Wednesday 26 September 2012

Team Hangover rides again (Day 1)

After the rather brutal time that was had at the Rydale, the bike needed a bit of TLC.

Both the front and rear brake pads were shot, so that was two sets of rear and one set of fronts in one weekend! Both front and rear sprockets were definitely second hand, the chain however seemed OK and it did validate my decision to fit an expensive chain (a DID X-Ring) at the end of last year.

Both tyres were also well past their best so the plan was to change them before the next Rally, the Welsh Trail Riders Association, Beacons Rally. Well the problem with plans is they can be broken, which explains why I headed off to Wales in August with a new front sprocket, a second hand rear sprocket (liberated from my supermoto rear wheel) and two distinctly second hand tyres and hoping that the course wouldn't be too muddy.... some hope!

The Beacons had gained a bit of a reputation last year for being hard, possibly the hardest of the Rallies, so I wasn't sure what I had let myself in for?

Arriving at Llandovery Rugby Club, the camping field seemed full of Rally Riders and the atmosphere was pretty relaxed, even the sun was shining. After setting up camp and having a chat with fellow competitors, a walk to the pub was in order. We even had a relatively early night.

Waking on Saturday we sorted ourselves out and headed off out of town, the start (in typical WTRA fashion) being nowhere near Llandovery but about ten miles out of town.

We got through sign on and scrutineering OK although they weren't impressed with my broken clutch lever, only the last few millimetres were missing but this meant no ball on the end, I was told I could construct one from gaffa tape so promptly did! The scrutineer wasn't happy about my throttle as it returns slowly (it always has) but we determined that it was partly caused by the grip rubbing on the hand guard, so a quick bit of work with a stanley knife and that was cured too. Finally he decided my rear wheel bearings were worn (they're not) but decided to pass it. I later found out he had accused everyone of having loose wheel bearings, so I'm not sure what that was all about? Actually I discovered that I hadn't done the rear wheel spindle nut up tight enough, so perhaps he was justified in thinking it was a wheel bearing after all.

Team Hangover from the Keilder (all sensibly sober this time) was back together and I started on the same minute as Chris and Mike H. This time Mike F was riding his BMW 1150GS so had marked himself down in the ability classes (on account of a 200kg+ of bike) and consequently started a bit later.

We also had a bit of fun trying to get Chris' bike to work as the chain was seized up, a result we discovered of his lack of bike preparation. Although he had fitted new tyres since the Keilder, that was it! lots of WD40 and chain lube eventually got it working.

The three of us started well with Chris leading, well it went OK for the first couple of miles. Descending a rocky track I was following Chris when without warning he went down after losing the front end on a rocky step down. I quickly parked up and went to help, only to see coolant pouring out of his bike. Apart from that he and the bike seemed OK but we couldn't determine if it was just the coolant header tank overflowing or the result of some damage to the system. Chris restarted the bike and we got underway but almost immediately the coolant light came on and the engine started to overheat.

We realised there was nothing we could do so Chris told me and Mike to carry on and he would push to the next marshal and see if he could get some help. We reached the bottom of the descent and turned left onto an Unclassified County Road that I immediately recognised from a green laning trip I did about four years ago, only that time I was in a Land Rover.

The lane runs over bedrock with only occasional muddy sections but is characterised by some major puddles that are held by the rock so rarely drain. This meant we weren't going to stay dry today.

The week before the Rally was the annual CCM Riders trip to Wales, camping at Rhayader, although I had been unable to get the time off work to go, the guys came down to see the Rally and give their support to me and friend Rob, riding in the trail bike class on his CCM 404DS. Thanks to Mark for these pictures of me on the lane :

After this we turned right off the road and slithered down a muddy descent and then on fire roads to loop round the head of the Glyn Saer valley. A climb on fire roads up the Northern side of the valley took us to the start of the first special test. This set off down a sinuous and fun bit of single track, that slowly started to descend, then round a tight turn left to drop sharply through the forest to the bottom of the valley and a climb back up on fire roads to pass where we had ridden earlier at the valley head.

From here a long gentle descent took us back down the southern side, that was quite narrow and became progressively muddier under the heavy tree cover and was like trying to ride on ball bearings. And it wasn't just my knackered tyres, everyone was starting to struggle. we then turned sharp left to climb straight up the valley side and into total carnage. There were bikes everywhere stuck on the slope with two marshals valiantly trying to drag them to the top. I fired the bike up the left hand side and managed to get to within 30 feet of the top before the front wheel bounced sideways and I ground to a halt and toppled over.

I got back up with the help of one of the marshals but despite several tries with him pushing, including rolling back and trying to get onto the (slightly) grippier grass on the right hand side, I was getting knowhere fast. The marshal offered to ride my bike to the top and to be honest, I was so knackered I readily said yes, however he couldn't do it either and I eventually the other marshall produced a rope and looped it round my front forks and the two of them, with me pushing alongside managed to haul my bike to the top.

Parking it up, I went back and helped the two marshal's drag Mike H up on the end of a rope. I then went back to help Mike F who was stuck on his BMW having caught up with us earlier. despite the help of another marshal he was going knowhere, The marshals at the top decided to cut the climb out of the test and direct bikes round by a longer route, Mike F was helped to reverse back down then Mike H and I climbed back up the hill to our bikes.

The special stage ended soon after with a stony climb and a short section of fire road, we were just grateful that this was the sighting lap and not timed as we were now right on the limit of the 30 minute "buffer" on our time schedule. The lap continued after a short stretch on tarmac through the Crychan Forest with a real mixed route. fast but very bumpy fire roads (no chance to rest), tricky single track through the trees, steep rocky ascents, steep rocky descents, it had it all!

The second special test started with a steep muddy and very rutted climb, then a rocky section and a mixture of tracks with a few tricky sections and finally another very rutted deep mud section. A long section of mainly fire road with a few more rocky ascents and descents followed and at each checkpoint we were waved through as we were still struggling to stay within time.

A fast refuel back at the pits where we caught up with an understandably disgruntled Chris, after a long push out, via the flooded track he was eventually towed in by a marshal. It transpired he had knocked the end cap off his radiator so had no chance of continuing. We were also a bit concerned that there was no sign of Mike F but guessed he might be struggling on the technical sections on the big beemer.

Getting under way again with Mike, the lap went fairly well, although riding the "diversion" section of the first special blind as we had not had sight of it on the first lap, I had a major moment on this when the back wheel tried to overtake the front on a full throttle ascent and despite getting broadside on to the track, somehow managed to wrestle it back under control. Mike had caught up with me and thought I was off, I think he was as amazed as I was that I got away with it. The lap continued and I think we were both suffering with the very taxing terrain, including one part where a large tree had fallen on the route? We were able to squeeze past but only just. However riding one bumpy downhill caused my exhaust to come out of the headers, just like at the Keilder Rally, cue lots of noise! Knowing exactly what to do, I found a suitable rock and hammered it back into place!

A the second test I had a short break and discovered the silencer mount was loose so was able to tighten it up before starting. All was going well until a fairly easy rutted climb, where I managed to get the wheels into two different ruts and before I knew I was off. Trying to get back on the bike to minimise lost time, I struggled to get moving as the ruts were really slippery but managed it eventually. I was really fired up but managed to overshoot a bend on a fire road and that gave Mike the opportunity to pass me. I set off in pursuit but as I closed on him on a downhill section I rode into his dust which meant I failed to see the route turning right as the fire road swept left. I hauled on the brakes and thought I had got away with it when the front wheel dropped into the ditch at the side of the track and went flying over the handlebars!

I lay there for a while unable to get up having face planted and hit my shoulder hard, the peak was hanging off my helmet and my foot was still stuck under the bike. Luckily a marshal turned up and helped me up. I set off again desperate to make up some lost time and caught up with the marshal which was useful as he had discovered a really good line through the final boggy section on the left, much better than the obvious line on the right that I had used last lap.

I met up again with Mike at the end of the stage and we got moving again, still desperate to stay within time. A long rocky climb led to a fast fire road section I was riding OK until a sharp turn gave me the chance to look behind and there was no sign of Mike?

I pulled over to wait and used the time to "repair" my helmet peak with some cable ties as it kept flapping down across my face! Soon after my friendly marshal who had picked me up on the special came by and stopped to see if I was OK, I asked if he had seen a rider on a KTM 690 stopped somewhere? He said that he had and he had suffered a puncture some way back but was "fixing it" which was strange as I knew Mike didn't have anything with him to repair it, although I did. However the marshal said it was too far for me to walk and of course I couldn't ride against the flow of the race.

After he had left, I very carefully rode up the side of the track to see if I could get back and help, stopping at every bend and listening for approaching bikes before proceeding. I heard nothing and not one single bike came past. I eventually reached the top of the rocky climb, that was far too narrow to try and even walk down so I reluctantly turned around and continued to the finish of the lap.

Now definitely behind time, I pushed on as fast as I could and decided I could miss out on refuelling as the last lap was a lot shorter, ending after the first special test. I carried on and the test went fairly well, at the end where we had previously turned right onto the road, we turned left which was a bit scary as a lot of the early finishers were now driving back to town and not expecting to find me haring round the bends in the opposite direction!

Another short fire road section finished the lap and I caught up with both Mikes. It turned out Mike H had punctured and had attempted to repair the tube with self adhesive patches but these had failed to work. He was forced to ride all the way back on a flat tyre and as he was unable to complete the last lap would go down as a DNF (Did Not Finish),

Mike F had also suffered a mishap, after his bike became covered in oil on lap two, coasting down to the road he removed his race numbers and called out the AA. Claiming to have been "just out trail riding" they duly obliged and sent out a patrol. They quickly diagnosed that one of the oil pipes had become detached from the oil cooler, a quick fix and after a top up of the oil he was back on his way. Sadly he too was unable to complete the day so also received a DNF. Both Mikes were determined to ride the next day even if they couldn't get a result but sadly Chris was having to go home.

Not a great result from Team Hangover so far! However after getting back to the campsite a bit of bike maintenance (I had finished to find I had lost the bolt that holds the silencer on) and a hot shower, we retreated to the Rugby Clubhouse for a "buffet", which turned out to be an excellent spread, the prize giving for last years "WTRA Rally Series", several beers (well we have a reputation to uphold) and the quiz.

And Team Hangover duly won the quiz! Our prize being several bags of M&Ms and a bottle of wine, which of course we just had to drink then and there!

We retreated back to out tents (or back of the Land Rover in my case) and fell asleep listening to the sound of heavy rain!

To be continued

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