Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Busy, busy, busy....

I've been a bit busy with bike preparation so haven't had the chance to update lately!
As previously reported the Rally Experience Weekend never happened due to the weather, which is a shame but I guess the risk of breaking something (either me or the bike) this close to the Tuareg was a good enough reason not to go schlepping round Wales in the ice and snow.
And as mentioned I took the opportunity to start the preparatory maintenance, which is still on-going but I have to date:
  • Replaced wheel bearings in both front wheels.
  • Replaced the wheel bearings in my spare rear wheel
  • Fitted a disc and speedo magnet to the spare front wheel
  • Replaced the steering head bearings
  • Had the swing arm bearings and lower shock mount replaced (I couldn't get them to move in the end so entrusted the job to Torque Racing).
  • Changed oil and filters
  • Fitted new front brake pads
  • Cleaned the current air filter
  • Replaced and re-routed the front brake hose
  • Fitted new handlebars (Renthall RC High Fat Bars)
  • Re-wired the light switches
  • Stripped off the graphics ready for re-stickering
  • Fitted a Scotts Steering Damper (a second hand bargain)
  • Fitted new foam rally grips
  • Fitted extended foot pegs
  • Fitted a new gear lever (old one strapped to the frame as a spare 
Still to do is:
  • Fit rear brake pads
  • Replace brake fluid in rear brake and bleed
  • Refill front brake fluid and bleed
  • Fit new chain and sprockets
  • Check and adjust the valve clearances
  • Oil the seven spare air filters, roll them and seal in zip lock bags (one for every day of the rally plus one spare to tuck in the space behind the air box)
  • Replace a threaded insert that stripped in the frame tube under the engine that holds the bash plate on
  • Fit new tyres and mousses to the original wheels.
  • Finish rebuilding the whole thing (not forgetting to put thread lock on every bolt)!
And one other non essential job that I'll do if I get the time is:
  • Build a new mounting for the tail light and replace tail light and a new LED "dust light" as previously mentioned (the current lights work OK so I won't lose sleep if I don't get round to it).
And I'm sure I'll find a dozen other things to do.... It never ends!!!

 Looking a bit sparse at this stage

 Shiny things! New Handlebars and steering damper

 Slowly going back together!
Yesterday I popped into the KTM Centre to collected my sponsored goodies, they are still sitting in a very large cardboard box, so tonight I'll drag them out and give them a try.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Sponsors? Blimey it's getting serious!

Well we got some snow the other night, about 2-3cm in Bedfordshire so nothing to write home about!

Needless to say the Land Rover barely even noticed it on my journey to work!

One of the disappointing results of the weather is that the Rally Experience weekend was cancelled. The course was snow bound in places but more crucially very low temperatures were experienced, which resulted in dangerously icy mountain roads.

However I also got some great news in that I have a sponsor!

This resulted from a recent trip to the KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead with Team Manager/Grease Monkey John, we were looking at riding gear and John asked if I had considered getting a neck brace. As noted before I had considered this and although there is still some debate over their effectiveness, the reasoning is fairly convincing and since they have been almost universally adopted in Down Hill Mountain Biking, I must admit I don't recall anyone suffering any cervical spine injuries. Lots of other stuff obviously but neck injuries do seem to have been absent from the people I've helped haul off mountain sides in the last few years.

But my biggest reason for not going down this route is the cost, with a Leatt neck brace being nearly £300 but of course it doesn't stop there, as it wouldn't fit with my current body armour, as it's too high on the shoulders and back, so a matching set of armour from Leatt is another £180, then there's the jacket, as to work best you need one with a collar designed to go with a neck brace, that's another £150-£200.

So imagine my surprise when John suggested his company First Response might sponsor me to the tune of a neck brace, new body armour and a rally jacket!

The good news is that John's fellow directors have now agreed to this and we have a deal!

Mark at the KTM Centre was also kind enough to work out a discounted price for the items, so I guess that's a bit more "sponsorship" in a way, blimey I'm starting to feel like a professional racer.... OK not really.

So I guess this means I'm going to have to get some stickers made up for the bike to advertise my supporters!

The cancellation of the event last weekend did give me the chance to carry out some maintenance on the bike that I had planned to do anyway afterwards. An oil and filter change was first on the cards and I had meant to check the valve clearances, which of course requires a cold engine but forgot to do this before I had warmed the engine up for the oil change. I also discovered I have an 18mm spark plug spanner but the KTM uses a 16mm plug, something else to buy. And yes you can do the valve clearances without taking the spark plug out but it makes it a heck of a lot easier.

I also stripped off all the bodywork to give the bike a thorough clean and cleaned the air filter whilst I was at it. Then I started to tidy up the wiring that I had just thrown together for the Bakery Off Road run in December.

Final job was to replace the swinging arm bearings, this is proving a bit more difficult as so far all attempts to draw out the old bearings has failed. The swinging arm is now sitting with the bearings soaking in oil to try and get them to move!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Out and about on Salisbury Plain

In preparation for my trip out between Christmas and New Year on the Bakery Off Road ride from Andover, I had to finish off the wiring for the lights etc. I ended up just plugging it all together and shoving it into the nav tower late on Christmas Eve; not very pretty but it all worked fine.

On the morning of the ride on December 29th, I was up at 06.00 and not feeling great as I'd had a head cold all over Christmas and woke that morning with a sore throat and a nasty cough. Before I left for Andover I had to scrape ice off the Land Rover and then headed off hoping it was going to warm up.

After the seventy mile drive, I rolled up at the pub where we can leave vans and trailers but after unloading the bike, the effects of being parked out in the cold all night and the rapidly failing battery meant the electric start was a no go and it wouldn't kick start either! My mate Mike solved the problem with a quick tow around the field. I left the bike warming up while I struggled into far more layers than is normally considered necessary for a trail ride and then headed off to the Bakery for the start, believing this was at 10.00.

Unbeknown to me, the start time had changed to 09.30 which after fuelling up was about the time I turned up outside the bakery. Only to find that Mike, whose group I was joining, was preparing to leave!

A quick dash inside to pay my entry and grab a bacon roll (most of which i had to shove in my pocket for later) and I was on my way.

We had a good day and covered 160km (I'm learning to think in kilometres ready for the Rally)! I was encouraged that by the end of the day I was still feeling quite fresh after seven hours on the bike with minimal stops (including a very quick lunch stop). Whilst many of my companions had descended into "sit down and waggle your legs around" mode through the technical stuff by the end of the day, I was able to remain stood up on the foot pegs for the duration and maintained much better control and felt less fatigued as a result.

A quick breather at Stonehenge

One of my aims was to check the fuel range of the bike too and as mentioned I managed 160km with a fair bit of petrol left in the tank. A subsequent ride saw me get to 200km before I had to switch to reserve, so total range is likely to be around 220km and that's without using the rear tank (an extra 4.5 litres). Although I only need a fuel range of 180km for the Tuareg, I think I'll leave the rear tank in place as a safety measure for the longer stages in Morocco and decide each day on whether I need to use it or not.

Following my day out, I went down with a nasty chest infection so all things bike and Tuareg related were put on hold for a week.

Since then further updates to the bike have included a new battery, new rear wheel bearings and I refitted a mousse in the back tyre. This was made easier by the purchase of a Rabaconda tyre changer, some descent curved tyre levers and a can of "Bib-up"; an aerosol tyre changing lube (sure beats some soapy water and a paint brush). All from Enduro Tyres who gave a great service (thanks Alan)!

As you can see, they advertise the Rabaconda as the "three minute mousse changer", well I'm not that quick yet but it was remarkably easy although I did still manage to take a chunk out of my knuckle!!!

This weekend sees me off to Wales for a "Rally Experience Weekend" with Rallymoto, where we will go through the motions of a rally stage from Saturday afternoon preparing our roodbooks and going through the briefing. Also Patsy Quick and Chris Barwick from Desert Rose Racing will be taking us through the ins and outs of a navigational rally. On Sunday we complete a 140km road book stage.
The big worry at the moment is what the weather is going to do... looks like we might get some snow on Sunday!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas is a coming....

And so preparation for the Tuareg is taking a back seat.

Well sort of!

I have continued to amass the various bits and pieces I require. I mentioned I had been loaned an ICO switch to try with my RNS TripMaster and it works perfectly, so on a trip back to Torque Racing, Martin asked if wanted to buy the second hand one for £30 or order a new one for £55, silly question really. So the 2nd hand one has now been fitted to the bike.

Whilst at Martin's I tried an Acerbis MX Helmet for size as I am looking for a more comfortable helmet for the Tuareg. My current Lazer MX6 is OK on a day long rally but does tend to press down on top of my ears (my fault for having big ears I suppose)! To be honest the Acerbis has a similar fit but it looks to be easily sorted by removing a small piece of foam from the lining but the biggest advantage is the weight at only 1050g. The Lazer is not heavy at 1250g bit those extra 200g make a huge difference. The Acerbis is also shaped to work with a neck brace but the jury is still out on them, especially as it might entail having to replace my body armour (possibly an expense too far?). And of course the biggest advantage is that the Acerbis is white whereas my Lazer is black, so bound to be cooler in the Desert.... well maybe?

My box of spares is filling up, having now received oil filters, air filters, spare levers, throttle cables as well as sundry items like a foil emergency blanket, first aid kit and zip-loc plastic bags (for air filters).

To assist in the planning, I have created a list of things to do to the bike now, other stuff to do before I leave for Morocco, stuff to buy and anything else I need to do before March. So far it runs to five pages!!!

Another task has been finding travel insurance that actually allows me to go motorbike racing and luckily a link on the Adventure Bike Rider forum turned up a policy for a very reasonable £52 that includes search and rescue costs (hopefully that will NOT be required).

Then there is the issue of actually getting to Morocco! The race starts and finishes right next door to Ouarzazate Airport; very convenient I thought! Well no, as you are limited to only one flight a day via Royal Air Maroc. This doesn't get in until 23:35 at night after a four hour lay-over in Casablanca and leaves Ouarzazate at 06:10 in the morning. It's also not particularly cheap at nearly £300. I also means flying in on Friday for registration and scrutineering that take place on the Saturday.

So I looked at alternatives, Donna at Torque Racing mentioned that some riders they are supporting will be flying into Marrakech and hiring cars. Now Marrakech is 200km away from Ouarzazate on the "wrong" side of the Atlas Mountains but once I had done some research, it doesn't look so bad. I did investigate flying in on Saturday but the timescale is just a bit too tight for comfort. What makes things convenient is we are taking a hire car from one airport to another so a fairly straightforward procedure.

Also flights are around £170 return and go direct from Gatwick via EasyJet. Now Gatwick is not my favourite Airport but both John and I are on the Thameslink rail line so we can get a train directly there. A small hatchback from Avis costs about £85 each way and of course that's split between two of us so even ends up being slightly cheaper. The hire car gives us more flexibility than getting a taxi and that costs about the same. The other advantage is that the car hire price is for 24 hours, so as the plane lands in Marrakech mid afternoon, there's plenty of time to drive to Ouarzazate and no need to drop the car off at Ouarzazate Airport (which is of course just "next door") until Saturday morning and conversely on leaving we can collect the car from the Airport on the Saturday afternoon reading for our drive back for our midday flight home.... sorted!

I did have to laugh when a colleague at work asked if it was "safe to drive in Morocco", I did have to point out that as I was racing my bike there for seven days and it would not all be off road, driving a car was most probably one of the safer bits of the trip!

As mentioned the bike has had the remote trip switch fitted and I've taken the opportunity to move the (replacement) light switch to the navigation tower from the left hand bar and simplify some of the wiring. This change also means there are less wires that have to move with the bars so hopefully removing some potential points of failure. I have also removed the wiring to the trip meter as I have fitted it with batteries and these will apparently last months. I will most probably stick the connecting wires in the tool box just in case as well as having some spare batteries!

I will be fitting a USB socket to power up the old iPhone I will be using with the Rally Blitz app to provide me with a back up CAP reading (compass heading) and trip meter. I have made the decision to place this on a flat panel on the rear of the navigation tower, along with the electrics master switch so this is more accessible.

Other changes are a slight modification to the headlight wiring, at present the two LED lights illuminate separately, i.e. one for dip beam and one for main beam. With a simple modification I will convert it so that the lower light comes on for dip as now but that on main beam both LEDs will illuminate. I don't expect to get stuck out after dark in Morocco but it's nice to know I've got plenty of light if I need it.

Other fixes soon to be done are a new front brake hose that will be re-routed under the nav tower and up the right hand fork leg as at present it just gets in the way! Also I have bought a couple of bags of fuel hose clips to sort out the pipework to the rear tank as at the moment it's a bit cobbled together with what I could find and uses four different types of clip, at least it will look a lot neater when they are all the same!

Next planned bit of preparation is the Bakery Off Road trip on Salisbury Plain on Sunday 29th December, lots of nice big wide open spaces for a full day of trail riding, the perfect way to blow away the Christmas cobwebs!

Monday, 8 December 2014

It's all starting to get a bit too real!

Less than three months until I head out to Morocco!

Did a bit of pre-rally purchasing on the interweb at lunchtime last Thursday.

I bought four pairs of oil filters (the EXC runs two), the bike will get an oil/filter change before being transported to Morocco and will get at least one change during the rally. That also gives me a spare pair for the tool box and a pair for the change I plan to do next week!

I then bought six air filters. I already have two so that's eight in total and the plan (based on advice from Martin at Torque Racing Services) is to have a new filter ready oiled, sealed and rolled up in a zip lock bag ready for every day of the rally. That gives John (my grease monkey Team Manager) the easy task of just sticking a new one in each day and the old one goes straight in the bag and gets rolled up and stored away to be cleaned when we get back home (but we will take some cleaner and oil in case of unforeseen filter replacement being needed at some point).

As I will have an extra filter (the rally is seven days) that one fits neatly behind the air box in a convenient cavity that Martin pointed out to me, just in case I need it on the trail.

I purchased a brand new set of throttle cables, they will go on the bike before the rally and the old ones (that are in a perfectly good condition) will be going in the spares box. I did think of taping them alongside the working cables but as the EXC has a twin cable push/pull system, it's easy enough to bodge if one cable snaps as a get back to the bivouac measure.

I purchased two new clutch levers and two new front brake levers, one of each will go inside the airbox as spares and the other pair will go in the toolbox just in case. The bike recently got some nice shiny new Cycra hand guards so I'm hoping I wont need the spare levers but not worth taking the risk when they are so light and easy to store.

Slightly crazy that the best price I got for some RFX brand levers (exactly the same as I could get in the UK) was from Portugal, even including postage!

Then I had to start work again.

Friday saw the oil filters turn up; that should keep me going for a while....

On Saturday I popped round to see Martin and Donna at Torque Racing at their new premises. I was able to get a bit more advice on my preparations and quizzed Martin about a remote switch for my trip meter. RNS don't make a switch but it does have the same cable connector as the ICO trip meter. Martin has lent me a second hand ICO switch to try out... excellent service!

I was also able to discuss ideas for carrying emergency water on board the EXC, as I have not found anything made specifically for the model. The Mecasystem bash plate/water tank was mentioned but they don't exactly come cheap! Donna mentioned that several riders fit aluminium SIGG bottles to the front of their bash plates, which is an idea I had thought of myself, so I think I might explore that as an option.

On Monday the air filters turned up....

 I have also sourced a spare set of wheels. They will go to the rally with new tyres, mousses and bearings, making a mid rally change over nice and simple. The original wheels on the bike will also get treated to new tyres, mousses and bearings before shipping to Morocco. I'll also be taking another spare rear tyre. Rubber of choice will be Pirelli Scorpion XC Mid-Hard.

Other planned bits of rally prep that are coming soon are a partial re-wire to simplify things and removed potential chafe points. I will be replacing the lights switch as its broken and moving it from the bars to the side of the navigation tower, which is also part of the wiring simplification but also gives more room for tripmaster/road book switches.

The front brake hose will be replaced with a slightly longer one and routed across the bottom yoke and then up the right hand fork leg to get it out of the way, a fairly common mod for rally bikes.

And then it's trying to fit in some more time on the bike, despite the cold, wet British Winter with another enduro practice day planned in a couple of weeks, a day long charity trail ride across Salisbury Plain (The Baker Man Ride) just after Christmas with some other like minded rally addicts and I also today booked a weekend event at the end of January... the Rally Experience Weekend organised via the ATRC. Here Patsy Quick and Chris Barwick from Desert Rose Racing will be taking us through a dry run of what a rally entails complete with a day of trail riding on a road book.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Looks like 2015 is going to be a good one!

Just announced: there is going to be a series of three road book navigation rallies in the UK next year!
This could be a bit of an issue for me as the first round of the cup is on Sunday 1st March, only one week before the Tuareg Rally. But more importantly only two days before my bike is due to be shipped off to Morocco!

So I have a decision to make, on one hand their is the risk of crashing and damaging the bike or breaking down (or possibly both) and then only having a single day (when I am due to be working anyway) to clean, prepare and do final checks on the bike and if nece.

On the other hand it will be a good opportunity for a shakedown run on the bike, especially as I will be running with a lot of new parts (bearings, chain and sprockets, tyres, mousses etc). Hmmm I think I need to make a choice.

And on the subject of the Tuareg Rallye, I paid the balance of my entry fee last night so there's no going back now!

And more good news..... only 38 days to go to the 2015 Dakar Rally!!!

Dakar Rally

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A little ride round Mid Wales

The other weekend was the date for the All Terrain Rally Challenge, Road Book "Social"; a training exercise in road book navigation and perfect preparation for the Tuareg Rally. Run by Robert (Burt) Hughes and Mark (Moly) Molyneux of the All Terrain Rally Challenge and RallyMoto GB Club.

Road book navigation is nothing new to me as I first did it in car rallies as student back around 1980 and have often used road books with their distinctive "tulip" diagrams for 4x4 green lane trips I have organised. My first experience of using it on a bike was back in 1989 when I participated for the second time in the National Road Rally (An annual UK wide navigation event). This was on a most unsuitable bike for attempting 500 miles overnight, a Yamaha XT250! Not least because of the pitiful 6 volt 35 watt headlight but also the tiny 1.1 gallon petrol tank. To facilitate navigation, I built my own small manual road book holder that mounted on the left hand mirror mount and used a till roll that I painstakingly transcribed my route onto by hand. An old side light fitting provided illumination and it worked perfectly helping me to gaining a "Special Gold Award" in the Rally.

But I have never raced and navigated at the same time and whilst I love navigation (and have a degree in Geography and training as a cartographer) I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hack it? Well there was only one way to find out!

I built the bike up into full rally spec on the Friday afternoon and after only a rudimentary check that everything was working OK I loaded up the bike on the trailer and on Saturday morning headed off to Wales.

I had booked a place in the Unicorn Hotel in Llanidloes as part of the event although finding somewhere to park in town with a trailer was a bit problematic. After three laps of the town, I managed to find a spot just round the corner. After meeting up with some of the others in the Unicorn, I was lucky enough to get my own room (the plan had been to share rooms) so dumped my bags and headed back round the corner to the Trewythen Hotel (where the car and trailer was parked)! for our roadbook briefing. This was followed by the obligatory sticking together of the road books and copious amounts of highlighting! Then we retreated back to the dining room at the Unicorn for dinner together and then the pub next door!

Sunday morning dawned cloudy but at that stage not wet and we assembled in the car park behind the Trewythen to unload bikes, kit up and load road books. We were all thankful of the extra hour in bed we had due to the end of British Summer Time.

We were flagged off from the car park in town at two minutes intervals (Just like the fast guys in the Dakar) for a 150km road book loop, this involved some (very) small back roads out of town to the first checkpoint where Moly was waiting with the sag wagon. We lost a few riders on this section and Burt, riding as tail end Charlie had his work cut out finding them!

We then did a large loop in the Tarenig Forest where most of us had raced the Tarenig Rally the month before but this time we rode in the opposite direction, which was interesting. As a result you sort of knew where you were but not entirely (they had made a few changes from the Rally route too) so had to trust the roadbook absolutely (a few people got a bit lost here too).

A second checkpoint at a filling station in Ponterwyd where we met Moly again gave us a chance to refuel and grab some food before set of on the northern loop around the Nant y Moch reservoir. Here we rode on a combination of public byways and other unsurfaced highways but also footpaths, bridleways and other private tracks where motor vehicles are not normally allowed. Thanks to Burt and Moly's efforts we had permission to use these routes that were rather "challenging" in places. You'll note from the photos that we all had to wear Rallymoto hi-viz vests to prove we were legitimate entrants in the event as there has been a lot of problems locally with illegal off-road riding. I did pass one bunch of guys on motocross bikes in one of the forests, clearly riding where they shouldn't be.

A third checkpoint back at Ponterwyd gave us a chance to regroup and the waifs and strays reappeared before we set off back to Llanidloes, this was mostly on black top but with a brief detour through the Tarenig Forest on the way. We all got back together and all agreed it had been a fantastic day, with a great route and excellent preparation for a "proper" road book event.

Best news of all is the boys will be running  three rallies with road book navigation in 2015.... bring it on!

From my own point of view, the roadbook navigation seemed to come quite easily, after a couple of schoolboy errors in the first few miles (not matching the tulip diagram to the mileage basically and turning too early) It all started to flow very naturally, I did overshoot a few tricky junctions but each time I knew I had done it and just needed to pull a U-turn and readjust the trip meter as I got back to the turn. One thing I did realise is a handlebar remote switch for the trip meter is a must!