North Wales Green Lane Expedition
Ride Date Oct 2016
By Bob Northern
Vehicle: Honda FX650 Vigor, long front mudguard, Scottoiler, plastic handguards (for warmth rather than protection), heated grips, mini clock, USB outlet, phone mount (SatNav)
Equipment: Roll top Danish Army pack, 1lt engine oil in a fuel bottle. full tool kit, spare clutch and throttle cable, spare CDI, cable repair kit, tyre levers, inner tube, CO2 inflator.
I left at 12:00 on Friday and headed for the Snake Pass, the traffic was building in Glossop already. A straightforward run down the M56 to Queensferry then off onto the Yr Wyddgrug (Mold) road. Head for Ruthin then Bala and up over the tops past Capel Celyn to Ffestiniog. Down through Porthmadog, Criccieth, Pwlheli and on towards Aberdaron – arrive about 17:00
Saturday dawns and I’m away by 08:30 and head towards Barmouth via a quick stop at the excellent Harlech Castle.
A quick brew from a cafe whilst sitting on Barmouth sands then across the rickety toll bridge (50p) and right turn towards Arthog. The SatNav told me a left turn and I go up through the woods and to a gate. The Welsh farmers seem to make free with gates, if they want to gate off a road they just do. The trick is that gates on legal rights of way don’t have locks (more on this later). Further up through the woods and to another gate then onto a proper unclassified road, this one runs out of Dolgellau and is probably a better way to go than the Arthog route. After a couple of miles the start of Bomber Lane is quite obvious, it has at some point in the past metalled but it’s just rocks and mud now.
Starting the gentle climb up the mountainside I'm rewarded with increasingly breathtaking views of Barmouth and beyond to the Llyn peninsula and somewhere there 20 miles distant across the water is the little cottage I'm staying in.
The lane is easy going, mostly 1st and occasionally 2nd gear on the Vigor, falling off hurts at my age. There’s a section with deep ruts cut by water, up to this point a normal 4x4 could have made it, but you’d need a lot of ground clearance and big tyres to get over this section. It’s here that I realise I've put too much fork oil in. I suspected when I did it, but I get a couple of hard knocks through the bars as the forks go into hydraulic lock. No damage will be done, I just need to take it steadier over the rocks.
Near the highest point where there’s a plantation (and another gate) there’s a big group of riders on CRFs and KTMs, some of them wheelie-ing and spinning up the rear. They’ve decided to set up an impromptu hill-climb course and are tearing up the heather. I don’t particularly mind it myself but it’s this sort of carry on that gets lanes closed off. On past the plantation and the lane levels out at a fork. My research suggested right would be better, that way being longer and I could see it was the less well travelled route. The going gets tricky, baseball sized rocks (babies heads they’re called round here) set in mud, 1st gear and clutch feathering required. As I'm bumping along I hear the Weee Weee of 2 Strokes and two KTMs come flying past like I'm going backwards. Oh well, those same KTMs wouldn't have been much use on the M56 with a weekend’s worth of gear on the back. Two more gates where the farmer has decided to set a sheep pen up across the trail and a chance to have a breather and strip off some layers of clothing. Up here in the crook of the valley the wind has dropped and I'm suddenly dripping with sweat. A 10 minute break and spot of target practice with the slingshot and I'm underway again. The lane is easy now but after a couple more miles I come to a flooded section, brown water the full width of the trail. I can see where others have cut along the bank and try to follow. My 80% road 20% trail tyres let me down and the bike goes down on its left side.
Now I'm glad I got rid of the KLE500 and went back to a Vigor, I can pick these up all day long. Another attempt sees me stuck up to the axle in mud that looks like angel delight. I dismount and unload my pack, tools and oil from the bike. I've got a U shackle lock in a carrier and this makes an excellent grab handle as I tug the bike backwards out of the mud, about 10 minutes later and I'm back to the start of the water.
There’s nothing around to poke in and test the depth, now tired and wet through with sweat I leave my helmet, jacket and gloves with the rest of the stuff and line up to go through. It’s not as bad as I thought, about a foot deep, keep the power on and push through. Then suddenly the front wheel drops and there’s a rush of panic as the water surges over the front mudguard, keep the power on, hold my nerve and I'm through. Then a walk back along the bank to pick up my gear. The trail descends from here, through several more gates and spits me out directly opposite the turn for the excellent Tonfanau road race circuit.
The difference between here and the Peak District is signage. In the Peaks everything is signed, 99% of trails are Bridleways or Restricted Byways and hence off limits, just a few are Byways and all of them are signed as such. In Wales there are no signs and there are frequently gates across the way, which naturally discourages onward travel but if the gate has no lock that usually means the way is open.
After another 10 minute rest I put all my gear back on and set off again and heading towards Tywyn, the bike has an oil temperature dipstick and I note that off road the temperature rises a little to about 105C, now back on the A roads it drops to 95C. The hottest running happens on the motorway, which is after all when the engine is making the most power and burning the most fuel. I'm heartened to see that off-road pottering doesn't cook the engine.
A left turn has me heading towards Tal-y-llyn and the climb up out of the valley is rewarded with a stunning view back to the West as I stop at the top of the rise. No parking spaces here but on a bike I can squeeze through a dotted section of white line and lean up against a style to take photos. The road continues on to the junction with the A470 and I head for Betws Y Coed, via Bala and over the tops again to Penmachno. On the top of the moor is a disused quarry which I had a play in last year, but this year I've got bigger fish to fry. Out of Betws Y Coed to Capel Curig and up past the military camp is a turn, which leads to an un-signposted trail. A steep climb up through the trees, I do well until it turns rocky and have to slow down, then I lose momentum and can’t get going again. The back wheel is just spitting rocks out and I'm not moving.
I dismount and resort to pushing the bike whilst working the throttle and clutch, this is a tried and tested method but unfortunately this time results in me lying across a downed machine. I haul it up and re-start, thank god for the electric boot - a flooded big single needs a lot of cranking on a wide open throttle to get it going. I consider turning back but have one more attempt, I'm moving! I get it to a more level section and get back on, there’s no way to get up the next bit without brute force – I hammer the thing up the next 100 yds of trail, the front bouncing dangerously high in the air as I risk going over backwards, I estimate the trail is a 1:5 at this point. The bike laughs off the abuse, but I resolve to buy that low mileage SLR650 engine that’s advertised for sale – as insurance. Once out of the trees the trail levels off and it becomes a nice potter to a gate then onto another gate at a plantation, the trail is in a small valley at this point so lacks the stunning views of Bomber Lane. Once through the second gate there’s a small stream crossing, then I'm on a forest trail and I descend a couple of miles to the main road at Dolwyddelan. A quick walk around the bike reveals a cracked hand guard and dented exhaust heat shield, not bad at all considering the abuse, I'm glad this bike doesn't have any fairing.
The last trail of the day runs up directly behind Dolwyddelan Castle, once again no signage and the start looks like a private drive. I gingerly trundle up then spot that although this is actually someone’s drive the trail proper branches off round the side of the garden wall and off I go. Very easy travelling up a very grassy section, not many people use this it seems, then to a gate. A friendly walker sees me coming and opens it for me (that never happens in the Peak District!). The trail is then concreted for a way and this is the path people walk up to get the castle, at the top the concrete goes left and I drop off the end onto a rocky trail. I stop to take photos of the bike parked next to the Castle.
Pressing on the trail becomes steep and rocky, but quite manageable so I progress to another gate at the top of the hill and take more photos, now looking down on the top of the Castle.
The descent on the other side is slippery on thick wet grass and goes through several more gates before ending in a farmyard. I drop through that and rejoin the main road at Roman Bridge. Then it’s up to Ffestiniog and back on through Porthmadog. I call at the Tesco to stock up for the evening, wondering about covered in mud with a mad stare in my eye.
The ride back to Aberdaron takes in a heavy shower at Criccieth but it’s over and forgotten soon enough. Back at the cottage I utilise the hot-tub to sooth the aches away whilst watching the sun set over the sea to the West.
The next day I potter around a bit. I take the bike on Black Rock Sands beach; I stay out of the water as I don’t want to bathe the bike in sea salt.
There are a couple of chaps paragliding, one more successfully than the other. A few years ago I saw hovercraft here; it seems to be a bit of a free for all. Back on the tarmac I take in some of my favourite scratching routes, the Porthmadog to Beddgelert road and the Llanberis pass being the best of them. I'm still exhausted from the day before so don’t feel like doing any trails. In Beddgelert I have a long chat with a chap on an F650 Funduro about the merits of big singles, me telling him I used to have one and whilst it is undoubtedly faster than my Vigor, I happily compromise a bit speed for a big saving in complexity and weight. He’s never been off road and has no intention of doing so, he seems happy with his side of the compromise too.
Teatime is a pack of sliced roast beef and a bag of apples sitting in the sunshine on the steps at the north end of Caernarfon Castle, then a pleasant run back via Morfa Nefyn beach (vehicular access allowed). The cottage has a beach with private access, I relax on the sand for a bit and indulge in some more slingshot practice.
The next morning I was packed and on the way home by 08:30. I travel the reverse route, picking up the M56 at its West end and head for home. On the motorway I sit at about 60MPH, on standard gearing that’s about 3900 RPM and is nice and relaxing for the bike and rider. The bike will happily sit at 70MPH but it becomes extremely tiring very quickly and the fuel economy falls away. I averaged 63MPG, which includes the off road sections and I'm very happy with that for what is a very old fashioned engine with a low compression ratio. The bike didn't use any oil and didn't require any maintenance or adjustment, I have a Scottoiler fitted and when riding off road I turn it up, which has the dual effect of lubricating the chain and washing off the muck.
Ren - The Ed said :-
Bob - you must tell me where that gorgeous little cottage is and details how to book it. It looks ideal for a winter's weekend.
Many thanks for the write up too. You're off roading is much more gnarly than my occasional farm track. Fab.
27/10/2016 5:42:40 PM UTC
Tony said :-
Hi Bob, fantastic ride report and very detailed. I've never ridden the Vigor or SLR but I've spent 3 years on a NX650. I really enjoyed my time with a 21" front wheel. I don't recognise the tread pattern, are they Avon's? I used Avon Gripsters at a 50/50 mix which basically means they don't do either road or dirt particularly well, but I knew their limits and that was the difference between staying upright or not so job done. TKC80's in the winter with snow and ice.
Mine also returned 60-65mpg, riding at between 3-5000rpm everywhere. Although I found the F650 a very comfortable bike I have to agree with the complexity of it. The only thing those bikes have in common is the displacement.
Thanks for sharing.
27/10/2016 8:20:36 PM UTC
Bob said :-
To be honest I don't know what the tyres are, they were on when I bought the bike. I've been up and down with trail tyres over the years, I've tried a set of TXC80's but I can't live with the awful remote feeling on the tarmac. I'm happy enough with Sava Invaders / Trailwing type tyres. They're no good in the mud but for everything else they're fine.
There's a TKC70 now which looks like it might do.
28/10/2016 9:50:37 AM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Excellent read, Bob.
Have you thought of riding in some of the long distance trials (Edinburgh, Exeter etc) or the one-day events like the Neil Westcott on Exmoor? My old club, the Midland Classic, also used to run what they called "Colonials" in the Peak District and they were great - using some of the 1950s sections such as Hollinsclough. I'm not sure if the White Peak is still in existence but again was good fun.
28/10/2016 10:16:18 AM UTC
Bob said :-
Where do I find out about those sorts of things then?
Will they allow "modern" machines?
28/10/2016 5:39:19 PM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
The classic long distance trials are run by the Motorcycling Club: http://www.themotorcyclingclub.org.uk/ and are open to all sorts of bikes (and even cars!). They're pretty tough events and include night riding. I have to confess I've never attempted one but you should be able to cope ;-)
There is also this association: http://www.actc.org.uk/ although they may be mostly for cars (no direct experience).
The Neil Westcott Memorial on Exmoor is (or was) a super event: http://www.exmoormotorclub.co.uk/nwmtrial.html
The Midland Classic club: http://midlandclassic.co.uk/ is mostly for pre-65 and twin shock bikes - your KE100 may be eligible for some events? It's local for you.
For most of these you need an ACU competition licence but that's just a formality (ISTR that the Midland Classic are AMCA which is a different governing body).
When I was riding in these trials (now quite a while ago) everyone was very friendly and helpful and I really enjoyed them. You also get to see and hear some superb machinery - my favourites were always the Norton Wasp sidecar outfits.
29/10/2016 9:25:24 AM UTC
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