XT660R Heaven

XT660R Heaven
Life on the road is fab...

Monday, 24 March 2014

More training needed me thinks :-)

I received a text from my mate Gaz on Sunday night, 'It's a good forecast for Monday, we out to play?'
Of course the answer was a resounding 'YES' so we met up at 10.30 on a gloriously sunny day & headed out to find some new green lanes in Cumbria.
Our first foray took us to St John's in the Vale, where we took a little jaunt over the two Rigg Fells, dropping us right on the entrance to the Coach Road, this is about 5 miles of lovely rolling lane, with a bit of a rough & loose first bit uphill. The views were beautiful, snow on all the surrounding fells & an open track pretty much to ourselves... we saw a group out practising their mountain skills & a farmer on his quad looking after the sheep, a friendly wave as we passed by from all, the sunshine does wonders for the human temperament!!
From there we headed over to Little Mell Fell & then up towards Greystoke, (Yep the home of Tarzan), before heading north toward Dalton via Mungrisdale & Caldbeck...

We found some fab lanes, with only one brief negative moment that was a conversation with a lone grumpy farmer who was all puffed up for a fight it felt like, to be fair he had a good reason to be grumpy, I'd missed a turn & we ended up on a bit of his land, we were just turning back around to retrace our route & go the right way when he appeared, but even his surly attitude couldn't do damage to such a beautiful day & to so much great riding.

We stopped in Caldbeck for some fuel & a nibble on something for us, the garage here is great, the pumps are from the 70's & the Post Office is a great little place to pick up something to put some energy back into a rider!

As we neared Dalton on some good muddy tracks, Gaz managed to drop his bike as we did a bit of a u-turn in a puddle, his feet only just touch the ground on his old XT600, so any kind of slope& it's touch & go each time, most of the time his great riding skills save the day, but today gravity won & the bike was laid down on its side, cracking the left hand plastic hand guard. First blood to the green lanes!!

We picked up a lovely long lane that went for a couple of miles & came out near Dalston, near the end of it, there was plenty of good deep puddles, some of which got into the electrics on Gaz's XT, these old bikes have a much simpler electric system which can be a benefit sometimes, but in this case, water got into the connections somewhere & caused a short, which stopped the bike dead, so a quick strip down & drying session saw her start up again & off we went, but as the bike was now running pretty lumpy, losing revs every now & then we called it a day & headed back home.

Gaz later found a split in the Carb/Head rubber so we think this might be the problem, spanner time!

Great day out again & for me loads more practise for the TAT trail!! Happy days...

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Training days in Cumbria

All packed up...
Geoff arrived Monday evening, we at once headed out to the village pub for a catch up & a gossip... after a couple of nice beers, the plan for the days ahead was hatched, with some grand plans to do some of the more famous fell passes in the Lakes, as well as a few of the green lanes around West Cumbria, dropping to the south for a play around the Kendal/Stavely area... lots of lanes, lots of miles, the perfect way to test the bikes, the kit & of course us!!

Day 1. Tuesday morning arrived, bacon & eggs for breakfast of course! ;-), then load up the bikes with the bags & head out... as forecast it was peeing down, it had rained most of the night & the day promised high winds, more rain & grey skies, it is the Lakes after all!!
Undeterred we set off out of the village romping through puddles & mud within 10 minutes of leaving the house... We headed over towards the Caldbeck fells, then closer to Penrith before heading down to Keswick & the new bikers cafe there, lovely place & pretty friendly too, plus you can park your bike right outside the window.. even better!! A big cup of coffee & some great carrot cake set me up for the afternoon adventure...
Geoff meets the Chicken!

We headed to Lorton to do the couple of easy fell lanes that head over towards the west coast, wondering all the time if there were any decent biking allowed in the forests at Whinlatter, there seems to be loads of walking, mountain biking etc so what about motorbikes? have to check that one out, that would be fab...
We did the first of the Lorton lanes, then on the descent I managed to drop heavily into a rut which was full of rocks, one of these compressed the tyre loads & I had a puncture... this is where the fun began!
We found out Geoff had bought a nasty set of allen keys from Ebay, they snapped at the first turn, leaving the end of the allen key wedged in the nut head... bugger... duct tape saved the day, we managed to 'stick it' out of the head.. phew.. then we realised we hadn't another allen key to loosen the nut off...bugger again... so we decided to get out the little compressor that Geoff had in his bag, blow the tyre up & head to Pica where my memory tells me there was a bike shop...
We set off & ended up in Whitehaven, mainly through my crap nav on little back roads... stopping at Central Motor Cycles... great place... I hadn't been here for years, but the guy there was sooo helpful, we had a right good crack & as he was too busy to change the tube for me, he lent us the tools to get the job done plus a jack to stand the bike on, FAB!! this is when we realised that we only had one tyre lever between us... mmm more borrowing of gear needed... anyhow we sorted out the replacement tube & by this time was hungry so dropped into a supermarket for some food, Tesco's was right opposite Central bikes so sandwiches & juice followed.
Once sorted we set off for Eskdale with a plan to camp somewhere down there as the day was now wearing on, instead we ended up at the National Trust campsite in Langdale having found the start of our green lane for tomorrow, ridden both Hardknott Pass & Wrynose Pass... it was wet, windy but great fun!

Once we'd pitched camp we headed to the Old Dungeon Ghyll for a beer, it turned out we needed to eat here to as I'd forgotten to fill up the fuel bottle for the stove... on purpose or forgetfulness.. I'll let you decide!
So a couple of beers later, some Cumberland sausage & chips & plenty of chat with various people saw us fed & content & heading back to the tents.
Day 2 - We headed back up & past Blea Tarn, then took the trail to Tilberthwaite Quarry, however we branched off & headed round into Hodge Close instead, mainly because this trail looks a little less technical... big bikes, luggage... not good for full on trail riding.... once through Hodge, we headed out onto an ace little lane that took us over towards Hawkshead. From here we followed a short trail called Scar House Lane & eventually headed down to the ferry across Windemere.

Looking the business at Hodge Close

Hodge Close Lake
Ferry chat...

We had a brew at the cafe in the marina just next to the ferry, then headed out up over Green Lane, which was lovely lane, plenty of ups & downs & one short hard rock step... Once back on tarmac we headed south, picking up a small lane, where Geoff had an off into a ditch, I wasn't there to see it, when he caught me up the sweat was pouring form him, bloody hard hauling these bikes out of a ditch, especially on your tod! We left this area by heading down towards Crosthwaite & the byway that heads around the northern part of Whitbarrow where the surface changes to a limestone & mud lane, slippy & good fun as the back end steps out fairly regularly....

Food time now so we headed to Kendal for a brew & a butty, before heading back north to pick up a couple of lanes just off the A6.. the first was a tiny lane, just wide enough for a bike, the second was rough, a farm track which climbed back towards the A6 after traversing a lane with soooo many gates on it.I had an off on a rutted bit of field track here, front wheel hit the edge of the rut, then slid from under the bike, I rolled off the side & down the grassy bank in a full on head first first session... when I got back to my feet Geoff was wetting himself laughing so hard...

We had plans to do the BreastThigh Lane that goes up & over Borrowdale Fell, but missed the entrance to it, so decided to carry on to Pooley Bridge & pick up the Little Mell Fell lane which had great views... after this we headed back up through Mungrisdale & Hesket Newmarket heading back to my place & a well earned cuppa!

Heading downhill to Kendal

The perfect bit of signage!

All in all the 2 days had gone well, we'd tested everything & were generally happy with how it all worked, the bikes were great... the only problems were I lost a fairing screw, it must have rattled out somewhere but it meant I had to keep my left knee on the fairing panel so it didn't blow off as we razzed down the roads & Geoff's bike had a wobbly wheel bearing, which he thought was only a matter of time anyway as the bike had been handling funny since he got it!

I'd managed to visit a whole load of places I'd never been too in the Lakes, even after living here for nearly 20 years & we'd both learned a fair bit about riding some rough trails.. great stuff! And we still have the big passes to do because we bailed as the weather was a bit too bad for us novice trail riders!! :-)

Happy days on 2 wheels!!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

A Few Green Lanes

So here's a few bits from the last couple of weeks biking around the UK... plenty of water out there still!!
Thanks to Gaz for some of these pics...




This was the rest stop after the bog of ruts we'd just done!



Mud fest!!

Oi... that's my fuel!!
So there is more to come as Geoff & I have planned a test run of the kit this coming week, that's what we're telling everyone anyhoo... the plan is to do as many green lanes as possible in Cumbria, camp out & generally have a giggle.. there should be a bit of Go Pro footage if it all goes to plan!!

Have fun...

Friday, 14 March 2014

Clothing & Equipment

OK so here are some of the bits of gear we're taking on the trip...

Starting at the head & working down...

Helmets - We both bought the Wulfsport Prima 2 lids. They fit pretty well, have a full face visor & an internal sun visor which after using goggles in the cold weather over here we decided against very quickly, plus they are better for the road bits of the trip. These lids were £50 & £9 postage off good ole Ebay, we put them straight on & just rode... easy as that!

We add to them a set of blue tooth intercoms that were recommended by my brother in law, Mark.
They're pretty good for the short distance chat about directions, pee stops etc. Their downside is you can't turn off the humming sound Geoff makes as he rides along or my mad giggle every now & then, they work on line of sight, so if you go round a corner or there is a big truck in the way, the signal can be blocked. We found they worked upto 50mph, then the wind noise in these helmets became too much for them. That said the earpieces need to be better sited inside the lids as currently they crush your ears a bit. But for the price they are pretty good & should do us well for the trip. We can recharge them via the USB charger on the bikes so very little in the way of wires & no batteries to change. They cost us £60 for the two & took about 10 mins to fit & about 1 hour to charge.

Next comes the Jacket & Trouser combo... I've had an old Spada Jacket for a few years now, its nice & comfortable so I'm taking that, for trousers I normally wear leather jeans, but they would be way to hot for this so opted for some fabric ones instead, I had an old pair of Akito trousers in the loft that I've never worn, they do suit this type of riding really well though! So there is some cash saved for fuel instead!. - Update on the trousers, I broke the zip & they leaked around the crotch area in heavy rain so will have to go shopping I guess!! Bugger... I've actually decided to upgrade both the jacket & trousers now as I found a couple of really good deals on Ebay... so I bought a Spada touring jacket for £30 & some Goretex pants for £20, the jacket fits much better than my old one & is just a better quality garment. The Goretex in the trousers should be a better quality waterproofing, but we'll see, (In my experience Goretex leaks as fast as any other 'waterproof' membrane it just cost a lot more when you buy it new.).
Warning: Geeky moment - There are two types of waterproofing used in motorcycle clothing, membranes & coatings, the coatings are like a thin film of paint sprayed onto the inside face of any fabric, then the item is manufactured & any seams are taped with a special tape applied most of the time under heat. Membranes are like a very fine plastic bag, they are often bonded to the inside face fabric of any garment & again the seams are taped over similar to the coatings. 
Both have pros & cons as to their effectiveness under certain conditions, both are 'breathable', often the coating is more breathable as there are no layers of bonding glue to hold it to the fabric & so it can be lighter too, the membranes are generally more 'waterproof' (ie they have a higher hydrostatic head measurement that the coatings - look this up on Google, it's a very sciency way of measuring waterproofness). Old membranes last much longer than the newer versions, but were less breathable & heavier than the current crop of 'modern' stuff. In general you pay more for membranes as they are more expensive to manufacture & they have huge investment costs in development.

Gloves will come in 3 different ones, leather winter ones from Bikers Paradise in Coventry, they make them in the UK & they are a lovely old couple to boot, I've had three pairs now, all excellent. They are the Stealth Winter Glove, I also want a light weight set of armoured gloved for those warm days, so I'm going to look at their Cruiser summer glove, that looks good... I'll also take my motocross gloves as these are really lightweight & dexterous...

Boots were the Forma Adventure boot, these are waterproof, lightweight & very comfortable from the moment I put them on. The sole has really good traction in mud & on rock & they easy to change gear with... they're well tested now!!

I bought these from a local shop in Kenilworth  whilst I was down visiting family, the guy was cool in the shop but then massively overcharged me on the boots, needless to say I haven't been back since, especially as I found out he'd done the same thing to 2 of my friends on multiple occasions!! sheister.com I reckon...

Forma Adventure Boots

For the Pannier Set Up we opted for soft panniers for this trip..

Geoff has a pair of Oxford Panniers that he likes well & a 70 litre dry bag that he bought off Ebay & is very proud of, it's a good piece of kit & should keep his gear nice n dry through those river crossings in Tennessee!

Geoff's Oxford Panniers
I have a pair I designed & had made a few years ago for an old RRW Fireblade I used to own. I did around 60 thousand miles on that bike, mostly with a set of these panniers on it, they worked excellently & Aiguille Equipment in Stavely who actually stitched them together for me did a great job.

At the time I had 10 sets made, sold about 7 to friends etc & kept the rest for my use. I have 2 sets left now & one of them is going on this trip along with my little top bag made by Mountain Equipment. It's a duffle bag of around 40 litres in pack size, it sheds rain really well & takes a fair bit of abuse from the various straps & bits I attach to it. I can also use it as a day bag getting onto the plane etc. Very versatile little bag this!

Panniers & Top Bag set up
The one thing that both of us are struggling to find is a decent little tank bag for the XT. The tank is quite an awkward shape for a bag to sit on it, so it needs to be small with a piece of clear vinyl that we can pop a map behind but at the same time big enough to take a phone, wallet etc... we want to also pop little things in there to charge as we ride, not found anything as yet, so keep looking, if we can't find anything I may well just try to make something, watch this space!!

Getting Ready

Geoff & Steve go biking in the States...

March 2014 - laying the foundations for the trip...

The plan is to do an east to west trip across the US, as much as possible off-road, so we've found a trail called the TAT Trail, (created by a guy called Sam Carrero over 12 years!!). The bikes will be shipped into Baltimore & we'll fly in to pick them up in early June. Once there we'll follow the Blue Ridge Parkway, (you know you wanna sing the song, on the trail of the lonesome pine etc), down to the start of the TAT,after a call in to say hi to Sam it'll be time then to go get dirty!

Since I picked up the XT660R for this trip at the end of January, we've been playing in various parts of the UK on the bikes... we've got buried in deep mud & puddles near Daventry, crashed in Yorkshire, done some fairly deep river crossings in Cumbria & Warwickshire, all in the name of training for the TAT trail. Great fun was had by all involved!
Daventry with Mark

Really good muddy bit

Gaz out to play in Cumbria

We've also added quite a few 'toys' to the bikes for the trip, most of them electronics like GPS, these were Garmin 78s units, which I'd used in the Antarctic & had seen them take a fair bit of abuse, we also added USB & cigarette lighter sockets for recharging stuff, some Go Pro Silver edition Hero 3 cameras & a roll map holder.

The XT's suffer from a low down jerkiness in the injection system so you can buy a mod off Ebay which solves this & its pretty cheap & simple to fit, (Fuel Mods). I used the XT660 forum & website quite a bit to sort out a few little things on the bikes but overall they are fairly bombproof from what I've seen so far... tell you more as the trip goes on - to be honest they were Geoff's choice & he sourced them whilst I was working away. Good choice they are proving to be too...

The toys for the trip

Other things added were K&N filters, an Akrapovic 2:1 exhaust system which was another Ebay special & saved 8lbs in weight plus added 2 BHP to the bikes output... happy days... Oxford Heated grips were already on it but the control switch had broken, so a chat with my local bike shop at Penrith found he had an old one lying in a box, so a swift £15 sorted that one out too... We also made up a tube which was to be used for storing either water or fuel bottles as needed & this was hung in the place of the left hand exhaust end can... I've put a few piccies & descriptions of our various additions & any other kit onto the gear page.

All in all the bikes & all the bits have cost around £3200 each with all the extras, so not too bad considering the bikes age & mileage...