Jenny Morgan aka ‘JMo (& piglet)’ is probably one of the more knowledgeable inmates of so many varied aspects of our sector of the motorcycle world and has experience with so many bikes from stock to modified to racing.
We finally met for the first time in 2016 at an event in Wales, after talking on here and other forums for years she has some great stories and experience to share, not just coast to coast rides in the US.
People might have only read one or two ride reports of yours and think you just ride a little! There’s a LOT more to Jenny Morgan than meets the eye can you give us a brief history?
Sure! – although anyone who’s read my content here on ADVrider will be aware I’m not known for being unusually brief;)
The list…from most recent to older, ride reports and build threads!
- Beemer Beemer chicken deener! (Summer 2018 trip – 17,500 miles on the G310GS)
- Northern eXposure (Summer 2017 trip – 12,000+ miles on my CB500X, inc. Canada)
- XR400R Budget Baja build (prep and race report from 2016 Baja Rally)
- CB500X on the Rubicon (inc. YouTube video link – Fall 2016)
- Once upon a time in the West (Spring 2016 – CB500X group ride to Overland Expo)
- Trans-Am 500 – the seven-year itch (Summer 2015 trip – 12,000+ miles on the first Rally Raid CB500X in the US – inc. the whole TAT)
- Dakar Dazed II: the LC450 project: (2014/15 development of the Rally-Raid Products LC4-50)
- Dakar Dazed – countdown to bankruptcy! (2011 Dakar Rally prep and race report)
- Hero? Legend? Fool? (Fall 2009 – XT660Z rally prep and race report from Heroes-Legend Rally [old Paris to Dakar route]
What is your involvement with Rally Raid UK?
I’ve known John (@KTMmitch here on ADVrider) since we met on the Tuareg Rallye in Morocco in 2008. That was my first competitive desert rally, while John has raced the event the year before on his KTM525. We ended up having the share a room at one of the bivouac hotels when he had hurt his back during a fall on one of the dune stages – turns out he had actually ruptured a kidney and ended up in a hospital in Spain for a week afterward.
Subsequently, he started developing [rally] parts for the KTM 690 Enduro once it was launched later that year, and created Rally-Raid Products as a subsidiary of his existing engineering and molding company. In 2013, I started working with John as a test-rider during the development of his LC4-50 Dakar bike project – for those unfamiliar, John built a short-stroke 449cc version of the KTM 690 engine, so that ultimately his bike would be eligible to enter the Dakar Rally and other 450cc class World Championship events, but still using the strong[er] and established 690 chassis platform and LC4 engine architecture, the idea being it would offer a more affordable option privateer/Malle Moto option.
I debuted that bike in 2014 on the Hellas Rally – riding from the Rally-Raid HQ in the UK all the way to Greece – raced it for the week, then rode it back home again (over 6000kms in total) without once having to touch the oil. The plan was for me to sell my existing rally bike (a WR450F) and ride the LC4-50 in a return to the Dakar in 2015… ultimately though I was unable to secure the funding for a return to South America the following year, and the bike was ridden instead by Swedish rally/enduro hot-shot Carl Hagenblad instead.
Up until this point Rally-Raid Products had been focusing on the KTM 690 platform almost exclusively, however increasingly people were now buying his fairing/tank and suspension kits to ‘adventurize’ their 690, rather than actually race it – so we discussed building something more civilized (and slightly less hard-core) for a wider range of Adventure/travel riders – and I was charged with looking for an alternative platform…
Can you explain briefly how you look at a bike to develop it into an adventure bike, and what are the most important changes?
Fundamentally we were looking for something that would be more civilized for long[er] highway miles, which really meant a move away from the traditional dual-sport thumper. The current crop of twin cylinder ADV bikes were all much larger and correspondingly heavier than we wanted, and was already well-established and supported in their ‘mid-size’ ADV niche of course…
However, there seemed to be an increasing buzz around the recently introduced Honda CB500X online (the CB500X thread here on ADVrider is one of the largest and most popular threads on the forum, with nearly 3 million views at the time of writing), and once I’d actually test ridden one, I could see exactly what the owners liked about it.
Fundamentally it was that little bit smaller and lighter than the current 650+cc twin-cylinder bikes out there – a 7/8ths size bike if you like, so physically a similar size to a larger dual-sport thumper, but with a gem of a parallel twin engine (471cc and producing 47hp). Being based on a shared budget platform with two other street-biased models, the shortcomings of the stock machine were obvious – limited ground clearance and suspension travel, and a 17” front wheel (and cast aluminum wheels).
However, the rest of the package was pretty much there already – really smooth and tractable power and fuelling, a great 6-speed gearbox (with a good spread of gear ratios); great economy and fuel range (easily 250+ miles from the 17.5 litre tank); good lights, plus a decent screen and fairing for weather protection; and an all-day-comfortable seat and strong subframe for luggage etc.
The short wheelbase and good turning circle also made it feel very nippy both on and off-road, and the seat height [under 32”] coupled with relatively lightweight (195Kg/429lbs fully-fuelled) meant it would also appeal to a far wider range of riders than a towering 690 would of course.
We felt that with an appropriate improvement in off-road ability, this bike would then be pretty close to the perfect compromise – a genuine 50/50 bike as it were. Something that offered the same sort of performance as a larger [ capacity] twin on the highway, but handled more like a large-capacity dual-sport on the dirt. Ultimately we re-engineered the geometry front and rear to accommodate 7” travel at each end, and a 19” front wheel using in-house designed and manufactured billet hubs and heavy duty spokes and rims.
As part of the initial development during the autumn/winter of 2014 and into 2015, we also developed various other ergonomic upgrades for the cockpit, soft-soft-luggage options and fundamentally a unique cradle style engine-guard that combined a steel skid-plate and tubular side-case protection for the otherwise vulnerable engine suspended in the frame.
We launched the kit in spring 2015, and during that summer I rode the first bike built in the USA (in association with soft luggage manufacturers Giant Loop) across the country and then back again, via the whole Trans-America Trail (TAT) – which coincided with the new extended route [up into Idaho] introduced that year.
Are you riding anywhere right now or planning to go next?
I’ve actually just got back from another huge trip back and forth across the US and parts of Canada this summer – this time on board a new BMW G310GS which I fitted with similarly upgraded heavy-duty spoked wheels and adjustable front and rear suspension from Rally-Raid.
Initially, I bought my bike in April on the east coast, built it up at the dealership there, then rode all the new sections of the Trans-America Trail in Virginia and North Carolina, before hacking back across the country – on and off-road – to where I’m based in California.
From there I turned around and headed straight back east again – via Death Valley, Arizona, Utah [Moab of course] and Colorado, all the way to Ontario Canada to take part in Lawrence Hacking’s Overland Adventure Rally in June.
I then plotted a two-month backroad and off-road route back home to California again – via Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon – using a mix of BDR routes, trails I’d previously ridden, plus a whole lot of new exploration en route. It was an epic ride, and ultimately I racked up over 17,500 miles on that little thumper this season!
Any plans to go back to racing?
Funny you say that – yes and no. As a good number of people here on ADVrider will probably be aware, I raced the Dakar Rally in 2011 (having previously also raced the original Paris to Dakar African route on a Yamaha XT660Z in 2009 on the Heroes-Legend Rally).
Unfortunately, my Dakar in 2011 was cut short on the 4th stage in Chile with a serious crash [and broken leg], and financially I’d always said the Dakar would have to be a one-shot deal for me.
Subsequently, I’ve continued to compete in a number of smaller events – most recently in the Baja Rally in 2015 and again in 2016 too. At the end of the 2016 event, both John [KTMmitch] and I considered that it’s better to go out on top – ie. when you’re still enjoying it, and not forced to because of an accident or ill-health – and particularly as we have both lost personal friends to rally-racing over the years.
However, I have to say I’m excited by the prospect of once again being able to race in Algeria in northern Africa, plus it’s going to be interesting to see what ASO do with the Dakar after the 2019 [single country – Peru] event… so never say never as they say ;o)
What is your current bike?
My current travel/ADV bike is a 2014 model Honda CB500X, with the Rally Raid LEVEL 2* spoked wheel and suspension kit fitted.
*That is +2” travel over stock, complete with a fully-adjustable TracTive developed rear shock and matching long-travel fork kit, and 17/19” heavy-duty spoked wheels.
I also still have my 2003 model XR400R back in the UK – currently set-up in rally-lite mode.
In addition, in California I also have a 1993 model XT225 Serow – affectionately known as The Nail – it really is bullet-proof and typically my go-to bike for riding extreme trails in places like Moab for example.
Finally, I currently have my G310GS with the Rally-Raid spoked wheel and suspension upgrades too, although I am considering selling that now… (offers on a postcard please).
You mostly seem to ride singles/ thumper and bikes less than 700cc, please list your former bikes and the one you most would like to have back?
Goodness, let me think… other than learning to ride on a Suzuki TS100ER back in the 1980s, the list of bikes I’ve actually owned from the early 1990s onwards [excluding my current ones] is as follows:
1991 Kawasaki KDX200 (street legal in the UK)
1993 Suzuki DR350S (funny story about that one, it ended up as one of the Terra Circa bikes – really!)
2002 Ducati Monster
2007 XR650R (street-legal/plated in Nevada)
2008 Yamaha XT660Z Tenere (initially as a travel bike, then as a competitive rally bike in 2009)
2010 Yamaha WR450F (street legal, converted with JVO rally kit)
2010 Yamaha WR450F (yes I had two, one for spares for Dakar 2011)
1984 Honda TLR200 (stripped for trials, but still street legal in the UK)
1978 Honda Z50J Monkey (street legal)
As for the one I’d like to have back – I always said that if I ever sold a bike, it’s because it no longer interested me (which meant I had up to 7 at one time in my garage!), but over the years I have had to sell them off for one reason or another.
I have to say though, I do still have a soft spot for the Honda TLR200, particularly the way I had it set-up – it was so simple and pure. Twin-shocks are generally rubbish of course, but that bike had so much character. They’ve gone up in price since I sold mine too.
Do you have a dream bike that isn’t your current bike – if you had an unlimited budget?
Ha – I bet you don’t you know what I’m going to say – a Honda Rune. Seriously! It is the biggest, most ugly, most inappropriate machine they’ve ever created. I had the chance to buy a new-old-stock one back in 2007 – the dealer wanted around $20,000 USD (which was a little over £10,000 GBP back then), but I saw sense and bought an XR650R instead.
You are a light packer, something that a lot of riders struggle with can you give us a few tips?
A good friend of mine (Dave Lomax from Adventure Spec and the TET project in the UK) used to present a seminar called ‘Overweight is underprepared’, and I’ve tried to follow those principles in general… Now I’m not going to start cutting the handles of toothbrushes and things like that, but essentially I use the back-packer/cycle-touring ethos of only taking what is absolutely necessary, and wherever possible use compact and higher-tech products /clothing, and ideally things that can double up around camp and off the bike.
Since I tend to be back on the bike each morning, I’ve found you need surprisingly little other than your riding gear, a [complete] change of clothes and a few personal items – plus any camping equipment if that is your plan. It’s actually similar to the rally racing ethos too – carry only what is essential to get you to the end of the day, then sort out any issues at the ‘bivouac’.
Two things he used to say struck me… the first is to properly prepare your bike before you leave on a big trip – that way you ought to minimize the chance of any [parts] failures and wear, and so minimize the number of spares you actually need to carry to just those that will help you get moving again.
The other thing was food and fuel – generally speaking, if you’re traveling by motorcycle, you typically need to refuel every day – and even in outback Africa or Mongolia for example, if someone is prepared to sell you some fuel, then they will also sell you something to eat [after all they have to eat too] – which means you really only need to carry emergency rations and perhaps a few energy bars on a daily basis. Of course, I appreciate that you might not want to eat boiled testicles in a Mongolian Yurt, but as he says – “If you’re not prepared to dine on a cup of coffee and a crunch bar as needs must, then maybe adventure travel is not for you?”
Of course, I tend to do most of my long distance traveling in North America, where food and fuel are widely available as you desire. Indeed, I recall Austin Vince once suggested that “You can’t have a [genuine] adventure in the United States” – but I respectfully disagree – the point is you can choose the level of adventure you want, and certainly I recall being humbled when I first arrived and realized that you could ride for an hour out of Las Vegas and if you crashed alone, there is every chance that no one would find you for days, if ever…
link to my packing light presentation slideshow [on YouTube]:
Is there one particular road or track that stands out above all the rest?
There are so many… certainly, in recent years I’ve made it a mission to catalog (using GPS typically) a series of through routes all over the western USA.
However, based on my trip this past summer – there is certainly one which I’ve named “The best trail in all Montana” – it’s a little way north of the Crazy Mountains (near Livingston MT), part of which is only open seasonally too. I went through there in a terrible thunderstorm in 2017 on my CB, and my exit at the time was dubious through what appeared to be private property. This time, I wanted to prove a legitimate through route, and ultimately found a killer ATV width (ie. 50” gate/bridge) semi-single track series of switchbacks that crossed from one peak through a valley up to another – epic! It was almost dark by the time I finally joined the two halves together, so simply set up camp at the side of the trail and enjoyed the utter peacefulness of the forest.
I know you have done the TAT a few times in both directions, any preference to the direction or states that stand out to you?
I first heard about the TAT back in 2008 and I subsequently brought my XT660Z over from the UK with the primary intention of riding as much of it as could over the fall and spring the following year.
Initially, I headed straight for Colorado and was fortunate to ride all the high passes in the San Juan Mountains and Gunnison National Forest just before the snow came – which is undoubtedly a highlight of the whole TAT route, both technically and scenically.
I also love the scenery once you get to Moab in Utah, and this continues as you head further north and west of Green River UT too – another ‘must ride’ section of the TAT of course.
I was fortunate to be given the very latest revisions by Sam early in 2015,
which meant I was probably the first ‘punter’ to prove the new route north across the top of Utah and into Idaho – although because he had yet to complete the [current] new route through Oregon, I elected to pioneer my own alternative from Mountain Home (near Boise) back to the original TAT in northern Nevada, which personally is still one of my favourite sections, even though it is no longer part of the official route anymore.
I think in these days of GPS and breadcrumb track-logs, it really doesn’t matter which direction you do it in – although I can see why Sam suggests you ride from east to west, as the country naturally unfolds and gets more challenging and visually dramatic as you get further west…
A dream location to ride to that you have yet to visit?
While I am the happiest riding alone pretty much anywhere I’ve not been before [off-road], I do feel that the combination of dramatic scenery and the history/culture in Nepal would be an exciting and rewarding trip.
Scariest moment on your travels?
On the whole I’ve tended to be fortunate and try to avoid trouble, although I do recall a particularly unsettling moment from this past summer: I’d stopped overnight in Jolliet IL (having visited the Old Jolliet Prison which was featured in the opening scenes of the Blues Brothers movie of course), and since it was now dark, ducked into a Motel 6 [the most affordable option] just off the interstate to the south of the city. My god, the place was filthy – fast-food trash spilling out of the communal bins, indeterminate stains and grease all over the concrete walkways, and as I climbed the stairwell to my first floor room a guy standing in an open doorway beckoned me into his room, while holding a cone of aluminium foil. It was either fried chicken, or crack – and I fear the latter.
I bolted my door and stacked a chair and my luggage against it. Of course, I soon realised that I’d booked into the cheapest hotel in the epicentre of Illinois’ correctional facilities.
Most memorable day?
It’s almost impossible to pick just one, however, I would probably count the first time I rode in the [Sahara] desert back in 2006, as that really paved the way for me to start travelling further afield by bike, and to start rally racing too of course.
My friend [Julie] and I had joined a group of 4x4s who were embarking on a loop tour through Morocco, riding our bikes while two friends carried our camping equipment in their vehicle (a Range Rover sport, nice eh?) – I have a photo of Julie ripping her KTM 400EXC across a wide open desert plateau, giving me the thumbs up… I thought at the time it was like she’d been set free at last!
Do you think more people should travel and why?
Of course – if for no other reason than that is what our machines were made to do!
I also enjoy play-riding and poking around on local trails, and practicing techniques etc. in a close/controlled environment; but fundamentally for me, the whole point of a powered two-wheeler is to explore, to ride somewhere you’ve never been before, just to see what’s there…
I appreciate that many people don’t have the time to embark on multi-day/week/month trips as I have been able to do in recent years, but a week off work on the right bike can still open up plenty of new opportunities and experiences.
Being based in the UK most of the time (although increasingly in the USA these days), I still get a buzz out of booking an overnight ferry to France and then heading south, typically for the Spanish Pyrenees for example.
Likewise, being based in California when I’m in the States means I’ve got some world class riding (both paved and unpaved as I wish) pretty much in any direction other than due west of course (although I have been known to ride in the Pacific Ocean on one occasion, albeit by mistake).
I’m certainly aware it does take a lot of commitment, and most usually a degree of personal/professional sacrifice to take an extended period of time off to travel, but as the saying goes – you only live once, and you can’t take it with you – so I’d make plans, and get out there – it’s infectious!
Top 3 tips for a new rider?
1. Don’t get hung up on spec sheets, or think that a few Kg here or a couple of hp there is going to make you a better rider.
2. Prepare your bike and pack light – you’ll be surprised how little you actually need with you on a day-to-day basis.
3. Don’t underestimate fatigue. On a long distance overland trip (like the TAT for example), things can start to become a blur much over 200-250 miles in a day. Plan your trip accordingly so you don’t end up playing catch-up just to fulfil an unrealistic schedule.
What did used to do for a job before Rally Raid?
I used to work as a [freelance] features writer/photographer, primarily for the Land Rover press and latterly various motorcycle magazines published in the UK [with International distribution]. My professional background is in auto-industry PR and marketing.
Who influenced you to first ride a motorcycle?
My older brother taught me to ride (how to use a clutch and gears etc.), and I saw it as a natural extension of bicycle riding (I’m old enough to have had a BMX bike the first time round ;o)
What does the word ‘adventure’ mean to you?
Going somewhere you’ve not been before. And hopefully not hurting yourself too much ;o)
What is your one favourite photo ever from all your travels?
Again, my background is in photo-journalism, so I have hundreds of images that hopefully all have some merit for one reason or another… However, one I am particularly proud of is this ‘snap’ I took with one of the first digital pocket cameras (a Sony DSC-U10) during that 2006 trip to Morocco – it was a total fluke shot, late in the day [fading light] and just pointing and shooting with one hand as I rode close behind her – I was surprised how sharp the subject is and how well the background blurred, particularly since little secondhand camera only cost £10 from eBay, and I’m sure I’d have struggled to get the same result with my DSLR!
For more interviews and a small look into the life of some inmates make sure you check out the Interview Series in the forum that has been running since 2007 – you can find it here