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

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

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

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

Colwyn Bay

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

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Tyedee… as they say in North Wales

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

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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Shopping around

Yesterday I went to the Motorcycle Expo at the NEC, it’s a business to business show aimed at creating connections within the bike trade. I was there with my AdventureRide hat on to check out what was available on the trail bike front. Gas Gas were exhibiting a pre production Cami 250 trail bike which was attracting a lot of attention. The Cami has been in production for a couple of years now and has been sold into the South American market, the bike on display at the show was the new European version featuring upside down forks and a few other modifications. With the Cami having been in production for a couple of years it’s safe to assume the bike should have been comprehensively de-bugged by now. The Cami on display looked superb and there was nothing about to suggest a pre production lash up, it looked extremely purposeful with the careful attention to detail which Gas Gas are renowned for.

For many years now Gas Gas have been distributed by John Shirt in Buxton, recently this has changed and whilst Shirts will still handle the trials product the enduro bikes [and the Cami trail bike ] will be handled by ClementsMoto of Canterbury. With a  £4k price tag the Cami  is an interesting option for riders wanting a high quality, fit-for- purpose trail bike as opposed to a de-tuned enduro bike. It’s a tad porky at 117kg [bear in mind I’ve been spoiled by my 94kg Pampera] but it’s still acceptable within the class and is to be expected at the price. ClementsMoto proprietor Dean Clements has promised to let me try out a Cami as soon as one becomes available and hopefully in the next month or two I can publish a full riding report.

The cobby looking Cami featured some nice detail engineering including a proper grab slot under the seat, essential on a trail bike which is bound to need hauling out of deep mud at some point

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Less impressive at Motorcycle Expo was the KTM stand or, to be more specific, the KTM staff. I sidled up to the stand on three separate occasions hoping to have a chat about the Freeride, the 350 four stroke version was on display and it looked looked fantastic. Unfortunately the two members of  staff on the stand seemed more interested  in their laptops and iPhones than speaking to customers . There’s a fine line between not bugging someone  and totally ignoring them.

In a previous life I’ve done my fair share of manning exhibition stands and the first rule is always to engage the customer and gather as much intel as you can. The second rule is don’t slouch around in chairs.  Perhaps KTM are so successful nowadays they don’t need to try very hard, but you have to question as to why go to all the time and trouble of setting up a market stall if you’re not going to try and flog your wares?