Friday, 13 July 2018

What? Another product review!

So having decided the 690 is great fun, frugal and for a single amazingly quick, it unfortunately doesn’t tick several other boxes: As a commuter it’s a bit frenetic as it doesn’t really like sitting at a constant throttle setting being happiest when accelerating or braking but not in between, this makes it quite stressful to ride in heavy traffic being much better suited to the open road or trails. The seat is not the comfiest around but this is not surprising for an off road oriented bike and despite the fact it is supplied from new with pillion foot pegs, it simply doesn’t have the room to carry a passenger.

So after nine months of ownership I have decided I needed to look for something a bit more suitable, I did inquire as to the prices of a BMW R1200GS Adventure but after discovering the model that would most suit my needs, An Adventure Rally TE, even after a hefty discount would still set me back over £17,500!!!

So it was suggested that a KTM 1090 Adventure might be a suitable candidate and as KTM currently have an offer on that reduces the retail price by £2000 to a much more reasonable £9,999 (or £10,899 for the Adventure R) so a chat with the KTM Centre at Hemel Hempstead was in order.

It just so happened that I was running another Rallymoto Road Book Caper from the KTM Centre on the 23rd June, so a deal was done and I had a 1090 Adventure R for the day. We had eight riders turn up for the event and whilst sorting them out we also fitted the 1090 with a “Give it a Go” Manual road book holder. I then rode the event as the sweeper, ensuring everyone got back safe and sound (they did)!

Well where do I start? The 1090 is leaps and bounds ahead of the old 990 I used to own despite being a similar configuration; although similar in concept the execution is so much better. My 990 always felt a bit raw, more like a genuine race machine (albeit a damn big one) After all it did share a large number of parts with the 950 Rally campaigned by KTM in the Dakar Rally. 

Unfortunately this also meant it was a bit fragile and needed frequent, expensive servicing. The 1090 on the other hand feels refined and very smooth, yet can still deliver that visceral feeling when you twist the throttle open. The way it builds speed is fantastic and it handles on the road almost like a sports bike despite the 21”/18” wheel combo (something it does share with the 990) however the WP Suspension feels far more sophisticated and soaks up bumps with aplomb. 

I spent most of the time in “Street” mode on the traction control and this was my favourite although “Sport” mode was fun if a little too much at times. The bike is shod with Continental TKC80 tyres, to be honest not my favourite on the road but they seem to suit the 1090 really well, so no problems there.

So what’s it like on the dirt? Composed, capable and totally in control I was pleased to discover. The riding position seems spot on and in the bone dry conditions the tyres had no issues at all.  

The 990 always felt like it needed to go fast to handle well off tarmac and that had the potential to go horribly wrong. The 1090 on the other hand can be trickled along easily at walking pace, the gearing feeling much more suitable. It is only 2kg lighter than the old bike but feels much lighter, it carries its weight very well, never feeling too top heavy. I did try the “Off Road” mode on the traction control that reduces power from 125 bhp to 100 bhp but actually spent most of the time in Street which didn’t seem to be an issue at all.

Brakes are a different thing altogether, where the 990s twin sliding callipers were at best adequate, the 1090s radially mounted Brembos are superb, hauling the bike down from speed with no dramas and yet having loads of feel and precise control on the dirt, although like most twin disc set ups on an “off road” bike you need to treat them with respect.

So the downsides? The bike does produce a considerable amount of heat, concentrated through the seat due to the position of the rear cylinder, so no different to the 990 in that respect. On the 990 the catalytic converters were positioned in the silencers under the seat, where they also contributed to the “heated seat effect” but at least they were easily removed when fitting aftermarket pipes (I had Akrapovics on mine). But on the 1090 the cat is positioned within the header pipe adjacent to your right foot and that chucks out considerable heat too. However it is less easily dealt with as a full exhaust system without a cat' (for race use only of course) will set you back over £800. However it should be noted I was riding on one of the hottest days of the year with temperatures nudging 30 degrees, certainly not typical of a UK Summer. the warm bum effect will be welcome in the Winter!

So all in all I was very impressed with the 1090 Adventure R but as this would be my “Road Bike” should I not consider the 1090 Adventure (No R). The difference? The “standard” model has 19”/17” cast alloy wheels with road tyres as opposed to the Rs 21”/18” wire spoked wheels with trail tyres, the suspension is non-adjustable and it has a taller windscreen and that’s about it. It also comes in a black/orange colour scheme as opposed to the Rs mainly white bodywork.

So there was only one thing to do….

A week and a half later I was back at the KTM Centre for back to back test rides of the two variants. I took the plain Adventure out first and to be honest it felt a bit lacklustre, the suspension certainly wasn’t as sharp and it felt a bit imprecise by comparison despite the smaller, wider wheels shod with Continental Trail Attack tyres (despite the name essentially a road tyre). The slightly lower front end also put more weight on my wrists that I found uncomfortable. My bum and right foot got just as hot (it was another scorching day) and I couldn’t find a position of the adjustable tall screen that didn’t cause (admittedly mild) buffeting of my helmet.

My route took in Motorways, dual carriageways, sweeping A roads and twisty back roads, I also threw in a mild unsurfaced trail to see how it performed; it was OK but certainly not as confidence inspiring as the R.

So to be certain I took it back, swapped it for the R and repeated the route. Absolutely no contest! So after another fun day the deal was done and a brand new 1090 Adventure R is currently sitting in the KTM Centre with my name on it!

Friday, 22 June 2018

Back to Hemel Hempstead

Since the Wales 500 I’ve been busy with the preparation for another of the Rallymoto Clubs “Road Book Capers” our social training events that we try to run every month.

For June we are returning to the KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead, the scene of the first Caper I organised in November last year. That was a great success despite not all riders being able to complete the route and being very cold! However a lot of lessons were learnt and incorporated into future events.

Unlike the November caper that was a large single loop, I now plan my road book routes in a cloverleaf pattern, with three loops returning back to the start each time. This makes keeping tabs on the riders much easier although does require a bit of thinking over the route planning.

Last Saturday I rode the whole route and had to make only a few changes so all looking good for tomorrow.

One big issue is that it is impossible to get to the KTM Centre without using the Plough Roundabout, or as it’s better known the “Magic Roundabout”. This presents a real challenge to the road book author, not to mention a navigational challenge for the riders! Whilst it is possible to leave the KTM Centre by two different routes that avoid the roundabout, as these use one way streets or turn out onto a dual carriageway with no access from the opposite lane, they can’t be used as a route in. So my problem was to try and make the rider’s passage of the Magic Roundabout as painless as possible, whether I have succeeded remains to be seen.

The KTM Centre are also lending me a KTM 1090 Adventure R demonstrator to ride on Saturday, so it’ll be a good test of the bike.

Watch this space for an update on how the event went.

A new development following the Wales 500 is a spin off from the Rallymoto Club: the “Adventure Cannonball Club” geared towards larger adventure bikes and promoting navigational events on the lines of the Wales 500. This also includes Road Book Caper events for Adventure Bikes.  Burt from Rallymoto has produced a short video to promote the Club.

The first event is in the Cotswolds on the 1st July. Unfortunately I won’t be able to join in the fun as I’ll be attending my Nephew’s wedding on the beach on the Greek Island of Elafonisos… it’s a hard life but someone has to do it!

Friday, 1 June 2018

What I did on my holidays…

Well sort of; having enjoyed a wonderful two weeks in Tuscany with great food and wine, if not the best weather as we had plenty of thunderstorms, there was little to report on the rallying front.

Well apart from stumbling across the Mille Miglia on a day trip to Arrezzo and seeing some amazing veteran cars.

Then the next day whilst stopping for lunch at Radda in Chianti, realising we were sat opposite a check point for the Eroica in Moto, a two day navigation rally for pre 2000 trail/adventure bikes run over the stradale bianchi, the “white roads” of Chianti.

However after a delayed flight home from Pisa (thanks Easy Jet)! It was a mad dash to get unpacked, a frantic search for some clean clothes and packing up the van for a trip to Malvern Wells where I was the Clark of the Course for the Inaugural Wales 500 Navigation Rally.

I didn’t get everything together until after midnight so decided a two hour drive to Malvern wasn’t the best idea so I went to bed planning an early morning run on the Saturday. After all registration didn’t start until 10:00.

After less than six hours sleep, I got up, showered and jumped in the van. Grabbing a McDonalds breakfast on the way (obligatory for any proper road trip) I got on my way to Worcestershire. Arriving at about 08:30 at the Three Counties Showground, I was presented with an assortment of tents and camper vans and what looked like a huge number of BMW R1200 GS Adventures. John Douglas, who was running the GPS tracking system soon turned up and Patsy Quick from Desert Rose Racing was there and first task was to help her unload a bunch of KTM 1090s from the back of the truck, not too difficult with a tail lift!

After finding Race HQ and organiser Burt Hughes, things swung into action and we were overwhelmed by 120+ riders wanting to register, sign up for day licences, collect GPS trackers, borrow road book holders and buy T shirts! Somehow we got through it all and were ready to go at the allotted time. Funnily enough it was just like the sign on for a cycle race, although it was soon evident we were dealing with a large number of “rally virgins”, I guess we have all got used to entrants in “proper” rallies mostly knowing what they are doing and the few noobs being helped by the “old hands” here the noobs were the vast majority and required a lot of guidance, something I guess we should have anticipated.

Saturday’s format was a 100km road route to familiarize everyone with their chosen form of navigation, either by GPS or Road Book and one small off road skills test. After a sketchy start because the aforementioned noobs seemed unable to grasp the concept that a start time is the time you start, not the time you sit on your bike in the paddock and having a natter with your mates.

Once we persuaded everyone to start, all went well with no major problems and very little in the way of “navigational embarrassments”.  We were able to sit in the event HQ and watch everyone’s progress on screen due to the excellent GPS tracking system.

The only small glitch of the day was when one competitor has a minor crash on the way back and was unable to continue as his bike was stuck in fourth gear. Thanks to the trackers, we could see where he was and directed two travelling marshals to him in a matter of minutes. The rider was thankfully unhurt and the marshals were able to get him back to the show ground.

Saturday night saw a briefing for all riders, dinner and a very welcome bar, John spent some time drafting up an excel spreadsheet to calculate the results and the results from day one announced. The format was simple, the aim being to match the planned distance (100km) as closely as possible. Obviously navigational errors would add or subtract from the actual distance covered. The skills test was scored like a trial, one penalty point for a foot down, two for the next and three for the third or more “dabs”. Five penalty points being awarded for those who stopped, fell off, failed to finish or didn’t attempt the test at all. Each point was added as a kilometre to the rider’s total.

This saw a marked change in competitors as many had seen it as “just a ride” but now the red mist of competition descended, or rather as there was no speed element to the event, more of a pale pink mist.

After a very wet night with thunderstorms that kept a lot of people awake (but not me) we awoke to a rather damp Sunday. An early start was the order of the day as riders had over 400km to complete, this time heading across Wales almost to Aberystwyth and using several Forestry areas only open to the event and not rideable by the public. In addition they had five skill tests to complete. The Start went better this time with (most) riders started at their correct time. All trackers were checked on the line and found to be working so we were in business.

Most riders took up to ten hours to complete the course with the morning proving very wet with thunderstorms over most of the route, although by the afternoon conditions dried out and the sun even came out.

We eventually got everyone back in, results were calculated, dinner was served, the bar was open, “war stories” were exchanged and eventually the awards were presented.

All agreed that the event had been a huge success, with many riders saying they’ll be back next year. We also learnt a lot and hope to make the next edition even better and hopefully including some more forests.

Some fantastic images from the event and some from the final recce: 

Photo Dave Turner

 Photos: Sabrina Louise Eifion

Photo Tom Prendegast

Photos: Cliff Osenton

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

A product review? But I don’t do product reviews!

BMW Helmets GS Carbon, Dual Sport Helmet

Well no I normally don’t do product reviews on my blog but decided this was a bit different, as I didn’t have to lay out any hard earned cash for this particular product…

It started with an email from BMW Financial Services asking me for a telephone number. Thinking naturally it was some sort of scam or a sales pitch, I ignored it as you might expect. A short while later I received a follow up email telling me they needed my number because I’d won a crash helmet for completing a survey.

Well for a start I didn’t remember the survey but thought it might just be real. So I googled the sender and sure enough established he worked at BMW, so I responded.

And yes it was true! Ben from BMW informed me I had won a BMW System 7 Carbon helmet after my name had been pulled out of the hat from participants in a survey I had completed last year (I still didn’t remember the survey but who cares).

But hang on a second… so why isn’t this a review of the System 7 Carbon?

Because the first thing I did was hot foot it down to my local BMW dealer to try one on as Ben had said I could pick another helmet if I didn’t like it or it didn’t fit…. and yes you guessed, it didn’t fit, I seemed to fall between two sizes. 

But also I have a fairly new Schuberth E1 helmet which is a very similar flip front style and to be honest didn’t need another, very similar helmet. But having recently retired my Shoei DS Hornet (DS standing for Dual Sport) I did want one of those, so tried on the GS Carbon instead and it fitted perfectly! 

So one was ordered and I was presented with it at the London Bike Show.

So what’s it like? First impressions when you take it out of the box are how light it is, at 1400 grams it doesn’t sound much lighter than my Schuberth at 1800 grams but it is in reality. The next thing you notice is the very luxurious paint finish and very plush lining but I guess you’d expect that from a helmet normally costing £475, all good so far. The shape also shows it is designed to work with a neck brace so appears to have genuine off road credentials.

When you put it on, that feeling of luxury is confirmed although I did find when trying the helmet on, that the 56/57cm (the size I always wear in crash helmets) was too small and had to go up a size to 58/59cm. I had been advised by the salesman that they came up small and this was obviously true.

The visor mechanism is nice and positive, shutting with a reassuringly solid “clunk” and does an excellent job of keeping both wind and rain. The double D ring strap is nice and long. Out of the box the helmet is fitted with a substantial wind guard under the chin piece which has to be struggled past to put it on but it is worth it. A thinner wind guard is also included, presumably for warmer weather. The front plastic guard opens slightly for ventilation or can be removed altogether for maximum venting i.e. if used off road.

On the road the first impression is how quiet it is especially for this style of helmet, I deliberately didn’t use ear plugs on the first ride to assess this and it was very good. With earplugs in you get a really nice calmness with no excessive wind noise. Indeed the aerodynamics are good, with virtually no buffeting caused by the peak and the peak itself is reassuringly solid, staying very still even at speed.

The ventilation is good, using the helmet for the first time on a cold day, I could feel a gentle breeze around my forehead and temples but it never felt cold. There is a vent on top of the helmet that can be closed but I found that leaving it open was fine. The wind guard makes it very cosy (and no doubt assists the low noise level).  Despite this these was no misting, the visor is fitted with a pinlock insert that is almost as large as the visor itself. On previous helmets, I’ve found myself looking over the top of the insert but no such problems with the GS Carbon. 

Another nice feature re the two large tags on either side of the visor for opening, these are really easy to use even in thick gloves and having two is an advantage. Often visors only have one on the left, fine when you’re riding and need to keep your right hand on the throttle but not so good if you’re stopped in gear holding the clutch in with your left hand. On this helmet you can easily use either hand with no problems.

Your field of vision is absolutely huge; in fact I can’t really see the edges of the aperture even looking as far as you can to the side. The visor itself is optically clear and gives a perfect view despite a pronounced curve to it. Another advantage is that wearing the helmet in heavy rain, none leaks down the back of the visor, a particular bugbear with my Schuberth.

So what’s not so good? Very little to be honest, the D-Rings on the strap seem a little small and are actually rectangular rather than D shaped so threading the strap through is a bit fiddly but to be honest that’s it. I’ve used the helmet for a couple of months now and it’s quickly become one of the favourite helmets I’ve ever owned… can’t say better than that!

I was given the choice of what colour scheme I wanted and this took a bit of thinking about. When I tried it on in the shop, I quickly rejected the plain colours as the "Light White" just made the shell look overly large and I don't do black helmets (also available in Matt Black).

The “GS Trophy” was nice but had “BMW” in large letters across the helmet… 

After all I don't own a BMW but two KTMs! The "One World" scheme was OK but I wasn’t convinced and "Xplore" was just boring grey so in the end I went for the “Comp” a white base with red and blue graphics (i.e. BMWs Motorsport colours) it features the GS logo but I decided this was subtle enough, also the red fades into a bright orange, just perfect for a KTM owner!

So all in all, a fantastic helmet and even better as it was free!

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.....