When our old friend Brad Banister wasn’t roadracing or motocrossing or jetskiing competitively, or snowboarding, skiing or jumping Excelsior-Hendersons off loading docks or dating six women at once or flying hang gliders or parasails or remodelling the kitchen or scaring the hell out of me on vertiginous single tracks, he was probably sleeping. He’s a high-voltage human light switch. That all came crashing down quite literally, in 2009, when a heavy crash landing while paragliding (due to the dreaded “rotor”) left him with limited use of his legs. Not that he doesn’t still use them anyway. It’s like this:
“The main thing is when someone hears the word “paraplegic”, they have a picture in their head of someone in a chair permanently. I’m an “incomplete” paraplegic with limited function and feeling in my lower extremities. Paraplegia basically refers to any kind of impairment below the waist. My injury is actually considered ‘complete’, but I’m broken off so low that some of the nerves controlling movement and feeling have already left my spinal column, enabling me to move some of the muscles. I have no proprioception on my left side, I can’t tell where my foot or leg are when I’m not looking at them – and it’s similar for the right side, but I can sort of feel my right foot and sort of tell where it is. It’s hard to keep feet on pegs and I can’t stand up when I ride.”
He can stand up and walk around, usually with a cane but not always, with a gait he says is like a baby giraffe’s, but I say is more Mr. Natural. He also spends a fair amount of time in a wheelchair for longer outings, which is basically what this KTM is. Why not spend a few bucks on it then?
That minor flying setback took away several favorite activities, but BB’s still got ATVs, kayaking, a kitchen that’s still half done … Mainly he’s still got the motorcycles. MX is out, since you really do need your legs for that, and trackdays are possible, but crazy lean angles make his legs dangle off the pegs and compromise ground clearance – ain’t nobody got time for that. Besides, we’re somewhat more mature now. It’s adventure bike time.
BB tried to do the right (cheap) thing, going low and small at first with a Yamaha XT225 and then a Suzuki DR350. Too small, too slow, too uncool. What looked just right was a KTM 690 Enduro R, lighter than KTM’s big Twins but still with plenty of power (our last 690 Duke made 62 hp!) – and quite a bit lighter, an important consideration when it comes to balancing and picking up the pieces, a thing that seems to happen more frequently off-road. KTM says the 690 Enduro R weighs 315 pounds without gas, Suzuki claims 366 for a wet DR650 – and both KTM Super Adventures are nearly 200 pounds heavier than the DR.
“I still want to ride ADV, but holding up a heavy bike is tough and I can’t pick up a full-sized bike anymore. I could barely pick this one up when it was stock with no added parts; I don’t know about now. My ’95 DR350 wasn’t great when loaded down and riding any kind of distance. A DR650 makes the most sense, but they’re heavier, lower tech and there’s no cool Rally Raid Kit to make it look [expletive deleted]! I also wanted extra fuel range, so the 2.4 extra gallons in the Rally Raid kit made sense.”
The first order of business was to get the KTM’s seat closer to the ground than its 35.8-inch standard height. WP lowered the bike 2.5 inches using different springs and internal spacers – and it seems about the same height now as the friendly little Honda CRF250L I was using to ride with Brad that day. The seat itself needs to be a good one, since BB can’t stand up, and as a result he’s become a seat connoisseur. The one he wound up with is a Seat Concepts Suede Seat, a bit wider for comfort, and suede adds bling while providing just the right amount of grip.
Then comes the cool stuff, the Rally Raid components from the U.K.: Rally Raid Upper Fairing Kit adds wind protection, the RR Dual Tank Kit adds range, and Rally Raid Crash Bars keep it all from becoming scrap. It’s not cheap but it’s all high-quality stuff that fits well. Rally Raid actually races these components on its sponsored rally bikes.
I never did understand how BB shifts gears, but he always manages somehow. On the KTM, he’s made it easier by installing a Rekluse auto clutch. With no need to operate the clutch, his left hand’s now freed up to yank upward on a simple lanyard for upshifts; downshifts are easy. The downside of that is there’s nothing but brakes to keep the bike from rolling up and down steep hills. We’re about to try out a Clake SLR rear brake hand lever from Australia, but haven’t got it installed yet.
After those parts, it’s the usual suspects that complete the package: Touratech side case racks accept hard or soft bags (soft ones are better for riding like a maniac). ZipTy wide footpegs are even more important when you can’t feel your feet. Acerbis handguards, PDS bar mounts reduce vibration, a Shorai battery and FMF silencer remove weight, various shiny anodized Chinese baubles from eBay add baubleness, important in this ADD day and age.
At the end of the day, it’s a bike B-Rad enjoys wheelying through town, taking on extended rides, and roosting up over local Orange County fire roads on half-day jaunts – a few sections of which are more challenging, rockier and steeper than I remembered. When I came to an unexpected halt in a deep rocky hole in the middle of one of them right in front of BB, we also learned that, yes, he can pick the KTM back up by himself when he needs to. It’s not easy, though.
“I look normal. But I’m a lot more messed up than people think. it’s a lot harder for me to ride than anyone realizes,” Brad admits, in a rare moment of honesty for an advertising salesman.
Why does he do it then?
He’s still formulating that answer. But then, aren’t we all?
Chassis / Suspension / Protection: