Thursday, November 2, 2017

Trials.

A few months ago I was speaking to my mate Aidan. "I'm going to get a crosser." he stated.
A "crosser," or motocross bike, is a pretty highly tuned, maintenance hungry, two wheeled money pit. A bit more of a discussion revealed Aidan was just after something to do some mild trail riding and use off road. A crosser would be a bit much for this, being better suited to, well, motocross tracks. I suggested a few light trail bikes as well as a trials bike. For those of you who don't know, a trials bike is a light weight, low geared machine that you see skilled riders battering up waterfalls and over other big obstacles. You can get an older bike in OK condition for about the £1000 mark.
A few weeks and a fair bit of research later, Aidan had himself a 2002 Sherco 290. The beauty of trials is you don't need a huge space to ride the bike. So we found a few spots to rip about before I got us permission to ride a wee bit of private land. The downside to Aidan's new purchase was me getting bombarded with "Whenur ye gettin a trials bike? Whenur ye gettin a trials bike? Whenur ye gettin a trials bike? Whenur ye gettin a trials bike? Whenur ye gettin a trials bike? Whenur ye gettin a trials bike? Whenur ye gettin a trials bike? Whenur ye gettin a trials bike?"

Trials
Trials

Riding someone else's bike means you're always holding back a bit. I was a bit reluctant to tackle the challenges we were setting ourselves with the same enthusiasm as Aidan. It's one thing to crash your own bike, but it would be pretty bad to fuck someone's new toy up, even if they did say it didn't matter. 
The badgering to get a trials bike grew as did the obstacles. I was up at Tim's campsite in Strontian where we got speaking about trials riding. Tim had a 1998 Beta Techno 250 which he hadn't ridden for well over a year. Some haggling was done, a price was agreed on and we had ourselves a trials bike. When I say "we" I mean Faithir and I. I had convinced my dad that trials riding would be great fun, agreeing to buy the bike off him when he wanted rid off it, which would hopefully coincide with the finished restoration and sale of my KDX200. We were setting off on the Norway/Russia trip (coming soon) so I arranged to head back up to Tim's with the van to collect the Beta when we were home.
Trials

Fast forwards a couple of months. Faithir's thinking about selling the trials bike to fund another project. I've got a Yamaha FZR250 that needs restored. Another quick conversation and I'd swapped my Japanese classic for the Beta.  Time to start climbing that steep learning curve.
Trials riding can be a ying and yang of frustration and reward. When you get it right it's amazing, but the slightest hesitation, unconfident approach or physical fatigue and you'll find yourself on your arse. Aidan had been getting plenty practice and had been to a few trials events so I'm definitely on a catch up. I'm still getting the basics together, but its starting to come together. My main problem seems to be not attacking something fast enough, but as I said, its getting there.

Trials
Trials
Trials

The bike's needing a few tweeks here and there too. I found that the clutch master cylinder seal was gubbed recently. I'd driven up into the hills with the bike in the van so I figured I may as well head out for a bit. All was going well until I made an arse of a wee step. My fingers stopped the clutch disengaging because the fluid was low. I flapped about for a few meters before binning the bike. I landed on top of the Beta. While I was assessing my injuries (none) I found I was lying on the hot exhaust. "OOOYAA BASTARD!!!" (burnt leg) 

Trials
Trials
Trials
Trials

As I said, it's a steep learning curve.

Mike

Trials

Monday, October 23, 2017

Winton Massif - Mair weekends....

Another weekend and another bike trip. This time we used the excellent Sunart Campsite as a base. It's a regular stop for us. Owners Tim and Lynne are into bikes and have some great cabins for hire. I was joined by Faither, Smille, Ferg, Sunter and new Massif folk Moose and Auld Mike (I'm sure he'll love that handle.)

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Ferg and Sunter came down from Caithness in Sunter's van with their two Honda Cubs in the back. It's a good thing that they brought the van too. The back end of Ferg's cub was pretty rusty and fell off after some over enthusiastic riding on a bumpy road. We had a great couple of days battering about the place including a great spin up through Glen Lyon. If you get to the dam you can take the rough road back over to Killin, just remember to close the gates behind you.

Massif october trip
Ferg "on it" shortly before his back end fell off.

Massif october trip
Mikey Sunter having fun.

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

DSC_8009

Massif october trip

Massif october trip

Massif october trip
Tim's in the Massif too.


On the Saturday evening Tim put a barbecue on for us and we all had a great night talking bikes over several beers. It's what weekends are for. 

Braw.

Massif october trip

Mike


Fancy joining Mike on a Scottish bike trip? Give him a shout at www.PassingPlacesTours.com.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Winton Massif - Weekends.

Most of the time I'm pretty happy to share the locations I ride my bike with everyone, like I've said before, but this isn't going to be one of these times. So if you recognise any of the locations in the pictures, please keep them under your lid.
You might be wondering why I'm unwilling to broadcast the locations, especially if you live outside Scotland or the "UK". Unfortunately, through a mix of abuse and intolerance, off road riding, especially in Scotland is thought of as a no go. It can still be done though, if you know who to ask......

Young families and other commitments meant a longer autumn Winton Massif trip wasn't on the cards, we did however plan two weekend trips. The first was a three night affair starting at the secret bothy (mind, if you know where it is, keep it a secret.) Aidan and I met Drew and Mark who walked in, led by Finn the spaniel. We always make sure we bring plenty fuel for the fire and Drew and Mark had done the same. A night in front of a bothy fire is something everyone should experience once in their lives, they're remote nature also let you experience proper quiet. All we could hear outside were the stags and the river. It wasn't a particularly cold evening and the bothy's fire had led us to pen the door for a bit to let the place cool down. We were pretty surprised to have our card game interrupted by two women who walked in about 10.30pm. No matter how many people are in a bothy, there's always room for more and the door is never locked. The ladies were welcomed in and offered beers. They were doing some walking in the area, staying in the bothy for a couple of nights, luckily the bothy has a couple of rooms so they didn't have to suffer us lot farting and snoring all night.

September massif trip
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We awoke to a stunning day. We all said our goodbyes to the walkers who headed to the hills while we split our separate ways. Aidan and I made our way to the A82 and took the roar up the east side of Loch Ness. This is a much quieter route that the tour bus and caravan clogged artery on the other side, it's got some great views too. We'd originally planned to head over to the Isle of Raasay, we'd tried a couple of years ago on the Spit The Dummy tour but it absolutely pissed it down, so we binned the wild camping in favour of a site with a shelter. This time it was, well, time that had us a bit fucked. Aidan was riding home the next day and the long run from Raasay wasn't favouring as well as the shorter cruise from Cannich, our mates Ben and Euan were also at Cannich. So once again wild camping on Rassay was binned, but this time for the better reason of good company rather than shite weather.

September massif trip

September massif trip

In the bothy Aidan had cooked us a dinner of Carbonara (with cream and no eggs, the heathen) and tonight it was my turn. While Euan and Ben were in the pub having a home made meal. I was slaving over my stove preparing our food. Boil in the bag pasta and meatballs tanned, we headed to the pub and discussed the following days plans. Euan and I had planned to camp at Glencoe, but Ben had been worriedly checking the weather forecast and it wasn't looking good. When it's rains in Glencoe, it really rains....... 
We'll check it again tomorrow.
Over breakfast we discussed our options. Aidan was definitely going home, as was Ben. Euan said he was going home but could maybe be persuaded to have another night somewhere and I was going somewhere. Aidan packed up and headed off while the rest of us dragged our heels and Euan chucked his bike on the ground. After we quickly checked Euan's bike (no damage at all, it was on soft grass) we headed back to Loch Ness and south on the A82. I found the busy road surprisingly quiet and enjoyed my run south. It's a great road, just very busy. It's a special feeling when you get a few miles to yourself, even with the slightly damp conditions we had on our ride. Damp was as bad as it got. At the Commando Memorial Euan pulled over. He wasn't heading home. Two of us were now heading to Glencoe. We both looked at Ben.
"?"
"We'll need to stop at the shop for some beer and stuff"
Sorted.

September massif trip

I've not been to the Red Squirrel for years. The popular campsite is situated between Glencoe village and the Clachaig Inn. To be honest, there's much better campsites around than the Red Squirrel. The ground is rocky and there's roots everywhere. The ground is muddy and often swampy in some places and it's pretty expensive for a campsite, but there's something people love about the place, me included. Deer roam about the site, you can have a campfire and you get drinking water out of taps in trees. If you're planning a visit to the Red Squirrel I'd recommend going mid week or on a Sunday like we did. Much less chance of it being full of the Buckfast and Football Top brigade, 
Being a September Sunday the campsite was pretty quiet but as we scavenged around the other fire pits for wood it was pretty obvious it had been busy the night before. We found quite a bit of firewood to go with the logs we bought from the shop, and Ben gathered more semi wet wood lying about the place. Eventually the downpour that was forecast arrived, but luckily Ben had brought his tarp so a shelter was quickly thrown up, the wettish wood giving us a smokey shield against the midges.

September massif trip
red squirrel Glencoe

After a while we wandered along to the Clachaig for some food. You're always guaranteed a good night out in the Clachaig, meeting people from all walks of life and sampling some of the huge selection of beers, whisky and gin. The food's pretty good too.
The following morning's fry up us saw us fully fueled for the ride home. No matter how busy it is, the road through Glencoe is a joy to ride. The scenery is spectacular in all weather, even when the tops of the hills are hidden in cloud like they were. Further south though it's no so good so we cut off the A82 at Killin and I led the guys along the side of Loch Tay then over some of the wee, single track roads I know in the area.

September massif trip

A couple of weeks later I was away again! But I'll tell you about that later. 
These short weekend trips are great.......

IMG_20170923_172557_187

Mike



Like what you see? If you want to join Mike on a tour of Scotland give him a shout at www.PassingPlacesTours.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Adventure Bike Rider.


Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.


In July, Faithir and I set off on a bike trip that was a bit longer than our usual trips. I'd tell you all about it, but Adventure Bike Rider have it in their current magazine (September/October 2017 issue)
Needless to say I'm pretty happy about being paid for my words and photographs.
If you'd like a copy you can buy it online here https://www.adventurebikerider.com or maybe find it in your local newsagents.
The plan was to ride to Nordkapp via the Lofoten then on to Russia, but I wont spoil the story for you.....

Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.
Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.
Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.
Adventure Bike Rider magazine Norway article.

Mike

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Black Widow Exhausts de-cat downpipe for the Africa Twin - Review

Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes

If you are like me, an Africa Twin owner, you probably think it’s a great looking bike, but I’m sure everyone will agree the stock exhaust looks horrendous. Not only that, the big black plastic cover for the catalytic converter’s heat shield catches my foot all the time. In their genius, Honda decided to make the cat part of the downpipes rather than part of the silencer. I’m pretty happy with the Africa Twin’s performance so I didn’t see the point in forking out loads of cash on a fancy “race system” to solve my ergonomic/aesthetic problem. I was pretty close to cutting the cat out myself and getting a de-cat pipe made up for the bike, when I came across the new de-cat downpipes from Black Widow Exhausts. At £330 they are easily the cheapest aftermarket downpipes available for the Africa Twin. Made from 1.5mm thick 304 grade stainless steel, they follow the shape of the factory downpipes so there were no issues with the lambda sensor fouling my aftermarket crash bars. The Black Widow downpipes should work with all aftermarket sump/engine guards too. This is great as I’ve read online that a few people have had compatibility problems with other more expensive systems and aftermarket accessories.


Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes


Fitting the Black Widow Downpipes is pretty straight forwards. They come supplied with exhaust assembly paste and are held together by springs. These can be a bit of a fiddle to get on but a spring hook will make the job much easier. Make sure you clean off any excess paste once the system is assembled. I’m still running the standard silencer but the Black Widow downpipes have vastly improved the aesthetics of the bike. Gone is the horrible plastic lump.


Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes


With the standard silencer the Black Widow downpipes are only slightly louder than the stock system but with a deeper, satisfying note. The Black Widow downpipes are compatible with any silencer that fits the standard system so there’s plenty choice if you fancy a change. I was slightly concerned about the lack of heat shields. I melted a hole in an expensive pair of Alpinestars boots on a Harley several years ago, and I’ve been wary ever since. Luckily the way the Black Widow system fits the bike keeps hot pipes well away from both rider and pillion’s footwear. I have run the system for about 800 miles now and there have been zero hot pipe to boot interactions.


Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes

Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes


I’m really happy with the Black Widow downpipes. After being on the bike through lots of rain, mud and even a small river the finish is still perfect. No longer is my foot catching the plastic cover which has made the bike that bit more comfortable. Black Widow don’t claim any increase of power, but as I said, I wasn’t looking for any big gains so I’ve not went down the dyno/power commander route. I’m only running a Booster Plug on my bike to enrich the fuel/air mixture a bit, as removing the cat can cause the engine to run a little lean. If I had to be critical of any part of the downpipes, I found the finish on one of the brackets a little rough, but that really is me nit picking. If you’re after an affordable, well made, great looking set of de-cat downpipes for your Africa Twin then look no further than Black Widow Exhausts. www.blackwidowexhausts.co.uk


To give a bit of an idea on how to fit the system and what it sounds like I made this wee video to go along with my review.




Black Widow Exhaust Downpipes


Mike.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mitas E-07 Tyres - Review

Until recently I've been running Continental Trail Attack 2 tyres on the Africa Twin. They're a great road tyre, inspiring confidence in both the wet and the dry. An incident on the Russia trip (I'll tell ye all about that soon) led to me running a part worn Mitas tyre on the rear given to me by Bjorn. It wasn't too bad, but felt a bit strange with the Conti on the front so on my return to Scotland I got myself a fresh pair of Mitas E-07 tyres.
The E-07's are marketed as a 50/50 tyre; "Excellent riding properties both on the road as well as on less demanding terrain. The perfect tyre for hard packed, dry dusty, rocky and gravel surfaces. The Adventurers choice where distance is more important than off road capability" They're also significantly cheaper that the Conti's. I figured it was worth the punt to see what they're like. I had been planning a few mild dirt roads as well as looking into a future trip to the Alps to ride some of the dirt roads over there. My main worry was that the Mitas E-07 were shite on the tarmac and ditchfinder dangerous in the wet. The internet has mixed reviews with some riders finding the E-07s great and others slating them. As I said, it's a bit of a punt.

IMG_20170807_144510_080

I opted for the standard E-07s. There's also a "Dakar" version available with much stronger, stiffer sidewalls. You can tell the Dakar version by the yellow band that runs around the tyre. 
One thing everyone said was to make sure they were scrubbed in properly. A few hundred miles around the borders saw that done. Even while scrubbing them in I was surprised. The tyres gave plenty feedback without any unpredictable movement. They handling characteristics was totally different my previous more road based tyres, the E-07's really feel like they tip in to a corner, they also howl a bit. Once I was used to it neither of these characteristics bothered me. The E-07's are nice and stable under braking, the rear locking up, or setting off the ABS a bit easier than with the Contis.

IMG_20170817_205839_751

IMG_20170817_205741_359

Next up was to see how the E-07 (and my body) coped on rougher dirt roads. Once more I was surprised, the E-07's didn't lose grip under braking, traction was good, even on looser surfaces, I would even go as far to say that I was in control! There was no sudden tucking of the front that I'd experienced in the past and once I got used to weighting the pegs and getting my body in the right place I even had the back end sliding out a few centimeters. Hey, I'm not Mert Lawill, I was chuffed!

IMG_20170817_210131_581

IMG_20170817_210253_349

Back on to tarmac and I headed down the coast for some chips. The only thing making me tentative about the Mitas E-07's was me. I kept expecting a big, unsettling twitch when crossing over banding or white lines but the E-07's were solid. 

IMG_20170817_210430_255
If you don't have broon chippy sauce on yer chips yer a heathen.


About a week later I led the Africa Twin Scotland group on a trip to Applecross with my tour company, Passing Places Tours. Even on the wet roads we encountered the E-07's gave me confidence, no arse like a rabbit's nose moments at all. 

Passing Places Tours
Passing Places Tours
Passing Places Tours
Tom
Passing Places Tours
Happy customers. Tom had ridden all the way up from Wales for the trip.

Faithir's photo. Bealach na ba

I'd definitely recommend the Mitas E-07's if you're looking for a decent tyre that'll handle some rougher conditions. They're not as good on the road as the Trail Attack 2's, but they're far better than the stock Dunlop rubber the Africa Twin comes with. They should last way longer than Continental's TKC80s too. Mine have done just over 1000 miles, I'll do another write up when they're gubbed to see how they fair as they wear.

IMG_20170817_205954_361


Mike.






Want to come on a trip with Mike? Check out www.passingplacestours.com for more info.