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:

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Don't cut the red wire!

The woes continue! 

Attempting to repair my RNS Tripmaster by soldering the broken wires back into place turned out to be a bit of a disaster. Just holding the wires in place and putting the sensor next to the front wheel magnet got it working again so all looked good. So simply a matter of soldering the wires to the contacts, except once I had done this….. it didn’t work at all!

I can only think that whilst soldering I have managed to “fry” the electronics somehow…. Very frustrating! Oh well it wasn’t working before and it’s not working now, so I guess I’m no further forward but I’m no worse off either. 

So after a bit of internet research I discovered the new ICO Rally Max that was reported as not being launched until March was already available from Rally Raid Products. So I bit the bullet and shelled out £263 for one (say it quickly and it doesn’t sound so expensive). 

I also treated myself to one of Rally Raid’s aluminium combined switch mounts to mount both the remote ICO switch and the road book switch. 

An expensive luxury but certainly tidies up the left hand bar. Fitting the two switches with their separate mounts was a complete pain last year as they and the clutch lever mount all seem to get in the way of each other when trying to tighten them up. The mount will also take a standard KTM switch cluster but as I don’t have one that’s academic. It does however leave me enough room for my aftermarket light and horn switch… result!

So having received the new ICO, I mounted it in the same place as RNS had been on the road book plate, simple as it uses identical mounts. The RNS will be retained and mounted at the bottom of the road book plate as the clock function (that still works) will come in handy. And if I can in future get it repaired, then it can be run as a backup trip meter as most “proper” rally racers do.

Next task was to sort out the road book switch that had given up the ghost on the Tuareg Rally, again I could buy a new one but I decided to have a go at repairing it first and save myself £36. The problem was almost certainly not the switch but the wires leading too it, as on the rally we were able to get it working again by wiggling these wires around so almost certainly a break in a cable somewhere. 

There are four wires inside an outer sheath and they are very thin but luckily I had a length of almost identical four core multi cable (just slightly thicker). I cut the cable about 5cm from the switch and the connector at each end and stripped back the cables. 

They were then twisted together with the new cables, a thin layer of solder was then applied to hold the joint tight (so are not simply a soldered joint that might fracture) then a small piece of heat shrink applied to insulate the joint and further hold it together. 

Then a larger piece of heat shrink was put over the top to seal it up. This was repeated at the other end and…. Job done! 

All that remains is to wire up the road book to the power supply and check to see if it works.

I have also rewired the whole of the navigation tower with new cables, connectors, a new fuse box (very fancy with LEDs to show if a fuse has blown) and everything encased in plastic spiral wrap to protect the cables. I have also provided power to both the ICO and the RNS. In Morocco I relied on the internal batteries in the RNS to simplify the wiring. This has no effect other than the backlight is disabled until you press a button. No problem I thought as it it’ll be nice and bright in the sunshine. This in fact was the problem as the bright sunlight actually made it difficult to read without the backlight, so I learned a valuable lesson! 

Power has also been provided to my GPS, not required on the Tour of Portugal but provides a compass and a backup speedo and a power lead to the GPS tracker that is supplied by the organisers. This allows them to know where we are but also records any speeding infringements!

This weekend a few final jobs will be done:

  • Fit a new back tyre and check and re-lube the mousse
  • Swap the new tyre on my spare front wheel to the other wheel as it has brand new wheel bearings
  • Change the oil
  • Fit a clean air filter
  • Check all bearings for play
  • Check all cables
  • Make sure all bolts are tight

And check all the new wiring actually works!

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Problems, problems....!

So house moves, Christmas, New Year and sadly two funerals out of the way and the new year Rally season kicks off on Sunday with a road book training session on Salisbury Plain. After all the Tour of Portugal is only six weeks away!

That has been booked, as well as flights and airport parking and all that remains is to ensure the bike and riding gear are prepared ready for transport to Portugal.

The bike is essentially OK but will get an oil and filter change, a clean air filter and a new plug before it goes, all bearings will be checked (and replaced if necessary) as well as cables etc. The problem lies with the navigation equipment….

You may recall that the road book switch stopped working in Morocco and yes I should have fixed it or replaced it by now but as I haven’t needed the road book, it kept getting put to the bottom of the “to do” list. 

The problem doesn’t seem to be the switch itself but appears to be a break (or breaks) in the cable where it passes along the handlebars, as wiggling these wires did get it working again for one day. As the cables are far longer than they need to be, I’m just going to chop out the offending parts, the re-solder them together and seal with heat shrink tubing…. Hopefully job done!

The second problem seemed a bit trickier, my fancy trip meter; an RNS TripMaster had suffered when the bike fell off its stand a few months back and one of the three wires in the back was torn out. I had thought this was the wire to the remote switch so if the worst came to the worst, I could use the buttons on the side of the unit instead. Not ideal but would do for Sunday until I could get something sorted.

Unfortunately it turned out to be the wires to the front wheel sensor… not so good! Without these it simply doesn’t work as a trip meter (although it was a handy to use the clock function on the Hafren Rally).

After taking it apart the internal appeared to be sealed with resin and a small hole was all that remained of where the wires entered! This was not looking good, of course for Sunday I could use the trip meter on the standard KTM speedo. Except this wasn’t working either! Just a matter of replacing a broken connector in the wire from the sensor but another job to do!!!

It's the blue and brown wires on the right that are supposed to lead into the back of the unit like the other two....

Luckily on further investigation the “resin” inside the RNS turned out to be silicone sealant and a few seconds work with a sharp knife and I had exposed the contacts that the wires needed to be soldered on to. So hopefully a quick fix tonight. Just hope I get the right wire on the right contact first time!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Happy Christmas

Cyril Neveu, winner of the first ever 
Paris - Dakar Rally in 1978/79 on a Yamaha XT500

Season's greetings and all that stuff to one and all....

Things have been a bit quiet on the rally front as House moves and other stuff get in the way, the rally bike hasn’t even made it to the new house yet as the garage is still full of boxes, so it’s currently stored at a friend’s place.

Around now I’m usually preparing for the Dakar Rally, using the great coverage that is available on the ADV Rider forum:

Unfortunately BT can’t connect up the phone line (and therefore provide internet access) at the new house until the 5th of January. So at the moment I have to rely on my fast dwindling mobile data allowance and the not very consistent free BT WiFi available at the house. Luckily it will just about stream Eurosport player so at least I can watch the highlights from the first few days of the Dakar until normal service is resumed!

I have also been contacted by a fellow Dakar enthusiast in the shape of James Budd, who writes for the blog, with some great historical information on the first Dakar in 1978/9, check out the blog…