The past few weeks at AdventureRide have been intense. Lots of rides with groups of three and four riders have meant the bikes have been worked very hard. For me , this means lots of cleaning and lots of preventative maintenance followed by long days in the saddle. Yeah , yeah, it’s a tough job etc etc… but no, honestly , it is.
Many years ago I worked for one of the world’s largest truck operators and saw first hand the importance of effective fleet management. The consequences of a breakdown in the truck industry is invariably expensive and occasionally dangerous. So how does the macro level of world fleet management translate to the micro level of a tiny rural trail riding business? Well you’d be surprised.
When working at Ryder System I was often impressed by the accuracy of the maintenance expenditure forecasts provided by the fleet engineers. This information had been garnered from experience of running thousands of trucks over millions of miles maintained with rigorous attention to detail. After a while patterns of wear and tear emerge and it starts to become easy to predict when a clutch will be needed or a gearbox is likely to need an overhaul. And so it is with my tiny little fleet of Gas Gas Pamperas. They are becoming boringly predictable. Now remember, when you run a fleet of trail bikes which take you and groups of customers to the back of beyond, boring is Good and surprises are Bad.
Chains , sprockets , wheel bearings , shock linkages, tyres, water pump seals all wear out with monotonous regularity. It’s the cost of doing business. But now here’s a thing, as a fleet operator albeit of a very tiny fleet, I’m always looking for improvements and ways to extend the service life of components. The two main consumable components on a trail bike are chains and wheel bearings. I took a pragmatic approach to wheel bearings and worked out their tragically short life expectancy had very little to do with quality and everything to do with operating environment. Having done exhaustive field tests [ie riding bikes across lots of fields] I can report high quality branded bearings such as NTN, SKF or FAG wear out just as quickly as unbranded Eastern European bearings. Regular dousings in the river Onny three or four times a week coupled with healthy dollops of Shropshire clay and mud being compacted against the outer seals will see off the even the finest Japanese made precision bearing just as quick as its Eastern Bloc counterpart. And so I now fit cheap bearings.
Chains are different. The old maxim, buy cheap, buy twice definitely applies here. For years I’ve sworn by Regina O ring ‘Enduro chains’. Not cheap, but tough as old boots needing only minor adjustment after each ride, my only gripe about the Regina Enduro chain is it generates quite a lot of transmission drag, an inevitable consequence of tightly fitted O rings, which is the only way to keep muck out. For some strange reason I was tempted away from good old Regina by the beguiling blurb put out on t’interweb by Ognibene [pronounce Ognee-benny, not Ognee-bean as I’ve heard some folks say]
Ognibene’s marketing puts out a very convincing argument for their X ring off road chain, primarily focusing on the low drag attributes of their product. And so I bought a couple . They were almost exactly the same price as the Regina chain and so the decision making process was driven by the potential for improved performance rather than a reduction in operating costs.
To say the Ognibene chains wore at an alarming rate would be an understatement. Within half a dozen rides I’d used up all the considerable adjustment available on the Gas Gas and had to remove a link. Last week whilst out with a group of customers one of the Ognibene’s shed its centre link neatly depositing the chain in a ford, languishing like a dead eel in the gently lapping water. Fishing it out of the stream I could tell from the side to side slop the chain was on its last legs [see pic below]. I haven’t checked the riding log but I’d be surprised if the chain had been used more than a twelve times. A quick check on the second chain revealed its centre link had become dangerously loose and was also in imminent danger of self ejecting. Fortunately I’d packed a couple of spare links and ten minutes later we were on our way with the detached chain refitted and a contingency in place should the second also throw its hand in. As soon as the bikes were back at base I removed both chains and lobbed them in the bin, ordering up a couple of Regina Old Faithfuls to replace them. Rather annoyingly, I’d written to the Ognibene supplier a couple of weeks earlier politely expressing concern at the rate of wear and didn’t get the courtesy of a reply or an acknowledgement. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Shame on you Bike Torque Racing for not responding to your customers, and double shame on Ognibene for producing sub standard stuff.
Which brings me neatly to the point of this particular blog – I’ve now decided to introduce a regular product review element into the posts. It occurred to me I’m in a fairly unique position to assess off road motorcycling products due to the shear amount of hours I’m out on the trails . So, if you’ll indulge me I’m going to vary the ‘voice’ of the blog and provide some hopefully meaningful reviews rather than the thinly-veiled advertorials you find on forums when you search for product reviews.
Here’s a quickie for starters;
Park Tool TL 5 Heavy Duty Steel Levers.
The term ‘heavy duty’ in this instance us a misnomer . This is because is these levers are aimed at cyclists, not trail riders. Park Tools have an excellent reputation in the cycling world and amongst other things produce a range of professional tools for everyday use in bike shops with a well deserved reputation for outstanding quality. I know this because I was in the bicycle business for twenty years. I must confess I have had a set of these levers for years in my cycling tools and never used them, consequently they’ve been hung up gathering dust on the garage wall
It was only when my normal motorcycle tyre levers escaped through a hole in the tail pack a few weeks back that I started packing the Park levers as emergency backup. Last week we had a puncture out on the trail and so the levers were deployed for the first time. I have to say these levers are the best I’ve ever used on motorcycle tyres. The narrow nose and neatly curved lip make them ideal for getting under the bead of a close fitting trials tyre. They’re a wee bit over-engineered for cycle use and this is what makes them perfect for trail riding. They’re definitely man enough for what we want.
At 200mm long they fit neatly into an Acerbis tool pack …whaddya mean 200mm isn’t very long? If you can’t change a bike tyre using 200mm levers then you’re doing it all wrong. I’m so impressed with them I’ve ordered a spare set in case the first set also make a bid for freedom out on the trail. Prices on the web vary so be if you buy a set be sure to shop around. Expect to pay around £17.