If you've read my previous posts regarding the enduro rides I've done, you may have noticed that there were a few negative comments made about my tires. I've been riding on the stock, street legal tires that had come on the bike since I brought it home from the showroom. I never thought much of it but it turns out that those rock hard tires were absolutely awful for riding in the slippery conditions that I'm almost always riding in. I decided after completing the 2008 Black Bear Enduro that I wouldn't ride another organized event with the stock tires. So a couple weeks ago I noticed that the notorious "Sparkplug Enduro" was being held on March 29th and I thought that if I'm going to even consider attempting that ride again that I'd better get some new shoes for the WR.
So last Saturday, (March 21st), I went out and got new rubber and had Cycle Gear put them on the wheels for me. I opted for the Michelin X11 trials tire for the rear because I've heard nothing but good things about these tires from all the good riders. For the front I put on a Pirelli MT21 which seems to be a decent knobby and I think it may even be DOT approved.
Saturday afternoon I decided to change the oil and filter and as dirty as the oil was, I'm glad I did. I got the wheels back on, chain adjusted and lubed and was ready to go on a trail ride. Fortunately for me, my friend Dan Thompson had invited me to go on a ride on Sunday with he and a couple of his buddies up at Tahuya. I accepted.
Sunday morning, (not too early mind you), I loaded up the bike and met Dan, Tom and Dave in Belfair at the McDonalds. We all had a "nourishing" meal and then headed up to the ORV park. I expected it be busy, and it was. There were quite a few campers and trailers at the staging areas so we decided to park out on the main road near one of the trailheads. I had never ridden with any of these guys so I really didn't know what to expect. I was pretty confident that I wasn't going to be as fast as they were but I just didn't know by how much. I also didn't really know what to expect as far as how far they were planning on riding that day. I had packed a lunch but didn't really think to pack it with me on the ride since I normally go ride for a couple hours and then come back to the car to take a break. It turns out these guys just go and ride all day and take a lunch break somewhere out on the trail. I'll know to pack my lunch with me next time.
So we hit the trail without much fanfare and I took up the rear as I assumed I was going to be the slowest, I was right. I'd like to have an excuse such as I was an old man compared to these punk kids, but it just wasn't true. Tom, who was probably the fastest and most aggressive, was at least 3 years older than I. Dan is the same age as I am but was much faster through the trails. Dave, who I thought was very skilled and also fast, is somewhere in his mid-fifties. So I just accepted the fact that I was going to be playing catch-up all day with these guys. Initially, I felt like I had to hurry to catch them but after a few close calls, I decided it wasn't worth snapping a leg off or something just to try to keep up. This wasn't a race so I just kept pluggin' along and every so often the guys would wait for me somewhere. It usually wasn't too terribly long of a wait for them, (I don't think), and no-one seemed to be upset.
No long after we got going, Dan's Honda started having a problem idling. In fact, it wouldn't idle at all. We stopped on the trail and with a bit of tinkering, Dave seemed to have gotten the idle screw to adjust a little bit. This normally isn't a difficult task but since the idle screw cable was broken, it required a pair of vise-grips and his reading glasses.
Dave working on Dan's Honda
We continued on and it was narrow and tricky right from the "get-go". Only later on in the day did the trails get easier, which seemed backward to me. Due to the many people out and about this beautiful Sunday, we had far too many instances where we'd encounter a pack of riders going the other direction on the trail. The trail is only wide enough for one bike at a time and has a ton of blind corners. It's amazing more people aren't involved in collisions on these trails. We were fortunate not to actually collide with anyone but getting past everyone was tricky at times.
One of the major reasons I wanted to go on this ride was to see how different the new tires were compared to the rock hard Dunlops I had on before. I was hoping to immediately notice such a huge difference in traction that I could definitively say that my old tires were the entire reason for all my past riding failures. This wasn't the case. It was, however, a noticeable improvement. I found that the rear wheel didn't spin as much while going over the mud, rocks and tree roots. This gave me a little boost in confidence that allowed me to be a bit more aggressive over certain types of terrain. I still need to improve my conditioning and overall skills, but the tires will help save my ass in certain situations.
Another thing I noticed on the ride was that I was in 2nd gear much of the time but the gearing is such that the engine would bog down pretty bad if I got too slow and I was forced to shift down to 1st. This is normal I realize but toward the end of the ride, Dan and I switched bikes just for fun and I found his CR250F was geared such that I could ride in 2nd almost to a stop and it wouldn't bog the engine too badly. In fact, I used 3rd in places that I'd never normally use 3rd with my WR. I'd like to try a larger sprocket on the rear sometime in the future to see how well that works. I also noticed Dan's bike had immediate throttle response off the bottom end and that was nice to have the power right at your fingertips. My 250 has a small, but noticeable, dead spot at the initial hit of the throttle. I believe I've read somewhere that other WR owners are able to remedy this problem with aftermarket exhaust, airbox mods or even possibly re-mapping of the fuel computer. I'm not sure but I should probably research this more.
One other thing I noticed about Dan's bike was it was a bit lower. This is due to him cutting the foam down in the seat. Initially it seemed like a good idea because it really does make it easier to touch the ground. However, after riding on what seemed like a fabric covered 2x6, I decided that I'll look into other options for lowering the bike. While I enjoyed riding his bike, (I really did), the seat made it feel like I was riding on a stagecoach where the seat on my bike is so plush, it's more like a Lincoln Continental. While riding behind Dan earlier in the ride, I had noticed he stood up a lot... now I know why.
After all was said and done, we had ridden roughly 37 miles. This pleased me... knowing that I hadn't eaten anything or had any hydration since starting the ride and I still felt pretty good was good to know. The upcoming Sparkplug Enduro short course is about 50 miles long so if I eat and drink properly, I should be able to feel ok for the whole ride, theoretically of course.
Thanks to Dan, Tom and Dave for letting me tag along on the ride. I enjoyed getting out and breaking in the new tires and knocking some of the rust off.