Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A quiet Summer so far

It’s been a quiet period on the Rally racing front as although I had attempted to get the bike prepped after the Tuareg Rallye to race at the Baja GB event on the 2nd/3rd May, however my plans were foiled by a “mechanical”.

Whilst carrying out an oil and filter change, I was unscrewing the bolt that holds the camshaft oil feed screen in place, when the thread came out too! I turned out that the thread had previously been repaired with a helicoil  and that had come loose. 




It has however occurred to me that losing the keys to the hire car in Morocco and not being able to do an oil change half way through the rally was a blessing in disguise. The helicoil would have almost certainly come out then, in which case my rally would have been well and truly over.

With no way of fixing it myself I called Martin Wittering at Torque Racing only to discover he was just about to leave for Greece and the Hellas Rally, so wouldn't be able to repair until the middle of May at the earliest. Due to other commitments of my own I eventually managed to get it over to him towards the end of May. So the Borders Rally on the 23rd/24th May was out of the question.

Upon delivering the bike at Torque I also asked Martin to replace the non-working road book switch and he agreed to see if he could repair the old one as a spare. I also collected one of my front wheels that had received a major dent in the rim in Morocco, that Martin had repaired for me, he had done such a good job I couldn't even work out where the dent had been, in fact neither could Martin!

Following this I had a few weekends of working on mountain bike races in my role as an International Commissaire with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) although my first to Denmark was cancelled after arriving at Stansted Airport due to a cock up over tickets by Ryan Air), After that I did manage to get to Llangollen in North Wales for the British Downhill Series and Fort William for the MTB World Cup Downhill and 4X Protour. 

As a result I had no time to prepare the race bike as the next possible chance to race would have been the Kielder Rally on 20th/21st June but in the event the bike still wasn’t finished so that was a no-go too.

Never mind I thought, I already had an entry for the Ryedale Rally in July…. Well you can guess the rest, various expenses were looming with insurance, tax and servicing on assorted vehicles so the 500 mile round trip to North Yorkshire was looking less and less affordable and the bike still wasn’t ready and then the battery in my 990 decided to die too. 

OK the 450 not being ready was my fault as I had forgotten about the Ryedale and told Martin I wasn’t racing until August so no need to rush… whoops! Coupled with that was the fact that I had bought another bike, A Honda CB500X to commute to my new job (Oh yes that was another distraction from the real life essentials like Racing) 

The Honda is marketed as an "adventure bike" but with 17" wheels, road tyres and short travel suspension it's not really anything other than a tall road bike but that hasn't stopped me exploring the local lanes on it:





And it's principal advantage over the 990 that had been commuting on was its superior fuel consumption, which has certainly impressed me, yes that's 80.6 mpg!




That's not to say the 990 hasn't been neglected and has had a few forays out on the Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire lanes.




Come July I was able to sell my entry to the Ryedale so that was sorted and then there was the little matter of my “race transport” to sort out!

Since I started racing in 2011 I have used my Land Rover Defender 90 to tow my bike to races and also to sleep in the back of. As a short wheelbase vehicle it was certainly cosy with all my kit inside, even more so when I was sleeping in it and as a Land Rover not very economical (26 mpg) so what I saved on accommodation costs I tended to lose on fuel costs. And when I did stay at B&Bs or hotels, there is always the problem of finding somewhere to park a Land Rover and trailer, the worry about security and the pain of being restricted to 60 mph on the motorways. So for some time I have thought of replacing it with a van.

A friend has for a long time asked to have first refusal on the Defender if I ever sold it and then a few months ago asked if I was still after a van as he was willing to do a trade for his Mercedes Vito Dualiner. A deal was struck and I took delivery of the van on Sunday along with some cash which will help with some of the plans I have for it.




Now to be honest my weapon of choice would have been a VW Transporter Kombi 4Motion, able to carry five in comfort, or a bike and provide accommodation whilst being able to get in and out of muddy paddocks with ease (due to its four wheel drive). The problem being that Transporters hold their value exceptionally well so were out of my price range and the 4Motion versions are rarer than hen’s teeth (and even more expensive).

So the Vito is a compromise, yes it can carry six if required, there is plenty of space for the bike, it’s a lot more economical and comfortable than the Defender and there’s plenty of space to sleep in too. But as a rear wheel drive, long wheelbase with 18” alloys and low profile tyres, those muddy paddocks could be an issue! Also it's not tall enough to fit the rally bike straight in but that's true of all standard height vans but anything taller wouldn't fit under the archway that leads to my house. 

And yesterday I learnt the 450 is finished, so it looks like my next race outing will be the RallyMoto GB navigation event in August, can’t wait to get back in the groove!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Tuareg Rallye 2015: What could Possibly go wrong? (Part 2)


So after a run down on how the bike survived the Tuareg Rally, how about me and my riding kit....

Rider:
  
Actually no real issues at all, normally if I had spent nine days in those conditions, I'd have run the risk of severe sunburn but being wrapped up in bike gear all day long, all I had was a little bit of peeling on my ears and the top of my head despite the Spf 50 I was wearing when not on the bike. The problem was that you put some on in the morning but it just wears off due to sweat and friction with the crash helmet lining. I took to keeping a spare buff in a pocket to stick on my head when stopping for more than a couple of minutes.



Riding Kit:

Again it mostly performed excellently. My main kit was:

Crash Helmet: Acerbis very light and very comfortable, no issues at despite being filled with sand on more than one occasion. And as the liner is removable and washable, cleaned up very well. The only small criticism was that the peak could do with being a little bit longer.

Goggles: Oakley Crow Bar, again excellent performance, given that I had three pairs but only got to use one all week. I used a grey tint lens that seemed just about right for the conditions and certainly protected me from flying rocks when required....



Neck Brace: KTM branded Leatt. Never worn one before and difficult to assess how well it worked but certainly when I head butted the navigation gear on day two dropping into the muddy river bed and cartwheeling off the dune on day four, I could have done my neck some serious harm but walked away unscathed on both occasions. It was comfortable to wear and not as restrictive as I feared it might be.

One problem with a neck brace is the gap above it, not an issue in the heat but on the chilly morning starts it was a bit crafty. Solved by wearing a buff, again very effective and easy to wash through. 

KTM Rally Jacket: Specially designed to fit with the neck brace and an excellent bit of kit, the only small criticism? The clear pocket on the left hand sleeve for your time card was a bit too far around the side of the arm and made it difficult to check times etc without unzipping it and removing the card... I did say minor!

Body Armour: Leatt, excellent protection, very comfortable, designed to work with the neck brace. Also very hot at times but that's the trade off for good protection.

Gloves: BMW Motorrad GS Enduro Gloves. These are the second pair I've owned and I really like them, actually designed as a road glove but in a motocross style, so lightweight, well vented but offer good protection (palms made of Kangaroo leather) and very confortable. After seven days of riding I had some very minor blisters starting to appear on my palms but that's all.

Rucsac: Kriega R15, very comfortable, was able to carry four litres of water without really feeling the weight and very well made... enough said.

Trousers: Klim Dakar, very comfortable but did suffer a bit, I managed to burn the right leg on the exhaust a few times, a seam on the lower leg gave up altogether and small holes got worn in the left leg and the left had pocket but again very comfortable and fit very well over my....

Knee Braces: Pod K300, I've worn these for the last three and a half years of racing no issues apart from losing a bit of skin off the backs of my knees where the straps chafed.

Base Layers: Nike Pro Combat, very comfortable and very easy to wash out in the shower, dried very quickly so ideal to negate the need for taking loads of kit.

Boots: TCX Pro 2.1 Again I have been wearing this since I started racing, comfortable, very supportive and after seven days racing nearly knackered.... the linings are very worn, the water resistant bellows on the front have several holes in, the right hand sole is badly cut up by the serrated brake pedal, the right hand boot has melted on the exhaust and a few of the buckles have lost some trim. Think I might have to invest in some new ones.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Tuareg Rallye 2015: What could possibly go wrong?

Having finished the Tuareg Rallye, now it's time to count the cost, no not the financial cost but the wear and tear on the bike.

To recap, it's a 2006 KTM 450 EXC with the RFS (Racing Four Stroke) engine that is generally held to be bulletproof and indeed it was for the nine days of the rally however not all the other parts proved to be as robust.

DAY ONE: OUARZAZATE - ZAGORA

Managed to flatten the (brand new) battery at the hotel when the bike decided it didn't want to start.  

Then on the start line of the Prologue, the bike refused to start at all on the kick start! Well it did eventually start but it certainly took some effort

Then just before starting the first special stage, a loose rocker shaft locating bolt, led to substantial oil loss. Luckily spotted by Zippy from Desert Rose Racing so easily sorted. So once all that was done, I got underway and no further significant problems....

Well that was apart from my GPS staring to play up. curiously only when I got back onto tarmac. Vibration kept causing it to lose power from the bike, so I kept getting the message "external power has been lost, do you want to continue on battery power or switch off?" It only took a quick tap of the screen to switch to battery but usually after a few seconds the connection was established and switched back to power from the bike. At the next stop I checked the fuse and all the cable connections but could find no problem. The issue seemed to be the way the GPS fitted into the cradle, easily sorted the next day with a couple of cable ties, even if it did make it a bit trickier to read!


DAY TWO: ZAGORA - MERZOUGA

First problem; both brake and clutch levers vibrated loose on the handlebars, on a long stony piste although I suspect it was a result of the very rocky tracks we had been riding just before this. Luckily I was just approaching CP1 so was able to sort them out there without losing the bolts (and big thanks to Memo Tours and Torque Racing for their assistance... I didn't even have to get my own tools out.

Then shortly afterwards my gear lever vibrated loose, again I was lucky enough to spot it before the bolt (or the gear lever) fell off. In fact this happened several times during the course of the rally but I got into the habit of checking it every time I stopped and tightening it up as necessary (needless to say my Loctite was in one of the boxes locked in the hire car.... the one I lost the key to, remember)!



Then later in the stage, whilst dropping into the river bed where I got stuck, I managed to head butt the road book and wiped out one of my light switches! I lost main beam, which was no hardship so at the end of the day just removed the remains of the switch, moved the two good switches to neaten things up and taped up the loose wires.


Before

After 

Then came the excursion into the "Mud" itself albeit with no real damage done and I even managed to remain within time! The bike certainly took a lot of cleaning that evening.



This stage certainly took it's toll, just before reaching the last checkpoint the oil seal on the right hand fork leg blew



Then when I thought nothing else could go wrong, I ran out of fuel on the final tarmac stretch, OK so this wasn't a problem with the bike itself but a consequence of having spilt a lot of fuel getting the bike out of the mud.



Eventually rescued by another competitor, we managed to transfer a small amount of fuel into the bike in a plastic sandwich bag, just enough to get to the fuel station 7 km outside of Zagora. But then to add insult to injury, the fuel station had loads of diesel but had run out of petrol!

Saved by a local, who led Gary Pitchford and I to a local village, where the shop had some fuel (measured out in 1 litre olive oil bottles)! I managed to run out of petrol again 100m from the shop so had to push in, much to the amusement of the locals!


DAY THREE: THE KING STAGE

Another problem noted was that I had lost one way valve off my rear petrol cap, another source of leaking fuel! This was cured on this and subsequent days by sealing the breather with tape and then swapping the cap with the working breather to whichever tank I happened to be using at the time.


Also I managed to flatten the battery on this day as the bike was constantly stalling or falling (due to my complete lack of experience of riding sand dunes) and with the repeated re-starts and the fan running constantly, combined with my slow speed not allowing the battery to recharge, kick starting was the order of the day. However when hot the engine was extremely reluctant to go into neutral (you can't kick start in gear) although when I eventually did, the bike often started first kick! 

Later this day my Garmin Montana GPS started playing up, with the touchscreen refusing to work and "locking up" it eventually got working again much to my relief as often the navigation in the dunes on this day consisted of the road book instructing "follow the GPS"



One other issue was the old iPhone I was using to run the Rally Blitz App to provide a CAP display (compass heading), this continued to work OK but the 12v USB socket I had fitted to power it decided to shake itself to bits. As a result I had to remove the phone and charge it in the hotel each night and rely on the phone battery instead. Most days this was OK in itself but on the longer days I did resort to turning the phone off when not required to save the battery.

DAY FOUR: THE DUNE RACE

A cartwheel off the top of a dune caused my only major mechanical "failure" of the day, smashing the rear mudguard, number plate and rear light mount. A few cable ties held it all together...




During this day, my road book stopped scrolling forward but would run backwards, this meant I had to advance it by hand, using the knobs on the side, not easy whislt riding one handed on rough terrain! This was later traced to a dodgy connection in the wiring to the handlebar switch, loosening off the cable ties holding the wiring and a bit of wiggling eventually cured it.


DAY FIVE: MERZOUGA - ZAGORA

The road book switch stop working again but this time no amount of wiggling would restore the connection. The fact it ran in reverse still was useful however as this is used when loading the road book into the holder each morning. 

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful until near the end, I stopped to repair the road book when it tore, only to discover my side stand had fallen off after the pivot bolt snapped.


The broken bolt later conveniently vibrated itself out of the thread! 



DAY SIX: ZAGORA - ERG CHICHIDA - ZAGORA

The only problem today was the GPS once again refusing to work. This time it packed up completely!

At the end of the day we were checking it over and on removing the battery, it was too hot to hold, so the heat definitely seemed to be the problem. The next day it worked fine!



However whilst trying to see if the problem was a loose connection I obviously didn't replace the fuse box cover properly and it fell off somewhere!


DAY SEVEN: ZAGORA - OUARZAZATE

Errrr.... nothing at all


THE AFTERMATH

On return from Morocco, I started to get the bike ready for my next race outing, the BAJA GB in Mid Wales.

First I took my forks out (and discovered that a thread on the brake hose clamp on the left hand fork protector had stripped so replaced it with an old one) and delivered them to Torque Racing for a new seal and a rebuild. On collection Martin reported that one had no oil in at all (no surprises there) and the other one was filled with "brown sludge". They certainly feel a lot plusher now.

The rear plastics were removed and replaced with an old set I had in store, and the rear light replaced with the new one I had intended to fit before the rally but had run out of time. This involved fabricating a new light/number plate mount from 2mm aluminium plate. A new number plate finished things off.

The front wheel was replaced with my spare and sent off to Torque to have a large dent taken out of the front rim. This had the advantage of giving me a brand new tyre for the race.

I fitted a new air filter as after all I had six brand new ones that had been in my spares box in the hire car!

Then I set to on the engine, I drained the oils and removed both filters. Then I removed the bolt on the side of the engine to remove and clean one of the oil screens only for disaster to strike!

The thread had obviously been damaged in the past and a helicoil insert fitted but unfortunately the insert wound itself out with the bolt!



Unfortunately I was unable to get it repaired in time so I had to cancel my entry for the BAJA which was a disappointment, although I did feel slightly better when I saw reports of the awful weather conditions, including at one stage a dusting of snow on the course!!! 









Thursday, 16 April 2015

Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 7 - Zagora to Ouarzazate

Yes, woken up by those annoying German buggers yet again!

A relatively easy day, or so we are promised but still a healthy distance as even by road Ouarzazate is 150km away. The day started with a 57km road ride to reach the start CP, very boring and in the early morning quite chilly. Again I held off leaving the hotel until quite late to avoid having to sit around for an hour before my start. As a result I was last bike on the road and it was starting to feel a bit lonely out there! It was getting to the stage where I was starting to wonder if I was on the correct road, when I eventually passed another rider at the side of a road, he was fine having only stopped for a pee! I then passed a few of the Car amateur competitors who started about twenty minutes after us each day so I definitely knew I was heading the right way. I still got to the start with half an hour to spare and was relieved to find a large rock to park the bike against. After a brief wait I was waved forward a bit earlier than I was expecting and was soon underway.

This stage was not timed being strictly liaison but we started as usual in groups of four at minute intervals, as we would on a special test. The first section was on a rocky piste that caused considerable dust, so despite my promise to myself to keep it steady, I wound it on a bit to get out in front of my group and get some clear air.





This was OK until heading into some low hills the road book holder started flopping around. It appeared the zip tie holding it in place had given up the ghost again! I stopped where I could prop the bike against a rock wall and discovered one of the mounting bolts was loose too. So a quick tighten and a new zip tie and I was on my way. However I was now last bike on the road as everyone had passed me.

As I pulled away I heard a strange siren like noise ahead, it turned out it was a siren when an ambulance appeared coming the other way on the narrow track! I had just about enough room to squeeze past. It would appear that our narrow little “off road” track was in fact a fairly major route leading to a number of villages. They must have had fun trying to pass the thirty or so riders in front of me!

The fact we were on a fairly major route was confirmed shortly afterwards as I scrolled the road book on to find repeated speed limits and notes of prominent buildings. Sure enough I soon passed a clinic, a mosque, a school and what appeared to be one long strung out or possibly several adjoining villages. I passed another rider, who gave me the universal thumbs up “I’m OK signal” and I carried on out into wide open country, climbing higher into the hills, the track was very twisty with a few sharp bends that had the ability to catch you out. It followed a wide valley and eventually headed over a col that I remembered from day one. On the other side there was a section of tarmac about 400m long before returning to stony piste, why they chose to come all the way out there into the hills to lay that one section miles from anywhere, I have no idea?

On the other side I started to catch up with several riders and we then turned hard right to head into another village, the road book said to turn left and enter a oued (river bed) but I couldn’t see the turning. The other riders carried on up the piste as it climbed out of the village but I wasn’t convinced and the trip meter was definitely past where I should have turned. So I stopped part way up the hill and looking back into the village, immediately saw one of the organiser’s trucks sitting in the dry river bed, it had been hidden behind a large earth mound. I turned round and made my way down, using the truck to park against.

This was the stone filled oued I remembered struggling along on day one but this time only the Pro classes had to ride in it, we got to follow a smoother piste that ran alongside, constanly crossing and recrossing the oued. At one crossing I saw the flag of a Secret Check Point but as I stopped to turn, another British rider running back from the SCP shouted to carry on as it was only for the pro classes.

We eventually turned to ride along the oued but the gravel was less deep here with patches of standing water, so quite familiar terrain really (just the 30 degree heat that wasn’t)!

A long winding piste led to another village then to a new straight road with piles of stone blocking the access, so you had to follow the old road that wound along, constantly crossing and re-crossing the new one. Except the two riders in front of me decided to ride over the stones and use the new road, so I followed suit, as did a few more riders behind me. This was easy going with just the two piles of stones to ride over each time the old road crossed, no handicap after the terrain we had been over in the last week. The road book must have been written with the new road in mind as the trip meter was spot on when we eventually reached the turn off to a visible CP off to our right.

This was the start of the first special stage. After a short break, I got my time card signed and got on my way. This was a relatively short stage of about 35km so unlike most specials where I just rode at a steady pace, this one I rode more like a UK rally and upped the pace, I know this broke my "keep it steady rule" for the last day but I wasn't pushing hard, just enjoying the ride. The stage was all on stony trails that weaved across low hills and through valleys, great riding!


At one point the road book instructed us to turn left off a main piste and then follow a smaller parallel track. However at this point another rider came flying past staying on the main track. The road book then took us back across the main track, looped us round and re-joined it further along. The other rider had just stayed on the track and ridden straight through. At first I thought he must have interpreted the road book and realised this was just a (slightly unnecessary) detour.

Then as we climbed on the main track again, the other rider slowed right down and kept glancing to our left. Then it dawned on me what he was doing, glancing at the GPS I noted that we were a fair way to the right of the route (because it just draws straight lines between waypoints). The other rider had blasted straight through and was now getting confused because he wasn't following the road book at all but blindly following the GPS track! I would have thought after a week of racing he'd have worked it out by now. I just overtook him again and continued up the track, confident I was on the right route as we had a CAP heading that I was spot on and the description said something like "follow power line" sure enough there was a line of poles running right beside the track.

Before the rally I was told that just by navigating well on the road book I could get a top ten finish as so many people just followed the GPS track and as a result missed Secret Check Points and incurred big time penalties. I hadn't believed this entirely but after that incident I was convinced. After all this was supposed to be a "navigation rally".

It didn't seem long before I rolled into the CP to end the stage. There followed a short road ride into Agdz, the scene of our fuel stop on day one. The petrol stations were full of bikes but I decided I didn't need to refuel.
 
Several Italians left one station as I approached and I tucked in behind them as we climbed into the Draa valley and over a spectacular pass, with stunning scenery. After several kilometres of fantastic bends, we pulled off the tarmac to a CP. Here the pro classes started a second special stage but us in the amateur classes returned to the road. I was feeling a bit cheated as I was more than happy to do a bit more racing.




 



A straightforward road ride took us to another CP just off the tarmac, this was the end of the special stage. As I listened to some of the Moto Pros described the horribly rocky track they had just raced over and how hard it had been I no longer felt cheated.
 
From here it was a short distance on the road to a restaurant where we were all to re-group, competitors and service teams and were all treated to lunch by the organisers. Approaching the entrance that was manned by several Gendarmes, I swung smoothly onto the gravel driveway and the rear wheel just carried on round, unceremoniously dumping me on the gravel! The Gendarmes all ran over but we're not sure whether to be concerned or to laugh at my antics, however when they saw me laughing at my own stupidity, they all readily joined in.

After picking the bike up, I rode up to the gate, checked in, met up with John, Radu, Elvis, Anny and Sophia, parked up the bike and sat down for lunch in a Bedouin style tent inside the restaurant's walled compound.




We then had a long wait until all competitors were in and John decided to drive straight back to Ouarzazate to reclaim my two crates of gear from the Hertz office before the shut. The rest of us were eventually formed up into one huge convoy and rode together back to the hotel in Ouarzazate, a pretty impressive sight! on arrival, I just parked the bike up against the wall of the hotel, next to the main entrance....



After this much beer was dispensed and a podium ceremony was held for the winners in each class, with garlands presented, much champagne sprayed and all to a background of.... yes you've guessed it, our old friends Rammstein!!!


Yes we rode through Hell to get a can of Hell!

Afterwards Radu's car and my bike were loaded onto the trailer, then I retreated back to the hotel room for a much needed shower and we got ready for the official awards ceremony.

Here I was pleasantly surprised that not only had I held onto third place in the Moto Amateur over 50s but I was called up on stage and awarded with a trophy. Not bad considering my only ambition was to finish!




Radu and Elvis had held on to second place in Car Open Series, so a great result all round for Team RCBS Rally Raid / Nomad Racing!

After dinner and a couple of beers at the end of race party in the bar, I headed off to bed for a good sleep and for the first time in a week, a decent lie in.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 6 - Zagora – Erg Cheggaga - Zagora

Race Day Six: Zagora – Erg Cheggaga - Zagora

So we went to bed thinking that at least we wouldn’t have the wake up call in the morning from Rammstein, as unlike Merzouga where the hotel was some distance away from any other buildings, The Hotel Reda in Zagora was in a built up area so we guessed they wouldn’t dare wake up half the town at was after all 05.00 Moroccan time….

Wrong! Noisy fookin’ Germans before dawn again!!!

Today's stage was a loop out and back with some more dunes on the way. For the pro’s this was a long extended loop through the dunes of the Erg Cheggaga. For those of us in Amateurs we were luckily to just have to ride the dunes across the “neck” of the long loop, although in the event it wasn’t exactly easy.

Due to the out and back nature of the course, John wasn’t required to go out with fuel as we passed a petrol station at Tagounite twice on the route. However I again filled up the bike to be on the safe side before leaving.

I decided that without a stand I didn’t to get to the start too early but in the event things did get a bit rushed! A moderate ride out of town on sandy tracks got me to a flat open plain; here my first dilemma was how to park the bike with no stand whilst I got my timecard. I solved this by pulling up next to one of the other British riders and asked him to hold my bike. I then returned and sat on the bike until my start.

We soon found ourselves on a wide open , flat and stony plain with the road book instruction “follow GPS” for 17km, it turned into a flat out blast until we past a water tower after which we followed more tracks around some agricultural plots in the shadow of a range of hills before arriving at CP1, here there was a handy thorn tree, so I parked the bike against it, or to be more accurate… in it! Those thorns are sharp!






Following on from here was an on road liaison section, this led us over a pass through the hills we had been shadowing, where the road was in the process of being repaired, so much so that we might as well still off road! The twisty bends were fun though!




Then followed a long straight road to Tagounite. This was odd as it had a single lane width of tarmac with an equal width of gravel on the left and a narrower strip of gravel on the right. I soon discovered the technique here was that everyone used the tarmac strip to travel in both directions but when you met traffic coming the other way a game of chicken ensued, with right of way seemingly being determined by the size of the vehicle, the largest wins! As a result I was forced to make several trips onto the gravel to avoid oncoming traffic.

Arriving in Tagounite was a little odd, usually you detected the proximity of towns by the increasing litter levels and the towns themselves have a rather run-down appearance but here we were suddenly onto to wide smooth roads running between very new looking smart buildings, in particular a large Army barracks and a high school both in large walled compounds. Just beyond these after a new roundabout was the fuel station, again looking newly built and then a wide boulevard with some very impressive looking street lamps along it, led off towards the town proper.

Stopping for fuel, I then decided on a lunch stop using a handy wall to lean the bike against. Donna and Colin from Torque were set up on the forecourt so I had a natter to them whilst I got some food and water down my neck.

Suitably refreshed, I set off again only to go the wrong way! I automatically turned out of the petrol station onto the wide boulevard into town, when the road book told me to turn back on myself and turn off the road at the roundabout. I executed a quick U-Turn, rode back past the petrol station and turned left at the roundabout onto a rocky piste past the high school and towards CP2, the start of the next special stage that was only a few hundred metres away. Again I found a handy tree and parked the bike.

Started off the route took us along a fast, straight but very rocky track. This was not great news given my right hand fork seal was still leaking and the ride was very harsh. Then I glanced down to see that my GPS had turned itself off, no attempt on my part could get it to restart. So I was forced to pull over (at a convenient thorn tree) and check the power supply. All was fine, the connections and fuses were all OK so I could only assume the heat had got to it again, as that day was blisteringly hot. I decided I would just have to rely on the road book, trip meter and compass (CAP) headings.

The road book was also giving me grief as the switch had failed to run the book forward the previous day (although still worked in reverse) however after loosening off some of the cable ties and fiddling with the wires, it had started working again. However it now decided to fail again and no amount of fiddling with the wires would get it to work, so I had to scroll it forward by hand using the knob on the side of the road book holder. Not easy trying to ride one handed at 80-90kph on a rough rocky track!

The track ran alongside a low range of hills on my left, then after a sharp turn I crossed this through a gap to emerge into a wide open plain, with sand dunes up ahead stretching to the horizon. This was the Erg Cheggaga and into which the pro classes had headed. We on the other hand turned sharp left and headed to towards the dunes to run down the opposite site of the range of hills.

It was at this point I scrolled the road book forward to discover the directions through these dunes consisted of riding from one GPS waypoint to another, not a lot of help without a working GPS! I had expected there to be CAP headings to follow as a safety back up but these were absent.

Knowing from studying the map I had to run approximately south, I followed a rough heading of 180o and headed into the dunes, there were a few other bikes and cars around so I could break my own rule and follow others but this of course presumed they knew where they were going. I noticed a Suburu in the car category heading back towards me? So I stopped on a high dune to see what they were up to. From my vantage point I could see there were many stony valleys between the relatively low dunes and they were looping back round to obviously make use of these. I decided to do likewise and managed to get a long way into this first dune set without having to ride on sand at all. When I eventually got back onto the dunes themselves, I found them to be horribly soft, whereas in previous days it was easy to stop on top of dunes to scout the way ahead, here you just sunk into the sand.

At least the battery was fully charged and this time when I bogged down or on a few occasions when I lost the front wheel and took a tumble, I would whip the clutch in quickly, hit the starter and then click the bike into neutral (it goes in easy when its running) so I could extricate the bike or pick it up (or both) with the engine running and get moving quickly, which was making progress a lot easier.

I pulled up at one point next to a German rider and fellow Brit, Kurt Burroughs and explained my problem with the GPS. Kurt was having his own issues and was concerned that his GPS was telling him to turn right and head west. The German rider didn’t seem to have a clue and admitted he was just following other people’s tracks! I realised what Kurt’s problem was and explained he must have selected the track for the Pro classes not the amateur! After changing it the three of us headed off together. The dunes consisted of several distinct sets, with flat stony ground between them, in the second set I parted company with the others and carried on following my southerly bearing. After quite a while, during which I had passed several of the car competitors, all with spades out, digging their way out of the soft sand, I spotted the tell-tale flag of a secret check point on the horizon, so all I had to do was head that way.

Another stony area followed and another, larger dune set before I reached the SCP, here parking the bike was no problem, stop, apply a handful of throttle and the back wheel sunk into the sand to hold the bike upright!

Upon hearing of my GPS problem, the crew assured me that the track was easy from here. I headed off through the dunes as the gradually got lower and eventually led me out onto a huge, flat, dry lake bed. I headed straight ahead and soon started to catch another rider both of us still heading south. Suddenly the rider who had been several hundred metres off to my right, disappeared! Slightly confused I stopped and looked around, he had stopped, turned sharp left and had ridden across behind me, without me realising. One disadvantage of using a neck brace, is that you can’t turn your head too far, so your ability to look behind you is compromised.

Looking in the direction he was heading I could see more tell-tale dust trails so headed that way too and in about ten minutes arrived at CP3, the end of the special stage. I took advantage of this to get a good drink and eat some more food. This was also CP6 for the pros where they joined our route again at the end of their long dog leg into the dunes but despite having started almost two hours before me, none of them had arrived yet. It looked like they were in for a long day!

After a while I got on my way again on the liaison back towards Tagounite, at first a decent piste led back through the range of hills and then became a tarmac road as I descended towards the plain. In front of me was a brand new, straight tarmac road with the old (unsurfaced) piste winding along beside it. The road signs said to use the old road but all other traffic was using the new one, so I rode through the line of rocks that it seems serve as traffic cones in Morocco and headed off towards town. Entering Tagounite from this direction was like any other town, in fact this end seemed even more ramshackle and run down than most. I soon passed the petrol station but had no need to stop, then joined the “chicken road” for 15km, crossed the pass again and dropped down through the road works to CP4 (that had been CP1 this morning), I parked against the same tree and had a drink before starting again.





This special was just a repeat of the first one this morning and when I got to the section where the road book instructed “follow the GPS” I was luckily following a Swiss rider who was riding at my pace, so we just stuck together over the featureless plain until we rolled into the final CP. Here there was nothing to park against so I just lowered the bike onto its side and handed in my time card. That got a laugh from the CP crew!

A short ride back to Zagora for what had turned out to be a fairly good day for me and a reasonably early finish too. Radu's trailer made a handy "stand" whilst I did some maintenance...
 


I also found I didn't have to worry getting the remains of the snapped side stand bolt out of the thread, it had vibrated its own way out...


 


Radu and Elvis eventually got back having had a terrible day with lots of digging. After arriving Radu just collapsed beside the car and promptly went to sleep! It turned out that he and Elvis had not been able to complete the stage, they had been required to do an extra loop through the area of dunes I had ridden but they had timed out.

 





In fact it turned out to be a great day, achieving joint fourth place on the stage in the combined moto amateurs, it seems my times on the fast and open first and final specials being the major factor. Those fast fire roads on UK rallies seemingly putting me in good stead for that type of terrain! This also ensured my third place overall in Moto amateur over 50 was looking very secure, although I could of course lose it if I had a major crash or breakdown, so smooth and steady was going to be the order of the day for tomorrow. I had little chance of improving my position as I was 17 hours behind the first and second placed riders. They were the only two in our class to manage to complete both the King’s Stage and the Dune Race, so respect was due!

Radu and Elvis, despite their less than perfect day had still achieved 6th place in "Car Pro" and were now sitting in Second place overall in the "Car Pro Series" class. Series is essentially the "Production" class as opposed to "Car Pro Open" where anything goes e.g. space frame replicas etc, so a great result despite the trying conditions.

By way of explanation, these are the categories in the Tuareg:

SINGLE CATEGORIES (for overall results)

  • Car Pro Open
  • Car Pro Series
  • Car Amateur
  • Car Amateur Suzuki
  • Truck
  • Quad
  • Buggy
  • Side by Side
  • Motorcycles Pro
  • Motorcycles Pro – driver >50 years
  • Motorcycles Amateur
  • Motorcycles Amateur – driver > 50 years
  • Motorcycles Amateur – 2 cylinder
ADDITIONAL CATEGORIES
– Women in each main category

MAIN CATEGORIES (by which the stage results are shown)
  • Car Pro
  • Car Amateur
  • Truck
  • Quad
  • Buggy
  • Side By Side
  • Motorcycles Pro
  • Motorcycles Amateur



Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 5 - Merzouga to Zagora

Woken up by those bloody noisy Germans again!

Fairly relaxed start after yesterday even though the start was about 17km out of town, however the bike decided to put a stop to that and didn’t want to kick start this morning (remember it still had a flat battery from yesterday) but eventually we persuaded it into life.


Having brimmed both fuel tanks, a full 18 litres at the fuel station last night, I was taking no chances of reaching CP1 and my Jerry can today. Especially as I had run out on the almost identical stage (but in reverse) on Monday. I had no dramas finding the start as I had ridden past the spot yesterday morning when charging up the battery, although I did miss the dirt track leading a few hundred metres to the start it'self. No problem as I just turned right at a convenient spot and rode "cross country" to the start line!

I had arrived with plenty of time, so had a natter to a few other competitors, including the Coles, who were going great guns in their £800 Suzuki Jimny!

Off the start (after kick starting the bike of course) and we were back on stony tracks, which did have the downside of plenty of dust, then into the “narrow valley” which was too narrow for the trucks. Not so much a valley as a narrow sandy track winding between stony, banks. In fact I discovered that in places, riding up over the banks was easier! This area was also well populated with photographers so I guessed they were expecting a bit of carnage!


At the end of this section, the road book was a bit confusing and I suspected I should have turned left at a junction when I had actually gone straight on but soon realised I could just loop round the small hill to my left and re-join the route which was across a wide open area with plenty of choice. There were plenty of other riders going all over the place so I guess I wasn’t the only one.

After this we were into wide open sandy and stony plains, so flat out was the order of the day, my trip meter was a bit out after my detour but thankfully we soon passed a turn by a fence (unusual that was clearly marked on the road book, so I was able to reset it to match the instructions. This continued for a long time and got a bit repetitive and almost lead to another navigation error, the instructions were “many pistes same direction” (well it actually said "manny pist" but that was one of the easier translation gaffes) across a huge dry lake bed for something like 15km.

I was happily making progress now, pretty much alone except for the dust trail from another rider about a kilometre or so ahead of me. I glanced down at the GPS and noted that I was off to the left of the track, although I was on a clear piste with plenty of bike tyre tracks, there was a large isolated hill ahead and to my right. I guessed that the track should be going to the right of it, so angled off to the right and soon picked up another piste heading the way I wanted and I was soon back on the line of the GPS track. The rider ahead of me was still heading off to the left of the hill but I guessed we might meet up again around the other side. When I cleared the hill I glanced across and instead of seeing the other track coming back to join mine, I could see the other rider’s dust trail, now about 4 or 5 km away and heading well off track. I felt a bit sorry for him but that’s racing!

I had been told that accurate navigation would always pay off and I was seeing that for myself. In fact my navigation throughout the rally was pretty spot on apart from a couple of minor errors when I missed turnings but knew almost immediately and back tracked to find them. One advantage of all this flat out running was I now had a fully charged battery, so no longer any starting issues!

After a while we started to pass a series of isolated hotels (kasbahs) that were familiar from day two, when we had passed them in the opposite direction including one that was marked as "fuel available". It was the usual mud and straw construction of an outer wall around a courtyard favoured by most of the kasbahs (looking rather like a  small fort) It was in a very remote spot with nothing even resembling a fuel pump, so I guessed it would be the petrol from a plastic bottle style of operation again, I didn't need fuel so carried on.


I eventually reached an area of sandy hummocks, not really big enough to be called dunes with a multitude of tracks. This led to a slightly tricky drop off into a dry river bed, the road book being quite specific that you had to find the correct GPS point to avoid danger. I obviously did as I rode down a sandy slope into the river that cut through a bank about 2 metres high, that wouldn't be fun if you rode off it in the wrong place.

We turned left into the river bed which was wide and very sandy making for quite hard riding for several hundred metres before turning right to exit.The exit was mush easier as there was no real bank on this side.

The road book always referred to these dry river beds as Queds (pronounced "Kwed") which was another translation gaffe. It should be spelt Oued which in Moroccan (or more correctly Maghrebi) Arabic is pronounced "Wad" And is the origin of the term "Waddi" the term usually used for a dry desert river bed in English, although in fact Wad or Oued refers to any river valley dry or not. It's not easy being a Geographer in these circumstances! However as the organisers used the term "Qued" we, the competitors adopted it too!

Another quirk of translation was in the vouchers we got for dinner, that were referred to as "bons". One evening, Rainer the organiser asked me if this was correct, or was "coupon" the better English term? He seemed quite upset when I when I explained it should be coupon or voucher as "bon" isn't an English term at all! Radu and Anny found this quite amusing as apparently "bon" is the correct word in Romanian!

After leaving the Qued/Oued/Waddi we reached a Secret Check Point then entered an area of deep, soft, sandy tracks through an area of small dunes and camel grass that led towards the Qued Remlia, the scene of my little excursion into the mud on Monday. This time I passed one of the organisation’s huge MAN 8 wheel drive trucks stuck up to its axles only a few hundred metres from where I had got stuck, glad to see I wasn’t the only one!

After crossing this Oued and the sharp turn where I had gone off course on Monday we entered a series of even more twisty, very soft sandy tracks. Here the technique was definitely to keep the speed up otherwise steering was near impossible. I found that getting into the wheel tracks of a car was also an advantage as your front wheel just follows it and they are reasonably straight. However the tracks left by bikes are formed by the back wheel that is fishtailing from side to side so are anything but straight! I was going well until the front wheel tucked under and I was over the bars…. This felt serious as I landed heavily on my side, knocking the wind out of me and causing such a sharp pain in my side I was convinced I had broken a rib or two. After getting myself back together (and clearing the sand out of everywhere), checking the bike, that was fine I was able to continue, despite being in some discomfort.

More open piste soon followed and eventually I reached a point where the pro’s route headed off to the left, to climb “impressing sanded hills” as the road book put it and this had been highlighted at last night’s briefing. I missed the actual turning at a remote kasbah but no problem as I had to ride straight on anyway to climb over a low col. I did note I was now off the GPS route but as there was only one GPS track that day for all competitors, I assumed this was correct. And sure enough to my left was an impressive sandy cliff.

As I climbed over the col I spotted the tell-tale flag of a secret check point (SCP) up on top of the cliff. This did put a bit of doubt in my mind but I guessed it was there to ensure the pro’s followed their route rather than the more direct amateur route I was on and which was very clear from my road book. As the track over the col opened up  into a wide flat area, one of the Suzuki Jimnys in the Car Amateurs caught me but soon hard left and looped round to climb up to the top of the cliff. I could only think they too had seen the SCP and thought they had to visit it. I stuck to the road book and headed off across a huge open plain, the enormous wide open spaces were one of the things that really impressed me about Morocco especially compared to Britain’s crowded little islands.

The wide open plain went on for some considerable time and I was maintaining a steady 110kph and as I approached the same band of trees where I had stopped on Monday to tighten my gear lever, I ran onto reserve. This was no problem as I had the rear tank still full and my Jerry can was at CP1 just over 30km away. However to use the auxiliary tank would mean stopping, getting my tools unpacked to find my side cutters, removing the side panel, cutting the cable tie keeping the petrol tap closed, turning it on, using another cable tie to keep the tap open and then putting it all back together again and packing away the tools. However I was really in the groove at this point so didn’t want to stop so carried to see just how far I would get on reserve. Bearing in mind I was riding at nearly my top speed I was very pleased to roll into CP1 without having to stop, 32km on reserve!

I refuelled quickly as this was still included in our time, the first special section ended as we handed our time card over for signing but then the second special stage started! I carried on although  this was the long piste section where we had all the problems on Monday, added to bypass the washed out section of track, we had been warned to keep to a strict 80kph (50mph) on this section with a 4 hour penalty for those ignoring the restriction


Unlike Monday where we had used it in two separate sections, this time we rode the whole way on the piste. As a result a long boring ride ensued at a steady 75/80kph until we reached a SPC where we could re-join the original route, strange that this was still in the timed section, whereas it might have made sense to neutralise it instead, especially as the organisers could use the SCP to restart the timing?

The route from here was over some very rocky tracks and the suspension certainly earned its keep despite the fact that my right hand fork now had very little oil left in it due to the leaking oil seal! At one point the road book suddenly tore, so I stopped to fix it.





Unfortunately I went to put my stand down only to find it was no longer there! The pivot bolt that I had only replaced a week and half previously had snapped! Luckily I found a handy rock to park against and sort out the road book with some duct tape.








The finish of the stage came after not too long but was in the middle of a wide open stony plain with nothing to park against. The checkpoint crew saw my dilemma and one of them ran over and held my bike up whilst I handed in my time card. A short ride back to Zagora to the hotel, where I discovered John had not arrived as he was helping one of the German Service teams fix a puncture. With a strange sense of déjà vu I approached reception but this time they handed the room key over with no problem as they remembered me from Sunday night, we even had the same room! Again I had nothing to change into so did some maintenance on the bike until John arrived and I was able to have a long hot shower and get changed.



As you can see, I needed that shower!


That night I had more good news, 21st in the combined amateur class on the stage and up to 3rd place overall in the moto amateur over 50s class…. Result!