Friday 30 September 2011

Two sleeps to go!

Only two days left until my first ever race at the Hafren Rally.

Well the bike is all ready, since my last post I have fitted a pair of 20mm handlebar risers to improve the riding position and make it easier to look ahead and hopefully making progress easier!

Ever since i've had the bike I have had problems with the petrol cap leaking (a common proplem with the Acerbis plastic tanks on CCMs), this recently got much worse and a quick investigation showed the rubber gasket inside the cap was missing, I can only imagine it fell at the last time I filled up. So a new cap and gasket were ordered direct from CCM and arrived the next day, so hopefully that is sorted.

The weather forecast looks fantastic for most of the country although there is light rain forecast in Mid Wales tonight and it looks like being cloudy on Sunday but still 24 degrees! Hopefully the rain will dampen things down nicely so it isn't too dusty (but I doubt it) but it looks like taking on liquids will be crucial during the event.

So it just remains to pack all my riding gear, fill up the bike and spare fuel can, load up the trailer and head off to Wales tomorrow.

The final start list is now out and i'm now confirmed as number 226 but i'm still showing as being in the beginners class!!! Another thing to sort out before Sunday.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

So why Mad Cow Racing?

An obvious question really!

Mad Cow Racing started back in 1990, when three friends, myself, Graham Pentney and Pete Davis decided to have a go at the then new sport of Mountain Bike Racing.

Decidedly mediocre in our performance we decided that what we need was some decent bikes and that could be acheived through sponsorship but to get sponsored we would need to perform better... a bit of a Catch 22 situation.

So instead we decided to look for a gimmick to get some attention and somehow (I do recall it involved many pints of Guiness) we came up with the idea of sticking small plastic horns to our bike helmets!

We then had to think of a suitable name, after working on various permutations of devils, vikings and cows we finally settled on "Team Mad Cow" partly as a result of Pete being a dairy farmer back then and the BSE crisis being front page news. This then switched to Mad Cow Racing at some point in our early history.

We raced under the team banner in a number of sports both collectively and as individuals and got involved in a very wide range of sports and gave ourselves the title of "International Multi Sport Race Team" we never actually raced at an international level but calculated that with my Italian ancestry and Pete's Mum being Swiss, we were truly "International".

Our mission in life was...

If it's fast, unstable or has the capacity to cause fear and great harm, we would race it.

Approaching the Team's 21st Birthday we recently listed the number of different sports and adventure pastimes we had participated in over those 21 years, OK so not all of them were under the banner of Mad Cow Racing but all were done whilst members of the team, it makes quite a list...

  • Cross Country Mountain Bike Racing
  • Downhill Mountain Bike Racing
  • Slalom/Dual Slalom Mountain Bike Racing
  • Cyclo Cross
  • Time Trialling
  • Marathon Mountain Bike Racing
  • Mountain Bike Orienteering
  • Enduro

  • Running (5km to ultra Marathon including cross country)

  • Fell Running

  • White Water Canoeing

  • Kayak Slalom

  • Canoe PoloRock Climbing

  • Dragon Boat Racing

  • Dualthlon

  • Triathlon

  • Mountain Triathlon (kayak/fell run/mountain bike)

  • Karate

  • Judo

  • Ju Jitsu

  • Surfing

  • Skiing

  • Snowboarding

  • Open Water Swimming

  • Moto Cross (Beach Racing)
  • Side Car Cross

  • And now of course... Rally Bike Racing

As noted above we are now 21 years old and clearly a commerative T-Shirt was required

Available to buy from HERE

And did we ever get the sponsorship we were after?

Well never really as a Team but both Pete and Graham went on to get sponsored rides with other mountain bike teams and we certainly got the recognition; to this day I get approached at bike races and get told "I remember you, you were one of the guys with those horns"

Monday 26 September 2011

My Bike

I thought the petrol heads out their might want to know a bit more about my "Rally Bike"

Well to be honest it isn't a Rally Bike!

It's a 2002 CCM 604E Dualsport

A what? Well that's what most people say, CCM stands for Clews Competition Motorcycles, based in Bolton, so let's have a bit of history...

CCM was born out of the collapse of BSA’s Competition Department in 1971. Alan Clews, founder of CCM, was a successful Trials and Scrambles rider in the late 1960s. He wanted a lighter, more nimble and modern motocross bike, like the BSA factory engined 500 cc works specials. When the BSA Competition Department went out of business, he saw his opportunity and bought all the works parts that were available. Clews started building motocross bikes in his garage. Not having works engines just made Clews develop his own extensive improvements to the standard BSA B50 500 cc engine which could be had by breaking up existing B50 MX bikes. His reputation grew as a builder of four-stroke motocross bikes that were capable of competing with the dominant two-stroke bikes. In the mid-1970s, the CCM racing team achieved respectable results in the 500 cc Motocross World Championship, with rider John Banks placing in the top five several times. The full story can be found here – Wikipedia

CCM have been through many owners since then and have produced bikes under the name of various owners and made a name for themselves in the 1980's building military motorcycles (although never badged as CCMs) based on 350 and 500cc Rotax Engines.

Between 1998 and 2004 CCM was in the hands of the Robson family when the range of 604 bikes using Rotax 600cc engines and 664 using Suzuki 650cc engines were built. There was also a 404 based on the Suzuki DRZ 400 motor than continues in sporadic production to this day, the factory having come back to the ownership of Alan Clews in 2004.

My bike was built in 2002 with a Rotax engine and is essential a large trail/enduro bike, however CCM did cash in on the growing popularity of Super Moto, essentially a racing series that combines tarmac race circuits with dirt sections. This started as a "made for TV" event in the USA called the "Super Bikers"  that pitched Road, Flat Track and Motocross (MX) Racers together on a circuit that included all three surfaces. I remember seeing the show and was amused to see the Americans, who had chosen Harley Davidson XR750 TT Bikes (TT being a form of flat track race where the infield of the tracks are used so bikes have to be capable of right hand turns and jumps) being trounced by the largely European Motocross riders who were on 500cc two stroke MX bikes fitted with 17" road race wheels and huge brakes. I was hooked!

The idea took off big time in France in the late eighties and the name morphed into Super Motard (essentially super bikers in French) and eventually Super Moto (super bike). Naturally enough road bikes using this format started to appear in the mainstream.

CCM originally built super motos to go racing, with WSB world champion Carl Fogarty famously riding for them. And of course they built essentially the same bikes for the road in the form of the 604E Supermoto.

No not my bike, but a very similar CCM works bike based on the 604 ridden by Carl Fogarty

So the 604 was built in three versions, the 604 Enduro in full trail trim with 21" front and 18" rear wheels and long off road suspension. The 604 Supermoto with 17" wheels and 1" shorter suspension and finally my bike, the 604 Dualsport.

This was basically an Enduro with the longer suspension but also came with a pair of 17" wheels, allowing the owner to switch between enduro and supermoto guises, hence the "Dual Sport".

Although technically a "British Bike" it is in fact a largely European sourced machine, "assembled" in Britain.

Whilst the frame and swing arm are produced in the UK as are the handlebars (bought in from Renthal), it has a chequered origin...

The Rotax Engine and Remus Exhaust are both sourced from Austria
The Dellorto Carburetor, Brembo Brakes and Acerbis Seat and Bodywork are all Italian
The White Power Suspension is from the Netherlands
The Wheels are made in Spain
And other parts are sourced from the USA and Japan!

So a real parts bin special but those parts were some of the best available at the time, this shows in components such as the White Power suspension, which is hardly any different from that fitted  these days to the Dakar Rally winning bikes  from KTM (Who now own White Power).

My bike is in largely standard condition with only minor changes:

  • 30mm handlebar risers (actually KTM ones) to improve the riding position.
  • Hand Guards (again by KTM) to protect hands and levers
  • Mirrors have been removed
  • Maxxis Cross Enduro tyres with heavy duty inner tubes
  • The chain guard has been removed to assist rear wheel removal (and is not legally required on a single seat "off road" bike).
  • The large, heavy and breakage prone rear light has been replaced with a lightweight Acerbis LED one.
  • This has required the rear indicators to be relocated forward into a more protected position.
  • The front sprocket has been replaced by one with only 15 teeth (standard was 16) to lower the gearing
 So hopefully that is all it needs to survive it's first rally this coming weekend!

With thanks to for much of the information

Sunday 25 September 2011

All sorted for the Hafren Rally

I got a quick response from the Club Secretary, with an apology, so all is well.

I am now starting in 220th place an improvement of 115 places and I'm back in the Trail Class.

I did some final preperation on the bike today, subjecting it to a thorough check over, to sort out those few outstanding jobs and to ensure there is nothing that it might fail on in scrutineering.

  • Spokes all checked and OK.
  • Brake pads have plenty of material left on them and work OK.
  • Wheel bearings, swing arm bushes and head bearings all checked and no play in any of them.
  • Replaced my bent brake lever with a new one (and strapped the old one to the fork leg behind the headlight as a spare).
  • Degreased, then re-lubed and tensioned the chain.
  • Tyres all OK with no obvious damage, tyre pressures set.
  • Rims OK with no dents or dings
  • Replaced the bent pivot bolt on the side stand and retensioned the springs so it now sits against the stop like it's supposed to and not dangle about an inch below it and flap around in the breeze!
  • Topped up the engine oil.
  • Checked the air filter, it's nice and clean so left it alone.
  • Re-taped the wiring alongside the headstock as it was looking a bit tatty
  • Fitted a spare clutch lever taped to the frame.

So all looking good for next weeks Rally debut, not sure if i'm more excited than i'm nervous, or maybe that's the other way round???

All stickered up and ready to race

Friday 23 September 2011

Possible set back for the Hafren?

The final instructions and start list for the Hafren Rally have been published.

Unfortunately despite having received email confirmation from the club secretary that I had been upgraded from beginners to the Trail class on 6th September, I appear on the start list in the beginners and 327th out of 331 starters!!!

Not happy!

Needless to say an email has been despatched

Big Bike Rally Challenge

Welcome to my blog in which I will be charting my progress in my racing campaign for the "Big Bike Rally Challenge" or BBRC

So what is the BBRC?

Well it is a race series based on the sport of Motorcycle Rally Racing, these are cross country races on road legal "enduro" bikes designed for more road biased machines, known as Trail Bikes and were traditionally known as "Trail Bike Enduros" to differentiate them from those for purpose built and more off road oriented Enduro Bikes.

Over the years these have adopted the name of Motorbike Rallies as the format is very similar to Car Rallies:

In a typical event competitors compete on a large lap of 40-50 miles up to three times over the course of the day, this will be gravel or dirt roads with more technical sections over boggy ground or through tight forest sections and occasionally stretches of tarmac road, so all bikes must be road legal. This is largely comprised of what are known as liaison stages and has to be ridden at a minimum speed of 18mph. This may not sound much but as an average speed, competitors will often have to ride much faster to finish within their time limit. And of course they always run the risk of loosing time through crashes, breakdown or punctures. Finish a liaison more than 30 minutes late and time penalties are awarded.

Two or three times a lap riders have to complete a special stage, typically four or five miles long on faster terrain, competitors start at 20 second intervals and have to race as fast as they can against the clock. The times of these “specials” is what determines the overall result. And some Rallies are held over two days, so on Sunday morning competitors wake up and go and do it all again!

So what is the BBRC? Well another development in recent years is that of the "Adventure Bike" or "Big Trail Bike" Most probably started by BMW in the 1980's with the introduction of their R80GS, an 800cc twin cylinder trail bike. It was originally marketed as a Tourer for rough roads and could be fitted with hard panniers to carry luggage, it soon gained popularity amongst the more adventurous bikers and "Round the World" types.

Soon other manufacturers were offering similar machines and their popularity grew but were still a bit of a niche market in the UK. However in Europe they were very popular especially as events like the Dakar Rally in which competition machines based on these bikes raced increased the popularity of the type as they were perfect for this high speed racing in inhospitable terrain where competitors had to carry large loads of fuel at speed for many hours, day after day.

In the UK the TV Series "Long Way Round" in which Actors Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman rode round the world on BMW R1150GS bikes brought the big trail bike, now known usually as Adventure Bikes, to the public's attention.

As a result an upsurge in sales models like the BMW R1200GS, the KTM 990 Adventure and others occurred and of course it wasn't long before people wanted to race them on the domestic scene. Rallies were the obvious arena and more and more "big bikes" were appearing against the more traditional smaller trail bikes and enduro bikes.

As a result the Big Bike Rally Challenge was born, piggy backing on the six main rallies in the UK

The Tarrenig Rally (Mid Wales)
The Rydale Rally (Yorkshire)
The K2 Desert Rose Rally (Northumberland)
The Beacons Rally (South Wales)
The Hafren Rally (Mid Wales)
The Cambrian (Mid Wales)

Open to road biased trail bikes over 575cc the BBRC has grown in popularity in recent years and offers an exciting racing experience to those who might not have traditionally gone out and bought a competition bike to race on. Indeed many competitors use bikes that are their everyday transport and even ride to the events (and hopefully back again)!

This is where I come in! At the age of 50 I decided I needed a new challenge and although I had been riding motorbikes off tarmac for 25 years, this had been in the pastime of green laning, the relatively slow speed riding of unsurfaced roads as a form of enjoyment so I have no experience at all of actually racing.

Having discovered the BBRC website, my imagination was fired up and I entered the Hafren Rally on 2nd October 2011 as a beginner on my trusty green lane machine, a British Built CCM 604E. The beginners class start at the back and only do two laps of 45 miles as opposed to the full rally which is three laps.

Determined to learn more I spotted that the BBRC were organising a two day big bike rally training weekend at the Sweet Lamb Rally Complex in Mid Wales and the venue for the Hafren', so I quickly signed up.

The weekend was a great success and both my ability and skills received a massive leap forward, as a result I was encouraged to move my entry for the Hafren' from the beginners class to the full Rally and this was duly accepted.

I was also inspired to enter the last event of the year, the Cambrian Rally also held in Mid Wales only two weeks after the Hafren'. Although run on the same basic format, the Cambrian is a two day Rally, taking place on the 15th and 16th October.

So this blog will chronicle my preparations and provide reports on my success or otherwise in Rally Racing.

Learning to ride rocky gullies on the Big Bike Rally Training weekend