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.

DSC_6973

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. *****

Laverda Chott. More than the sum of its parts.

I’m fairly mercenary when it comes to my bikes. They have to function properly and earn their keep, if they don’t they’re up the road. With neither the time nor the money to indulge in a bike collection, for me it’s all about the riding. And the best way to enjoy a classic bike is to enter it in competition. In competitive events the rider experiences the distilled essence of the bike. There’s little time for mechanical sympathy or worrying about whether you’re going to scratch it, you’ve just got to extract as much as you can out of the bike and it’s in these circumstances that you can really get under a bike’s skin and appreciate exactly what the designers were hoping to achieve.There’s no better way to enjoy a classic .

Lands end

Lining up for a restart on the notorious Blue Hills mine section on The Land’s End trial, one of the most spectacular motor sports venues in the UK. The course is an old miners track climbing up the face of the cliff and from certain vantage points you can see the Atlantic rollers crashing onto the rocks a couple of hundred feet below. It’s a daunting prospect when you see it for the first time but like lots of these things, it’s a lot easier than it looks.

Of all the competition bikes I’ve had the pleasure to own and ride, perhaps the most unlikely one was my Laverda Chott. Or to give it the correct nomenclature, the Chott 2TR . I’d longed for a Chott ever since they were introduced in the UK back in the seventies. The trouble is they were very expensive and they were panned by some journalists who didn’t understand what they were, which didn’t help sales. Too expensive for a trail bike they said, and too slow and heavy for an enduro. They were right on both counts but they had failed to understand what the Chott was all about. The clue is in the ‘R’ of 2TR. It stands for regolarita or regularity trial, for the Chott was built not for trail riding or enduros, it was built for long distance trials which are very popular in Italy. The 2T stands for due tempi – two stroke.

CRM 018

360 miles of pace notes transcribed onto 30′ of paper. This is a Touratech route book holder, a sort of horse-drawn satnav. The route book holder is backlit with a green diffused glow, essential to avoid eye strain during the night stages, The route notes are provided by the organiser about ten days prior to the trial and these are then transcribed onto the paper roll in a crude form of shorthand. These notes are the key to a rider’s success. Do them properly and you can look forward to easy stress free navigation. Do them hastily and you can find yourself wandering aimlessly around Exmoor in the middle of the night. Exmoor is a very lonely place at three in the morning.

Race face. It’s broad daylight so I’d estimate I’d have been riding for about 18 hours straight by this stage. The sections on LDTs aren’t as challenging as on single stage trials but even a relatively innocuous climb up a steep bank like this can have you on your backside if you’re not fully alert. It’s at this stage in a trial medals get thrown away due to momentary lacks of concentration. hence the stern look.

Having competed in such events for a number of years it occurred to me a Chott might be just the job. I contacted a well-known member of the Laverda community with a reputation for knowing all about Chotts and told him what I intended to do. His first words were , “What do you want to do that for , a Chott won’t get you to the end of the road, let alone complete a long distance trial”. I had to concede the Chott had a reputation for unreliability but I’ve come across these rumours about bikes before and they’re often based on hearsay or the uneducated testimony of ham-fisted owners. They are rarely, if ever, based on first hand experience. I decided to make my own mind up.

The Chotts specification on paper suggested it would be perfect for long distance trials. Twin Bosch ignition modules, twin plug head, fully enclosed chain [why, oh why haven’t more manufacturers taken up this idea for off road bikes?], decent suspension coupled with low weight . It’s also an air-cooled,  piston-ported two stroke of 250cc capacity which in my opinion is the perfect configuration for this type of bike. The Chott also has as standard, a very nicely fabricated chromoly frame with an adjustable headstock . A gimmick? Possibly, but having competed on one I’m not so sure. I had mine set on the steepest setting which gave it nimble, trials type steering. It was a joy on the tighter sections and still relatively stable on the road. For longer, faster events a sporting rider could benefit  from one of the other two settings offering a more relaxed head angle.

So, ignoring the received wisdom I went out and bought a Chott, or to be more precise, I bought two. The thing is, Chott spares are thin on the ground and it helps to have some backup. I built up one very good bike out of the two incorporating the larger 11 litre tank from the earlier of the two bikes and within a couple of weekends were good to go.

Neat and tidy Bosch twin plug electrics, the Chott was an expensive , high quality bike which used top quality ancillaries.

On the bench prior to a trial, note the enclosed chainguard. The hubs on the 2TR were alloy, earlier Chotts used magnesium.

Not only did the Chott make it to the end of the road, it also went considerably further, in fact I worked out I had covered over 3000 competition miles on it during my tenure.  I won medals on it in the Land’s End , Edinburgh and Exeter trials, I ran it in the famous Spanish ‘Ruta de cinco mil curvas’ [Route of 5000 curves], a 300 mile regularity trial in the Picos de Europa. I entered it in the Great Northern trial up in the lakes, the Ilkely trial in Yorkshire.and anything else which took my fancy.  I even came seventh in one event which was open to modern bikes. The Chott and I became as one, melded in perfect harmony. I loved it. It’s unfeasibly large exhaust seemed to endow the Chott with levels of torque out of all proportion to its capacity. I could hook it into fifth on the switchback lanes of Devon and Cornwall and ride for miles without changing gear, grunting up significant inclines without complaint.  That kind of easy-to-live with engine flexibility conserves valuable rider energy on a long trial and I’m convinced that was the key factor in my successful run on the bike. It would always start first or second kick and,for a piston ported two stroke , it’s economy was good .  I could eke 115 miles out of tank, useful on a 360 mile event like the Land’s End. Some of these events are 20 hours long and competitors ride through the night tackling a variety of special tests and observed sections in pitch black. I augmented the Chott’s 12v lights with a modern battery powered laser beam of type used by mountain bikers for nocturnal riding. It turned night into day and the battery fitted neatly into the Chott’s tank mounted Brema enduro tool bag. I became so comfortable on the bike I relished the start of every trial. Even the most technical sections held no fear. The Chott’s benign power delivery coupled with impressive levels of rear end grip meant I could tackle anything I was likely to encounter on a Motor Cycllng Club trial with absolute confidence.

Chott exeter fingle woods

Fingle Woods observed section on a very cold and frosty Exeter trial in 2009. The first sixty miles of the trial featured lots and lots of black ice and I was very relieved to make it to the first checkpoint at midnight. A dab on one of the later stages threw away the gold medal but given the circumstances I was happy to go home with a silver.

Did it ever let me down? Actually yes it did, on two occasions but I’ve since forgiven it. The first was a self inflicted breakdown which occurred when I’d stopped on the way to the start of the Exeter trial. The Exeter is notoriously brutal event which takes place in early January. I was riding in a blizzard on the A5 [ yep, I was actually riding the Chott to the start, how hardcore is that? ] when the Chott developed a misfire and I pulled over to check the plug. I unscrewed the HT cap to check the connection, bear in mind this was in the pitch dark and I was using a head torch to peer under the tank.  All the while I was  being sprayed by slush and snow thrown up by the wheels of juggernauts running dangerously close to my perilous poosition in a narrow layby. In my haste to fix the problem and get the hell out of there I fumbled and  dropped the HT cap down a storm drain and it was game over, a DNS. There was another problem on another event which I can’t bring to mind , ignition related I seem to recall but as far as I remember that was it. For a brief four year period the Chott and I formed an immensely pleasurable partnership. I’m not 100% sure but I think I’m the only rider ever to have won anything in a national UK event on a Laverda Chott – not exactly Guinness Book of Records stuff but it gives me a warm glow of satisfaction. Eventually the lack of spares availability forced me to give up competing on it and, as I said at the beginning of the blog, my bikes have to earn their keep and so the Chott had to go. Of all the desirable bikes I’ve let go over the years, the Chott is probably the one I should have kept.

Edinburgh results

Left. The Chott’s finest hour, not long to go now and we’re on our way to a gold medal in the Edinburgh trail. Above. Here’s the proof! Not many gold medals were handed out on that year’s Edinburgh . I’m rider No 2 in the listings. The objective on the Motor Cycling Club trials is to keep a clean sheet on all three major trials during the year, the Exeter, the Land’s End and the Edinburgh. Do that and you win a very nice bronze statue of a fingerpost sign. Previous recipients have included Sir Malcolm Campbell…

edinburgh

pipnbillnbob1

Above. In the Picos de Europa . 300 miles, 5000 curves followed by a metric tonne of Paella dished up by Spanish organisers MC Piston.

Exeter Chott

Smiley faces all round. As well using the bike in competitive events the Chott provided sterling service as a trail bike. I’ll be writing more about Laverda’s off road products on future blogs.

Derby5

Telford 2015. Another great show.

Is it really a year since  I last posted about Telford? Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself. Alan Wright’s highly regarded Dirt Bike show was last year acquired by motorcycle publishing house Morton’s who appear to be achieving total world domination of UK classic bike events. Any fears they would somehow spoil or interfere with this popular regional show have been totally unfounded. Morton’s applied a commendably light touch to their administration of the show and Wrighty’s informal spirit lived on in the 2015 event. From an exhibitors point of view Morton’s PR and promotional clout can only be a good thing and from where I stood on stand 23, Hall 3 the show seemed better than ever.

Telford 1

Centre piece on the AdventureRide stand was a 1964 D.O.T. kindly loaned to us by Derek Hertzog from my home town of Altrincham.  It provided a nice bit of eye candy for the stand and drew a lot of comments. If you’re not familiar with the D.O.T. motorcycle brand they were a Manchester based factory who established a reputation for building , amongst other things, decent clubmen’s bikes for off road sport. Whilst not exactly giant killers, a D.O.T. could be a very handy tool in the hands of an experienced national class rider and could often give more exotic works bikes a run for their money.

The D.O.T. had been restored by my chum Pete Priest, who kindly turned out for the second year in succession to lend a hand. For some years now Pete has built a fine reputation for classic bike paintwork and a number of his customer’s bikes have won concours awards. Pete is also a very fine mechanic, campaigning a very potent Commando in hillclimbs and sprints.  He’s now moving the focus of his business into mechanical work and full restorations see http://www.priestbikepaint.co.uk

Pete, or Father Pete as we like to call him, hears yet another confession from one of his flock

Pete

Adjacent to the AdventureRide stand was my mate Nigel Land with his unfeasibly clean TLR Hondas. Nigel specialises in restoring these lovely little Honda trials bikes and has established himself as one of the countries leading TLR restorers. Nigel’s secret , which he confided over a coffee, was to source low mileage donor bikes directly from Japan, bring them in and then totally strip and rebuild them. Having built one or two bikes myself over the years  I understand the logic of sourcing the best possible donor bike possible. It saves money in the long run and you end up with a bike which is as close to a new one as you can achieve.

As you can see from the pic, Nigel’s work is uncompromising and of the highest quality, check him out on http://www.trl-transformations.co.uk

Nigel’s TLR, ’tis indeed a thing of great beauty

TLR

The rest of the show was the usual mix of race and off road bikes, club stands and traders . Guest of honour was Mick Grant, who of course straddles both camps being a hugely talented road racer as well as a very good trials rider, especially on classic stuff. I’ve bumped into Mick on a couple of occasions when doing trials and he’s a very affable bloke always willing to have a bit of banter. One of the great things about motorcycling is our heroes are often so accessible. Mick was handing out the concours awards.

Gritty Yorkshireman more used to receiving trophies than handing them out.

Mick grant

One of the bikes which caught my eye at the show was this intriguing thing badged as a Rhind Tutt Wasp. Was it just sporting the tank off a wasp outfit or was it a solo built by Rhind Tutt? Sadly I didn’t have time to check out the details but it looked an interesting bike nonetheless.

wasp

Oner of my favourite bikes which I see from time to time is Steve Gard’s superb Jawa ISDT bike. I came across Steve with his bike at the Carlisle centenary ISDT celebrations in 2013 [if you scroll to the early posts on this blog you can read all about it]. To me , this bike sums up the heyday of the ISDT era and is in wonderfully original preserved condition, which is just the way I like ’em. Of all the nice bikes at the show this is the one I’d like to have bundled into the back of the van when no-one was looking.

It’s a real shame the ISDT morphed into the ISDE and somehow lost its character. I suppose it was inevitable with the development of modern dirt bikes but for me the ISDT will always be defined by  two strokes, twin shocks and Barbour suits.

Jawa

Wasp badgeJames

This year Telford was good for AdventureRide and I feel the business has now firmly found its feet. The light and easy to ride Pamperas on the AdventureRide fleet and the novice-friendly terrain around Shropshire make it an ideal experience for first time trail riders. We’re now concentrating our efforts on encouraging new comers to try off-roading and the majority of our customers are usually very experienced road riders who have little or no off road experience. A number of female riders came on to the stand at Telford and asked to sit on the Pamperas we had on display. A lot of riders, especially girls, are intimidated by the sheer height of modern trail bikes and the Pampera is a refreshing antidote to those who don’t need 12″ of suspension travel.

After an busy weekend at Telford it was good to be able to kick back and have a relaxing day out with a group of TRF riders. By way of a change I’d advertised a ride out suitable for larger machines or novice riders and was surprised to find all six quickly places quickly filled, obviously there’s a niche there…

Once on the trail it became clear none of the riders were novices, they were simply guys who , like me, don’t necessarily want an intense , white knuckle experience every time they go out. We had a very relaxed day avoiding the more technical trails and instead concentrating on the longer , elevated drover’s trails in the borders. Trail riding doesn’t get much better, here’s a few pics.

Tim making a splash on a well known brand of orange bike

Tim , forest

Big country, little bikes. The group threads its  way along Adstone Rise.

Big Country

Hugh Clearly, a TRF stalwart and tireless rights of way campaigner, shows a bit of trials stylee negotiating deep ruts on the Kerry Ridgeway

Hugh water splash

Smiley riders, always a good sign. Jason clearly enjoying himself on his XR400

Jason smiles

Smiley walkers, an even better sign!

smiler walkers

Will turned up on an impossibly clean KLX 250. Needless to say we soon sorted that out.

will, forest

Little Britain , on the A49 between Craven Arms and Church Stretton. The best bacon butties this side of the Onny river. A Michelin-starred diner if ever there was one.

left to right : Hugh, James, Will, Jason, Craig and Tim

LB

The tremendous weight of James’ BMW caused this sink hole to appear in Bucknell woods.Fortunately I was there to record the moment on camera.

BMW , forest

Monk’s Trod

Last week I rode an iconic and somewhat controversial Welsh lane, “Monks Trod” . It’s a trail originally established in the twelfth century by Cisterian monks trudging between two Abbeys, one located at Llandindrod Wells and the other at Strata Florida [mentioned in a previous blog]. The ‘Trod has been closed at various times due to erosion and some of these closures have promoted heated debate between off road enthusiasts and Powys Council, who are responsible for its upkeep.

Until last Thursday I’d never ridden it but a combination of a lifting of the TRO [traffic regulation order] which had closed it off and the impending visit of some riders wanting to retrace parts of the old ISDT routes prompted me to put the bike in the van and go and have a look. Monk’s Trod sticks out on the OS map like a sore thumb, the reason being is it forms part of an intriguing group of lanes grouped in a sort of large triangle in the heart of ISDT country and would make an obvious route for a ride. The ‘Trod has also been the missing link in a plan I’ve been developing  to offer an ISDT experience to owners of classic dirt bikes.

So, I took the afternoon off , parked the van up and set off on one of the Pamperas . En route I was overtaken on one of the lanes by a couple of riders moving briskly in the general direction of Monk’s Trod, catching them up at a junction one of the riders turned out to be Dean Clements, proprietor of Clements Moto, the UK importer responsible for the enduro side of the Gas Gas product range. Dean had come up from Kent to enjoy a couple of days trail riding in Wales.

Having established Dean was also heading for Monks Trod I asked if I could tag along behind them and soon the three of us  were traversing a shallow river  and heading up a steep slippery bank  to higher ground. Dean romped up it with me in pursuit but unfortunately his riding buddy struggled to find traction with his heavy ‘ol  Husky four stroke. We waited at the top for some time until Dean  decided to go back and help, meanwhile I elected to continue alone.

Monks trod

Gas Gas and Gas Gas on the grass. Note the mist, more about that later…

Further up the trail I waited at a deep water splash for a photo opportunity of my new riding companions but they never showed and so I presume they decided to call it a day. In hindsight it was a wise decision…

Pressing on I found the going to be tougher and tougher. A lot of these long Welsh trails are defined by long open sections of very boggy ground and evidence of deep erosion in the peat by years of passing traffic is all around. When I say deep I’m talking about metre deep ruts seemingly designed to wedge to the crankcases of any passing Pampera. I found myself having to ride faster and faster to avoid getting bogged down. It’s not a sensible way of riding when out riding solo but I was  worried about getting the bike stuck. To compound matters I’d dropped the front wheel into a couple of unexpectedly deep ruts clouting the handlebar mounted petrol tank with my chest and  had to proceed using an uncomfortable mix of clumsy blunt-edged, leg-out enduro style riding interspersed with delicate feet up trials stylee.

The terrain was truly brutal and, if I’m being honest, not particularly enjoyable. Bear in mind we’ve had one of the driest summers on record here in the UK and the trail has been free from vehicles some time. This means Monks Trod must be in the better condition than it’s been in for years and it was still barely passable. Battering on along deeply recessed peat ditches flanked by marsh grass I must have cut a pathetic sight ploughing a lonely furrow across this inhospitable landscape. And then the track disappeared. Don’t ask me where it went, it simple melted away and I lost the faint imprint of a rear knobbly I’d been following for the past few miles, presumably left by another intrepid solo rider some time in the past week or so.

Find myself in the middle of a dried out upland marsh I quickly became disorientated in the featureless scenery. Where’s a Cisterian monk when you need one? A  mist was settling over the moors and it dawned on me things could quickly go pear-shaped. I parked up the Pamp and climbed out of the ditch  to get a better view. The mist was obscuring any distant reference points and so I cast around hoping to pick up the trail, hopping from tussock to tussock looking for tyre marks. In the end I decided it was too risky to blunder on across the moors in this manner- a mechanical breakdown or an accident could potentially leave me in a very compromised situation and so I went to get the Pampera to head for home but, and here’s the rub – I couldn’t find it. I kid you not, I’d parked it in a gully in a vast landscape of identical gullies and I couldn’t find the bloody thing. A systematic quartering of the territory eventually led me to it and I very gingerly retraced my tracks through the peat until I hit the trail once again and headed back to Rhayder .

Now I don’t want to over dramatise anything  but it just goes to show how things can go wrong trail riding in remote areas. If I’d remembered to pack a compass I’d have been OK but I hadn’t and in the mist I has no visual reference to determine where North was. Would a Satnav help? Perhaps , but I’m not sure how reliable the signal would have been in those conditions.In future I’m going to take a large ball of wool with me and lay a trail so I can find my way home.

So what did I make of the Monks Trod experience? If I’m being honest, not a lot. Some of these long Welsh trails with long sections of boggy ground to cross are very over- rated . Lots of riders love ’em but they’re not for me. It’s not as if a bit of riding finesse can bring some sense of satisfaction of a job well done. You simply have to bludgeon your way through. Fortunately, after this disappointing start to the week,  things very quickly improved and I had some fantastic rides with some very interesting customers culminating in a two day booking with seven riders. Now , under normal circumstances I’m not a fan of large riding groups but my customers on this occasion were highly experienced riders used to riding with each other. They were also able to cover ground very quickly and over the course of two days we rode almost two hundred miles of trails and unclassified roads. Here’s a few pics taken during the course of the week

 

adstone

Rob, pictured above was a great sport and agreed to do some exploring of long forgotten, overgrown lanes [see below]. We had a grand day out riding the Long Mynd and Kerry Ridgeway.

 

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medlicott

One of my favourite trails, this is Rob climbing up Long Mynd with Stiperstones Ridge in the background looking over towards Wales.

dick

Same spot, different day, different rider,different style. Dick was one of the riders from the larger group on the two day ride and was warming up for a competitive event the following day.

Radnore arms

The Radnor Arms, New Radnor. A well known watering hole for trail riders exploring the Welsh borders. New Radnor was a medieval walled town and its castle had the dubious reputation as being the unluckiest castle in Wales being virtually destroyed on four occasions and during one particularly troublesome period of unrest was conquered and changed hands 12 times in eighty years. The walls of the town remained until 1840 but the stone was then used for a program of building within the town and only the earthworks now remain.

ridgeway group

Taking in the scenery. Descending from the Kerry Ridgeway towards Sarn the views over the Vale of Montgomery are spectacular.

happy customers

Happy customers enjoying a rest on Long Mynd, Wenlock Edge can be seen in the far distance.

 

The nights are drawing in.

It’s gone a bit nippy here in Shrosphire. For me the cold weather always means long nights in the workshop doing the stuff I wanted to get on with in summer but somehow never got around to because I was too busy riding bikes.  This winter I’m finally going to get around to completing the restoration of of my Laverda 125 Regolarita Casa. Whaddy mean, you’ve never heard of one? Allow me to illuminate.

Laverda , who are perhaps best known for their big three cylinder roadsters, always built dirt bikes, in fact they were very good at it and by the seventies, the factory’s off-road race shop was one of the best in Europe, so much so that BMW asked them to build a prototype enduro bike based on their boxer engine. And we all know what that eventually led to.

Laverda BMW b

Laverda prototype BMW Boxer enduro bike. Looks familiar? Thought so…

During the fifties Laverda started off making a regolarita model based on their very successful 100cc road bikes .  By the mid sixties Massimo Laverda, son of the founder Francesco Laverda, was starting to make his presence felt within the company and designed a 125cc trail bike with the intention of capturing sales within the burgeoning US off road market. Massimo was the brother of my good friend Piero Laverda and for me the 125cc Trail marks the start of the golden age of Laverda when the two boys , Massimo and Piero, took over their father’s business and made it into one of the best-loved brands in motorcycling.

Massimo’s design, known as the 125cc Trail America, was also marketed under the Garelli Gladiator name in the US. Meanwhile , back in Europe Laverda offered a small quantity [about 50] of specially prepared versions of the 125cc Trail to customers wanting to compete in Regolarita events [ a kind of long distance regularity trial popular with Italian clubmen]. As well as these  customer competition machines the company also built a handful of ‘Casa’ models to run in ISDT events and had some modest success with them. ‘Casa’ means ‘house’, or works bike. Only two , possibly three of these original works bikes survive and, as a lifelong Laverda enthusiast, I’ve always fancied building one.

125 4T Regolarità Casa

Brochure shot of a Regolarita Casa, this shot is a bit misleading because the model was never offered to the public. I suspect this is a shot of a Casa which the factory intended to market as a Corsa [race] bike to replace the model pictured below. It was not to be and only 4 or 5 were ever produced

 

125 4T Regolarità Corsa

One of the 50 customer machines, a cobby little bike sporting what looks like a GRP Rickman tank [nobody I’ve spoken to in the Laverda world can quite remember where the tank came from] These customer bikes had a four speed ‘box, the works bikes had a five speeder.

 

125 4T America

And this is the cooking version offered to the American market

 

The Casa is loosely based on the Trail, very loosely in fact and I must confess the quest for special parts to complete the project has taken far longer than anticipated. Finally, with a good deal of help from Piero and his son Giovanni, I’ve now assembled all the parts and I’m ready to start putting the bike together. If you compare the pics you’ll see the frame on the works bike is very different to the production bike and features a brace running from the headstock to the swing arm. Having started off with a bog standard Trail I had to have the extra bracing fabricated by my chum Pete Priest [www.priestbikepaint.co.uk], other mods included having a toolbox fabricated into the top of the steel tank mimicking the work’s bike. The factory bikes also had 32mm Ceriani GP forks instead of the spindly 28mm units fitted to the production bikes. Special Q/R wheels off a Gilera ISDT were also fitted and these , along with the forks, proved very hard to track down. Giovanni Laverda found a pair or wheels for me at an Italian autojumble a few months ago and they arrived in the UK last week. Game on.

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Pete’s jig, built to hold the frame true whist the bracing was added

 

ISDT regolarita

Here’s the modified frame showing the extra bracing and the altered fuel tank. Prior to having the jig made I didn’t notice the original frame was twisted. What we now have here is a heavily braced, twisted frame! Hopefully this will be sorted in the next few weeks when we’ll un-brace the frame, correct the twist and weld it up again. Doh.

Once the frame is straight I’ll do a dry build and get all the fiddly bits done. My bike is a rare 150cc version  so it should have a bit more poke than the standard. It’s got to lug my 90kg bulk around Shropshire so it’ll need all the help it can get, bearing in mind it’s a small capacity pushrod four stroke from the sixties.

Researching the background and technical specs to these rare little bikes has been tricky. Massimo has sadly passed away and Piero was ne’er but a teenager when this model was built. I asked him what became of the four works bikes and he smiled ruefully and told me he’d been given one of them when he was a student and he used to ride it in local regolaritas but sadly he can’t remember what became of it! Fortunately he has access to works rider Nino Caretta’s bike . Nino died some years ago but his old bike is now owned by his son Mirko who runs a restoration business. Mirko allowed Piero to take  over sixty reference shots of the bike which have been invaluable  for research.

I’m intending to display the bike at the Telford off road show in February, meanwhile I’ll post updates of progress from time to time.

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Mirko Caretta proudly showing off his Dad’s bike.

 

 

Piero Casa

A teenage Piero Laverda riding an ultra rare Laverda works ISDT bike in a club event in the 1960s. Where is it now I wonder?

 

And finally, a Laverda Trail America masquerading as a Garelli Gladiator

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Croeso. The future’s bright, the future’s…

…err, orange. With a bit of black and white on it.

KTM come in for a bit of stick on the ‘net and motorcycle forums are full of people commenting on how they knew a man who once had a mate who knew a bloke who heard rumours about a guy who once had a problem with a KTM. Or a Honda, or a Kawasaki or a Ducati yada, yada, yada. Personally I prefer to take as I find and you only have to look at KTM’s impressive competition history to appreciate the Austrian company know a thing or two about dirt bikes and what makes them tick.
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KTM stroker in the ’76 ISDT. Lovely things, those early KTMs.

So, what’s with the KTM thing then?
Well, as you know I’ve been riding an Ossa Explorer for the past six months and whilst it’s performance has been impressive I’m wondering if a slightly less trials biased machine might fit the bill better for me. Although my riding  is more trials stylee than enduro I have to confess that on some of the faster AdventureRide trails I’d like to sit down a bit more, maybe it’s an age thing.  The ultra short wheel base of the Explorer is always going to make for a choppy ride on the faster tracks and a longer wheelbase machine could be the answer. Quite often I’m up on the pegs whilst the customers are sat down luxuriating in the spongy expanse of seat foam and plush suspension fitted to the Pamperas.  Enter the KTM Freeride.
I’d looked at a Freeride when I was in the market for an Explorer but I must confess the seat height put me off. I’m one of those unfortunate people whose waist measurement exceeds their inside leg dimension. It’s not a good look. I’d tried sitting on a 350 Freeride [the four stroke version] at a bike show in Birmingham and could hardly get my feet on the ground. That, and the small fuel tank persuaded me to look elsewhere.  However, older, wiser men had advised me  KTM’s 250 stroker version could be the way to go. With a dry weight of around 92kg the 250 was certainly in the ballpark of where I want to be with my own bike.  OK it’s nowhere near to Ossa’s class leading 74kg Explorer but regular readers of this blog will know that all that glisters is not necessarily gold. I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion 90 odd kg is probably as more realistic aspiration for a tough reliable trail bike and that,  plus KTM’s long experience of making effective and reliable two strokes should make the 250 Freeride a desirable package.

Colwyn Bay

No doubt about it, it’s a Duesie…
A quick trawl of the web revealed the 250 had suffered from starter motor problems since it’s launch. Interestingly however , this was just about the only problem which came up on repeated searches and many owners were gushing in their praise for KTM’s interpretation of the hybrid trials /trail / enduro bike concept. Knowing  the 2015 models will soon be hitting the showroom I decided to go and have a chat to a KTM dealer and get the lowdown .
There are three KTM dealers in the vicinity of AdventureRide,  the closest being Colwyn Bay Motorcycles. Colwyn Bay MC have been around donkeys years and are one of those rare motorcycle dealers who regularly attract very positive reviews from  their customers. No really, they do. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve got a couple of buddies who have bought stuff off them over the years and they have both given very positive feedback. If you knew the blokes I’m talking about you’d understand that this was praise indeed .  Especially if the term high-maintenance , fussy OCD bastards mean anything to you. Consequently I dropped Colwyn Bay MC a line last Sunday afternoon asking if they had a 250 Freeride I could cock a leg over. I was surprised, nay astonished to get an email back no more than 15 minutes later saying yes they had.  A follow up email received another rapid reply and a day later I was on my way to North Wales.
Upon arrival, Colwyn Bay MC looks like a proper dealership. A nicely stocked showroom backed up by an impressively clean and efficient looking workshop speaks volumes. After a quick introduction I was encouraged to take a 250 Freeride for a gentle pootle around some land at the rear of the premises and left to my own devices. What a refreshing attitude. A quick test ride was enough to tell me the Freeride feels right. Not only that but despite the quoted seat height of 915mm compared to the Ossa’s 840mm I could get both feet firmly on the ground. Must be the squishy suspension. It’s also light, nimble and beautifully screwed together . It started on the button everytime and ticked over with a mellow, purposeful growl from the exhaust but muted enough not to cause offence. Nice.

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Tyedee… as they say in North Wales

Ian , the sales manager, obviously knew his stuff and dealt with my concerns about the well publicised starting issues in a straightforward , no nonsense manner.  “The problems were down to the Bendix on the starter motor, it was a concern initially but once KTM got to grips with it we retro-modified the bikes which were affected and the latest models are equipped with the upgraded unit.” Fair enough.
I’ve was involved with vehicle manufacture and design for many years and I’m aware that you can’t get everything right first time. The important thing is to acknowledge the problems quickly and come up with a solution. To be honest, given KTM’s reputation, I’d have been surprised if they hadn’t solved the issue. They’re a big company nowadays with a reputation to protect. A quick ride around the block has convinced me a Freeride could well be the next company acquisition. I like the Freeride and I like Colwyn Bay Motorcycles. Watch this space, as they say.
Freeride
Skips? Parked cars? washing on the line? If I submitted a pic like this to Classic Bike they’d crucify me.

To finish first, first you’ve got to finish.

I once drove all the way to Croatia to race at Rijeka, it was a 4,000 mile round trip dragging a caravan halfway across Europe. My recollections of the trip aren’t pleasant. With a caravan you become a motoring pariah; truck drivers  give no quarter and private motorists hate you. And when you see a van with a caravan hitched to the back it makes you look as if you belong to a certain Anglo-Irish sub-culture who might offer to tarmac your driveway at a bargain price.  So, after a very stressful journey which included a rather intense experience with some  stony- faced Slav border guards whilst entering the former eastern Bloc , we arrived at the circuit. The bike lasted half a lap.  A faulty ignition rotor gave up the ghost and it was game over. Pack up your stuff and drive home. To finish first, first you’ve got to finish.

Experiences like that can be character building. You either quit and find another hobby or you learn from it and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. My chum Pip Higham , drag racer, Suzuki technical guru and ace bike builder drummed into me the importance of checking everything before a race and then checking again for potential ‘race losers’ or ‘show stoppers’ as he calls them. I like to think some of Pip’s pragmatically thorough approach to bike preparation has rubbed off on me over the years and I’m quite pernickety about preparing the Adventure Ride bikes before an outing. The consequences of mechanical breakdowns out on a remote trail can be just as distressing as a mechanical failure in Croatia, especially if you’ve got four customers in tow who have taken a day off work and paid good money to be with you.

In my experience the kind of thing which catches out the unwary trail rider is usually avoidable and with a bit of pre-planning the opportunities for disappointment can be minimised. Modern engines  rarely break down nowadays and even if they do develop problems it’s usually possible to limp home one way or another. Conversely if your drive chain snaps you ain’t going nowhere. It’s the simple stuff you need to prepare for.

Trail riding is a harsh environment for a motorcycle. Can you imagine what this sort of treatment does to chains , wheel bearings and suspension linkages? It’s ‘orrible.

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Here’s a list of some of the more common showstoppers and a few tips how to avoid them.

Chains.

You might get away with a dry chain on a road bike but out on the trail they tend to break more readily. It’s a brutal environment and any weak links , if you’ll pardon the pun, quickly manifest themselves. I stopped using expensive chain lube aerosols some time ago, whatever you put on will get washed off as soon as you’ve crossed two or three fords anyway. Nowadays I use a half inch paint brush and liberally paint the chain with whatever cheap oil I can find in the remainder bin at Halfords.  Remember on an O-ring chain the rollers themselves are sealed, it’s the rubber O-rings themselves you are trying to lubricate so they can slide easily against the side plates. Once the O-rings dry out the chain becomes stiff and creates unwanted friction and drag even if the rollers are running smoothly. I’ve also equipped my bikes with a Loobman chain oiler [www.loobman.co.uk]  These ingenious little  chain oilers are  cheap as chips [less than twenty quid] and have halved the chainwear on my customer bikes. It’s a manual system and every so often whilst out on the trail I give the Loobman a few pumps to deliver some fresh oil. Highly recommended.

Top Tip; if you’re using a split link chain a blob of silicone sealant pressed in an around the spring clip will prevent it flying off. Carry a spare link tie wrapped on the bike somewhere just in case, oh, and a cheap chain splitter.

Yeah, yeah, before you say anything this shot was taken immediately after a ride prior to cleaning.  Note the centre link filled in with silicone and also  the feed head on the Loobman oiler.

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Link tiewrapped to the ‘bars. Cheap insurance.

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Tyres.

Punctures can definitely spoil your day. I don’t mind changing a tube in the warmth of my garage listening to Radio 4 with a mug of tea and choccy digestive to hand , in fact in a perverse way I quite enjoy it. Any such enthusiasm disappears when I’m on a bleak hill top with an easterly wind blowing up my Jacksie and rain dribbling down my neck. No siree, you don’t want to be getting unnecessary punctures if you can avoid it.

Recently I’ve started using OKO tyre sealant and have had very good results, in fact I reckon it’s brilliant stuff. Get it from http://www.thefordcentre.com, they’re based in Brum, are nice people and really know their stuff. I use it in conjunction with 4mm heavy duty tubes and with that combo punctures should be a thing of the past.Bear in mind though if you clout a rock at speed the ensuing snakebite puncture can sometimes be too large for the OKO to work so my advice is always carry some patches , a spare tube tyre levers and a pump just in case.  A pump ? Yeah I know the modern way is to use a CO2 cannister but I’ve had problems with these and prefer the good ‘ol analogue method. You know it makes sense. Even if you aren’t experienced at changing a tube at least if someone else comes along who is you’ve got the right kit to deal with the problem.

Top Tip; a lot of punctures are cause by tyre creep which drags the tube and pulls the valve out. Mark the tyres with Tippex and keep an eye on it during a ride. In my experience fronts suffer from creep more than rears. Strange but true. Also think about your tyre pressures. 8psi in the rear and 12psi in the front might give you lots of grip but  will also increase the incidence of punctures. You’re not in a competition so sacrifice a bit of grip for reliablity. Run ’em at 15psi.

Tippex, simple but effective.

Ossa creep

Levers

A snapped clutch or brake lever can quickly bring proceedings to a halt. Carry a spare and tie wrap it to the handlebar safely. Now here’s a strange one, recently I’ve had a spate of the adjusters rattling loose and I put this down to the dry weather making the trails very harsh and creating extra vibration [mud is like a shock absorber]. When an adjuster falls out on the trail you are usually stuffed and it’s a long walk home

Top Tip; Put a blob of silicone sealant on the adjuster locknut, it’s a tip I picked up when endurance racing and it works a treat.

Not pretty but infinitely preferable to walking home

Lever

Grips

I’ve once saw a nasty accident caused by a grip slipping off a handlebar. If’ you’ve got bark busters on this isn’t such a problem but even so a rotating grip can be distracting even if it isn’t a danger. Grips which are on tight in the workshop can suddenly slide off in the most unpredictable situations , especially in damp conditions. Again, harking back to my racing days the best solution is to lockwire them on. Failing that use some hairspray when fitting the grips, it dries and hold them in place, just like your barnet.

Lockwired grips are a useful safety aid and much kinder to the environment than  Harmony hairspray. They also have the added advantage of making you look as if you’ve just competed in an ISDT, especially if you’ve got the split link tied to your handlebars.

Lockwire

 

Whilst you’ve got the Tippex  out here’s another tip; Use it to write the number of your breakdown provider on the back of a side panel. Don’t rely on storing the number on your mobile, if the ‘phone gets wet or the screen breaks your done for.

Brakes

When you look at the performance of modern dirt bike brakes and the conditions they have to function under it’s a miracle they stay working as long as they do.  The problem is, if they start to drag or bind it’s sometimes difficult to detect , especially if you’re plugging through thick mud. the first thing you know about it is when smoke starts pouring off a caliper or you find you’ve got no brakes on a steep descent.

A lot of problems can be avoided if you detach each caliper when doing your pre ride check, whip the pads out and by judicious use of a tyre lever hold back the piston[s] leaving one free and gently press the brake lever.  Check each piston in turn and make sure it’s moving freely. Sometimes they get gummed up with accumulated trail crud and they can stick , it’s an easy fix in the workshop but not so simple out on the trail. If a pad is dragging slightly you’d be surprised how quickly this will boil the brake fluid leaving you without a brake. It’s a 5 minute pre ride check and perhaps a bit OTT but one day you’ll be glad you did it . I do it on all the customer bikes and have avoided potential problems on more than one occasion

That’s all for this now folks, due to various commitments I won’t be able to post for a week or two so until the next time, ride safe.

Gratuitous endurance racing shot.Oh happy days, just look at the concentration.  Then, half a lap later… The same rules of bike preparation are equally important on a trail bike.

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Weights and measures.

Don’t get me started on the fuel range of modern bikes. Oh, go on then…

Has anybody else noticed the disturbing trend of fitting modern bikes with pathetically small fuel tanks? A lot of modern sports bikes won’t manage more than 100 miles before the warning light comes on, some even less than that. On a road bike this can be inconvenient, on a dirt bike it can be potentially quite serious especially if like me, you ride in some of the more remote parts of the UK.

Fuel range on trail bikes is usually the most critical aspect to consider when planning a ride. It certainly dominates my thoughts when planning a customer day out. I can plot any number of 100 mile loops around these parts and I guarantee there will only be one fuel stop option available on any of the rides. The closure of rural petrol stations doesn’t help but it’s the bike manufacturers who are the real culprits.

Fill ‘er up please mate and don’t forget the Green Shield stamps

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Consider this; I reckon the average fuel consumption of a smallish dirt bike is around 10 miles per litre when ridden off road. In English money that’s around 50mpg.  KTM’s Freeride is the Austrian manufacturer’s take on the current  trail/trial hybrid genre which is slowly taking root in the market. It’s got a 5.5 litre tank.

Let me tell you, you won’t be riding free on that for very long. Even worse is Scorpa’s ironically named Long Ride with its 4.5 litre fuel capacity . I dunno about you but 45 miles isn’t a particularly long ride in my opinion. And that’s assuming the quoted tank capacity is correct…

On a couple of occasions I’ve had to top up the Gas Gas Pamperas from the stash of fuel I carry in my rucksack for such emergencies. The Pamps had run out of fuel almost an hour earlier than I had calculated. The Pampera handbook states very clearly the fuel capacity is a class-leading 9 litres. Allegedly. The sensible tank capacity is one of the reasons I chose the Pamperas for the trail riding business. Consequently I was  puzzled when they ran out of fuel prematurely on these two occasions and put it down to the customers being a little throttle happy. A few days after  the second incident it was still gnawing at my subconscious and I decided to measure the tank capacity properly.Just for the record let me state the fuel capacity of a MK3 Gas Gas Pampera is not the useful 9 litres quoted in the handbook. It’s a barely acceptable 6.8 litres. Shame on you Gas Gas for telling such porkies. On Offa’s Dyke running out of fuel was mildly inconvenient but easily resolved due to my OCD habit of carting around spare fuel . Imagine if this had happened in the wilderness? With four customers in tow ?

I’ve solved the problem on the Pamperas by purchasing some natty Acerbis auxiliary fuel tanks.  These carry two litres and handily replace most of the mysterious missing capacity from the Gas Gas gas tank [ sorry, couldn’t resist it ]. The Acerbis tank is plumbed into the Gas Gas gas cap [again, sorry…] and works by syphonic action – you have to make sure the bike’s tank is full to make this work. The handy thing about this is the handlebar tank drains first thus relieving the weight off the handlebars early on in the ride. Neat.

Once it’s empty the Acerbis handlebar tank doubles up as a useful buoyancy aid

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So what is it with these small tanks? My 1975 Laverda Chott had a genuine 9 litre capacity which gave 110 mile range. It was also light and quick. How come Laverda [and other manufacturers] managed to get it right 35 years ago and nowadays some aspects of bike design seem to going backwards?

It’s a combination of things . Packaging for one. Bikes have more and more mass centralisation and manufacturers pack a lot of stuff towards the centre of the bike such as carbs, exhausts, ECUs, radiators etc etc leaving less room for fuel. The manufacturers also have to quote competitive wet weights to stay ahead of the competition and a small tank helps this. Air cooling would resolve a lot of this and allow more room and fuel capacity. Unfortunately manufacturers would struggle to get the high specific power outputs customers now demand [even though very few of us can actually use it].  Indirectly, water cooling also helps to reduce emissions and controls decibels. In the end bike design is all about compromise and deciding which set of compromises will be acceptable to the market. Latterly , it seems , manufacturers have decided modern riders don’t ride their bikes very far and therefore the designers can cut down the amount of space devoted to carrying fuel.

Now then, don’t get me started on seat height and dry weight. Oh go on then, maybe next time…

This is the reckless consequence of an inadequate  four litre tank capacity. Taken some years ago this pic shows me filling up five x 1 litre Sigg fuel bottles to augment the small trials tank on my Yamaha Majesty during the  Edinburgh Trial. At one point during the twenty hour event I was falling behind on standard time and through a dangerous combination of fatigue, desperation and stupidity I actually removed a bottle from my rucksack and attempted some in-flight re-fueling whilst traveling at 40 mph. Good sense prevailed prior to spontaneous combustion and I pulled in to continue refueling in a more responsible manner. Happy days.

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Strata Florida.

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Strata Florida. It’s got a ring to it don’t you think? The name , derived from the Welsh “Ystrad Fflur” meaning valley of, or river of the flowers, is the site of a once important Abbey which was one of the main seats of power in Wales. Built around 1160 AD, the Abbey  fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries during the tudor period and was closed in 1540 eventually falling into ruin, the remains of which can still be seen today.

Strata Florida is also the name given to one of the most infamous trails in the UK; a meandering boulder-strewn trail riding icon which winds its way north past the Twyi forest incorporating no less than nine deep fords . Hard in summer and nigh-on impassable in winter, the Strata has a reputation for punishing the unwary; an unfortunate passenger in a 4×4 drowned during a treacherous river crossing not so long ago. In short, the Strata needs treating with respect and its remote location means that a traveling partner is essential just in case things go awry and help needs to be summoned.

My pal Mike is always up for a trail ride and he was quick to accept my invitation to tackle the trail. We set off confidently from the Twyi forest visitor centre in hot sunny weather . With hardly any rain for a week  just how hard could it be to tackle a ten mile trail?

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As it turned out, quite hard ! Despite perfect riding conditions and low water levels in the river the trail is still a very challenging route. It’s surface is predominately rock and this tends to hold water  long after the rains have gone. You can ride through two or three long, crystal-clear puddles holding barely nine inches of water and then plunge into a slightly murky one and watch your front wheel disappear into a two foot pot hole such as this one….

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Here be dragons……. Welsh dragons of course.

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The nine  river crossings were fine and we both managed to get across without any drama but an innocuous looking puddle eventually caught me out and the bike went under momentarily  gulping in a carbful of muddy water. It delayed us for about 45 minutes whilst we drained the carb and purged the crankcase of contaminated mixture. This wouldn’t have been particularly difficult save for the baking midday sun and I was glad for the reassuring presence of Mike lending a hand. Imagine being stuck out there on your own with a dead bike and having to walk miles to civilisation in heavy trail riding gear and then come back to retrieve the bike. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Or worse still , being stuck on a cold winter day with the light failing. Nope, if you tackle the Strata you need at least one buddy with you.

Having done it, I would rate the Strata as one of the best trails I’ve ever ridden. It’s got the lot. Stunning scenery, dramatic settings and some of the toughest technical challenges you’ll find on a UK green lane. Highly recommended but my advice is have a go before the winter sets in. This vid shows a group of wild Welsh lads tackling it when the rivers are in flood. Sooner them than me.

 

Life doesn’t get much better…

Here’s a short video showing some of the typical trails we ride on an Adventure Ride day out. It was filmed by Dave Ryan who had joined one of the rides along with friends from the Shropshire and Powys Advanced riders group. It was one of those early spring days when the weather is perfect and the trails were in great condition. Hopefully I’ll publish some more excerpts soon showing some of the more technical sections of the routes.