As Yogi Berra famously said, if you get to a fork in the road, take it.

My fork in the road came when a riding buddy hatched a weekend plot to fly into Atlanta, Georgia, rent a few bikes from Eaglerider, and tackle the Tail of the Dragon. So I took it.

Geographically speaking, the Tail of the Dragon is the name given by motor heads of all types and wheel configurations for Deals Gap, North Carolina and Tennessee. Route US 129 is a mountain pass that runs along the North Carolina-Tennessee state line and bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Allegedly, there are 318 curves in 11 miles. While connected with our two-way Scala headsets, I started counting them up while riding in front of Darth Nater: 1…2…3…4…before I got to double digits, Darth protested that this could become exceedingly annoying, which of course made me even more committed to get all the way to 318, but the attention required to navigate the corners soon broke my resolve. It wasn’t long after that point when the one-armed rider we saw at the Dragon sculpture went ripping around me on his super motard bike. I imagined that guy must have been some sort of local legend.

It would be a mistake to call this Mecca for motorcyclists. There was nothing spiritual, religious, or holy about it. In fact once it was done it was done, and we were not in the least bit compelled to go ride it again. The reason being, there were so many other great back roads to ride. Take the Cherohala Skyway, for example. A 43 mile National Scenic Byway that seemed almost engineered specifically for cruising on two-wheels. We took this from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to an opportune stop to check our maps in the shade of the long driveway to the Snowbird Mountain Lodge, in Robbinsville, North Carolina. We had originally planned to make it to Bryson City where we already had a motel reservation, but the sun was setting, our tummies were grumbling, and there seemed to be a magnetism pulling us up the driveway of the Snowbird Mountain Lodge.

We climbed the steep driveway through the canopy of trees and well-kept grounds, and ended up in front of a classic mountain lodge built in the early 1940s. The voices in my head were saying stay, and before Glen came out to say they had a few rooms available, it seemed like Darth and I were already pulling changes of clothes from our panniers. Once those bikes go up on the center stands,the decision is more or less final.

Although I regret not making it to Bryson City, which by all measures of inter web searching, seemed like a funky cool little Durango-type town, no tears of regret fell into our deliciously prepared local trout dinners, nor our tumblers of local Defiant whiskey that were suckled and nursed in the confines of the dimly lit rustic bar. I imagined this would have been the way the railroad barons primed themselves for a deep night’s slumber. The Snowbird Mountain Lodge is the type of place you could disappear to for awhile. We enjoyed early morning coffee on the deck literally perched over the mountains, filled up on a hearty country breakfast of eggs, country ham, and blueberry pancakes. They even prepared sack lunches for us, our names on the bags, to be grabbed on our way out the door of this lovely country inn.

The rest of this story is best told through a collection of pictures we took along the way, which I will be uploading soon. Yes, we all three slayed the dragon in our own way, and left us plotting the next fork in the road.

 

Why do you need the KTM Twins Billet Fuel Filler assembly, it’s just a gas cap, right? Wrong. It’s really an anodized CNC-ed work of art, designed to complement the looks of your KTM 690 Enduro R, and solve a few problems. Problem number 1: you have a soft bag on the back of your bike behind the seat, and every time you want to refuel (which is often, if all you have is the stock fuel capacity), you basically have to remove the bag to get enough room to put the key in and remove the stock filler cap. I think it will be much easier to loosen the twist cap and get the filler hose in the tank, and won’t require almost completely removing your soft bags to get at the cap. Problem number 2 which is less of a nuisance and more of a problem: the stock triangular piece, when removed, can allow dirt that has accumulated down in the recession to fall into the tank and get in your fuel system, which can hurt your purty lil motor. Problem solved. Finally, as KTM Twins explains in the instructions, if you ever lose your billet cap for some reason, you can can always replace it with an easily attainable ACERBIS small gas cap. So don’t lose your billet one, because it’s way cooler.

Now the negatives. The instructions in my kit were not super clear. The stock filler assembly must be completely removed from the top of the tank, which is easy enough, BUT BE EXTRA CAREFUL that you don’t drop any of the short OEM bolts into the tank, (Brad). The KTM Twins kit comes with a spacer and extra O-ring. This is confusing. The instructions say in bold on the first page: “Special Note: Your kit comes with an additional O-Ring and Spacer Plate. Please make sure to use this spacer in your installation.” But later in the instructions, it says to use the spacer plate and O-Ring “…if applicable to your year.” It would be nice if they had a fitment chart that said which year needs the spacer.

I installed it without the spacer plate, then thought I should reassemble it with the spacer plate. In retrospect, with the spacer plate, the whole assembly say too high above the bodywork of my bike and just didn’t look right, so I reassembled without the spacer plate, and it looks much better. Unless someone at KTM Twins tells me I did it wrong, I’m sticking with this option, as it looks better and it seems to have a nice tight seal with the tank.

I would say this is must-have farkle for your 690 Enduro R if you do any amount of adventure touring.

KTM Twins billet filler cap for the 690 Enduro R.

KTM Twins billet filler cap for the 690 Enduro R.

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6 years after I first tried the Great Basin dual sport soft luggage bag by Giant Loop, I am amazed at how well-made these things are, and frankly, how convenient they are for a variety of moto situations. The one I have was sent to me when Giant Loop had just launched this model, and I did a tour through the San Juan mountains of Colorado on my 2009 BMW F800 GS. Since then, I have used it, abused it, loaned it to friends, and most recently ignored it, thinking it was too big and burly for my svelte KTM 690 Enduro R, but on a recent weekend trip to Baker, NV, and the Great Basin National Park (of all places), I thought it would be worth revisiting this fine piece of dual sport essential equipment.

Darth and I were not well-prepared for this trip. Darth usually has our GPS routes mapped out, the boxes on his BMW F800 stuffed and strapped with everything you can imagine. This trip came up very last minute. We winged it, old school. We were both on 690s, his all Rally Raided out to the max, mine not yet broken in. Carrying extra fuel was our main concern, since my bike only had the stock tank. I had previously added the Rally Raid soft luggage racks to my bike with Rotopax mounts (all available from KTMTwins.com), and was carrying a 1 gallon Rotopax fuel tank, and a 1 gallon water tank. Neither one of us had any plans to carry anything other than what we could fit in our pockets or in small tail bags (like my Kriega 20 liter). When we realized we had no room for even a bag of trail mix or the Utah Gazetteer that we needed since we were going sans-GPS, I remembered the dusty old Great Basin in the corner…

Sometimes the more room you have, the more you bring. Sometimes, if you didn’t bring it, you don’t need it. Sometimes it’s just nice t have a little extra room. The Great Basin was perfect for this trip because it was very cold in the mornings, but warmed up to desert temps in the afternoon. We had a place to stuff mid layers as the days warmed. The Great Basin draped nicely over the RR rack and Rotopax, and I hardly knew it was there while riding.

I went back to the Giant Loop site thinking I might get one of their smaller bag set-ups like the Coyote, and I still might. But for now, the 6 year old, beat up but still clean and dry inside original Great Basin bag does a lot to make my 690 a viable dual sport. If you were thinking about buying one and wondered how well they hold up, quit your worrying and just get one.

On the Pony Express trail with the Great Basin bag.

On the Pony Express trail with the Great Basin bag.

This is not the causeway you were looking for.

This is not the causeway you were looking for.

The bag perched nicely on the back of the KTM 690 Enduro R.

The bag perched nicely on the back of the KTM 690 Enduro R.