Sunday, 20 March 2016

Inch Perfect Trials: A Solo training session...

For my birthday, Lucy bought me a half day 1:1 training session with the boys at Inch Perfect Trials near Clitheroe, so with voucher in hand and my little Sherco in the van I turned up in the beautiful grounds they use for their business.

The place is in a lovely little hidden valley just at the end of the Trough of Bowland, it's really picturesque and one of those little forgotten corners of the UK...

Once I'd parked up and signed the paperwork I got changed and pulled out the Sherco to get it warmed up only to find the clutch had seeped all the fluid away again. I tried to re bleed it but it was coming out of the seals in the master cylinder. This would mean a strip down and would take time, time that was wasted from a training point of view as I'd booked the morning 3 hours. So at a suggestion from Arran, my trainer for the morning I hired one of their Beta 250's for £40.00

I couldn't start it at first with the left hand kick start and to be honest although I got better at it over the morning I always found it pretty weird and something I had to think about doing before I could get it right. It wasn't the bike at all, it was all me and my right side bias!

Still I actually found I liked the beta, it was a great little 2010 bike that had done 100's of hours yet was still perfectly sound and far more capable than I was!

Anywany... back to the training... Arran was a pretty handy lad on a bike, he's competed in about 7 Scottish Six Days Trials and usually comes pretty high in the rankings each year. He was also a good teacher, patient, intuitive, calm and seemed to be able to chop and change things to both challenge yet still achieve goals for me. A great set of skills! He's also from West Cumbria!

We started with some basics, figure of eights on flat ground, with lots of chat about the weighting of the pegs and using the outside arm to weight the handlebar. I have a habit of slipping the clutch a lot which for trials makes the bikes jerky and a little off balance, yet on an enduro it helps a lot, so I had to unlearn this for the trials bike and then learn the smooth throttle and easing around the ever tightening turns using just weight and a smooth throttle, mmm more practise needed for this...

We moved from the flat area to a small bit of woodland, mainly to put this into practise. Arran would make a small section with the bits we were working on, then ride it a couple of times, talking me through things as he rode. I then jumped on my bike and had a go...

At first I found the turns pretty difficult, I really struggled with when to switch the weight around, and of course my co-ordination wasn't there yet, so although at each section, I got better, by the last bit I would drop off massively and ride wide or fluff it up and have to dab my foot.

The second section was a dry river bed, I'm a nightmare at these, but by the third time I had it sorted and completed the next 3 ascents cleanly, even the rock steps...

Mistakes were;
1. Slipping the clutch
2. Head looking down and not up and where I was going
3. Slowly dropping to the handlebars which reduced my ability to steer and balance
4. Too little power too late
5. Big handfuls of throttle at the wrong time

Once I'd understood this I felt I could do this all day... happy days already!

After this we did a section with a descent, a couple of tight turns and a short hard climb over some tree roots with a final two tight turns to end the section. I could do it all except the tight turn into the climb, after falling off about 5 times we called it a rest there and moved back down to the river for two sections down there.

The river had recently recovered from all the flooding, but was now wider with some fallen trees, ace for a trials bike. Arran marked out a section with a tight turn on a steep descent, the a rocky bit of river to a tree in the beck, then out up a short steep climb. I fluffed it completely on the first go, then cleaned it every time there after... Happy days...

The final section for the day involved, some tight turns around some trees, a pop over a log, a ride up the wet river bed, a short steep exit into a really tight left turn and back around to the right before another tight turn  to exit left. I cleaned every time, with one exception, I slid out on the log as I hadn't lifted the front wheel enough.

By this time 3 hours had flew by, so we headed back to the shop, me for a great lunch of Shepherds Pie and Arran for a sandwich and his next group, 2 guys and a lady from near Manchester.

I thoroughly enjoyed the morning, the drive there was lovely and I really feel I've benefited from the training. I learned lots of new little tips and developed some skills too plus I got to ride a totally different kind of bike.

I love my little Sherco but I am now tempted to sell it and get a Beta for a little while!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Vans for transporting bikes - My Experiences so far...

I thought I'd do a bit of a post about my experiences of using vans to transport bikes around...

I've both used and seen a fair few methods now and some are excellent, others are really hard work and frustrating...

My current van falls into that later category for me hence the reason for this post.

I've owned vans for years now, two of the old shape vitos, a Nissan Primastar and currently a new shape vito. We've also used bigger vans, Mercedes Sprinters, Ford Transits and the like... All of my vans have been standard body shapes with no high tops etc.

The two old shape Vitos were very good, the load space was square and the anchor points were well positioned, bike sat really well in them, all shapes and sizes of sports bike and trail bikes. They drove really well too and were pretty reliable. In the two vans I did well over 100k and only had very minor poblems with an alternator and a starter motor. Their bodywork was the let down.

Apparently Mercedes tried to save both weight and money in the manufacturing process by using thinner steel on the bodywork and then not treating the metal with their usual high quality protection sprays and paints. This resulted in a short lived van as the bodywork fell apart. A real shame as for me these were a vehilce of choice.

The Nissan Primastar is part of a package of three vans, all made by Renault and then badged up as the Renault Trafic, the Vauxhaul Vivaro and the Nissan. There were small differences in the cab and lights etc to set them at least slightly apart, but if you pulled out the fan motor or an electronic part it would have a Renault lable on it. Parts were shared and bodywork was the same which of course reduced manufacturing costs and thus allowed them to be sold cheaper than other vans on the market.

A good strategy to improve sales but they forgot to make a gearbox that stayed together and as with a lot of the French manufacturering, reliability is an issue with running costs from a repairs point of view considerably higher than the Mercedes and the earlier VW's.

The load space was pretty near perfect for bikes though, good tiedown points, square shaped internals, a good bulkhead and a low rear entry floor so easy to get the bikes in and out of. A benefit of front wheel drive really. There was also a fairly good head clearance height for a standard shaped van.

I liked my van and did about 40k miles in two years in it, if the gearbox and the repair bills weren't going to cost so much to sort I'd probably have kept it longer.

I've gone back to the Vito's based upon my previous ones but it has to be said, the body shape is crap. the low back door, the curved sides all look nice but are a real pain to live with. The internal height of the standard van means you skin your knuckles with a standard KTM bar height and I've lost count of how many times the bikes have fell over in the back now just in the 3 short month's I've owned it as it's really difficult to move them around without them either falling out the back or over..

From a driving point of view this is the best van I've owned, its comfy for long distances and not too noisy, the cab space is open and visibility is good. The mirrors are superb too.

Reliability has been a question though, the brakes aren't that great and despite fitting all new calipers and discs/pads they are just not right, so back to the garage it's going again. The gears are a pain to enguage and the build quality just isn't there really with some rust spots appearing very quickly. I'll not have another one once this goes!

I reckon to be honest that bigger is better. The more space you have in the van the better it is to live with. Fuel costs are higher and they can be a pain to park, but being able to move the bikes around without damaging your back, having space to put them into corners etc and then hang all your kit up and carry spares and fuel just goes beyond a cost consideration.

I've driven several Ford Transits over the years and found they have great space and a square shapre, but they are noisy on a long drive which I find really tiring and they also seem to need a lot of TLC. Used ones are often well battered and abused too. Not a favourite for me but I haven't tried the new shape Custom as yet.

Nigel, one of the lads I ride with, has a Peugoet Boxer van, the long wheel base high top. He bought it new for work and this has loads of space and as it's new it's been reliable so far, but Nigel says that nowadays if you can afford it buy new and get rid of them in three years as all vehicle manufacturers seem to be purseuing the modern ethos of short lived.

I have two friends who have the Mercedes Sprinter and these are my van of choice for the next one I think. Again the build quality on the older models was the same as the Vitos, ie crap, but they do astronimical miles with regular services. Dearer to buy but longer lived.

So like always with vehicles, you pays your money and makes your choice...  they all have their faults, it's more about whether you can personally live with the ones on your van and whether your finances can affords to buy newer/different.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

High Passes & Moors Day Out

Lucy & I planned a day out into South Lakes and the Dales today, so after a bit of chat with some friends we ended up as a group of nine, a little bigger than originally planned but it turned out to be a really good mix of riders. It also looked a bit like a KTM advert as we passed through the counties with everything from 6 days variations to my old 400!.

A late start had us meeting up near Kendal for 10 ish, then once Geoff had arrived, (after many stops for breakfast and ablutions), we got on the road...

The first few lanes seemed to be gates galore land as we traversed to Breast High Pass, which we actually all rode fairly cleanly, the main reason for stopping was meeting a bunch of lads who had rolled one of their 4x4's on the hairpins... they were busily getting it back upright when we arrived and we saw it at the end of the day on the A6 looking a bit battered but OK.

The descent was its usual hard blocky bouncy session. Lucy struggles with all things downhill and took this very slowly but again all reached the bottom in one piece. The next lane had a little ford in it that has loads of lichen on the stones and so was slippy as hell.. two of us went over, me included and I then launched the bike into the rocks as my hand slipped off the clutch whilst getting it back on two wheels... After this the lane itself was easy!!

Several lanes later took us near to Kirkby Stephen and a couple of river crossings, all through safely for the first one but then a few bikes in the drink for the next one. One drowned two stroke, two injected bikes swimming but the rest were fine...

Lunch took us into Kirkby Stephen where we met up with Mr Garcia and his group of riders doing the reverse loop to us... no thrills and spills for them though apparently!

We finished the day off with a few good lanes down into the top of the Dales and a blast back to Kendal on tarmac from Sedbergh... Included in this was a quick puncture repair for Andy as he hit a drainage gully a bit hard and put a slit about 3 cm long in his inner tube! Nice...

The plans are being hatched for another day out soon but for now I need to sooth some aching muscles and and both clean and service both mine and Lucy's bikes as they've now had a hard couple of weeks of laning with little care and attention!

Another good day out on the trails, some great people and some really nice chats with some walkers and a lady on her horse. The sun was shining too and it was warm out today, which was an unexpected bonus to put the icing on the cake!

Thanks to all who came along, a great day some good banter and some very good riding...

Saturday, 12 March 2016

TRF Northern Groups Lane Repairs: Tynehead - A bridge in need!

One of the lanes in Cumbria needed quite a good repair job after Storm Desmond swept through awhile ago, so once this had been pointed out by one of the Northumbria TRF lads, it was decided that Cumbria TRF would try to organise the repairs.

The storm had washed loads of debris downstream and blocked up the bridge at Darn Gill. This then changed the course of the flow and sent the water over the top of the bridge instead of it's usual under, destroying both the bridge surface, the supporting arch as well as the surrounding banks.

Semi blocked beck after some clearance
The steps to complete this were quite a few:

1. Assess the damage and the amount of repairs needed
2. Assess whether volunteers could do the repairs or whether they needed more skilled knowledge/heavy machinery
3. Make a remedial repair to allevieviate more damage occuring
4. Either get permission from the landowner or the Highways Authority. The landowner was easier so we then had to find out who that was.
5. Wait for the snow and ice conditions to warm up
6. Get a team together and set a date for the repairs
7. Get it done!

After a few conversations and a discussion at the Cumbria TRF group meeting it was decided that Danny Tayllor from Haggs Bank would try to establish who the owner was and make contact with them to find out if they would be happy for us to traverse their land and do the repairs. This took a little time but was successful.

Geoff Wilson, Steve Pighills and Robert Wilson went up on a mid week day and shifted several tonnes of rock to create an opening back under the bridge and to do a better assessment of the repair works. Geoff has lots of knowledge from ten years of upland path management, so he led on the whole thing.

The day dawned with teams from all corners of the northern TRF groups coming to help, the main team consisted of:

1. Geoff Wilson
2. Mike atkinson
3. Steve Stout

1. Greg Villalobos
2. Danny Taylor

1. Scott Heyden
2. Scott's dad
3. Dave Lawson

With another six lads turning up from Ribble Valley and three more from Northumbria, all of whom had come on their bikes with a plan to help out...

Ribble Valley boys at work

Northumbria heavy squad arrived

A much better flow now

Between the whole group, the bridge was resupported at its incoming edge, the upstream bed was levelled out and the flow changed almost to it's original line, the stream bed was widened and new sets were laid across the surface of the bridge to protect the whole thing from traffic for the future. An awful lot of stone was shifted, some downstream, some off to the side to create walls for the flow to bounce off...

On the whole this was both a productive and a humbling day, a day where faith in the human race is restored as we all worked together to achieve a hard task and although we will all benefit from it, a lot more people will continue to enjoy this lane because of the efforts of the people involved.

Inspection time

Greg at play

Laying sets

I've personally now met another group of folk who are both passionate about their sport and happy to get involved to give a little back...

Thanks you very much to everyone who came, with especial thanks to Geoff Wilson for his generous donation of knowledge to us all and to Danny Taylor for his efforts in talking to the farmer and his family.

A superb day out, now it's time for a beer!!

Trail Riders Fellowship

Monday, 7 March 2016

Sea to Mountain on Tarmac Roads For a Change...

Lucy & I have been planning some tarmac road adventures for the next year, so we went shopping for some road bikes. After a lot of looking we actually found two bikes that fitted our needs in Penrith at Barry Uttings shop Penrith Motorcycles.

I've bought maybe 3 bikes from Barry now and one thing is certain when you buy a bike from him, it will be right, no hassles, no fuss and if he knows anything about it he will tell you. Fair and honest which is a very valuable thing in any business these days... 

So the bikes we've bought are;

A Triumph Tiger 955i for me & a BMW F650 GS for Lucy.

I've liked the Tigers for years and the sound of that triple engine is just fab... Most of my mates tell me they are ugly, but I guess its like anything, if you like it bugger the rest of em! 

I've now put 300 miles on it since Friday morning and have just started to get the lean, the braking and the acceleration. Still plenty of time to learn the rest! 

I've also taken a couple of hours to add auxiliary lights as the main use for this bike will be  motorway riding and the more lights the better with the standard of driving generally in the UK! 

Lucy's beemer has been lowered and so she gets her feet flat on the ground which inspires confidence, she also likes the riding position as its close to a dirt bike style.
At first she was pretty nervous as we traversed a busy A road in wet conditions, but now she has settled down a bit and is starting to relax on the bike and lean it over a bit. This bike is all about building her skills and confidence on the busy highways of the UK and its perfect for that.

Now its a matter of time on the bikes, preferably in all weathers too... 

We have plans to go to Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man plus all the usual jollies around the north of England where the roads are generally pretty good.

Our ride today took us anti clockwise from Silloth on the coast, an area of wetland nature reserves, the start of Hadrian's Wall trail and lots of farms... As we crossed through Wigton to Caldbeck, the landscape changed dramatically, big hills with snow capped tops took over and the roads became smaller with less traffic... 

We dropped through the back streets of Keswick and down the ever beautiful Borrowdale valley crossing Honister Pass into Buttermere, where a recent addition to the valley caught our eye... the burger bar at Gatesgarth Farm, top hot chocolate and bacon butties made for a late lunch before returning to the coast for a final blast... 

Stunningly blue skies, dry roads and cold clear air above the snowy tops gave us views up in to Scotland amd across the Lakes, but dinner with the family beckoned so time to go home for some roast lamb and rhubarb pie!!.. mmm

Bring on the next adventure!!