The Cota based 4Ride is a Honda Montesa collaboration which can trace its roots back to the Cota 4RT introduced in 2005. The 4RT followed on from the earlier success of the 315R which had been so successful in the hands of Dougie Lampkin . The Montesa Honda connection goes back to the 1980s when Honda bought shares in Montesa in an effort to use the Spanish firm to establish a manufacturing base for their commuter models to help Honda bypass EU import tariffs.
The 4 Ride is Montesa’s take on what is a newly emerging sector of the dirt bike market. It’s such an arcane and sparsely populated sector it doesn’t even have a name and so I’ll give it one: let’s call it the extreme play bike market or EPB for short. EPBs are trials bike based machines which have been modified to provide somewhere to sit and given an increase in fuel capacity. The result are bikes which can climb trees and rocks almost as well as their pure bred siblings but have enough range and comfort to enable the rider to explore a (little) bit further afield. The concept was created by Gas Gas (another Spanish firm) who introduced the TXT trials based Pampera 320 MK1 in 1998. Other examples of EPBs would be Ossas ill fated 280i Explorer, Scorpa’s 250 Long Ride and, to a lesser extent Sherco’s excellent 290 X Ride.
My mate John Strange very generously let me have a test on his brand new bike, I’d like to say John tossed me the keys and said enjoy yourself but the Montesa doesn’t actually have a key, and therein lies the first clue to its competition bike heritage. The other clue is the weight: at 81kg the Montesa simply has to be based on a trials bike because nothing else in this sector could even come near. These close links with its trials bike sibling are a double edged sword for the Cota for they are the key to its outstanding off road ability but also the reason for its limitations in other areas.
The 4 Ride is amazingly light for a road legal four stroke 250 but looking around the bike it’s hard to detect how Montesa have kept the weight so low. The axles, including the swing arm appear to be solid rather than hollow and the fasteners don’t appear to be anything exotic. Beautiful yes, but exotic, no. I can only assume there are some fairly tricky alloys being used for some of the bike’s construction and I’m guessing there’s some clever stuff in the motor. Sochiro Honda was a metallurgist by trade and his technical legacy lives on in Honda’s designs today. It’s worth noting the motor only has five gears, which would help keep the weight down a bit, and has no battery or electric foot, which would help a lot.
Climbing aboard, the 4 Ride felt tall and narrow. It’s a masterpiece of packaging, with all the bits harmonised into one ultra compact, homogenous mass. It fired up very easily on the kickstart and I set off eagerly down our lane in search of some trails to get a feel for the bike. Predictably it went through the gears very quickly and by the time I hit 45 mph in top the motor was already sounding quite busy. Honda have retained the Cota’s close ratio trials ‘box with the exception of top gear, which is taller in order make it a bit easier on the road. Gear ratios on EPBs is a bugbear with me: when building these bikes the manufacturers invariably keep the original trials ratios but the downside is it makes road work tedious because you rarely have the right gear for a given corner. Gas Gas bless ’em designed a completely fresh set of ratios for the Pampera and inserted them in the TXT motor which is one of the reasons the Pampera is such a great all rounder. If you’re making a trail bike, this is the proper way to do it. If you’re not going to be doing significant road miles then the 4Ride’s close ratio ‘box probably won’t bug you but harking back to my experiences with Ossa’s Explorer I found the close ratio ‘box spoiled the bike for long distance trail rides.
The bike is ultra short with a riding position optimised for standing on the pegs and the abbreviated, elevated gear lever tucked up out of harms way once again shows its competition bias, along with the aforementioned short gearing. I’d be happier if the 4Ride had another 10mph available for cruising and for the type of trails we have around here raising the gearing to achieve this wouldn’t do any harm.
Earlier in the day when we were out riding together John’s bike ran out of fuel at a point where the two accompanying Pamperas still had a good forty miles range. OK, the Pamps are equipped with Acerbis auxiliary tanks but it still makes me think Montesa have been a tad over zealous on keeping everything pared right down to save weight. Let’s face it, if you’ve always got to carry a couple of kilos of spare fuel around with you the obsessive weight saving becomes a bit of a flawed concept. Somehow John had managed to fit a 1500cc container of fuel under the seat. I don’t know of any other dirt bike which could accomodate such a large object under the seat and it makes you wonder why the factory didn’t just fit a bigger tank to start with. I think 7 litres fuel capacity is an absolute minumum on a trail bike and preferably it should be 9 or 10 litres.
The engine is a peach but given Honda’s pedigree in this area I’d have been surprised if it wasn’t. Smooth and torquey with bags of instantly available grunt. No issues here.
The 4Ride is not a comfortable bike for a long trail ride although I suspect John might disagree – he rides a Harley Bobber with the thinnest seat I’ve ever seen and so he likened the Montesa’s seat to being in a big comfy arm chair. Very few dirt bikes have comfy perches nowadays but the Honda is definitely at the less comfy end of the spectrum along with all the other EPBs.
So, would I recommend the 4 Ride? Well, yes and no: it all depends on what you want to do with it. The Montesa is very focused and extremely capable, so much so very few owners would be able to exploit the limitations of its agility, I know I certainly couldn’t. It would make a fantastic LDT (long distance trials) bike but anybody who fancies competing on one in the UK should acquaint themselves with the ACU regs because I suspect the bike is a tad short for the trail bike class. I seem to recall the ACU insist a trail bike should have a wheelbase of at least 1350 mm, the Montesa is 1333mm and therefore you’d be lumped in with pukka trials irons rather than the trail bikes. Same goes for the tank, the ACU insist on a 5 litre capacity and the Montesa falls short at 4.4. This lack of compliance with ACU regs is one of the reasons I used the word ‘play’ in my terminology. It’s too bulky for pure trials and not really comfy enough to do something like the Land’s End or Edinburgh Trials on therefore it has to be classed as play bike.
If you’re bag is riding tight technical trails simply for the hell of it then the 4 Ride is going to make you very happy, it will romp up tricky single track and make light work of rocks, boulders, in fact just about any hazard you care to tackle and make you look like Dougie Lampkin in the process. My caveat to prospective owners would be this: remember that in the UK this type of really challenging terrain is far and few between and you rarely come across it during a typical day’s trail riding. On fast open trails the bikes short wheelbase would make it very choppy to ride and after a few hours this could get tedious. If long days in the saddle isn’t really your thing and you’d prefer to practice riding skills in your local quarry or know a friendly farmer with a bit of woodland to play in then the 4Ride will be in its element. The build quality and exquisite design details mean it will also provide a lot of pleasure of ownership and I must confess I’d quite like to have one in my garage for those days when I just want to go out and have a plonk around, particularly in the winter when the going gets tough.
Honda’s advertising strapline for the 4 Ride is ‘Venture out and beyond your comfort zone’. I’m sure they’re referring to the type of terrain it will cover but they could just as well be referring to the rock hard seat and the 45 mile fuel range! If however, you’ve already made your mind up you can live with the 4Ride’s compromises I think you’ll probably love it…
Weight 81 kg
Seat height 885 mm
Engine; SOHC 4 valve
Compression 10.5 :1
Fuel capacity 4.4 litres
PGM fuel injection
Kawasaki’s KDX 200 is like the Cliff Richard of trail bikes… it’s been around for years but never seems to grow old. From the year of its launch in 1980 the KDX trail/enduro bike was a big hit with customers. Initially it wasn’t a 200 at all, it was a 175 which in turn was based on Kawasaki’s 125cc air cooled moto crosser- the KDX 125. The bike I’m testing here is a 1990 KDX ‘E’ – a model which was launched 12 months earlier following a major update by Kawasaki, the most significant upgrade being the introduction of water cooling.
Many hard core KDX enthusiasts prefer the earlier models to these later water-cooled versions. Personally I’ve got no prior history with any of the KDX models and therefore have no axe to grind, I remember them back in the day and my general impression was they were similar in concept to Suzuki’s legendary PE175 Suzuki – a tough reliable trail bike which would also double as a credible enduro tool for clubmen.
This particular bike belongs to my mate Gary (who kindly provided the Fantic featured in the previous test). It’s low mileage Japanese market grey import supplied by DK in Stoke-on-Trent and Gary has slowly recommissioned it during the past 18 months. For our test we took it up to the Kerry Ridgeway on the Welsh border to a section of the trail which contains some wide open flowing sections with a bit of nadgery, rutted technical stuff thrown in for good measure. There were also some deserted tarmac lanes on which to assess its road manners. In other words, fairly typical UK trail riding terrain.
Kawasaki quote a 910mm seat height but on this bike the seat has been modified to lower it. Once settled on its suspension the KDX felt perfectly manageable and I’m sure I’d have been equally happy with a standard seat. It fired up first prod and was soon burbling nicely through its after market pipe ( the only deviation from standard spec). Back in the day Kawasaki claimed a dry weight of 102 kg for the KDX, commendably light for its class and only 1kg heavier than the air cooled bike. To me, it felt a bit heavier but I didn’t have the opportunity to weigh it and check. It certainly isn’t a porker and if you’re thinking about buying one I don’t think you’d be disappointed by the weight.
Pulling away it felt perky and responsive with bags of midrange and good low end manners, with these characteristics it’s no wonder these were such a hit with clubmen back in the day. On the trails it behaved impeccably, plonking along readily in the intermediate gears. Kawasaki introduced a heavier crank on the KDX ‘E’ and this seems to work very really indeed making the bike really tractable and smooth – perfect for trail riding.
Having given the bike a good workout on the trails I decided to head off on along some tarmac to see what it felt like at cruising speeds. Out on the open road it seemed reluctant to get up on the pipe and pull wide open throttle. The after market pipe is an FM Powercore unit which is known to work well with these models therefore we can eliminate that from the inquiries. The bike hadn’t been ridden for many years and so it might just need a good old Italian tune up, ie a ten mile blast along a dual carriageway to clear its throat. The motor was very quiet and ran perfectly well in the mid range which makes me confident it was nothing serious, it might just be a sticking valve in the Kawasaki Integrated Powervalve System (KIPS for short). The KIPS is worthy of a mention, it’s a clever arrangement designed to maximise torque and controls the exhaust port whilst simultaneously altering the compression and ignition timing. Clever stuff.
The brakes were less sharp than most modern riders are used to but personally I prefer soft brakes on a trail bike – brakes which will stand a bike on its nose are all very well until you come to a slippy downhill section. By far the most most impressive feature of the KDX was the suspension and it’s possibly the most comfortable off road bike I’ve ever ridden. Now bear in mind this is a 29 year old design and it could be forgiven if it felt a bit harsh or bottomed out occasionally but it didn’t, it just soaked up bumps with a wonderfully fluid, progressive action. I spend a lot of time in the saddle and I reckon on a long day’s trail ride you’d be hard pushed to find anything which works this well. The KDX may seem long in the tooth but in my opinion they make a viable all round trail bike even when pitched against more modern bikes. They’re light, simple, very easy to ride and solidly built. Another major plus is Kawasaki can still supply virtually any part for them at reasonable prices. What’s not to like?
Gary is selling this bike to make some room for his new Fantic, if you fancy a reliable modern classic give him a call on 07906 049340.
When it comes to modern bikes, especially trail bikes, I confess my motorcycling palate has become a bit jaded. With just a few notable exceptions, bikes seem to be getting taller, more complex and with an unnecessary surplus of power, as a consequence very few contemporary bikes appeal to me. It would be good to see manufacturers concentrating on producing bikes which are simpler, lower and lighter but unfortunately I don’t see that happening any time soon. However, when my pal Gary brought over his brand new Fantic Caballero 200M Casa I was intrigued for here was a modern trail bike which, on paper at least, seemed to have addressed the needs of the average trail rider.
The magic figures for a trail bike are 100kg wet, 100 mile range and 60mph cruising speed. It might surprise you to discover how few bikes there are that meet these three criteria. Combining two is easy, it’s the 100kg weight which is the elusive one. There are sub 100kg bikes but they’re often too focussed to be viable for 100 mile road trips or sustained 60 mph cruising. The Caballero misses the 100kg threshold but only just. Filled with fuel and oil it will tip the scales approx 5kg over the 100kg mark. Close enough to warrant further investigation I reckon.
Fantic only produced the Caballero 200 between 2013 and 2016 . It’s a model which seemed to fall between the cracks of their UK model range and consequently only a few made it to these shores. The Casa 200 was an upgraded version of their 125 cc trail bike and came with an interesting specification which included fancy forks shared with the current 250cc Casa model. ‘Casa’ in this context literally means ‘house’ as in ‘in-house’ or ‘works’. It’s a nomenclature a lot of Italian factories have used over the years and is usually applied to an upgraded version of a standard model. This particular bike came from Haines and Co Ltd in Cinderford , Gloucestershire who had it lying around in their surplus stock when Gary discovered it.
Lifting it out of the van, the little Fantic felt commendably light for a modern bike especially when you take into account it’s a four stroke (presumably having at least a litre of oil in the sump, plus the weight of cams, valves and an electric start) and is equipped with beefy suspension, twin rads and various other bits of kit to make it road legal in the UK. The engine is rather interesting, it’s Yamaha’s venerable 125 four stroke single factory-fitted with a big bore kit from the Italian tuning specialist Athena to provide a capacity of 183cc. Fantic decided to go with a 30mm Keihin carb instead of fuel injection on this model – it’s a good carb and ideally suited to this application.
I was curious to hear Gary’s fist impression of the bike … “ it’s very similar to my old Honda XL 185, dead easy to ride with plenty of torque low down, it’s just about perfect for trail riding…” Looking at the handsome bike parked outside the workshop there was little to suggest Honda XL185 to me but I can appreciate why Gary made the comparison.
The Caballero is a undeniably a looker. The red, blue on white colour scheme, simple graphics and black rims set off by the fancy red forks give the bike a very striking appearance. The detail engineering is impressive and well up to Japanese standards. Gary fired it up and it sounded good – fiesty but in a sensible, subdued way. Loud trail bikes just ain’t cool and it was nice to hear a pipe which strikes the right balance. Top marks to Big One exhaust systems who are Fantics’ exhaust provider.
Gary and I set off for a 100 mile loop around the Welsh Marches and when we reached a suitable stretch of single track Gary let me have the Caballero’s reins. I ride Gas Gas Pamperas most of the time which means I’m used to a low seat. It was a pleasant surprise to discover the Fantic also has a reasonably manageable seat height of 880mm which means most riders over 5′ 8” should be able to cope, if not it should be straightforward to fit some lowering links. I’d still prefer the seat to be an inch lower though. I’m 5’10” but with relatively short legs and, if my customers are anything to go by, my vertical dimensions are reasonably common in the UK . It’s something I wish more manufacturers would take into account. The average trail rider simply doesn’t need masses of ground clearance and most riders I’ve met would happily trade off a bit of ground clearance for a low seat height. With some clever packaging Fantic seem to have combined the best of both worlds and built a bike with a low (ish) seat and excellent ground clearance.
We’ve had no rain in Shropshire for the past few weeks and on the day of the test the ground was rock hard. This showed up a potential problem with the bike because over some rough terrain the forks were extremely harsh to the point of being bone jarring. Gary reckons they’ll ease up but I’m not so sure. They seemed to have a lot of stiction and were reluctant to return after being compressed. This could be something very simple such as the front axle pinch bolts having being done up prior to the axle nut being tightened ( it happens) or it could mean some careful setting up is required. Time was short on the day and I didn’t have time to investigate but the good news is the Caballero has Fantic’s fancy FRS forks fitted and it should be possible to tune out the harshness. I’m confident it could be resolved therefore it wouldn’t put me off owning one
Out on the trail I really enjoyed the Caballero, the engine is a gem and if I hadn’t been told its capacity before riding it I’d have sworn it must be at least 250cc. The team responsible for developing the Caballero should be congratulated for they’ve created what is one of the most sensible, real world trail bikes I’ve ridden for quite a while. It will handle being left in third gear down to a relatively moderate pace ( say 12mph) and then pull away convincingly with no snatch or unpleasantness and yet the final drive is high enough to make 60mph cruising feasible. It’s got a surprising amount of poke for a small four stroke and on a typical AdventurerRide trail riding day I don’t think I’d find the bike wanting in any way. I particularly liked the way it felt when riding on and off the throttle along gnarly trails On a lot of modern high compression four strokes, shutting the throttle can have the bike pitching up and down on the suspension and this can get quite unpleasant unless you moderate the throttle very carefully. It’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of two strokes, they have such little engine braking they’re very easy to ride smoothly in such conditions.
With its modest capacity the Caballero doesn’t suffer from this snatchiness and was smooth and very easy to control on the nadgery stuff. The brakes were particularly impressive being very progressive in application and quite gentle – perfect for the job in hand. Fierce brakes are the last thing you need on a trail bike, especially if you’re new to the sport.
When we filled up at the end of the day I was astonished to calculate the Caballero had done 85mpg. For the performance on offer that’s a very impressive figure and means its range is somewhere in the region of 120 miles to a tank. Very handy if you’re out in the boonies.
Having experienced problems with a brand new Ossa I purchased a few years ago I would normally advise caution when looking at specialist products from low volume manufacturers because the customer often ends up being an unwitting development rider. In the case of the Fantic I would say this won’t be an issue, the engine is a long-established Yamaha unit and therefore should be bombproof. The rest of the running gear looks more than man enough for the job and Fantic UK appear to have established a network of experienced off road dealers who should be able to provide decent back up and support.
Overall I was very taken with the Caballero and would happily have one or two on the hire fleet should the supply of decent Pamperas dry up. If you’re looking for a good all rounder with the focus on trail rather than road it would definitely be worth seeking one out. Fantic haven’t imported very many of the 200s so that might be easier said than done. Don’t despair if you can’t find one, I notice Fantic’s current 250 Casa is only a few kilos heavier which would make it a very interesting alternative to Honda’s rather porky CRF.
A modern day XL185? Possibly… I can see where Gary’s coming from but I’ll admit that whilst I never wanted to own an XL185, I’d be very happy to have a Caballero in my garage.
Fantic Caballero Tech Spec
Engine Euro 3 compliant
183 cc 4T
Claimed Weight (dry) 96kg
Tank capacity 7.5l
Estimated range 120 miles
Seat height 880mm
Will it fit in the van? 2040 mm long
Carb Keihin 30mm
Forks Fantic FRS USD 41mm
Wheel base 1395 mm
Frame material CroMo
Brakes Front 260mm disc, Rear 220mm disc
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.