Mr Lewis’ near death Initiation ride

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Words: Jon Lewis   Photos: Rob Harris

INTRODUCTION

Jim always took great care of the KLR 600 …

by Editor ‘arris

CMGers will probably be aware that we have a new(ish) member of staff in the form of Mr. Lewis, who joined the ranks back in June of this year. Being keen to experience the wilds of Canada first-hand, he quickly agreed to purchase a rather used ’84 KLR 600 dual-sport bike from a good friend of mine (Jim Vernon).

It seemed like a good idea therefore to introduce Jon to said wilds o’ Canada with an initiation ride to my favourite backroads in the hills of the Quebec Laurentians – an hour or so north of Montreal. After all, I still had a KTM 640 Adventure in my possession and Jon was looking for an excuse to try out the KLR before committing to actually buying it.

In typical CMG fashion, it didn’t all go quite to plan …


“ALWAYS BE PREPARED”

The ‘temporary’ radiator fix – done during the Paris-Dacre ride – remains to this day.

Like a good boy scout, I always try to be prepared for any eventuality, but since I had barely set eyes on the KLR before the ride, I had no choice but to rely on Jim (the bike’s then owner) and Editor ‘arris’s evaluation of what prep was needed.

The front tire was as bald as a Mr. Seck, so a knobby Kenda was duly purchased and eased into place. The electric start had died during the Paris-Dacre event and was sadly unfixable in the time available, giving me some practice in the art of kick starting a big single.

Topping-up the coolant – actually swamp water – was also required, a ‘temporary’ fix after the radiator had sprung a leak after an unplanned KLR-Canadian Shield altercation at the aforementioned P-D event. With hope, said fix would hold, but just in case, we packed an equally battered-looking spare that Jim had, along with a few tools to do the switchover and deal with any other surprises that might come our way.

It was all a bit last minute, but then we did have a brand spanking – although slightly abused-looking – KTM Adventure coming with us too.

HEY HO, LET’S GO

‘Arris took on new-boy assessment duties, from the comfort of a KTM 640.

Photo: Richard Seck

Bright(ish) and early the next day, with the temperature already in the mid-20s, we loaded up with all the essentials and hit the road north out of Montreal.

Forty-five minutes later, and having survived the Montreal rush hour with no brakes worth mentioning (the minimal KLR front disc and geriatric brake hose showed an unnerving contempt at the idea of actually slowing the bike down), we exited the highway and found ourselves at a café close to the entrance of ‘arris’s little off-road playground.

Now at this point, it is probably worth mentioning that my off-road motorcycling experience was limited to one and 1/2 days on assorted surfaces. Although I’d had plenty of experience driving four-wheelers off-road, I had yet put it into practice on a motorcycle. Yes, I was a rookie off-road rider and the new boss was right behind me – assessing my riding skills (or lack thereof).

The trails started off easily enough – a wide gravel road – but after a few kilometres soon narrowed and became steeper, with rain-washed gullies crisscrossing my path. Add to this plenty of loose rock and exposed shield, and it was really testing my ability to pick a line and stick to it. Sometimes I’d miss it by a mile (sorry, kilometre), other times I’d somehow remain on course and others I just thought ‘sod it’ and blasted through best I could.

Thankfully, both bike and rider coped well with this kind of riding, and we spent most of the morning riding this type of trail, with which I quickly became quite familiar and relaxed. In contrast, the esteemed Editor – with his many years of DS adventures – was seemingly untested by the route, and we soon veered off the comfort of the main trails and into less civilized territory.

THE FIRST SIGN OF TROUBLE – THE HILL CLIMB

A sample of trail. Is that Mr. Lewis in the distance with a felled KTM?

After a brief but enjoyable spell in the woods, we exited onto an open plateau at the base of a ski hill. To the left was a long, steep and rutted track (likely a service route), which we assumed would lead us up to the top of said hill. ‘Arris paused, grinned and took off across the plateau on the KTM, with tail-gunner Lewis on the KLR following closely behind.

The trail started innocently enough, with a minor incline, meandering across what seemed to be solid ground. Not quite! It also crossed some small streams, which we found to our amusement were traversed by a line of small logs. Not a great biggie, but the logs had been laid in the direction of our travel … except where they had rotted away and fallen into the stream below …

Unfortunately, these makeshift bridges (and thus the missing logs) were only visible once you were over them – a sudden drop and subsequent cartwheeling of bike and rider only being avoided by a high rate of speed and a big dose of luck.

Mr. Lewis would tend to over-generate heat while trying to get the KLR back into life.

With a brief stop to recount the feeling of “holy shit, did you see the gaps in those bridges?”, ‘arris blasted his way up the hill on the KTM, whilst I waited for him to reach the top.

Mission accomplished, he parked up to watch the show. In true CMG style I did not disappoint as I came a cropper about half way up, when I managed to slide the bike off the edge of the track, eventually coming to rest in a gully running up the side. Not a big problem, as I’d managed to keep it all upright and now merely had to ride it out and back onto the track.

Alas, I was in too high a gear and promptly stalled it out. You’d think that this would be just a minor problem, but as the electric start had long since failed, I was now at the mercy of the kick-starter.

After god knows how many attempts to light it up, soaked in copious amounts of sweat and with a severe pain developing in my right instep (note to self – get motocross boots), Rob reluctantly came down from the mountain and further added to my embarrassment by kicking it back into life … albeit after quite a few attempts.

At this point we concluded two things:

1) This wasn’t such a good idea after all, and …

2) The KLR was a bugger to start.

Of all people, Editor ‘arris should know how horribly wrong things can go when you’re tired.

Photo: Jim Vernon

Conclusions concurred, we turned around and diligently picked our way back across the semi-logged bridges. However, even with Editor ‘arris’s enviable starting technique, it was clear that the KLR was not quite all there. Not to worry, it always started eventually, and proved to be almost reliable for the next few hours.

ONE LAST TRAIL …

How many times have you been told it’s always the last ride of the day that bites? Track days are a classic for this – it’s been a great day, you’ve become more confident, a little braver and feel like you have it just about sussed – so you venture out for the last slot of the day, and slap bang into the jaws of disaster. Why should dirt rides be any different?

With this in mind, I distinctly remember mentioning to Rob that it was 4:00 pm and maybe we should think about heading home. His reply? We can leave the trails at five and still be home in time for tea.

Famous last words.

All was going well until old eagle eyes spots a side trail, and swiftly veers off to explore.

“Hyuuuunngghhh”.

Part way along, Rob suggests I try out the KTM … but could I first turn around, go back and return so he can get some riding shots of it? I duly mount the KTM (where’s a step-ladder when you need one?) and head back up the track to a clearing to turn around, and promptly topple over.

Arse.

Hyuuuunngghhh! Christ, that was heavy. Remounted, I ride back down the track with ‘arris laughing and me cursing. Out of sight and unable to find a suitable turn-around point, I eventually decide to just turn around on the track and yes, you guessed it, drop it again.

Double arse.

Another muscle-rending lift and I’m back on board and riding back towards the camera, splashing thru’ puddles and looking as butch as I can. I stop to tell him I came off again – ears ring with yet more laughter.

Bastard.

INTO THE VALLEY OF DEATH ….

“Mr. Lewis, just rev it a little bit more for the camera”. Digging holes with the 640.

Somewhat chastened (tired, hot, aching and bruised) we continue along the trail, with me still aboard the KTM and ‘arris on the KLR. The track continues through a densely wooded section, with certain muddy areas “improved” by adding large chunks of loose timber. I manage to keep it upright through there, only to be foiled by a steep climb, with very loose soil and a rather worn-out rear tire.

With rear tire spinning, digging me deeper into the earth, Rob again does the photo thing before pulling me out of my newly made rut. I retreat down the hill for another attempt with renewed vigour only to fall off again half way up. Rob takes the KTM the rest of the way up and demotes me back to the KLR.

By now the KLR is getting a bit hot and bothered – possibly due to the fact that swamp water is still circulating about its innards – which manifests itself in poor running, regular stalling and increasingly difficult re-starting.

It is at this point that we should have turned around – yellow chicken-like – but we didn’t. It wouldn’t have been very CMG if the story ended “so we turned around, rode back to Montreal and had sushi” now would it? What we actually did was to plough on, regardless of failing machinery, exhaustion and ticking clocks, in the desperate hope that the trail would eventually get better and we’d all have a good laugh about it.

The KLR got thoroughly spanked over the course of the day.

The next misfortune to befall me was breaking off the side-stand. Admittedly, it had been looking a tad sad and possessed a rakish kink. It was of course at this kink that it decided to break, and during another mammoth kick starting attempt to boot. Naturellement, bike now lands on my leg (ouch), accompanied by more laughter from Rob.

Glad I’m providing so much amusement. Bastard, again.

Still we ventured forth.

The next obstacle was a muddy hollow, carpeted with branches and boughs. Cue more falling off – although by this time I‘d lost count just how many times. Rob encourages me to keep going with talk of being near a lake (which we could see through the trees) and with it another, easier trail to take us out of this hell.

Heartened with the promise of salvation and with a last draw of energy, I duly crash the KLR several times on the way down the rock-strewn trail to the lake.

SALVATION AT LAST?

Finding that the trail ends at the lake is somewhat testing.

Hooray, thinks I, riding up to ‘arris by the lake’s shore. All we have to do now is find the trail out of here and head back to the sanctuary of Montreal.

Oh look, a neat little turnaround and no other exit trails. The only way out appears to be the way in. Oh joy!

A sheepish Mr. Harris does his best to rally the troops (me) as we turn around and attempt to fight our way back up the rocky slope.

Sadly, it defeats me – admittedly rather easily by this point – and the resultant tumble breaks not only the front brake lever, but also the right hand footrest, neatly decommissioning both brakes in one fell swoop. Of course, after this blatant abuse, the KLR simply refuses to start – not even slightly and not even with the ‘arris magic boot. Well this is looking good. Not.

Towing it out was really the only option.

Mr. Lewis ponders CMG life.

We pause to take stock of our situation – one running motorcycle, half a litre of water, a piece of old rope, one spare radiator and a thoroughly busted-up KLR (sounds bit Blues Brotherish, dunnit? – Editor Tate). By now we’re both exhausted, thoroughly demoralized and heading towards dehydration. The only good news is that in the worst-case scenario we could abandon the KLR and two-up it out on the KTM. Still, I wasn’t really ready to buy a bike I’d just lost.

There was only one sensible solution – tow the KLR out with the KTM and that old piece of rope.

‘Arris with his taller inseam opted to pilot the KTM, while I tried to navigate the KLR up the hill by running alongside it. Suffice to say, the uphill bits were tricky and the downhill even worse. With neither brake operational and motor still refusing to start, I had only the slip of the clutch (with bike in gear) to slow down the KLR, all the time trying to keep my footing.

Eeeeeek was the noise I made at the time – I remember it distinctly. Falls were too numerous to mention. I was absolutely demoralized and running on empty, not helped by the intimate knowledge of the exact obstacles that lay ahead of us. The only driving force left was the realization that we’d be out sooner rather than later.

Every stop we’d try fire it into life just in case, but the KLR would have none of it. Only when we were on the last downhill section back to the main trail did it eventually fire up (and as if nothing had been amiss to boot), as I dumped the clutch and let gravity do the work of bringing the KLR back to life.

Typical.

It’s amazing the language that an Assistant Editor can mutter (not shown), albeit under times of extreme stress.

Six or so km of brakeless gravel road later, we returned to the starting-point café and re-hydrated ourselves whilst pondering exactly how to get the disabled KLR back to Montreal. Luckily, another customer in the café overheard our woes and offered up a front brake lever from one of his dirt bikes, which fitted with only minor modifications.

Some luck at last! Thanks Marco, you’re a star.

An hour later, we were approaching the outskirts of Montreal, with the KLR showing an easy 130 km/h in deference to its near-death condition earlier in the day.

And what did I learn from this adventure? Well, don’t ride off-road with Rob (possibly), dress appropriately for the conditions (it was a boil-in-the-bag day), take spare levers (definitely), take plenty of water (oh Christ yes), but most of all, keep smiling.

In the immortal words of Mr Seck, “It’s all good”.

Unless, of course, it’s not.

Welcome to the world of CMG.

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