How do road racers learn to go faster round corners, in winter?
Mostly, they go off-road. Y’see, there’s no substitute for learning how to control a motorcycle at the ragged edge, than to grab hold of a big 600cc, four stroke enduro machine, then head for the hills at 80mph – sideways.
Brit company CCM have been making beefy moto-crossers and enduro bikes for over 25 years now, plus a few handy looking supermotard models lately. The 604E spec machine however, is a total purist’s off-roader; a brutal, hard-as-nails, bog-ploughing animal. Basically, this bike says; `come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough…’
CCM organise about ten trail riding weekends a year, based at the Whitecross Bay centre on the shores of Lake Windermere. These are a great way to road test the bikes for yourself, albeit in off-road, enduro spec, and for around £150 you get two nights B&B accommodation in a four berth cabin, a day on the bike, plus riding kit for the day, plus a back-up van and plenty of advice from your group guides.
” We divide everyone into two groups, ” says CCM boss Austin Clews, ” beginners and intermediates, for those who have done some off-road recently. It’s a relaxed activity, but there’s a bit of a challenge element to it as well, because that’s what makes life interesting. The 604E is a bike you can learn stuff quickly on.”
WHAT’S THE BIKE ALL ABOUT THEN ?
Clews Competition Machines, are based in Blackburn, Lancashire. Alan Clews, Austin’s Dad, founded the company in the early 70s after taking a fancy to beefing up old Beeza B44 singles. Eventually, a Rotax 600cc single replaced the old BSA motor, but there’s an old fashioned touch about the current bikes – they carry their engine oil in the frame like the early 70s BSA twins used to.
The enduro spec version, now called the Dual Sport, but badged 604E back in `99 when tested, is the basic CCM if you like – road legal, but biased towards off-road performance. The Blackburn company are always tweaking and improving their bike, which is designed for durability and regular muddy baths. If you prefer street biking, there’s a supermotard style 604 model ( costs around £5,200 ) but off-road is where the company’s roots are and there’s no denying they know how to build something that compares with the Husqvarna 410/610E series, the KTM LC640 or Husaberg 510.
The Austrian Rotax engine makes about 50bhp in the CCM, slightly more than it does in the BMW F650 or Aprilia Pegaso, which are street orientated trailies. But the CCM has a much torquier feel to it – everything happens from lowdown on the bike, there’s instant grunt from tickover. The five gears are spaced for dirt surfaces, letting you climb mountains in first and hit about 65-70 mph on tarmac. The bike also weighs in like Prince Naseem, at a flyweight 130 kilos – that lack of lard really matters off-road.
A tiny front disc offers all the front braking you need away from tarmac, but there’s a rear drum, which you need to dab at, to get the back tyre sliding into the turns. It isn’t really a dual purpose machine – it is a legalised off-roader. One look at the Paioli forks and stunningly tough White Power shock absorber tells you that the CCM is built for tackling farm tracks, big rocks and fording streams.
Ground clearance is huge and it’s worth bearing in mind that those with a less than 30 inch inside leg will struggle to just get in the saddle. Once moving of course, you tend to be standing up on the pegs, so that shouldn’t put you off too much.
After using the cabin steps to climb aboard the CCM, then getting used to the strange sensation of changing gear in brand new Moto X boots, ( bit like sex with a carbon fibre condom ) I was soon blatting down the road, then across the Windermere ferry and up into the hills.
A gentle ride along a lakeside trail confirmed what I’d suspected at breakfast; I was about as useful on a green lane as a number 37 bus. The bike felt really `on-off ’ in its power delivery and I found the constant slipping and sliding of the tyres hard to cope with because of my road based biking experience. You do quickly adapt however.
A short run uphill surprised me, as I managed to keep the bike moving without a `dab’ as they call it in the trials world. I was starting to get the hang of handling the big CCM, which helps the novice by having that useful four stroke grunt, which keeps the wheels turning slowly – as slowly as the rider’s brain, if required.
One thing that off-road does, is make you realise is that you have to have your eye on the ball as regards picking a line – constantly. It is crucial, as to whether you stay on or not, simple as that. It also helps if you’re reasonably fit. Years of alcohol, snack bar and chip shop abuse had done some damage – and a rocky trail soon highlighted that fat fact. But as your riding improves, you will get much fitter – off-roading is top quality exercise.
GET YOUR ROCKS OFF
The afternoon session of the CCM course was spent on the muddy, rutted trails that wriggle their way along the South side of Lake Coniston. Sounds quite pleasant, but I can tell you that landing head first into a bog, at 25 mph, 1500 feet above sea level is no picnic. Unless you’re a large toad…
Of course, getting cocky as you learn stuff, then falling off big time, is what usually happens off-road, but the upside is that it seldom hurts, unless you’re daft enough to nail it at full throttle next to drystone walls, or trees. The CCM certainly lets you learn at your own pace, plus it has that much needed novice feature; the electric start. Believe me, you won’t want to pull a 300-ish pound motorbike out of muddy stream, then attempt to kickstart it, too often in one day..
After a few amusing incidents, I was getting well knackered, so when we headed down another rocky section, I fell off again and bounced into a small tree, which cunningly flung me, and the bike, back onto the trail. “Ouch.” Or similar words…
Group guide Kevin, who was leading the beginners posse, wisely decided that I’d had enough for one day and ordered me to rest for fifteen minutes, then slowly track downhill back to Coniston, where the back up van would take me back to the cabin for a much needed shower.
I felt a bit of a pillock, holding back the group with my antics, but was cheered in the van when I learned that two other journalists never even got out of the car park at 10am that morning without falling off.
After hitting the shower, checking one or two light wounds for infection and grabbing some much needed food – off-road makes you eat like Henry the friggin’ eighth – I was ready for a few beers. As I sat in the bar, spine creaking, my left eye closing up following the tree branch whiplash and the skin hanging in shreds where the new MX boots had chafed the back of my legs, I realised I’d done things on a bike that I thought were impossible for me.
Sure, I’d fallen off a few times – well, several times – but the well built CCM had bounced back better than I had, taking me over mountains with a blip of its torquey engine. You won’t believe how exciting 10mph – that’s ten miles an hour – can truly be, until you try that speed down a 1 in 3 muddy gradient, featuring all the grip of a plastic tea tray.
The trail experience is ideal for bikers who want to learn new skills – skills that might save your life on tarmac, when recovering a slide could make all the difference between staying upright, or slithering off at high speed. It’s also especially good for road racers who want to brush up on their tyre sliding ability without wrecking an expensive racebike doing more track testing.
In one short day, I learned more about throttle control, shifting my body weight and tyre traction than I have in three months road riding. There’s no Police, cameras or crazed cabbies out to get you either. Even the local farmers and ramblers were also friendly once they saw we had slowed down to pass them. Riding four strokes is definitely more punter-friendly than being on two strokes too.
I can’t wait to try some more off-road. If you haven’t tried it – do it. Get dirty this weekend on a CCM.
Get CCM motorcycle insurance for the 604.
|Engine||Air cooled, single cylinder SOHC four-stroke with electric start and kickstart back-up|
|Valve arrangement||4 valves per cylinder|
|Bore & Stroke||97 x 81mm|
|Transmission||5 speed constant mesh|
|Claimed peak power||53bhp @7,500rpm|
|Frame||Oil-in-frame, twin cradle|
|Brakes||Front: Brembo hydraulic 260mm. Rear: Brembo hydraulic 220mm|
|Suspension||WP 43mm upsidedown forks, adjustable suspension. WP adjustable rebound/compression/preload|
|Fuel capacity||13.6 litres|
|Fuel capacity||13.6 litres|