Saturday, 3 December 2016

A treatise on earworms

treatise noun
  1. a written work dealing formally and systematically with a subject.

earworm noun
  1. a catchy song or tune that runs continually through someone's mind.

So why do people keep blogs? Many are to document a particular interest; indeed I started mine simply as a way of documenting my rally racing efforts, although I have on occasion wandered off onto other subjects. Others use them as outlets for random outpourings, rants, daily diaries or a myriad of other things.

I often think of things that I consider broadcasting to the wider world but never get round to doing so. In fact many of my random thoughts occur on my daily 45 minute motorcycle commute between Milton Keynes and Northampton.

So I have finally decided to commit some of my more random musings to print (or pixels, or electrons or whatever).

So ear worms, what’s that all about? You know the thing, a random tune pops into your head and you just can’t shake it, no matter how hard you try.

Now I get it if you’ve heard a song on the radio or somewhere and it's catchy enough to stick in your memory but why is it I can almost always guarantee that some odd, if not downright bizarre tune will pop into my head when I’m heading home from work on the bike. Yet there is no music in the office and it’s not as if I’m listening to the radio like I would be if using the van, so where does it come from?

It rarely ever happens on my way in to work in the mornings so it’s got me a bit perplexed. And then there is the weird variety of tunes that crop up, not something that might be current and so likely to have been heard recently or even music I have in my own, admittedly diverse music collection. OK occasionally it will be something I almost certainly heard recently, not that old and still played regularly enough on radio, so they make sense unlike many others….

Recent highly bizarre examples include:

Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”.  I can’t remember the last time I listened to Rumours and yes it is in my old record collection but I haven’t had a record player for about 15 years and no I don’t watch Formula 1 (do they even use it for the theme anymore?). So why did it pop into my head as I accelerated down the slip road onto the M1 the other evening?

And one that cropped up the other week “Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree” yes the excruciating 1973 hit by Tony Orlando and Dawn (yes I had to Google that). Where on earth did that one come from? A tune I guess I haven’t heard played anywhere for at least 20 years.

Then there was the evening where it was “Teddy Bears Picnic” you know the one, “if you go down to the woods today…. etc. etc.” Jeez that was a very strange experience.

But the truly bizarre was the other day when I had a classical tune running through my head, I couldn’t for the life of me recognise it but sure enough the tune was clear in my head. I eventually worked it out some days later. When I first started buying records in my teens, I expressed an interest in classical music. A friend of my parents gave me some old records, including one of overtures. Now I last played that record in about 1975, so how the hell did a tune as obscure as Franz Von Suppe’s “ Light Cavalry Overture” find it's way into my brain whilst riding down the A508 on a cold, dark November evening?

As I said truly bizarre!

And last night? It was this little ditty from John Williams.....

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Whilst taking a break from racing......

Whilst I’m taking a brief break from rally racing, I thought I’d let you know what else I’ve been up to:

In August we had a trip to Arc Tan Gent, a small independent rock festival held at Combe Martin in the Mendips. This was due to two factors, one of the organisers GOC O’Callaghan (it’s pronounced “Jock” by the way) just happens to be the girlfriend of Gráinne’s brother, Shane and the other (quite related) factor was that step-daughter Caitlin was working there as a volunteer on the build up for the nine days beforehand.

Shane, GOC and Caitlin

This was also our first experience of using the VW (now named “Alice”) as a proper camper. When I slept in it at the Ryedale Rally, it was a case of chuck an airbed in the back and gaffa tape some cloth over the windows! In the interim I had purchased some excellent Thermo Mat blinds for the windows, these are insulated and attach easily with rubber suckers. Very easy to install, warm and do an excellent job of blacking out the interior. Sleeping matters were dealt with by an old futon mattress, not only was this very comfy (certainly compared to an air bed)  but could also be folded up into a “sofa” during the day. That and a camping stove (cooking was done on the rear of the van under the cover of the tailgate) all it took to turn it into a functional camper!

 Whilst we were at the festival I also happened to propose to Gráinne, so the big day has now been set for May 2017!

And if you’re wondering why I proposed in a hi-viz jacket? Caitlin hadn’t thought to take a waterproof to the festival (and yes it rained of course), so promptly pinched mine on the Friday night, luckily my Hertfordshire 4x4 Response jacket always lives under the passenger seat of the van!

Also this summer we had the small matter of Gráinne of deciding to start motorcycling. Now at 5' 3" bike choice was always going to be a bit tricky but we eventually settled on a Suzuki RV125 VanVan

It turned out to be an excellent choice, low, easy to handle, comfy and although not the most powerful 125 out there, it's ideal as a beginners bike. And the icing on the cake was they were available on 0% finance. She promptly passed her Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) and her theory test and although she was planning to do her Module 1 and 2 tests soon afterwards, decided to delay these until after our holiday to New Zealand and Australia in September and October (more on that in a later post). 

On our return, despite informing the training school that it would be nigh on impossible to take the tests or training during the week, they went and booked both tests on working days! When she complained, they rearranged the tests for the weekend but arranged the training days midweek! You really couldn't make it up!!! 

Added to this they were downright rude on the phone and in subsequent emails to Gráinne, implying it was her fault even though she had made her preference quite clear from the start.

So Rebel Dog Training in Bletchley, you failed and we certainly won't be recommending you to anyone. So Gráinne has decided to spend some time getting more time on the bike as she can ride on L plates for the next two years and now aims to take her tests in the spring.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

But what about the racing?

Given that this blog was intended to showcase my rallying efforts, these have been largely absent from my life in recent months. The Rally bike is currently undergoing a partial rebuild following the Ryedale Rally in July but this may morph into a more major winter rebuild so effectively that’s it for rallying this year!

So how did the Ryedale go?

This was the first time I had used the new VW Transporter for a rally and was pleased that the Rally bike slotted in a lot easier than the old Mercedes. As I didn’t need the road book holder for this rally, I simply had to remove the fairing for it to fit. No need to unbolt the navigation tower as I had to with the Vito, those extra few centimetres of height make a huge difference!

Unable to get the Friday off work, I loaded up the bike the evening before and started work early so I was able to head off straight from Northampton at 4.00pm with the aim of arriving by 7.30pm if I had no delays.

The journey went fairly smoothly and arrived shortly before 8.00pm only to be told the camping field was too wet and I was directed to a campsite in the village directly opposite. Well the entrance was directly opposite but the campsite was a mile down a wet, muddy, pot-holed lane! I was directed into a field on the right as I was “less likely to get stuck”….. wrong!

Having identified a good spot to camp beside the firm gravel track, I attempted to turn round to park in it and promptly got stuck! Oh well at least it was relatively flat, so I unloaded the bike, locked it up and headed back to the Goathland Hotel aka The Aidensfield Arms.

Only to discover they were no longer serving food! None too happy I bought a load of crisps and settled in for a beer. Shortly afterwards a friend Tim turned up having also driven up from Northamptonshire, so we settled in for the evening and a beer or two, or three. Perhaps not the greatest preparation but what the hell!

The next morning dawned dry and thankfully hangover free, so preparations were made and racing commenced. It was a lap of most of the usual Ryedale stuff, with the usual variations on direction etc. and an occasional new section thrown in. The rain in previous days was making itself felt, with lots of very boggy terrain. I got round most of the first lap without mishap but on the last fire road section whilst riding with Rob and Andrew, following Burt, we hit a section of big loose rocks and the three of us behind got a shower of rocks. I was at the back so came off worse; one hit the end of my finger convincing me at the time that I had broken it! One also smashed the peak on my helmet so I had to ride in peering through the remains!

A rapid repair with parcel tape (all the marshals could find), a refuel and I was off on lap two of three. The next two laps were largely uneventful apart from losing the air box cover and my number plate on the last lap and I eventually rolled back in to Goathland.

The bike got checked over, I changed the (very) muddy air filter and fashioned a new cover out of a piece of foam sleeping mat and gaffa tape, made a new number plate out of gaffa tape and a sharpie. Repaired my crash helmet with yet more gaffa tape, replaced brake pads (the Ryedale is notorious for the very abrasive mud) and did a few other jobs. The finger turned out not to be broken but still hurt like hell, had bled copiously and it looked a foregone conclusion I would lose the nail.

The camping field had also dried up considerably so with a hand from a few of the guys I managed to extricate the van and parking on a hard area.

I also helped out a fellow competitor by selling him some spare brake pads I had and after a clean up and a change of clothes, headed off to the pub. This time I was early enough for dinner!

The next day was thankfully dry again but that is more than could be said for the course. Lap one of three was a bog fest, which saw me falling off several times and I was really not enjoying it. On lap two, I got round to the special stage but once again was struggling all the way, again falling and getting stuck in ruts. In the end I realised I just wasn’t enjoying myself and as this was likely to be my only UK rally in 2016, there was no need to chase points. So I decided to call it a day realising that if I extricated the bike onto a fire road about 10 metres to my right I could ride along it for a few hundred metres to the checkpoint at the end of the stage. I declared my DNF and then rode back to the start with some of the marshals, then back to the van for an early drive home.

It’s not in my nature to pull out of a race early but it was clear my fitness was not up to scratch and the bike was starting to disintegrate around me, hence the reason for the current rebuild!

I could have entered the Hafren in November but as I have nothing to prove in the All Terrain Rally Championship, I have decided to get the bike good and ready for the Tour of Portugal in March next year

Friday, 16 September 2016

Bicycles and Puppies

Not your usual subjects for the Nomad Racing Blog but time to update on a few other activities that have been happening this year.

Firstly we had a new addition to the family when Herbie, a black Labrador joined us at the age of eight weeks. We had been talking about getting a dog as both Grainne and I have had Labradors in the past; indeed I still have “joint custody” of Gem my Golden Labrador who now lives with Anne, my ex. Then out of the blue my Sister Gina announces she is getting another puppy (she’s also used to have a Labrador… do you see a theme here)? And there just happened to be several puppies still available from the litter.

Needless to say, the rest was inevitable so Herbie came to live with us and brother Hector with Gina. Since then we have gone through all the fun and games that puppies entail. The joys of toilet training, holes dug all over the garden and anything that can be chewed, bitten or swallowed whole will be chewed, bitten or swallowed whole! That even included the shed!!!

Shed? What shed?

Hector and Herbie met up again for the first time at sixteen weeks, eight weeks to the day that they last saw each other but it was obvious they knew each other straight away. They then proceeded to go crazy for the next two and a half hours, virtually non stop!

Needless to say they slept well after that!

So what of bicycles? One week after collecting Herbie we were off to Cumbria to cycle the Coast to Coast (C2C) route. This was the great idea of old university friends Tim and Andrea, who you may recall were responsible for our Via Ferrata trip to Italy last year. Well we managed to do bugger all training but still managed 140 miles of cycling and 3,596 feet of ascent in four days. 

The start at Whitehaven, Cumbria

The finish, the beach at Sunderland

It is a tradition of the C2C to dip your wheels in the sea at each end

Somewhere in Cumbria

With Tim, somewhere in the rain near Newcastle

And no, Herbie couldn’t come with us as the trip had been organised and booked before we even knew we were getting him but family and friends assisted with puppy sitting duties for the week, so all was good.

The mountain bikes have now been chucked back in the shed and Herbie is now fast approaching six months old and the chewing is still going, although not quite as bad now (or at least that’s what we try to tell ourselves) even the shed has been repaired! Although digging up the garden seems to be a daily "game" thankfully the fact it's covered in slate chippings does mean it;s easy to restore each time!

Who me?

He’s even been introduced to motorbikes…

Thursday, 4 August 2016

New Wheels!

So what else has been going on in the world of Nomad Racing?

As you will have read yesterday, it hasn’t involved a lot of rally racing!

In March we got the opportunity to change the Vito “race truck” for a nice shiny and almost new VW Transporter T6 Kombi. A similar layout to the old Vito in that it’s a Kombi… side windows and a second row of seats but there the similarity ends….

A 180bhp 2 litre diesel linked to a 7 speed DSG auto box compared to the Mercs 114bhp 2.2 litre with 6 speed manual. So it’s a bit rapid to say the least, yet fuel consumption is a bit better than the Vito.

It’s a six seater but instead of having to get the tool box out to remove the rear seats, they lift out with a single release lever. Unfortunately VW have decided to make the rear seat a single three seat unit unlike the T5 that had a split twin and single seats. As a result the seat weighs a ton and is definitely a two person job to get it in and out the van! I’ve had a look at converting to the T5 configuration but the mountings, whilst the same; are in completely different places and there are four instead of the T6’s two mounts.

Compared to the Vito it’s luxurious in its other role as a camper van, being lined, including a full length headlining, so none of the dripping from condensation I used to experience in the Vito as that was just a bare metal roof in the back. It is also fitted with a full length rubber floor mat that is cushioned, so luxurious before you have even rolled out the mattress.

I used it at the Ryedale rally, where I had to bodge up some window blinds (much gaffer tape was in evidence) but it was very comfortable. Little features like the opening rear windows allowing decent ventilation make it far more pleasant than the Vito.  Since then I have purchased a set of Thermo Mat window blinds from Just Kampers, an excellent bit of kit.

Other modifications so far include a VW 4 bike cycle rack, purchased for the van's role as the support vehicle when we cycled the coast to coast (C2C) route back in May. Another excellent piece of kit (well it should be at over £400) made by Thule it makes carrying four mountain bikes a breeze.

On Black Hill, the highest point of the C2C

At the Ryedale, I did manage to get the van stuck in the campsite but it had been very wet and the front tyres were almost at the legal limit. So I did investigate fitting it with all terrain tyres but would have to go to a slightly larger size. As this would mean changing all four tyres, when the backs still have plenty of life in them, I decided to go for a set of conventional road tyres instead. My local independent tyre shop recommended Accelera PHI tyres, made in Indonesia. I’d never heard of them but they are half the price of the well-known brands and perform just as well if not better than the Bridgestone’s they replaced.


The other advantage over the Vito it replaced is the additional room inside. The Transporter comes in two body lengths as opposed to the three of the Mercedes. The Vito was a “Long” (short wheelbase but long body) whereas the Transporter is a short wheel base. But in reality they are about the same length, with the Vito having only 132mm (5”) more length inside on paper but in reality the T6 is actually longer inside as it doesn’t have the Vito’s substantial metal beam behind the front seats that restricts how far forward you can park the front wheel of a bike. 

But it is the small amount of extra height where it shows its true advantage. Whereas to fit my rally bike in the Vito I had to remove the entire navigation tower, in the T6 all I have to do is remove the fairing and it goes straight in. I’m in the process of changing the mountings from Allen bolts to quick release Dzus fasteners to make this even quicker to do. My Honda CB500X also goes straight in the van without removing the mirrors or top box which is very convenient.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Racing, what Racing?

That pretty sums up my racing year, after the Tour of Portugal I sat down and had a look at the UK Rally Calendar, not good news....

Apart from the Ryedale rally in July that I had already got my entry in for, there seemed to be a reason I can't make almost every race on the calendar!

Indeed it looks like a repeat of 2015, where after the Tuareg Rally in March I was only able to ride one UK rally, in the rest of the year, the Hafren in November. 

Now I've always had a soft spot for the Hafren as it was my first ever rally back in October 2011 but on that first race, the sun shone and I loved it. Last year by contrast, held a month later in November, was a day of hill fog, pouring rain and howling gales... not pleasant!

Hafren Rally 2015

So what's happened or is happening in 2016?

The Brechfa Rally in March was discounted as it was only two weeks after the Tour of Portugal, so I would have had very limited time to prepare the bike especially as in the event I didn't get it back until the week beforehand and even then due to a slight cock up, my fairing and spares box got left behind at Desert Rose Racing in Sussex and I didn't get them back until after the rally!

The Borders Rally on 31st April/1st May was a no go as I couldn't get the Friday off work and driving all the way to Scotland after a day at work on the Friday evening of a Bank Holiday weekend wasn't a realistic proposition. 

The BAJA GB in May clashed with a prearranged holiday to cycle the Coast to Coast route from Whitehaven to Sunderland.

The Rally Moto Cup event in June was unfortunately cancelled, shame as it would have been my first UK navigation rally.... and I was free that weekend!

The Ryedale in early July I actually got to race, a race report will follow in the next few days.

The Keider Rally in July was a bit close to the Ryedale being only two weeks later but would have been possible, except it got cancelled only a week and half before it was due to go ahead due to low entries. 

The Beacons Rally in August is a no go as I'm already committed to a long weekend break to friends in Cornwall.

And the Tour of Mann on the Isle of Man in September is off because Grainne and I will be off on holiday to New Zealand (So don't feel too sorry for me).

This is also the reason I'm likely to miss the second Rally Moto Cup navigation event in September as it's the Sunday before we fly to Auckland, not great timing.

This also would have been the reason I couldn't do the Hafren Rally on its original date in October as it was the day after we got back but it has now been moved to November like last year. 

So I may yet go and have a schlep round the Welsh forests in the cold and wet again!

The "Luxury" camping facilities, Hafren Rally 2015

Monday, 1 August 2016

Tour of Portugal 2016

OK I know it's been a long time but after getting back from the Tour of Portugal I was feeling a bit "blogged out" so decided on a break. I've just realised how long it has been!!!

So rather than subject you to a long update, I've decided to keep it to some short sharp updates, so intend to do a quick blog each lunchtime this week to get back up to date.....

So the Tour of Portugal, in brief a fantastic event but not as successful as it could have been, so the highlights:

  • Fantastic scenery and great trails
  • Great 4* Hotel and Spa opened just for us
  • Excellent food, lots of great company and amazing hospitality
  • Took fifth place on the prologue (but see below)
  • Eighth place on day three (could have been better but I got a silly speeding penalty)
  • Bike ran well throughout
  • Didn't fall off much!
  • Took 13th Place overall J

  And the low-lights.....

  • Brand new ICO switch wouldn't work had to replace with the old one at the last minute
  • Long wait at Porto airport as information about the transfers wasn't clear
  • Decided not to go too fast on the prologue and actually started 20 seconds late, then discovered that 20 seconds would have got me into third place!
  • Fell off on day two on a very tricky hill climb and lost loads of time
  • Then got caught in low cloud, hail and snow storms
  • It was bloody cold at times!
  • So only took 18th place on day two as a result
  • Ripped my seat
  • Took 13th place overall L
But as said a fantastic Rally, so I've already paid my deposit for next years event!

Here's a few photos: