KTM 1190 and 950 Sidecar US Road Trip
For years, we’d planned to do a U.S. road trip. For us, the most important question was: What type(s) of motorcycles would we use? For Jan, that was easy—his KTM 1190 Adventure. For me, the ability to ride under all circumstances was important. As we wanted to camp wherever possible, luggage space was another a key requirement. When we had a sidecar built for our Honda Shadow almost eleven years ago, I immediately felt comfortable with it. Despite motorcycling for several years in Europe, I’d never been able to get used to just two wheels—but I’d tackle the world with the sidecar.
Therefore, we decided to have our KTM Super Enduro 950R modified with a sidecar. LBS Zijspantechniek’s Ad Donkers, who’d built our Honda Shadow’s wonderful classic sidecar, was the go-to guy for the build.
Ad’s assignment was simple: We wanted a functional and appealing overland sidecar attached to the Super Enduro 950R. For him, it’s important that a sidecar matches the motorcycle. He builds sidecars from scratch, solving whatever technical and stylistic challenges that he encounters during the process. This way, every sidecar is unique and “at one” with the motorcycle it’s paired with.
In addition to style, technology is essential to be able to optimize the pairing of a motorcycle and the sidecar’s asymmetrical design.
Our 950 was equipped with a number of necessary upgrades, including a large tank (11.5 gallons), two jerry cans, additional lighting, an extra battery, a 12V connection, and two spare wheels. Car tires were selected for the rear as they wear less quickly and provide better grip than motorcycle tires. Additionally, we had four luggage boxes built, the front fork was completely replaced by a swingarm, the lighting was adjusted, and last but not least, a comfortable seat installed.
There were several organizational hurdles: shipping, clearance, EPA approval, insurance, and visas. Thanks to a Rotterdam company specializing in transporting vehicles between the U.S. and Europe, we didn’t experience any bureaucracy problems. It took time and money, but they really knew what they were doing.
During our trip, we had some technical problems with the 950SE—especially the extreme tire wear due to heat and weight. Finding the right replacements was difficult, both in terms of dimensions and quality. Motorcycle dealers prefer not to mount car tires on motorcycle rims, and car dealers won’t even consider it. In San Francisco, a highly skilled and multitasking young woman got us a new spare tire. But after 2,000 miles, it was already worn and needed to be changed again in Payson, AZ. Eventually, all three tires were replaced once more in Tucson, AZ, where the folks at the CSA Superstore were persistent in finding us the right tires. We were particularly pleased with the hard-compound cruiser tires they located which smoothly got us back to the East Coast. The sidecar used a total of six tires in total.
During the four days we were forced to spend in the scorching heat of Tucson, we had an excellent time in the Old Tucson Studios and the Pima Air and Space Museum. The studios have an atmosphere of the American TV shows we watched when we were young. To us, this atmosphere was one of the things we’d been looking forward to on our trip. The Pima Air and Space Museum has an enormous number of rare and beautiful aircraft that stunned us both. Despite the heat we spent about six hours admiring them all, inside and out.
Along the way, we experienced problems with the sidecar’s clutch. Jan knew that riding without a clutch was perfectly doable. However, I wasn’t immediately convinced. But after an hour of persuasion I learned to do it—and we were able to follow the beautiful route between Torrey, UT and Cannonville, UT.
In Cannonville, we met a fellow motorcycle adventurer who put a lot of effort into helping us get the clutch working again but it’s intermittent unreliability continued until 7,000 miles later, when the KTM dealer in Madison, TN, finally sorted it out.
A challenge we northwestern Europeans faced was the heat in the Southwestern deserts. Death Valley, Las Vegas, and Arizona were hot, but bearable. We had a similar experience in Namibia in 2009. However, the fierce August heat in Abilene, TX, made us take down our tent and seek refuge in an air-conditioned cabin.
We couldn’t help but notice that tent camping sites are difficult to find in many regions of the U.S. The bias is toward RVs “camping.” Now and then we were allowed to set up our tent at RV sites—but it was rarely allowed. When it was, however, we were often banished to a muddy campsite corner without amenities.
What We’ve Learned
When two people are joined at the hip 24 hours a day for five months, they need to get along with each other. Because our personalities are quite different, we had to compromise… a lot! The trip was not just about the riding, we really wanted to see the country and talk to people. So, we looked for things that we both enjoy. I like to camp out under the stars, but that’s nothing for Jan. Single track off road is not really possible on a heavily-laden sidecar, but Jan loves it on his ADV bike. Artsy museums are a no-go for Jan, but we both enjoy cars, trains, and history. We also share a love for music, and we saw plenty in Nashville, Memphis, Mountain View, Clarksdale, and New Orleans. Where I mapped out the biggest part of the route and navigated, Jan made the official preparations, arranged the paperwork, and booked overnight stays. All in all, it worked out well.
The KTM Super Enduro 950R is a very strong motorcycle. Despite the extra weight, the Colorado mountain passes, and the heat, the motorcycle continued to perform flawlessly, despite the clutch issues. We had to learn to take our time with repairs—an extra day here or there while waiting for parts didn’t make much difference considering we were on the road for five months. We weren’t accustomed to that in overcrowded Netherlands, our homeland. Indeed, within half an hour’s ride there are maybe twenty different dealers with all the parts and fluids one might need.
Although we had plenty of luggage room, we’ll bring less luggage on our next trip. A lighter sidecar makes for even more comfortable riding. We’ll also make better preparations regarding tires and seek alternatives for our European tires beforehand.
The U.S. is an overwhelmingly beautiful country. The national parks were absolutely gorgeous. But outside those, we were surprised that many states were so green. We rode for thousands of miles through forests on beautiful backroads—incredible!
America left a very pleasant impression on us, and we made some friends who we’re still in touch with. American openness, spontaneity, and curiosity is so different that what we’re accustomed to, something we’ve activity been telling all our friends about in Europe! We also enjoyed the attention given to our sidecar and our trip as well as the numerous pictures that were taken of the motorcycles. Moreover, we enjoyed all the nice, interesting, funny conversations that we had with Americans of all stripes.
Bike: KTM 950 Super Enduro R
Displacement: 942cc | HP: 98
Tires: front: 140/80R17 | rear/sidecar: 195/45R17
Weight, unloaded: 760 lbs | loaded: 1,433 lbs
Sidecar manufacturer: LBS Sidecars (LBSzijspantechniek.nl)
Rianne van Duuren: self-employed interim finance manager, experienced traveler (Asia, Africa, Europe), adventurous, nature lover, reads every book, magazine, historical marker she encounters, map enthusiast, and route planner. Rider since 2004: Suzuki V-Strom 650, KTM Super Enduro 950 since 2008. Jan Steeghs: a self-employed interim finance manager, keen rider for 25 years with various motorcycles, including a Honda Shadow, two Honda Gold Wings, Yamaha MT-01, several KTMs since 2008. Hundreds of thousands of miles of riding experience that include heavy, daily commuting traffic to off road in Sweden and Namibia. He estimates he’s ridden over 350,000 miles on motorcycle.