Ossa Explorer. Caveat Emptor.

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

Bob Ridgeway

Happier days, exploring on the Explorer

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

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

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

Ossa mudguard

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

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

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

Everything but the kitchen sink.

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

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

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

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

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

Ten minutes later the gravity of the situation dawns…

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

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

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

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

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

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

2] Tyre levers

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

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

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

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

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

8] Spare clutch and brake levers

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

10]Two litres of fuel.

11]Spare split link

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

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

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

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

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

Chain Reaction

The past few weeks at AdventureRide have been intense. Lots of rides with groups of three and four riders have meant the bikes have been worked  very hard. For me , this means lots of cleaning and lots of preventative maintenance followed by long days in the saddle. Yeah , yeah, it’s a tough job etc etc… but no, honestly , it is.

Steve, Richard and Simon

Steve , Richard and Simon. Stiperstones in the background.

Joe

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

Many years ago I worked  for one of the world’s largest truck operators and saw first hand the importance of effective fleet management.  The consequences of a breakdown in the truck industry is invariably expensive and occasionally dangerous. So how does the macro level of world fleet management translate to the micro level of a tiny rural trail riding business? Well you’d be surprised.

When working at Ryder System I was often impressed by the accuracy of the maintenance expenditure forecasts provided by the fleet engineers. This information had been garnered from experience of running thousands of trucks over millions of miles maintained with rigorous attention to detail. After a while patterns of wear and tear emerge and it starts to become easy to predict when a clutch will be needed or a gearbox is likely to need an overhaul. And so it is with my tiny little fleet of Gas Gas Pamperas. They are becoming boringly predictable. Now remember, when you run a fleet of trail bikes which take you and groups of customers to the back of beyond, boring is Good and surprises are Bad.

Chains , sprockets , wheel bearings , shock linkages, tyres, water pump seals all wear out with monotonous regularity. It’s the cost of doing business. But now here’s a thing, as a fleet operator albeit of  a very tiny fleet, I’m always looking for improvements and ways to extend the service life of components. The two main consumable components on a trail bike are chains and wheel bearings. I took a pragmatic approach to wheel bearings and worked out their tragically short life expectancy had very little to do with quality and everything to do with operating environment. Having done exhaustive field tests [ie riding bikes across lots of fields] I can report high quality branded bearings such as NTN, SKF or FAG wear out just as quickly as unbranded Eastern European bearings. Regular dousings in the river Onny three or four times a week coupled with  healthy dollops of Shropshire clay and mud being compacted against the outer seals will see off the even the finest Japanese made precision bearing just as quick as its Eastern Bloc counterpart. And so I now fit cheap bearings.

Andy2

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

Chains are different. The old maxim, buy cheap, buy twice definitely applies here. For years I’ve sworn by Regina O ring ‘Enduro chains’. Not cheap, but tough as old boots needing only minor adjustment after each ride, my only gripe about the Regina Enduro chain is it generates quite a lot of transmission drag, an inevitable consequence of tightly fitted O rings, which is the only way to keep muck out.  For some strange reason I was tempted away from good old Regina by the beguiling blurb put out on t’interweb by Ognibene [pronounce Ognee-benny, not Ognee-bean as I’ve heard some folks say]

Ognibene’s marketing puts out a very convincing argument for their X ring off road chain, primarily focusing on the low drag attributes of their product. And so I bought a couple . They were almost exactly the same price as the Regina chain and so the decision making process was driven by the potential for improved performance rather than a reduction in operating costs.

To say the Ognibene chains wore at an alarming rate would be an understatement. Within half a dozen rides I’d used up all the considerable adjustment available on the Gas Gas and had to remove a link.  Last week whilst out with a group of customers one of the Ognibene’s shed its centre link neatly depositing the chain in a ford, languishing like a dead eel in the gently lapping water. Fishing it out of the stream I could tell from the side to side slop the chain was on its last legs [see pic below]. I haven’t checked the riding log but I’d be surprised if the chain had been used more than a twelve times. A quick check on the second chain revealed its centre link had become dangerously loose and was also in imminent danger of self ejecting. Fortunately I’d packed a couple of spare links and ten minutes later we were on our way with the detached chain refitted and a contingency in place should the second also throw its hand in. As soon as the bikes were back at base I removed both chains and lobbed them in the bin, ordering up a couple of Regina Old Faithfuls to replace them. Rather annoyingly, I’d written to the Ognibene supplier a couple of weeks earlier politely expressing concern at the rate of wear and didn’t get the courtesy of a reply or an acknowledgement.  Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Shame on you Bike Torque Racing for not responding to your customers, and double shame on Ognibene for producing sub standard stuff.

Ognibene

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

Which brings me neatly to the point of this particular blog – I’ve now decided to introduce a regular product review element into the posts. It occurred to me I’m in a fairly unique position to assess off road motorcycling products due to the shear amount of hours I’m out on the trails . So, if you’ll indulge me I’m going to vary the ‘voice’ of the blog and provide some hopefully meaningful reviews rather than the thinly-veiled advertorials you find on forums when you search for product reviews.

Here’s a quickie for starters;

Park Tool TL 5 Heavy Duty Steel Levers.

The term ‘heavy duty’ in this instance us a misnomer . This is because is these levers are aimed at cyclists, not trail riders. Park Tools have an excellent reputation in the cycling world and amongst other things produce a range of professional tools for everyday use in bike shops with a well deserved reputation for outstanding quality. I know this because I was in the bicycle business for twenty years. I must confess I have had a set of these levers for years in my cycling tools and never used them, consequently they’ve been hung up gathering dust on the garage wall

It was only when my normal motorcycle tyre levers escaped  through a hole in the tail pack a few weeks back that I started packing the Park levers as  emergency backup. Last week we had a puncture out on the trail  and so the levers were deployed for the first time.  I have to say these levers are the best I’ve ever used on motorcycle tyres. The narrow nose and neatly curved lip make them ideal for getting under the bead of a close fitting trials tyre. They’re a wee bit over-engineered for cycle use and this is what makes them perfect for trail riding. They’re definitely man enough for what we want.

At 200mm long they fit neatly into an Acerbis tool pack …whaddya mean 200mm isn’t very long? If you can’t change a bike tyre using 200mm levers then you’re doing it all wrong.  I’m so impressed with them  I’ve ordered a spare set in case the first set also make a bid for freedom  out on the trail. Prices on the web vary so be if you buy a set be sure to shop around. Expect to pay around £17.

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

Park levers

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

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

Happy New Year to all our readers!

Bless me Father for I have sinned, it’s been two months since my last post…

Has it really been over two months ? I’m afraid it has, In my defense things got really busy in November, so much so there was no time to compile a blog and then in December things went really quiet and there was nothing to write about. No such excuses today, no sir, because I’ve already done the first ride of 2015. Yesterday I met up with my chums Nick and Mike along with a few more TRF members and we blew the cobwebs away celebrating the new riding season by heading out for the recently re-opened Water Breaks Its Neck Neck. And yes, that is the correct name. But more of that later, in the meantime I’ll do a quick recap of 2014.

Initially I started the blog as an informal diary of trail riding in the UK because I wanted to share the experiences of riding in one of the best trail riding areas of the UK. The blog is hosted by WordPress and  a few days ago they sent over the site stats for 2014. Would you believe this blog now has readers in 64 countries? According to the stats the blog had it’s busiest day ever in December and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who takes the time to view it and for the kind comments some readers have sent in and hope you continue to enjoy reading about AdventureRide in 2015.

For me, 2014 will be memorable for the weather. We had an amazing run of good conditions here in the UK and this contributed to having some fantastic rides. Particularly enjoyable was the day out I  now refer to as the Landlord’s ride. Two local pub owners, Ian and Michelle booked a day out and we had a really grand day out.  Both have since made me very welcome in their respective pubs and it was after this ride that I felt I’d put down permanent roots in Shropshire. I’ve grown to really love this county, the locals are fantastic and have made me very welcome.

Publican Michelle smiling coyly at the camera, she might look shy and demure but let me warn you fellahs, she rides a full-house Cheney B50 for fun!

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Another memorable day for me was the first time I deployed the whole fleet of newly acquired Pamperas. I think the only bike which gave any trouble that day was my new Ossa Exporer!  Speaking of which a lot of people have asked me what has become of the Ossa, well I’m afraid it’s now the subject of a legal dispute. It would be inappropriate to discuss it at this stage but hopefully I’ll have something positive to report next month. In contrast to the Ossa, the Pampera’s have without exception, been paragons of virtue. Businesses stand or fall on the ratio of good decisions to bad . So long as the good outweigh the bad  you’ve got half a chance of survival. Buying the Pamperas was one of the good decisions, buying the Ossa one of the more regrettable ones. Sad but true. I’ve now got five Pamperas and one Ossa so at the moment the smart/dumb ratio is looking quite good. I hope Gas Gas rethink the Pampera concept and re-introduce another 94kg trials bike- based trail bike. I’ve lost count of the amount of people who have come up to me and said ” I wish Gas Gas still made these things…”

Danny and the boys enjoying their day out. This was the first time we had the full compliment of four bikes out at once.

Team woods

One of the most surprising things since starting AdventureRide has been the success of the solo days and the taster sessions. A lot of riders want to dip their toe into the trail riding water without being under the scrutiny of others and the taster sessions are an ideal way to do this . I’ve had a steady succession of riders coming out for half a day. These short sessions have been a very positive way to introduce people to the sport and we’ll certainly be continuing them in 2015.

This is Martin, a customer from Altrincham, firmly dipping his toe into the trail riding water.

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And so, out with the old and in with the new. Yesterday was the first ride of the new season and quad-riding Nick took us out for one of his typically excellent days out.. It’s always a pleasure to ride with Nick because he rides at a good brisk pace but with great courtesy to other trail users coupled with common sense where hazards are concerned. This means we can cover a lot of ground safely. The group who met up yesterday were all excellent riders and save for the odd stepping-off on greasy ruts , the day passed without incident and all the difficult stuff ‘cleaned’ without a problem. It was great to ride Water Breaks It’s Neck, one of the classic Welsh trails which has been closed by a traffic regulation order for the past couple of years. Now re-opened the trail is in pretty good condition, albeit very slippery in places. As ever in this part of the world the views are stunning  and WBIN didn’t let us down . The rain which persisted all morning suddenly cleared and we were able to enjoy a short spell of weak wintery sunshine. Here’s a few pics to give a flavour of the day.

Nick in typical take-no-prisoners mode. He’s riding a 1000cc V twin Can-Am. Very impressive. I’d love to be able to carry an axe, a jerry can, a tow rope and set of bolt croppers with me when I go out riding! Be afraid, be very afraid.

Nick wbin

Trail riders have a sense of style not found in any other sport. Simon , Paul, Dave, Nick, Ian and Mike show off their sartorial elegance and take a well earned rest after a morning of hard trails and persistent rain.

Motley crew

Open for business. Water Breaks It’s Neck. The trail is named after a local waterfall adjacent to the track.                                                                                                     

group wbin

How many trail riders does it take to change a light bulb? Nick, Ian and Mike extract Mike’s Husky from a deceptively deep rut on the notorious School Lane in Radnor.

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You wait all day for a KTM and then two come along at once.

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I’m not sure what Simon’s riding here. I can’t be certain but I think it’s an Airfix model of a Daimler Ferret scout car

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Mike getting into deep water. I’ve seen Mike traverse some improbably deep ruts on numerous occasions and I’m convinced that Husky has a hidden snorkel.

Mike

So, here endeth the first post of 2015.  Ride safe and I hope you keep visiting the blog or, better still come out for an AdventureRide,     http://www.adventureride.co.uk

Access all areas

I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post, doesn’t time fly when you’re busy? And what a month it’s been . With exciting new trails to explore,  rights of way issues to investigate and a steady stream of customers coming through the door its been hectic to say the least. I’ve had a couple of larger rider groups on the rides, instead of the usual two and three man groups  there’s been a few seven and eight man teams to take out . Under normal circumstances  large groups are a no- no for me  because keeping large numbers of riders under control can sometimes be akin to herding cats. However I knew the guys coming out were experienced, sensible riders and so relaxed the rules a bit. I’m glad I did because we had some memorable days out .

One of the group rides was booked by Ian, a returning customer who asked me to organise a stag weekend for him. Now I know what you’re thinking and no, the weekend didn’t involve pole dancers, hookers,alcohol and recreational drugs. For a start, it’s very difficult to source reliable pole dancers in South Shropshire. Instead I suggested to Ian we could do a sort of bastardised biathlon. As you probably know the biathlon is one of the more unusual  Olympic disciplines involving cross country skiing and rifle shooting. I suggested to Ian we could put on our own version and organise a semi competitive weekend of trail/ trial riding and clay pigeon shooting . Riders start the weekend with fifty points and had points deducted for ‘footing’ on a one of the trials sections or failing to shoot the required number of clay pigeons. Motorcycles and firearms- what could possibly go wrong?

We had a great couple of days riding and shooting, it helps when you have a great group of guys who are up for a good laugh . I have a feeling we’ll be running a few more of these events in the future.

ian sootin    domPull!

rainbow

Rainbow warriors.

After the excitement of the biathlon it was back to the interesting , but somewhat less dynamic task of researching routes. Due to the slighter higher group numbers and frequency of rides in October I tried to vary the routes as much as possible. The reason being I try to respect the people who farm and live along the routes , not to mention the other lane users such as walkers, cyclists and equestrians. I wouldn’t like to see groups of motorcyclists frequently riding past my front door and I don’t see why others should. I try to keep the disturbances to a minimum , preferably once a fortnight and certainly no more than once a week. The policy seems to be working because I invariably get a cheery thumbs up when I take a group through some of the many farmyards the trails pass through. I intend to keep it that way and I believe sympathetic useage is the key to keeping everyone happy.

To provide variety means constantly researching alternative routes and a few weeks ago I went to investigate a lane which is clearly indicated on the Ordnance Survey map as an ‘ORPA‘ [Other Route with Public Access … the UK rights of way network is littered with these confusing acronyms] There was a gate across the lane with two  laminated  posters attached, one declaring the route closed to motor vehicles and the other displaying a map showing a disputed right of way. The posters had been placed on the gate by a lady with a property adjacent to the lane who clearly wanted to deny access to it. She had triumphantly displayed an email from Shropshire County Council who had responded to an email sent by her asking for clarification of the lanes status regarding vehicular access. The council officer had stated the county records for a short  section of this long lane were missing and therefore it was not possible to confirm whether the right of way was continuous for the whole length of the lane. Of course not being able to confirm the existence of a right of way doesn’t necessarily mean there is no right of way, it simply confirms there is no existing record currently on file.

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The lady in the adjacent house has rather mischievously interpreted the  council officer’s comments as confirmation that vehicles are banned and subsequently posted the misleading and inaccurate notices. Yesterday I called into Shirehall [Shropshire County Council headquarters] and asked to see the ‘Definitive Map’, a series of ancient maps which clearly show the right of way network. I mentioned the lane in question and the very helpful lady from the council gave me a knowing look and said ” Oh yes, we’ve had numerous discussions about that one” She was far too polite and professional to comment on the individual who had posted the notices but when I asked her if the route was a right of way  she replied “Well it’s pretty obvious it is a right of way but for some reason the records have gone astray” . When I asked if I was within my rights to use the lane she shrugged her shoulders and said ” I don’t see why not”.

She then gave me an interesting tip that her department only deals with lanes up to BOAT  classification [see what I mean by confusing acronyms- Byway Open to All Traffic] and that the county highways department might very well have confirmation of the lane status as the lane may well be a UCR. Just in case you were wondering – Unclassified Country Road.

The lane will now be included in my routes, it’s a lovely old lane and by the look of the bordering hedgerow is hundreds of years old .When I first started AdventureRide I made a mental note not to be come militant about these abuses but, having seen some very unjust lane closures perpetrated by  selfish landowners  manipulating the system to suit themselves I feel we must make a stand on this sort of thing. Trail enthusiasts were shamefully short changed by the NERC laws passed in 2006 [Natural Environment and Rural Communities act] The NERC act was a piece of legislation shoehorned into UK law by a group of people with a very specific agenda. It was sold to Parliament on the basis of preserving green lanes but in reality it was a toff’s charter, facilitating the closure of ancient rights of way . A lot of powerful landowners seized the golden opportunity gifted to them by the NERC Act to ban the oiks from their land once and for all. If you look at the areas surrounding a lot of the large shooting estates you will see a suspicious absence of green lanes. The NERC act effectively allowed these powerful landowners to ring fence themselves from the general public. Not since the infamous enclosure acts of the 17th century has there been a more unjust denial of public access to open spaces.

Much work is being done behind the scenes to try and unravel the damage done by the NERC act. To reinstate a BOAT [many of which have been downgraded post- NERC to bridleways] is notoriously difficult and gets harder with each passing year. To apply for a lane to be upgraded [ie returned to the status quo which existed happily for hundreds of years] requires a lot of evidence of past useage and this is becoming increasing difficult to obtain. I’m going to have a crack at getting one or two reopened around here and will post occasional updates on the blog.

To give an idea of the sort of prevalent attitude we’re dealing with here’s the current government spin put on the aforementioned enclosures  act. I lifted the following comment off http://www.parliament.uk. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

“There is little doubt that enclosure greatly improved the agricultural productivity of farms from the late 18th century by bringing more land into effective agricultural use. It also brought considerable change to the local landscape.”

What a strange reflection on a period of British history which saw many poor rural communities bullied into near starvation by unscrupulous land owners grabbers denying them access to land they had farmed for generations.

Enough of the quasi political ranting, let’s end the blog on a lighter note. Here’s a few images of Adventureriders enjoying themselves during the past few weeks..

..ridgeway grouphappy customers

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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.

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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

 

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

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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.

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

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

 

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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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.

Spring has sprung

Well Spring is here in Shropshire and we’ve had some stunning rides out recently in fantastic weather. Here’s a few pics of customers out enjoying the unseasonal sunshine.

 Jonathan Ian and Richard from N.Wales up on the Kerry Ridgeway

Ian group

Bright sunshine , beautiful scenery and dry, deserted trails. Life doesn’t get much better. This could be a scene from the Great Escape.

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Howie, Ken, David and Darrel. Some of my chums from the Shropshire and Powys Advanced Rider Group who came out for an AdventureRide day.

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Perfect conditions on Offa’s Dyke

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One of the challenges  running a trail riding service is getting the bikes cleaned , serviced and turned around  in between ride outs. The Pampera’s are tough, reliable bikes but there is always something which needs doing and I’ve found the only way to look after them properly is to hose them off and then get them up on the bench , remove the wheels and chain and go through everything from front to back checking fork seals , wheel bearings , suspension bushes, light bulbs etc etc. I set the bikes up in the same way as if I’m entering it in a long distance trial and this means the throttle has to snap shut cleanly when released, grips need to be lock-wired on and the clutch and brake have to be easily operated with one finger. The bikes must tickover evenly and have a very clean response especially at low throttle openings. To keep them in this condition requires a fairly intense maintenance programme and it’s one of the reasons I bought the Ossa – I wanted something low maintenance, new and reliable so I could concentrate on keeping the hire fleet up to snuff. Paradoxically the Ossa requires more pampering than the Pamperas and is taking up rather more time than anticipated to keep it in tip top nick. Read on…

Pamps queueing up for a makeover between hires, Ossa bringing up the rear

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Bits have been falling off the Ossa with embarrassing regularity, first things to start flapping loose were the side panels, easily rectified. Then there was seat mentioned in the previous post. The latest component to part company with the bike has been the rear mudguard;

Ossa mudguard

Now I know the sawn-off Bobber look is all the rage, but on an off- road bike all it does is give the rider a wet backside. Fortunately I was wearing a rucksack and was able to take the wreckage home with me . Apparently the Ossa two year warranty doesn’t cover plastics and so I’m going to have to buy a replacement. Looking at the damage, the mudguard has sheared across its three mounting points and I suspect the combined weight of the indicators , number plate and tail light perched at the end of a shallow convex cantilever structure  have created the failure. I anticpate the replacement will do exactly the same and therefore I intend to reinforce it before I fit it. It’s all a bit galling on what is effectively a new machine .

Taking any kind of emotion out of the equation I feel what Ossa have done is taken a very soundly designed trials bike and tacked on some stuff to make it road legal and suitable for longer distances . It’s this peripheral stuff which seems to be letting the side down – a clever design let down by poor execution. Take the side stand for instance. A decent side stand is a must on a trail  bike where the rider may have to open half a dozen gates during a typical day out. The Ossa side stand is beautifully-made forged item, more than strong enough to support a 74kg bike. The trouble is the the side stand is attached to the swing arm via some pressed in threaded inserts and these are already  working loose suggesting  an imminent failure is on the cards. Like I said , poor execution.

Despite this I still enjoy riding the bike and as the engine beds in and loosens up it’s performance  impresses more and more. It’s flexibility and ability to climb steep gradients in high gears is truly astounding . When I’ve sorted these niggles out I’m sure it will settle down into a good bike.  Meanwhile at least it continues to provide some light entertainment for customers following behind wondering what’s going to drop off next.