its own thing and really exaggerate your body motions, forward and backward. From there on out, it got easy.”
During the race, you could hear Mike coming from a distance, not so much because of the engine noise but because of the crowds cheering him on. It was really a sight to see, and hear, though afterward he did admit to a few close calls.
“I would charge pretty hard for a while, but then I would hit a big hole really hard or a big rock and I could hear Quinn in the back of my head telling me, ‘This is a 500-pound motorcycle. Remember that!’ I’m like, ‘I know, I know.’ So I’d back it down and it would tell you who was boss. I fell in the first test and that really made me realize, ‘Man, I don’t want to do this all today.’ But I backed it down and the bike performed great. I bled the brakes just in case, and I made little adjustments to the fork and actually put some more preload on the spring to keep it up a little higher. I didn’t do much else. I put a little gas in it as we went, instead of carrying around all that fuel. It was surprisingly good. If I can do this again, I wouldn’t change anything. I would do the same thing. The tires and wheels were huge. I didn’t have to worry about getting flats. That was a big part of it too.”
Mike Lafferty’s Adventure Bike Riding Tips
After the race, Mike gave us a few pointers on riding the adventure bike in extreme conditions.
“It takes a lot more finesse—a lot more with your legs—than a regular dirt bike,” Mike said. “You definitely need to use your knees to turn and to finesse the bike from one direction to the other. The other thing is it doesn’t have a nimble feel like a dirt bike.
So you really have to pay attention with your lower body, your legs, and your stomach. I felt more comfortable when I was standing. And it does take a little bit more input with your legs into the tank because it’s so much bigger and it’s a lot more weight up top. But it surprised me how well it handled in the tight stuff.
“I really found myself working front to back a lot more, exaggerating the motions. That weight, when it dives down into a hole, you’ve really got to push yourself back. Or when you’re climbing up a hill, you’ve really got to put your weight forward. On a regular dirt bike, you can just sit on it and let it do its thing, where on this you’ve really got to use your body weight to counterbalance the bike a lot more and be more centralized.”