Ossa Explorer. Caveat Emptor.

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

Bob Ridgeway

Happier days, exploring on the Explorer

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

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

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

Ossa mudguard

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

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

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

To finish first, first you’ve got to finish.

I once drove all the way to Croatia to race at Rijeka, it was a 4,000 mile round trip dragging a caravan halfway across Europe. My recollections of the trip aren’t pleasant. With a caravan you become a motoring pariah; truck drivers  give no quarter and private motorists hate you. And when you see a van with a caravan hitched to the back it makes you look as if you belong to a certain Anglo-Irish sub-culture who might offer to tarmac your driveway at a bargain price.  So, after a very stressful journey which included a rather intense experience with some  stony- faced Slav border guards whilst entering the former eastern Bloc , we arrived at the circuit. The bike lasted half a lap.  A faulty ignition rotor gave up the ghost and it was game over. Pack up your stuff and drive home. To finish first, first you’ve got to finish.

Experiences like that can be character building. You either quit and find another hobby or you learn from it and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. My chum Pip Higham , drag racer, Suzuki technical guru and ace bike builder drummed into me the importance of checking everything before a race and then checking again for potential ‘race losers’ or ‘show stoppers’ as he calls them. I like to think some of Pip’s pragmatically thorough approach to bike preparation has rubbed off on me over the years and I’m quite pernickety about preparing the Adventure Ride bikes before an outing. The consequences of mechanical breakdowns out on a remote trail can be just as distressing as a mechanical failure in Croatia, especially if you’ve got four customers in tow who have taken a day off work and paid good money to be with you.

In my experience the kind of thing which catches out the unwary trail rider is usually avoidable and with a bit of pre-planning the opportunities for disappointment can be minimised. Modern engines  rarely break down nowadays and even if they do develop problems it’s usually possible to limp home one way or another. Conversely if your drive chain snaps you ain’t going nowhere. It’s the simple stuff you need to prepare for.

Trail riding is a harsh environment for a motorcycle. Can you imagine what this sort of treatment does to chains , wheel bearings and suspension linkages? It’s ‘orrible.

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Here’s a list of some of the more common showstoppers and a few tips how to avoid them.

Chains.

You might get away with a dry chain on a road bike but out on the trail they tend to break more readily. It’s a brutal environment and any weak links , if you’ll pardon the pun, quickly manifest themselves. I stopped using expensive chain lube aerosols some time ago, whatever you put on will get washed off as soon as you’ve crossed two or three fords anyway. Nowadays I use a half inch paint brush and liberally paint the chain with whatever cheap oil I can find in the remainder bin at Halfords.  Remember on an O-ring chain the rollers themselves are sealed, it’s the rubber O-rings themselves you are trying to lubricate so they can slide easily against the side plates. Once the O-rings dry out the chain becomes stiff and creates unwanted friction and drag even if the rollers are running smoothly. I’ve also equipped my bikes with a Loobman chain oiler [www.loobman.co.uk]  These ingenious little  chain oilers are  cheap as chips [less than twenty quid] and have halved the chainwear on my customer bikes. It’s a manual system and every so often whilst out on the trail I give the Loobman a few pumps to deliver some fresh oil. Highly recommended.

Top Tip; if you’re using a split link chain a blob of silicone sealant pressed in an around the spring clip will prevent it flying off. Carry a spare link tie wrapped on the bike somewhere just in case, oh, and a cheap chain splitter.

Yeah, yeah, before you say anything this shot was taken immediately after a ride prior to cleaning.  Note the centre link filled in with silicone and also  the feed head on the Loobman oiler.

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Link tiewrapped to the ‘bars. Cheap insurance.

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Tyres.

Punctures can definitely spoil your day. I don’t mind changing a tube in the warmth of my garage listening to Radio 4 with a mug of tea and choccy digestive to hand , in fact in a perverse way I quite enjoy it. Any such enthusiasm disappears when I’m on a bleak hill top with an easterly wind blowing up my Jacksie and rain dribbling down my neck. No siree, you don’t want to be getting unnecessary punctures if you can avoid it.

Recently I’ve started using OKO tyre sealant and have had very good results, in fact I reckon it’s brilliant stuff. Get it from http://www.thefordcentre.com, they’re based in Brum, are nice people and really know their stuff. I use it in conjunction with 4mm heavy duty tubes and with that combo punctures should be a thing of the past.Bear in mind though if you clout a rock at speed the ensuing snakebite puncture can sometimes be too large for the OKO to work so my advice is always carry some patches , a spare tube tyre levers and a pump just in case.  A pump ? Yeah I know the modern way is to use a CO2 cannister but I’ve had problems with these and prefer the good ‘ol analogue method. You know it makes sense. Even if you aren’t experienced at changing a tube at least if someone else comes along who is you’ve got the right kit to deal with the problem.

Top Tip; a lot of punctures are cause by tyre creep which drags the tube and pulls the valve out. Mark the tyres with Tippex and keep an eye on it during a ride. In my experience fronts suffer from creep more than rears. Strange but true. Also think about your tyre pressures. 8psi in the rear and 12psi in the front might give you lots of grip but  will also increase the incidence of punctures. You’re not in a competition so sacrifice a bit of grip for reliablity. Run ’em at 15psi.

Tippex, simple but effective.

Ossa creep

Levers

A snapped clutch or brake lever can quickly bring proceedings to a halt. Carry a spare and tie wrap it to the handlebar safely. Now here’s a strange one, recently I’ve had a spate of the adjusters rattling loose and I put this down to the dry weather making the trails very harsh and creating extra vibration [mud is like a shock absorber]. When an adjuster falls out on the trail you are usually stuffed and it’s a long walk home

Top Tip; Put a blob of silicone sealant on the adjuster locknut, it’s a tip I picked up when endurance racing and it works a treat.

Not pretty but infinitely preferable to walking home

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Grips

I’ve once saw a nasty accident caused by a grip slipping off a handlebar. If’ you’ve got bark busters on this isn’t such a problem but even so a rotating grip can be distracting even if it isn’t a danger. Grips which are on tight in the workshop can suddenly slide off in the most unpredictable situations , especially in damp conditions. Again, harking back to my racing days the best solution is to lockwire them on. Failing that use some hairspray when fitting the grips, it dries and hold them in place, just like your barnet.

Lockwired grips are a useful safety aid and much kinder to the environment than  Harmony hairspray. They also have the added advantage of making you look as if you’ve just competed in an ISDT, especially if you’ve got the split link tied to your handlebars.

Lockwire

 

Whilst you’ve got the Tippex  out here’s another tip; Use it to write the number of your breakdown provider on the back of a side panel. Don’t rely on storing the number on your mobile, if the ‘phone gets wet or the screen breaks your done for.

Brakes

When you look at the performance of modern dirt bike brakes and the conditions they have to function under it’s a miracle they stay working as long as they do.  The problem is, if they start to drag or bind it’s sometimes difficult to detect , especially if you’re plugging through thick mud. the first thing you know about it is when smoke starts pouring off a caliper or you find you’ve got no brakes on a steep descent.

A lot of problems can be avoided if you detach each caliper when doing your pre ride check, whip the pads out and by judicious use of a tyre lever hold back the piston[s] leaving one free and gently press the brake lever.  Check each piston in turn and make sure it’s moving freely. Sometimes they get gummed up with accumulated trail crud and they can stick , it’s an easy fix in the workshop but not so simple out on the trail. If a pad is dragging slightly you’d be surprised how quickly this will boil the brake fluid leaving you without a brake. It’s a 5 minute pre ride check and perhaps a bit OTT but one day you’ll be glad you did it . I do it on all the customer bikes and have avoided potential problems on more than one occasion

That’s all for this now folks, due to various commitments I won’t be able to post for a week or two so until the next time, ride safe.

Gratuitous endurance racing shot.Oh happy days, just look at the concentration.  Then, half a lap later… The same rules of bike preparation are equally important on a trail bike.

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Shropshire’s secret lanes

At AdventureRide we usually go out riding two or three times a week during peak periods and after a while you get to know an area pretty well. Or so I thought. And that’s one of the great things about Shropshire , you see even though I’ve done some fairly intensive research on the highways and byways in the area it’s still possible to stumble across new routes not highlighted on any map.

Take the other day for instance, I’d spotted a byway on the map which could make a valuable contribution to one of the regular routes we ride. When researching lanes I usually go on foot. Ordnance Survey maps are by no means a definitive record of rights of way and just because the map implies a route is open and legal for vehicular traffic doesn’t necessarily mean it is. When researching rights of way I usually don my walking gear and take a camera and some binoculars [I’m also a keen birdwatcher].  If I encounter a farmer or property owner along the way I find they are generally more receptive to someone dressed unobtrusively with a pair of binoculars hung around their neck than they would be to someone riding an off road bike. When initially setting up the business I walked the entire hundred miles plus of the various off road sections we ride and introduced myself to locals where appropriate explaining exactly what I was doing. It’s paid dividends and I’ve received help and assistance from some surprising sources. A smile and a bit of honesty goes a long way.

But I digress. So there I was, walking this ancient lane clearly marked on the map as a right of way and for the first couple of miles it looked very promising but eventually signs of useage petered out and finally at the end of the lane where it met tarmac once I came across this piece of corrugated iron half buried blocking the lane.

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Now it would be quite easy to get indignant about this , remove the obstruction and proceed self-righteously along the lane. Is the corrugated iron a deliberate obstruction or is it simply a cheap and expedient measure installed by the local farmer to keep livestock from straying off a lane which hasn’t seen any vehicles for the past decade or more? I suspect it’s the latter. The first job is to establish whether it is indeed a right of way, if it is I’ll politely contact the farmer and ask if it would be OK to remove the obstruction. Anyway, the point of this blog isn’t to discuss this particular lane, what I wanted to tell you was when walking back to the car along a footpath I came across another ancient trail, not marked on the map. It’s a lovely old lane, flanked by an ancient hawthorn hedge, which runs along an escarpment occasionally offering beautiful views along the Vale of Montgomery. But the best thing about it is, it provides a valuable connection to other AdventureRide routes eliminating half an hour of riding on tarmac and replacing it with an interesting trail.

I’ve made discrete inquiries about the lane and nobody seems to have responsibility for it, in fact nobody seems to ever use it, it’s not marked as a footpath, or a bridleway or a road, it just provides a link to two very quiet tarmac lanes. On the basis that it’s always easier to beg forgiveness rather than ask permission this curious piece of Shropshire No Man’s Land is hereby officially included in the AdventureRide catalogue of trails.

 

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And now a final bit of news. I was delighted to welcome AdventureRide’s first female customers recently, Marion and Michelle. The girls booked separately and came out on different rides in the same week. It was a pleasure to see them both and was interesting because I’m receiving an increasing number of inquiries from female riders and I was keen to see how they both fared with the Pamperas.  Marion is a very experienced road rider but hadn’t ventured off road before whilst Michelle has her own vintage scrambles bike and is  more familiar with dirt bikes. Both days went very well and I hope to have them both back at some time in the future.

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If Carlsberg made trail bikes…

We’ve got an interesting new addition to the Adventure Ride stable. Imagine if you will, a 280cc fuel injected two stroke trail bike fitted with twin fuel tanks, lights, indicators , a comfy seat and an ingenious reverse cylinder motor with prodigious torque  which weighs, wait for it… 78kg. That would be the Ossa Exlorer and like I said , if Carlsberg made trail bikes, it would probably look like something like this;

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Tricky-looking piece of kit isn’t it? It’s too early to give any meaningful riding impressions at this stage, mainly because I’m trying to keep it nice and clean until next week’s Telford Off-Road show. First impressions of the Ossa are good; the build quality is excellent and clever design details abound. It’s a masterpiece of packaging and a great deal of thought has gone into how the various components integrate with each other. An initial blast down the lane revealed the bike is  spookily smooth for a single pot stroker. It’s light of course, really light in fact and feels more like a powered mountain bike than a trials iron. But it is indeed a trials iron and based very closely on the tried and tested Ossa 280i . This should give prospective purchasers some confidence because the 280i has been around for some years now and should have been thoroughly de-bugged.

I collected the bike from UK importer Nigel Birkett at Birkett Motorsport based up in the wilds of Cumbria, Nigel had a 2014  model in stock and ready which meant I could have it in time for the show. This was enough to persuade me to make the long trip up the M6 in foul winter weather and Nigel was kind enough to keep the shop open late for me so I could pick it up.

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A masterpiece of packaging and design detail.

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Lovely bit of fabrication on the exhaust. The cockpit PlayStation should keep a Luddite like me confused  amused for hours on end

It’s always a risk buying a specialist bike from a low volume producer like Ossa but having talked at length to Nigel I’m confident the technical backup is there, at least from a UK point of view. Nigel is enthusiastic, knowledgeable and very helpful and I feel this and the two year parts warranty [can you believe that on a competition bike?] means the Explorer should be a sound purchase. Ossa have a good dealer network in the UK and I’m lucky to have one on my doorstep .  Ian Spence at Trials and Tribulations is the West Midlands Ossa dealer and has a workshop just up the road .

. Adventure Ride will be in Hall A promoting our guided trail rides and also the Trail Riders Fellowship so please call by the stand if you want to talk about trail riding or check out the Explorer. I’ll also be displaying my Laverda Atlas adventure bike and one of the Gas Gas Pampera fleet bikes. We might even have a kettle…

The Telford Show as it’s known or, to give it its full title, The Putoline Motor Oils Telford Twin Shock, Classic and Road racing Show can be found at  http://www.classicoffroadshow.com