Size matters.

The Potsdam Giants were unusually tall soldiers employed by Frederick the Great during the Austro Prussian war. Nicknamed lange keris [long men] by the local population, the Potsdam Giants, if they still existed, might be the kind of target customer KTM had in mind when they created the Enduro 690 – rugged men of action with extremely long legs in a readily accessible sales territory.

According to statistics I’m an inch taller than the average UK male, exactly the same height as the average Austrian bloke and just an inch shorter than yer average German but I still can’t touch the ground on KTM’s mid-sized trail bike. And when I say I can’t touch the ground I really mean it. Sat on the saddle the tips of my size 10 trials boots dangle helplessly in mid air as if I’m astride one of those pantomime ostrich costumes.

Now then, having done my research into the average height of European males I discovered a man’s inside leg measurement usually equates to 45% of his overall height. I’ll ‘fess up at this point and admit my inside leg is closer to 40% , proportionally shorter than most but still long enough to cock a leg over just about any road bike and the majority of off road machines.The KTM’s seat is a full English yard above terra firma yet the typical German male, statistically one of Europe’s tallest races, has an average inside leg measurement of just 32”. Do the math, as they say.

KTM jump big

There’s no way this geezer can get his feet on the ground on that thing

So, if it isn’t the Potsdam Giants, just who are KTM aiming the bike at? The Enduro I refer to belongs to my chum Rich who bought it new a couple of weeks ago. He’s a man with a keen eye for the aesthetic, an experienced road rider and is an outdoors enthusiast who wants to get into trail riding. With those credentials and at six feet tall he might just fit the profile of the ideal KTM 690 customer but even Rich can only just touch the floor when sat on his new bike. He tells me he will be buying a lowering kit for it. It’s a route a lot of riders go down nowadays and it begs the question why are manufacturers releasing bikes onto the market which need to be fundamentally altered to make them ridable by normal folk? Surely it would be more sensible to produce lower bikes by default and offer kits to raise the seat height should owners feel it necessary. I’d lay money there would be fewer owners raising the ride height of their bike than are currently having them lowered.

Rich Mountain Rd

Tall, dark and handsome and the KTM’s not bad looking either. As you can see Rich ain’t no midget and yet he’s already looking for a lowering kit for his 690.

KTM are by no means the only manufacturer guilty of making bikes which are too tall for the average person. Most big manufacturers offer bikes for road as well as off-road use which feature unfeasibly high saddles. BMW started it with the G/S which was/is too tall for the average bod . And if you thought the production G/S was a bit lofty, consider this: in their final incarnation, BMW’s Paris Dakar race bikes had an auxiliary tank under the seat raising the saddle height to almost 40”.

Spare a thought for diminutive Belgian works rider Gaston Rahier having to muscle his vertiginous Beemer across the desert. Rahier was just 5’2” tall and his starting technique on the big G/S was to stand by the side of the bike, pop it in gear and take off whilst simultaneously standing on the left pot and cocking his right leg over the saddle. If you’ve ever seen old cowboy films depicting pony express riders setting off you’ll get the picture. Fortunately with 60 litres of gas on board Rahier didn’t have to stop very often but when he did, the Belgian dwarf as he was unkindly known, would make a beeline for the service vehicle and stop with his bike’s handlebars resting against the truck. It’s a choice not open to most trail riders. Modern production GS’s wisely offer lowered suspension and low seat options.

BMW PD team

Gaston Rahier [centre] with BMW team mates. As you can see , the G/S is a little bit big for him. Respect to Rahier for grappling with that monster. Paris Dakar riders from that era were a very special breed

So why are modern dirt bikes so tall? Well, boxer motors aside, most modern dirt bikes are four stroke singles with relatively tall engine architecture. The current obsession with unnecessarily high ground clearances means engines are mounted high in the frame and the camshafts and throttle bodies occupy space traditionally taken up by the fuel tank. Certain manufacturers including KTM get around this by fitting ludicrously small fuel tanks amply demonstrated by their current 350 Freeride with its lamentable 5.5 litre fuel capacity. If I was being unkind I’d also say a small tank helps keep the quoted wet weight down. Now how did a trail bike with a such a meagre range ever make it past a design committee and into production? That said, plenty of riders find the tank range can be tolerated because the Freeride is such a sharp , competent bike. A lot depends where you want to ride such a bike, here in the Marches fuel stations are so far and few between a small tank really hobbles a trail bikes ability to strike out into the hinterland.

If there’s no space for a decent sized tank the next best option is to carry the fuel under the seat . It’s not a new idea, Honda did it with the Goldwing years ago. Stowing fuel under the saddle is tempting for manufacturers and makes a lot of sense from a packaging point of view. It helps centralise mass, which is usually a Good Thing. KTM  decided to go for an under the seat fuel tank on the 690 and therein lies the problem. They’ve produced a great trail bike with a reasonable range but unfortunately the location of the tank has raised the seat to such an extent you need to be a lange keris to ride it. It’s a great shame because it spoils what could be one of the truly great dual purpose bikes. It’s fast, grunty and light , beautifully made and not too expensive. If it wasn’t so damn tall I’d buy one myself. As it is, I’ll stick with my old 640 Adventure [complete with lowered suspension] until KTM et al wake up and start building bikes for normal people.

Rich Shelderton

KTM are ploughing a lonely furrow offering bikes only fit for giants

Planning a ride.

It’s a relief when everyone gets back safely from a ride . With everybody still buzzing with adrenalin  there’s always lots of lively banter as the adventures of the day are re re-lived . People enjoying themselves is a wonderful thing to see and the satisfaction of a job well done is one of the things I enjoy most about this job. Organising a trail ride is fun but it can also be challenging. It’s the responsibility of the ride leader to make sure the day runs smoothly and everything goes to plan. If you’re thinking about organising a ride for your mates here’s a few pointers to make sure your day out is a success.

DSC_9187

The Route

Obviously the most important aspect of any ride is the route itself so try not to leave the planning of it to the last minute. Consider the sequence of the ride, particularly the technical sections. If you’re likely to have  inexperienced riders in the group remember most riders and especially beginners are happier riding up a steep rocky section than down one so factor this in when planning the direction of your ride. I work on the premise that an accident ascending a hill usually happens at a slower speed than one coming down it ! Conversely, if you’ve got some big trail bikes coming out give consideration to whether there are any long muddy climbs to tackle. Big bikes will struggle to find traction on greasy uphill sections and a bit of thought on which direction you will be tackling a hazard from can save a lot of grief.

Team Offa

A diverse bunch of riders and bikes and as nice a group of people as you are likely to meet. In case you were wondering the big GS went everywhere the little bikes did. Steve with the Beemer, is a first class rider and needed no route ammendments, he just rode it as if it was a 450!.

If you’re planning some river crossings think about putting them in the afternoon section of the route. There’s no point in getting soaking wet at the start of the ride if you can avoid it. Quite often it simply isn’t practical to plan around all these eventualities but it’s worth weighing them up and deciding which is the best set of compromises for your situation. I believe the modern parlance is risk assessment . Be considerate when passing through farmyards or past dwellings. It’s legal to ride on a byway through a smallholding at 7.30 am on a Sunday morning but it certainly ain’t cool. Try to be reasonable. Always try and have a few route options up your sleeve in case of disasters. A couple of punctures or an accident can really throw your intinerary out of whack and it pays to have a plan B.

Fuel and spares

This is very basic stuff I know but make sure you know where fuel can be obtained on the route and whether it will be open. Many rural petrol stations have limited opening hours.

115

I like to refuel here because they have quadruple Green Shield stamps

I always ask riders to make sure they turn up at the start with enough fuel for at least 70 miles, if their tanks aren’t big enough they need to carry an auxiliary fuel cannister. Advise all the riders to bring the correct kit to deal with a puncture, even if they’re not able to deal with it themselves. It’s not fair to rely on other members of the group to carry spare tubes etc. Everybody in the group should be encouraged to be as self-reliant as possible. Riders will always pitch in and help each other but it’s always good to know the person in distress has at least attempted to avoid relying on the kindness of others.

Majesty refuel Edinburgh

“riders should carry an auxiliary fuel cannister…”  Yours truly on the Edinburgh Trial some years ago  . Spontaneous combustion was an ever present threat on these long distance trials

The briefing

Make sure you hold a rider briefing before setting off , this might seem a bit OTT if you’re just going out with a few buddies but trust me, it’s worth doing even if it does make you feel like  Captain Mainwaring . Firstly make sure everyone knows roughly where you intend to take them, where you’ll be stopping for food , refreshment etc. Appoint your tail-end Charlie, contrary to popular practice the fastest rider should be at the back, not the slowest. This is because the tail-ender can sometimes be delayed at traffic junctions and will need to get a move on to catch the group up. If the slowest rider is at the back this just adds to the delays.

Position the slowest rider directly behind the leader, one way or another the group is going to have to travel at the pace of slowest rider and if he/she is positioned directly behind the leader it becomes much easier to adjust the pace of the group to suit.

Explain to everyone what your preferred method is for dealing with gates. If someone is clearly struggling to get on or off their bike [it happens] or has problems parking it on rough ground my advice is to excuse them from gate duty because they’ll just hold up proceedings and affect the flow of the ride.

Make it clear what the procedure is when you come across walkers/ equestrians / cyclists/ livestock.

DSC_9197

These riders were correctly briefed and knew that if we encountered horse riders the instruction was to stop and kill the motor. Sensibly, the lads at the back have removed their helmets, this helps to calm horses. The result is an exchange of pleasantries  rather than a potentially hazardous disaster waiting to happen.

Most importantly stress to everyone that as ride leader you cannot be expected to know what is going on at the back of the pack. It is up to each rider to look out for their buddy riding behind and to do this by frequently checking over their shoulder to check all is well. If a problem occurs they should stop immediately and if everybody adheres to this procedure the message will soon get through to the ride leader. This prevents the potentially dangerous situation of somebody riding like a bat out of hell to catch up with the leader to inform them of a problem. Remember to warn the group that if they’ve stopped to fix a problem and have got it sorted be very cautious about setting off down the trail to catch the leader up, they might just meet them coming briskly down the trail to find out whsat the problem is.

The ride

Once you set off don’t panic if it’s all a bit shambolic for the first hour or so . In my experience this is perfectly normal and a group eventually settles into its own rhythm. Don’t be afraid to show leadership, within reason people respond better to clear concise instructions. A riding group invariably has one guy who is always first to take his helmet off and last to put it back on. Over the course of a day these small delays accumulate and end up eating into the riding time. One of the skills of the ride leader is to identify the source of these delays and neutralise it. Which isn’t to say kill the person , just make sure you gently chivvy them along and encourage them to get their arse in gear. When tackling a technical trail always try to explain beforehand the nature of the hazard ahead and provide as much info as possible. It’s not patronising, it’s simply common sense and most riders will appreciate the heads up on any potential hazards. Better to be seen as a bit of a mother hen than have to deal with somebody’s broken collar bone in the back of beyond.  Where possible lead from the back. For example, when you know a trail has a definite and clear end such as a T junction or a gate wave everyone through and let them blow off a bit of steam if they want to. This lets the more excitable riders burn off some energy without putting the leader under any pressure. It will also enable you to observe and evaluate the ability of the group and amend the route if necessary. On a practical level it’s always much easier to deal with the aftermath of spills if you’re bringing up the rear. Enjoy yourself and ride safe.

Man down, again

It’s easier to deal with the aftermath of an accident if you’re bringing up the rear, it also provides a golden opportunity to capture on camera someone else’s misfortune.

Ride Smart. The art of adventure riding

Brooding skies

CCM, GS and a Triumph somewhere in Shropshire. Don’t forget your brolly.

Post a thread on any internet adventure bike forum inquiring about the off road capabilities of big trail bikes and you are guaranteed to arouse passionate responses. Dare to question the effectiveness of an 1190 Adventure or a GSA 1200 on technical off-road trails and you’re likely to attract responses ranging from a polite but firm rebuttal from BMW GS enthusiasts to poison pen letters and death threats from the online KTM community. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, not all KTM riders are psychotic but you get the picture, it’s a sensitive subject . The issues surrounding the off-road performance of adventure bikes bikes stem from too much power, too much weight and not enough grip for the job in hand. This shouldn’t deter you from taking your big bike off road, but if you understand the limitations you can plan days out on your bike which play to its strengths rather than amplify its weaknesses.

Dab.jpg

This, believe it or not is a puddle on a trail 1000′ above sea level. Trail riding can be unpredictable…

For those unfamiliar with trail riding allow me to share one or two observations about riding the green lanes you are likely to encounter in the UK. Our unsurfaced roads [ the technical definition of a green lane] are often narrow and rutted and can become waterlogged, which is the reason they become rutted in the first place. These ancient rights of way have often been in use for centuries and sometimes sit well below the level of surrounding fields because the passage of traffic over time has actually worn a deep groove in the countryside. This encourages water to collect. There are lanes close to where I live which never completely dry out and are tricky to navigate on a big bike even in the middle of summer.

The problem is, you won’t find this information on any OS map or your GPS, you have to ride the trail to find out and there’s the rub – half a mile down a narrow track you might suddenly find yourself in a deep muddy rut struggling to find traction . On a typical 110kg trail bike you can simply dismount at this stage, lift the back wheel out of the rut and then do the same with the front and continue on your way. If you’re riding a 200+kg adventure bike you now have a pretty serious problem on your hands, especially if you decide the route is impassable and you need to turn back.

Strata

Bad enough on a 90kg trail bike, on a big adventure bike you would now have your work cut out  . This was taken on Strata Florida in Wales.

Of course we also have access to hard packed trails and forest fire roads in the UK and these aren’t such a problem on an adventure bike, but be aware it’s not possible to do these easy routes in isolation and sooner or later you’re going to come across mud , soft ground and some tight technical trails. This is why taking a big bike off road needs careful thought and planning.

The trick is to avoid getting into a difficult situation in the first place. For instance, if you sense a trail is becoming narrower or getting too muddy stop immediately and go and inspect on foot . If you don’t like what you see don’t be afraid to turn round and find an alternative route. I can’t stress how important this is on a big bike, it might seem a bit feeble, especially if your leading a group but it can save a lot of potential heartache. Getting bogged down in deep mud and unable to go forwards or backwards is a frustrating and exhausting experience.

A pal of mine was out trail riding recently and stopped when he saw something sticking out off a particularly deep muddy bomb hole on a trail. On closer inspection he realised the object was a Land Rover’s roof. Try to picture the consequences of simply ploughing into a similar rut on a big GS hoping it will all sort itself out.

Trail riding can involve a lot of manhandling of the bike. For instance, pulling up to a gate on a steeply rutted lane and stopping the bike often means getting off and having to drag the back wheel around until you find a suitable place to deploy the sidestand. Again, not an issue on a lightweight trail bike but on a heavy adventure bike this type of thing can become very tiring so keep your eyes on the trail and plan well ahead, look where the best grip will be for a restart will be and where you can park the bike and dismount easily. It can be a lot less stressful to stop well short of a gate at a suitable spot and walk the last few yards to open it. When you restart the bike this will usually give you a nice clean getaway instead of having to struggle in the mud and ruts created by all the other vehicles who drove as close as they could to the gate before stopping. Always seek out opportunities to save energy, you don’t know when you might need it. Once fatigue sets in it the possibility of falling off big heavy bikes increases dramatically.

Lands end Bishops wood 1

Once fatigue sets in the chances of falling off a big bike increase dramatically! This is yours truly on the Land’s End Trial a few years ago, my first attempt at tackling serious off- road stuff on an adventure bike.

If you find yourself on a tricky section of steep trail with lots of rock and mud and you’re wondering where to find grip a good tip is to follow the route of any  water flowing down the lane. Water will usually wash away any mud and I find if I need to make a quick decision on which route to take through a hazard there’s usually grip to be found beneath flowing water. On technical trails pick up momentum when you can get traction and then allow the bike to roll along on a neutral throttle over sections where the grip will be compromised. It’s all just common sense really but riding smart can make the difference between having a chilled and enjoyable day or a brutal, unsatisfying slog.

At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, planning routes is very important, much more so than if you were on a small bike. I’ll happily set off on my own on one of the Adventure Ride Pamperas and go and busk it, exploring new routes and going wherever my fancy takes me but I never do this on the KTM 640. I’ll speak to other trail riders and ask them what lanes they think are suitable for big bikes. If you can see from the contour lines there will be a steep ascent, think about planning your route to tackle this lane in reverse so it becomes a descent. If I’m planning a big bike day I’ll look stuff up about the route on the web and ask questions on forums. Forewarned is forearmed.

Descent

Descending can be easier than climbing. This is JP, one of BMW’s off-road instructors making it look easy on a Triumph XC. There is no way this bike would have gone up this slope. Take into account the gradients when planning your route. [photo courtesy of Bike magazine and photographer Chippy Wood]


Don’t be tempted to simply pick out a few Byways on an OS map and head off into the wild blue yonder. Gather as much intel as you can, believe me it will pay dividends.
Before setting out make sure your bike has decent lifting handles and if it doesn’t, fit a lifting strap to the rear of the bike. When possible, leave your adventure style panniers at home, they’ll catch and snag on ruts lifting the rear and losing grip. Do everything possible to minimise getting stranded with a puncture. Pushing a big adventure bike with a flat tyre off a remote trail to the nearest garage will definitely spoil your day. Make sure you know how to remove both wheels and have the tools with you to do so. If you’re serious about going off road and haven’t yet changed a tube on your bike practice in the comfort of your garage. Far better to learn how to deal with a puncture listening to Radio 4 with a cuppa to hand than out in the Brecons with the rain lashing down your neck and dusk approaching. Carry a spare tube [or a tubeless repair kit]. Don’t rely on Co2 cannisters or a tyre repair cannister. By all means take some but for goodness sake carry a mountain bike pump as back up. Treat the tubes with a sealant such as OKO.

I would also strongly advise you don’t ride alone, trail riding isn’t a dangerous activity but in my experience it can be unpredictable. I’ve seen people break bones after an innocuous- looking fall and this would be very bad news if you were riding solo.
Drop the tyre pressures, I find 15psi each end works well on my KTM, don’t be tempted to go too low – unless you’ve got security bolts fitted the power of a big bike can spin the wheel in the tyre and tear the valve out. And don’t forget to put some air back in for the journey home. Ride smart and arrive home in one piece.

home

Photo courtesy Bike magazine and Chippy Wood

KTM 640 Adventure

Stretton anon

By and large my motorcycling activities have been relatively injury-free. However, towards the end of last year’s riding season the KTM 640 I use for AdventurerRide’s big bike off-road days reminded me big singles need treating with respect .
A tell-tale clicking from the starter solenoid informed me the KTM’s battery had become discharged and and the only option was to revert to the analogue starting procedure. Standing fully erect on the kickstarter I brought a hefty 90kg to bear with as much force as could be mustered. Somewhere close to the bottom of the swing the KTM gave a mighty cough and launched me in a reverse trajectory skywards to the garage roof breaking my ankle in the process. Painful? Oh yes…
Of course if I’d bothered to read the handbook I would have known not to open the throttle during the starting procedure. Although the 640 has a good old fashioned carb, it also has a TPS [throttle position sensor] which I suspect threw the ignition to full advance creating a spark at the wrong time. I don’t think I’ve been hit so violently since the days I was taught by Catholic clergymen.
Some months on and still limping it’s time to reflect on the 640 Adventure and give a few riding impressions. I bear the bike no malice, but the fact a modern bike can deliver such a debilitating wallop to its unsuspecting owner underlines the KTM has no frills. No electronic trickery to minimise the possibility of kickback, no clever little cams which lift a valve to ease the starting procedure as found on some Japanese bikes . Nope , the 640 Adventure is a rugged , take-no-prisoners bruiser which the Austrian factory have kept down to a commendable 150kg.

KTM map

A GPS isn’t OE on the 640 Adventure but no matter, the Ghobi panniers are double skinned and can carry water/petrol/wine in the void between the two skins. The two screws at the base of the pannier are to fit an external tap. Now I ask you, would you rather have GPS or the ability to carry two two litres of Rioja with you on your adventure?

The low weight comes with a corresponding lack of refinement. At first acquaintance the 640’s single cylinder engine feels crude, specially when compared to something like a Yamaha 660. Its balancer shaft doesn’t eliminate vibes quite as well as the equivalent Yamaha or BMW single and the rider is always aware just one cylinder is doing all the work. A Jaguar car engineer once told me you can’t have refinement without weight and so it is with the KTM, it’s 30kg lighter than the equivalent Yamaha Tenere and there is consequently less mass to dissipate vibes. Compared to the Yamaha’s counterbalanced smoothness the raw -boned KTM feels visceral and uncompromising.

The flipside to the KTM’s diamond-in-the-rough demeanour is its off-road capability which is outstanding for a bike of its size, a true adventure bike in fact. The 640 will launch you down fire-roads floating imperiously over ruts and bumps which would have lesser bikes tied in knots. It will also plonk through deep mud and scabble up rocky inclines finding grip where you’d swear there wasn’t any. It’s this pedigree which helps generate the almost fanatical devotion of KTM’s partisan fanbase.
One of the quirks of the Adventure’s LC4 motor is the way it gets noticeably smoother when thoroughly warm. By thoroughly I mean after about 100 miles. A pal of mine restores vintage aero engines and knows a thing or two about motors and what makes them tick . Back in the day he bought a new LC4 Adventure and mentioned this characteristic of the LC4 engine, explaining that some engines behaved this way. It’s the kind of ‘character’ the Japanese endeavour to engineer out of their bikes. I’d completely forgotten about it until I went for a long ride on mine and after a couple of hours the whole plot settled down and smoothed out. At this point the 640 feels as if could thrum along all day eating the miles, which is something the Adventure excels at . It’s never going to be as smooth as the Yamaha or indeed the BMW 650 which has an engine of similar pedigree but it’s on the right side of acceptable. Of course it might just seem smoother after a couple of hours because your arse has gone to sleep.

big trail bike

Somewhere in the Welsh borders. On these kinds of trails in this type of country the 640 has a lot going for it.

On short gearing [standard gearing is too tall for serious off road use] the Adventure will buzz along happily all day at 60 to 70mph with 80 plus being available for short bursts of overtaking. Although the KTM is happy to rev, it’s a brave man who ventures anywhere near the 8500 rpm redline, 4000 to 6000rpm is the sweet spot and anything above this is unnecessary and can feel harsh.
So, having established the 640 Adventure is an agreeable, if not particularly quick road bike what’s it like off the tarmac? Bear in mind I’m not a fan of big bikes for serious trail riding, spoilt as I am by the 90kg Pamperas on the AdventureRide fleet. Therefore I approached the KTM with a degree of caution before doing anything serious off-road. On standard road gearing the 640 is unhappy in second gear on technical trails, I’ve rectified this by fitting a 15t front sprocket. Caution should be exercised on technical descents because the “stall speed” is relatively high and if you’re going slowly on slippery surfaces the engine’s high compression can lock the rear wheel and stall the engine.  The answer is to acquaint yourself with the arcane art of deploying the decompresser to prevent stalling. It’s an acquired knack needing a delicate touch but once mastered is a useful technique to know and might help avoid an embarrassing low speed spill.

DSC_0869

Pressed into service during a recent photo shoot for Bike magazine. The 640 was a used as a mule carrying photographer Chippy Woods tripods, lenses and cameras.

During my six month tenure with the KTM I’ve done one or two minor maintenance tasks such as wheel bearings and starter clutch and have to say the bike is , on the whole, a joy to work on. Well engineered, robustly made and sensibly laid out, the KTM is a quality product. The paintwork in particular is stunning, it looks like standard KTM orange from a distance but in fact has a subtle metallic flip flop effect which looks fantastic in sunlight. However, like most bikes, the 640 ain’t perfect and scores low in certain areas. Particularly annoying is the seat retaining bolt. KTM’s designers have seen fit to retain the seat by a single hex-headed 6mm bolt located in the centre of the rear wheel well facing downwards to the tyre , perfectly situated to get coated in mud and road crud off the rear wheel every time you ride the bike. The battery lives under the seat and it’s feasible you might need to access it when out on the trail and finding the bolt can be difficult. I’ve slotted the head on my seat bolt with a hacksaw and Araldited half a penny washer to it so a] so I can find it and b] so I don’t need to use a spanner to undo it.
Other gripes include the fiddly oil change and filling procedure. Google it if you’re curious. It involves [amongst other things] bleeding air out of the frame via a hard to access bleed screw in the headstock. No big deal but not exactly user friendly or intuitive.
I would also criticise the left hand kickstart [OK it’s got a leccy starter so perhaps I’m being picky] the overly fierce front brakes – great on the road but a liability off it – and finally ,and this is a big one, a disappointing lack of flywheel mass. KTM are not the only manufacturer who are guilty of this. Yamaha, BMW , Suzuki and Honda all make big singles which are lacking in the trouser department when it comes to flywheels. The result is an engine which needs knocking down a gear on long ascents and judders when asked to cope with large throttle openings at low revs. On tight nadgery trails this is exacerbated by the large jump between 2nd and 3rd gears. A decent flywheel would solve all this.
The problem is, on all these bikes, the space normally occupied by a flywheel is now taken up by an electric starter sprag clutch mechanism. I suppose it’s the price of progress and instead of firing every lampost, modern big singles now thrive on revs and make their torque higher up the register. I’m afraid it’s the modern way. The sprag clutch  is notoriously fragile and mine needed replacing almost as soon as I got the bike. Starter clutch life can be prolonged by using the decompresser briefly whilst spinning the engine up on the starter motor. Pop the decompresser off and the engine usually fires instantly.
In summary I’m extremely happy with the 640 Adventure, it’s a true dual purpose bike in that it’s capable of being driven very long distances on the road, up to 300 miles with its 28 litre tank, and still make a decent fist of tackling quite technical trails when you get to your trail riding destination. Most important is that it’s actually fun to ride, unlike some of the 250kg big traillies which have to be treated with a great deal of respect on loose surfaces. Of course the larger capacity bikes will cover big miles cosseting the rider in a way the 640 Adventure could never hope to match but if you’re looking for a bike which is genuinely enjoyable to ride on or off the road you could do a lot worse than look out for a used Adventure.

Pye corner

And some final food for thought. These original 640 Adventures are starting to be seen as classics and hold their value very well. You can’t beat a bit of depreciation-free fun.

Grease Nipples

We get through a lot of wheel bearings at AdventureRide. It’s hardly surprising when you look at the operating conditions – some of the bikes cover 300 to 400 miles a week during which they’ll do maybe nine river crossings and be immersed countless times in muddy water before being subjected to a 2500psi pressure wash three or four times. It’s not a healthy environment for a bearing and each bike will consume numerous sets of bearings during a season.

“Not a healthy environment for a bearing…”

Last year I stopped buying expensive bearings and started fitting what the trade term ‘budget’ bearings. They lasted as well as the more expensive bearings but had a tendency to break up when being removed from the hub causing another hour of work to remove the outer race, usually at a time when I could least afford it. I’m now back on branded bearings. Recently I bought a spare rear wheel off eBay and when it arrived I noticed some clever soul had fitted a grease nipple to it. Hallelujah! I have seen the light… a proper old school, simple solution to an age old problem.

I’ve since started fitting grease nipples to all the bikes and it occurred to me there will be readers out there who have never even seen a grease nipple, let alone understand their significance or know how to go about fitting them.

The idea of filling a hub with grease is not simply to lubricate the bearing, the grease is there to act as a barrier to prevent the ingress of dirt and water. Packing a hub with grease and it will prolong the life of the bearing but fitting a nipple as well will prolong it much more. With a nipple fitted it’s possible to periodically introduce more grease which will have a purging action, forcing grease through the bearing and pushing out the old grease which has been contaminated with water and grit from the outside world. It’s such a simple idea and one which for some reason has fallen out of vogue with manufacturers.

Here’s a simple pictorial guide how to go about fitting a grease nipple to your hub. Usual caveats apply, ie , don’t blame me if you snap a drill off in your hub and I’m also assuming the reader has a basic grasp of workshop techniques. If you haven’t then please get a competent mechanic to do the work.

1] You'll need a decent drift to remove the bearings, I use a piece of 9mm stainless bar which has a nice defined lip. First, put the bar into the hub and give it a sharp sideways knock to dislodge the axle spacer a couple of mm. This will enable you to insert the drift from the other side and gain a purchase on the inside edge of the bearing to drift it out.

1] You’ll need a decent drift to remove the bearings, I use a piece of 9mm stainless bar which has a nice defined lip. First, put the bar into the axle tunnel and give it a sharp sideways knock to dislodge the bearing spacer a couple of mm. You can then insert the drift from the other side and gain a purchase on the inside edge of the bearing to drift it out.

2] Always use heat, plenty of heat before using a drift on the bearing. The bearing should pop out quite easily after warming the hub with a plumber's torch A good tip is to decide which is the least knackered one [usually the one not on the sprocket side]. Knock the good one out first and then, when you've removed the spacer from within the hub, you can get a really good purchase on the back of the remaining bearing and lessen the chance of punching just the inner race out leaving you with the ball ache of the outer race stuck in the hub. It happens.

2] Always get plenty of heat into the hub before trying to drift out the bearing. The bearing should pop out quite easily after warming the hub . A good tip is to decide which is the least knackered bearing [usually the one opposite the sprocket side]  knock it out first and then, when you’ve removed the spacer from within the hub, you can get a really good purchase with the drift on the back of the remaining bearing . This lessens the chance of punching just the inner race out of the weaker bearing leaving you with the trauma of having the outer race stuck tight in the hub. If this happens get a Dremel with a grinding stone on it and tickle away at the outer race taking care not to break through the steel and damage the bearing housing. You’ll find the race will probably drop out due to the intense heat long before you get close to the ally hub.

3] Decide where you want to place the grease nipple [equidistant between the two bearings is best] and centre punch the spot.

3] Decide where you want to place the grease nipple [equidistant between the two bearings is best] and centre punch the spot using a punch and nice light hammer. Weigh up the orientation of the spot against the spoke pattern, make sure you can get the drill  in.

4] Unless you want to dismantle the rim off the wheel, and I'm guessing you don't, you'll need one of these nifty 90 degree adaptors for your drill so you can access the hub through the spokes. Drill a 2mm pilot hole and then follow on with a 5mm drill.

4] Unless you want to unlace the spokes and dismantle  the wheel… and I’m guessing you don’t …you’ll need one of these nifty 90 degree adapters for your drill so you can get in between the spokes and drill a hole in the hub . Drill a 2mm pilot hole and then follow on with a 5mm drill.

5] Using a ratchet tap wrench carefully tap a 6mm thread into the hole. It looks tricky but is actually very easy to do. Ideally you want a wrench with a removable tommy bar.

5] Using a ratchet tap wrench carefully tap a 6mm thread into the hole. It looks tricky but is actually very easy to do. Ideally you want a wrench with a removable tommy bar and a knurled top ring so you can start the thread off nice and square to the hub by hand before resorting to the tommy bar

6] Nicely done, don't forget to thoroughly flush out the hub removing any swarf and make sure the hub void is spotlessly clean.

6] Nicely done, don’t forget to thoroughly flush out the hub removing any swarf and make sure the hub void is spotlessly clean.

7] Install the nipple using a bit of Loctite thread lock. I've used a 45 degree nipple here but straight ones will work just as well.

7] Install the nipple using a bit of Loctite thread lock. I’ve used a 45 degree nipple here but straight ones will work just as well.

8] Before refitting the bearing be sure to remove the inner seal on both bearings, if you don't do this there's not much point installing a nipple!

8] Before refitting the bearing be sure to remove the inner seal on both bearings, if you don’t do this there’s not much point installing a nipple! Don’t forget to replace the bearing spacer in the hub. Sometimes these spacers come with foam rubber collars which help centralise the spacer relative to the bearing inner race. You’ll have to ditch these collars because they will act as a barrier to the grease. It’s no hardship, you just need to take a bit of extra care when installing the second bearing and make sure the spacer is lined up properly before seating the bearing. You’ll work it out…

9] This is the kit I used, hammer , drift, centre punch, 2mm pilot, 5mm drill, 6mm tap set, tap wrench, blow torch, drill, 90 degree drill adaptor , nipple and a couple of bearings. I bought everything off eBay, the taps drills and nipples were a few pounds, the only expensive thing being the 90 degree drill adaptor at thirteen quid.

9] This is the kit I used, hammer , drift, centre punch, 2mm pilot, 5mm drill, 6mm tap set, tap wrench, blow torch, drill, 90 degree drill adaptor , nipple and a couple of bearings. I bought everything off eBay, the taps drills and nipples were a few pounds, the only expensive thing being the 90 degree drill adaptor at thirteen quid.

A Horse-Drawn Man.

At the risk of sounding  Luddite or a member of the Flat Earth Society I just don’t understand the growing trend among off-road enthusiasts to depend on GPS devices for navigation. Don’t get me wrong, I think Satnavs are fantastic devices. They’ll get you around the European road network quickly and efficiently, just bang in the destination postcode and off you go. But for trail riding? Nope, I just don’t get it.
One of the joys of organising a day out in the Great British countryside is the anticipation and planning. And for me, there are few greater pleasures in life than pouring a nice glass of red and poring over a 1:25,000 OS map planning a journey into the wild blue yonder.

I’m one of those fortunate people who can look at contour patterns and immediately visualise the surrounding terrain, it’s by no means a special or unusual skill but in my experience not everyone can do it. Once I’ve picked out a likely route I’ll scan the surrounding area of the map looking for points of interest potentially worthy of a diversion such as hill forts or Roman ruins. I’ll also be looking for signs of distinctive topography such as rocky outcrops, Trig points, woodland, rivers etc to use as sense-checks should we get lost. Can you do this on a 4” LCD screen? Not very easily. The spatial awareness provided by studying the wider picture of places you want to go is a key component in effective navigation.

On a more practical level the thought of being in the middle of nowhere with a dead Satnav battery or loss of GPS signal is also unappealing. I appreciate the loss of signal is rare nowadays but the fact remains you are relying upon someone / something else to guide you and if there’s one thing trail riding teaches you, it’s to be self sufficient. SYOSO as they say. By contrast, a paper map is absolutely 100% reliable. No moving parts or Lithium crystals y’see.

Without trying to be a smart-arse I recently posted a comment on a well known off-road forum asking for GPS advocates to summarise the key benefits of satellite-aided navigation over paper maps. It was a genuine request because I honestly believed I might be missing out on something. Aside from predictably stupid comments about non-technology users being in the Dark Ages the answers were as interesting as they were unconvincing. They ranged from being able to provide evidence against potential prosecution for Rights of Way infringements to having all the OS maps stored in a convenient handy-to-access device. Let me tell you, it’ll be a sad day when I start recording what I do in case I later need to refer to it in a court of law. Not only that but having instant access to a detailed map of Weymouth harbour when I’m lost somewhere in the Welsh Marches is of questionable benefit.
The other flaw in the GPS argument is the data being used to compile the routes is not necessarily infallible. To be fair, the same could be said of OS paper maps . Even the so-called definitive rights-of-way maps used by local authorities can be found wanting in providing reliable information. The only way around this is to get out there and do the ground work, speak to locals , carefully research routes and then get down to your local authority to check. I suspect this is the last thing the upcoming generation of young trail riders brought up on easy-to-access information and instant gratification want to hear but that’s the way it is. You still need to put the leg work in whether you’re all teched-up with a Garmin Geek-o-Matic Lone Ranger Tech Trail Gen 2. v8.5 or whether you choose to navigate by sextant and compass. It’s one of the things I love about trail riding. It ain’t easy and that’s what makes it so satisfying.

Touratch road book holder. OK , I admit it, I'm an analogue kind of a guy...

Touratch road book holder. OK , I admit it, I’m an analogue kind of a guy…

Years spent competing in long distance trials taught me the value of decent route notes transcribed into a crude short hand and loaded into a road book holder. A road book holder is a simple handlebar mounted device which basically contains a very long roll of paper upon which you put your notes. Expensive road book holders have a facility to scroll the notes by means of an electric motor. Being a horse-drawn man I favour a manual scrolling system [ie you turn a handle with your left hand] but the model I have does have the luxury of integral lighting, green l.e.d.s providing subtle diffused lighting, easy on the eyes and essential for night time navigation. For an event like the Land’s End Trail I would transcribe 350 miles/20 hours worth of route notes onto a 25′ roll of paper and expect to complete the event without a single navigational error. I reckon that’s a pretty good argument for the efficacy of paper maps and road books. My Touratech unit was very expensive [about £100] twenty years ago but it’s never let me down. It’s been crashed , bashed and even fully immersed in a river on one occasion but it’s still providing reliable service. All it needs to drive it is a map and a brain.

To me , a satnav is an unjustifiably complex version of a route book holder, better in some ways but flawed in others. It will augment a map but woe betide those who come to depend on them and eschew the paper map. One day your choice will bite you on the bum.
For the time being I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

You won't believe this but the road book holder stopped at exactly the same point on the route notes as where this crash occurred. Spooky.

You won’t believe this but the road book holder stopped at exactly the same point on the route notes as where this crash occurred. Spooky.

Breaking Bead.

No names , no pack drill but one or two of my trail biking buddies have confided they’ve never actually changed a bike tyre or mended a puncture out in the field or even in the workshop for that matter. I suspect they’re not alone so, if you’re harbouring a similar guilty secret fear not, here’s an easy step by step guide to changing a tyre or fitting a new tube without tears.

For the purposes of this tutorial I’m assuming you can take a wheel off a bike and have a spare tube or know how to locate a puncture in a tube and apply a puncture patch. I’m also assuming you’ve got tyres with tubes fitted as opposed to tubeless. I should point out that my tyre changing method features one slightly unorthodox  step which is peculiar to me, it’s not rocket science and in fact it potentially adds a couple of minutes to the process but I reckon it makes the job easier. Once you’ve removed the wheel from the bike you’ll need some decent tyre levers, some soapy water and a valve removal tool. Read on…

Support the wheel between two blocks of wood thick enough to keep the disc/sprocket off the floor. Remove the valve using a suitable tool, I fit all my bikes with  valve caps which have an integral valve remover, they cost 50p from www.zenoverland.com. Tip; It's easier to break the bead if you weigh 90kg plus and have some shoes with hard soles such as hiking boots. A pair of knackered old Doc's isn't actually the best footwear for this job.

Support the wheel between two blocks of wood thick enough to keep the disc/sprocket off the floor. Remove the valve using a suitable tool, I fit all my bikes with valve caps which have an integral valve remover, they cost 50p from http://www.zenoverland.com. Tip; It’s easier to break the bead if you weigh 90kg plus and have some shoes with hard soles such as hiking boots. A pair of knackered old Doc’s isn’t actually the best footwear for this job.

After making sure the bead is broken liberally coat the side of the tyre with soapy water and, starting at the valve start teasing the tyre over the rim with the tyre levers. Tip. Everytime you move the tyre lever to the next location keep going around the tyre with your fingers pushing the sidewall down off the rim into the rim well. This is the secret of easy tyre removal.

After making sure the bead is broken liberally coat the side of the tyre with soapy water and, starting at the valve tease the tyre over the rim with the tyre levers. Tip; Every time you move the tyre lever to the next location keep going around the tyre with your fingers pushing the sidewall down off the rim into the rim well. This is the secret of easy tyre removal.

At this point one of the sides of the tyre is now free and you could remove the tube and replace it. This is where my method differs from convention. I now flip the wheel over and repeat the process of lifting the tyre bead over the rim.

At this point one of the sides of the tyre is now free and you could remove the tube and replace it. This is where my method differs from convention. I now flip the wheel over and repeat the process of lifting the tyre bead over the rim.

Once both sides of the tyre are free from the rim the rim and tyre will drop down into the tyre.

Once both sides of the tyre are free from the rim the rim and tyre will drop down into the tyre. At this stage it’s dead easy to remove the tube and fit another one. On this occasion I’m actually replacing the tyre , not the tube and so there are a couple of extra steps in the process.

With a bit of a tug you can now withdraw the rim and tube from the tyre. Even if you're not replacing a tyre this is worth doing because it will enable you to have a proper shufty at the inside of the tyre and check for foreign objects.

With a bit of a tug you can now withdraw the rim and tube from the tyre. Even if you’re not replacing a tyre this is worth doing because it will enable you to have a proper shufty at the inside of the tyre and check for foreign objects.

Give the new tyre a liberal coating of soapy water and drop it on top of the rim and tease the tyre over one side. Tip; If you've never done this before it can be like trying to herd a shoal of eels.  Once you've got a section of the tyre over the rim kneel on it whilst you work your way round with the levers. When you're halfway round you can take your knee off.

Give the new tyre a liberal coating of soapy water and drop it on top of the rim and tease the tyre over one side. Tip; If you’ve never done this before it can be like trying to herd a shoal of eels because one end of the tyre bead is slipping back over the rim as fast as you’re fitting the other . Tip; Once you’ve got a small section of the tyre over the rim kneel on it whilst you work your way round with the levers. When you’re halfway round you can take your knee off. Best not to try this if you’re wearing shorts.

Now here's a thing. Once you've got one side onto the rim you could , if you gynecologist's fingers insert the tube and then tease the second bead on the rim. Once again I'm going to break with convention, mainly because I've got fat little fingers. See below.

Now here’s a thing. Once you’ve got one side onto the rim you could ,[ if you’ve got gynecologist’s fingers] insert the tube and then tease the second bead on the rim. Once again I’m going to break with convention, mainly because I’ve got fat little fingers. See below.

Flip the wheel over and ease the bead you've just fitted back over the other side of the rim.  I concede this is adding another step into the operation but believe me, it makes the job or inserting the tube very easy and is much easier on the knuckles.

Flip the wheel over and ease the bead you’ve just fitted back over the other side of the rim. I concede this is adding another step into the operation but believe me, it makes the job or inserting the tube very easy and is much easier on the knuckles.

Can you see where this is going? The rim will now drop down into the tyre giving bags of room to insert the tube.

Can you see where this is going? The rim will now drop down into the tyre giving bags of room to insert the tube.

Like so...

Like so…

...and like so. Tip; As you feed the tube in rotate the wheel anbd tyre about 20 degrees and gently drop the wheel vertically down onto the floor. The rim and tube will drop down easily into the tyre exposing the next section into which you can insert the tube. Lots of soapy water helps this process.

…and like so. Tip; As you feed the tube in rotate the wheel and tyre about 20 degrees and gently drop the wheel vertically down onto the floor. The rim and tube will drop down easily into the tyre exposing the next section into which you can insert the tube. Lots of soapy water helps this process.

Refit one side and remember to keep pushing the bead down into the central well of the rim as you work your way around with the levers. If you need excessive force to get the bead over the rim this is a sure sign you're not pushing the bead into the well . Always remember that sometimes it only takes a tiny push opposite where you are trying to lever the tyre to persuade what looks to be an impossibly tight tyre over a rim.

Starting at the valve refit one side and remember to keep pushing the bead down into the central well of the rim as you work your way around with the levers. If you need excessive force to get the bead over the rim this is a sure sign you’re not pushing the bead into the well . Always remember that sometimes it takes only a tiny push opposite where you are trying to lever the tyre to persuade what appears to be an impossibly tight tyre over a rim.

Flip over and repeat the process on the other side. Remember to KEEP PUSHING THE BEAD DOWN INTO THE WELL. If it's a struggle flip the wheel over and push the the other side down into the before reflipping and starting again Flippin 'eck is reflipping even a word?

Flip over and repeat the process on the other side. Remember to KEEP PUSHING THE BEAD DOWN INTO THE WELL. If it’s a struggle flip the wheel over and push the the other side down into the before reflipping and starting again
Flippin ‘eck is reflipping even a word?

Optional Step. Fill with suitable volume of OKO tyre sealant or similar. I've found that OKO used in conjunction with 15psi has significantly reduced the amount of punctures we get at AdventureRide.

Optional Step. Fill with suitable volume of OKO tyre sealant or similar. I’ve found that OKO used in conjunction with 15psi has significantly reduced the amount of punctures we get at AdventureRide.

Now here's great tip I picked up from my good chum Pip Higham. Some off road tyres can be a bugger to seat on the rim, Pirelli MT43 rears spring to mind... sometimes these would take over 80psi and lots of soapy to seat and water. 80psi in a trails tyre used to make me wince in anticipation of it letting go full in my face. The consewquences don't bear thinking about, which is why tyre fitting companies use inflation cages. Using Pip's advice of a quick squirt of WD around the seat means they pop on easily with about 40 psi. Much safer...

Now here’s great tip I picked up from my good chum Pip Higham. Some off road tyres can be a bugger to seat on the rim, Pirelli MT43 rears spring to mind… sometimes these would take over 80psi and lots of soapy to seat and water. 80psi in a trails tyre used to make me wince in anticipation of it letting go full in my face. The consequences don’t bear thinking about, which is why tyre fitting companies use inflation cages. Using Pip’s advice of a quick squirt of WD around the seat means they pop on easily with about 40 psi. Much safer…

Job Done. Even with taking the pics this tyre change only took about ten minutes start to finish. Tip; When you've set the pressure wipe a bit of spit over the valve to check for an air bubble. You'd be amazed at how often you can trace a slow 'puncture' to a leaky valve.

Job Done. Even with taking the pics this tyre change only took about ten minutes start to finish. Tip; When you’ve set the pressure wipe a bit of spit over the valve to check for an air bubble. You’d be amazed at how often you can trace a slow ‘puncture’ to a leaky valve.