From Trail Bike to Overland Machine
The humble Serow. The word comes from the name of a Japanese mountain goat which is a fitting name for this small, lightweight and agile trail bike. My Serow was a gifted to me so that I could accompany a group of my father’s friends on a road trip across northern Spain. This was my first taste of touring and seeing places while travelling on two wheels.
Since that initial tour I have under taken a number of short and long tours across Europe, see those here. Most notably the Serow is my bike of choice for my life on the road overland trip across Europe and beyond titled ‘It’s not a race to the end’. Follow that trip here.
On this page you shall find detailed information about how my Serow has changed over the years to become a suitable machine for long term overland adventures.
Specifications and Modifications
My Serow started it’s life as a trail bike, It was being used as a farm bike in Wales and came largely in standard condition. We began to prepare the bike for touring, allowing us to explore trails further afield and on the continent. I changed the gearing back to standard, a great improvement in the feel of the bike at the cost of top end speed. My Dad, a welder by trade, produced a set of stainless pannier racks and a front rack. For a couple of years this was enough to allow me to complete a number of tours and thousands of miles.
As my ambitions to travel for an entire year grew, I had to further modify the bike. This included an engine rebuild, a 23 litre tank installation, a DIY top-box, water storage, tool storage and various rider comforts and aids. See full details below.
- Model: 1KH.
- Manufactured: 1989.
- 225cc. 20hp.
- Weight: 108kg dry.
- 6 Speed Gearbox.
- Kick & Electric Start.
- 8.8 Litre Standard Tank.
- 70 – 90 MPG
Use & Modifications
As I mentioned above, my Dad was a welder by trade. He fashioned together a clean and sturdy stainless pannier rack system. He also produced a front rack that fits over the small headlight fairing of the Serow. This rack is really handy for that extra bit of storage space. Over the years these racks have been altered to cater for new pannier systems. My rear rack was an aftermarket rack made for the XT225. All these racks were powder-coated satin black. Having a sturdy rack setup not only allows you to carry a range of panniers and means of securing your luggage but it also gives a number of great hand holds for when you are man-handling your bike, either into a van or when out on the trails.
When I began to prepare my bike for it's ambitious tour of Europe and beyond I wanted a way to secure water bottles and somewhere dedicated to hold spare oil. I purchased these cheap bottle holders from Ebay (here) and had my Dad weld four bolts onto the pannier frames. This allowed the bottle holders to be bolted onto the frames where I could then store 1 litre metal and plastic bottles.
What adventure overland bike is complete without copious amounts of luggage and storage?
My first set of pannier bags were the tried and tested, old faithful Oxford saddle bags (Updated model!). After touring Spain, The Yorkshire Dales and The Lake District I began to realise that I had a strong dislike for the amount of straps required to keep panniers like this secured. Inspired by my Dad's luggage of choice I made the switch to Altura Bicycle Quick Release Panniers (here). These panniers are waterproof and feature a nifty quick release system that fits onto my pannier racks and releases with the press of a button. This did away with the many straps I previously had to fight with. The quick release system allowed me to easily unload my bike.
I am actually a fan of hard luggage. I like the security and the ability to organise your equipment slightly better using them. If I ever tour on a larger bike such as my XT600Z Tenere then I would definitely consider hard luggage. However for these small bikes I believe lightweight soft luggage is definitely the way to go. Buying bicycle panniers is also a great way of saving money. I could not ever justify the £1200+ prices of some hard luggage. That is quite simply an inordinate price for such an item no matter the quality.
Moving on to my next largest storage space. My DIY lockable top box. I purchased a cheap Vinyl Record Box. These are pretty waterproof, sturdy and lockable. I drilled holes in the bottom to bolt onto my rear rack. Check them out here. I made a number of modifications to mine. Firstly I wrapped the outside with white vinyl. This was to reflect heat and keep the contents cool. I then sectioned up the inside with panels of wood (although plastic would be a better choice!) in accordance to the items I would be keeping inside (pots and pans, stove) I also created an insulated section that would house a plastic Tupperware seal-able box. I would store fresh fruit, ice and frozen items in here as to not get the rest of the contents messy or damp.
On top of my top box I also have an additional bag. This is again a bicycle bag. I fashioned some brackets made from plastic and bolted them through the roof of my top box. Because it was a cheap project I have no qualms about drilling holes through it! In this top bag I usually keep extra gloves, waterproofs etc for quick access. A well thought out storage system is extremely valuable!
I also have a small tank bag. It takes some shopping around to find a tank bag that is just the right size for these small trail bikes! In this bag I usually keep my camera so I have quick access to it.
My front rack is home to another small bag and often my tent. Usually this is strapped down quite well so quick and easy access is not always possible. Therefore I tend to keep items here that I would not need when on the move.
The Serow has a great MPG range. Anywhere between 70-90mpg can be expected. However the standard tank is that of 8.8 litres. This is adequate for normal trail and road riding in the U.K. I have also got through a number of tours with no issues or close calls throughout the U.K and Europe. However, for longer term touring to more remote locations, you can't beat having a large after market tank. Plus they look good eh?
I had previously experimented with carrying more fuel by using Primus metal fuel bottles. Yet it is simply a bit of a faff having to fill them individually and pour them into the tank. I came to the conclusion pretty quick that I wanted an aftermarket larger tank.
There are two options for the XT 225 Serow. You can either get a Clarke from America that is 16 litres or go to David Lambeth for a 23 litre Aceribis tank (here). These tanks, in new condition, are upwards of £250 and £350 respectively.
My Dad, ever trawling Ebay, bought a used but in great condition Clarke tank for £70. He then bought a 23 litre Honda XR tank for around £40 to have a bash at fitting it to my Serow. This is David Lambeth does I believe. Some modifications are required and a bracket or two were made to hold the 23 litre tank. If you have a bit of DIY in you and are a keen fabricator, you could make an XR tank fit. My Dad later bought another XR tank to replace his Clarke tank which is now sitting spare.
The whopping 23 litre tank allows our Serows to reach upwards of 450 miles between fillups. Less time in petrol stations and more time exploring!
As you will know by now, the XT225 is by no means a touring bike. Yet I was determined to give it a good shot. To improve it's ability to perform as a tourer I made the following simple modifications:
I had my seat re-covered and improved by Tony Archer. The Serow seat is very narrow as standard which does seem to make it uncomfortable. I should imagine 30 years in the elements has done the foam inside no favours either so I had Tony apply new foam.
Next I had to deal with cold hands. Cold hands are never fun, in fact, they can sometimes be distracting and dangerous, let alone uncomfortable. It was obvious that I needed to add heated grips. I would have to be careful when using them however, as the Serow has a small battery and equally small alternator. Next on the list was to take a bit of the wind-chill off my hands by purchasing some inexpensive hand-guard extensions/spoilers. These would keep some of the elements away from my hands and forearms.
Modifications geared towards bike maintenance were fairly simple. I fashioned a tool kit tube from a fishing pole protection tube. Tools would be something that I would not use that often. This means, in my mind, that they should have their own dedicated space where they would be out of the way from day to day use of the bike, yet also easily accessible from the outside of the bike when I did need them. It was decided that this tool kit would be placed behind the pannier bag, attached to the pannier frame. This would keep it out of the way, it would be it's own entity and no interfere with loading or unloading the bike like my previous tool roll (strapped on the pillion part of the seat) did.
As with most classic bikes, keeping the engine supplied with good quality, clean oil is vital to the long life of the engine. This small bike takes 1.1 litres of oil and would be something I would monitor daily. I had to find a way of carrying this oil on the bike. It would not suite me to store an oily bottle among my pannier bags, therefore I decided that it would be best to store it inside a plastic hazardous material bottle that would be secured to one of the bottle carriers that were mounted on my pannier frames. Just like the tool tube, this would be self contained, easily accessible and not get in the way of daily activities.
Finally I had my spare inner tubes. These were contained inside a small bag mounted on the front mudguard, yes that is a thing!