After a lovely Christmas break and a torrential few days in which many Christmas’ were ruined the winter sun came back out again yesterday. Mickey’s work schedule means we don’t have too much free time to play with so making the most of the unseasonably mild weather was in order. Taking our two new AJP PR4 ‘s out for their maiden spin was just the ticket.
I’ve had little opportunity to ride over the last month for one reason or another so, excited as I was to get out, the now-familiar psyching myself out kicked in as soon as the decision was made. Throw in the fact that the ride was going to be on an unfamiliar bike that’s higher than I’m used to and I was looking at a reasonable mental hurdle. There are times I wish I could dial my head down a notch or two. But I’ve ignored it enough now to know that, hurdle or not, it’ll disappear once the wind is in my face. Mickey’s usual mix of calm joviality and uncomplaining practicality helps too, distracting me from all the fake obstacles my brain throws up and whilst taking all the real obstacles in his stride.
Once he got the bikes out on the road, it was time to get the leg over. After an aborted attempt due to a bad estimate of the height, I remembered it’s a bit different to getting onto my road bike. I adjusted a little and got on no problem the second time.
I knocked my weight over to the other side and caught the ground with my foot, the stand flicking up on a spring as soon as the bike’s weight shifted. At this point I still didn’t like this feature but by the end of the ride I would. It makes it so much easier when you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve kicked the stand up fully or not. Mickey’s stand doesn’t flick up though, just one of the tiny differences between the bikes that don’t change the functionality but which imbue the bikes with their own sense of individuality.
There are a few differences between this and my road bike that I’m gaining familiarity with. Lacking fuel injection and computers as the AJP PR4 does, the choke generally needs to be on if they’ve not been started for a while. Once running, as mild as the day was we could knock the choke off after a few warming twists of the throttle. Whilst it might not appeal to some, I like this ‘working’ of the engine. Interpreting the conditions and pre-empting the bike’s response to them gives me a feeling of collaboration and a trust in the simple but effective engineering of a good old-fashioned combustion engine. Another difference between my PR4 and my sports bike that I’ve now learned is that the engine still turns over with the kill switch on – valuable lessons! 🙂
Mickey asked just before getting onto his: “do you remember all your off-road training then?” I listed everything I could remember about it finishing with, “anything else?”. He laughed and said: “I dunno, I was hoping you’d remind me”. You’d think he had no off-road experience the way he plays it down…until you see him climbing onto his moving bike ‘postie’ style. He knocked the choke down and I hit the electric start, the engine leaping into life with a pleasant, throaty growl. Both bikes have got kick starts that we’ll test one day but that’s for another day. I reminded myself my foot was well within reach of the ground one last time before pulling off.
Maybe after you’ve been riding for many years you can switch bikes and barely notice the difference but the first mile or so for me feels so weird. That said, it was a lot less weird than it should have been. I realised as I approached the first junction at the end of our road that I could slow to a bare crawl and still keep the bike upright with no effort at all. In terms of manoeuvrability and balance I’ve ridden pushbikes that I’ve had more difficulty controlling – my confidence leaped up several notches. As I progressed down the road I slowly made use of most of the bike controls, not really explored during our test ride. All were within easy reach, eliminating another thing I might have needed to spend concentration on. Checks done and firm ground established, as I exited the roundabout I opened it up a little to see how it responded. I couldn’t test out its full ability as we need to run them in for a few trips first but I almost forgot this as by now the fun was taking hold of me and the bike seemed only too keen to respond. It easily crept up above 50 mph if I didn’t keep an eye on myself. We got up to speed in nice time but the PR4 lacked any hint of unpredictable bite, no bad thing in my book, but it may explain why there are mixed views out there regarding the bike’s ‘grunt’. A bike that bites and a bike without grunt are two different things for me though and the PR4 is definitely not the latter. Whilst it’s no sports-bike it seems more than capable of holding its own on-road. It feels like it would have plenty to offer in more challenging terrain too. We hit a few long steep hills and I experienced no loss of power, and this without worrying too much about selecting the right gear. In fact the gearing seems very forgiving and on the flat I didn’t need to work the gears much at all to maintain drive. Once or twice I found myself in top gear and almost at a stop before the engine started to object. At one junction I got to test my brakes as I set-off then changed my mind just as a car came flying over the hill, no problems there. This is the only time I can remember really noticing my brakes though, the engine braking was so good that I rarely needed to do more than coax with the brakes themselves.
Pulling up at a set of lights that I use often I noticed for the first time that what I’d always thought of as a T-junction was actually a crossroads with a single track lane heading off straight ahead of us – game on!
Whilst the bikes are more than happy on roads, and much of our riding next year will be on-road, running them in means sticking more or less to 40 mph and isn’t always appreciated by other drivers on the road as we found out with one considerate van driver who took a shine to Mickey’s back wheel. Once off the main roads I could ease up on the traffic awareness and start to explore the bike a little more. Up on the pegs felt natural and comfortable, as it had during the test ride. The suspension makes the ride smooth which no doubt helps but the main thing that I just love about the PR4 is that everything about the bike feels like it’s set up for rider. Riding it is pretty close to effortless, even when unfamiliarity might have threatened to upend me on another bike the PR4 just seemed to put itself back under my control willingly, all this means you can focus on the fun part.
If you’re thinking that effortless riding sounds a bit dull, then take a look at my face in the pictures below and in the album here, the PR4 was anything but, pure unadulterated fun, fun, fun.
Changing gears felt just as natural standing up as it did sitting down – not something I’ve found on other enduros. The reach from peg to gear lever and the degree of movement needed to change up suited me well and meant a small shift of foot position on the peg and an easy tilting of the toes gave me the gear I wanted. Comparing notes with Mickey suggested the set-up is a good one, rather than a cramped one, as his bigger feet also found the gear changes easy. I found no complaints about the seat either, although Mickey expressed a desire for the original to be replaced with something more forgiving before setting off on the big one. This was something we’d already decided on anyway being a common problem for all enduro saddles with their thin, hard design. Let’s face it, it can’t be too comfortable if you have to spend all day every day in it!
After merrily sailing down a few criss-crossing single track roads (and logging many more in the ‘to explore later’ pile) we headed back out onto a main road and looped around to double back on ourselves. By now I was blissfully lost but generally speaking, with road density being what it is round here if you hang three turns in the same direction, you’ll soon enough be facing in the opposite direction without ever having to U-turn – still something I’d rather avoid on an unfamiliar bike and a fast road on the first ride out! This is down to confidence though because the bike corners wonderfully and is probably far easier to U turn than my CBR. By halfway through the ride I was leaning well into corners and the bike was responding beautifully whilst Mickey was dragging his foot round roundabouts as if he was traversing twisty green lanes in his head. Heading back down the country tracks we pulled in for pics and I realised that I was running a little low on fuel. Another nice feature of the AJP PR4 is that the fuel tank is positioned under the seat so you can see the fuel level in the tank – a significant advantage on a bike that’s so easy to lose yourself in when you’ve got a range of only 100 miles. We definitely need larger tanks for the adventure (again, something we were already aware of) but the fuel consumption aligned nicely with what is reported: I’d had around a third of a tank when we set off and I’d got nearly 40 miles out of it by the end of the ride.
Heading home, I was now totally at ease with my bike. When I’m centred on the seat, I’m close to the limit of my reach to touch the floor but the bike is so easy to handle that that stretch doesn’t erode confidence. Even when I’d had to make a sudden stop, I never felt close to losing it to the ground. I’m sure we’ve all been at that horrible decision point where the bike tips past the point of rescue and you, still stubbornly clinging to it, can do nothing but let it drop to the ground? Well, at just over 100 kg, many will never experience that awful decision point with the PR4. Moreover, it’s a testament to the enjoyable nature of the PR4 that I was perfectly happy pootling along at 40 mph, usually this would kill me on country roads but fast or slow, the PR4 is a real pleaser to ride. My impression so far is that this is a bike that is made to deliver fun while taking its job very seriously. I can’t wait to put it through its paces on the muddy green lanes, my bet is that it’s got more to show us yet. We pulled up at home and noticing there were by now only fumes in my tank I jumped at the chance to get back on and head to the petrol station. Even getting off the wrong side and having to carefully manoeuvre myself round the front of the bike to the stand side didn’t bother me too much – although I’m sure my careful side-stepping provided some entertainment for the garage staff. Then home again to wash it down and oil it, feeling only slightly guilty that I don’t usually do this for my CBR. As much as I will always love my 600 – and it obviously has different strengths – I’m firmly convinced my little 240 is going to put as many smiles on my face as the CBR can. If we continue bond as well as we’ve started, I’ll be climbing on ‘postie style’ like Mickey in no time. As it is I think the grin on my face adequately sums up my feelings about the AJP PR4, comprising wild fun and countryside exhilaration tinged with just a little relief that I’ve found something I never expected to – a travel bike package of adventure, handling and capability that fits me perfectly with no compromises.
The great thing about this bike is that it caters to this smaller framed person without making any concessions in the important areas of power and performance. Put simply, it just fits the rider well and does exactly what it promises to. This little bike packs up everything you need from an enduro bike and presents it in a form that looks and feels sturdy and well-built. For us, they’re keepers and we’re so stoked to have our hands on them. It’s not unusual in the bike community to see opinions which are ‘supported’ by anything but direct experience. But those that have ridden AJP’s seem to have nothing but respect and affection for them, and our experience is placing us firmly in that camp for a long while to come. The only downside to it all is that our feet are itching like mad now, we just can’t wait to hit the road on these bikes!