Most of this has been covered already on this blog so I apologise in advance for repeating myself, and I will add links to the other detailed articles with videos within this post for anybody who’s really bored.
Why Off-Road ?
I am very fortunate to live in an area that is criss-crossed with trails that start right outside my house and which you are allowed to use on a motorbike – not the case in much of the UK. I had walked and been running along many of these trails and even done a bit of mountain biking – but I had never ventured off-road on a motorbike (apart from a brief excursion on the massive DR BIG).
If you have followed my bike history so far you will have seen a recurring theme of searching for fun and excitement. In the early days this desire had led me to buy ever faster and powerful bikes but I often ended up disappointed at the opportunities to use the performance (and my ability to manage it!). The previous post ended with the KTM Duke, a bike which I owned longer than any other and was probably best matched to my pursuit of fun in a manageable package. Until May 2018 that is…
It was in early 2018 that my mate Doug announced that he was coming over to France with a van full of bikes (and his mate Mark) to take part in an Austin VINCE motorcycle event in the Pyrenees. I invited him to call in for a couple of days on the way down and he suggested we could explore some of my local trails. I readily agreed but immediately realised I had never ridden off road before… There followed a quick search for a suitable machine to buy to get in some practice before they arrived, so as not to appear a complete idiot and slow them down…
Based on my previous motorcycle purchase record (now with the advantage of the Internet) I should have gone out looking for the biggest and fastest bike I could find. But for some reason I didn’t – instead I searched for one of the slowest bikes that you can buy in order to learn some new skills with low risk. Although as Doug likes to point out he has broken a wrist and a leg in two separate accidents and both at 0 mph !
Scorpa SY 250
I chose to buy a trials bike to learn some low speed balance and machine control that I would be able to use for practise around the garden. The Scorpa is relatively cheap and uses a Yamaha water cooled 2 stroke engine with a good reputation for reliability. Original blog post : Scorpa Trials Bike
Unlike some of my other bike buying decisions, this turned out to be a wise choice as I had no idea what I was doing and had a lot to learn. I started by doing very large and wobbly figure of 8s in the garden, turning on gentle slopes and even jumping over some very small obstacles. I still managed to fall off a few times – even capturing some of the mishaps on video.
Looking back it’s interesting to compare the protective equipment I was using – back in 1978 I was doing laps of Longridge race circuit on my RD250 wearing jeans, denim jacket and trainers. Now I’m doing very slow speed manouvers in my back garden on a trials bike wearing padded enduro trousers with knee protectors, full body armour and hefty motocross boots !
By the time Doug and Mark came to visit I had at least covered the basics and we were able to ride a few local trails – initially on the Scorpa, but then I borrowed one of Doug’s full size bikes which were a lot better suited to going at any speed off road.
This visit marked a significant turning point for me as despite the fact that I live in a place surrounded by wonderful trails (which the other guys were very envious of), I had never done any off road motorbike riding. Although I have had many motorbikes over the years, including some pretty interesting ones, they have all been road bikes. My road bike at the time was a KTM Duke 2 – a 640cc single supermoto. This was my dream bike and I had wanted one for years, but in fact I hardly used it. The problem was that the bike was so capable that I found myself riding fast (too fast) in order to get to a level that I found interesting. This is clearly a dangerous practice on the road and as a result I tended to do very few rides. Trying the off road experience was a revelation because the same level of excitement and feeling close to the limit of what the bike and you are capable of happens at very low speed. I was sold, and so was the KTM shortly after Dougie’s visit. Off roading here we come !
Original blog post : KTM Duke Farewell
The next event that the guys were planning to participate in was a 3 day navigation Enduro in Normandie in November run by a guy called Chris EVANS. I decided to join in even though I didn’t yet have sufficient skill or a suitable bike… I chatted with the organiser and explored the possibility of doing it on the Scorpa – I had acquired a long range tank/seat unit for it – but the limited fuel range and cramped riding position were not really suited to full days of riding. I asked about hiring a bike which was a possibility but would be expensive and then Chris suggested just buying a suitable bike, use it for the event and sell it again afterwards – which sounded like a good plan..
Scorpa T-ride 250F
I searched around for some time and actually went to try out a couple of bikes – a Sherco 250 Enduro (which just felt too big compared to the trials) and a Beta X-Trainer which felt slightly smaller but was reletively new and therefore rather expensive. And then a Scorpa T-Ride came up locally and it felt easy to ride so I bought it. This is a French made bike but again using a Yamaha engine – in this case a detuned 250 four stroke 5 valve enduro engine. Scorpa are better known for their Trials machines and the T-ride is meant to be a cross-over bike in that it is bigger and heavier than a trials while maintaining some of the geometry, but not as large and unwieldy as a full size enduro machine.
Once I started to check the bike over I came across quite a few things that needed sorting out. The steering head bearings couldn’t be adjusted correctly and when I stripped them apart one of the bearings was rusty. There were various electrical issues – a previous owner had done some wiring mods that were hard to fathom out and the bike still had the wiring for the indicators although none were fitted. The bike came with the original trials tyres which were old and some dubious brand so I replaced them with Michelin competition trials tyres – exactly the same as on the Scorpa Trials. I also fitted the Tubliss system to allow me to run low pressures.
I think the T-ride is a great concept and the idea has now been taken up by others – in particular KTM with the Freeride model – in being a slightly smaller, easier to ride and generally more manageable bike compared to a full size enduro. However, the T-ride was only in production for a few years and didn’t have a long development so there were some niggling issues – particularly the wiring. Mind you the same sort of teething problems were also common with the first years of Freeride production.
In all my years of road bike riding I had never had any training – it is a wonder how I survived this long. But for the off road stuff I was determined to learn to walk before attempting to run. And so it was that Doug and I signed up for a session at Tricks in the Sticks in Kent which was a days trials training and extremely beneficial. We also took the opportunity to do some trail riding in the same area with Doug on his BMW 450X and me on his 350 Freeride : Trail Riding in Kent.
I continued to ride both Scorpas over the summer, trying to get up to a reasonable standard ready for the Normandie event in November. I was very aware that we would be riding together as a team and that Doug and Mark were vastly more experienced than me. I did get better and more ambitious which, of course, resulted in the occasional off – one of which ended up with the bike part way down a slope from which I was unable to recover it. Fortunately a couple of walkers came along and were able to help me extract the bike. Short video on that mishap in this post : T-Ride Practise.
And so we get to the Normandie Sport Adventure trip – I thought this would be a a baptism by fire, but I was only half right – there was no fire involved, only mud and lots of it. The organiser Chris took one look at my trials tyres and said “I think you’re going to struggle with that front tyre” – and he was right ! But I didn’t have a spare so just set the pressures as low as I dared and set off. Well actually we didn’t set off because the T-ride wouldn’t start – it had developed a habit of flooding the carburettor and taking ages to clear so we were pushing it up and down the road in front of the hotel trying to get it going. It fired up eventually and generally behaved OK after that but it was a bit of an embarrasing start.
The front tyre was a problem – as soon as we encountered any sticky mud (which was most of the time) the tread would plug up with mud and just slide the front wheel. I had so many slides and close shaves that I gave up counting, but amazingly I didn’t fall off. Admittedly I was going slower than my team mates but they all managed to take a mud bath at one time or another. I like to think that my trials practise had helped my balance, but maybe I was just going slow and the easy handling of the T-ride won the day ? Original post : Sport Adventure Normandie.
At the end of the Normandie trip I really felt I had achieved something having only started riding off road 6 months earlier and had been able to hold my own with more experienced riders on better bikes – well maybe not hold my own, but at least keep them in sight ! To further my skills all I needed now was a better bike…
As mentioned above I had bought the Scorpas to learn on and felt I had served some sort of apprenticeship so it seemed like the right time to sell them and move on. So I spent some time researching the next bike… My idea was to get a newer enduro bike that would serve as a replacement for both Scorpas – which would be quite expensive so I would need to sell them both anyway.
There is a huge choice of enduro bikes on the market and I had a bit of time over the winter to narrow down the selection. And I had the experience of running the Scorpas to draw on. So my short list of characteristics was :
- Mainstream manufacturer – easy parts availability
- Model in production for some time – niggling problems should be ironed out
- No heavier than the T-ride < 105 kg
- As simple as possible – two stroke, no linkage suspension
- Available locally and within budget !
KTM 250 EXC
This was just about the only bike that met the specification I had come up with. It was then just a question of finding one… The Bon Coin is a great source for bikes but France is a big country and they can be some distance away – this one came from an hour and a half away in the Dordogne – a 2016 250 EXC.
Compared to the T-ride the KTM is a full size enduro and as KTM like to tell you it’s “Ready to Race”. So as received it was a bit too much for me to handle and it wasn’t long before I was attempting a hill climb and let the engine hit the powerband and it looped the bike. Following this incident I then detuned the bike as far as possible by switching to the soft ignition map, changing the powervalve spring and winding in the pwervalve adjuster. Even in this state it was still very fast, but slightly more manageable for a novice. Over the last year of riding the bike I have gradually undone these mods to get the bike back to full power mode as I have become more used to it.
I was and still am impressed with this bike – it is a proper enduro race bike that has been developed and refined over the years and has none of the niggling issues the annoyed me about the T-ride. The biggest single issue I have had with it has been the carburettor jetting. It seems that the bikes are set up rich from the factory, which is a safe option and KTM probably know that real racers will be tweaking the carbs anyway. When running wide open there were no issues at all and starting was never a problem. The problem for me was a just off idle, light throttle richness that made the bike “blubber” (for want of a better word) – a bit more throttle or a few more revs and it would clear and start to sing but just in that transition it was terrible. Unfortunately that sememed to be the region where I was wanting the bike to operate while picking my way along trails or practising low speed manoevering. Having tried every jetting option in the book (and some that weren’t) I concluded that the throttle slide cutaway was the only thing left that could fix it. Chatting to my mate Doug and he had been through similar issues with the Freeride 250 2 stroke he used to have – he had tried everything (except the throttle slide) and eventually gave up and sold the bike. Predictably the slides are quite expensive so you can’t afford to have a selection – I just bought one (the next grade up) and decided if that didn’t work I would modify it by hand… Which I did, and after lots of trial and error the bike is now running much better.
Other mods to the bike – modified the radiator guard to get better steering lock, fiitted the Tubliss system and balanced the wheels and that’s about it !
Here are a few posts on riding the KTM :
KTM 250 EXC
Sunday Trail Ride
Sport Adventure Dordogne
Keeping Up With The Boys
Golden Gnome Treasure Hunt
Golden Gnome Challenge
Massif de Morvan
When I bought the KTM I had hoped it would be a “do it all” bike – I sold my two Scorpas in order to buy it in the first place. As I have ridden it more and improved my (limited) skills I have come to realise that the low speed control of the bike is one of the hardest and most important things to master. I have fallen off the KTM several times but almost always at low speed. Once the speed picks up the bike becomes more stable and the amazing suspension does a fantastic job of keeping everything under control. But at very low speed it feels tall, heavy and a bit cumbersome – very glad I went for just about the lightest enduro bike around. To try to improve my low speed skills I have been doing more practice around the garden – and fell off several times in the process. This made me realise that to make more progress I needed another trials bike…
Montesa Cota 4RT
In the search for a new trials bike I wasn’t searching for a specific model, just looking for something local and within budget. I went to look at a few bikes (Gas Gas, Sherco) but they seemed quite low quality – even compared to the Scorpa I used to have. Then I went to look at the Montesa and was amazed at the quality – it’s not a bike that is favoured by the experts as it is a bit heavier (being a four stroke), but for me it was ideal. Unfortunately it was a non-runner…
Original post : Montesa Cota 4RT
As the bike wouldn’t start I managed to do a bit of a deal on the assumption that I would be able to sort it out…
It turned out to be a failed fuel pump (the Montesa is fuel injected). Genuine replacements are outrageously expensive but I managed to source an equivalent specification pump which did the trick. The other significant issue was the clutch plates sticking which seems to be a common problem and makes finding neutral impossible. A new set of plates sorted that one out. My low speed bike control is coming along and I can even practise (carefully) in the garden during our COVID-19 confinement – just need to transfer these skills to the KTM !
That’s All Folks !
Well congratulations if you got this far through my bike history… Thank you for reading.
I currently have the KTM and Montesa and no plans to change them any time soon…. But you never know..
I’ll just finish with this short video which shows why it’s important to always wear the right protective gear – and cover the clutch…