Experiencing a RADical Moto! The story of the RAD KTM 500 Rally Lite

The Rally Lite arriving at its intended destination.

I still remember how excited I was to attend the 2020 KTM Enduro model launch, back in August 2019. As most are well aware, KTM offers seven mainstream models of which three are 2-stroke (TPI) models and four are fuel-injected 4-strokes. The big daddy of these is certainly the 500 EXC 4-stroke.

I have been getting very good feedback from quite a number of friends regarding the big 500! Many of these comments revolved around how rideable and smooth the power delivery is, which in turn triggered my curiosity even more so! I was looking forward to experiencing this for myself.

The author during the 2020 KTM Enduro model launch. This is aboard the 250 EXC.

Yet on this specific day, it was not meant to be. The 500 was just too popular with the other journos and racers, so I used the opportunity to test the other “gems” in the range. I made a mental note to get my hands on a test subject later on, for me to experience it where I thought it could work well. Allow me to explain.

The vision, the dream

For years I have been dreaming about a minimalistic, lightweight, rugged go-anywhere adventure bike. I kept watching the market with some expectation, yet could find no manufacturer who shared my vision.

Back in 1987 my brother and I owned a road-legal Yamaha IT465. Yes, you read that correctly…. Those in the know would remember how brutal these big bore 2-strokes were. We mostly feared riding that thing, yet the bragging rights in our small mining town were well worth the risk.

The venerable Yamaha IT 465, similar to the one we owned back in 1987. Picture courtesy Henri Du Toit.

Back then already, I dreamed of a hardcore 4-stroke that I can turn into a medium-range gravel touring bike. Little did I know that the birth of the “adventure bike” was already underway and that said development, would take a completely opposite path.

In 1988, with my saved-up “Army” pay, I managed to buy a pre-owned 1984 Honda XL600R, complete with the long-range Dakar fuel tank. Dressed up in a Pep stores “windbreaker”, my favourite blue jeans and Tommy tekkies, I would strap on my Kiwi K10 full-face helmet and head for the open road. My luggage system comprised an army kit bag, affectionately called a “balsak” at the time, strapped onto the rear seat by means of nylon ropes.

My first taste of Adventure Biking was aboard my Honda XL600R.

The world became my playground and I would use every possible opportunity in search of new frontiers….. I will never forget the day when I spent more than 850 kilometres on the narrow safety seat in the dead of winter! I almost froze to death on this particular occasion and promised myself never to do that again….. Until the next time, that is!

Straddling the XL for a long adventure. Note the carefully thought out-rider gear!

I just enjoyed the long, peaceful hours in the saddle too much and it eventually became an incurable part of me. I needed nothing more and free-time was my only limitation!

Fourteen years later came my transition into Adventure biking as we know it today. My brand new BMW R1150GS took me to heaven and back in the years that followed. We eventually conquered that world a few times over. Yet, deep in the back of my mind, those teen memories kept surfacing time and time again.

RAD KTM500 Rally Lite

It seems that someone, somewhere had shared the same thoughts that kept niggling me.
When paying Miguel Lage a 2019 Christmas visit, he showed me a project that they had been working on. Miguel, as many will know, is the Dealer Principal at RAD Moto, Rivonia. This is the story about that project…

RAD Moto, Rivonia. The crew responsible for the birth of the Rally Lite concept.

The first step was to take a brand new 2020 KTM 500 EXC, as the Rally Lite’s intended platform. The next step was to make it fully road legal, complete with number plate and license disk. Terry Hyde from Hyde developments was then approached to build them a “Dakar” style instrument tower that mounts as a front frame. This unit contains the ignition keyhole, trip computer, triple LED headlight unit, 12V power socket and touring screen.

The Dakar Style tower, complete with ignition keyhole, trip computer, triple LED headlight unit, 12V power socket and touring screen.

Next up, a 15 litre Acerbis fuel tank was sourced which made a range of 300km’s quite possible. a Decent steering damper was fitted, which consequently raises the handlebars, making it ideal for taller riders. Steel-rail hand guards and fully adjustable mirrors were fitted next.

The 15L Acerbis tank is available in black or clear plastic.

A Hyde bash plate takes care of engine protection, whilst the same company supplies the swingarm protectors. RAD offers a choice of final gearing scenarios. The seat gets modified by a local company, making it suitable for long-distance touring. The bike also comes standard with OEM frame protectors.

The well known and trusted Hyde bash plate. The company also manufactures the fitted swing arm protectors.

The test bike was fitted with a tail-mounted, 5-litre carbon fibre fuel tank, which will not be an option for sale. There is also the option of fitting a performance exhaust of the buyers’ choice. The test model was fitted with a blue chrome, FMF variant. The standard WP XPLOR suspension gets a re-valve to accommodate the extra weight that it will have to contend with.

The FMF performance pipe, as fitted to the test bike. The modified seat is super plush.

I was taken by what I saw, right there and then! What followed was a myriad of questions, to the point where I almost felt sorry for Miguel. We agreed that I would take this RADical motorcycle on a well-deserved adventure early in 2020.

Testing times…

In search of answers to the “myriad” of questions, my travelling crew and I decided on an extended weekend breakaway into the great outdoors, where I would re-enact my early adult life…

Beauties in the woods. Hennie’s XT660Z and Charl’s G650X-Country. Both are very capable lightweight adventure bikes.

Hennie Olivier would be aboard his trusty Yamaha XT660Z Tenere, while Charl Potgieter was doing duty on a BMW G650X-Country, borrowed from Cobus Bekker. Charl was the inaugural Honda “Quest” champion back in 2017 and has since emigrated to New-Zealand. We always enjoy his company and he always enjoys the smell of African dust.

Last but not least was the now-familiar presence of Cobus Bekker on his BMW R1200GS Adventure. Cobus is a Limpopo province native and always has interesting routes in mind. We work together well as a team. I mostly instigate and share the vision, from where Cobus or Hennie would fill in the blanks. That way, I always end up being equally surprised and entertained. It’s a formula that seems to work well for us and makes for interesting travels.

Pit stop in the woods, sharing some experiences.
Sentinel in the tree! Cobus is our drone operator, back-up vehicle, chief navigator and the like!

Luggage carrying capability

The first defining test for a bike like the RAD KTM 500 Rally Lite, (henceforth only referred to as the “Rally Lite”) is luggage carrying capability. This took the best part of our Saturday journey to get right! The test subject had nylon loops fitted under the rear mudguard that offered a fair bit of mounting capability. I packed my camping equipment and other bits in a neat waterproof luggage roll. This did the job on our way down to Mokopane, where we would overnight on Cobus’ beautiful cattle farm. That evening I expressed my concerns in this department and Cobus insisted that I borrow his SW Motech Drybag 350 with its vast array of strapping options. This was just what the doctor ordered and I went to bed happy in the knowledge that my things would stay in place over the roughest terrain.

SW Motech Drybag 350. This configuration saved the day for me.

While on this subject, it must be mentioned that Giant Loop offers exactly what is needed for this type of bike. It consists of…..you’ve guessed it, a giant loop that sits neatly on the back of the bike and extends to the footrests with carrying capacity on the sides as well as the top. It comes together with an exhaust cover, to protect your valuables from the hot, nearby exhaust pipe. This system retails for a fairly hefty R7 500, but is well worth a look if you take this bike seriously!

The Giant Loop luggage system is probably the perfect fit for this bike!
Giant Loop exhaust cover, as mentioned in the article.

Luggage secured and I could feel my relief. It was quite an operation due to a lack of experience, but once we found a workable solution, my visions of endless, eventful, journeys to the remotest of locations, carrying only the bare essentials, resumed.

Please note: From this point forward, we will get into the technicals that make this bike a winner. There was simply no space to write much about the awesome trip we had. I will make up for this by inserting nice pics throughout the read.

Cruising capability

The next uncertainty to quantify was the Rally Lite’s open road cruising capability. There was ample opportunity in the days ahead to test this and to reaffirm our findings.

We always stop at this specific place, climb onto the rocky ledge across the path and look over the lakes for a few minutes…

I was curious to test this bike against Hennie’s Yamaha XT660Z Tenere. I must mention that I have huge respect for the 660, as I have seen Hennie riding his bike in the worst and best conditions, night, day, rain and shine. To me, it almost defines the lightweight Adventure sector. On a long, straight, quiet, paved back road leading us north, the perfect opportunity arose. I pulled up alongside Hennie on his Yummie at about 120km/h. I signalled him to open flat out in top gear, for a roll-on test. The KTM just blew the Yamaha away to the extent where I pulled up alongside him again, confirming whether he had understood correctly. He nodded and we tried again. Same result! The KTM just left the Yamaha for dead.

On this occasion, I kept the throttle pinned. The road had now become a slight uphill and the bike went all the way to 172km/h on the minimalistic speedo before I closed the throttle. To me, the point was proven, even though there were still legs left in the KTM. I was stoked!! This bike was turning into exactly the bike I had secretly envisioned.

This bike will cruise happily at 130km/h all day, every day. After my high-speed encounter, I was curious about the speedo’s accuracy. We tested this the next day whilst riding alongside Cobus’ BMW Adventure on the N1 passing Polokwane. He had the cruise control set at 130km/h, whilst I sat alongside him, my speedo indicating exactly the same speed.

Yes, we spent long hours on the highway at 120-140 km/h. The Rally Lite handled this beautifully. At no point did it feel like we were straining the 510,9 cc mill.

Longevity, service intervals and fuel economy

This brings us to another important question. How long will this engine last when applied for touring? This is an open question and could, of course not be tested on this trip. But let’s backtrack a bit to the open class KTM’s reliability record in the last two decades or so. I personally know someone who has done 28 000km on his older generation KTM 520 EXC. He uses the bike almost exclusively for enduro riding and hare scrambles.

Beautiful lakes everywhere.

It must be remembered that this engine configuration has remained largely the same for almost two decades now. Singles are singles and there is just a certain amount of innovation that can take place. The layout on most big-bore singles are largely the same, simply because it works and has proven extremely reliable over the last five decades or more.

Sharing dreams, sharing adventures…

Our biggest complaints with older generation singles were oil leaks on mounting points because the engines were a semi-stressed member on some designs. Due to all the jumping and hard landings, cracks would form in the engine casings and oil would start bleeding slowly. Of course, that was many years ago and singles do not leak oil anymore. But apart from that, we never really had single trouble in the days of old.

There are a number of travellers that have converted their KTM 500’s in similar ways to RAD Moto Rivonia and some of these bikes are busy travelling the world, albeit at a leisurely pace!

No trip is complete without a taste of Hennie’s coffee. Charl looking on with interest.

As far as service intervals are concerned, Miguel reminded me that no KTM enduro bike comes with a factory warranty. What this means, is that there is no need to service the bike every 10 to 20 hours. Miguel suggests servicing up to every 3000 km or at least annually, whichever comes first, provided the air filter is kept clean at all times. Remembering that this bike is best suited for medium length adventures, 3 000km seems fair and reasonable. Also, because of its simplicity, service costs should not break the bank.

Nature’s energy.

If I should own one, I will simply learn to service it myself, mostly because I do not live close to a KTM dealer. This will cut running costs even further.

Another question that I was frequently asked was that of fuel range and consumption. In the time that I had the bike, I enjoyed about 1 500km of every conceivable kind of riding. The overall fuel consumption was an admirable 19,8km/L. The fuel tank size is a genuine 15 litres, as I can remember replenishing 14,7 litres at one point. This should give you a range of almost 300 km during fairly spirited riding, which is as good as most adventure bikes.

Touring comfort

But how comfortable is a bike like this on the open expanses? This, of course, is another very important attribute that every adventure bike should possess. This KTM gets yet another nod of approval from this tester. The Hyde tower conversion brings ample wind protection, even at speeds in excess of 150km/h. Because of the uprightness of the screen, there was a fair bit of vibration from the peak of my adventure helmet. I could live with that easily and would experiment with different helmet setups should I ever get the opportunity to ride a bike like this again.

As far as the eye can see…

As mentioned before, the modified seat was magic! When at the dealership, I looked at the seat with a fair bit of scepticism as KTM’s do not usually have the most comfortable seats to begin with! I could sit for hours on end, and at every fuel stop, my travelling companions asked the same questions about seat comfort, getting the same response. I was truly happy with general ride comfort.

A coffee and a smile.

It must be mentioned that there was limited rearward body movement capability on the seat, due to the positioning of my soft luggage. This became quite apparent when popping long wheelies. In this case, it was difficult to operate the vital rear brake and I even selected the next gear by accident with my off-road boots. The bike flipped violently and luckily we always covered the rear brake, a habit we learned on our 2-strokes back in the day. a Possible incident averted…

Hopefully, a luggage system like the “Giant Loop” will help to position the soft luggage further back, so that there is enough room to move for taller fellows. This was my only comfort complaint, to be fair.

Suspension

The suspension, by its very nature, should also contribute to comfort. In this case, the re-valved WP Xplor suspension worked like magic! For the most part, it felt like I was riding on a big, pink cloud! It was crisp and responsive when riding it like a “flat tracker” around the many compacted dirt trails we encountered, yet on the other hand, it offered comfort comparable to any big adventure bike on the open road. The suspension travel is huge and ground clearance is excellent. I would not change one click on the suspension, it was that good.

The general off-road capability of this bike is beyond reproach!! I suppose we knew that from the outset when bearing in mind its pedigree. Can a racehorse run fast? You get the picture!

Re-valving the WP Xplor suspension does a fine job for all-round performance.

I could not help compare it to my first encounter with the WP Xplor suspension, aboard the KTM 790R I tested in Lesotho last year. On that occasion, the Xplor suspension worked best when riding the bike extremely hard in really trying conditions, much like a Dakar racer would need. Back then, the downside was that the suspension was way too harsh for comfortable gravel touring. I still believe that major work on the 790R suspension would save the day. This was probably my only gripe with the790R back then.

Bridgestone AX41 Tyres

I was quite pleased to see that RAD Moto had fitted a fresh set of these new adventure tyres for me to enjoy. I have a set of these tyres fitted to my personal adventure bike and are liking them more and more each day.

The Bridgestone AX41R adventure tyres do a fine job just about everywhere.

In general, they worked as well as any adventure tyre I had tried before. They offered predictable break away when cranking the throttle open around fast gravel bends. They handled damp, shaded forest sections and muddy patches equally well. Longevity should be on par with other popular specimens. The open road, high-speed stability was excellent.

Good, solid blocks work well and make GREAT photos.

In the loosest, medium-sized, rocky-uphils you could feel that the big blocks on the rear became a bit skittish and lost traction, stepping out to either side. It must be noted that I rode the tyres at 2.1bar, front and rear in order to protect the rims. This is a habit that has served me well over the last few years. All-in-all, the tyres impressed me a lot and will always be towards the top of my shopping list. Well done Bridgestone!

Possible rivals

The launch of the KTM 790R back in 2019, made sure that a lot of infighting between models of the KTM range has started taking place. The 790 is pirating sales from the 690 as well as the now-discontinued 1090. This happens because the 790R is just that good!

Will this new addition to the RAD Moto stable contribute to the huge “talent fight” that KTM is currently experiencing? How will it be received by prospective 690 owners? Will they opt for the more extreme, more capable 500? Miguel argues that this is beside the point. He is of the opinion that the Rally Lite will appeal to only the most extreme adventurers out there and does not expect a huge amount of internal opposition. Only time will tell…

Possible improvements?

As I am writing this, I have to think back hard to remember if there was anything that I disliked about this bike. Quite frankly, I cannot think of anything concrete, but let’s give it a go anyway.

Where fun meets function.

Strangely enough, the bike did snake quite a bit in thick, loose sand at high speed. The remedy for this was to move the hips back as far as possible whilst maintaining bent elbows, bent knees with the chest quite close to the body of the bike. This resolved the snaking altogether.

Another thing, as mentioned earlier, would be to position the soft luggage further back, in order to give taller riders more freedom of movement. From what I’ve seen, the Giant loop luggage system could well be the remedy for this issue.

Lastly, I would like to see a tubeless conversion for the rims. Nowadays, there are quite a few possible solutions and I know that RAD Moto is looking into that. Other than that, there is nothing else I can think of as a downside.

The all too familiar site of fixing punctured tubes.

Price and options

The price of the bike as tested is R 178 000. This includes everything as in the article, except for the carbon fibre fuel tank as mentioned. This means you will get the final gearing of your choice, the performance exhaust of your choice, the sticker kit of your choice and the tyres of your choice.

    At R160 000, there is a more affordable offering, which includes;

  • Hyde tower arrangement (as tested)
  • 12-litre fuel tank
  • Hyde protection (as tested)
  • Modified seat (as tested)
  • Steering damper (as tested)
  • Standard enduro tyres
  • 14/48 Sprocket set

When speaking to Miguel in our debrief, he did mention that the offerings are not cast in concrete, so it is best to make an appointment with the men from RAD Moto to discuss a package that would suit your intended purposes. I could have omitted some details about the pricing structure and relayed the info as I understood it at the time of speaking to Miguel.

Bearing in mind that a standard KTM 500EXC will set you back R130 000, these offers seem like a fair value in my point of view.

Conclusion

I apologise to the reader that I did not elaborate more on the awesome trip we had, for the purpose of testing the Rally Lite. I apologise that I did not speak more about how good this bike made me look and feel. I could certainly elaborate for a long time about that.

The reason for this is that there is just so much information to digest. I think the reader will agree that this bike does not exactly comprise “mainstream” thinking. But then again, the inaugural BMW R80G/S that single-handedly changed the biking world as we know it today, was certainly also far from “mainstream” when it was launched. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the success of the Rally Lite, as I firmly believe that we are slowly moving back to the place where “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

The true “go-anywhere” adventure bike.

My last comment before signing off was when I told Miguel that a bike like this knocks at least ten years off a riders’ age, and bearing in mind that most adventure riders are on the wrong side of fifty, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

For more information visit: www.radmoto.co.za

I have been called adventurer, traveller, coach, dreamer and hopeful romantic among many other things. I live a life of total bliss, closely centered around the world of motorcycling. Owner of motorcycles from the age of 16, I have never been without one since. Having tried my hand at racing in many disciplines, I have mellowed down into a life of exploration and chasing sunsets. My love for people and motorcycles have taken me on journeys that truly feed the soul.