Project Updates and Product Review: BulletProof Designs Billet Radiator Guards
Since our last article the 525 has provided us with many miles of fun. The orange giant has taken us on numerous desert rides, over plenty of nasty singletrack, on a few dual-sport rides and even found its way onto a few motocross tracks. The 525 handled each of these scenarios remarkably well. This fact can be partially attributed to the extremely rider friendly and torquey motor, partially to a chassis that isn't overly stiff but can take a beating and partially to the Novation suspension that has proven to be so versatile in varying conditions and terrain we expose the bike to.
Over the course of the last couple of years we are happy to report our 525 has been nearly stone reliable and has never left us stranded. This is not to say we haven't had a few incidents here and there, but most of them caused by normal wear and tear. We had the countershaft seal go bad on us once resulting in oil seeping from behind the countershaft sprocket. Luckily it was a cheap and quick fix and didn't pose a major issue so we took care of it before the next ride. In another instance we had a fork seal start leaking and decided that was a good indicator that it was time to freshen up both the forks and shock with new oil and seals. We sent our suspension back to Novation where things were freshened up and new Synergy fork seals installed. The Synergy seals.
KTM MXC Tank - Since our last article we have added a few things to make the bike more functional in its dual-sport role. Since dual-sport outings and long desert rides often end up covering many miles a 3.5 gallon tank from the KTM MXC model was installed. In order to fit the tank on the EXC cleanly we also had to use the seat off of the MXC model and a couple rubber spacers between the tank and the radiators. The spacers are the same ones that the stock tank sets on against the frame and they help to keep the MXC tank from rubbing against the radiators. After installing the tank we are able to get over 90 miles before hitting reserve, and this is with a good 40 miles of deep sand-washes. The tank does take some getting used to because it is considerably wider than the EXC version but once you adjust the extra mileage is worth the width.
KTM Fan Kit - In addition to the MXC tank we also installed the KTM fan kit to keep the engine cool when riding on tight technical trails, up big sandy desert hill-climbs or riding on the street in traffic (which we prefer not to do). The fan kit is available from your dealer and is actually an OEM part number because it is used on the European models which are available stock in dual-sport trim. The kit installs relatively easily and comes with the fan, a fuse and a temp gauge that threads into bottom of the right radiator after removing the stock plug. The stock wiring harness on the bike already has the connections for the power to the fan so after you finish installing the fan on the right radiator you just plug it in. Before running out and ordering the fan kit make sure that the fan will work with your setup because some aftermarket tanks don't allow enough room for the fan.
The fan works great at keeping the engine temps down during high engine load situations or when there is a lack of air-flow going through the radiators, such as on slow technical trails. With the limited oil capacity the 525 has we felt the fan was a great investment to keep temps down and engine durability up. The fan is powered directly from the battery and only comes on when the engine reaches a certain temp and then shuts off as soon as the engine cools below that temp. It is always fun to see the look on peoples faces when you pull up next to them, turn off the bike and they hear the fan still running for a few seconds.
While the fan was added for engine protection we learned quickly during a minor head-on collision that the radiators also would benefit from protection. While coming around a corner on the usually empty double-black diamond Snowy Trail we encountered a fellow KTM rider coming in the other direction. With no time to react both of us tried to hit the brakes and lean the other way but we still hit and went flying. Luckily both of us were ok and the bikes only a little banged up. The left radiator on our 525 connected with the radiator shroud of the other bike and ended up getting a little bent. It wasn't drastic but enough to make us realize how bad it would be to loose a radiator way out on the trail.
KTM Tubular Radiator Guards - Upon searching for radiator protection we needed to make sure the radiator guards would be compatible with our fan kit yet still offer both front and side protection. Many of the popular aftermarket aluminum guards would not fit because they wrap around the backside of the radiator right where the fan mounts. Luckily we found that KTM had an answer in their Hard Parts catalog. They offer radiator guards that are essentially tubular bars that wrap around the sides of the radiators and retain the stock plastic guards in the front. The KTM guards mount up easily, offer superb side impact protection and work with the fan without any modifications.
What we quickly found out however is that even though there is excellent side impact protection the front of the radiators are still only guarded by the stock plastic guards which remain exposed to the elements. On the second ride out with the KTM guards in place a branch, or desert bush, stuck right through the stock plastic guard and ripped it right off the bike. This left the radiator completely exposed in the front for the rest of the ride which made us feel very uneasy. While this may not be a common occurrence all it takes is one branch to poke a hole through the radiator and end a day or weekend of good riding.
After this incident we started looking for radiator protection that would offer both side and frontal impact protection while still working with the fan. Interestingly about the same time we began looking for better protection we were contacted by BulletProof Designs about testing their aluminum radiator guards. The first question we asked of course is whether or not the guards would work with the fan kit and both the EXC and MXC tank. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the guards do in fact work with the fan and both tanks. In fact the folks at BulletProof Designs actually started designing their guards after trying all sorts of other aftermarket guards and finding they just didn't hold up to the demands of racing and hard core riding.
We agreed to test the guards on the KTM and see how they compared to the hard parts KTM protection. We were sort of expecting to receive a set of rather thin stamped style aluminum radiator guards that provided adequate protection to the front and also worked with the fan. Upon receiving the guards however we were pleasantly surprised to find out these guards are made of thick 6061-T6 billet aluminum and that they protect both the front and sides of the radiator. Installation instructions and all the needed hardware were included in our shipment. Mounting up the guards is quick and nearly as simple as mounting the Hard Parts guards as long as your radiators are not too bent up already. On our unbent radiator the guard went on easy but on our radiator that was bent from our previous head-on collision it took a little more effort. Total time spent installing was about 30 minutes, with at least 10 of those working with the bent side.
Once the guards were mounted the radiators felt very solid and secure. These guards mount to the frame and around the radiators so they do an excellent job of providing structural integrity to both the front and side of the radiators. They offer excellent frontal protection from sticks, rocks and other things that the stock plastic guards can't match.
One thing that we did notice is that while riding sandwashes in temps in the high 80s the fan seemed to come on more with these guards than with the KTM Hard Parts guards. Our guess is that the angle of the stock plastic protectors allows more airflow than the flat slotted holes on the front of the billet guards - but we can't be sure.
Besides this observation the BulletProof guards are awesome and will remain on the 525 as our choice of serious radiator protection. Since they are of made of the extremely high quality 6061-T6 billet aluminum we think they will hold up to most any abuse we will put them through. Plus, they offer protection we haven't seen offered by other guards while still working with the KTM fan kit. At $189 per pair they aren't the cheapest option available but just try pricing the cost of one radiator and see what it will cost to replace! You can even get custom engraving (see title image) in the guards for that special touch.
The above upgrades have helped transform the 525EXC into a reliable dual-sport and long distance runner with the protection and durability to make it back to camp. We couldn't really ask for much more from a bike that is so good at such a wide variety of conditions. All of our aftermarket parts choices to date have turned out to be very good choices. From the Ironman Sprockets that somehow have seemed to have hardly worn to the Fastway handguards that have really taken a beating, everything has proven reliable and up to the challenge of the multi-roles we ask the 525 to do. Is that all for Project 525? Of course not, stay tuned for another update on our HID headlight install that fits in the stock housing and a few other goodies to make life better.