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.

Lads and Dads.

And dads and daughters. It’s been a busy old week at Adventureride with a distinct family flavour to the proceedings. In the past we’ve had plenty of siblings out on rideouts but this week I was delighted to welcome two  father and son combinations plus a father and daughter .  Alex and dad Tim turned up on a couple of nicely sorted KTM 450s and enjoyed a brisk ride through the border country.It was an entertaining day in near perfect conditions.

Alex and Tim enjoy a quick break and take in the beauty of the view east across the Long Mynd

Alex and Tim enjoy a quick break and take in the beauty of the view east across the Long Mynd

Father shows son the old man can still cut it on a bike.

Father shows son the old man can still cut it on a bike.

Next up were Ian and son Chiz, plus a couple of friends John and Steve. We had a brilliant day out defined by [once again] perfect riding conditions and some great banter. Ian gets the ‘quote of the week’ award when , during an intense discussion about the dangers of crossing fields of cows he came out with the following astute observation [best said in a soft scouse accent] ” You know what cows are don’t you? Cows are just three tons of stupid” It was one of those beautifully timed quips which had me quietly laughing to myself for the rest of the day, in fact I’m chuckling whilst I type this.

Ian’s 19 year old boy Chiz, holds the distinction of being the youngest customer we’ve ever had. Not only was he a lovely lad, he was also a very handy rider and tackled whatever was thrown at him in a calm, mature manner belying his tender years. It crossed my mind that trail riding could be a fantastic way to encourage youngsters out onto bikes. It’s exciting but relatively safe, there’s a great sense of adventure, the bikes are cheap to buy and insure and it’s refreshingly unregulated when compared to road riding which is becoming so restricted due to the indiscriminate use of speed cameras that the pleasure has all but gone out of it nowadays.

Smiling customers. Pics like this really make my day.

Smiling customers. Pics like this really make my day.

Chiz demonstrates his fluid riding style through Hopton Woods. Typical teenager, going out without a proper jacket on...

Chiz demonstrates his fluid riding style through Hopton Woods. Typical teenager, going out without a proper jacket on…

John gives the Pampera a big handful to loft the wheel clear of the ford

John gives the Pampera a big handful to loft the wheel clear of the ford

The stunning weather has blessed every ride lately, and Alan and Chris who turned up towards the end of the week saw the South Shropshire hills at their very best. Neither of the guys had ridden off road for , well let’s just say a very long time. They soon found their feet and we had a memorable ride in amazing weather.

I can't be absolutely certain but I'm fairly sure Chris had a grin on his face for the entire day. A sense of humour would be essential to carry off wearing a jacket like that.

I can’t be absolutely certain but I’m fairly sure Chris had a grin on his face for the entire day. A sense of humour would be essential to carry off wearing a jacket like that.

Alan demonstrates a bit of trials stylee suggesting he may have done this sort of thing before

Alan demonstrates a bit of trials stylee suggesting he may have done this sort of thing before

The final ride of the week had father and daughter combination Mike and Sarah plus buddies Mike and Darrin. As well as a fantastic ride the overnight rain had cleared away the heat haze and left the scenery pin sharp, ideal for taking pics. The combination of perfect conditions and excellent company made it a day [and a week] to remember.

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Mike and daughter Sarah with The Lawley providing a dramatic backdrop

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Offa’s Dyke. The group sharing a bit of banter after a long day’s trail riding. A perfect end to a perfect week

Laverda Chott. More than the sum of its parts.

I’m fairly mercenary when it comes to my bikes. They have to function properly and earn their keep, if they don’t they’re up the road. With neither the time nor the money to indulge in a bike collection, for me it’s all about the riding. And the best way to enjoy a classic bike is to enter it in competition. In competitive events the rider experiences the distilled essence of the bike. There’s little time for mechanical sympathy or worrying about whether you’re going to scratch it, you’ve just got to extract as much as you can out of the bike and it’s in these circumstances that you can really get under a bike’s skin and appreciate exactly what the designers were hoping to achieve.There’s no better way to enjoy a classic .

Lands end

Lining up for a restart on the notorious Blue Hills mine section on The Land’s End trial, one of the most spectacular motor sports venues in the UK. The course is an old miners track climbing up the face of the cliff and from certain vantage points you can see the Atlantic rollers crashing onto the rocks a couple of hundred feet below. It’s a daunting prospect when you see it for the first time but like lots of these things, it’s a lot easier than it looks.

Of all the competition bikes I’ve had the pleasure to own and ride, perhaps the most unlikely one was my Laverda Chott. Or to give it the correct nomenclature, the Chott 2TR . I’d longed for a Chott ever since they were introduced in the UK back in the seventies. The trouble is they were very expensive and they were panned by some journalists who didn’t understand what they were, which didn’t help sales. Too expensive for a trail bike they said, and too slow and heavy for an enduro. They were right on both counts but they had failed to understand what the Chott was all about. The clue is in the ‘R’ of 2TR. It stands for regolarita or regularity trial, for the Chott was built not for trail riding or enduros, it was built for long distance trials which are very popular in Italy. The 2T stands for due tempi – two stroke.

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360 miles of pace notes transcribed onto 30′ of paper. This is a Touratech route book holder, a sort of horse-drawn satnav. The route book holder is backlit with a green diffused glow, essential to avoid eye strain during the night stages, The route notes are provided by the organiser about ten days prior to the trial and these are then transcribed onto the paper roll in a crude form of shorthand. These notes are the key to a rider’s success. Do them properly and you can look forward to easy stress free navigation. Do them hastily and you can find yourself wandering aimlessly around Exmoor in the middle of the night. Exmoor is a very lonely place at three in the morning.

Race face. It’s broad daylight so I’d estimate I’d have been riding for about 18 hours straight by this stage. The sections on LDTs aren’t as challenging as on single stage trials but even a relatively innocuous climb up a steep bank like this can have you on your backside if you’re not fully alert. It’s at this stage in a trial medals get thrown away due to momentary lacks of concentration. hence the stern look.

Having competed in such events for a number of years it occurred to me a Chott might be just the job. I contacted a well-known member of the Laverda community with a reputation for knowing all about Chotts and told him what I intended to do. His first words were , “What do you want to do that for , a Chott won’t get you to the end of the road, let alone complete a long distance trial”. I had to concede the Chott had a reputation for unreliability but I’ve come across these rumours about bikes before and they’re often based on hearsay or the uneducated testimony of ham-fisted owners. They are rarely, if ever, based on first hand experience. I decided to make my own mind up.

The Chotts specification on paper suggested it would be perfect for long distance trials. Twin Bosch ignition modules, twin plug head, fully enclosed chain [why, oh why haven’t more manufacturers taken up this idea for off road bikes?], decent suspension coupled with low weight . It’s also an air-cooled,  piston-ported two stroke of 250cc capacity which in my opinion is the perfect configuration for this type of bike. The Chott also has as standard, a very nicely fabricated chromoly frame with an adjustable headstock . A gimmick? Possibly, but having competed on one I’m not so sure. I had mine set on the steepest setting which gave it nimble, trials type steering. It was a joy on the tighter sections and still relatively stable on the road. For longer, faster events a sporting rider could benefit  from one of the other two settings offering a more relaxed head angle.

So, ignoring the received wisdom I went out and bought a Chott, or to be more precise, I bought two. The thing is, Chott spares are thin on the ground and it helps to have some backup. I built up one very good bike out of the two incorporating the larger 11 litre tank from the earlier of the two bikes and within a couple of weekends were good to go.

Neat and tidy Bosch twin plug electrics, the Chott was an expensive , high quality bike which used top quality ancillaries.

On the bench prior to a trial, note the enclosed chainguard. The hubs on the 2TR were alloy, earlier Chotts used magnesium.

Not only did the Chott make it to the end of the road, it also went considerably further, in fact I worked out I had covered over 3000 competition miles on it during my tenure.  I won medals on it in the Land’s End , Edinburgh and Exeter trials, I ran it in the famous Spanish ‘Ruta de cinco mil curvas’ [Route of 5000 curves], a 300 mile regularity trial in the Picos de Europa. I entered it in the Great Northern trial up in the lakes, the Ilkely trial in Yorkshire.and anything else which took my fancy.  I even came seventh in one event which was open to modern bikes. The Chott and I became as one, melded in perfect harmony. I loved it. It’s unfeasibly large exhaust seemed to endow the Chott with levels of torque out of all proportion to its capacity. I could hook it into fifth on the switchback lanes of Devon and Cornwall and ride for miles without changing gear, grunting up significant inclines without complaint.  That kind of easy-to-live with engine flexibility conserves valuable rider energy on a long trial and I’m convinced that was the key factor in my successful run on the bike. It would always start first or second kick and,for a piston ported two stroke , it’s economy was good .  I could eke 115 miles out of tank, useful on a 360 mile event like the Land’s End. Some of these events are 20 hours long and competitors ride through the night tackling a variety of special tests and observed sections in pitch black. I augmented the Chott’s 12v lights with a modern battery powered laser beam of type used by mountain bikers for nocturnal riding. It turned night into day and the battery fitted neatly into the Chott’s tank mounted Brema enduro tool bag. I became so comfortable on the bike I relished the start of every trial. Even the most technical sections held no fear. The Chott’s benign power delivery coupled with impressive levels of rear end grip meant I could tackle anything I was likely to encounter on a Motor Cycllng Club trial with absolute confidence.

Chott exeter fingle woods

Fingle Woods observed section on a very cold and frosty Exeter trial in 2009. The first sixty miles of the trial featured lots and lots of black ice and I was very relieved to make it to the first checkpoint at midnight. A dab on one of the later stages threw away the gold medal but given the circumstances I was happy to go home with a silver.

Did it ever let me down? Actually yes it did, on two occasions but I’ve since forgiven it. The first was a self inflicted breakdown which occurred when I’d stopped on the way to the start of the Exeter trial. The Exeter is notoriously brutal event which takes place in early January. I was riding in a blizzard on the A5 [ yep, I was actually riding the Chott to the start, how hardcore is that? ] when the Chott developed a misfire and I pulled over to check the plug. I unscrewed the HT cap to check the connection, bear in mind this was in the pitch dark and I was using a head torch to peer under the tank.  All the while I was  being sprayed by slush and snow thrown up by the wheels of juggernauts running dangerously close to my perilous poosition in a narrow layby. In my haste to fix the problem and get the hell out of there I fumbled and  dropped the HT cap down a storm drain and it was game over, a DNS. There was another problem on another event which I can’t bring to mind , ignition related I seem to recall but as far as I remember that was it. For a brief four year period the Chott and I formed an immensely pleasurable partnership. I’m not 100% sure but I think I’m the only rider ever to have won anything in a national UK event on a Laverda Chott – not exactly Guinness Book of Records stuff but it gives me a warm glow of satisfaction. Eventually the lack of spares availability forced me to give up competing on it and, as I said at the beginning of the blog, my bikes have to earn their keep and so the Chott had to go. Of all the desirable bikes I’ve let go over the years, the Chott is probably the one I should have kept.

Edinburgh results

Left. The Chott’s finest hour, not long to go now and we’re on our way to a gold medal in the Edinburgh trail. Above. Here’s the proof! Not many gold medals were handed out on that year’s Edinburgh . I’m rider No 2 in the listings. The objective on the Motor Cycling Club trials is to keep a clean sheet on all three major trials during the year, the Exeter, the Land’s End and the Edinburgh. Do that and you win a very nice bronze statue of a fingerpost sign. Previous recipients have included Sir Malcolm Campbell…

edinburgh

pipnbillnbob1

Above. In the Picos de Europa . 300 miles, 5000 curves followed by a metric tonne of Paella dished up by Spanish organisers MC Piston.

Exeter Chott

Smiley faces all round. As well using the bike in competitive events the Chott provided sterling service as a trail bike. I’ll be writing more about Laverda’s off road products on future blogs.

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Telford 2015. Another great show.

Is it really a year since  I last posted about Telford? Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself. Alan Wright’s highly regarded Dirt Bike show was last year acquired by motorcycle publishing house Morton’s who appear to be achieving total world domination of UK classic bike events. Any fears they would somehow spoil or interfere with this popular regional show have been totally unfounded. Morton’s applied a commendably light touch to their administration of the show and Wrighty’s informal spirit lived on in the 2015 event. From an exhibitors point of view Morton’s PR and promotional clout can only be a good thing and from where I stood on stand 23, Hall 3 the show seemed better than ever.

Telford 1

Centre piece on the AdventureRide stand was a 1964 D.O.T. kindly loaned to us by Derek Hertzog from my home town of Altrincham.  It provided a nice bit of eye candy for the stand and drew a lot of comments. If you’re not familiar with the D.O.T. motorcycle brand they were a Manchester based factory who established a reputation for building , amongst other things, decent clubmen’s bikes for off road sport. Whilst not exactly giant killers, a D.O.T. could be a very handy tool in the hands of an experienced national class rider and could often give more exotic works bikes a run for their money.

The D.O.T. had been restored by my chum Pete Priest, who kindly turned out for the second year in succession to lend a hand. For some years now Pete has built a fine reputation for classic bike paintwork and a number of his customer’s bikes have won concours awards. Pete is also a very fine mechanic, campaigning a very potent Commando in hillclimbs and sprints.  He’s now moving the focus of his business into mechanical work and full restorations see http://www.priestbikepaint.co.uk

Pete, or Father Pete as we like to call him, hears yet another confession from one of his flock

Pete

Adjacent to the AdventureRide stand was my mate Nigel Land with his unfeasibly clean TLR Hondas. Nigel specialises in restoring these lovely little Honda trials bikes and has established himself as one of the countries leading TLR restorers. Nigel’s secret , which he confided over a coffee, was to source low mileage donor bikes directly from Japan, bring them in and then totally strip and rebuild them. Having built one or two bikes myself over the years  I understand the logic of sourcing the best possible donor bike possible. It saves money in the long run and you end up with a bike which is as close to a new one as you can achieve.

As you can see from the pic, Nigel’s work is uncompromising and of the highest quality, check him out on http://www.trl-transformations.co.uk

Nigel’s TLR, ’tis indeed a thing of great beauty

TLR

The rest of the show was the usual mix of race and off road bikes, club stands and traders . Guest of honour was Mick Grant, who of course straddles both camps being a hugely talented road racer as well as a very good trials rider, especially on classic stuff. I’ve bumped into Mick on a couple of occasions when doing trials and he’s a very affable bloke always willing to have a bit of banter. One of the great things about motorcycling is our heroes are often so accessible. Mick was handing out the concours awards.

Gritty Yorkshireman more used to receiving trophies than handing them out.

Mick grant

One of the bikes which caught my eye at the show was this intriguing thing badged as a Rhind Tutt Wasp. Was it just sporting the tank off a wasp outfit or was it a solo built by Rhind Tutt? Sadly I didn’t have time to check out the details but it looked an interesting bike nonetheless.

wasp

Oner of my favourite bikes which I see from time to time is Steve Gard’s superb Jawa ISDT bike. I came across Steve with his bike at the Carlisle centenary ISDT celebrations in 2013 [if you scroll to the early posts on this blog you can read all about it]. To me , this bike sums up the heyday of the ISDT era and is in wonderfully original preserved condition, which is just the way I like ’em. Of all the nice bikes at the show this is the one I’d like to have bundled into the back of the van when no-one was looking.

It’s a real shame the ISDT morphed into the ISDE and somehow lost its character. I suppose it was inevitable with the development of modern dirt bikes but for me the ISDT will always be defined by  two strokes, twin shocks and Barbour suits.

Jawa

Wasp badgeJames

This year Telford was good for AdventureRide and I feel the business has now firmly found its feet. The light and easy to ride Pamperas on the AdventureRide fleet and the novice-friendly terrain around Shropshire make it an ideal experience for first time trail riders. We’re now concentrating our efforts on encouraging new comers to try off-roading and the majority of our customers are usually very experienced road riders who have little or no off road experience. A number of female riders came on to the stand at Telford and asked to sit on the Pamperas we had on display. A lot of riders, especially girls, are intimidated by the sheer height of modern trail bikes and the Pampera is a refreshing antidote to those who don’t need 12″ of suspension travel.

After an busy weekend at Telford it was good to be able to kick back and have a relaxing day out with a group of TRF riders. By way of a change I’d advertised a ride out suitable for larger machines or novice riders and was surprised to find all six quickly places quickly filled, obviously there’s a niche there…

Once on the trail it became clear none of the riders were novices, they were simply guys who , like me, don’t necessarily want an intense , white knuckle experience every time they go out. We had a very relaxed day avoiding the more technical trails and instead concentrating on the longer , elevated drover’s trails in the borders. Trail riding doesn’t get much better, here’s a few pics.

Tim making a splash on a well known brand of orange bike

Tim , forest

Big country, little bikes. The group threads its  way along Adstone Rise.

Big Country

Hugh Clearly, a TRF stalwart and tireless rights of way campaigner, shows a bit of trials stylee negotiating deep ruts on the Kerry Ridgeway

Hugh water splash

Smiley riders, always a good sign. Jason clearly enjoying himself on his XR400

Jason smiles

Smiley walkers, an even better sign!

smiler walkers

Will turned up on an impossibly clean KLX 250. Needless to say we soon sorted that out.

will, forest

Little Britain , on the A49 between Craven Arms and Church Stretton. The best bacon butties this side of the Onny river. A Michelin-starred diner if ever there was one.

left to right : Hugh, James, Will, Jason, Craig and Tim

LB

The tremendous weight of James’ BMW caused this sink hole to appear in Bucknell woods.Fortunately I was there to record the moment on camera.

BMW , forest

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.

Link

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

Lever

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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Warning!

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My chum Craig came over at the weekend with his new toy, a brand new GS 1200. I’ve always been a fan of BMW’s uber traillie and this latest incarnation takes the GS concept to a whole new level, both in terms of technical  specification and sheer physical size. I used to think my old G/S 80 was a big bike but the new 1200 is truly massive, to the point of being quite intimidating.  BMW have made commendable efforts to reduce the weight of the GS when the 1200 was introduced in 2004 but when you add on all the current Adventure kit plus a full tank of fuel the bike tips the scales at a whopping 260kg wet.  Having done a bit of Googling I was surprised to find the weight is by no means unusual for the class; Yamaha’s 1200 Tenere and Guzzi’s 1200 Stelvio weigh almost exactly the same so I guess the weight is the price the market has come to accept in exchange for all that sophistication. And the 1200 GS is certainly sophisticated with its plethora of on-board  gadgetry  enabling the rider to adjust the suspension and engine mapping whilst on-the-fly, not to mention plot a route on the sat nav.

Craig weighs up the local Welsh talent

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Craig generously offered a test ride and I was keen  to have a go. Being a bit short in the leg I found the GS was too tall for me to paddle around comfortably from standstill which made me  uneasy setting off from a remote laybay on the Aberystwyth mountain road . Later Craig told me the bike was still set in pillion mode which raises the ride height… see what I mean about sophisticated?  Once under the way  the weight melts away and despite being almost as wide as a small family saloon, the GS feels positively nimble. Quite how BMW have managed this is a bit of a mystery but the GS is, by any yardstick you care to measure it by, a fine handling bike.

In many ways the GS is like a Porsche 911. The layout defies convention  but over the years the relentless  pursuit of Teutonic engineering perfection has overcome all the inherent dynamic challenges and come up with a fully-sorted, cohesive package which works far better than it has a right to. It’s quick, smooth, and stops on a sixpence.  Judging by the popularity of the current breed of mega traillies the weight clearly isn’t an issue for the majority of customers but it concerns me that bikes, like cars , seem to be getting heavier and heavier . Any weight savings created by clever design and the use of exotic materials is soon cancelled out by the extra ECUs and assorted gubbins which modern vehicles are equipped with.

It raises an interesting question about where all this is going. Let’s look at the Range Rover as another suitable four-wheeled analogy . The Range Rover fair bristles with extremely sophisticated technology to make it more effective off road but 80% [possibly more] of the customers will never have cause to use it , yet they’re paying the penalty in terms of  weight ,  price and fuel consumption. That’s the cost of dragging around diff locks, adjustable ride height paraphernalia and whole pile of  technology which they will derives absolutely no benefit from.  That said, if the Range Rover didn’t have this latent ability to climb 30 degree muddy slopes would the customers still buy them? I think the answer is, probably not.

The GS is in a similar quandary. As it becomes larger and more powerful BMW’s engineers have to develop more and more kit to give it some kind of off road capability even though the likelihood of one ever being ridden in anger on the dirt is very remote . But perhaps I’m over-analysing it and to be fair, the off-road focus of the GS is no more misplaced then the hyper sports focus of an R1 or a ‘blade and other bikes of that ilk which are blessed with levels of performance most of us can never hope to explore. We’re all automotive fashion victims one way or another.

However, no matter how much you debate it the simple fact remains the GS is a great road bike and it’s not hard to see why the GS is such a popular choice for hard core mileage munchers. It’s superbly built and in its own weird way looks a million dollars. During my brief trip on it I could tell it had superb composure on the road and was deceptively easy to ride fast. It also has road presence like no other bike [check out the pic at the top of the page] which in itself must contribute to safety. I wouldn’t relish tackling a muddy Shropshire lane on it but that misses the point of the GS. I reckon it would be would be just the job for a quick raid to Morocco.

 Bavaria? The Dolomites? Nah, it’s Church Stretton.

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Life doesn’t get much better…

Here’s a short video showing some of the typical trails we ride on an Adventure Ride day out. It was filmed by Dave Ryan who had joined one of the rides along with friends from the Shropshire and Powys Advanced riders group. It was one of those early spring days when the weather is perfect and the trails were in great condition. Hopefully I’ll publish some more excerpts soon showing some of the more technical sections of the routes.

Trail riders. Villains or villeins?

It’s business as usual this week. However, in between taking customers out I still found time for more research on new routes and uncovered some exciting stuff and also a few disappointments, but more about that later. To get this post under way here’s a few pics of  an enjoyable day out last weekend.

This is a beautiful old lane, flanked by mature hawthorn trees, which runs along a crest between two valleys, it’s one of my favourite trails in the area with stunning views of the Welsh aspect of the Mynd on one side and Stiperstones on the other.

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The boys are sharing a joke here at the expense of Tim [centre] . Previously we’d ridden across an innocuous looking ford but unfortunately Tim strayed off line and hit something underwater which took his front wheel away dumping him on his backside in the middle of the river, soaking him to the skin. In my experience fords , even shallow ones, have to be treated with respect. The force of water cascading off the hills around here can move rocks around in the streams and rivers and the fords can be unpredictable. I did exactly the same as Tim a few months back on a bitterly cold February day and ended up sat up to my armpits in icy cold water with three very amused customers looking on.

 

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On a day off following this ride I went out to look at some lanes to the East of Church Stretton in an around Heath and Clee St Margaret, two villages steeped in medieval history.

Sadly, two of the ancient lanes I was interested in close to Clee St. Margaret were subject to a TRO [Traffic Regulation Order] and closed to motorbikes.

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A TRO can be temporary [whilst a lane is repaired or allowed to recover after flooding or whatever] or permanent. Unfortunately these regulations are often abused by local authorities who either want to divest themselves of the responsibility of maintaining the road or [more typically] have bowed to the pressure of one or two local residents. It’s not unusual to discover these residents purchased property in the full knowledge an ancient right of way exists either through it or close to it and then put pressure on their local council to get the lane closed in order to boost the value of their house. A TRO isn’t meant to be used to close a lane simply because somebody doesn’t like it, the TRO should only be applied in exceptional circumstances.

A thousand year old right of way can be eliminated due to thinly veiled self-interest masquerading as concern for the environment. This seems to be the case in Clee St Margaret where two wonderful old lanes now have a permanent TRO

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The sad thing is, these lanes are now becoming so overgrown through lack of use they are almost impassable by pedestrian, cyclist or horse rider. Within a short time they will simply become absorbed into the landscape and a piece of local history gone forever.

Unfortunately there are organisations currently devoted to banning  motorised vehicular use on unsurfaced roads. One of these is GLEAM, a self-styled green lane ‘protection’ group [www.GLEAM-uk.org ] with an anti-vehicle stance which borders on hysteria . Their vitriolic  press releases are riddled with inaccuracies and written in the classic Daily Mail stylee.   Therefore in GLEAM-speak a motorcyclist is  always an ‘irresponsible biker’  , anybody riding off road is invariably labelled as ‘a ‘TRF member’ and a 4×4 driver is  a ‘reckless off -roader’.  So, if a local paper reports there has been a spate of kids  riding ‘crossers on waste land,  GLEAM’s tabloid version would be ‘irresponsible TRF members caught red-handed riding illegally’. Get the picture? The problem is , after a while some of this mud sticks, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s an underhand and rather nasty method of  trying to get your own way but that’s the way they operate.

GLEAM promotes the idea that because some  4x4s or bikes have been driven irresponsibly on green lanes , these routes should now be denied to all motorised vehicles. It’s a fundamentally flawed concept; once you go down the route of punishing the majority due to the actions of a minority you mights as well close the M5 , the M6 and the M1 because some people have been caught speeding. They also argue that green lanes were never  originally intended for motorised traffic . The same could be said of the canal system in the UK  but as far as I know nobody is suggesting non horse-drawn narrow boats should be banned from the UK waterways.

Now here’s a curious thing, GLEAM proudly boast their main patron is HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.  At the risk of being labelled mischievous I feel compelled to point out Prince Phil also happens to be a high profile freemason.  I only mention this in passing making absolutely no connection between GLEAM, freemasonry and the possible self-interest of wealthy, apron-wearing land owners wanting to ban oiks from driving their motorised bicycles over land which clearly doesn’t belong to them [the oiks that is], even if it’s a historic right of way which has been in use for centuries.  No, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting it. Not my intention at all. I’m sure GLEAM are all above board and on the level.

No doubt one or two land owning residents of Clee St Margaret  lament the passing of the local medieval feudal system where a villein knew his place  and wouldn’t presume to claim any rights which might conflict with those of his superiors.

OK, that’s my quasi-political rant over for this week, let’s get back to the positive stuff. Fortunately not all the lanes in the Clee St Margarets area have had dodgy TROs slapped on them and there are still some really interesting and technically-challenging routes left which hopefully will find their way on to the AdventureRide itinerary in the future. Here’s a couple to whet your appetite.

This is a 50 yard ford along a stream bed at the confluence of two streams . Looks innocent enough now but I reckon in November it could be a different story.

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This is Dunstan lane, which also features a lengthy ford. It’s very shallow which probably makes it one to avoid when the temperature drops below zero. It’ll be a skating rink in the winter…

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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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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

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

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

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Perfect conditions on Offa’s Dyke

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

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

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

Ossa mudguard

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

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

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