Murder She Wrote. A very good craic.

Pulling up behind the pale blue Moggie Traveler waiting at the lights in Church Stretton I couldn’t help noticing the lady driver’s titfer. It was one of those floppy jobs, turned up at the front like Yosemite Sam’s and co-ordinating well with her floral print summer dress. From my perch on the Pampera I could also see a carefully arranged tartan rug on the back seat and a large wicker basket prominently displayed in the luggage compartment. She was living the period dream. All that was missing from the ensemble was a large Victoria sponge cake on a willow pattern cake stand with a winners rosette  from the Women’s Institute garden party. Pulling in to Church Stretton petrol station I looked across to my riding companions Hugo and Lucas to see if they’d noticed the shooting brake and it’s driver. Of course they had. My chum Hugo has a particularly keen eye for detail and doesn’t miss a trick. He’s clocked the hat , the basket and of course the car. “ I wonder if she’s heading off somewhere to solve a mystery.”, he quipped, “Or perhaps she’s investigating a murder”.

Out for the craic, Lucas and Hugo on Offa's Dyke keeping a weather eye out for a Welsh invasion. Historians debate the significance of the Dyke and argue whether it was truly defensive or merely a willing waving exercise by the King of Mercia. Whatever the motive behind the structure it makes  a damn fine trail riding route.

Out for the craic, Lucas and Hugo on Offa’s Dyke keeping a weather eye out for a Welsh invasion. Historians debate the significance of the Dyke and argue whether it was truly defensive or merely a willy- waving exercise by the King of Mercia. Whatever the motive behind the structure it makes a damn fine trail riding route.

It’s moments like these which sum up what riding with mates is all about and is a pleasure which , by and large , is denied car drivers. The banter is one of the things I really enjoy when out riding with mates. The very nature of the sport , given that we’re cocooned in lonely isolation most of the time inside our helmets, means when the opportunity occurs to communicate, your average group of bikers quickly turns into a garrulous, wise-cracking bunch of comics. The next thing you know everyone is laughing, usually at somebody’s expense.

Often my bookings are comprised of three or four riding buddies and the group dynamic is already well established. This invariably means there will be an opportunity for mirth at some point in the day. I had a group out a couple of weeks ago who were all seasoned, capable riders very familiar with each other’s strengths and, more to the point, weaknesses . Of course, they were ruthless Mickey-takers. One of the riders was an experienced and confident enduro rider who adopted the Alpha male role on the trail and generally showed a clean pair of heels to his mates. On one stretch of single track he took a tumble  caused by over enthusiastic riding and ended up sprawled across the track and blocking the route. His mates, instead of jumping off and helping him, immediately commenced sounding their horns impatiently as if they were in a Milan traffic jam. The fallen rider jumped back on and tore off down the track only to come to grief again 30 yards further on and the group immediately advanced aggressively towards him and whole noisy pantomime started again. It was one of those great unrehearsed comedy moments which can’t be scripted . Yep, I love the craic and due to the nature of trail riding with frequent stops for gates, accidents , fords, fuel and goodness knows what else the opportunity for banter is ever present.

Lucas with Hugo bringing up the rear meandering along Mason's Bank, a little known trail which rarely, if ever, sees a trail rider.

Lucas with Hugo bringing up the rear meandering along Mason’s Bank, a little known trail which rarely, if ever, sees a trail rider.

The AdventureRide week hasn’t all been about riding and laughter, there’s been some graft going on as well. A last minute opportunity to exhibit at the 2015 Llangollen Bike Fest presented itself and we had to hurriedly prepare a trade stand and man it for two days. It was exhausting but extremely rewarding and we met some old friends and hopefully persuaded a few new ones to come out with us. Here’s a few pics from the show.

Tumbleweed moment? Nah, just a quick pic taken on set up day prior to the show. Come Saturday folks were queuing round the block to visit the stand. On the other hand  perhaps they were waiting for an autograph from Foggy...

Tumbleweed moment? Nah, just a quick pic taken on set up day prior to the show. Come Saturday folks were queuing round the block to visit the stand. On the other hand perhaps they were waiting for an autograph from Foggy…

The new media friendly Foggy-Lite being interviewed. Foggy went down well with the crowds and proved there was always a nice guy lurking behind the race face. Meanwhile Mick Grant has the smug look of a man who has just discovered four Pontefract cakes he'd forgotten about in his jacket pocket .

The new media friendly Foggy-Lite being interviewed. Foggy went down well with the crowds and proved there was always a nice guy lurking behind the race face. Meanwhile Mick Grant has the smug look of a man who has just discovered four Pontefract cakes he’d forgotten about in his jacket pocket .

As I grow older I've decided I quite like choppers, it's one of my guilty secrets. This was a lovely replica of Captain America, Peter Fonda's sickle in the iconic and somewhat confusing biker pic Easy Rider

As I grow older I’ve decided I quite like choppers, it’s one of my guilty secrets. This was a lovely replica of Captain America, Peter Fonda’s sickle in the iconic and somewhat confusing biker pic Easy Rider

Great to see CCM making interesting bikes again. This is an intriguing bike which could create a new marketing niche in the form of lightweight adventure bikes.- long range bikes weighing circa 120kgs which can cut the mustard off road in the way a 200kg bike never will. The bike features a detuned BMW 450 which the enthusiastic CCM salesman assured me was proving reliable in service. Could be just what the market is looking for... I hope it's a success for CCM, it was certainly a very popular exhibit at the show.

Great to see CCM making interesting bikes again. This is an intriguing bike which could create a new marketing niche in the form of lightweight adventure bikes.- long range bikes weighing circa 120kgs which can cut the mustard off road in the way a 200kg bike never will. The bike features a detuned BMW 450 which the enthusiastic CCM salesman assured me was proving reliable in service. Could be just what the market is looking for… I hope it’s a success for CCM, it was certainly a very popular exhibit at the show.

Stuck in a rut?

The infamous Water Breaks Its Neck in Powys.  If you don't like riding ruts this one's probably not for you.

The infamous Water Breaks Its Neck in Powys.
If you don’t like riding ruts this one’s probably not for you.

One of the important things that has to be done very early on when taking out a group of riders is to make a quick assessment of the overall riding ability and modify the route accordingly, I’ll take competent riders on the tougher,more challenging trails and opt for an easier route if I think some riders in the group aren’t quite ready to tackle the technical stuff.
When assessing rider ability one of the quick points of reference I use is to observe how well the riders cope with ruts. Ruts often create problems for inexperienced riders which can lead to frustration, fatigue and occasionally a minor spill. This then leads to more frustration, fatigue and… well you can guess the rest. I think the record I’ve seen is six falls from one rider in a day.

When approaching a deeply rutted lane experienced riders invariably choose the narrow central raised crown of the lane between the two tracks . It’s not the obvious choice – riding the narrow centre ridge can look intimidating, especially if the surface is masked by long grass. However, experienced riders know the elevated position allows a more commanding view of the upcoming terrain and provides three options from which to tackle upcoming hazards . You can either stay on course or drop off the crown to left or the right to avoid whatever hazard has just been identified and then hopefully take the next opportunity to climb up on the central ridge in anticipation of the next obstacle.

Inexperienced riders almost always choose one of the ruts to ride in. Often at the start of the lane they look like the more inviting option but those of us who are lucky enough to ride the trails frequently know that once you’ve chosen a rut you are often quite literally stuck in it and if you come across deep mud or gnarly tree roots in your particular rut you’ve got to grin and bear it, plough through or dismount and lift your bike out , often easier said than done . Meanwhile your riding buddy who has cannily chosen the middle route will romp past leaving you floundering in his often very muddy wake.

If you’re not confident enough to ride the central ridge here’s a tip for riding steeply banked rutted lanes which is worth bearing in mind. If it’s not immediately obvious which rut to choose always opt for the left hand rut. Why? Well if you’re in the left hand rut you can use the left hand to move brambles and obstructions out of the way whilst chugging along at walking pace. Try doing that with your right hand and see how far you get.

ditch water

Of course if all else fails a big handful will sometimes stop you getting stuck in a rut, sometimes…

As the saying goes, those that can, do. Those that can't, blog about it on internet forums. Yours truly on Strata Florida sometime last year.

As the saying goes, those that can, do. Those that can’t, blog about it on internet forums. Yours truly on Strata Florida sometime last year.

New Kid on the Block

Stretton anon

There’s a new addition to the AdventureRide fleet – a KTM 640 Adventure. The Adventure was KTM’s initial take on the big trail bike theme, at least it was until they launched the 950, which was a more appropriate corporate response to the ubiquitous BMW GS . To put it in context, the 640 Adventure is the bike Ewan and Charlie really wanted for their round the world motorcycle glamping trip before being lured away by BMW’s more TV-savvy marketing department. The 640 Adventure is more Barry McGuigan than Bruno and gives away almost 100kgs to the Bavarian bruiser . No doubt Ewan and Charlie figured a lighter bike such as the KTM might provide more scope for carrying laptops, camera equipment, Satphones,  a Corby trouser press, a Yurt and all that other essential motorcycle touring equipment they toted about with them. Not to mention a weighty script…
Joking apart, I like the GS and, having owned an R80 G/S back in the day confess to having a soft spot for the early air-cooled models . My good chum Craig has a new 1200 Adventure and by any yardstick you care to measure it by, it’s a spectacular and extremely capable motorcycle. Choosing an adventure bike was a toss up twixt an 1150 GS [the only derivate my meagre budget would allow] or a middleweight 600.
My problem, when choosing an adventure bike is this;  I’ve got a dodgy back and shoulder and if I dropped a GS [which would be inevitable given the amount of trail miles I travel] , there is no way I could pick it up again. No, I needed something lighter and when you start to look at what’s available in middleweight adventure bikes the choice is very narrow. In the end it boiled down to Yamaha’s excellent 660 Tenere, a Kawasaki KLR . a Beemer 650 Dakar [21″ front wheel] or a KTM 640. I’ve not ridden either of the Jap bikes [although I had an MZ fitted with the 660 engine which I liked very much], I like the Beemer’s engine but even the 650 is still a bit heavy for me. I’d ridden a 640 Adventure when they first came out and I knew they were good . The KTM won.

KTM

Tall, wide and handsome. And that’s just the rider. Hepco and Becker Gobi panniers. Would you believe these have a tap arrangement on the outside of the case and hold 3 litres of fluid in the sidewall of each pannier. I always knew there was something missing from my motorcycling life and now I know what it is.

Riding the 640 is like being aboard a very torquey set of stepladders. It really is unfeasibly tall and riding it home from the vendor’s house found myself looking across into the cabs of HGVs, nodding knowingly at the drivers as we surveyed lesser road users from our lofty perches. To me it feels like the World’s Tallest Motorcycle but despite the high c of g the KTM handles superbly. I’m not sure how big trail bikes manage this , but manage it they do. It’s a well known phenomenon that GSs and such like will handle a twisty road as well as a sports bike and presumably this is one of the reasons for the extraordinary growth in the adventure bike sector. Your average modern adventure bike is quick, it’ll stop well, go round corners and take you and the missus plus the kitchen sink across continents, you really can have your cake and eat it, and if you’ve got some Hepco Becker Gobis with optional taps you can make yourself a brew to go with it. Try doing that on an R6.

So, what’s not to like? Ah well, I was just coming to that…
The thing with adventure bikes is they don’t work very well off road in the UK. I emphasise the UK bit in case I get sackfuls of hate mail from disgruntled GS owners, fresh back from epic trips across the Namibian desert . In Blighty our green lanes are more often than not , brown lanes and full of thick, gooey mud . Heavy bikes laden with luggage and equipped with 50/50 road and trail tyres can find themselves floundering in these claggy conditions. This is where I come in and neatly brings me to the reason I’ve bought the KTM. I’ve been putting together some routes specifically aimed at adventure bikes which avoid treacherous , energy sapping ,muddy trails and allow these bikes to shine at what they do best, covering big mileages and able to cope with poorly surfaced roads and hard packed trails. The routes I’ve picked can be navigated on dual purpose tyres and will give an opportunity for adventure bike owners to sample some proper trail riding and get their bikes dirty without having to spend half the day extricating it from a Welsh bog. We’re going to be clocking up some big miles whilst taking in some of the ancient Welsh droving routes on the high overland trails. It’ll be great and it’s going to add a new dimension to AdventureRide . I’m looking forward to the possibility of 350 mile days and perhaps even making it across the mountains to the coast during a typical ride. All you’ll need is a big trail bike and a sense of adventure. Full details will be up on the website quite soon, in the meantime has anybody got a pair of platform boots I can borrow?

Coates pegs 2

Tank

We’ll be avoiding this kind of stuff when we go out with the adventure bikes. This is Strata Florida in Wales after a very dry summer… I kid you not. Imagine this in February. Some people like this kind of stuff. I don’t. There’s no skill involved, it’s just a war of attrition between man and mud.

Ossa Explorer. Caveat Emptor.

After being off the road for nigh on ten months the Ossa Explorer has finally been returned to Ossa following a refund of the purchase price. Last May, after numerous relatively minor but very inconvenient problems the bike suffered main bearing failure which Ossa, to their credit, repaired quite promptly.
Unfortunately the bike then suffered a catastrophic rear suspension failure at which point I decided I’d had enough. It’s regrettable because I feel the Explorer had great potential but the bike highlighted the problems faced by small, specialist manufacturers trying to bring technically advanced products to market whilst having limited development resources available.

Bob Ridgeway

Happier days, exploring on the Explorer

Based on Ossa’s successful TR280i trials bike the Explorer should in theory be a great bike. Unfortunately the conditions a trail bike operates in are very different than a trials bike and bolting on a dual seat, an extra tank and set of lights to a competition trials bike simply isn’t enough to effect a transition from hard core trials iron to a credible all day cross country machine. My experiences with the bike left me feeling Ossa failed to appreciate the wider implications of building a bike which targeted customers outside their core customer base of club trials riders . One which would bring the company into contact with customers with potentially higher expectations of sales and service support…
For a start trail bikes are more likely to cover more miles at higher revs for longer periods . Buzzing along at 6000rpm in top gear on a stretch of dual carriageway is a world away from plonking around a disused quarry using short busts of throttle to climb over a trials section. I’m sure the premature main bearing failure suffered by my bike can be at least partly attributed to sustained high rpm on the road in conjunction with the very meagre 100 to 1 pre mix ratio stipulated by Ossa.

The 280i trials gearbox ratios fitted to the Explorer [ie five ultra close ratios topped off by a very tall sixth] made keeping up with the customer Pamperas on the road sections very hard work . The Ossa never seemed to have the right gear available for the job in hand. When climbing hills on the road it was either falling off the torque curve in top or screaming its nuts off in fifth. Not pleasant. I even tried gearing it up so I didn’t actually have to use sixth but to no avail. It was never happy. When Gas Gas developed the Pampera they had the good sense [and presumably the development budget] to build it with a proper wide ratio set of gears. It makes a huge difference.

The rear suspension failure is a very different and potentially very dangerous ball game. For some reason Ossa equip the 280i/Explorer with plain bushes in the connecting linkages. Why Ossa chose to plough this lonely furrow whilst almost every other manufacturer uses needle rollers in this application is anybody’s guess. It could be down to weight saving, cost or simply limited space but whatever the reason it’s a potentially flawed concept. As far as I could tell the bushes in my dog bone linkages seized causing the dog bones to shear under stress resulting in complete rear suspension collapse. This trashed the expensive silencer and the rear tyre, not to mention dumping me on my backside in the middle of nowhere.
A quick trawl of the web revealed sheared dog bones is a more common fault than Ossa would care to admit. I’ve even seen the dog bones being sold on an Ossa dealer’s website alongside consumables such as bushes and bearings. Now if that isn’t an admission something is fundamentally wrong with Ossa’s suspension design I don’t know what is. The problem is , if the Explorer’s suspension unexpectedly fails on a busy road [by no means an unlikely scenario on a trail bike] the results could be potentially fatal. Given the Explorer is being sold as a dual purpose road/off road bike this could have very serious implications for a small company like Ossa . A larger manufacturer would have done a product recall long before the law suits started piling up.

Ossa mudguard

This is where the problems started. The rear mudguard dropped off , which dragged the wiring loom onto the tyre, which stretched the loom and caused problems with the ignition which….well I won’t go on about it. Suffice to say it cost me my entry into the Land’s End Trial.

In summary, I rode the Explorer on seventeen trail rides. It broke down on four of them and suffered numerous minor component failures before snapping its rear suspension. It became completely non-viable to operate as part of a trail riding business. In stark contrast, doing exactly the same work, the trusty Pamperas kept plonking on, day in day out. So what next? Well, having now made some space in the workshop hitherto occupied by a dead Ossa I’ve resurrected my old ’98 MK2 Pampera . I suspect these early Pamperas [which are more trials orientated than the later MK3s on the hire fleet] probably provided the initial inspiration to Ossa’s engineers when they created the Explorer concept. The Pampera is 18 kg heavier than the Explorer but, like the MK3s they’re a tough old bus with an excellent reliability record. I used this bike for long distance trials and it was the machine I used to do all the initial exploration of the AdventureRide routes. It’ll do for me.

DSC_6209

The legendary MK 2 Pampera, now becoming quite collectable. The original ‘cheats ‘ bike in long distance trials. Seen here wearing it’s handlebar-mounted Touratech route book holder. Welcome back old friend.

A policeman told me to do it.

Baja 500

Whilst sorting through some old files the other day I came across a couple of old pics which I thought I’d share with you. Let’s start with the fresh faced young man above showing off his newly acquired Cagiva 500 Baja. That’s me back in the 1980s on Southport sands. I’d bought the bike on a whim from Cliff Barton motorcycles in Eccles who was selling them off cheap. A job lot of five had been brought into the UK as part of an unsold consignment of bikes from the USA. The Cag 500 came in a crate as a turnkey desert racer complete with an optional long range tank and a wide ratio ‘box. Quite what I was thinking when I handed over my money to buy this thing  I don’t know. Buying the Cagiva doesn’t rank of one of the most rational buying decisions I’ve ever made. It was a malevolent two stroke brute built for the wide open desert races popular in the US at that time and could nudge 100mph if you were brave enough. It was a bike with no purpose or business being in the UK. But that didn’t matter to me, I just liked the look of the thing and, having assembled it, I wanted to ride it.

The nearest thing to a desert in the north west of England is Southport sands, a bleak, desolate expanse of hard packed sandy coastline famous because at low tide you can’t actually see the sea from the shore. In this day and age anybody new to motorcycling in the UK would probably find it incredible [and irresponsible] that somebody could just rock up at a public beach unload a full fat , open class motocrosser and max it just to see how fast it would go. But this was back in the 1980s when things were a bit different and that’s exactly what I intended to do.

What is incredible is whilst we were unloading the bike at 6am on a misty autumn morning two young cops came over and asked me what I was doing. In all innocence I told them I’d just bought the bike and wanted to test it. As I write this I find my self breaking into a broad grin because I clearly remember one of the constables saying,  “Well if you’re going to be riding it fast make sure you keep to the south side of the pier”

My pal Dominic who was a frequent co-conspirator in these enterprises, heard this and chuckling under his breath said, “You’d better make sure you give this bike a very thorough test ride because you’ve just been ordered to do so by a police officer.”

Now then children, what can you see wrong in this picture?

Spurred on by Dominic and buoyed by what I interpreted as words of encouragement from the police officer [who had by now driven off in his panda car], I cracked the bike up, rode it briskly down the promenade past the handful of locals walking dogs or buying Sunday papers, calmly turned the bike around and rode  at full chat back down the prom launching it straight off the seawall onto the beach before heading left under the pier and southwards across the sands [as instructed] in the general direction of Liverpool . Skimming flat out across scattering flocks of waders was an exhilarating albeit completely irresponsible thing to do. However, in my defence ,I’d been ordered to do so by a police officer. Things were definitely very different back then.

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Thankfully we have an excellent reliability record at AdventureRide. I like to think this is a combination of careful maintenance coupled with the Pampera’s inherent ruggedness – bear in mind the Pamperas get ridden by a wide range of riders from novices to experts and lead a pretty hard life. They get crashed and bashed and generally get knocked about. Despite this the bikes take it in their stride and just keep going

By way of contrast when the Ossa was on the fleet I used to leave the van on permanent standby with a spare bike in it in order to deal with whatever problem the Explorer might throw at me . At one stage I even gave a key for the van to a retired friend who offered to act as an emergency call-out should I find myself on some remote trail with a dead Ossa. I recall the van  being deployed on four of the seventeen occasions I rode the bike.  In fact,I ever since the Explorer err….retired itself from active service 10 months ago [more news about that little fiasco in the not too distant future] the fleet Pamperas have enjoyed a 100% reliability record. It was therefore a bit of a surprise to be out on a ride yesterday and find myself dealing with a serious show-stopping breakdown – I should point out at this stage the three customers were all highly experienced riders had all brought along their own bikes, two Honda XRs and Suzuki DRZ. All three bikes were well- prepped and fit for purpose but one of the Hondas, having behaved impeccably all day, threw a wobbler on the return leg of the trip. The problem appeared to be a dropped valve or a slipped cam chain or similar. Whatever it was, it was beyond the scope of a trail side repair and we had to work out how to get the bike and rider home from a remote sector of the England / Wales border.

Smiles all round as the the team optimistically set about finding the source of the problem.

Smiles all round as the the team optimistically set about finding the source of the problem. From left to right, Roy , Tony and Jason. All good men and true.

Ten minutes later the gravity of the situation dawns...

Ten minutes later the gravity of the situation dawns…

If you look at the bag attached to the front of Jason’s XR you will see it’s a common or garden enduro-style bum bag. Or is it? I’m not so sure … Mary Poppins sprung to mind as Jason’s bag spewed forth a baffling array of cables, levers, hydraulic lines , tools , nuts bolts and spares for just about every conceivable problem which might be encountered on a trail. Sadly, none of which could deal with a dropped valve and then, just as I was contemplating the logistical nightmare of rescuing a dead bike from the middle of nowhere Jason held aloft….wait for it…. a tow rope! I could have kissed him. I thought I was a bit OTT about carrying spares and tools for every occasion but clearly Jason has taken it to a whole new level. This is a man you need by your side when going trail riding.

Now,towing a bike with another bike can be tricky unless both tower and towee know their onions. No worries on this score. Within a few minutes we were under way with Tony confidently towing Jason back to civilisation and his bike trailer. I’m not saying there weren’t a few hairy moments on the way home but one way or another we all got home safely.

Towing the line. The lengths some people go to to save ten bob on fuel.

Towing the line. The lengths some people go to to save ten bob on fuel.

Which brings me to the point of this post, just how much kit should you take on a trail ride? Well here’s my starter for ten;

1] Tow rope. Light, cheap and versatile. It’s just gone to the top of my list.

2] Tyre levers

3] Front tube [which can also be used as a rear in an emergency]

4] Tube repair kit, in case the unthinkable happens and you puncture the spare tube. You wouldn’t be the first…

5] All the spanners necessary for front and rear wheel removal- and don’t forget the spanners/allen keys  for the front axle  pinch nuts and the caliper bolts.

6] Gaffer tape and tie wraps. You’d be amazed what can be patched up with these two simple constituents

7] Good quality mountain bike pump. Forget fancy Co2 cannisters and such like, go analogue, a pump will always get you home.

8] Spare clutch and brake levers

9] Spare throttle cable[s] and clutch cable if it’s non hydraulic

10]Two litres of fuel.

11]Spare split link

There’s always more of course but this little lot will do for starters. Happy riding!

Jason prays to the holy spirit of Soichiro Honda for divine inspiration. None came.

Jason prays to the holy spirit of Soichiro Honda for divine inspiration. None came.

We also got a bit of riding in. Tony gets his boots wet...

We also got a bit of riding in. Tony gets his boots wet…

Chain Reaction

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.

Steve, Richard and Simon

Steve , Richard and Simon. Stiperstones in the background.

Joe

Like I said in the opening paragraph, the bikes have been working hard!

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.

Andy2

This is what does yer bearings and chains in but who cares? It’s great fun.

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.

Ognibene

I wouldn’t have believed this was possible. This folks , is an Ognibene X ring chain after a dozen rides. That’s a 100 link chain sideways bent into an arc 92cm long. That’s some serious degradation in such a short time! A complete waste of money…

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.

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Initial deployment of the Park TL5s. Is there anything worse than fixing a puncture in front of an audience? Well I suppose it could have been raining as well… Customers Simon and Richard take the opportunity to have a quick break.

Park levers

Park TL5s, I’d say these are a must for any serious trail rider. Beautifully made ,very effective and not too heavy. A definite five stars review. *****