Thursday 23 August 2012

A bit of a catch up

After my marathon postings on my tour of Britain and Ireland I was a bit "blogged out" hence my absence from these pages in recent weeks. This was coupled with stuff like getting ready for the Olympics at work, two weekends away racing at rallies and other personal stuff that has kept me away.

Mind you as I did find time to race at three Rallies, I'd better tell you about them.

First off was the K2 Keilder Rally so I took the Friday off for the long drive north up the A1. Six hours later I arrived at Bellingham in the Keilder Forest and hooked up with the usual crew. I spent the evening in the village with Phil, Ryan and Ray aka "The Guernsey Boys". OK Ray is actually an Aussie who lives on Sark but as all vehicles except for Tractors are banned on the Island, his bike lives on Guernsey, so you get my meaning!

A nice meal and a few beers went down well as the rain was falling hard and the pub was a much better place to be that the field where we were camped. We retired back to the campsite ready for the next day.

The Saturday dawned dry and bright which boded well for the day. The Keilder is characterised by a big lap at 65 miles, with two laps each day so the longest of all the UK Rallies. After a few easy miles out to the first checkpoint, the lap started and consisted of mostly fast fire roads so speeds of up to 80mph were the order of the day.

My problems started early when heading for the first checkpoint, my silencer mount came loose and this allowed the whole exhaust system to move forward being held into the cylinder head by only two locating springs. This was OK until I hit a large bump and the pipes bounced out of the cylinder head. The springs then caused them to jam against the header stubs but out of line, causing the most incredible racket and a loss of power. Stopping to try and fix things, I soon learnt that you can’t grab hold of the very hot pipes as you will a) melt your gloves and b) burn your hand!

I eventually sorted it out by knocking the pipes back into line and then back into the header stubs with a large rock!!!

At checkpoint one my friend Mark was asking if anyone had seen me as last time he looked I had been right behind. No one had seen me but when somebody arrived and exclaimed that her had just passed someone “fixing their bike with a rock” apparently they all knew straight away it was me! Well that’s the beauty of riding an old bike like the CCM, you can fix it with bits of the landscape! Chris soon caught up and offered me some lock wire, with which I was able to secure the exhaust to the cylinder head. Mind you we were treated to some pretty impressive back fires for the rest of the day as air was able to leak into the exhaust.

We eventually arrived at the one special stage per lap. This started as a long quite slippery dual track through the trees with a tricky downhill section, not steep but the bend at the bottom took a bit of care to negotiate. More bumpy slippery track followed with speeds increasing until we arrived at the “tunnels”. These were two long sections cut through the pine plantations with barely enough room to get your bars through. They were dark and quite claustrophobic hence the nick name. Get it wrong in this section and you were straight into the trees, as many found out to their misfortune. Exiting this stage into some fast fire road with a fantastic view of Keilder Water off to one side then to the end of the stage under the trees again and then just as you crossed the line into the mother of all ruts, thankfully after the actual finish line but everyone had to negotiate it, some more elegantly than others.

This is how it's done properly!

Only a couple of tricky bits had to be negotiated on the lap including the “Hill of Doom” a 400 yard slippery rutted descent that caught out most people. But despite this Saturday ended well, which was more than some could claim as the high speeds had resulted in some spectacular “offs” during the day and a number of DNFs. On returning to the campsite I discovered both bolts holding the left hand exhaust header into the cylinder head had disappeared, so only the spring was holding the bits in place. Mark came to my rescue with some spare bolts of the right size, although getting them back in was a bit of a battle as there just isn’t enough room between the exhaust and frame to access one of the bolts.  I was lying in 18th Place in class so was pleased enough and we headed off to Bellingham. This time with Chris, Mike H and Mike F and a “pub crawl” commenced, well there are only three pubs in the village but a sufficient amount of alcohol was consumed!!! Sunday was another cool but pleasant day and we set off to repeat Saturday’s course, same direction and two laps again although the start was one hour earlier this time. I rode with Chris and the two Mikes this time and despite Mike H being rather hung over and Chris struggling with worn out tyres we set a brisk pace.   Mike F rode with us for a while but robbed of his usual BBRC mount a BMW R1150GS after an engine failure he was riding his Husqvarna TE510 instead and soon disappeared into the distance. Arriving at the special test there was no sign of the others so I took advantage of the fact there was no other bikes around to get a hopefully clear run. I set off down the greasy track and thought I was doing well until I was suddenly passed by a KTM 990 Adventure. This was disappointing as knew I would be able to get through the tunnels quicker than him and thought I was going to be held up. However at the next bend the solution presented itself as I nearly ran into the back of him and realised that whilst he was quicker on the straight bits, he had to haul the brakes on much earlier than me. Not surprising really when you consider an Adventure weighs 220 kg compared to the 130 kg of the CCM. A series of bends was approaching so I knew this was my chance, catching him as we entered the first, he had no time to accelerate before the next so I clung to his tail, left my braking to the last moment and shot up the inside. I then was able to use the next couple of bends to get a bit of a gap before hit the next straight flat out and just hung on for dear life as the bike bounced and bucked around. A quick glance over my shoulder as I approached the tunnels showed that I still had a small gap over him, so continued my headlong charge.  At the finish I had pulled ahead a considerable amount and stopped to regain my breath. When the 990 rider arrived he actually congratulated me on my overtake as he had realised he might hold me up in the tunnel section and was feeling guilty about having overtaken me in the first place! Curiously this was my slowest time for the special, on the Saturday I had recorded 8 minutes 1 second (8:01) and 7:57 respectively. This time I recorded 8:06? A fact I can only put down to my slow start before I was overtaken. After a lengthy wait Mike and Chris turned up as it transpired Chris had decided to take a detour via a ditch...
Not sure who that bloke is having a lie down at the start of the video? The rest of the lap was uneventful until we reached the “hill of doom” again, I managed to ride it cleanly until the very end when there was a small bank to climb onto a fire road. The bike stalled going up this and spat me off to the side… head first into the adjacent drainage ditch! The water was about four feet deep and I managed to get completely immersed, getting soaked from head to toe. Lap two was uneventful although we did notice a large number of bikes suffering problems with both Burt (Co-organiser of the BBRC) and Phil from Guernsey having starting problems. The special test on the last lap was a great ride, I followed a couple of enduro bikes and whilst one of them took a detour off the course, I soon caught the other in my sights, this must have spurred me on to new efforts and I managed to keep him in sight all the way to the tunnels. In here I expected him to be quicker on a smaller, more nimble bike but in fact I was able to close to within a few feet of him by the end of the section. My hopes of actually overtaking him didn’t last long as he cleared off on the final fire road section, whereas I managed to overshoot a very sharp right hand bend! However this was my fastest special of the day, almost half a minute quicker at 07:31 if only I could have done that every lap? The lap finished without any more drama apart from discovering that the bolts had fallen out of the cylinder head again! Best news was that I had managed 15th place and my first points in the BBRC (OK only 4 but good enough). All that was needed now was the 5 hour drive back home.

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