New Kid on the Block

Stretton anon

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

KTM

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

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

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

Coates pegs 2

Tank

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

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…

Little Big Show.

Apologies for the non trail riding content but this week I thought I’d share a few pics from our local bike show . The Wistanstow show is now in its 25th year and for a small village bike show it attracts an extraordinary amount of visitors and some superb machinery. This year saw the show’s organiser Ron Maul step down from front of house duties and take a well earned break from the stress of running what has become a very popular regional event. A lot of nice bikes lurk in workshops and barns around the Marches region and Ron has a knack of tempting some rarely seen bikes out into the daylight. Here’s a small selection of some of the bikes on display as well as some of the more interesting stuff scattered around the village hall car park

Wistanstow Village Hall is a beautiful old building gifted to the community by a local benefactor many years ago. Here's a handsome Manx and a Dommie in the indoor display. Note the twin bacon slicers on the Dommie front hub.

Wistanstow Village Hall is a beautiful old building gifted to the community by a local benefactor many years ago. Here’s a handsome Manx and a Dommie in the indoor display. Note the twin bacon slicers on the Dommie front hub.

One of the more intriguing bikes on the display was this EMC 350 cc split single and yes, that is EMC as in Dr Joseph Ehrlich, creator of fine racing motorcycles , F3 cars and various other stuff. Mike Hailwood raced an EMC with some success in his early career.

One of the more intriguing bikes on the display was this EMC 350 cc split single and yes, that is EMC as in Dr Joseph Ehrlich, creator of fine racing motorcycles , F3 cars and various other stuff. Mike Hailwood raced an EMC with some success in his early career.

The EMC might not be much of a looker but you could be fairly certain it was the only one in the car park at whatever event you took it to.

This is te bike I'd like to have taken home from the show. Norton's rare 500T didn't exactly set the worlds alight when the factory launched it but that wouldn't bother me, they're a great looking bike . The owner of this was telling me he bought it sight unseen and when he researched it he discovered ha had bought one of the handful of works bikes produced by the factory. Jammy bugger.

This is the bike I’d like to have taken home from the show. Norton’s rare 500T didn’t exactly set the worlds alight when the factory launched it but that wouldn’t bother me, they’re a great looking bike . The owner of this was telling me he bought it sight unseen and when he researched it he discovered ha had bought one of the handful of works bikes produced by the factory. Jammy bugger.

I shouldn't really like these but I do. It's one of my guilty pleasures. To me, a BMW Steib is a very elegant execution of a fundamentally flawed concept - the motorcycle and sidecar combination. All the disadvantages of a car and a motorcycle rolled into one package . You get caught in traffic jams in the same way a car does but you can also get soaked when it rains- just to remind you you're really on a bike.

I shouldn’t really like these but I do. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. To me, a BMW Steib is a very elegant execution of a fundamentally flawed concept – the motorcycle and sidecar combination. All the disadvantages of a car and a motorcycle rolled into one package . You get caught in traffic jams in the same way a car does but you can also get soaked when it rains- just to remind you you’re really on a bike.

Not a bad crowd for a village bike show. £7000 was raised for the local school. What a fine effort.

Not a bad crowd for a village bike show. £7000 was raised for the local school. What a fine effort.

Lovely old Indian had a sticker on it showing the owner had ridden it to the Sturgis rally in the US. Now that's what I call using your old bike.

Lovely old Indian had a sticker on it showing the owner had ridden it to the Sturgis rally in the US. Now that’s what I call using your old bike.

Until I saw this in the car park I didn't know how much I wanted an early Z1 They really were a stunning looking bike. Let the good times roll.

Until I saw this in the car park I didn’t know how much I wanted an early Z1 They really were a stunning looking bike. Let the good times roll.

Lovely little Ford Thames and as clean on the inside as it was on the outside.

Lovely little Ford Thames and as clean on the inside as it was on the outside.

And finally a picture of Ron Maul the show's creator and organiser sat astride an unfeasibly wide six cylinder GS Suzuki, details of which I'm saving for a later blog.

And finally a picture of Ron Maul the show’s creator and organiser sat astride an unfeasibly wide six cylinder GS Suzuki, details of which I’m saving for a later blog.

And that’s it for this week folks, excuse my classic bike indulgence – next week we’ll be getting down and dirty on the trails again.

Strata Florida.

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Strata Florida. It’s got a ring to it don’t you think? The name , derived from the Welsh “Ystrad Fflur” meaning valley of, or river of the flowers, is the site of a once important Abbey which was one of the main seats of power in Wales. Built around 1160 AD, the Abbey  fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries during the tudor period and was closed in 1540 eventually falling into ruin, the remains of which can still be seen today.

Strata Florida is also the name given to one of the most infamous trails in the UK; a meandering boulder-strewn trail riding icon which winds its way north past the Twyi forest incorporating no less than nine deep fords . Hard in summer and nigh-on impassable in winter, the Strata has a reputation for punishing the unwary; an unfortunate passenger in a 4×4 drowned during a treacherous river crossing not so long ago. In short, the Strata needs treating with respect and its remote location means that a traveling partner is essential just in case things go awry and help needs to be summoned.

My pal Mike is always up for a trail ride and he was quick to accept my invitation to tackle the trail. We set off confidently from the Twyi forest visitor centre in hot sunny weather . With hardly any rain for a week  just how hard could it be to tackle a ten mile trail?

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As it turned out, quite hard ! Despite perfect riding conditions and low water levels in the river the trail is still a very challenging route. It’s surface is predominately rock and this tends to hold water  long after the rains have gone. You can ride through two or three long, crystal-clear puddles holding barely nine inches of water and then plunge into a slightly murky one and watch your front wheel disappear into a two foot pot hole such as this one….

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Here be dragons……. Welsh dragons of course.

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The nine  river crossings were fine and we both managed to get across without any drama but an innocuous looking puddle eventually caught me out and the bike went under momentarily  gulping in a carbful of muddy water. It delayed us for about 45 minutes whilst we drained the carb and purged the crankcase of contaminated mixture. This wouldn’t have been particularly difficult save for the baking midday sun and I was glad for the reassuring presence of Mike lending a hand. Imagine being stuck out there on your own with a dead bike and having to walk miles to civilisation in heavy trail riding gear and then come back to retrieve the bike. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Or worse still , being stuck on a cold winter day with the light failing. Nope, if you tackle the Strata you need at least one buddy with you.

Having done it, I would rate the Strata as one of the best trails I’ve ever ridden. It’s got the lot. Stunning scenery, dramatic settings and some of the toughest technical challenges you’ll find on a UK green lane. Highly recommended but my advice is have a go before the winter sets in. This vid shows a group of wild Welsh lads tackling it when the rivers are in flood. Sooner them than me.