Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Time to go racing.... Part 2

The hopes of better weather on Sunday morning turned out to be wishful thinking. After a night of disturbed sleep due to the at times violent shaking of the van by the wind, I emerged to low cloud, horizontal rain and wind that was still much stronger than I’d have liked. 

Yes the bike is tied to the van to stop it blowing over!

Bleak barely describes it!

I stuck on my waterproofs and grabbed my helmet and fired up the bike. It was a bit sluggish to spin over so I decided to kick start it and it fired up first kick. I rode up to scrutineering which was a formality. After catching up with a few friends and photographing my race times, I went back to the van for breakfast. I was off at 09.36 so had plenty of time.

Whilst sorting out the bike, filling the tank and attempting to write my times down on a bit of duct tape on the cockpit (but failing miserably due to the rain) I was informed that the start was now delayed for an hour and we would only do two laps instead of two and a half. The lap length had also been cut to about 35 miles instead of 45. After getting my riding kit on, I wandering up to the start to confirm this, I got a cup of tea from the burger van and eventually watched the first riders heading off at 10.00.

At least we got to start undercover

I walked back to the van to finish kitting up then rode back to the start, still with about 15 minutes to go before my (revised) start time….

Only to find the last few riders heading off!

It turned out they had abandoned start times and just let everyone head off as soon as they wanted! Oh well it was quite good fun working my way through the beginners, especially as this was the sighting lap so didn’t mind if I got held up. The lap was fairly familiar, with lots of bits from previous years plus a few new sections thrown in. The special tests in particular were all over fairly familiar ground. Noticeably we spent very little time up on the open hillside section above Sweet Lamb, so I guess this was where the lap was cut.

Conditions were not the worst I have ever ridden in but weren’t exactly pleasant, I was soon soaked through despite waterproofs but it wasn’t that cold which was a blessing. However seeing where I was going was another matter altogether. My goggles were OK at first but soon gave up the ghost and misted up. At each stop I attempted to dry them off but soon ran out of anything dry to do this with, so just adjusted my speed accordingly.

The lap ended without incident, so I rode to the van, had a quick bite to eat, filled the bike with fuel (I hadn’t used much) and put on some clean, dry goggles and dry gloves. I then rode straight back to the start and was flagged off straight away; clearly start times had been completely abandoned.

I was now much further up the field, so in amongst some very quick bikes. The first special test went OK without being passed and I could still see for most of it. About two thirds into the test, the goggles were misting up again but as this was mostly fire road I coped OK.

Special two was trickier as I was in amongst some very quick two strokes, so let a few go past me but didn’t seem to get unduly slowed. Then a fairly long liaison where vision was being seriously compromised, my goggles were misted and I’d managed to get mud on the inside whilst trying to clean them. I arrived at Special stage three and decided it would be safer to ride without them. However I was again followed by some very fast riders (running much lower numbers than me) so I decided to be polite and let them past but this time it seemed to cost me a lot more time.

I was glad to finish, knowing that I only had a few miles of liaison left, so got back in, stripped off my soaking kit and got warm dry clothing and waterproofs on. I then dismantled the fairing and navigation tower, shoved the bike in the van and after the obligatory egg, bacon and sausage roll, hit the road back home.

Traffic wasn’t good but a detour onto the M6 Toll avoid a big queue on the M6 and a diversion down the A5 skirted the heavily congested roadworks on the M1 and I eventually rolled in  at home about 7.30 that evening, with a mountain of cleaning to be done but a feeling of satisfaction having got round in one piece and staying on the bike throughout.

A few days later and the results were out….. 11th place in the Rally Class out of 11 entrants! Not too surprising given my eight month layoff from racing and the quality of the field was rather good. I was pleased to see that I had been faster than a couple of other riders in the first two stages but had dropped quite a bit of time in the third.

Oh well, next race looks like it will be in Portugal in March, so hopefully the weather will be better!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Time to go racing.... part 1

The forecast for the weekend wasn’t looking good as I packed the van to head off for Llanidloes and the Hafren Rally. It was nice to have plenty of room to pack as even with the bike in the back, there seemed to be far too much room. A marked improvement from when I used to shoehorn everything into the back of the Land Rover. The van even got some new (magnetic) graphics..... 

Loads of room!

A couple more advantages over towing the bike trailer soon became evident as it was nice to be able to a) drive at 70 mph on the motorway and b) be allowed to use the outside lane. Traffic was also light so apart from a small bit of queueing on the motorway and regular stops for lunch, coffee, petrol (for the bike) and a shopping trip in Welshpool, I made Llanidloes in just over four hours. By now the weather was not at all pleasant with gusting winds and frequent driving rain. Another advantage also became apparent, it’s much easier to find a parking spot without a trailer!

I had about an hour to kill before early registration was taking place at the Rugby Club House in town. So considered driving up to the Sweet Lamb Rally Complex but as I had nothing to set up and it’s a pretty bleak place at the best of times, I didn’t see any reason as it was now dark and would be pitch black whatever time I rolled up. So after finding a spot in the car park near the club house, I wandered down to the Red Lion for a drink.

Here I bumped into a bunch of guys from High Wycombe most of whom were doing the Hafren for the first time so was pumped for information. We eventually wandered down to the club house, where signing on was quickly sorted and a hearty “buffet” of chicken curry, chilli con carne and chips was the order of the day. After catching up with a few friends I decided to drive the 20 minutes up to Sweet Lamb and set up camp. As I guessed sticking the race numbers on when soaking wet might be tricky, I did them in the warm and dry in the back of the van!

Arriving at the venue, signs directed me not to the usual spot but another flattish area higher up the valley side this was particularly bleak with the wind now very strong, approaching gale force and the rain was heavy and horizontal! After driving around what turned out to be a rather more sloping site than I first realised with only about ten vans, caravans and motorhomes present, I found a flattish spot behind a couple of other vans who had spotted the potential of a small flat area (note to self, must get some levelling ramps for the van).

I did consider just shuffling the bike to one side and putting the camp bed up but thought that the inevitable petrol fumes would not be too healthy. So after donning full waterproofs and wellies I got the bike out, parked it up on what was possibly the leeward side of the van (it was difficult to tell) and strapped it to one of the van wheels to stop it blowing over in the wind. I also bolted on the navigation tower and fairing as I thought I could do it in the morning but as I was already out in the cold and wet I might as well get it done.

The" Hotel Vito"

I then retreated back into the warmth and dry of the van (I had left the engine running and the heater on full blast throughout) and after stripping off my wet gear, got myself set up for the night. Unfolding the camp bed and crawling into my four season sleeping bag I decided it was too early to turn in for the night so fired up the lap top to watch a film. San Andreas was the chosen movie and the special earthquake effects were certainly added too by the frequent gusts of wind rocking the van!

Throughout I could hear vans arriving and a peek out under the blind, showed the parking area gradually filling up, I eventually turned in; sticking some ear plugs in due to the noise of the wind and rain, set the alarm for 07.00 am and hoped the weather might improve to go racing in the morning.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Nearly finished!

So I’ve had a bit of a busy time what with preparing for our impending house move. But more importantly it started with preparing the EXC for its MOT.

Firstly a shot of the repair to the oil screen bolt thread as previously mentioned... very neat job!

A new chain was fitted and everything checked over. I noticed a bit of play in the front wheel bearings and the head bearings, neither of which was likely to be a test failure. I was a bit annoyed at the front wheel bearing as this was my “spare” wheel from the Tuareg Rally that hadn’t been used so should have brand new bearings. However when I checked they definitely weren’t new! I think it was one of those jobs I always meant to get round to but had finally decided they would be OK for a spare. So I tried the wheel that had had new bearings before Morocco, the one I had used for the duration of the Rally. This was to be honest in a similar condition, so I left it on the bike anyway.

Although I had fitted a nice new LED rear light, I hadn't got round to replacing the light switches that I had bodged up after I head butted in the dunes. I tend to get the bike tested with the navigation tower and fairing removed and the CCM headlight in place as the LED lights in the fairing are of dubious legality whereas I know the CCM one is perfectly OK

To do this would require a bit of a rewire to reinstall the light switch on the handlebars, so I went for an easier solution. I just cable tied a MX style number plate on the front to cover the wiring and taped over the rear light. A bike can be presented for an MOT this way, and of course as a “single seat off road style motorbike” it doesn’t have to be fitted with indicators, mirrors or a chain guard, which is good because it has none of them!

So sure enough on a Saturday afternoon I rode away with a nice new MOT with advisories for the front wheel bearings, steering head bearings and that the bike was for daytime use only! The new bearings were promptly ordered and the front wheel done nice and quickly. The steering head bearings just turned out to be loose, so the new ones have gone into the spares box for future use. The light switch will be refitted and the wiring reinstated at some time in the future as for now the bodged up switches on the nav tower will suffice.

I also tried “wrapping” the rear mudguard in white vinyl and it doesn't look too bad. The side panels will be done separately and might be a bit trickier as they have slightly more complex curves. I will also do the air box cover as well  The only problem is that it is matt white vinyl, so will get dirty very easily and it’s difficult to clean. So if I do this properly I think I’ll invest in a roll of gloss white vinyl.

So then it was off to Wales for the Hafren Rally

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Getting there slowly

As mentioned previously racing has taken a bit of a back seat, especially whilst I sort out other stuff in my life, starting a new job in the summer and shortly to be moving house too. But I have been slowly getting the Rally bike sorted.

You may recall the slight disaster with the thread on the securing bolt for the cam shaft feed  oil screen, that wound itself out of the crankcase when I did the oil and filter change. Of course I did see the positive side, as my inability to do an oil change in Morocco meant that I hadn't had a potential retirement half way through the rally, as I doubt I could have got it fixed out there.

This was clearly beyond my workshop capabilities so on my return the bike got taken to Torque Racing Services,

As an aside, this was also a test of fitting the EXC in my Mercedes Vito. No problem as I had removed the rear seats at the time and the navigation tower and fairing had been removed from the bike. This is the secret of getting it in the “none too tall” Vito.

The fairing was designed right from the start only to mount on the nav tower itself and nowhere else on the bike. Also the wiring all goes through a single block connector, for ease of removal. So it’s simply a matter of removing two bolts and unplugging the wiring to remove the navigation tower, road book, head lights and fairing all as one unit. In all it takes about ten minutes to remove or re-fit.

It is a lot easier to do if the fairing has been removed first and this means removing six bolts that screw into captive threads in the mounts again designed for ease of removal and fitting but this does of course mean it takes a bit longer. So the plan is to replace the bolts with quick release dzus fasteners. In fact this was always the intention but another of those jobs that I ran out of time to do before the Tuareg Rally.

The plan with the bike at Torque was for Martin to fit a Wurth Timesert into the thread, however in the event the thread size was an odd one and this proved not to be an economical option. So after trying some alternative solutions such as re-cutting the original thread but discovering this wouldn't work, he employed the services of a local machine shop that made a unique solution. An aluminium insert was made that was bonded into the hole, and threaded to accept a bolt from a later model EXC on the outside, the oil screen now fitting straight through the insert.

The problem is that the oil screen fits across the cases and is located inside the securing bolt, however now the distance has been increased between the fitting inside the cases and the securing bolt an aluminium adapter was made that plugs into the end of the oil screen to locate it in the correct place. To assist fitting and removal, a threaded hole was machined into this, so all you need to do is screw an M6 bolt into the adaptor to fit or remove the screen, then it can be removed and the securing bolt fitted. A very neat solution that prevented the alternative… a new set of crankcases, not a cheap option!

As an added bonus, Martin fitted new oil filters and new oil to test that the repair was oil tight, so saving me the effort.

The other weekend I changed the coolant and despite the fact that I had been topping up the bike with plain water in Morocco, it still looked fairly healthy and judging by the colour there was still plenty of coolant left in there.

I also fitted a new stand and pivot bolt, as you may recall the bolt snapped in Morocco, causing the stand to fall off! The only downside being that I can’t remember where I put the side stand spring… I know it came back to the UK but no doubt it’s “somewhere safe”. 

Edit: I eventually found it in a box of bits!

The negative bits of the weekend was first the chain, after the rally I had sprayed it with Teflon dry lube that had worked well in the desert, Unfortunately it didn't cope too well with the journey home and I guess two ferry crossings hadn't helped, as when I picked up the bike it was rather rusty! I soaked it in oil for a suitably long time but unfortunately it is still full of stiff links, so not really fit to go back on the bike. So a new chain was ordered and is ready to go on the bike.

Next was the battery, after the hammering it got in Morocco I shouldn't have been surprised but even after a long recharge on an Optimate charger it can't turn the engine over, so it looks like I fried it on the rally. Tanya batteries came to the rescue with a reasonably priced Enduroline that as soon as I fitted it, spun the engine over easily. But it wouldn't start! I soon realised this was because I had completely drained down the tank! Note to self.... go buy some petrol.

Also on that list are some new plastics as it’s currently wearing an old black set that I had saved but they are looking a bit second hand and in a mixture of white, orange and black, the bike is looking a bit of a miss mash. Although I do have a plan as I have some white sign writing vinyl, that with the aid of a hair dryer I could "wrap" the rear mudguard and side panel in white vinyl, saving a considerable amount of money and providing a "disposable" finish that can be cheaply replaced when necessary. Let's just see if it works!

I also fitted some new lower fork protectors (in white) as the brake hose/speedo cable clamp on the left hand one had stripped the thread and they were looking distinctly second hand too.

So what next? Well there's only one thing for it.... I've entered the Hafren Rally on November 15th

Sunday, 4 October 2015

A Question of Counties - Part Six

A couple of years ago whilst between racing, I started a thread on my blog about how many of the Counties of England I had visited on a motorbike, so I thought that whilst my racing efforts are currently on hold, it was about time for an update.

The crucial thing being that I had to be able to “prove” it with a photo. Also being a Geographer I posed the question of what exactly are the Counties of England? 

With Metropolitan Boroughs and Unitary Council’s it has become rather confused, so I decided on the thirty nine traditional Counties as they stood until 1974. However I did originally add a few modern updates but on reflection have decided to stick to the originals. These will be broadly familiar with a few exceptions. East and West Sussex were one County back then, as was Yorkshire and Cumbria didn't exist, instead being made up of Cumberland, Westmorland and part of Lancashire.In addition there are counties like Huntingdonshire and Middlesex that no longer exist (now part of Cambridgeshire and Greater London respectively) and Rutland that was dissolved to became part of Leicestershire in 1974 but more recently was resurrected as a Unitary Authority. 

At the time of my last post on this thread, I had “ticked off” the following

1 Bedfordshire
2 Buckinghamshire       
3 Cambridgeshire     
4 Cornwall                                      
5 Derbyshire                                                     
6 Devon                                                         
7 Dorset                                                                           
8 Durham                                                
9 Essex                                                                       
10 Gloucestershire               
11 Hampshire    
12 Herefordshire          
13 Hertfordshire  
14 Kent         
15 Leicestershire
16 London 
17 Middlesex
18 Norfolk
19 Northamptonshire 
20 Northumberland 
21 Oxfordshire
22 Shropshire
24 Suffolk
25 Sussex
23 Somerset
26 Westmorland
27 Wiltshire
28 Yorkshire

So that left twelve still to go but where to start?  First I had another search of the photo archives and this turned up trumps. 

Cumberland: Although I had previously ticked this off as the modern county of Cumbria, the picture I originally posted was actually in the old County of Westmorland. However I did in fact visit Cumberland (at the same time as my first visit to Westmorland) in that trip to the Lake District in 1986 but have mislaid the photographs I took on that occasion, so here’s one from a more recent visit:

Huntingdonshire – Most probably ridden through for the first time on the A1 in 1982 on a trip to visit my late friend Alastair in Lincoln riding a borrowed Honda CD175, I realised that the rather more modern Peterborough Services on the A1(M) just falls inside the old Huntingdonshire county boundary, so here's a shot from there last year, a coffee stop on the way back from the TRF Coast to Coast ride last year:

Lancashire – first visited on a bike in 1986 whilst riding up the M6 to Cumberland/Westmorland but photographic evidence had to wait a few more years, here's a couple from the same spot on rides over Salter Fell on my 450 EXC on the day I bought it in December 2012 and the 990 Adventure on the TRF coast to coast in 2014:

Staffordshire – Another County first travelled through on the M6 in 1986, it took a bit of searching but then I remembered this shot of a late night stop at Keele Services on my way to up to the 2014 TRF Coast to Coast ride.

So that leaves eight, I checked through the remaining counties to see which ones I have actually visited and whilst it is clear I have at some point been to all of them, I have yet to find photographic evidence for the following:

1. Berkshire – First ridden through in 1980, it was an alternative route home from Portsmouth Polytechnic when I was a student as this was before the M25 had been finished so I had the choice of straight through London, the North and South Circular or the far more pleasant (but longer) route round the West of London via Windsor (i.e. through Berkshire).

2. Cheshire First visited on a bike in 1986 whilst riding up the M6 to Cumberland/Westmorland but I've never got a photo

3. Lincolnshire – 1982 on the trip to Lincoln mentioned above of course!

4. Nottinghamshire – I missed it on my trip to Lincoln as I used the A607 from Grantham to Lincoln but did ride through the County as part of the return trip two days later on the A1 near Newark.

5. Rutland – Again first visited on the A1 in 1982 on the trip to Lincoln 

6. Surrey – First ridden on my way to Portsmouth Polytechnic along the A3 on my Honda CB250G5 in October 1979

7. Warwickshire – First time was most probably a visit to the bike show at the NEC in 1986 

8. Worcestershire – I had to think long and hard about this one and realised that I had never ridden through the County until 2007 when Anne, my Ex bought a Suzuki SV650 from near Kidderminster and I rode it home for her, via the A448, M5 and M42. But I don’t have a photo taken in the County.

So it seems I have visited all the traditional counties of England by Bike over the last 35 years but once again the search for photos to prove them all goes on! Either that or I have generated a few ideas for some bike journeys in the coming months!

Saturday, 19 September 2015

My return to races is sadly still on hold, in July it was largely due to the trips to Germany for a mountain bike race (as Chief Commissaire) 

And then to Italy, this time on holiday, climbing on the via ferrata in the Dolomites:

The Italian trip was also a great test for the Vito, which performed (almost) faultlessly. The only real issue was a puncture just after we left for the return trip but as it has a nearly new spare that got us home with no further dramas. Everything else we could live with; the air conditioning struggled in the 30o+ heat and the front twin passenger seats were deemed to be uncomfortable being narrow and non-adjustable.

The biggest problem with the puncture was the fact that the spare is a standard 16” wheel, whereas the van is fitted with 18” alloys. Luckily the tyres are as close to being the same diameter as makes no difference so that wasn't an issue but the punctured 18” wheel wouldn't fit under the rear of the van, so a bit of unpacking and re-packing was required to put it in the back of the van, at least there’s plenty of room in the back. On our return it was easily sorted as I had been given a spare 18” tyre with the van so getting that fitted and balanced only cost £10. The air-con is also due to be re-gassed, another relatively cheap fix at £40.

A new fully adjustable single passenger seat along with the required single seat box has been obtained from eBay so that’s a little job still to be done; it’s even in the same fabric as the existing seats! 

I’ve also started to tidy up the interior, as the ply lining in the rear is rather tatty and dirty. The conventional approach would be to go with a carpet lining but to keep it more practical for transporting muddy dirt bikes; I wanted to do something similar to my Land Rover. In that I covered the plywood lining with vinyl cloth as well as packing the space behind it with roof insulation. This kept it clean and meant it could be easily wiped down. However to do that would mean removing the wheel arch covers which are securely fixed and sealed with silicone sealant, so an easier in-situ solution was required.

Then I came up with the idea of using self-adhesive vinyl floor tiles. This was an easy fit solution, as the tiles are easily trimmed to fit with a sharp knife and provides a wipe clean surface as well as some additional sound deadening and by using a light grey pattern also makes the rear much brighter. 

All was well for a week or two until the one area I had applied as a trial, started to peel off, it appears the combination of grease on the plywood and heat when the van is sitting in the sun is too much for the adhesive; so back to the drawing board!

I also discovered that the rear seat can be fitted in three different formats, triple, twin to the left or a single to the right. I have chosen to go with the twin set up as this still gives me a four seater (when the front seat is changed) and allows me to carry a bike at the same time.

As I mentioned I got the rally bike back just before the holiday and Martin did a fantastic job, that I’ll cover in a separate post. However whilst I was away the MOT and tax ran out, so I put it on a SORN… another couple of jobs to sort out!

Friday, 14 August 2015

What’s in a name?

Just prior to the Tuareg Rallye, I received a somewhat irate message from Emmanuel (Manu) Braga at French Rally Raid support team Nomade Racing. He was concerned because a friend of his had spotted my Facebook page and thought that I had set up a rival company to his with the same name (albeit in a different language)! I was able to assure him that I was no threat to him as Nomad Racing wasn't a company at all but simply a name I had chosen to promote my personal racing interests.

At the rally he was supporting a French rider and after we met up, along with his girlfriend Angelique (Angel) we had a chat, everything was fine and we had a couple more conversations over the week (well as much as my limited French would allow). I had at that time offered to provide a link from my blog to his web site but he insisted it wasn’t necessary.

However I recently learnt that my friend Chris Cork (Corky), who was forced to retire from this year’s Dakar Rally after a crash on day four left him with a broken arm and vertebrae, has been successful in gaining an entry in next year’s Dakar. And what’s more he has chosen Manu and Nomade Racing as his support team!

So to honour the fact I have added links to both Nomade Racing’s web site and Chris’ site – “Corky Dakar 2016” to my home page, please check out Chris’s efforts to train for the Dakar, which has included racing the Hellas Rally in Greece on a KTM 950 Super Enduro (to make it more difficult and more like the effort required for the Dakar) and to make it really challenging he rode it all the way to Greece (with a stopover at Manu’s place in France of course).

He is soon to be launching support packages to assist with the difficult task of raising money for the race. So please consider supporting him as every penny counts. After all this is the man who sold his house to compete last year!

And of course we also shared a sponsor as John’s company First Response sponsored him for this year’s Dakar as well as my humble efforts at the Tuareg.

You can also track Corky’s efforts on the Adventure Rider forum: