Monday, 19 March 2018

There no business like snow business

With all the snow it’s not been a great time for biking and a couple of ear infections leading to severe vertigo didn't help either but I have managed to get out occasionally. Current focus being another Road Book Caper for Rallymoto, this one running from Torque Racing in Cambridgeshire and taking in lanes in both Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire.

The 450 EXC got its final outing to recce the route before MOT time just in case it didn't pass and needed some work. To be honest it could have done with a new set of tyres as a few days of rain had left the lanes near to the Torque Racing HQ extremely slippery but it coped by taking things easy, which when reconnoitring a road book is the norm anyway.

Unlike my last Road Book Caper, this one has been designed as three separate loops, returning each time to Torque for checkpoints, therefore making it much easier to manage and no hanging around in freezing cold laybys or petrol station forecourts for the support crew waiting for riders. The distance has also been cut from 170km to around 130km as the last one took some riders too long and the route had to be cut, although the clocks going forward the night before will give us an extra hour of daylight to play with. Let’s hope everyone remembers and doesn’t turn up an hour late!

The other advantage  of this type of design is it means keeping the route much tighter with a few cross overs and even a few two way tracks, so riders are far more likely to see each other on the way round, hopefully making this Road Book Social, a bit more “Social”.

The bike sailed through it's MOT so I needn't have worried and the next day I was out on the lanes again for the final recce...

Monday, 19 February 2018

Notes on 690 ownership Part 1

Having owned the 690 for a just over two months and having got the snow and Christmas out of the way, I’m riding it more often and starting to fine tune it to my liking but it hasn't all been plain sailing.

So far the temporary arrangement holding the rack and top box on is working OK so I must get round to converting it into a more permanent solution. and I’ve added a connector to the bike for my heated jacket to keep mobile in the cold weather 

As previous mentioned the dip beam was set far too high and was blinding oncoming traffic, adjusting this meant having to remove the adjustable screen but as I had found it uncomfortable in all positions, I decided to remove altogether... 



No more buffeting and although this now means I’m sitting in the wind blast, the clean airflow over my helmet is much quieter. 

I also got a pleasant surprise when I discovered the dip beam is in fact an H.I.D. (High Intensity Discharge) unit. no wonder it is so bright.

The bike also got a trip to the Peak District and acquitted itself well on the green roads apart from the first couple that were muddy, did I mention the tyres are rubbish in mud!

Then the bike let me down, cutting out and refusing to start on the way to work. after a short while it came back to life only to do the same thing on the way home at the exact same roundabout! This time it wouldn't restart so Grainne and Caitlin came to my rescue in the van, the RAC having quoted me three hours for recovery. Back to the dealers it went and a corroded connector was found leading to the fuel pump and duly replaced. all seemed well.... for two days!

When it did exactly the same thing! Again the RAC quoted me three hours so as I was only 9 miles away, I got a taxi home and got the van myself

Back to the dealers again and this time they found the spark plug cap was broken inside, easily sorted and now running fine.

I have a few more plans such as heated grips, a better (i.e. smaller and lighter) top box solution and a replacement right hand mirror as it keeps folding in the slipstream.

Friday, 5 January 2018

New bike news

Since taking delivery of my new (to me) KTM 690 Enduro not a lot has happened on the motorbike front due to a combination of snow fall, Christmas, New Year and high winds!

Well a few things have happened in the garage…

First off I wanted to fit my old Metal Mule top box for when I ride to work, although the bike has Touratech Zega panniers, they are mahoosively wide (not good for traffic) and have no locks fitted. The top box had previously been fitted to my 990 Adventure and I had the Metal Mule, tubular steel rack to suit that attaches with four bolts. It just so happens the flat aluminium rack on the 690 attaches to the pannier frames with four bolts. But yes you guessed right; they don’t line up at all!

However I did note the rack on the bike had four holes in the same pattern as the 990 rack, obviously being designed to fit that model too. So why not just bolt one rack to the other, in effect using the aluminium rack as an adapter. Unfortunately the rack is of a size where the rear edge prevents the top box mount from fitting round the MM rack and of course adds unnecessary weight. The 690 has a plastic sub frame (also the standard fuel tank), so the weight of the rack/top box is borne by the pannier frames and as a result I wanted to keep extra weight to a minimum.

OK so I could trim a piece off the rear of the rack but whilst pondering this I realised I could cut the 4 mm thick rack down to make a much smaller and lighter adaptor. But this would be a waste of the rack that could potentially be re-sold, at which point I remembered I had some 3 mm aluminium plate in the garage, so using the aluminium rack as a guide I created an adaptor plate, just large enough as required.

This seems to be working well although there is some movement in the top box but largely due to gaps between its mounts and the rack, I had the same problem on the 990 and cured it with some pieces of inner tube wrapped round the rack in appropriate places. In the meantime this is causing a bit of movement in the adaptor plate which could cause a fracture in the aluminium, so a “cable tie engineering solution” has been employed to attach the MM rack to the Touratech pannier frames, a bit Heath Robinson but in the event of a fracture it will prevent the top box disappearing down the road!

I’m also thinking of replacing the aluminium adaptor with a steel plate to guard against the risk of fracture or possibly using a thicker piece of aluminium… stand by for Mk 2

I did get out for a ride on the Saturday before Christmas over to my sister’s, which also included a few byways (see picture at top) and I discovered a few things…
  • The Metzeller Sahara tyres are great on the road, reasonable on gravel and hard pack and totally shite in mud.

  • The bike pulls monster wheelies on the throttle in second gear without much provocation – I’d better be a bit gentler on the throttle in future!
  • The dip beam in the Lynx fairing is excellent but was set much too high so I got regularly flashed by motorists on the way home in the dark; next job sort out the headlight.

And what of Grainne’s new Freeride 250? It has been waiting for the rear shock to be rebuilt and the lower seat to arrive so she wasn’t able to pick it up before the KTM Centre closed over Christmas and the New Year but watch this space.....

Friday, 15 December 2017

Funny how things turn out

Having set out in search of a suitable dirt bike for Grainne, little did I suspect what would result....

After the disappointment of losing out on the Freeride 250R at the KTM centre we sat down with chief honcho Jason to discuss options.

Sitting next to the just sold 250R was a brand spanking new Freeride 250F, KTM having decided to replace both the two stroke 250R and the four stroke 350F with this, a four stroke 250. It was so new it hadn’t even been built up yet with no footrests fitted but we held it up so Grainne could try it for size….

And sure enough she was left with both feet dangling way off the floor! After convincing her that it was almost identical to the older bike but with a standard seat and the suspension wound up much harder, so could easily be made the same height as the other bike (or in fact 25mm lower with the official lowering kit), we got into discussion with Jason just what it might cost.

After a bit of fiddling with the figures, it turned out not to be too outrageous, largely due to the sizeable deposit the Suzuki VanVan provided, so a deal was done.

So that’s a Freeride 250F, with the brand new twin cam 250 four stroke motor, which at the end of the day is likely to be easier to ride, especially for a beginner, than the two stroke. the only (very slight) downside is that it weighs 7 kilograms more than the two stroke but still comes in at a featherweight 97kg. We are also having it fitted with the optional remote engine mapping switch. This allows it to be switched between two engine modes (i.e. a tuned down mode or full power) and enables traction control to be switched on and off again all very beginner friendly. It has also been specified with the optional low seat, wrap around hand guards and the aforementioned lowering kit.

The shock absorber needs to be sent away to be rebuilt with the lowering kit so it’ll take a while to be ready but that's not a problem really when everything has been covered in snow lately.

Two days later I took the Suzuki down to part ex it and also put my 990 Adventure in the van to see if I could get a good price for it. It had been sitting in the garage unloved on a SORN for a year  needed a new MOT, a service, a replacement Y piece for the exhaust and a new rear tyre, that lot would cost me around £500-600 just to get it into a state where I could sell it, not to mention the time it would take and all the time it was steadily depreciating, so I needed to do something. 

Well I didn't end up taking it home and in a slight surprise even to myself (and no I hadn't planned it in advanced as Grainne suspects) I am now the owner of a mint, low mileage KTM 690 Enduro R with nearly five grands worth of extras.

Extras include:
Britannia Composites Lynx Fairing with upgraded headlights
LED Auxiliary lights 
Low front mudguard
KTM Powerparts Silencer
Rally Raid Products front tanks (an extra 10 litres of fuel)
Rally Raid Products billet brake pedal
G-IT Aluminium Bash Plate
Pivot Pegs
Touratech pannier Frames with Aluminium Zega panniers
G-IT Rear Rack
GPR damped handlebar mounts
Scotts Steering Damper
Remote engine mapping switch
Cycra Pro Bend Hand guards
Carbon Fibre engine case protectors
KTM Ergo seat
And a few other bits and pieces plus the original bits.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Unicorn spotted in Hemel Hempstead!

Our search for a low and lightweight dirt bike for Grainne had ground to a halt, not least because we had still not managed to sell her Suzuki VanVan. A couple of too low offers and a few timewasters later and it was becoming abundantly clear that November was not a good time to sell a bike and especially not one very obviously designed for learners. After all would you decide to start biking just as winter arrives?

So having put plans on hold for the time being, as you will have read in my last blog post, attention turned to running the Hertfordshire Caper, a Road book training day organised by the Rallymoto Club. The KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead had agreed to host the event and Grainne volunteered to help out by driving the van and manning (womanning?) the checkpoints. 

As reported, after meeting up with Burt from Rallymoto who had printed the road books and supplied “Give it a go” manual road book holders to eight of the ten participants, we did a pre-ride briefing, spent ages getting road books loaded and eventually sent them off on their way.

I was getting ready to go when Grainne appeared from inside the KTM Centre with a beaming smile and handed me her phone, which had a photo of her sitting astride a KTM Freeride with both feet on the floor. Remember this was the model i thought would be ideal but turned out to be way too tall at the bike show … what was going on?

It turned out they had a second hand example of the two-stroke 250R (they also made a four-stroke 350) fitted with the optional low seat and the suspension set to its softest positions. They also explained that bikes at the show would almost certainly have have had their suspension wound up to the hardest settings to allow for anyone of any size to bounce up and down on them! In addition they could fit a lowering kit to this one to bring it down another 25mm (1”).

It also has a few useful additions and a big factor in its favour was the paltry weight of only 90kg, a whopping 70 kg lighter than Grainne’s BMW; that’s equivalent to chucking a pillion passenger off the back!

By the end of the day we also had an offer for the VanVan in part exchange, not quite as much as we had been asking for but the possible alternative was having to hold onto it all winter before we can sell it, when it would be worth less anyway so quite reasonable in the circumstances.

So next step is to pop down for a test ride and look at the options for financing the purchase, which might also include chucking my 990 Adventure into the mix… it could be the only way to get enough room in the garage!

UPDATE: we eventually made it down to the KTM Centre only to discover they had sold the bike literally minutes before we arrived!!!

Back to the drawing board; 

to be continued....

Friday, 8 December 2017

So what’s been going on in my world?

Having slowly got back into riding after tearing my anterior cruciate ligament and then breaking my nose on my first trail ride… yes keen readers will recall that on the day A&E said I hadn’t broken it. However they also said that I should see my Doctor if the swelling and the pain didn’t subside in two weeks.

It didn’t, so I did, he took one look and said it was definitely broken; luckily it’s not displaced so I get to keep my handsome good looks (I wish) and all I needed by way of treatment was a steroid nasal spray to bring down the swelling, although he did mention that if it doesn’t improve I might need what they euphemistically refer to as MUA or  Manipulation Under Anaesthetic. Grainne informed me this was when they re-break your nose with a hammer and chisel and re-set it. She should know as she’s had it done twice after horse riding accidents (a good reason not to participate in dangerous sports like horse riding methinks)!

The knee is still sore and although I can ride OK (wearing knee braces), the biggest issue I have is standing for any length of time, so recently I’ve helped out on the Rallymoto stand at the Dirt Bike show and the TRF stand at Motorcycle Live (I’ll do anything for a free ticket me)! And these have proven to be quite painful as you are on your feet all day.

Apart from resuming my surveying work in the Peak District for the TRF, which I did on a very cold, wet, windy and thoroughly miserable day in the aftermath of Storm Brian, my motorcycling focus was on helping Burt Hughes of Rallymoto to run a “Road Book Caper” practice day around Hertfordshire.

This involved plotting a route, converting it into a road book, then getting out and reconnoitring it and then updating the road book appropriately. Then making arrangements for the day, The KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead kindly agreed to host the event and provide coffee and cookies before the off (actually if you’re visiting the centre, there’s always coffee on offer)! Burt printed off the road books and coordinated the entries and we were good to go.

The day itself went off really well, we had two more experienced participants but eight road book virgins, they got lost, they fell off (but nobody was hurt), ran out of petrol and some finished after dark! But what was clear afterwards was everyone had a great time!

We learnt some valuable lessons; a large single loop with multiple checkpoints doesn’t work as well as hoped, so in future a cloverleaf pattern with several loops returning to the start/finish point is the aim, also a greater element of training is required for the newbies, we had forgotten just how amusing watching a bunch of guys trying to load road books for the first time can be, much assistance was required.

Now to start work on the next one!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

In search of unicorns


or Santa Claus, 

or the Easter Bunny.....

Yep looking for something mythical that you suspect doesn’t really exist.

In our case a dirt bike suitable for the vertically challenged

No sooner had Grainne passed her test and got a new bike, she fancied another one!

Perhaps I should explain, once she had got into biking, the next ambition was to be able to come out trail riding with me, no problem with that I hear you say, well not in theory but it is when you’re only 5’3”. Dirt bikes are not generally compatible with those of shorter than average stature.

Add into the mix that even at only 160kg, Grainne finds her BMW G310R inordinately heavy and this has already resulted in a couple of “lying down in car parks” moments!

So the other week we set off to Motorcycle Live at the NEC (that’s the trendy name for we all still call “the bike show”) unfortunately this involved another horizontal moment when the Beemer stalled leaving a (much needed) coffee & breakfast stop (it was fooking cold that day), as soon as it starts to topple, Grainne simply doesn’t have the strength to hold it. No doubt it will become easier with more experience but a potential problem for leaving tarmac where balance is more of an issue and the potential for landing on your ear, that much higher.

So we proceeded to hit every bike manufacturers stand to try anything that looked remotely like a dirt bike. Unfortunately this just seemed to result in numerous instances of Grainne sitting on bikes with her toes dangling at least six inches off the floor!!!

I had envisaged that the KTM Freeride would fit the bill, a hybrid between a trials bike and an enduro bike. But sadly not as the seat height of 915 mm proved far too tall and the feet dangling in mid-air scenario was repeated.

There were a couple of potentials by the end of the day, A Honda MSX125 (known in other markets as the Honda Grom) not a dirt bike but built the style of one and inspired by the old Honda Monkey Bike and critically knobbly tyres are available for its 12” wheels. Importantly it’s light (101 kg) and low (765mm seat height) but still possessed of decent ground clearance (especially if you get the older model with a high level exhaust) you can also pick up these older models for under £2K, so with a littler bit of modification, maybe?

Another candidate was the Herald Scrambler, these are Chinese made bikes imported into the UK and rebuilt by Herald to UK specs and hopefully the levels of reliability we expect these days but rarely see from China. A Street Scrambler rather than a proper dirt bike, it did meet the low seat height and relatively low weight criteria (although actual figures were unavailable) and was shod with some knobbly(ish)  tyres and is less than £3K new. The down side was a very low exhaust that would be unlikely to last long off road and did I mention they’re made in China?

The further downside we discovered is they have yet to be introduced into the UK market so not actually available at this point in time.

One positive note was that after the excruciatingly cold ride up to Birmingham where Grainne was seriously in envy of my Keiss heated jacket and heated grips, we scored a good deal on a jacket for her and some heated inner gloves. This of course saw me in the bike park after the show (thankfully indoors and well lit) attaching the jacket connector to the battery of Grainne's BMW before we could ride home, both of us now comfortable rather than hypothermic! 

Meanwhile the search for unicorns continues…..

PS: Of course Santa Claus exists, although the jury is still out on the Easter Bunny!