Thursday, 19 October 2017

Back in the Saddle Part 1

So after seventy seven days off the rally bike since my accident, I finally got back in the saddle this Sunday, although my plan for a nice gentle bimble round the Hertfordshire Road Book route I have planned, to check the final details didn’t quite go to plan!

Firstly there was the bike; it literally hadn’t been touched since the accident so first job was to sort it out. The front wheel bearings needed replacing but a quick check showed me the tyre on my spare front wheel was in slightly better condition than the one on the bike, so I simply bolted that in so I can replace the bearings at my leisure.

I was thinking of a full service but the oil didn’t look bad and the tappets don’t sound too noisy, so I decided that could wait too. I did clean and re-oil the air filter as that was definitely past its best! I did the ritual looking at the back tyre, thought about reversing it as the front edge of the blocks were well rounded off but decided it still had a least another days riding left in it. Although to be truthful I just couldn’t be bothered. I did consider using my spare wheel in the same way as the front but this would require changing the sprocket from one wheel to the other and that just seemed like too much work (and is one of those jobs that always seems to leave me with skinned knuckles)!

I fitted my road book; ICO trip meter etc. that I usually leave off for trail riding and that all worked fine. This was good news as its not been used since the “Cotswold Caper” road book event in June.

The other small job was to sort out the tear in the fairly new seat (that also occurred on the Cotswold Caper), this was done by cutting some vinyl from the cover on my old seat, luckily a decent amount was left at the ends despite the cover and foam being comprehensively wrecked in the middle (the reason for the new seat). I then inserted a square inside the cover and glued it to the inside. I then glued another square to the outside, so in effect the two pieces sandwich the torn area. I used some “Loctite 60 second glue” which is like superglue (but a gel rather than a liquid), works on multiple materials and more importantly for a seat cover remains flexible, it has worked really well and saves me the cost and effort of buying and fitting a new cover.  And it lasted the ride on Sunday… job done!

That’s when things started to go wrong, despite having started the bike up the other day, when it started first kick (the battery needed a bit of charge so the electric start wasn’t an option), it resolutely refused to start. An attempt to jump start it off an old Land Rover battery I keep in the garage for just such occasions just demonstrated that despite having been on a trickle charger, it was completely flat! So that’s heading to the tip but then I guess it is about 10 years old.

So I took the bike of its workshop stand and wheeled it out onto the drive only to find it leant over way too far and was in danger of toppling off the side stand. This being the culprit as the part of the aluminium stand that rests against the stop on the bracket has become damaged…. Another thing to fix!

I eventually got the bike to start by leaning it against my neighbour’s wall to kick start it and set off on the 40 minute ride to where I could join the road book route, plenty to charge the battery up I hoped.

To be continued

Friday, 13 October 2017

Back on two wheels

So the knee continues to improve slowly with physio and I went back to see the consultant yesterday and it looks like there’s no operation needed.

In the meantime I’ve missed the Tour of Mann rally on the Isle of Man for third year running! In 2015 my bike was still in bits after a thread stripped on the crankcases and it took longer to sort out than anticipated. Then last year I was in New Zealand (so no need to feel sorry for me)! And now this year the knee injury, oh well maybe next year!

I have at least managed to get back on two wheels, albeit just on the road at the moment and at the weekend I even managed to check over the rally bike. After the accident I washed most of my kit but the bike just got a spray of lube on the chain to stop it rusting and was then chucked in the garage…

Luckily it wasn’t very muddy so is in not too bad a condition, although the front wheel bearings are completely toast! The tyres are very worn on the edges of the blocks but the simple expedient of turning them round will get a few more miles out of them and to be honest re-lubing the mousses is most probably long overdue so I have to take the tyres of anyway. Unfortunately I do tend to use my knees rather a lot when changing tyres so not something I’m looking forward to. A decent wash, a check of the valve clearances, an oil and filter change and a clean air filter should be all it needs as I really need to get out and recce my road book route for the Rallymoto “Hertfordshire Caper” in November.

A visit to Martin Wittering at Torque Racing last week also set the wheels in motion for another road book event hosted at Torque, this time I’ve planned a 170km route along the Cambridge/Essex/Hertfordshire borders, which should be fun!

I have previously mentioned the monster route I had planned taking in all the green roads in Hertfordshire (well at least all the ones worth doing) this is currently standing at 490 kilometres (304 miles) and an estimated 16 hours of riding. 

You won’t be surprised to learn I have also converted it to a road book. In a discussion with Burt from Rallymoto he had suggested doing this as an overnight ride, Martin took this one stage further and suggested doing it over two days with a “bivouac” in between at Torque Racing. 

Hang on I hear you cry “Torque Racing isn’t in Hertfordshire”! 

True, but it’s only just over the border into Cambridge. In fact the route is only 6 kilometres from Torque and 4 of those are along a byway (the Icknield Way). As an added bonus this point is at 230 kilometres (142 miles) into the route, so almost at the half way point….. 

I see a plan forming here!

Friday, 8 September 2017

I'm bored now!

Needless to say, rally action has been curtailed for the moment; my knee injury was confirmed by the MRI scan as a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) that has partially separated from the Tibia as well as severe bruising to the Femur and Tibia. As I write I’m awaiting physiotherapy which whilst it can’t reattach the ACL, will strengthen what remains. In October I’m going back to the Orthopaedic and Trauma Clinic for an assessment where they may decide to operate to reattach the ligament properly. So at present I just have to wait.... and yes it's boring!

So my rally related exploits have been restricted to planning, firstly a road book training day in November in Hertfordshire for Rallymoto, running from the KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead. I have created a 170 km route, mapped it online and created a road book via Rally Navigator Pro. Now I’m just hoping I’ll be fit in time to do final checking on the bike before November.

My second project is a GPS route covering every green road that is a through route in Hertfordshire, of which there are 110 separate routes. 

This came about last year when a fellow TRF member Mark Harvey, came up with the idea of a moped marathon around all the green roads in Hertfordshire to raise some money for Marie Curie Cancer Care and asked for help. 

I obliged and plotted a route including every green road including all the dead ends. In July I then came up with the idea of trying the route (but omitting the dead ends) on our normal trail/enduro bikes, just to see what a mammoth task it was likely to be.

A route was duly plotted and I then I injured my knee, which put me out of contention to actually ride the route. However a post on the Hertfordshire TRF Facebook Group got over twenty riders interested in riding it. A GPX file of the route was duly created and a small recce group came together to trial the 480km route!!! 

Two friends Andrew Dalton and Andrew Prendergast attempted the ride on the August Bank Holiday weekend. Starting at the Valiant Trooper pub in Aldbury, near Tring (where the TRF was originally formed in 1970) they set a fast pace and managed to get approximately half way round in six hours when on a byway near Bishops Stortford, Mr Dalton parked his Husqvarna 701 upside down in a ditch!!!

A broken collarbone was the result…. But thankfully the bike was OK!

So the route remains to be ridden in full but will obviously take at least 12 hours to complete, so I’m now hoping I’ll be fit enough to attempt it myself before the lack of daylight and two seasonal traffic regulation orders mean the route in full can’t be ridden until the Spring…. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Oh bugger!

Sunday was spent surveying some more green roads in the Peak District National Park on behalf of the TRF (Trail Riders Fellowship) unfortunately all did not end well.
Upon reaching the end of the fourth green road of the day, it turned to rough tarmac, that due to an adjacent farm entrance was covered in mud and descended steeply to T junction, just as I was approaching the junction, a car swung round into the road at speed, unable to make the very tight turn he swung right across onto my side of the road....

and stopped!

With the car completely blocking the narrow lane, I had two choices:
a) Run into the front of the car
b) Attempt to stop

Naturally I chose the latter but given that it was on a steep slope on broken tarmac covered in mud, not surprisingly the front tyre gave up the grip and down I went! Luckily I was only travelling at about 10mph but it still hurt as I went down hard on my right hip, even more lucky I stopped sliding before I hit the car!

The driver it turned out was trying to follow his sat nav to Buxton, so quite why he thought a narrow lane clearly marked as a No Through Road would take him there I don't know. Of course as is common with green roads it's not a no through road at all but I don't think he'd have got his old Rover 75 up here:
Clough Head
He did do the decent thing and helped pick me up but we decided it wasn't worth swapping details etc as there was no damage to the bike and I'm sure if I did put in a claim his insurance company would say I fell off for braking too hard! Maybe option A) would have been better financially?
At the time it seemed I just had a bit of a bruise on my hip anyway but unfortunately it turned out to be a bit more!
On arriving back at the van and taking my knee braces off, my right knee was rather sore, I think the brace was supporting it and masking the fact.
On stopping at the services on the way home it was clear all was not right and walking was a bit difficult.
Once I got home and finished cleaning up and putting the bike away it was clear all was not right and the knee was swelling and seizing up...
Cue a trip to the Urgent Care Centre at MK Hospital who told me to go straight over to A&E 
At least it was a relatively quick experience arrived at 22:15, triaged, examined, x-rayed, seen again, got a second opinion from an orthopaedic registrar and was home at 00:30!
Diagnosis was that there's no fracture just soft tissue injury but by now the knee had swollen up nicely, I was on crutches and a trip to fracture clinic was booked for Thursday to be doubly sure! 
The hip has bruised up very nicely....

And Fracture clinic have referred me for an MRI scan to find out what exactly i've done (but confirmed there's no fracture) and kitted me out with a very natty knee brace for the time being...

The worse part of it all was I couldn't make the Keilder Rally this weekend and lost my entry fee as a result and it doesn't look like I'm going to be back on the bike very soon!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Infamous Five?

Then there were five….

As it turned out the “hilly route” out of Bridestowe was pretty much one big hill, at the top of which we switched back to a railway path although this was on the same line as yesterday the two sections do not connect. This was pleasantly level and led to some more roadwork through the village of Lydford.

Before we reached the village we were given some good advice by a local cyclist, firstly to keep out in the centre of the road on the next steep descent into Lydford Gorge to avoid some potholes near the kerb and secondly to ignore the signposted route (The Devon C2C follows National Cycle Network 27) and follow the road all the way to Tavistock avoiding some bad hills near Mary Tavy. 

We followed his first advice, which was spot on but on the second point we took a variation, as we didn’t want to go into the centre of Tavistock. We ignored a turn left on NCN27 as instructed and then shortly after a very steep climb round Brent Torr (but at least it was only one) instead of continuing straight on into Tavistock, we took another left onto NCN 327, a route that descends a minor country lane to join NCN 27 just outside the town. This gave us the option to cut straight through the town at high level on the old viaduct avoiding a climb out on the far side. 

Yes this is the view from the viaduct right in the middle of Tavistock

And this only a few hundred metres along the track

The route then got a bit convoluted diving around industrial areas, retail parks and housing estates before re-joining a railway path on the far side of town. After a short detour off the route for food, we joined the path and what a path it turned out to be!

The tunnels were cold, wet and very dark!

The Viaducts were incredible

 A series of tunnels and viaducts took us on a nice level route as far as Yelverton where we were forced to climb again to detour round the town, after crossing the main A386 we joined a pleasant and fairly level track that led through woodland then out onto open moorland. This was followed by a steep descent into the village of Clearbrook. 

Our disappointment at losing a lot of height so quickly was soon tempered by the realisation that the route continued downhill from here, and indeed as we discovered was now downhill all the way to Plymouth. A gradually descending railway path took us over more spectacular viaducts and through another amazingly long and dark tunnel , eventually descending through Plympton Wood to the outskirts of Plymouth.

Route finding got a little tricky now but we eventually picked up the correct one alongside the River Plym as far as the Laira Bridge where we crossed into Plymouth itself. The route now followed back streets as far as the Sutton Harbour Marina, where the route crosses over the lock gates… or rather it doesn’t! 

We were greeted with a sign informing us the crossing was closed until further notice, there had been no prior warning or diversion signposted so we had to backtrack a distance and ride on busy city roads with a final sharp climb to Plymouth Hoe, where we rejoined Grainne at the Pub on the Hoe (yes that’s its name).

As far as we could ascertain this was the end of the route as unlike the C2C “up north” the Devon route is not individually signposted, nor does it have specific landmarks to designate the ends and the OS map showed the route as finishing ambiguously somewhere near the far side of the lock gates (that we couldn’t cross)?

Tim and Andrea decided to go off in search of the “dipping the front wheel in the sea” picture but the rest of us decided to stay at the pub! After all we had all cycled down to sea level at the closed lock gates and certainly for me that was close enough! Of course students of Geography will know that Plymouth Hoe is on “The Sound” which is the estuary of the Rivers Tamar and Plymm and the true coast is about three miles further south! But I guess to suggest the Coast 2 Coast doesn’t actually reach the coast is being a little pedantic!

Stay tuned until the next adventure….

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Then there were two!

Devon C2C Part 2

Tim and I set off again from our lunch stop in Okehampton to re-join the former railway, only like Ilfracombe this was not situated in the town but at the top of a very steep hill. In fact we later read it’s the worst hill on the entire route…. We certainly agreed with that! And of course the rain continued to pour down!

After gaining the railway track again we followed the valley south at high level, at first climbing gradually which was not a lot of fun but thankfully it didn’t take long to level out. Tim made a comment along the lines of “at least it’s not windy”… of course it was soon after that the wind started to get stronger and blustery which combined with the crossing of some impressive (and high) viaducts made things “fun”. 

Eventually we reached the turn off to Bridestowe and our second overnight stop. A steep descent underneath one of the aforementioned viaducts and down a twisty bridleway to join a minor road and then more descending to the village made a pleasant (if still wet) end to the day. 

Despite the foul weather we agreed that the ride from Okehampton was one of the most enjoyable parts of the route (from the top of the hill that is)!

After a much need shower and change at the excellent Hunters Moon B&B there was a quick drive back to Great Torrington to collect the remaining car. 

We then retired to the White Hart pub in Bridestowe for a great meal.

On the third day the morning dawned dry and warm although a bit overcast, we eschewed the return to the railway line as this would lead us onto another main road, instead we took the alternative “hilly route” on minor roads directly from Bridestowe. After the first couple of miles, Grainne realised she was still not feeling very well and would struggle to complete the day, so decided to turn back and return to the van before she had gone too far.

And then there were five.....

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Six go mad in Devon

After the fun and games on the Cotswolds Caper Road Book day, thoughts turned to pedal powered two wheel tomfoolery.

The target this year, the Devon Coast to Coast from Ilfracombe to Plymouth is shorter and with smaller hills than last year’s classic C2C route from Whitehaven to Sunderland but with 100 miles to cover in three days, still a challenge. This year as well as our friends Tim and Andrea who we rode the C2C with, we were joined by Glenn and Wendy (all of us veterans of the 2015 Via Ferrata trip to the Dolomites).

Now you could consider this as training for rallying but seeing as I did no training for the ride apart from one thirty minute cycle from MK Hospital to home the other week, I’m not exactly sure of the training benefit as I found it bloody hard work!

Day one from Ilfracombe started with a very sharp pull from the quayside after the ritual “dipping your back wheel in the sea” photo alongside the strange Damien Hirst statue "Verity". Then it was up through the town to the former site of Ilfracombe railway station… 

Yes the hill was too steep for trains back in the day! The day started with some light drizzle but improved to a nice sunny day as the time went on.

What followed was a pleasant enough but steadily climbing former railway route for a few miles, this eventually levelled out and then switched to minor roads, which turned out to be surprisingly hilly with short, sharp climbs but eventually followed by a welcome downhill into Braughton where a coffee stop was in order! 

After this we had 20 miles of flat railway path first along both sides of the Taw Estuary (to cross a bridge at Barnstaple and then reverse the route into an unwelcome headwind) then after a smashing lunch at Framlington Quay we turned into the estuary of the River Torridge then up the river past Bideford and to our overnight stop at GreatTorrington. Where we were faced with a very steep mile uphill into the village! An evening of car shuttling ensued (thanks for the lift Pete)!

Day two dawned grey and wet and that’s the way it stayed! Grainne and Wendy decided to opt out; I didn’t blame them especially as Grainne was still suffering the after effects of a recent chest infection. They spent the day shuffling one of the cars and our van around and later meeting us for lunch.

After the very welcome downhill to re-join the route, more railway path ensued, however near the village of Petrockstowe we again joined minor roads, the railway continues but results in a dangerous section on main roads, the detour took us on a similar route to yesterday with short sharp hills (and some not so short) and corresponding descents and all the while it poured! 

The early part of the route went surprisingly quickly so that we arrived at the pre-planned lunch stop at Hatherleigh too early and had to keep pushing on (although some of us did avail ourselves of the chip shop for a quick “refuel”).

We eventually joined up again at Okehampton for a welcome lunch and a chance to dry out a little. After this Glenn and Andrea decided they’d had enough rain for one day and jumped in the van (good job we have space for up to six people and six bikes)!

To be continued….