Size matters.

The Potsdam Giants were unusually tall soldiers employed by Frederick the Great during the Austro Prussian war. Nicknamed lange keris [long men] by the local population, the Potsdam Giants, if they still existed, might be the kind of target customer KTM had in mind when they created the Enduro 690 – rugged men of action with extremely long legs in a readily accessible sales territory.

According to statistics I’m an inch taller than the average UK male, exactly the same height as the average Austrian bloke and just an inch shorter than yer average German but I still can’t touch the ground on KTM’s mid-sized trail bike. And when I say I can’t touch the ground I really mean it. Sat on the saddle the tips of my size 10 trials boots dangle helplessly in mid air as if I’m astride one of those pantomime ostrich costumes.

Now then, having done my research into the average height of European males I discovered a man’s inside leg measurement usually equates to 45% of his overall height. I’ll ‘fess up at this point and admit my inside leg is closer to 40% , proportionally shorter than most but still long enough to cock a leg over just about any road bike and the majority of off road machines.The KTM’s seat is a full English yard above terra firma yet the typical German male, statistically one of Europe’s tallest races, has an average inside leg measurement of just 32”. Do the math, as they say.

KTM jump big

There’s no way this geezer can get his feet on the ground on that thing

So, if it isn’t the Potsdam Giants, just who are KTM aiming the bike at? The Enduro I refer to belongs to my chum Rich who bought it new a couple of weeks ago. He’s a man with a keen eye for the aesthetic, an experienced road rider and is an outdoors enthusiast who wants to get into trail riding. With those credentials and at six feet tall he might just fit the profile of the ideal KTM 690 customer but even Rich can only just touch the floor when sat on his new bike. He tells me he will be buying a lowering kit for it. It’s a route a lot of riders go down nowadays and it begs the question why are manufacturers releasing bikes onto the market which need to be fundamentally altered to make them ridable by normal folk? Surely it would be more sensible to produce lower bikes by default and offer kits to raise the seat height should owners feel it necessary. I’d lay money there would be fewer owners raising the ride height of their bike than are currently having them lowered.

Rich Mountain Rd

Tall, dark and handsome and the KTM’s not bad looking either. As you can see Rich ain’t no midget and yet he’s already looking for a lowering kit for his 690.

KTM are by no means the only manufacturer guilty of making bikes which are too tall for the average person. Most big manufacturers offer bikes for road as well as off-road use which feature unfeasibly high saddles. BMW started it with the G/S which was/is too tall for the average bod . And if you thought the production G/S was a bit lofty, consider this: in their final incarnation, BMW’s Paris Dakar race bikes had an auxiliary tank under the seat raising the saddle height to almost 40”.

Spare a thought for diminutive Belgian works rider Gaston Rahier having to muscle his vertiginous Beemer across the desert. Rahier was just 5’2” tall and his starting technique on the big G/S was to stand by the side of the bike, pop it in gear and take off whilst simultaneously standing on the left pot and cocking his right leg over the saddle. If you’ve ever seen old cowboy films depicting pony express riders setting off you’ll get the picture. Fortunately with 60 litres of gas on board Rahier didn’t have to stop very often but when he did, the Belgian dwarf as he was unkindly known, would make a beeline for the service vehicle and stop with his bike’s handlebars resting against the truck. It’s a choice not open to most trail riders. Modern production GS’s wisely offer lowered suspension and low seat options.

BMW PD team

Gaston Rahier [centre] with BMW team mates. As you can see , the G/S is a little bit big for him. Respect to Rahier for grappling with that monster. Paris Dakar riders from that era were a very special breed

So why are modern dirt bikes so tall? Well, boxer motors aside, most modern dirt bikes are four stroke singles with relatively tall engine architecture. The current obsession with unnecessarily high ground clearances means engines are mounted high in the frame and the camshafts and throttle bodies occupy space traditionally taken up by the fuel tank. Certain manufacturers including KTM get around this by fitting ludicrously small fuel tanks amply demonstrated by their current 350 Freeride with its lamentable 5.5 litre fuel capacity. If I was being unkind I’d also say a small tank helps keep the quoted wet weight down. Now how did a trail bike with a such a meagre range ever make it past a design committee and into production? That said, plenty of riders find the tank range can be tolerated because the Freeride is such a sharp , competent bike. A lot depends where you want to ride such a bike, here in the Marches fuel stations are so far and few between a small tank really hobbles a trail bikes ability to strike out into the hinterland.

If there’s no space for a decent sized tank the next best option is to carry the fuel under the seat . It’s not a new idea, Honda did it with the Goldwing years ago. Stowing fuel under the saddle is tempting for manufacturers and makes a lot of sense from a packaging point of view. It helps centralise mass, which is usually a Good Thing. KTM  decided to go for an under the seat fuel tank on the 690 and therein lies the problem. They’ve produced a great trail bike with a reasonable range but unfortunately the location of the tank has raised the seat to such an extent you need to be a lange keris to ride it. It’s a great shame because it spoils what could be one of the truly great dual purpose bikes. It’s fast, grunty and light , beautifully made and not too expensive. If it wasn’t so damn tall I’d buy one myself. As it is, I’ll stick with my old 640 Adventure [complete with lowered suspension] until KTM et al wake up and start building bikes for normal people.

Rich Shelderton

KTM are ploughing a lonely furrow offering bikes only fit for giants

Ride Smart. The art of adventure riding

Brooding skies

CCM, GS and a Triumph somewhere in Shropshire. Don’t forget your brolly.

Post a thread on any internet adventure bike forum inquiring about the off road capabilities of big trail bikes and you are guaranteed to arouse passionate responses. Dare to question the effectiveness of an 1190 Adventure or a GSA 1200 on technical off-road trails and you’re likely to attract responses ranging from a polite but firm rebuttal from BMW GS enthusiasts to poison pen letters and death threats from the online KTM community. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, not all KTM riders are psychotic but you get the picture, it’s a sensitive subject . The issues surrounding the off-road performance of adventure bikes bikes stem from too much power, too much weight and not enough grip for the job in hand. This shouldn’t deter you from taking your big bike off road, but if you understand the limitations you can plan days out on your bike which play to its strengths rather than amplify its weaknesses.

Dab.jpg

This, believe it or not is a puddle on a trail 1000′ above sea level. Trail riding can be unpredictable…

For those unfamiliar with trail riding allow me to share one or two observations about riding the green lanes you are likely to encounter in the UK. Our unsurfaced roads [ the technical definition of a green lane] are often narrow and rutted and can become waterlogged, which is the reason they become rutted in the first place. These ancient rights of way have often been in use for centuries and sometimes sit well below the level of surrounding fields because the passage of traffic over time has actually worn a deep groove in the countryside. This encourages water to collect. There are lanes close to where I live which never completely dry out and are tricky to navigate on a big bike even in the middle of summer.

The problem is, you won’t find this information on any OS map or your GPS, you have to ride the trail to find out and there’s the rub – half a mile down a narrow track you might suddenly find yourself in a deep muddy rut struggling to find traction . On a typical 110kg trail bike you can simply dismount at this stage, lift the back wheel out of the rut and then do the same with the front and continue on your way. If you’re riding a 200+kg adventure bike you now have a pretty serious problem on your hands, especially if you decide the route is impassable and you need to turn back.

Strata

Bad enough on a 90kg trail bike, on a big adventure bike you would now have your work cut out  . This was taken on Strata Florida in Wales.

Of course we also have access to hard packed trails and forest fire roads in the UK and these aren’t such a problem on an adventure bike, but be aware it’s not possible to do these easy routes in isolation and sooner or later you’re going to come across mud , soft ground and some tight technical trails. This is why taking a big bike off road needs careful thought and planning.

The trick is to avoid getting into a difficult situation in the first place. For instance, if you sense a trail is becoming narrower or getting too muddy stop immediately and go and inspect on foot . If you don’t like what you see don’t be afraid to turn round and find an alternative route. I can’t stress how important this is on a big bike, it might seem a bit feeble, especially if your leading a group but it can save a lot of potential heartache. Getting bogged down in deep mud and unable to go forwards or backwards is a frustrating and exhausting experience.

A pal of mine was out trail riding recently and stopped when he saw something sticking out off a particularly deep muddy bomb hole on a trail. On closer inspection he realised the object was a Land Rover’s roof. Try to picture the consequences of simply ploughing into a similar rut on a big GS hoping it will all sort itself out.

Trail riding can involve a lot of manhandling of the bike. For instance, pulling up to a gate on a steeply rutted lane and stopping the bike often means getting off and having to drag the back wheel around until you find a suitable place to deploy the sidestand. Again, not an issue on a lightweight trail bike but on a heavy adventure bike this type of thing can become very tiring so keep your eyes on the trail and plan well ahead, look where the best grip will be for a restart will be and where you can park the bike and dismount easily. It can be a lot less stressful to stop well short of a gate at a suitable spot and walk the last few yards to open it. When you restart the bike this will usually give you a nice clean getaway instead of having to struggle in the mud and ruts created by all the other vehicles who drove as close as they could to the gate before stopping. Always seek out opportunities to save energy, you don’t know when you might need it. Once fatigue sets in it the possibility of falling off big heavy bikes increases dramatically.

Lands end Bishops wood 1

Once fatigue sets in the chances of falling off a big bike increase dramatically! This is yours truly on the Land’s End Trial a few years ago, my first attempt at tackling serious off- road stuff on an adventure bike.

If you find yourself on a tricky section of steep trail with lots of rock and mud and you’re wondering where to find grip a good tip is to follow the route of any  water flowing down the lane. Water will usually wash away any mud and I find if I need to make a quick decision on which route to take through a hazard there’s usually grip to be found beneath flowing water. On technical trails pick up momentum when you can get traction and then allow the bike to roll along on a neutral throttle over sections where the grip will be compromised. It’s all just common sense really but riding smart can make the difference between having a chilled and enjoyable day or a brutal, unsatisfying slog.

At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, planning routes is very important, much more so than if you were on a small bike. I’ll happily set off on my own on one of the Adventure Ride Pamperas and go and busk it, exploring new routes and going wherever my fancy takes me but I never do this on the KTM 640. I’ll speak to other trail riders and ask them what lanes they think are suitable for big bikes. If you can see from the contour lines there will be a steep ascent, think about planning your route to tackle this lane in reverse so it becomes a descent. If I’m planning a big bike day I’ll look stuff up about the route on the web and ask questions on forums. Forewarned is forearmed.

Descent

Descending can be easier than climbing. This is JP, one of BMW’s off-road instructors making it look easy on a Triumph XC. There is no way this bike would have gone up this slope. Take into account the gradients when planning your route. [photo courtesy of Bike magazine and photographer Chippy Wood]


Don’t be tempted to simply pick out a few Byways on an OS map and head off into the wild blue yonder. Gather as much intel as you can, believe me it will pay dividends.
Before setting out make sure your bike has decent lifting handles and if it doesn’t, fit a lifting strap to the rear of the bike. When possible, leave your adventure style panniers at home, they’ll catch and snag on ruts lifting the rear and losing grip. Do everything possible to minimise getting stranded with a puncture. Pushing a big adventure bike with a flat tyre off a remote trail to the nearest garage will definitely spoil your day. Make sure you know how to remove both wheels and have the tools with you to do so. If you’re serious about going off road and haven’t yet changed a tube on your bike practice in the comfort of your garage. Far better to learn how to deal with a puncture listening to Radio 4 with a cuppa to hand than out in the Brecons with the rain lashing down your neck and dusk approaching. Carry a spare tube [or a tubeless repair kit]. Don’t rely on Co2 cannisters or a tyre repair cannister. By all means take some but for goodness sake carry a mountain bike pump as back up. Treat the tubes with a sealant such as OKO.

I would also strongly advise you don’t ride alone, trail riding isn’t a dangerous activity but in my experience it can be unpredictable. I’ve seen people break bones after an innocuous- looking fall and this would be very bad news if you were riding solo.
Drop the tyre pressures, I find 15psi each end works well on my KTM, don’t be tempted to go too low – unless you’ve got security bolts fitted the power of a big bike can spin the wheel in the tyre and tear the valve out. And don’t forget to put some air back in for the journey home. Ride smart and arrive home in one piece.

home

Photo courtesy Bike magazine and Chippy Wood

Everything but the kitchen sink.

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

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

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

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

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

Ten minutes later the gravity of the situation dawns…

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

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

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

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

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

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

2] Tyre levers

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

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

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

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

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

8] Spare clutch and brake levers

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

10]Two litres of fuel.

11]Spare split link

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

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

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

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

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

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.

jig 003

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Garelli_150_Gladiator

 

Warning!

Image

Image

 

My chum Craig came over at the weekend with his new toy, a brand new GS 1200. I’ve always been a fan of BMW’s uber traillie and this latest incarnation takes the GS concept to a whole new level, both in terms of technical  specification and sheer physical size. I used to think my old G/S 80 was a big bike but the new 1200 is truly massive, to the point of being quite intimidating.  BMW have made commendable efforts to reduce the weight of the GS when the 1200 was introduced in 2004 but when you add on all the current Adventure kit plus a full tank of fuel the bike tips the scales at a whopping 260kg wet.  Having done a bit of Googling I was surprised to find the weight is by no means unusual for the class; Yamaha’s 1200 Tenere and Guzzi’s 1200 Stelvio weigh almost exactly the same so I guess the weight is the price the market has come to accept in exchange for all that sophistication. And the 1200 GS is certainly sophisticated with its plethora of on-board  gadgetry  enabling the rider to adjust the suspension and engine mapping whilst on-the-fly, not to mention plot a route on the sat nav.

Craig weighs up the local Welsh talent

Sheep

Craig generously offered a test ride and I was keen  to have a go. Being a bit short in the leg I found the GS was too tall for me to paddle around comfortably from standstill which made me  uneasy setting off from a remote laybay on the Aberystwyth mountain road . Later Craig told me the bike was still set in pillion mode which raises the ride height… see what I mean about sophisticated?  Once under the way  the weight melts away and despite being almost as wide as a small family saloon, the GS feels positively nimble. Quite how BMW have managed this is a bit of a mystery but the GS is, by any yardstick you care to measure it by, a fine handling bike.

In many ways the GS is like a Porsche 911. The layout defies convention  but over the years the relentless  pursuit of Teutonic engineering perfection has overcome all the inherent dynamic challenges and come up with a fully-sorted, cohesive package which works far better than it has a right to. It’s quick, smooth, and stops on a sixpence.  Judging by the popularity of the current breed of mega traillies the weight clearly isn’t an issue for the majority of customers but it concerns me that bikes, like cars , seem to be getting heavier and heavier . Any weight savings created by clever design and the use of exotic materials is soon cancelled out by the extra ECUs and assorted gubbins which modern vehicles are equipped with.

It raises an interesting question about where all this is going. Let’s look at the Range Rover as another suitable four-wheeled analogy . The Range Rover fair bristles with extremely sophisticated technology to make it more effective off road but 80% [possibly more] of the customers will never have cause to use it , yet they’re paying the penalty in terms of  weight ,  price and fuel consumption. That’s the cost of dragging around diff locks, adjustable ride height paraphernalia and whole pile of  technology which they will derives absolutely no benefit from.  That said, if the Range Rover didn’t have this latent ability to climb 30 degree muddy slopes would the customers still buy them? I think the answer is, probably not.

The GS is in a similar quandary. As it becomes larger and more powerful BMW’s engineers have to develop more and more kit to give it some kind of off road capability even though the likelihood of one ever being ridden in anger on the dirt is very remote . But perhaps I’m over-analysing it and to be fair, the off-road focus of the GS is no more misplaced then the hyper sports focus of an R1 or a ‘blade and other bikes of that ilk which are blessed with levels of performance most of us can never hope to explore. We’re all automotive fashion victims one way or another.

However, no matter how much you debate it the simple fact remains the GS is a great road bike and it’s not hard to see why the GS is such a popular choice for hard core mileage munchers. It’s superbly built and in its own weird way looks a million dollars. During my brief trip on it I could tell it had superb composure on the road and was deceptively easy to ride fast. It also has road presence like no other bike [check out the pic at the top of the page] which in itself must contribute to safety. I wouldn’t relish tackling a muddy Shropshire lane on it but that misses the point of the GS. I reckon it would be would be just the job for a quick raid to Morocco.

 Bavaria? The Dolomites? Nah, it’s Church Stretton.

Two up

 

Busman’s Holiday

You could be forgiven for thinking that going out trail riding might be the furthest thing from my mind to do on a day off. By and large you’d be right. However, when the offer of a ride came from Nick and Mike, two of my chums from the The Trail Riders Fellowship I was delighted to tag along. Nick you see, is the Rights of Way expert for this part of the country and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area. I’m very grateful to Nick because when I originally came up with the idea of running guided trail rides in the borders region he was kind enough to drop by and give some very valuable pointers about routes and rights of way. On subsequent occasions when I’ve asked Nick about the legal status of such and such a lane, it doesn’t matter how obscure or remote it is, Nick has invariably ridden it at some stage , can usually quote it’s official number on the definitive map and will give a current legal status.In short, Nick Knows His Stuff.

So, the chance to ride in Nick’s manor, down on the Hereford and Shropshire border, was an opportunity not to miss, busman’s holiday or not. It also provided the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with Mike, who I’d bumped into at the Telford Show earlier in the year. Turning up at Nick’s cottage I could smell the bacon wafting down the path and upon walking into the kitchen had a bacon butty [or bap/barm/cob depending on what part of the country you’re from] and a cuppa thrust in my hand whilst Nick briefed us on the riding plan for the day. We were joined for the day by young Antoni, a recently recruited TRF member who wanted to sample some trails in the area.

It was a motley selection of machines which made their way slowly down Nick’s lane before setting off . Nick was riding his quad, something you don’t see very often on the lanes in my neck of the woods. It’s an impressive beastie with a pokey engine, selectable four wheel drive and a reverse gear. I’d never have considered using one for trail riding but as the day wore on I became more and more impressed with it. Strapped to various parts of the quad was an axe, a jerry can, some rope andI think I even spotted a set of bolt croppers poking out . I think this is what the police refer to as ‘going equipped’.  Mike was riding a svelte and purposeful-looking looking Husqvarna trail bike and Antoni had brought along his imposing F800GS BMW. Add my diminutive Ossa to the list and you couldn’t have compiled a more diverse group of vehicles if you’d tried.

Mike gets the Brave Little Soldier award for turning up with a gruesomely crushed and broken finger on his right hand, sustained in an accident shackling up his trailer. Not the easiest injury to deal with when riding a motorcycle, especially when trail riding.

Mike exits the unimaginatively named Forest Wood. Well, what is it, a forest or a wood? Herefordshire can be very confusing for an expat townie like me

Image

Anyway, we all set off and were soon in the swing of things exploring some rarely used lanes in Hereford,  one of the quietest , sparsely populated counties in England. For me , it was  liberating  to be released from the burden of planning routes, lunch stops or refueling, or worrying about mechanical issues and punctures arising on customer’s bikes. All I had to do was follow Nick, which was actually easier said than done because he pilots his quad with great aplomb and it would be a brave man who tried to keep up with him across country. It seems to just float along those deeply rutted lanes which can be such a challenging pain in the backside for two wheel traffic . Steep, technical, rocky climbs? No problem, just twist the throttle and hang on. The way it appeared to effortlessly negotiate almost every obstacle and hazard thrown in its path was a real eye opener for me. Of course it helps if you know how to ride it…

Stormin’ Nick, a man on a mission.

Image

Antoni’s Beemer didn’t fare quite so well and struggled for grip on the tight, technical sections, especially on loose rock . Or mud. And  grass and gravel. In fact it didn’t seem to have any grip anywhere. Antoni did some heroic riding  and managed to coax the porky Beemer up  sections I wouldn’t have dreamed of tackling on such a big bike. Sadly it had the better of him on more than one occasion and usually took all four of us to extricate it from whatever rut it had managed to dig itself into. On a couple of occasions it simply couldn’t make it up the trail and an alternative route had to be found. Poor Antoni was worn out by the experience and at one point I offered to give him a break and see if I could do any better and get it up a particularly tricky section. I couldn’t, in fact when I sat on it I wondered how he’d managed get as far as he’d already done on it. Big respect. I gave it the merest whiff of throttle looking for some traction and immediately fell sideways off it . In the end I elected to ride it back down the hill.

Under Nick’s watchful eye Antoni plunges the Panzerwagen into the ford before heading south to annex  Shropshire

Image

Coasting back down the trail on Antoni’s GS reminded me of a Jaguar XJ12 I once owned back in the days when normal people could afford fuel. Like the Jag, the GS felt very comfy but also very vague and isolated from the terrain. The GS also felt about four times heavier than my Ossa, which is a bit of an exaggeration because in fact it’s only three times heavier. I kid you not.

These big Beemers are excellent road bikes and will tackle hard packed trails reasonably well but on the type of going one might reasonably expect to encounter on a typical day of green lane riding in the UK, they are hopeless. I know this will upset some folk but it happens to be true. In my opinion the image of adventure punted about by manufacturers in the mega trail bike sector is a fallacy. A six hundred quid, thirty year old Honda XR200 would leave any one of these big bikes for dead as soon as the going gets tough and I wish BMW, KTM and Yamaha  et al would be a bit more honest when promoting these behemoths to the general public. No one denies they are fine motorbikes, but the stark reality is, they don’t really do what they say on the tin. There, I’ve said it, flame me if you will, I’ve got broad shoulders.

Anthony takes the Long Way Home. Again.

Image

At around 4pm I noticed  a slow puncture in my front wheel, sustained , I think, when I hit a concrete cross-drain a bit too hard on a fast forestry track near Black Hill at Knighton. Not wanting to hold up proceedings and being too bone idle to change a tube on a garage forecourt I banged 40psi in the tyre, left the boys to it and rode slowly back to my van. It had been a superb day out  and a very different experience to a typical day with AdventureRide.  I was surprised at how little-used the Herefordshire lanes appeared to be and some of the more technical trails were really challenging and enjoyable. I’m  fortunate to be able to earn a living from trail riding but of course my riding enjoyment must always take a back seat to the customers needs. A day out with Nick and the boys  reminded me of just how rewarding and absorbing our hobby is . Nick, I owe you one…