Sunday 30 October 2011

Big Bike Rally challenge - Final results

Well the results have been out nearly two weeks but i've only just got round to writing them up for the blog.

The series runs over six events:

Tarrenig Rally
Ryedale Rally
Keilder K2 Desert Rose Rally
Beacons Rally
Hafren Rally
Cambrian Rally

With the top five results counting towards the final results. Actually nobody in the Challenge seems to have done all six, so for all competitors it's just their five results (or less) that count.

And the good news is that with only two rallies under my belt, I managed to get joint 29th place in the singles class out of a total of 45 entries.  Not bad for a complete beginner even though I say so myself!

The singles class was won by Craig Bounds, with a clean sweep of five victories and 100 points. Craig started the series on a BMW 650 X Challenge but switched to a Husqvana TE610 halfway through. Steve Hague came second with 92 points on a KTM 690R and Craig's fellow Dakar veteran Patsy Quick took third with 77 points, also riding a 690.

In the twins class it was another clean sweep for Lyndon Poskitt also with five wins and 100 points. Lyndon rode a KTM 950 Adventure. Stuart Carling was second on a KTM 990 Adventure S scoring 77 points and in third place was Jonny Morris on a KTM 950 Super Enduro with 66 points.

It's little wonder Lyndon won, take a look at his performance in the final special stage at the Cambrian Rally:

Tuesday 25 October 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different!

So having confused several Monty Python fans with that title, here's something not about Rally Racing...

But it does involve motors, off roading and mud (well it would have done if it had rained, which it hadn't)

Well first off you should know that I hold the exalted position of Chairman of Hertfordshire 4x4 Response.

Wossat? I hear you cry!

4x4 Response is a charitable network of thirty one groups around the country whose volunteer members turn out to assist the Civil Authorities during adverse weather or in the response to emergencies and major incidents through the use of capable 4x4 vehicles and equally capable drivers. Although most agencies will pay a contribution to our fuel costs, our members give up their time and provide their vehicles and expertise for free. We also assist other charitable organisations, often for no charge as after all we are all in the same game of chasing ever decreasing funding opportunities to provide our services.

We have carried out tasks as diverse as transporting the Police, Paramedics, Doctors, Nurses, Patients and even Registrars in snow and floods, delivering water to households cut off after the 2007 floods, delivering antiviral medicines during the swine flu pandemic, rescuing stranded motorists and getting vital supplies through to cut off villages. In fact any task that needs reliable transport in adverse conditions we can usually oblige.

So anyway back to the plot!

On Sunday Hertfordshire 4x4 Response held it's first ever training and assessment day. Having been offered a site free of charge, 27 members turned up to have their driving abilities, vehicle recovery knowledge and navigation skills assessed.

I think next time we will need a bigger field!

Colin and Pete demonstrate safe recovery techniques

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and I'm very pleased to report that everyone showed a very high standard of ability. Even those who by their own admission had less experience were able to demonstrate safe control of their vehicles and everyone was prepared to ask questions and listen to the advice on offer.

For further details check out:

Friday 21 October 2011

Results from the Cambrian Rally

The finalised results are now out!

Although I felt that my riding hadn't been as good as on the Hafren, I seem to have managed 23rd in Class which looks like a good improvement from my 37th in the previous rally.

OK there is a marked difference in that the Hafren lumps all Trail bikes together in one class, whereas the Cambrian splits it into Trail being below 575cc and the big bikes are referred to as the "Rally Class".

However if you combine both classes, I would still be 29th so yes it does look like an improvement. The other big question is of course "23rd out of how many... 23?" well in fact there were 28 finishers in Rally, with a further nine DNF's so i'm pretty pleased with that.

By comparison in the Hafren I was 37th out of 45 finishers, so it doesn't look too bad.

Now I have too see how that compares to the results in the Big Bike Rally Challenge, where the Rally Class gets split into singles and twins but also competitors on "big bikes" who entered other classes will get included, I spotted at least one CCM (a Suzuki engined 644) in the Sports Bike Class (the one for "proper" enduro bikes).

And I finally discovered that someone got a photo of me, having a bit of a splash on the Strata Florida track; picture courtesy of Enduro News

Monday 17 October 2011

That's not right

Got the bike cleaned up today , i'm really glad I a). drove home last night and b). took a days holiday today!

The sub frame really is quite bent...

Oh well, as the Cambrian was the last Rally of the Season at least I've got all Winter to sort it out. Being fairly thin steel tube it should be fairly easy to bend back again.

Cambrian Rally Race Report

Here's my first impressions of my first two day rally

Headed off to Wales on Friday afternoon and traffic was horrendous, six and half hours to do 200 miles with only one quick fuel stop.

Pitched the tent and wandered into town to meet up with some of the others of the BBRC crew.

Friday night was COLD!

Saturday dawned bright and sunny so got an early start to get a good parking spot

Just before racing was due to start, we were told there would be a 30 minute delay because St John Ambulance hadn't turned up yet!

We eventually got started two and a half hours late!!!

As a result we only did one lap, this was untimed and it was decided it would be the sighting lap for Sunday when all three laps would be timed.

Went off with Michael and we rode together on a long and slightly boring ride for twenty minutes on fire roads until we reached the Strata Florida track.

Lots of rocks, big puddles and river crossings followed.

Then back on fire roads, these were more interesting as they were a lot more slippery.

Then a short bit of road work up to the special stage at the top of the Devil's Staircase.

First special was a bit rutted and snotty in places and I had a bit of a lie down in the middle of it.

Bruised and battered I carried on and on reaching the road, we turned right for 50 yards to the second special.

This was mostly fire road but with a range of different surfaces from flat out to slippery as heck.

The final section was five minutes on tarmac back to the start

Quickly packed up, I put the bike on the trailer only to realise I had bent my subframe.

The rear mudguard was now about two inches further to the left than it should have been

The exhaust was being hit by the wheel (AGAIN)! cured with a bit more modification of the mounting strap (read: hit exhaust with a big rubber mallet)

Back to the campsite for a hot shower and got changed

Met up with some of the others at the Kings Head, not much chance of getting a meal as it was heaving so end up in the chippie's restaurant, actually very good!

Saturday night was a lot warmer

Got up early packed the tent by the simple method of stuffing it in a black sack!

Got to the start, all on time today.

Lap one, riding well, Strata was fun despite having to avoid parties of 4x4s and mountain bikers coming the other way but then I seemed to loose it and my riding was getting ragged.

Bike kept cutting out and had to stop twice to empty water out of the carb

Got the first special, nearly came off again in the ruts and got passed by Michael who was 20 seconds behind me.

Second special wasn't much better, as I ran out of fuel and lost precious seconds switching to reserve.

Got back to the start for a quick refuel and a bar of chocolate and the luxury of changing to a pair of dry gloves.

Second lap did not start well and I was really struggling but Strata went OK and I started to feel better.

By the time we arrived at the special tests, I was fired up and managed to ride both better.

Michael went first this time and I managed to get him in sight on the second test but couldn't catch him.

Topped up with fuel, food and drink changed to another pair of nice dry gloves and went out again for the last lap.

Riding much better and really kept up a good pace on the fire roads.

However then Michael dropped his KTM 690 into the river on the Strata!

The bike wouldn't start and looked like it was full of water.

Luckily some marshals arrived soon after and we were able to:

Tip it vertical on its back wheel and get about a gallon of water out the exhaust.

Then we checked the air box to find about two inches of water. We laid the bike on its side and then tipped it upside down to pour loads of water from the air box.

Then the plug was removed and the starter was now happy to spin the motor over, ejecting a lot more water from the cylinder head!

After a thorough dousing with WD40, the plug went back in, the air filter was refitted and it fired up again... RESULT!

And then on the next river crossing, I fell in!!!

Luckily I managed to keep the bike from going under and I was rescued by one of the marshals, the bike fired up again and I was off to catch Michael who had carried on oblivious.

Despite the long delay, we were still within our schedule and a spirited ride got us to the specials on time.

Michael went first but I never saw him despite what felt like a pretty quick ride, mostly because I managed to go "off piste" at one point after missing a corner and then dropped the bike in the ruts.

I was only riding at walking pace (to try not to fall off) so no great drama but it wouldn't have done anything for my time.

I arrived at the second test and this time I went first, I had a real flier and felt the quickest I had all day, conditions had improved considerably with the slippery bits actually improved by the passage of hundreds of bikes.

Apart from the final descent which was truly horrible, snotty and rutted, you had virtually no choice on your route and just had to slither and slide your way down the track.

It took Michael slightly more than 20 seconds to arrive, so I think I might have finally beaten him but only just!

Back to the finish, load the bike, get changed and hit the road.

This was a better run at only five hours including stops for fuel and dinner.

I now have a big pile of filthy gear, a wet tent and a very mucky bike to sort out!

Oh! and as you may have noticed, I forgot my camera

Getting Ready for the Cambrian

I had meant to post this up before the Cambrian Rally (15th/16th October) but didn't quite finish it but thought i'd post it anyway.

In the interests of improving on my performance from the Hafren Rally, what have I done to better prepare myself for the Cambrian Rally, only three days away.

First off was the obvious stuff, give the bike a good clean after the weekend's laning trip and strip off the race numbers from the Hafren. This also helps in checking the bike over for faults and thankfully there are very few.

The stretched silencer mounting strap has been replaced by a nice new one complete with new rubber, that sounds quite simple but it took me two hours to get it to fit right and required a bit of modification!

The full size and therefore extra prone to breaking, number plate was to be replaced by a smaller and flexible plate. Unfortunately it turned up in the post on Saturday, the day after I left!

Whilst not strictly legal, it's far better than some of the so called number plates I spotted on the Hafren, a bit of yellow self adhesive vinyl on the rear mudguard with digits written in black marker pen was one I saw. Other competitors simply took theirs off, despite the requirement for bikes to be "road legal".

One problem I had at the Hafren was blisters on my hands, so in an attempt to prevent this I replaced the rubber grips with Progrip foam ones, these were tested on Sunday and were a marked improvement.

Remarkably the chain was not in need of adjusting after the race and only required a very small amount after the weekend's outing. It was duly sorted and re-lubed.

The carburetor is still set up for the CCM race "silencer" (oh no it's not) that the bike came fitted with and although I have re-fitted the standard silencer to ensure I comply with the 94db enduro noise limit, I have not attempted to change the settings as last time I did, this resulted in the engine running too lean and seizing on me. This required a replacement engine so I'm loathe to go there again!

That being said the bike runs OK even if the throttle response is a bit "soft" as its over-fueled at wider throttle openings. I have considered changing the carburetor needle position to improve pick up but with no time to really test it out before the Cambrian, I have decided to leave well alone.

Ever since I have had the bike the front suspension has felt a bit harsh so I have experimented with the rebound damping by softening it up a little, this did seem to have an effect but I'll be the first to admit I am no expert on suspension setting.

I think I will be treating the bike to a proper professional suspension set up over the winter as well as attempting to get the carburetor settings sorted, possibly by running the bike on a dynometer.... oh err this is all getting a bit serious!

I had thought that if I get hooked by the Rallying (I am already) I might consider a new bike for next year but to be honest I'm really pleased with the CCM especially as I have done nothing to it prior to racing, so it will be interesting to see how it goes after some professional fettling! Plus there is the minor problem of finding the money!

One minor problem I had at the Hafren was knowing what the time was to ensure I was ready at the right time for starts etc. I have in the past used an old sports watch strapped round the handlebars but just before the rally the battery died and the strap snapped, well I suppose it was about 15 years old! Trying to find my watch under moto cross jersey and body armour jacket was a pain, so a trip to Argos and a shiny new Casio (actually the same model of watch) was obtained, a bit of a result as it had been reduced from £19.99 to only £8.99.

And of course the vital preparation, some new Mad Cow Racing Stickers for the bike! It is still wearing silver stickers on the polished aluminium swing arm but these are not very visible, so some new black ones were obtained. Unfortunately with all the rush to get the preparation done, this got pushed to the bottom of the "to do list" and didn't get done!

Tuesday 11 October 2011

A day out around Thetford

Last Sunday saw me out on the green lanes of Suffolk and Norfolk with three members of the Adventure Bike Rider forum for a day out around Thetford Forest and the surrounding area.

This was rather different terrain from Wales as it's obviously a lot flatter! Also the soil is very sandy, which is a bit of a challenge to ride, requiring a modified technique but one that is excellent for building up your bike control skills.

The bike had to hurriedly be got ready, so after a thorough clean, the addition of my spare full size number plate and a temporary bodge for the exhaust strap by packing it out with a strip of rubber cut off some rubber matting, I was on my way.

We met at Walkers Cafe near Mildenhall, with Mike who led the trip, riding up from Bury St Edmunds and Darren from Norwich. I trailered the bike up as 50 road miles on enduro tyres was not a pleasant prospect and I wanted to have some tyres left at the end of the day! Jim completed the group and although he hails from Birmingham, had the shortest journey having stayed overnight in the neighbouring Travel Lodge.

Not my "best side"

We set off with the first lanes coming up quickly, these were very narrow and overgrown. In fact they had been even worse a week ago but Mike had been out gardening.

A few more relatively easy lanes led us to one with a prominent sign warning of "No access for vehicles -  weak bridge" we rode as far as the bridge and had a brief stop.

The original bridge had collapsed and the land owner had replaced it with a foot bridge, however Mike explained that the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF) of which he is a member had obtained permission to use the bridge as long as we pushed the bikes across.

After this a bit of road work took as far as the the Weststow Road (also known as the "Kings Reach") through the Kings Forest where a brief stop was required to retrieve Darren's rucksack that had fallen off the back of his bike. After we caught up again with him and Mike who had both carried on oblivious, a few borrowed straps sorted the problem.

A further circuit of lanes around West Calthorpe Heath and we had a "photo opportunity":

Then a few lanes around Culford Heath led us onward around the south of Thetford and down towards the village of Colney Weston and then on to a fuel stop at Stanton.

Heading back northwards we passed to the East of Thetford and over the A11 onto that rare thing a "permissive byway" again a result of local negotiations by the TRF and onto the Peddars Way and under the main Railway line via a "cattle creep"

We carried on as far as Wretham, where we turned South again, passing the end of the road where my Brother in Law lives. Sorry for not popping in Mike but I wasn't sure you would appreciate four (by now) very muddy bikers popping in for tea!

Soon turning off tarmac again we turned right onto the "Hereward Way" and then onto a tarmac section before returning to dirt on the Harling Drove. This is a dead straight unsurfaced road, that is very sandy and has therefore to be ridden at a reasonable pace to stay in control. it also has a number of "whoops" that because you are trying to maintain momentum, can be a bit amusing with a fair bit of "air time" resulting.

Reaching the end of this section with big grins, Mike suggested we do it again in the opposite direction, which we duly did and all completed successfully. Turning around to ride it again we had another fun ride but arriving at the far end, Darren who had been at the back, was missing.

We couldn't hear his engine so Mike headed back to see if he was OK. Jim and I waited a while and then decided to turn back too. We came across them a short way up the track where Darren explained he had "parted company" with the bike and he did appear OK as did the bike, although the forks seemed to have twisted in the yokes.

Tools were duly broken out and we stared loosening off bolts. It transpired he had hit a very large tree trunk sitting just to one side of the track (on the left in the above picture). A large gouge in the wood matched up with the wood fragments still stuck to the end of the front wheel spindle!

We discovered the bike wouldn't even roll forward. The cause was the front brake caliper having been twisted round into the spokes of the wheel, which of course can only happen if you bend the brake disc....

Well and truly bent

It was clear that we were not going to be able to fix this on the trail so a "get you home" solution was required. A piece of plastic found on the trail was wedged between the brake pads and secured with zip ties to prevent the pads falling out or worse, the pistons being forced out of the caliper. We then bolted the caliper on back to front to clear the offending bent disc.

OK so Darren now didn't have a front brake but the bike was still rideable with care and still stoppable by using the rear brake. We then took a gentle ride to Brandon for a (very) late lunch stop.

After lunch Darren headed (slowly) back home and the three of us continued around a few lanes near Brandon and back along the Harling Drove and Hereward Way.

After riding through Thetford, we rode the New Barnham Slip/Old Barnham Slip Lane, followed by The Dukes Ride and onto Seven Tree Road (known as "the Gates" because it has a number of gates... naturally). This was too be our last lane of the day and at the end we parted company with Mike turning left to return to Bury and Jim and I turning right for the short ride back to Walkers Cafe.

Here we found the car park locked with my Land Rover and Jim's van still inside! Our trackside repairs had put us about one hour behind schedule and our previously planned return at four thirty had become five thirty and the Cafe had closed (and the gate locked) at five.

After loading up bikes and changing out of muddy gear, we were contemplating whether we could squeeze out the gap between the gate and the public toilet building beside it. At about 7 feet I was certain the Land Rover would go through but we were not sure about Jim's van. When suddenly the cafe owner turned up and unlocked the gate for us, talk about perfect timing.

All in all an excellent day out and a good opportunity to stay "bike fit" for the Cambrian next week end. Of course the bike inevitably needs some more fettling, with a good clean required and my temporary repair on the silencer had failed with the rubber packing no where to be seen! The stainless steel strap had well and truly stretched and needs replacement. A new one has been ordered along with a bendy (hopefully unbreakable) number plate, which will both hopefully turn up before the weekend.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Some more photos

Found a couple more photographs online, courtesy of Enduro News

Thursday 6 October 2011

Got some good photos

I ordered a couple of official photos from the Hafren of me "in action"

They look pretty good even if I say so myself.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Results are out!

The provisional results for the Hafren Rally were published today

I managed 37th place out of 45 finishers in the Trail Class, which doesn't sound too impressive but I'm well pleased as I managed to meet my primary objective, just to finish. Especially as I chose to do the whole rally rather than the shorter beginners class (1.5 laps instead of 2.5).

In the Big Bike Rally Challenge (BBRC) my result looks a bit better, remember this is for bikes over 575cc so approximately half the trail class can be eliminated as too small.

The BBRC is divided into twins and singles, so at a first glance I was the 16th single over 575cc, which would score me three whole points and thus met my secondary objective to get into the points scoring.

However it later transpired that one rider, although on a BBRC eligible bike had entered the sports class (for "proper" enduro bikes) but under the terms of the BBRC he also gets included and sure enough he had a better overall time than me!

So that's 17th place but still a score of two points.

This meant an unlucky break for Dave as he was two places behind me so was pushed out of the points into nineteenth. This was entirely down to his one disasterous stage, which took him over 12 minutes, whereas on the next lap he did it in 6 minutes 24 seconds (26 seconds faster than me).

Had he not lost these 6 minutes he would have placed above me as our total time difference at the end was only 4 minutes and 14 seconds. So it goes to show that one simple mistake can make all the difference. Indeed out of the five timed stages, Dave was faster than me on three of them, so it looks like we have a little battle within the championship next year!

My times were:

Special Test One:   Second Lap - 00.06.30   Third Lap - 00.06.50
Special Test Two:   Second Lap - 00.14.35   Third Lap - 00.15.22
Special Test Three  Second Lap - 00.10.34

Overall time 00.53.55  (which was 15 minutes 58 seconds behind class winner Craig Bounds)

Tuesday 4 October 2011

I’m no longer a Rally virgin!

And I managed to finish my first race (largely) intact.

I headed off to Wales on Saturday morning having checked everything twice, threw in lots more gear than I thought I would need, just in case.

Lunch stop on the way to Wales

The trip up was uneventful and I arrived at the B&B in Rhayader and asked if there was anywhere I could leave the trailer and bike when I headed off to Llanidloes Rugby Club for the pre race get together that night.

I was directed to the very small parking space behind the pub which was already full (with only three cars) but was told I could park the trailer at the end of the narrow lane. Access was “round the corner and through the arch”. I drove round to find the street was extremely narrow and the arch even narrower. The easy solution might have been to stop, unhitch the trailer and push it through the arch but the road was so narrow I would block it, so decided to give it a go!

Needless to say the limited lock on a Land Rover let me down and I managed to wedge the Defender in the gap with the trailer sitting across the road. I was just about able to squeeze out the door and had a look at what to do. Luckily traffic could just about get past, one vehicle at a time. Even luckier, two guys from the pub who were also competing in the Hafren, appeared round the corner and offered to help. We bounced the trailer round so it was straight and I was able to drive through, taking the reflective tape off the tree slider on one side as it scraped on the old and very battered remains of a gate post.


The lane, actually no more than a glorified alleyway was only about six inches wider than the Defender in places but opened out sufficiently to allow me to unhitch the trailer and push it past and park it up. I locked it up and was just reversing back again (the only space I could have turned in was now full of trailer)! When a woman came out from the house next to the pub and delivered that familiar line “Oi! You can’t park that there”. It turns out that was her property and the turning point for her car. Then her husband arrived and the chef from the pub restaurant came out to see what all the fuss was about.

After much discussion we decided to try and squeeze the trailer onto the pub’s parking space beside one of the parked cars and we managed to do this with about two inches to spare by parking over the top of an old tree stump with one wheel shoved into a bramble bush!

Reversing out of the archway was another challenge as I couldn’t see a thing behind me, so I just put on both my hazard warning lights and amber beacons and crept out an inch at a time hoping traffic would stop for me. Luckily it did and I was able to go and park the Land Rover in front of the pub. All this and I hadn’t even got to go racing yet.

After a quick shower and change (I was a bit sweaty after all that), I headed off to Llanidloes and the pre race “Social”. This was at the Rugby Club, which I had spotted a month previously when driving past on the A470. Taking a back route that knocks off five miles over the A road, I arrive at the rugby club and follow another car in, where we found…. Absolutely nothing!

A quick scan of the documents with the two guys in the other car who were just as lost as me and we found the post code for the “rugby club” and plugging it in to the satnav discovered it wasn’t the same as our current location but a mile away in the centre of town. It turns out we had found the Rugby Club OK but the Social was at the Rugby Clubhouse on the main street of Llanidloes.

Five minutes later we were both parked up in the town car park (which would have been near impossible with the trailer) and soon entered the heaving Clubhouse and joined the queue to sign on for the event. I then had a natter with some of the other big bike rally entrants and managed to win a prize in the raffle…. A Terry’s Chocolate Orange!

I headed back to Rhayader to get an early night ready for my rally debut in the morning. Again I managed to find a parking space outside the pub, checked the bike and trailer was still in place round the back and headed off to bed for some much needed sleep.

This was not to be as it was very hot but too noisy outside to leave the window open and no doubt nerves were playing a part. I eventually remembered I had some ear plugs in my bag and was able to leave the window wide open and get some zeds.

I awoke to the sound of the alarm at 6.00am and after a quick shower I was downstairs in the pub to see what breakfast could be had. I had arranged for some stuff to be left out as cooked breakfasts were not available until 8.00am. To be honest I don’t think I could have faced a fry up before the race so the cereal and fruit on offer was possibly a wise choice.

By 6.30 I was able to reverse the Defender back into the archway, the road now being thankfully empty of other traffic and hook up the trailer, no mean feet as it was still pitch black and did I mention the tree stump, bramble bush and a car only two inches away? I drove the 15 miles to the rally venue as a fantastic pink and orange dawn broke over the hills of Mid Wales, truly inspiring and I really should have taken a photo.

Arriving at the Sweet Lamb Rally Complex, I parked up, found the Big Bike Rally Challenge “bivouac” and met up with a few more people I knew from the training weekend a month before.

The BBRC Bivouac

At 7.20 a queue was already forming at scrutineering (bike check), so I stuck my race numbers on the bike and headed up to join it and the bike went through with no problems.

All ready for the start

Of course they tell you that scrutineering starts at 7.30am but don’t say when it finishes, so all of us first timers were there at the crack of dawn, in fact I had finished and got back to the parking area before 7.30. Of course I spotted that it was still open at 9.00am so maybe I could have had longer in bed! As it was I had two and three quarter hours to wait until my start at 10.15!

After chatting with Dave from the ABR forum who was riding his Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere, also in his first ever rally and picking up bits of advice from the others present, we wandered over to watch the first bikes off at 9.00am. After that the time seemed to go quite quickly and I checked the bike over for the umpteenth time and race gear was donned, camelbak filled with drink and race times written down and taped to the handlebars. At ten o’clock, I went for a quick spin up the access road to warm the bike up and discovered I had set my handlebars slightly too far back when I had fitted the risers. A quick return to the “pit” and a couple of minutes with the tools soon had that sorted.

At 10.14 I was on the start line under an overcast sky and although temperatures were rising, it was very pleasant conditions to be racing in. I was flagged away at exactly 10.15 with very little drama with two other riders and headed off the few hundred yards to the start of the first special stage.

This turned out to be largely made up of the loop we had used for high speed cornering practice on the training course, so at least I had the advantage of knowing where it was going. Of course on the training course it had been pouring with rain, now it was bone dry with dust the consistency of talcum powder, being behind the other two riders meant I could hardly see anything for clouds of dust and had to back off, this worried me at first until I remembered the first lap is not timed as it is designed as a “sighting lap” to allow you to learn the stages, so I just got on with it.

It was a short stage of only a couple of miles so soon finished. A quick blast through a ford and up the hill into the first liaison stage, this took us past a large flat area with many jumps and banked corners (berms) that seemed to be full of bikes. However we bypassed it down a steep rocky bank and behind a building and after a short fire road descent onto a narrow tarmac road. This was great fun, even on enduro tyres as it twisted and swooped along the valley to the start of special stage two.

This took us up a rocky ascent and then out onto open moorland on some flat out fire road with turns and twists a-plenty. A steep rocky descent took us down to the arena area I’d seen before and this was a blast, jumping the bike and nailing it round the berms, this then went out onto more familiar trails from the training course, albeit ridden in the opposite direction, with some more fire roads and the odd mildly technical section before a rocky climb and subsequent descent into the Hafren Forest and onto yet another fire road that wound its way through the forest to the end of the stage.

Stopping for a breather and a drink, I was starting to get concerned at the rate I was having to drink, with a two litre camelbak I wondered if it would be enough to last the lap. A narrow trail led us onwards and turned out to be trickier than it looked with numerous “whoops”, consecutive humps and dips formed by the action of numerous bikes. The problem being that the CCM has a long wheelbase, so rather than riding over the whoops, tended to constantly crash into the face of the humps. I certainly learned to appreciate the performance of the excellent White Power forks.

After this the lap became a bit of a blur, with long fire road sections, narrow rocky trails with steep climbs and steeper descents, long sections through dark impenetrable forest, where you half expected to meet a Hobbit round the next bend. On one narrow forest trail, a small splash through a stream was followed by a very tricky climb, a combination of wet peaty soil and loose rocks where I had my first “moment”. I lost grip and ground to halt with the back wheel spinning, no amount of effort could get me moving and I inevitably stalled. A marshal was thankfully on hand and by dismounting and pushing alongside with him pushing from behind I was able to regain momentum and get to a grippier section where I could remount and fire it up the hill.

Eventually after several punishing miles we arrived at special stage three, this was nasty with a short section of fire road to start but very soon a sharp hairpin right took us up a long, steep and very rocky climb. The stage continued by throwing everything at is, technical descents, a long rutted forest section where I got stuck behind two very slow riders but just as I was about to try a do or die overtake, I remembered once again that we weren’t being timed on this lap so it didn’t matter, I was able to pass them as the trail went into more rocky climbing, long rutted sections across open moorland and the inevitable flat out fire roads. It certainly took it out of you. After reaching the end of the stage a few more miles of largely fire road eventually brought us back to the start area and thankfully sufficient time to attend to the bike (not to mention the rider)!

Getting an energy bar inside me and a long drink of water were first priority followed by topping up my nearly empty camelbak, it had turned out that 2 litres was just about enough for a lap. I took the opportunity to refuel the bike and check the chain that only needed oiling but no adjustment. I also lowered my tyre pressures as I was struggling to get grip in the loose dusty conditions. My final task was to clean my goggles that were thick with dust.

I still had a bit of time before my next lap so took the opportunity to catch up with some of the others; it seems that most had had a fairly uneventful lap.

Soon after I was away again and straight into special test one, this time against the clock. Although we were now set off at 20 second intervals, I wasn’t long before the rider behind me, in the “sport bike class” i.e. quicker, lighter and most probably more experienced than me passed me on a fire road section and I was forced to ride in his dust. By now I was getting used to this and was able to keep going but obviously not as fast as if I had been able to see. By the end of the section two more sports bikes had sneaked past but I was reasonably pleased with my progress although I doubt I was very fast!

The second lap seemed to pass much quicker as far as the end of test two but the long liaison stage then seemed to go on for a long time. It was noticeable that I was now riding on my own for long sections, whereas the first lap had been busy throughout. I can only assume a lot of riders had dropped out as I certainly wasn’t failing behind my time schedule. All was going well and the nasty climb that caught me out on lap one was dispatched with no drama this time.

However another rocky climb up a narrow winding gully through the forest was another matter. Having the choice of a rocky slab to the left or a rock filled gully on the right, I chose to go left. Unfortunately as I crested the slab, I inadvertently knocked the gear lever from second to third and the bike decided that was asking just too much and promptly stalled. Of course rather than falling left against the nearest bank, it went right and I ended up upside down under the bike in the aforementioned rock filled gully, getting a shower of petrol from the now upside down tank breather! A couple of riders managed to pass me as I struggled from under the bike and thankfully one stopped further up and ran down to help me. We got the bike upright and pointing up the hill and he left me to get on with it. I had lost the end off my brake lever, although it was still useable with two fingers and snapped my number plate in half. I tucked the broken piece into my tail pack as it just didn’t seem right to leave “litter” in the forest.

The damage, photographed at the end of the lap

Another rider managed to squeeze past on my right and promptly bogged down in the gully and proceeded to pepper me with rocks as he spun his rear wheel in his attempts to get going again. I was also caught in the same situation with no grip at all on the loose rocks and eventually had to manhandle the bike backwards a few feet (all the time with passing riders firing tennis ball sized rocks at me) before I could get enough grip and momentum to fire it up the hill.

The hill seemed to go on for ever until I got on to a fire road where I could safely stop and get my breath back. I have no idea how long it took me to extricate myself but it must have been a while as I arrived at the start of special stage three with only a couple of minutes to spare and just enough time to thank my good Samaritan from the gully.

Stage three went without too much drama and I wasn’t held up this time and although I was able to allow a few sport bikes past before hitting the technical sections, hopefully earning myself a few brownie points in their eyes, again I felt good (if not overly quick).

At the start finish, I went through the same ritual, adding a banana and some ibuprofen to my energy bar and drink. Again the camelbak was virtually empty so got refilled. The bike got the tank topped up and the chain oiled again and I took the opportunity to replace the broken brake lever with my spare. Goggles cleaned and I was still with enough time to catch up with a few of the others before getting going for the third time.

At the end of lap two

This time the course seemed even emptier, OK some of the top riders were finishing as I headed out but the attrition rate seemed high. Whereas for lap two I had to work my way through about thirty riders to get to my correct starting position for special stage one, there was nobody to be seen. The starter gave me twenty seconds to get ready and I was away. Again the section went OK but the surface was extremely loose with getting drive out of the bends very difficult at times.

Near the end I was passed on a tight right hand bend by a sport bike and trailed him onto the last bit of fire road descent sitting in his not inconsiderable cloud of dust. As a result I was completely unsighted coming round a right hand bend and rode off the edge of the track into the deep rocky gully beside it. Remembering the advice from training to look ahead and keep my weight forward, I hammered it down the gully alongside the straight and was able to use the wall of the gully as a berm to ride the bike out and straight into the next right hand bend and back onto the track, I was quite pleased with that the fact that I hadn't fallen off, even if it most probably did nothing for my time!

The ride to special stage two went quickly and whilst waiting for my start Dave turned up, he recounted his less than successful time on the last special. The track at one point crosses rough ground between two fire roads, at first boggy then up over rocky slabs. Whilst trying to avoid a slow rider ahead of him in this section, he dropped his bike, bending his hand guard so that he was unable to use the clutch. He was forced to get his tools out, unbolt the hand guard and strap it to the bike, all the while of course with the clock ticking! He didn’t think his time would be very good as a result.

Just before I was due to start, I saw something hanging down from the exhaust on my bike. The rubber strip between the mounting strap and the silencer itself had been shredded as the bolt holding the strap had come loose. The silencer now was just sitting loose in the strap with loads of free play. With very little time, I had to just carry on and was soon starting this, the last special stage of the rally as we didn’t do stage three on the last lap.

It's not supposed to look like that!

Afterwards the ride became a bit of an ordeal, with another twenty odd miles of liaison to complete, fatigue was setting in fast, first I suffered terrible arm pump and then I started to get cramp, first in my right leg and then as soon as that went away in my left. I had been riding all the fire roads sitting down to preserve what energy I had left but now the only way I could prevent the cramp was to ride standing up with my legs locked straight, not the most comfortable option. Once again I had ridden for a long time without seeing another rider until I came across a large group having a breather, as I passed them two riders peeled away and I dropped back to follow them without sitting in their dust cloud. At a right hand junction, they went left and I had to stop and check the direction arrows, which definitely pointed right. Obviously without the third special stage, the course had to have been changed somewhere and I did wonder if they had seen something I had missed but I couldn’t spot anything, so carried on.

Soon after I reached the site of my crash in the rocky gully and this time chose the right hand line and plenty of momentum, which got me up with no difficulty at all, apart from the silencer sounding like it was about to shake off the bike at any moment. At the end of this section, the track ran down a short piece of fire road divided by cones and tape as the course ran back along the other side, it then headed off into a large open area of clear felled forest.

Now my mind started to play tricks and as I traversed across the desolate area of tree stumps and open moorland I was even starting to doubt I was on the rally course, although there were plenty of tyre tracks, there were no course marker arrows to be seen and not another bike in sight and I simply didn’t recognise the track. Just as I was really wondering if I had taken a wrong turn, I recognised a section, spotted an arrow and arrived back at the two way fire road, just as another rider appeared towards me, so at least I knew I wasn’t the only rider out there.  A short while later I had turned off a fire road onto yet another rocky climb, this loop went on for quite some time before eventually dropping back to the same fire road 50 metres further on. As I turned left I spotted Dave on his distinctive black and yellow Tenere turning onto the climb… so that’s at least three of us still out here I thought!

Soon after I was made to jump as I rounded a corner to see three marshals riding towards me! We managed to avoid a head on collision and soon after I arrived a junction where two more marshals were sitting, they waved me left and I realised I was now onto the final run in to the finish.

The finish was a bit of an anti-climax, I was expecting a finish line and for riders to be checked off, if only for reasons of safety to ensure everyone who started the last lap had returned but there was nothing and you just rode back into the pit area.

The bike was still in pretty much one piece, with the silencer and strap having been “modified” a bit by the back tyre, half a number plate and a substantial quantity of Wales stuck to it.

All packed up and ready to go

I had decided not to drive back straight after the event, so headed back to the B&B, had a fantastic hot shower and popped down to the pub for a huge meal and a beer, shortly afterwards to sleep for a solid nine hours before getting up for breakfast and a gentle drive back using the A44 all the way from Rhayader to Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, then a cross country route back home. Much more relaxed than just sitting on the motorway for four hours.

So at the time of writing, I have finished my first ever rally, the bike has had a quick clean but needs a proper strip down and wash, not to mention a new number plate and the exhaust remounting. All my bike gear has been washed and is ready for the next outing.

Me? I’m aching but nowhere like what I had expected and a couple of nice big blisters on my left hand, a few bruises on my left arm and an exhaust burn on my right wrist, both presumably from the rocky gully.

So here’s looking forward to the next race, the Cambrian Rally in two weeks time. This is a two day event, so having done it all on the Saturday, we have to get up and do it all again on the Sunday. I’m told the Cambrian is the “most big bike friendly” of the Rallies, which I’m hoping means the “easiest”; somehow I doubt it!

Saturday 1 October 2011

One sleep to race time!

10 hours 45 minutes until start time!

I've got to be up at six as scrutineering starts at 7.30 and the race venue is 14 miles up the road.

At the moment I just wish I could sleep!