Friday, August 18, 2017

Exploration: Round Algonquin Park 2017 via TCAT and Cobalt - Part 1

In 2016 I completed a solo, 1200km, three-day dualsport route clockwise around Algonquin Park (RAP) starting in Almonte, just west of Ottawa. It was hot, dusty, and challenging--particularly on the first day through the Bancroft area south of the Park, where there are long sections of rutted, technical trail far from support--but lots of fun. Most of the route followed the TCAT up to North Bay, then picked up on the Algonquin Dualsport Route described in the Backcountry Routes guide.

This summer, I repeated the route and doubled it by exploring further along the TCAT past Sudbury, looping over to the fantastic historic town of Cobalt at Lake Temiskaming and rejoining my original route at Mattawa. The theme this time was to spend more time exploring the many ghost towns and old mines along the way, and to get a better sense of the local history. The map below shows my planned route, but--and as you'll see later--some of it proved impassable and I had to go around.



Altogether this year's ride took six long days, four of which consisted of torrential downpours, soaked clothing, and mud. Lots of alone-time in the helmet, absorbing the vast expanse of our beautiful and rugged province, talking to myself, and contemplating the merits of maybe getting a slightly larger motorcycle for future adventures. But my bulletproof WR250R was once again a total champ and got me through unscathed.

Unfortunately, whereas last year my phone died after day one and I could no longer take pictures, this year it was the turn of my new Garmin 64st to crap out, which happened on the last day with the result that I lost all my trip data. This is my third such Garmin in just over year. The previous 64st (which was replaced under warranty) and before that a 60cs all died on their own for random reasons. Without a reliable guide to the turnoffs, on the last day I was forced to abandon the interesting backcountry trails taking me home to Almonte from Mattawa that I had followed last year.

Overall it was a fantastic ride with a good mix of technical trails, stunning scenery, historic detours, and a total mining geek-fest in Cobalt. Highly recommended for small- to mid-sized adventure bikes with at least 250km range and ideally 350km range (in my case, achieved with a 12L tank and 4L RotoPax). You should also spring for a trail pass from TheTrail.ca, since the funds help the Eastern Ontario Trail Association access and maintain these beautiful locations to ride.

My bike set-up and travel gear was essentially the same as last year: lightweight, camping-oriented, and with tools, spare tubes, and minimal food and clothing. However, whereas last year I rode on full knobbies, this year I rode on Mitas E-09 50/50 tires in arguably worse trail conditions, yet they performed very well. Given the long stretches of unavoidable pavement this time around, I actually preferred not being on knobbies. Another key change was having my suspension re-valved last fall, and installing a stiffer shock spring. This made all the difference in the sand, whoops, and ruts--no major control issues at all despite being a loaded bike.


My route out of Almonte followed my local trail sauce before connecting with the TCAT. Lots of dirt roads with some roller-coasters thrown in.


The section north of Dalhousie Lake is rugged and beautiful - well worth a day ride from the Ottawa area. 


Here's typical evidence that today's hamlets were much more vibrant (and populous) communities a hundred years ago:


On Buckshot Lake Rd., my route was supposed to turn west onto Brooks Lake Rd. as dirt way through to Highway 41, but this proved to be a dead-end not far past a lonely homesteader's cabin. The only sign of life on this road was, improbably, an immaculate new Mercedes SUV that was crawling over the boulders and steep hills behind me, presumably to access the lake at the dead-end. Yee-haw. Last year I tried a different route through this section, but I got stumped then too. Many years ago I did a mountain bike ride through this area as part of a 24-hour adventure race, but I have yet to rediscover that route which wound over to the top of Mazinaw Lake.


No choice but to turn back to Buckshot Rd. and follow it around through Vennachar to Ferguson Corners. From there, the route on Smith Lake Road was a long, beautiful ride on sandy dirt with a few rough and wet sections and vestiges of pioneer cabins now as hunt camps and shelters. This is a highly recommended section to ride on almost any bike, also within reach of a day-trip from Ottawa.



One of the notable stops along this remote section was the ghost town of the Bessemer Iron Mine (1899-1914), which required a northern detour to reach a former rail bed to the mine. This is well worth a look although the mine site proper is now closed off on private property. A great video of the mine site on the private property is available here

Here's the right turn onto the former rail bed to Bessemer: 


Before long, you reach the site where a town of about 300 miners and their families once toiled for a better future. Just to the left of where my bike is parked you can see where the old rail bed runs into a rock cut in the woods, and from there to the mine head as shown in an old photo below. 


This same location on the road is actually the former "downtown" area of the community, with boarding houses, shops, post office, etc. On the  right (south) side of the road, hidden in the trees, is an intriguing hole blasted out of the rock. A book by Dave Hanes about the mine's history (details below) suggests this was built as a cold storage for a large log boarding house located nearby.


Just past the blasted hole and on the same side of the road is a large and impressive stone foundation. One map of the town site suggested this could be the foundation of a log boarding house that was known to be in the area. However, Hanes's book includes an interview with one of the local old-timers who worked at the mine, who said the old log boarding house had no foundation and was built right on the ground. This stone foundation was built for a hotel and never finished: "never had a board on it". There are apparently some other foundations nearby, but I didn't have much time to explore. 



This small hunting cottage was, I think, originally the company store for the mine.


A small stream drains from Mullet Lake (seen below) into Little Mullet Lake (where most of the mining occurred). Here's where the stream crosses under a culvert in the trail. A sawmill was located here. A diver who explored the lake bottom near this site found the remains of a log sleigh and team of horses that presumably fell through the ice back when the mine was running.


According to an old site map, the Bessemer school house was located on the left shoreline of Little Mullet Lake as seen in this picture from the road/railbed. 


For more detailed information about the history of the Bessemer Mine, Dave Hanes's book "Iron Mining at Bessemer 1899-1914, The Hand of Father Time" (ISBN 0-88954-424-7) is an excellent resource. Hanes conducted extensive research at the site and interviewed key old-timers in the area--the stories are entertaining and provide a fascinating perspective on a era of early European settlement in Ontario that has all but disappeared into the bush. You can order the book from Darlene at the bookstore in Cobalt (more on that later). Here's a view of the main mine workings, I believe from a perspective near the end of the overgrown rail line through the rock cut shown in a picture above. 


The overgrowth and bugs proved too obstinate for me to explore here further, so I carried on with my main adventure and headed on to Bancroft. 

After Bancroft comes one of the most challenging sections of trail on the whole route: Pencil Lake Road. It's a heavily rutted, rocky ATV/Jeep trail that nevertheless is a riding highlight of the whole route. Last year I followed this road to its end near Irondale (another ghost town), but there was one particularly rough section with a deep swamp that required bypassing via a steep climb and descent over a large knoll of bedrock. Given the torrential rains this year, my slower progress overall, and the likelihood of much more standing water on the section of the trail, I decided to avoid the risk in favour of investigating an alternate route. The TCAT showed a detour from Pencil Lake Rd. north onto Hadlington Rd., which in theory should've avoided the need to ride through Pencil Lake Rd's long sections of standing water. Indeed, the bypass started out just fine:


Then it quickly devolved into hellish mud pits which I was barely able to ride with my 50/50 tires, despite a relatively light bike. Fortunately I had thought to bring a handsaw with me, so I was able to remove some strategic branches and pass beside several of these holes. However, I got stuck in a few holes that were slimy, sucky, deep mud (2 feet deep in some places). It was pretty miserable trying to pull myself out while of course a storm arose and raged around me. I absolutely do not recommend this alternate route for larger bikes. It was one hole after another for a few kilometers, few of which offered a way around that could be navigated with bags on. Definitely one of the worst (or, should I say "character-building") sections on the whole trip. In retrospect I would take Pencil Lake Rd. all the way again, because if memory serves me, much of the trail had a rocky base and lacked this type of silty mud.


Suwan's Thai Restaurant in Minden made a welcome and tasty (but slow) dinner stop before heading north towards my first camp near Huntsville. The owner and his Thai wife split their time between Minden and Thailand, and have collected all manner of ephemera which is displayed (and for sale) in their popular restaurant. 


Two days before, a tornado had ripped through the Baysville area north of here. The trails in that section are active forestry roads and they were saturated, rutted, washed out, and covered in storm debris. No pictures; I was tired, wet, and scrambling to get through in one piece as dusk arrived. After a long paved section I finally reached my first camp at our family's cabin on Lake Solitaire.

Here's a view of the cabin, which my parents bought from a close family friend whose father had built (and stocked) the cabin around 1920. No electricity, no water. Still rustic like the pioneer cabins back then.


Part 2 of this report covers my progress further along the TCAT through the forests, ghost towns, and sandy glacial till that stretch north of Huntsville well up past Sudbury. New challenges, new things to see, and finally some pictures of the route since I wasn't able to get any last year!  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Motorfist Ranger pants - first impressions review

After a couple of seasons in my Olympia Motoquest suit, and having recently completed a 2500km dual sport ride through Northern Ontario (ride report coming soon), the limitations of my riding gear only become more apparent and intolerable over time. While there's no one set of gear that works perfectly across a wide range of heat, cold, wind, and rain, it's clear that some of the niggling annoyances of the Olympia gear--like fit, comfort, and usability--have been avoided by other designers. In particular, I wanted an over-the-boot adventure pant that actually fit adventure boots and had room at the knee for better knee armour. The question is, what options?

Klim is an obvious choice for good quality gear, and the Dakar over-the-boot pant was a prime upgrade candidate over my Olympia pants while still being reasonably priced. Unfortunately, due to a Klim supply chain issue this season, the Dakar pant rapidly sold out in my size range (34-36) and was ultimately discontinued even though it was apparently a best-seller. An experiment with a size 32 which--according to Klim's own fitment guide should've been the right size for my 36" waist measurement and weight--proved impossibly small. None of the other comparably priced and desirable Klim options were available. I can't quite justify spending $2k on the Klim pants and jacket I'd ultimately like.

So I was intrigued to discover Motorfist, a relatively small and new company (founded 2009, now owned by Arctic Cat) that makes technical gear for enduro riders and snowmobilers. While they have a modest but growing product line-up, their gear appears to be thoughtfully designed and well-made using quality materials, with clearly defined product feature sets and no pointless overlaps between items. Not a lot of reviews online and I don't know anyone who has worn their gear. But their Ranger pant caught my eye so I took a chance and ordered a 36" in the basic grey online directly from Motorfist.



The pants arrived well packaged, fit true to size, and look really sharp. Features I immediately like on them include the waist adjustment and expansion bellows, which allows a high waist without the pants pulling down when you bend your knees. The thigh and front pockets are well sized and functional. Fabrics, fasteners, and other details are all well positioned and appear to be top quality, with a minimalist design approach to avoid flaps and straps that just get in the way (like on my Olympia gear). It's clear the designers have put a lot of effort into function while respecting form. These are pants by riders, for riders--so props to Motorfist for respecting their target market.

I'm now going to focus on what I feel are some minor areas where Motorfist could refine the design and achieve a truly exceptional product still at a competitive price:
  • Knee and hip armour is not included. This alone isn't a big deal because everyone has their own preferences, so I'm not recommending to include armour. But--and as I'll cover below--the armour pockets are impractically small. This eliminates using some common armour products out of the box which I feel is a significant shortcoming in the pant design. There needs to be a better way to integrate armour into the pants.
  • Overall tailoring is excellent, without excessive bagginess or tightness in most areas. However, I'd cut the area above the knee/lower thigh just a tiny bit larger to allow for more athletic builds. Currently the pants become uncomfortably tight around my quads when my knees are bent or when sitting on my bike, although the plus is that the knee pads remain securely located. Hopefully the fabric breaks in enough to provide a little more give and mobility. 
  • I'd encourage Motorfist to investigate how the stretchable crotch-panel could be reshaped and/or raised slightly to allow a little more mobility. It seems to be positioned a little low, making it hard to bend the legs at the hips if the pants slip down even a tiny bit. And the stretch feature doesn't really help in this scenario.
  • The half-zip legs use YKK coil zippers. These should really be moulded zippers, e.g. a #10 for durability (especially when they become fouled by wading through swamps).
  • The legs fit over my relatively narrow Forma Terra boots (size 45) no problem. In fact, the legs are just a little too roomy at the shin and the elastic cuff does nothing. I would encourage Motorfist to either tighten up the elastic in this area, or offer a way to further cinch the cuff tightly around the boot to improve resistance to water being sprayed up inside.




Although I was able to squeeze simple knee pads into the unadjustable knee pouches, there was no way I could get any meaningful hip armour into the hip pouches. As you can see, the pouches are very small compared to modest CE-rated hip armour.


My solution was to make some sewn pouches for my hip armour which then attach to the pants with Velcro. Rather than sew pouches into the pants at the factory, maybe Motorfist could consider this concept as a modular approach to their pants.

For materials, I bought a cheap sports shirt (in wicking material) and adhesive Velcro at Walmart. Total cost about $20.


The first step was to locate where the pad should go. Right up against the waist seam was about right.


Next, I traced out the pad onto the doubled shirt material, using the bottom hem as the location for a Velcro closure to reduce the amount of sewing. Leave enough of a margin around the perimeter (about a cm) to allow for the thickness of your pad and sewing the pocket closed. 



Now you need to attach the fuzzy portion of the Velcro to the pants. Don't attach the prickly half, because if you ever choose to ride without the pouch, the Velcro will rub your hip. I used a cloth-adhesive Velcro and secured the edges to the pant liner with a few quick overcast stitches to prevent the edges from eventually rolling up. The glue itself seems pretty strong to hold it in place. The original armour pouch is still usable.


Now sew the mating half of the Velcro onto the outside of the pouch, and the Velcro closures at the bottom. Don't forget that you'll then need to turn the pouch inside out to sew the perimeter closed, and if you're using asymmetric pads, be sure to get the right side and shape to match the Velcro mounting. 


Here's a completed pouch with pad inserted:


Now repeat the process in mirror-image form to make the opposite pouch. These installed nicely into the pants and stayed securely in the right spot when worn.


I've only had a few short rides in these pants since getting them, so I'll need more time and weather variation to truly see how they perform. I'm curious to see how the fabric inseam performs in gripping my bike compared to leather. On the plus side, it should dry a lot faster.

Overall I'm impressed and look forward to evaluating other Motorfist gear.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rugged Wheels on Facebook





Just launching a Facebook page for my custom wheel building business, Rugged Wheels. Been busy with customer orders and testing new products over the last few months. I'm selling sample wheel sets at a considerable discount. These reflect combos I built up as part of setting up my ordering system, tooling, etc. All are ready to ride and in new condition, although some may have very minor cosmetic flaws that won't affect performance/durability. Will also be listing some slightly-used odds and ends that I tested along the way. Gotta clear out the shop for more stuff!

Dualsport Diary will continue to be where I post articles and reviews.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Motorcycle tail bag: MEC Scully Duffle 30L

Last week I caved and bought this nifty 30-litre waterproof duffel bag to replace a roll-up dry bag I've been using for the past two years. Check out the specs here.

Previously I'd experimented with another tail-bag concept, but it proved too small and fussy. The Scully duffel is a great size: large enough for tools, rain suit, lunch, shoes, and other odds and ends. It's just the right width to be fully supported by my custom rear rack (plans here), and the length doesn't interfere with riding position, seated or standing. Construction quality is top-notch and the zippers are chunky and easy to operate with gloves on. Concealed shoulder straps convert it into a day-pack in seconds.

For now the bag attaches to the rack using a simple bungie loop. This is likely to chafe through the material on a bumpy trail ride, so I will probably use a bungie net to secure it.


Mitas E-07 on WR250R: ride review

Almost threw away my bike today. After yesterday's struggle to mount the Mitas E-07 rear, it was rather deflating to discover that, well, my rear tire had deflated overnight. The sidewalls are so stiff that it was only noticeable the rear was flat when I checked with an air pressure gauge. It was sitting at zero. Bummer.

However, practice makes perfect, and having pre-stretched the rear tire mounting it twice already, it was a lot faster removing it for a third time to inspect the inner tube. There were no obvious punctures, even when submerging in water. Huh... could it have been my imagination? Might as well remount the tire and ride. This time I made sure to inflate to a measured 21 psi so I could see how it held up.

With snow, rain, and sleet in the forecast it was the perfect Canadian summer day to venture onto saturated concession roads to give these tires a proper dual-sport workout. Terrain was a mix of asphalt, freshly-laid gravel, hard-pack wet clay, organic mud, exposed limestone and granite, loose rocks and baby heads, and the usual assortment of mud-holes and stutter bumps that are representative of the roads within a 30-minute drive of our nation's capital. Water everywhere. This is what I consider proper 50/50 ADV riding: it's bread-and-butter conditions in Eastern Ontario. Any more mud than this (especially the sticky clay stuff we have) or steeper terrain, and I'd err on the side of full knobbies.

Off we go, following last weekend's Paris-Roubaix bike race route. Beside testing the tires, I'd swapped my gearing back to the 13/47 I've run for the last two years, instead of the 13/45 which I tried yesterday but found too sluggish.


Handling on loose gravel at up to 90km/hr was excellent. Cornering was predictable with a smooth transition to slide, so it was easy to feel the limits and stay within them. Combined with the suspension tuning I had done last fall, control over the stutter bumps was excellent. 

Now it's into the woods. You can see the treads aren't picking up any mud yet:


Lots of streams cutting through:


This water hole was about 4m across and 30cm deep, and covered with silty mud on the bottom. Didn't quite suck in the wheel but it wasn't a smooth roll-through. No problems with traction. 


You can that tire makes a decent impression. Forward traction was surprisingly good. There was a little bit lateral slip in the greasier mud, which is to be expected given these aren't knobbies. 


This is the greasier mud. As long as I took a level line and kept some momentum, there was no problem with traction. It was easy to forget I wasn't on my regular knobbies (MT-21 front and D606 rear), which I'd used to ride this same route last weekend when conditions were better (although a cyclist crashed in this very mud hole, compressing his spine and cracking some ribs, requiring a trip to hospital).


Finally, some forest road. Easy to fly on this stuff. Just have to be careful of the front wheel, which obviously doesn't have the same grip as a knobby and risks washing out if not careful.


One more slimy mud-hole. The main line is foolish; I took the side where there's a narrow, off-camber line around the swimming pool. One lateral slip and you're in the drink. The tires had no problem preventing a lateral slide. 


Now for some different mud: lots of organics, lots of slime. I had to wait for a truck to pass me from the other direction. It churned things up pretty well in the deeper spots. I was able to ride through the foot-deep mush and standing water on the sides no problem. 


 More forest road, this time with lots of exposed rocks, sharp edges, and baby heads. Here's where the stiff sidewalls of the E-07s really shone: no harsh bang as you hit the square edges; I just rolled right through them. Great traction on the wet rocks. 



On returning home after 80km of riding, the rear tire pressure had dropped to 18 psi. Rats--this means there's some kind of slow leak and it's not obvious where. It's a brand new tube, too. Will need to dismount the tire for the fourth time to inspect again. Either that or put a shot of latex sealant into the tube in the off-chance that any pin-prick is on the outer perimeter. 

Conclusions 

Overall these are impressive tires. Despite some initial trepidation running such a heavy and stiff tire on my small bike, for the type of riding I do these tires look like they'll perform well, especially when the bike's loaded with gear. The Dakar version of the front E-07 isn't too stiff, and in fact improves resistance to pinch flats that have concerned me when running lighter tires like the MT-21. 

The rear tire also performs well, showing much improved lateral grip compared to the Heidenau K60 Scouts which is a similar design (but significantly lighter and with less aggressive tread). It's only obvious drawback so far is it's utter obstinance in mounting. This is not a tire you'd like to face when repairing a flat on some mosquito-infested backwoods trail on a hot day (although the heat could only  make it easier to stretch). 

Together these tires offer well-matched, predictable handling across the full speed range of the WR250R. The Kevlar threads in the rubber formulation promise above-average wear resistance. The additional weight of the tires isn't really as noticeable in straight-line acceleration with the 13/47 gearing swapped back in, although the steering isn't quite as responsive. Once the bike's loaded with gear these differences won't be as noticeable. Having now tried 13/43 (stock), 13/45, 13/47, and 13/48 gearing, I have to say 13/47 is really the best all-around combo for the WR250R: it achieves the optimal tradeoff between torque and acceleration at low speed, and top-end for the inevitable paved sections between trails. It's easy to cruise at 90km/hr without feeling buzzy. 

I wouldn't recommend the Mitas E-07 for small bikes where you're not planning to carry gear. The weight penalty, stiff sidewalls, and difficulty in mounting the rear tire just aren't worth it. Not sure what I'd choose instead (other than knobbies), but it's unlikely I'd go back to a Heidenau which, for a 50/50 tire, doesn't offer nearly as much grip or durability as the E-07. 

These would be my first choice of tires for any bigger ADV bike like the KLR650 or the Honda Africa Twin (a current dream bike), which takes a 90/90-21 in front (E-07 Dakar would be ideal) and 150/70-18 in the rear. A Dakar version in back may be unnecessary unless you're on the heaviest of ADV bikes (like a 1200GS), since the regular version is already so stiff.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Dualsport tire review: Mitas E-07

Torrential rains and widespread flooding have resulted in few riding opportunities, so it's a good time to play in the shop and mount the Mitas E-07 tires that arrived recently. Here're the rear and front E-07 tires next to the MT21 on my front wheel.


I'd been looking for a 50/50 tire that offered more durability than the knobbies (MT-21 front, D606 rear) I'd left on the bike since last season, in the hopes of doing a long ADV ride somewhere this summer. The Mitas E-07 has gotten great reviews for durability, and apparently it edges out the Heidenau Scout K60 for grip and handling. However, I couldn't find many reviews of these tire on smaller DS bikes so I'm curious to see how they work on my WR250R.

The first thing I noticed when my shipment arrived was how heavy the box was. There was a set of tubes in the box as well, but really--it was kinda shocking. When you're on a small ADV bike with little horsepower to start with, it's important to watch weight--especially on wheels, where the extra rotating mass really affects suspension performance, acceleration, and handling. So I was concerned about how the E-07 would feel in action and weighed my last three tire combos for comparison.

Here's the line-up for comparison, with Scouts on the left and E-07's on the right, with my D707 in the middle.

 

All tires have approximately the same dimensions for carcass and tread on front/rear. Weights are approximate: the Scouts and knobbies were worn, and my fish scale was giving me trouble.

Heidenau K60 Scout
90/90-21: 3.9kg
4.00-18: 6.0 kg

Knobbies
Pirelli MT21, 90/90-21: 3.8kg
Dunlop D606, 120/90-18: 5.5kg

Mitas E-07 (50/50 dirt/road)
90/90-21 Dakar: 4.4kg
120/80-18: 7.8kg

Wow, the rear E-07s is more than 3kg (6 lbs) heavier than the D606! Must be all that depleted uranium Mitas adds to their rubber to resist wear.

Oh, these were going to be hard to mount. Just getting the inner tube into the rear tire before mounting it on the wheel was a challenge. In fact, the E-07s were the hardest tires I've ever mounted, made worse by cold temperatures. There hasn't been any hot sun to pre-heat the rubber in over a week, and leaning the tires over a baseboard heater barely helped. A couple of hours had slipped away unnoticed while I cursed and used every trick I knew to pry these solid blocks of rubber onto the wheels I'd built up last fall. Eventually the tires yielded! However, if I flat in the boonies, I would be tempted to just push my bike into a swamp and go buy a new one rather than try to change the tube. On the other hand, the rubber may be stiff enough to ride for quite a distance without any air. Hopefully I don't need to test that theory.

As part of the exercise I swapped out my 48T sprocket for a 45T (leaving the 13T up front), on the theory this would give me just enough extra top-end for the highway while not being as sluggish as the stock 13/43 gearing on trails and with baggage. This required shortening my chain by two links because the axle was already at the back of its travel.

Time for a rip around the country block over a mix of mud, gravel, and pavement, and in the pouring rain.

I immediately noticed the lack of acceleration: a combination of tire weight and the higher gearing. To my surprise, and despite having the throttle pinned, I just wasn't accelerating beyond 95km/hr (GPSed) on a straight flat section with no wind. This is one reason why Yamaha and Honda really need to offer a 400-450cc version of their small ADV bikes--the extra ponies make all the difference when carrying baggage. When I shifted into 6th it felt like a useless gear, more of an overdrive.

Otherwise, handling felt pretty good: no discernible wandering in the ruts, solid traction in the puddles and rain. However, the tires did feel harsh because of the stiff sidewalls (the Dakar version incorporates and extra sidewall ply to make it stiffer), and running about 20psi front/25psi rear. Airing down about 5 psi and warm tires will certainly help.


Nevertheless, coming from a 48T rear sprocket, the torque of the 45T sprocket just felt too low. So I swapped it for the 47T I'd run last year. Haven't re-tested it yet, but I suspect it'll be a reasonable compromise. Now that my chain is 2 links shorter, I was just able to put it together with the axle all the way forward. That left about 1cm between the rubber and the mud guard on the swingarm. It's a new chain, so after it breaks in a bit the clearance should only improve as I move the rear axle back.

The jury's out on these tires until I get a chance to ride them in more summer-like conditions (i.e. above 10C and on dry pavement and trails). If not for the wear rating I'd probably not choose these tires for my bike. At these weights they're clearly not aimed at small bikes, and I wouldn't hesitate to run them on a big ADV machine. Obviously I'm pushing the WRR (and these tires) beyond their intended usage so there's going to be some compromises. And if the weather doesn't improve this year I may need to revert to knobbies anyway, regardless of the wear implications!