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.

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