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.

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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.

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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

Little Big Show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping our heads above water

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here at  Adventure Ride and customers have braved biblical weather conditions on some of the rides. Despite the atrocious conditions we’ve had some fantastic days out even though on one memorable ride we had to contend with black ice, floods, bright sunshine and a blizzard all in the space of a few hours. As I always say, if this stuff was easy everybody would be doing it and it does no harm to stray outside your comfort zone occasionally. One of the great things about trail riding is it can be enjoyed year round in all weathers.

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It takes more than wet feet and freezing conditions to deter an enthusiastic trail rider. Paul had a smile on his face for  most of the day.

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Some boys from Devon turned up on a selection of twin shock machines which gave me a chance to ride my ’72 Bultaco Matador. Ian [KLX250], Nick [PE175] and Rob [XR200] has brought along  their bikes to do a photo shoot for a forthcoming magazine feature in Classic Bike. The photographer for the day was Chippy Wood, the well known motorsport snapper and monthly off road columnist for Bike magazine. Chippy, an experienced enduro competitor, made it all look very easy, effortlessly covering ground quickly and somehow finding the time to get the camera out and take some stunning pictures.

We had some big laughs and a great day out [this was the day of the blizzard and the black ice etc] and arrived back at base very cold wet and tired. My chum Gez Kane from Classic Bike magazine was directing operations and also took it upon himself to raise our flagging spirits by spectacularly riding one of the Adventure Ride Pamperas straight into a farm fence, narrowly missing Chippy and his expensive camera in the process. I can’t decide whether it was selfless act of sacrifice in the interests of comedy or, after riding over a crest at great speed perhaps Gez simply hadn’t spotted that we had all stopped to open a gate, who knows? If we’d had a camera running the footage would definitely have made it into the next episode of You’ve Been Framed.

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“C’mon boys, work it, make love to the camera…”

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“Put your scarf on Ian, it’s snowing.”

I must give a quick mention to my pal Stuart Altman who let the boys stay in his superb holiday cottage in Bishops Castle http://www.bishopscastleholidaylet.co.uk . If you’re looking to have a holiday in Shropshire , or indeed require somewhere to stay when enjoying a weekend with Adventure Ride Stuart’s cottage is ideal. Bishops Castle is a great little village with some proper pubs in it and makes an ideal base for walking, cycling or motorcycling in the area.

And finally, a gratuitous water splash shot.

ditch water

Better late than never…

I came across this article whilst trawling through some stuff I’d written for Classic Bike last year. It’s an event report from the superb ISDT Centenary celebrations held in Carlisle last August. I’d entered the event on my Bultaco but due to space limitations and copy deadlines the report never made it to press which is a shame because there were some very interesting bikes and people at the event. So, a bit late perhaps , but here it is.

Carlisle ISDT Centenary.

The centenary ISDT celebration in Carlisle had an appropriately international flavour with entrants from France, Germany, Holland, Scotland and Wales . They had turned out to celebrate the famous event by re-tracing riding the route of the original competitors who had set off from Carlisle almost exactly 100 years earlier. The anniversary celebrations were the brainchild of the irrepressible Dot and Jim Jones, well known personalities in the off road world. Dot and Jim had piggy-backed the Centenary ride onto a three day enduro hosted by Rallymoto and the paddock was packed full of exotic rally raid machinery sharing pit space with classic ISDT bikes dating from 1913 right up to the early 1980s. The organisers had won the enthusiastic support of Carlisle town council and riders were waved off by the Mayor of Carlisle as they threaded their way out of the town and headed out to the Lake District. Of course most of the original route is now tarmac but in on some of the more remote routes through the fells and on the occasional green lane riders were able to sample the scenery and roads experienced by the early pioneers of the International Six days Trial.

1913 980cc Trump

Local lad David Miller from Wigton brought along his 1913 Trump to represent the pioneering days of the ISDT. His heroic exploits on the Trump won the admiration of all who witnessed his take-no-prisoners riding style on the sporty looking V-twin. The Trump is direct drive, devoid of clutch or gears and with marginal brakes. If you stop, you stall and bump starting the long legged 980cc Jap sidevalve is a tricky business. Not such a problem on the wide open fell roads but definitely an issue when the centenary entrants passed through the places Keswick crowded with sightseers and weekend traffic. David’s technique was to maintain forward motion at all costs and his fearless filtering past slow moving traffic was a masterclass in how to ride vintage machinery .

Trump

1975 Jawa Team bikes

Works Jawas are like late night buses- you wait ages to see one and then three come along at once. Steve Gard had travelled up to Carlisle from London and brought with him three Jawa team bikes from the 1975 Isle of Man event including John May’s gold medal winning 250cc machine [number 3]. Steve’s machines represent the heyday of the Czech factories involvement in the ISDT and in their day these purposeful looking machines were in the elite of long distance competiton machinery. Steve is shown holding bike number 234, a 360cc, brother in law Nick Morris is with 228 which is a 350cc machine and Paul Howard is riding John May’s medal winning machine displaying its ISDT original number 3 .

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1913 Campion 500cc

Bob Ashwin from Evesham was riding his 1913 Campion. Powered by the ubiquitous 500cc JAP driving a 3 speed Sturmey Archer hub gear Bob’s bike also sports a cleverly fabricated hand cranked starting device which he made himself, “ It’s not an original unit but at least it’s Campionish, I’ve had the bike about 3 years and this year is the first time I’ve had it on the road and so far the experience has been trying”. Bob’s testing times with the Campion were to continue and sadly the bike threw its hand in a few miles from the start. Fortunately he has a trusty Royal Enfield rigid ready and waiting in the paddock and went on to complete the event.

Campion

Campion hand crank

1980 SWM 370 GS

Frenchman Philippe Vandewalle’s superb SWM 370cc G/S1 was representing the hairy era of the ISDT when much emphasis was placed on the bike and rider’s performance in the motocross style special test. These big bore two strokes don’t suffer fools gladly and when asked about the performance of the Italian thoroughbred Philippe replied “ C’est fantastique, I’ve added a gasket to reduce the compression and the bike is superb to ride with good torque and an easy power delivery.”

Philippe, a well known competitor in the classic off road scene, runs the popular website www.oldknobblies.com devoted to classic enduro machines. He was taking it easy on the Centenary event having crashed the SWM in the previous day’s enduro sustaining a wrist injury.

SWM 370

1969 Cheney 500cc

There were nine original Cheney Triumphs on the event and this example , ridden by John Cart of Stratford ,was particularly good example sporting some interesting period features. “I’ve owned it for twenty years and when I originally bought it the bike had been used by its owner in one day trials. It’s got the original Cheney yokes and forks which are quite unusual and hard to find, in fact John Cheney spotted them and asked me if I wanted to sell the yokes! It’s also got a set of original Rickman hubs fitted. This particular bike wasn’t a team bike or anything like that, it’s just one of the bikes which were offered for sale at the time” An ex motocross man, John has used the Cheney in the Red Marley hillclimb and it shares his garage with a variety of Triumph twins including a 350 trials iron and a Tiger 100.

Cheney Triumph

1956 AJS 350 MCS

A number of the bikes on the event had genuine ISDT provenance and this nicely turned out AJS 16 MCS owned by Jeremy main of Oxford had participated in the event during its history. Jeremy bought the bike two years ago and hadn’t ridden the bike until the Centenary event. The competition version of Plumstead’s single was a popular clubmans mount in the 1950’s , the bike becoming popular after works rider Hugh Viney famously won the Scottish Six day three times in a row in the post war years. Jeremy seemed very pleased with the Plumstead single on its first outing and is pictured here at the final checkpoint of the day.

AJS

If you’re interested in ISDT stuff you really have to check out http://www.speedtracktales.com  It’s an incredibly comprehensive archive of ISDT material , superbly written and extremely well laid out. If you need to check any facts or research any history regarding the ISDT this is the place to go. One of my favourite websites!