It is with some pride and excitement that I am writing my first piece for Brake Magazine. The adventure bike market worldwide has been crying out for something like this and while there is plenty of information floating around the internet, both good and bad, we hope to bring you exciting, informative and inspirational content. My goal is to provide useful information to enhance your enjoyment of this great pastime, so for this first issue I wanted to start with the essentials of adventure bike set-up. Many times I have seen people struggling with their riding and finding things far more difficult than they are, simply because they need to change a few small points about the way the bike is set-up, so here goes.
HandlebarsThe aim with the handlebars is to provide a nice flat surface to rest your arms on and place them near to the controls and so the ends of the bars should be flat. Have a look at the pictures to see where I’m coming from. In the first image the grip area is running downhill, image two the grips are horizontal, while three looks like a set of cow horns. We’re looking for image two. This will be the least tiring for your forearms and give you the greatest control over the front (steering) wheel. To achieve it simply loosen the four handlebar clamp bolts and roll the bars in the required direction. Then seat the two front bolts, before tightening the rear two good and tight – we don’t want these coming loose. A popular subject in adventure bike world is the fitting of handlebar risers and we see many people fitting these in order to be more comfortable when they stand up. Being comfortable is sitting down and that’s why adventure bikes have nice cushy seats in the middle of the bike as against hard seats on a specialist off road or sports bike. Standing up is about control and engineers place the handlebar clamps above the steering head to give you control over the front wheel and when cornering off road we need to be able to manage the front wheel. For the most part when people fit bar risers they go too high and too far back. Unless you are over 6’4’’ (193cm) it is unlikely you need bar risers. If you do fit them then look for the minimal amount of rise.
LeversOnce you have the handlebars where you need them you can position the levers. The levers need to be slightly downhill from the handlebars like in the next image. This is a bit of a compromise, as we need to be able to control the bike nicely while both standing and sitting. It means that while standing they might at first feel slightly high and while sitting they might feel slightly low. Then most bikes have some kind of span adjuster (in this case the 4 position dial on top of the lever), so adjust the reach until the controls engage fully before touching your knuckles. Finally if you have a bike with a cable clutch make sure the cable still has some free play with the handlebars turned fully in both directions.
FootpegsNext we need to position both the footbrake and gear lever. In the sitting position on the road our foot tends to point down, while when standing the footpegs become our main point of contact and control of the bike, so the controls need to fall easily to foot. Again the idea is to look for a nice neutral position and this means flat. As you can see in the pictures the BMW GSA comes with a nice little 2 position rear brake pedal; low for road and flat for off road. Most other bikes have some sort of lock nut arrangement to adjust the height of the pedal. On the gear lever side, you can just see the adjuster mechanism behind the steel ruler; while on many bikes you might need to move the gearlever around one tooth on the spline.[/cbtab]
SuspensionMost Adventure bike suspension adjustment is based around ride height and load rather than suspension performance as it might be on a sport or off road bike, so don’t go getting too clever here. If you do have the option of some pre-load adjustment, the idea is to set it so that you are comfortable with the ride height before you load it up. Then if you add weight stiffen the preload back to that same ride height before you move off and you shouldn’t be too far off the mark.
TyresIf you decide to run Adventure tyres, then understand that like the bikes themselves they are a compromise and work pretty well on the road and pretty well off road. However, that means they will never perform like a road tyre can on wet tarmac, or like a motocross tyre can in mud and grass, so ride accordingly. Equally they will wear out at a rate somewhere between these two more specialist tyre types. How many miles you actually get out of them very much depends on your right hand.
The tyre manufactures are only just now starting to take the Adventure market seriously, so we are going to see some great products in the next few years with better grip levels all round and more mileage.
Tyre pressures on an Adventure bike are also a compromise as the bikes are big and heavy, so while running lower pressures off road generally provides better grip the risk of punctures becomes higher and of course they stop working so well back on the black top. In the past with tyres such as the Mitas E09, E10 and Continental TKC80 we have had great results all round at about 24PSI. Metzeler’s new Karoo 3 has been designed from the ground up to run at 32PSI both on and off road.
LightsIf you are going to ride your adventure bike off road at night, you need to forget about the MOT setting for the headlight and make sure you can see where you’re going. By the way if you haven’t yet tried it, give it a go as adventure bike lights tend to be pretty good and it brings another really fun dimension to your riding. Please take a friend along though, for when you get lost. The right setting is pretty easy to find and most bikes adjuster is easily reached directly behind the headlight unit and can be turned by hand. Wait until its dark and somewhere with no ambient (street) lights and adjust it so that low beam fills in front of the front wheel and the high beam gives you a bit more distance for the straighter sections. Go ride!