Ben 10: (not) getting to grips with mud

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Zanie

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Location
Table View, Cape Town
Bike
Honda CRF-250 Rally
Day 6 (20 April 2022): Bottelnek, Bastervoetpad and Naude’s Nek Pass

Key statistics:
Distance: 266 km
Time: 10h11
Speed: 26 km/h (total) or 38 km/h (moving)

Video of day 6:


Dave from Walkerbouts Inn had warned us about Bastervoetpad Pass. He said that while the pass itself was a challenge, the real kicker was the forestry roads to the east of the pass. The logging vehicles apparently make a right royal mess of the roads there. Prophetic words indeed.

Regardless, our route remained unchanged and we set off at a lazy 9am. In hindsight, we should have left at 8am. But this trip is not an exact science.

The day started with a beautiful liaison section, including the usual ruts and puddles.

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Bottelnek Pass has recently been promoted to a Ben 10 pass, in the absence of Ben MacDhui Pass. It has a lot to live up to and cannot compete with its spectacular neighbours. Therefore this “driveway” to Bastervoetpad gets only one perfunctory picture.

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From the numerous amount of trees in the picture below, I assume this stop served as a ladies’ loo-break. Plenty of hiding spots!

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The crew minus the ride leader (temporarily assigned as photographer):

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An hour later, we had yet another rest stop. This one’s purpose was a final moment of reflection on our life choices. The rough track in the background is the start of Bastervoetpad Pass.

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As photographically evidenced, the road conditions immediately deteriorated on a logarithmic scale. It turns out that the few days of sunshine were not enough to dry things up completely.

Remo, our usual guinea pig:
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We all now knew which line to take: not Remo’s.

So graceful…
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I note as per my diary that I did have a horizontal moment early on, due to the mud. Photographic evidence, however, is mercifully lacking. Every last one of us got a turn to be in touch with Mother Earth today.

Both Kim and Peter decided to go snorkelling in the deepest mud hole of the lot. Yet momentum pulled them through. Counterintuitively, the deepest bit of a mud/water puddle is often the safest option – you can’t fall further.

Peter powering through:
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The route up to the viewpoint was very rocky at some points. This is where I adopt the approach of simply hanging on to my bike and trusting that everything will work out ok, regardless of line taken.

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Hanging on, despite going front-airborne:
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Pick a line! Your options are (1) rough, (2) rough or (3) rough.

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This section had a cheat code. It’s called “hang right!”

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Proof that this path is indeed a road: road signs! It warned “slippery when wet.” Yup. We were to learn all about that on the east side…

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Mud and clay are the enemies of the day. Therefore, after the initial mud-hole, everyone managed the rocky bit fine; bouncing to the top in relatively short order. 30 minutes after our bridge-reflection, we were walloped in the feels by an intense view.

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I am so grateful that we had clear weather for this:

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Some rest, relaxation and snacks, before the day’s real work starts.

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Watch the ride video for the sounds of disbelief coming from Lance on the next section. As usual, the snapshots from the footage doesn’t do justice to all dimensions. There be mini-steps here.

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All is good and well, while things are dry…

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But then… Pick a river. Any river.

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And what would a river be without cobbles?

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A dry line! How quaint.

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Next I heard an “oomph” behind me, as Lance did one of those hurried fall-but-I’m-back-up-and-nothing-happened-I-swear manoeuvres.

As evidenced below, the lower line is usually easiest. Or perhaps it was simply Lance’s near-magnetic attraction to ditches that ensures he rides in any he can find.

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Safer to follow the car tracks than trying the dubious wet slop on the edges:

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And then things got messy. Very messy. Where’s the bloody road?! Look carefully. There’s a drop-ramp where I am, hence the bike’s rear is facing skywards.

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Now Lance is at the top of the ramp and I’m trying to figure out how to move forward without tumbling sideway (it’s sloped to the right).

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Semi-flatness. But it’s still a mess.

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I got to be guinea pig on the downslope of Baster. Lance watched me take an off-camber line, saw my rear-wheel slide-skip, and course-corrected to the lower line for his heavier bike.

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All of us needed a breather after the messy corner.

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I walked back to take a picture of the offending corner for posterity, but pictures still don’t seem to capture the essence of its malevolence.

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Zanie

Race Dog
Joined
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Messages
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Location
Table View, Cape Town
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Honda CRF-250 Rally
Day 6 (part 2)

Heading onwards, still following the road-river to the valley floor:

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We met a donkey that appeared to be taking itself for a walk.

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Yet this was soon followed by a family and their dogs. Pause here for a moment of gratitude as to our ease of living. Ask yourself: How far are you willing to walk for a Coke?

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A scenic breather:

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Scenic mud-ruts:

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Just plain scenic:

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Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?

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This place reminds me a bit of Golden Gate Park:

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You get two types of wet earth here: black and red. We dealt with the former during our Tenahead-Tiffendel Traverse a couple of days ago. Today we get to learn all about the latter. A small sample is shown in Exhibit A below. This is a teaser for what was to come.

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And then it started: clay slops. At least these exfoliation treatments were interspersed with rivers, in order to wash off the muck.

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Wash time!

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I found the rivers relatively intimidating since (a) the water was fast-flowing and (b) the surface tended to be full of holes and rough stuff.

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This traffic jam was due to a wait-and-see-what-happens-to-the-guinea-pig (this time me) approach.

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Lance came to inspect and found the reason for the slow-down at the front.

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A whole lot of “yuck!” I managed to shuffle along using gentle throttle and propping myself up with a foot on the steep embankment. I did not want to put my foot (or myself) down in that mud.

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This was followed by the requisite wash bay. Yet this cleaning-station looked a bit dodgy.

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“I don’t like the look of that.”

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White water showing the edges to the holes.

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Lance was guinea pig this time. He has less of a water aversion. It ended up being fine. The holes on both sides weren’t too deep.

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Kim crossing:
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Remo taking a bath:
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The wet clay hinting that it was not yet done with us for the day. Not by a long shot. But that’s later’s problem.

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Another water crossing:

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We were nearing the infamous forestry roads. The clay was back with a vengeance.

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I did not sign up for this… (I think?)

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Fun times. At least it could be crawled.

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I present to you: the swamp!

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A strategically-placed gate added to route logistics.

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Zanie

Race Dog
Joined
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Messages
676
Reaction score
86
Location
Table View, Cape Town
Bike
Honda CRF-250 Rally
Day 6 (part 3)

And then things came to a halt. The next obstacle looked very “interesting”. Clay is one thing. Clay on a hill is quite another. For those who have yet to experience the laws of physics combined with clay, here is a summary: clay coats your tyres until they form a beautifully smooth surface with about as much traction as ice. Now try riding ice uphill.

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The scariest surface known to mankind:

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Lance demonstrated some involuntary elephant turns. I like how his display indicates “gravel ahead”. If only.

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Kim chose the high line and made it. I was too scared of that line due to the possibility of sliding off it. So I chose the low line and got royally stuck. As Peter later quipped: My rear wheel was just slowly turning, “producing clay soft-serve” in beautiful curls through the swing-arm. Yum.

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Not to be outdone by Lance, Peter was also doing some elephant turns.

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After his second drop of what is the heaviest bike out of the group, I guess he decided “ah, f*** it, let’s go assist a damsel in distress rather.”

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Even standing on this snot surface is a feat unto itself.

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Thanks to Peter, I was able to pussy-foot and slip-slide to the spot where everything became more solid and sane again. Check the rear wheel. Spot any knobblies?

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Remo and Kim were the only ones that conquered the hill without mishap; minor or otherwise. The chirps from Remo and Lance, regarding Peter’s prone bike were hilarious. “We just leave this here right?” “Do you still need this?” “Do you want to ride pillion?” Poor Peter needed help getting that behemoth back upright again. You can only deadlift that bike so many times on your own.

The next 5 or so km were a test to the mental wellbeing. It was unnerving having your bike take random slides.

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More dangerous than it looks:
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Lance letting Remo go ahead and be guinea pig; finding all the slick spots.

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Whenever we were in the open, the surface was more predictable; just plain old-school wet.

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A clay downhill was another treacherous obstacle. Lance warned “Don’t touch your brakes!” Of course, I did test them out, but abandoned that idea quickly. If you so much as touched your brakes, the bike simply started sliding sideways; often in a direction that is at odds with where you want to be within the broad ambit of this thing called “road”. Better idea is to leave the brakes and let the bike just keep sliding forwards. It was a “hold on and hope” moment.

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I prefer the bog-standard flat-earth puddles to what we just survived:

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Kim powering through a puddle:
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The Jekyll and Hyde road continued.

Bad:
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Beautiful:
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Bad again:
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We finally hit a roadblock, and got to meet the culprit causing the churned-up road nonsense. It was fascinating watching the logger pick up and place huge logs as if they were matchsticks.

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Eventually Remo got the guy’s attention and he shifted enough for us to pass.

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Check those metal-track wheels. That’s what you need to drive here without sliding!

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It was already 3pm and we had only covered half the day’s planned distance. We still had 130km to go to Rhodes. It sounds short, but to date our average moving speed here has been dead-slow; below 50km/h. It is unlikely to be different now, since we still had three unavoidable passes on our route: Potrivier, Elandskloof and Naudé’s Nek. Doing some quick head-math, and considering a sunset time of 5:45pm, it looks like we may be cutting it fine. And we have two bikes with non-functional headlights…

About that, it didn’t start that way. Remo’s headlight died yesterday due to a wiring issue. Peter’s dims died yesterday and his brights died today. Peter therefore pre-emptively went shopping for headlight bulbs in Ugie, just in case. Remo’s problem was a bit more intractable. We would just have to hope we get back during daylight.

We refuelled in Maclear (now Nqanqarhu) and then took a regional road (R396) towards Naudé’s Nek and Rhodes. You’d think a quite major road would be relatively well-maintained, or at least passable. But all bets are off here. The road was indeed in perfect nick initially. It resembled the gravel highways of the Western Cape. We even had to deal with dust being kicked up due to our speed!

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Yet it slowly reverted to type:

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On Potriver Pass, the low sun threw shadows across the road. It took your eyes a split-second to adjust every time you moved from sunbeam to shadow. A split second which you may need. An example of the contrast and potential pitfalls is shown below.

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Lance and I slacked off in response. Lucky. We rounded a corner, moving from sun into shade, and had the aforementioned miniscule time-slice in order to respond to a huge donga that ran diagonally across the road. If you stuck to the left, you needed bunny-hop skills to make the V-shaped wheel-depth gutter, but to the right it petered out into nothing, offering a safe line. We swung right and lived to ride another day.

We kept going initially, but then wondered: Would the others see the donga in time? We stopped. And waited. And waited. Not good. The others were not that far behind at last check. We started riding back. Eventually we spotted the others on their way towards us. We stopped to get the full story: Remo had crashed hard in the donga. He was sore and his bike had some interesting “flame-design” scratches (of the wiggly-squiggly type) on its fairing, but the bottom line was that no serious damage was done to person or steed. Remo might argue with the latter, despite my protestations that chicks dig (bike) scars.

And just when we thought the day couldn’t get worse…

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A forlorn figure, contemplating life’s complexities: “I survived a donga, for this?”

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We had 70km to go and just over an hour of daylight left. Back was not an option. We had to get through. The questions floating around in our collective brains: “How long is this hellscape?” and “Are there more of them?”

We walked it first, looking for lines and in some cases making them. Adding insult to injury, a massive 6-wheeler logging truck drove past, without sparing us a second thought. If this were a “Long Way Round” moment, we would have loaded all our bikes onto that truck and driven off into the literal sunset. In contrast, the culprit of our mental anguish destroyed whatever lines we were planning; requiring recalculations and rewalking.

Lance was the eventual guinea pig:
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He got as far as a particularly puddle-filled section (pictured below), rethought his life choices and executed an involuntary elephant turn while trying to reroute. In trying to help, I ended up on the wrong side of a spinning wheel and got covered top to toe in mud. I could feel it sliding down my back and into my undies! Queue the full-on angry fishwife.

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Poor stoic Remo. He had to deal with multiple sessions of couples’ therapy during this trip; seeing it all, from the silent treatment, to the very loud treatment. He just did what needed to be done: help get Lance unstuck, by dragging his front wheel around. As recompense for my mud-covered state, Lance took my bike through the first donga stretch, while I took it through the mud stretch.

Sometimes the lowest line is safest, even if it is a mini-river:
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This looks fine:
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Nope. Degenerating again:
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Remo scoped the line for us on this one:
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Our trials were not over yet. We soon reached another mud pit; similar to the first one. No footage or photos bear witness, since we were focused on survival, and Lance didn’t think he could make use of any footage where I’m yelling at him. Poor guy. It wasn’t his fault that the road didn’t resemble its namesake.

I handed over my bike to Lance to take through Mud Pit 2 The Return, since its best lines were high ones, which meant risking a broken ankle if you screw up. Similarly, Peter took Kim’s bike through. It’s far quicker to walk back and get another bike than to try to extricate a broken human from this situation. This point in time was Ground Zero in the level of “happy vibes” on this trip. Aside from Remo, who seems to coast along in unflappable zen.

Peter could see how this day would end, so he stopped for some running repairs on his bike; installing the new headlight bulb. Good move. By the time we reached Naudé’s Nek, the sun had already set. At least there was enough light to see the last of what was still a magnificent view. By this time I had calmed down, resigned myself to a night ride and could therefore actually enjoy the scenery.

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At the top of the pass, all of us stopped to don warm layers. All, that is, except Remo. He said he would go ahead, to make the most use of what little light was left. Reminder: he had no headlight.

As the light failed, additional obstacles emerged. I spotted at least six hares running across the road in front of me. It was soon pitch black dark. Yet where was Remo? Surely we should have caught him by now.

We realised it was a bad idea to let Remo go ahead. We were on a mountain pass at night. What if he rode off the road? We’d never find him. He could be dying in a ditch somewhere. We slowed down even more; eyeballing the road verges. Kind of pointless, since nothing could be seen beyond the black, yawning edge.

By the time we completed the pass, we still hadn’t caught Remo. We spotted a vehicle driving between two farms, and flagged it down to ask whether they’d seen a biker without a light. A friendly lady said she had spotted him and had even offered to lift him to where-ever he need to go; leaving the bike for collection the next day. But he had continued onward.

When we did eventually catch him, all was revealed. He was riding with a headlamp. Boy scout level 10 achieved! It was bad light, but it was light nevertheless. For the rest of the ride, Remo rode next to Lance, who had the best lights of everyone, and I rode behind the two of them to add additional light, since I have the second-brightest lights. LED lights for the win.

We finally reached Walkerbouts at 7pm, more than an hour after sunset; tired, but happy to be in one piece. We showered and rinsed / wiped the outside of our boots (they were a mud mess) before we headed for a supper of pizzas (we placed our toppings order that morning).

We met another biker, who arrived in Rhodes today. He hadn’t gotten the memo about there being no fuel at Rhodes, so Lance gave him ideas for close-by routes. Due to the late ride, late supper and socialising, we got to bed at a later-than-usual 9:30pm. It was a long day, but every bit worth it. The easy days are forgettable. The hard ones are burnt into your brain. I’ll remember this one for a long time.
 

Wildwindfr

Pack Dog
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Awesome ride report.
Dont want to think about all that mud.
My road home last week was bad enough.
Will need to get better tires for Black Bettie. The budget is just not allowing it at the moment.
 

Roxtar

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Awesome report, we had some of that same clay mud stuff off the Nottingham forest roads last weekend.... scary stuff to ride for sure!
 

TheBear

Gentleman Dog
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Awesome ride report.
Dont want to think about all that mud.
My road home last week was bad enough.
Will need to get better tires for Black Bettie. The budget is just not allowing it at the moment.
Enjoy the current tyres. You are learning all the time. By the time these tyres are worn, you will be able to make a more experienced base choice.
 

Wildwindfr

Pack Dog
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Ok, this tread has convinced me to put other tyres.
Will post on the SYM 200 tread.
 
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