Ride Smart. The art of adventure riding

Brooding skies

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

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

Dab.jpg

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

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

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

Strata

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

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

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

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

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

Lands end Bishops wood 1

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

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

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

Descent

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


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

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

home

Photo courtesy Bike magazine and Chippy Wood

KTM 640 Adventure

Stretton anon

By and large my motorcycling activities have been relatively injury-free. However, towards the end of last year’s riding season the KTM 640 I use for AdventurerRide’s big bike off-road days reminded me big singles need treating with respect .
A tell-tale clicking from the starter solenoid informed me the KTM’s battery had become discharged and and the only option was to revert to the analogue starting procedure. Standing fully erect on the kickstarter I brought a hefty 90kg to bear with as much force as could be mustered. Somewhere close to the bottom of the swing the KTM gave a mighty cough and launched me in a reverse trajectory skywards to the garage roof breaking my ankle in the process. Painful? Oh yes…
Of course if I’d bothered to read the handbook I would have known not to open the throttle during the starting procedure. Although the 640 has a good old fashioned carb, it also has a TPS [throttle position sensor] which I suspect threw the ignition to full advance creating a spark at the wrong time. I don’t think I’ve been hit so violently since the days I was taught by Catholic clergymen.
Some months on and still limping it’s time to reflect on the 640 Adventure and give a few riding impressions. I bear the bike no malice, but the fact a modern bike can deliver such a debilitating wallop to its unsuspecting owner underlines the KTM has no frills. No electronic trickery to minimise the possibility of kickback, no clever little cams which lift a valve to ease the starting procedure as found on some Japanese bikes . Nope , the 640 Adventure is a rugged , take-no-prisoners bruiser which the Austrian factory have kept down to a commendable 150kg.

KTM map

A GPS isn’t OE on the 640 Adventure but no matter, the Ghobi panniers are double skinned and can carry water/petrol/wine in the void between the two skins. The two screws at the base of the pannier are to fit an external tap. Now I ask you, would you rather have GPS or the ability to carry two two litres of Rioja with you on your adventure?

The low weight comes with a corresponding lack of refinement. At first acquaintance the 640’s single cylinder engine feels crude, specially when compared to something like a Yamaha 660. Its balancer shaft doesn’t eliminate vibes quite as well as the equivalent Yamaha or BMW single and the rider is always aware just one cylinder is doing all the work. A Jaguar car engineer once told me you can’t have refinement without weight and so it is with the KTM, it’s 30kg lighter than the equivalent Yamaha Tenere and there is consequently less mass to dissipate vibes. Compared to the Yamaha’s counterbalanced smoothness the raw -boned KTM feels visceral and uncompromising.

The flipside to the KTM’s diamond-in-the-rough demeanour is its off-road capability which is outstanding for a bike of its size, a true adventure bike in fact. The 640 will launch you down fire-roads floating imperiously over ruts and bumps which would have lesser bikes tied in knots. It will also plonk through deep mud and scabble up rocky inclines finding grip where you’d swear there wasn’t any. It’s this pedigree which helps generate the almost fanatical devotion of KTM’s partisan fanbase.
One of the quirks of the Adventure’s LC4 motor is the way it gets noticeably smoother when thoroughly warm. By thoroughly I mean after about 100 miles. A pal of mine restores vintage aero engines and knows a thing or two about motors and what makes them tick . Back in the day he bought a new LC4 Adventure and mentioned this characteristic of the LC4 engine, explaining that some engines behaved this way. It’s the kind of ‘character’ the Japanese endeavour to engineer out of their bikes. I’d completely forgotten about it until I went for a long ride on mine and after a couple of hours the whole plot settled down and smoothed out. At this point the 640 feels as if could thrum along all day eating the miles, which is something the Adventure excels at . It’s never going to be as smooth as the Yamaha or indeed the BMW 650 which has an engine of similar pedigree but it’s on the right side of acceptable. Of course it might just seem smoother after a couple of hours because your arse has gone to sleep.

big trail bike

Somewhere in the Welsh borders. On these kinds of trails in this type of country the 640 has a lot going for it.

On short gearing [standard gearing is too tall for serious off road use] the Adventure will buzz along happily all day at 60 to 70mph with 80 plus being available for short bursts of overtaking. Although the KTM is happy to rev, it’s a brave man who ventures anywhere near the 8500 rpm redline, 4000 to 6000rpm is the sweet spot and anything above this is unnecessary and can feel harsh.
So, having established the 640 Adventure is an agreeable, if not particularly quick road bike what’s it like off the tarmac? Bear in mind I’m not a fan of big bikes for serious trail riding, spoilt as I am by the 90kg Pamperas on the AdventureRide fleet. Therefore I approached the KTM with a degree of caution before doing anything serious off-road. On standard road gearing the 640 is unhappy in second gear on technical trails, I’ve rectified this by fitting a 15t front sprocket. Caution should be exercised on technical descents because the “stall speed” is relatively high and if you’re going slowly on slippery surfaces the engine’s high compression can lock the rear wheel and stall the engine.  The answer is to acquaint yourself with the arcane art of deploying the decompresser to prevent stalling. It’s an acquired knack needing a delicate touch but once mastered is a useful technique to know and might help avoid an embarrassing low speed spill.

DSC_0869

Pressed into service during a recent photo shoot for Bike magazine. The 640 was a used as a mule carrying photographer Chippy Woods tripods, lenses and cameras.

During my six month tenure with the KTM I’ve done one or two minor maintenance tasks such as wheel bearings and starter clutch and have to say the bike is , on the whole, a joy to work on. Well engineered, robustly made and sensibly laid out, the KTM is a quality product. The paintwork in particular is stunning, it looks like standard KTM orange from a distance but in fact has a subtle metallic flip flop effect which looks fantastic in sunlight. However, like most bikes, the 640 ain’t perfect and scores low in certain areas. Particularly annoying is the seat retaining bolt. KTM’s designers have seen fit to retain the seat by a single hex-headed 6mm bolt located in the centre of the rear wheel well facing downwards to the tyre , perfectly situated to get coated in mud and road crud off the rear wheel every time you ride the bike. The battery lives under the seat and it’s feasible you might need to access it when out on the trail and finding the bolt can be difficult. I’ve slotted the head on my seat bolt with a hacksaw and Araldited half a penny washer to it so a] so I can find it and b] so I don’t need to use a spanner to undo it.
Other gripes include the fiddly oil change and filling procedure. Google it if you’re curious. It involves [amongst other things] bleeding air out of the frame via a hard to access bleed screw in the headstock. No big deal but not exactly user friendly or intuitive.
I would also criticise the left hand kickstart [OK it’s got a leccy starter so perhaps I’m being picky] the overly fierce front brakes – great on the road but a liability off it – and finally ,and this is a big one, a disappointing lack of flywheel mass. KTM are not the only manufacturer who are guilty of this. Yamaha, BMW , Suzuki and Honda all make big singles which are lacking in the trouser department when it comes to flywheels. The result is an engine which needs knocking down a gear on long ascents and judders when asked to cope with large throttle openings at low revs. On tight nadgery trails this is exacerbated by the large jump between 2nd and 3rd gears. A decent flywheel would solve all this.
The problem is, on all these bikes, the space normally occupied by a flywheel is now taken up by an electric starter sprag clutch mechanism. I suppose it’s the price of progress and instead of firing every lampost, modern big singles now thrive on revs and make their torque higher up the register. I’m afraid it’s the modern way. The sprag clutch  is notoriously fragile and mine needed replacing almost as soon as I got the bike. Starter clutch life can be prolonged by using the decompresser briefly whilst spinning the engine up on the starter motor. Pop the decompresser off and the engine usually fires instantly.
In summary I’m extremely happy with the 640 Adventure, it’s a true dual purpose bike in that it’s capable of being driven very long distances on the road, up to 300 miles with its 28 litre tank, and still make a decent fist of tackling quite technical trails when you get to your trail riding destination. Most important is that it’s actually fun to ride, unlike some of the 250kg big traillies which have to be treated with a great deal of respect on loose surfaces. Of course the larger capacity bikes will cover big miles cosseting the rider in a way the 640 Adventure could never hope to match but if you’re looking for a bike which is genuinely enjoyable to ride on or off the road you could do a lot worse than look out for a used Adventure.

Pye corner

And some final food for thought. These original 640 Adventures are starting to be seen as classics and hold their value very well. You can’t beat a bit of depreciation-free fun.

New Kid on the Block

Stretton anon

There’s a new addition to the AdventureRide fleet – a KTM 640 Adventure. The Adventure was KTM’s initial take on the big trail bike theme, at least it was until they launched the 950, which was a more appropriate corporate response to the ubiquitous BMW GS . To put it in context, the 640 Adventure is the bike Ewan and Charlie really wanted for their round the world motorcycle glamping trip before being lured away by BMW’s more TV-savvy marketing department. The 640 Adventure is more Barry McGuigan than Bruno and gives away almost 100kgs to the Bavarian bruiser . No doubt Ewan and Charlie figured a lighter bike such as the KTM might provide more scope for carrying laptops, camera equipment, Satphones,  a Corby trouser press, a Yurt and all that other essential motorcycle touring equipment they toted about with them. Not to mention a weighty script…
Joking apart, I like the GS and, having owned an R80 G/S back in the day confess to having a soft spot for the early air-cooled models . My good chum Craig has a new 1200 Adventure and by any yardstick you care to measure it by, it’s a spectacular and extremely capable motorcycle. Choosing an adventure bike was a toss up twixt an 1150 GS [the only derivate my meagre budget would allow] or a middleweight 600.
My problem, when choosing an adventure bike is this;  I’ve got a dodgy back and shoulder and if I dropped a GS [which would be inevitable given the amount of trail miles I travel] , there is no way I could pick it up again. No, I needed something lighter and when you start to look at what’s available in middleweight adventure bikes the choice is very narrow. In the end it boiled down to Yamaha’s excellent 660 Tenere, a Kawasaki KLR . a Beemer 650 Dakar [21″ front wheel] or a KTM 640. I’ve not ridden either of the Jap bikes [although I had an MZ fitted with the 660 engine which I liked very much], I like the Beemer’s engine but even the 650 is still a bit heavy for me. I’d ridden a 640 Adventure when they first came out and I knew they were good . The KTM won.

KTM

Tall, wide and handsome. And that’s just the rider. Hepco and Becker Gobi panniers. Would you believe these have a tap arrangement on the outside of the case and hold 3 litres of fluid in the sidewall of each pannier. I always knew there was something missing from my motorcycling life and now I know what it is.

Riding the 640 is like being aboard a very torquey set of stepladders. It really is unfeasibly tall and riding it home from the vendor’s house found myself looking across into the cabs of HGVs, nodding knowingly at the drivers as we surveyed lesser road users from our lofty perches. To me it feels like the World’s Tallest Motorcycle but despite the high c of g the KTM handles superbly. I’m not sure how big trail bikes manage this , but manage it they do. It’s a well known phenomenon that GSs and such like will handle a twisty road as well as a sports bike and presumably this is one of the reasons for the extraordinary growth in the adventure bike sector. Your average modern adventure bike is quick, it’ll stop well, go round corners and take you and the missus plus the kitchen sink across continents, you really can have your cake and eat it, and if you’ve got some Hepco Becker Gobis with optional taps you can make yourself a brew to go with it. Try doing that on an R6.

So, what’s not to like? Ah well, I was just coming to that…
The thing with adventure bikes is they don’t work very well off road in the UK. I emphasise the UK bit in case I get sackfuls of hate mail from disgruntled GS owners, fresh back from epic trips across the Namibian desert . In Blighty our green lanes are more often than not , brown lanes and full of thick, gooey mud . Heavy bikes laden with luggage and equipped with 50/50 road and trail tyres can find themselves floundering in these claggy conditions. This is where I come in and neatly brings me to the reason I’ve bought the KTM. I’ve been putting together some routes specifically aimed at adventure bikes which avoid treacherous , energy sapping ,muddy trails and allow these bikes to shine at what they do best, covering big mileages and able to cope with poorly surfaced roads and hard packed trails. The routes I’ve picked can be navigated on dual purpose tyres and will give an opportunity for adventure bike owners to sample some proper trail riding and get their bikes dirty without having to spend half the day extricating it from a Welsh bog. We’re going to be clocking up some big miles whilst taking in some of the ancient Welsh droving routes on the high overland trails. It’ll be great and it’s going to add a new dimension to AdventureRide . I’m looking forward to the possibility of 350 mile days and perhaps even making it across the mountains to the coast during a typical ride. All you’ll need is a big trail bike and a sense of adventure. Full details will be up on the website quite soon, in the meantime has anybody got a pair of platform boots I can borrow?

Coates pegs 2

Tank

We’ll be avoiding this kind of stuff when we go out with the adventure bikes. This is Strata Florida in Wales after a very dry summer… I kid you not. Imagine this in February. Some people like this kind of stuff. I don’t. There’s no skill involved, it’s just a war of attrition between man and mud.

Area 51. Somewhere in Shropshire…

The start to the 2015 season hasn’t been entirely joyous. Last week I received a phone call from a nice man working for Natural England. He explained they’d received complaints about an image and its caption on my website. The image referred to a place of outstanding natural beauty which , for the sake of a peaceful life, we’ll call Area 51. If nothing else naming it area 51 will bring lots of extra traffic to the blog from Googlers looking for UFOs or Roswell related snippets. The picture showed some riders on road legal trail bikes, riding an unsurfaced Unclassified Country Road [ie a legal highway open to all traffic] in Area 51. So, I hear you ask, what’s the problem?  Well, apparently some riders have been seen  riding illegally [allegedly] in Area 51 and the person[s] who complained to Natural England blamed my website for inciting this lawlessness . It would be lovely to believe my website was so inspirational but I think both you and I know it isn’t. If we extrapolate the theory that showing images of people enjoying themselves incites people to break the law then I suppose you could say Jeremy Clarkson and his Top Gear co -presenters are jointly and severally liable for anyone who breaks the speed limit on the M1. In other words, it’s complete and utter tosh. I also suspect the complaint isn’t genuine. Let’s face it, if Joe Rambler spots some lads out on ‘crossers riding illegally I very much doubt  the first thing he does when he gets home is Google “trail riding in Shropshire”. If he did he’d very likely be pointed towards equestrian or mountain biking websites before he came across mine. No, I think what’s happened here is an anti-vehicle campaigner has been having a browse through my site, spotted the reference and decided to have a tickle at my expense. On occasion, I have been known to say less than flattering things about the anti vehicle lobby and in particular the GLEAM organisation – those self-appointed guardians of the English countryside. Now GLEAM would have you believe Constable’s haywain was clear evidence of vehicles abusing green lanes and trail riders are begat from the spawn of the Devil. In short, they hate us and the iron horse we rode in on.   Natural England do good work and so in the interests of keeping the peace and relieving them of the need to deal with these vexatious complaints I’ve reluctantly pulled the caption. Alien life spotted in Area 51. Edwards Air base is just out of shot on the right. Si Lest you think I’m being a bit paranoid about the anti vehicle movement and their despicable tactics allow me to share this brief anecdote. Last year an elderly trail rider suffered a heart attack and died whilst riding his bike during an equestrian event. The rider was a popular man who had helped at this particular event for many years. Motorcycle trail riders often assist with laying out course markers and other tasks during these events. It’s a symbiotic relationship enabling the riders to ride in area they wouldn’t normally have access to and it saves the event organisers from a tedious and time-consuming task. Bikes are ideal for the job. Following the tragedy you would have thought even the most hardened anti vehicle campaigner would show respect but no, these people will try to make capital out of any circumstance. Following the incident a report was published in an ‘anti’ newsletter which triumphantly [and incorrectly] announced trail riders had now been banned from equestrian meetings following the death of a trail rider who was attempting to ride over the obstacles during a horse trial.. No mention was made of the rider’s long term connection with the event , nor of his volunteer status helping out the organisers or the very important detail that he had suffered a heart attack. The inference in the newsletter was a reckless trail rider who was messing about during a horse event had come to self-inflicted grief. A hysterical rant followed berating trail riders in general and the TRF in particular. It was a particularly horrible and dishonest way to score a few below-the-belt punches against motorcyclists. It’s also rather sinister. We might expect misinformation to be broadcast by government departments and such like but this is a just about green lanes and motorcycles fer Chrisake. You know, come to think of it I might just reinstate that caption.

Monk’s Trod

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

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

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

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

Monks trod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

adstone

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

 

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medlicott

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

dick

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

Radnore arms

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

ridgeway group

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

happy customers

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

 

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.
ktm 76
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.

Freeride2

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.