KTM 640 Adventure

Stretton anon

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

KTM map

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

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

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

big trail bike

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

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

DSC_0869

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

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

Pye corner

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

Grease Nipples

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

“Not a healthy environment for a bearing…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Horse-Drawn Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Bead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like so...

Like so…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.