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!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Grainne gets in on the act

Whilst I was languishing in self-pity due to my inability to ride a bike the other month, another member of the Nomad Racing family was going the opposite way.

Grainne decided to start riding herself last year and we started by looking for a suitable bike for the shorter rider, she only being 5’ 3”. Which we discovered wasn’t exactly easy but eventually decided on a Suzuki RV 125 VanVan, which due to its “beach buggy” style look was ideally suited with a seat height of only 770mm. A 0% finance deal was the icing on the cake.

After signing up for her CBT (Compulsory Basic Training, not Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with a local training school, Rebel Dog Motorcycle Training, all was going quite well with only a couple of “lying down moments” with the schools Yamaha YB125s. However when it came down to further training (all included as part of a package) towards her 2 part bike test, they turned out to be less than cooperative!

As Grainne was working a Monday to Friday job at the time she asked if both her further training and Module 1 (off road) and Module 2 (on road) tests be arranged at the weekend?

Rebel Dog duly arranged for training at the weekend and tests during the week, when Grainne pointed this out to them, they rearranged for tests at the weekend but training during the week. We weren’t very impressed to say the least. When Grainne complained about their error she received a curt email saying they were refunding her money (she hadn’t asked for this) and “wished her luck with her new training provider”. Clearly when training their staff they skipped the customer service module!

So on the basis that she had two years to take her test (the CBT and the Theory Test that she had passed expiring after this time) we decided she could get some experience under her belt before tackling the tests.

And I was very proud of her when on one of our first ride outs together she inquired…. “can I go green laning on a VanVan?” I like that sort of enthusiasm!

On the subject of motorbike training I have to say after my many years of riding bikes, I’m often unimpressed with modern training schools, the bikes are often well bashed (understandable but failure to rectify this on a regular basis doesn’t present a very professional image), hi-viz jackets and loan equipment often looks grubby and quite often their facilities aren’t exactly confidence inspiring. Rebel Dog were no different in this respect, operating out of a shabby porta cabin in an industrial estate car park.

However all was going well and her confidence and riding were improving nicely when she broke her shoulder in non bike related incident….

This set Grainne back a few months but this summer she got back in the saddle and started  riding the VanVan again and I'm pleased to say,  despite her claims to “have forgotten everything” she clearly hadn’t!

I then happened to spot a good deal from BMW. Having just brought out their new G310R, a perfect next bike after the test they were also offering a package for the new rider. Their “Rookie to Rider” scheme is based around a 2 year PCP of a G310R but in addition and for no extra charge they throw in a 7 day training course including CBT and both test modules at the BMW Rider School (worth £1800) and £1100 worth of BMW riding kit… what was not to like?

The deal was done, a shopping trip to the clothing department of BMW Wollaston Motorrad in Northampton duly undertaken and the training course booked, although the earliest slot was not until late September. We also got to see her bike that had already arrived in the showroom. It was wearing a 17 number plate but upon finding out it couldn’t be collected until after the training course, they re-registered it on a correct 67 plate.

The date eventually arrived and having booked a week off work, Grainne decamped to my sister Gina’s house for the week as she only lives 10 minutes away from the Rider School that is based just north of Royston on the Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border.

Grainne fully expected to be training on a G310R which would enable her to get an A2 licence (bikes up to 47 bhp) but although they had just taken delivery of them at the school,  they stuck her on a BMW F700GS!

Thankfully it was the lowered suspension model with the low seat option but still quite a beast for someone of Grainne’s height. A week of training followed including a refresh of her CBT on a 125 and then training at the rider school and many miles around the Cambridgeshire roads. Her training was very professional and even included a trip to the test centre near Cambridge to practice the Module 1 test in the exact place she was taking it rather than the normal car park in an industrial estate. 

Thursday dawned and full of trepidation she headed off for her first test, of course she needn’t have worried and passed easily! First hurdle surmounted!

The next day it was back to take the Module 2, on-road test and once again she passed! And as she had done both on the 700, she has a full A class licence with no restrictions! To say I'm really proud of her would be a huge understatement!

That evening, the ceremonial removal of the L plates was followed by a ride round the local lanes on the VanVan whilst I followed on my Honda CB500X, this was also my first foray onto two wheels following my knee injury.

Then on the Saturday morning we headed off to Wollaston BMW, two up  on my Honda to collect her new bike. Cue one happy biker and a fun ride home on the back roads to Milton Keynes.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Back in the Saddle Part 2

All started well, I was impressed that the road book mileage was absolutely spot on with what my ICO trip meter was showing, not bad considering the road book is created with Rally Navigator Pro software, using Google Maps in satellite view. There were only a couple of changes to make as I progressed, such as adding a prominent junction that riders go straight through so not originally marked (the rule being, if it’s not on the road book, go straight on) but I decided it would make a good check for riders due to being very distinctive, in other words you couldn’t really be anywhere else, so a good point to check and correct your mileage.. Or the point where a broad gravel track becomes a narrow dirt single track was not quite where I had judged it to be from the satellite view. 

I was taking things very easy as I was out of practice and definitely not bike fit (or any sort of fit to be honest), unfortunately this turned out to be an error.

Whilst riding up over the byways on Totternhoe Knolls near Dunstable Downs, I had to ride through a small depression and took it slowly; unfortunately as the front wheel hit the other side the bike didn’t have enough momentum and stopped dead. I on the other hand still had plenty of momentum and promptly head butted the road book holder! This resulted in the mother of all nosebleeds and a line of small cuts across the bridge of my nose, caused I suspect by the lens in my goggles being pushed out of the frame and the relatively sharp edge being pushed into my face… not funny!

In fact when I later examined my goggles, the lens now has a dent the shape of my road book holder permanently embossed into its surface!!! 

Not too long after this the route took me past the National Trust centre on Dunstable Downs, I took the opportunity to stop and have a wash, although I did get a few funny looks on the way in with my blood splattered face!

Most of the rest of the day went without incident, the road book requiring only a few corrections and I stopped on one lane for a few photos just as the bike ran onto reserve.

After the stop I set off again and completely forgot about my need for fuel… I bet you can guess what happened next.

I reached the Shell Petrol Station near Redbourne, marked on the road book of course... and rode straight past! After riding through Redbourne, I stopped at some temporary traffic lights and the bike died completely. I at once realised what I’d done and first tried a trick that has worked in the past. I laid the bike down on the ground on its left hand side as a bit of fuel usually ends up getting trapped in the right hand side of the tank but to no avail, although it did get some funny looks from a couple of passers-by. 

So there was only one thing for it, a long push back to the petrol station. I considered unbolting the fuel tank and carrying it to the petrol station but figured that’d be easy when it’s empty, we’ll not that easy really as it’s a very awkward shape and certainly not easy with fuel in it, even if I were to only part fill it. So a long hot slog pushing along the B487 was the order of the day

When I’d left in the morning it was grey and quite cold and looking like it might rain, so I had dressed appropriately, of course now the sun was out and temperature nudging into the twenties and of course it was almost all uphill to the station!!! And it goes without saying that going for a walk in Moto Cross boots and knee braces is not the most comfortable experience either.

I eventually got there having pushed for nearly a mile now sweating profusely and after I filled the bike with petrol, I downed a litre of water and half a litre of coke before I got back on my way.

After this there was only a relatively short stretch of the road book left with two more green roads to ride until I reached a suitable point to head back home and by now I was starting to loose daylight. So 100 km checked out of the total of 170 km, so I had an excuse to go out and play the next weekend!