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

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.

Little Big Show.

Apologies for the non trail riding content but this week I thought I’d share a few pics from our local bike show . The Wistanstow show is now in its 25th year and for a small village bike show it attracts an extraordinary amount of visitors and some superb machinery. This year saw the show’s organiser Ron Maul step down from front of house duties and take a well earned break from the stress of running what has become a very popular regional event. A lot of nice bikes lurk in workshops and barns around the Marches region and Ron has a knack of tempting some rarely seen bikes out into the daylight. Here’s a small selection of some of the bikes on display as well as some of the more interesting stuff scattered around the village hall car park

Wistanstow Village Hall is a beautiful old building gifted to the community by a local benefactor many years ago. Here's a handsome Manx and a Dommie in the indoor display. Note the twin bacon slicers on the Dommie front hub.

Wistanstow Village Hall is a beautiful old building gifted to the community by a local benefactor many years ago. Here’s a handsome Manx and a Dommie in the indoor display. Note the twin bacon slicers on the Dommie front hub.

One of the more intriguing bikes on the display was this EMC 350 cc split single and yes, that is EMC as in Dr Joseph Ehrlich, creator of fine racing motorcycles , F3 cars and various other stuff. Mike Hailwood raced an EMC with some success in his early career.

One of the more intriguing bikes on the display was this EMC 350 cc split single and yes, that is EMC as in Dr Joseph Ehrlich, creator of fine racing motorcycles , F3 cars and various other stuff. Mike Hailwood raced an EMC with some success in his early career.

The EMC might not be much of a looker but you could be fairly certain it was the only one in the car park at whatever event you took it to.

This is te bike I'd like to have taken home from the show. Norton's rare 500T didn't exactly set the worlds alight when the factory launched it but that wouldn't bother me, they're a great looking bike . The owner of this was telling me he bought it sight unseen and when he researched it he discovered ha had bought one of the handful of works bikes produced by the factory. Jammy bugger.

This is the bike I’d like to have taken home from the show. Norton’s rare 500T didn’t exactly set the worlds alight when the factory launched it but that wouldn’t bother me, they’re a great looking bike . The owner of this was telling me he bought it sight unseen and when he researched it he discovered ha had bought one of the handful of works bikes produced by the factory. Jammy bugger.

I shouldn't really like these but I do. It's one of my guilty pleasures. To me, a BMW Steib is a very elegant execution of a fundamentally flawed concept - the motorcycle and sidecar combination. All the disadvantages of a car and a motorcycle rolled into one package . You get caught in traffic jams in the same way a car does but you can also get soaked when it rains- just to remind you you're really on a bike.

I shouldn’t really like these but I do. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. To me, a BMW Steib is a very elegant execution of a fundamentally flawed concept – the motorcycle and sidecar combination. All the disadvantages of a car and a motorcycle rolled into one package . You get caught in traffic jams in the same way a car does but you can also get soaked when it rains- just to remind you you’re really on a bike.

Not a bad crowd for a village bike show. £7000 was raised for the local school. What a fine effort.

Not a bad crowd for a village bike show. £7000 was raised for the local school. What a fine effort.

Lovely old Indian had a sticker on it showing the owner had ridden it to the Sturgis rally in the US. Now that's what I call using your old bike.

Lovely old Indian had a sticker on it showing the owner had ridden it to the Sturgis rally in the US. Now that’s what I call using your old bike.

Until I saw this in the car park I didn't know how much I wanted an early Z1 They really were a stunning looking bike. Let the good times roll.

Until I saw this in the car park I didn’t know how much I wanted an early Z1 They really were a stunning looking bike. Let the good times roll.

Lovely little Ford Thames and as clean on the inside as it was on the outside.

Lovely little Ford Thames and as clean on the inside as it was on the outside.

And finally a picture of Ron Maul the show's creator and organiser sat astride an unfeasibly wide six cylinder GS Suzuki, details of which I'm saving for a later blog.

And finally a picture of Ron Maul the show’s creator and organiser sat astride an unfeasibly wide six cylinder GS Suzuki, details of which I’m saving for a later blog.

And that’s it for this week folks, excuse my classic bike indulgence – next week we’ll be getting down and dirty on the trails again.