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.

DSC_6209

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.

DSC_6973

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. *****

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!

DSC_8904

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.

DSC_8048

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.

DSC_4635

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

DSC_4682

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

DSC_4654

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

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.

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.

Busman’s Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

Image

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

Stormin’ Nick, a man on a mission.

Image

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

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

Image

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

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

Anthony takes the Long Way Home. Again.

Image

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

Back to square one?

It’s been a busy week at Adventure Ride. It started off well and I had the pleasure of sharing the trails with some great people but I’m sat here typing this instead of driving down to Cornwall to take part in the Land’s End Trial.

Church stretton

One of my customers enjoying the view from the Burway after a long day in the saddle

I’d done a lot of work getting the Ossa ready for the Land’s End sorting out the various issues and broken bits in preparation for entering the 350 mile event. I should mention at this stage that I’ve received absolutely no support from Ossa UK who appear to have disowned the bike [more of this later]. Having done all the prep and fitted auxiliary lighting and an illuminated road book holder I felt all was well and took it for a quick test ride to bed- in a fresh chain. It developed a misfire , refused to idle and cut out on descents which, due to the compression, would lock the rear wheel on loose surfaces. A plug change resolved the problem briefly but it soon returned suggesting something more serious was amiss. On a modern bike with EFI and engine management there’s not much you can do in a home workshop to trace or fix a fault of this nature. I must confess to having reached the limit of patience with the bike and  thoughts of nursing it through the night on a long distance trial finally sapped all my enthusiasm and I threw it in the van and dropped it off at the local Ossa dealer.  Ian at  Trials and Tribulations [who , it should be pointed out, is in no way responsible for any of the ongoing issues with the bike, which came direct from Ossa UK]  is going to try and sort it today but I have a feeling it won’t be fixed in time for the trial and I’ve resigned myself to a DNS.

Strange to tell but in all the years of doing the Land’s End , Exeter and Edinburgh trials on a variety of 30 year old bikes I’ve had a modicum of success and only had two mechanical failures . Since converting to modern bikes last year I’ve failed to complete the past three events. I’d hoped the acquisition of a new Explorer was going to end the run of unreliability but instead it seems to be contributing to it!

My motorcycling buddies have been observing the Ossa shenanigans with morbid fascination and I think were surprised when I said I was going to enter it in the Land’s End. I can already hear a resounding “told you so…”

But where do we go from here? I really like the bike and want to stick with it and as far as I can see , all the issues can be fixed. The problem is , I’m not getting any help or feedback from the importer to the extent where there seems little point in emailing them anymore. When I collected the bike, Ossa UK made it clear the warranty only covered parts, however, in the official documentation [which came with the bike from Ossa in Spain] it clearly states the warranty is for parts and labour. I’ve also been  told the warranty doesn’t cover plastics [mudguards, side panels etc] but again this seems at odds with what Ossa Spain say . The warranty states cosmetic deterioration is excluded – understandably given the nature of the bike –  but nowhere does it state a failure of a plastic part is not covered by the guarantee.

Next week I’m going to contact Ossa in Spain and hopefully we’ll be able to move forward with a clearly defined plan, in the meantime I’ll be interested to see what the diagnostics tell us at Ian’s shop.

 

Out and about last week, note the Touratech road book holder mounted on the ‘bars, essential kit for long distance trials

DSC_7998

 

 

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.

DSC_7431

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

DSC_7490

Perfect conditions on Offa’s Dyke

DSC_7522

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

DSC_7484

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.

Tarka the Ossa

Apologies to Henry Williamson for the headline but I couldn’t resist it . You see, I’ve had the Explorer out  testing its river crossing ability. Some barely credible figures are quoted for the Explorer’s fording capability and I wanted to see for myself. We have a lot of fords hereabouts , most of which are quite swollen with the recent rainfall and therefore amphibious performance is currently high on the list of desirable attributes. It handled half a metre without complaint , more than enough for yours truly, especially when out riding alone and I’m prepared to accept the bike is perfectly capable of wading through 750mm of water, even if the pilot isn’t.

It’s been an exciting week with the bike, apart from getting it dirty [and wet] for the first time, I also took it to the Telford show [see previous blog post] where Nigel Birkett , the UK importer [www.ossauk.co.uk] , was kind enough to load the latest Explorer fuel map from Ossa. Time was when you could alter a bike’s fueling and ignition with no more than small screwdriver and a piece of foil out of a packet of Player’s No 6. Sadly, those days are  no longer with us…

Nigel quickly loads the new fuel map using nothing more than a laptop, many years of experience and a 165kg Laverda Atlas to provide the 12v power supply.

Laptop

It all went fairly painlessly and the Ossa now has a crisper throttle response in the lower registers. Interestingly, Nigel informed me the ECU can be loaded with two fuel maps which can be accessed by a two position switch on the ‘bars, sold by Ossa as an option. Excessively high tech? Well not really, this means  you can have an alternative map which is slightly richer running to use on road sections in long distance trials . This could be very useful because I’ve entered the bike in the Land’s End trial in 8 weeks time during which the bike will cover about 350 miles and be ridden  non stop for 20 hours save for checkpoints and fuel stops. Having the ability to have crisp throttle response on the sections and a cooler running setting on the road at the flick of a switch  is the Holy Grail of two stroke trials riders.

How many men does it take to change a light bulb? Quite a few in this instance. Nigel patiently explains the subtle nuances of modern automotive engine management systems  to a pair of card-carrying Luddites. Actually Pete isn’t so much a Luddite, he’s more of a horse-drawn man. I’m scratching my chin in the classic manner of someone pretending to understand what’s being said to him. Try to imagine a speech bubble above my head with seagulls flying around in it and you’ll get the picture.

luddites

Anyway, the big question of the week must be “What’s the Ossa like then mister? Well , I’m delighted to say it’s off road performance on technical trails is nothing less than sensational. This should come as no surprise because  the Explorer is, after all, based on an extremely competitive  trials bike, the TR280i. It makes tackling technical trails so easy it almost takes the fun out of it and is so competent and  easy to ride it makes modestly capable riders look like they know what they’re doing. Like, er, me for instance…

As delivered, the Ossa is geared for trials with little concession to road use. The downside of this is the bike feels very fussy on the road and needs gearing up. Dramatically so in fact. This is easier said than done because stock aftermarket sprockets tend to err towards gearing down rather than up. At the moment I cannot foresee a situation where I could possibly use first gear on the Explorer. I’d already geared up to a 38T  on the rear and it still sounded stressed at 45mph. Yesterday the nice people at Talon came to the rescue and have sent me a Scorpa 36t sprocket [the Scorpa uses the same rear hub]. I’m betting the bike will still be under-geared [for what I want] and  suspect the answer will be a 12t front, currently unavailable from Ossa but potentially available as a special from Talon  http://www.talon-eng.co.uk .

This gearing issue isn’t something I’ve picked up on the web and I reckon this is because the markets the Explorer is aimed at such as mainland Europe and the US tend to have long,  single track technical trails and the stock gearing will be fine on these. Back in Blighty those type of trails are virtually non existent and we have shorter duration trails  connected by public roads. Roaming freely over the Picos or the Moab must be great but try doing that in Snowdonia or the Pennines and you’re likely to end up in serious trouble. Nope, us Brits need bikes which can cope with public roads and cruise at the speed necessary to maintain adequate progress and that ain’t 40 mph.

With some attention to gearing the bike could be nigh-on perfect for people like me who appreciate the subtlety of a trials-orientated bike rather than a long-travel enduro bike-based missile. I want something which will plonk unobtrusively around the green lanes, cruise at 55mph on the road, do 60mph at a push and be capable of handling the rigours of a long distance MotorCycling Club event [ see http://www.themotorcyclingclub.org.uk ]. The Gas Gas Pamperas on the Adventure Ride hire fleet will do all that and interestingly, Gas Gas fitted the Pamps with a set of ratios unique to the bike rather than crib the ‘box out of their trials bike.

With a bit of work I’m sure we’ll get there with the Explorer and first riding impressions have convinced me it’ll be worth the effort.

dusk.jpg