Southern Softy Evening Ride

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Following my account of my first ride on the stolen-recovered-repaired KTM 640 Adventure, this is the tale of my second ride, three days later, with the ‘Southern Softies’ branch of the Big Trail Bike Club on July 18th 2006

We met up at Rykas, the well known bikers’ gathering place at the foot of Box Hill, near Dorking. The biggest surprise was seeing Big Bike Challenge organiser Andy Cadney who had ridden his new KTM 990 all the way down from Leamington Spa just for this evening trail ride. He’d also just done the Stella Alpina rally on the new beast and seemed pretty happy with the way it was performing, although he still has his fleet of Cagiva Elefants for trail bike rallies.

“I’m not going to risk eight grand’s worth of bike in them!”

Our run leader, as usual, was Bill Naismith on his Honda Dominator. Within two minutes of leaving Rykas Bill nearly missed the right turn to bypass the centre of Dorking and my 640 didn’t seem to like the resulting emergency stop at the lights. The front brake seemed to ‘semi-seize’, but then freed off. In view of what happened later I didn’t really take as much notice of this at the time as perhaps I should have done….

Our first Lane was the excellent one that runs from Wotton on the A25 for about 3 miles due south down to the village of Coldharbour. Bill was flying on his Dommie, despite using road-oriented tyres in the sand but I was able to stay with him without trouble on the dirt-tyred 640 until I stopped to take some pix of the other three half way along the trail. These were Paul K on his trusty 900 Elefant, Roger W on his DR Big and Roger’s mate on his DR350 Super Moto who coped well on the sand, I thought, considering his tyres were far from ideal.

I actually found the 640 Adventure more fun on the trail than the 450EXC – it seemed more comfortable and more relaxing, especially after pivoting the ‘bars back in their mounts. That made it better on road and trail, both sitting down and standing up. Further up the lane we met some friendly horse riders who appreciated us stopping for them and switching off.

From Coldharbour we continued on the byway that runs steeply south west up to the cricket pitch and beyond, almost to the Leith Hill tower. From there we rejoined tarmac and headed further south west at a hell of a lick to Forest Green where the rapidly falling sun was casting a beautiful light across the green. Bill then led us on to a couple of trails near Walliswood which I didn’t recognise at all. I thought I’d ridden every trail in Surrey over the past twenty years, but these were both new to me. The first had a ford in it, with a footbridge alongside with a sort of stile at one end which was obviously designed to stop bikes (or even bicycles!) from using it. We rode it both ways and I took a few pix from the footbridge. It was so dark in the undergrowth that it looks in the photos as if we were riding in the dark.

The second trail was longer and after some discussion at the far end about whether to do more trails in the gathering gloom, or retire to the pub, we decided on the latter option. So we then retraced steps back along the last trail before returning on tarmac to the Scarlett Arms at Walliswood for a pint of good ale and in my case, a bite to eat. Supermoto DR350 man left us at the pub but the rest of us followed Bill back to Coldharbour on the road – or tried to. Andy kindly let me have a spin on his 990 beast but even on that I had to concentrate hard to keep up with Bill who was riding the Dommie like a man possessed. I certainly wouldn’t have been going that quickly on my own in the dark. Roger made the classic mistake of looking around for Paul and by the time he looked back he’d run himself off the twisty road. Fortunately he escaped with nothing worse than a bruised hip and ego and a missing indicator lens.

Trail riding by night

Paul decided to give the return trip down the trail a miss, so then we were four.

I was really impressed by the stability of the 990 in the sand, despite the road-biased tyres and I had no trouble keeping up with Andy on my 640 and the three miles of trail seemed to pass much quicker in the dark than they had in daylight.

On the other hand the V twin did feel much, much heavier and slower steering than the 640 on both road and trail although I was surprised that the seat was also noticeably lower. It was much torquier too, as you would expect, but also a lot smoother than my rather vibey 640 (of which more anon). I think it would take me quite a long time to chuck the 990 around on the dirt the way Pat Keenan does his 950; the 640 feels like a lightweight by comparison. The fuel injected 990 also feels a bit more snatchy on the road than I remember the carburetted 950 being.

Waiting at the end of the trail for Roger we were slightly concerned for his welfare given that he’d only just been off his DR800 but he soon turned up in one piece saying, “I’m going to be 50 next year, I must be crazy!” I said “Don’t worry mate, I’m going to be 50 THIS year” and Andy chimed in with “Me too!” I firmly believe that biking keeps you young (provided you stay in one piece of course!).

Back at the A25, Roger and Andy headed East while Bill and I turned west.

So then we were two. I thought we’d finished doing trails but when we got to Abinger Hammer Bill stopped and said ‘Shall we do the trail back up to the downs?’ I said, “I’m game if you are.” So away we went, despite it now being about 11pm. This trail is trickiest in the winter when wet, because it’s mainly chalk, but it’s so dry at the moment it’s quite slippery because it’s so dusty, and there are some tricky little ‘mini-ravines’ to negotiate back and forth. Once we’d got back up to the flatter section in Oaken Grove Bill got away from me when I had to do an emergency stop to avoid hitting a tree which had unexpectedly leapt into my path……

Brake Lock Surprise

Finally back on tarmac for the last time I thought the night’s excitement was over but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. There was a one-way traffic light operating on the steep descent through Effingham Forest and Bill stopped for it on amber when I thought he’d carry on through. So for the second time that evening I did an emergency stop on tarmac and was slightly surprised to find myself lying in the road shortly after the front wheel locked solid when I was still at walking pace. I didn’t even stall the bike because I pulled the clutch in as I fell and when the lights went green we continued. A few hundred yards further on I braked for a T-junction and the front wheel locked again, this time while going a little faster – more like 10mph – and this time I bent the clutch lever. Curses! I put the bike on its centre stand and inspected the front wheel by the light of Bill’s headlight. When I spun the wheel there was a definite tight spot, as if the discs had mysteriously warped, but when riding at normal speed the bike’s weight and momentum was enough to keep the wheel turning normally. It only locked when actually using the front brake hard, at very low speed….As you might imagine, I rode the last five or six miles back to Elspeth’s place rather gingerly….and avoided using the front brake altogether.

In the warm light of day I inspected the front end of the Adventure once again and soon discovered the true cause of my problems. One of the caliper bolts on the left hand fork had gone AWOL! Thinking back to that first emergency stop near Dorking, I now suspect that it might have been missing for the entire trail ride! Doh! Fortunately the handlebar bolts have the same thread, albeit a little shorter, so I ‘borrowed’ one of them to hold the left caliper in place and rode back to my place with a bit more confidence, stopping to pick up a replacement bolt at Motorite’s in Hook on the way.

It had been a thoroughly entertaining evening trail ride, but my fundamental problem with the 640 remains unchanged. On the open road it vibrates more like the old KTM enduro bikes with no balancer, than one of their balanced units. I know that even the balanced KTM singles aren’t the smoothest motors in the world, but I’ve never known one vibrate as badly as this one does. I took it up to 85mph on the A3 but didn’t like to push it any further – it definitely vibrated worse at that speed than the old 620s did at 100mph. There’s something amiss down in the bowels of the engine and I fear it won’t be cheap to fix……Anyone know of a good 640 motor going cheap?!

I think that’s more than enough for now. But the 640 saga will continue.