Monday 29 October 2012

Tougher than the rest

The Rally season is now officially over! There was supposed to be a Night Rally in November albeit not part of the series but it has had to be cancelled due to insufficient entries.

So in a change to the normal dirty weekends, I entered the Witley 100 Long Distance Trial (LDT). So what’s a LDT? Actually one of the earliest forms of motorcycle sport and originally known as “reliability trials” when they started over 100 years ago. As you can imagine a 100 mile ride in the days when very few roads were tarmac and motorcycles were still in their infancy was a real test of man and machine.

These days it is basically a 100 mile long green lane ride, using minor roads, byways and unsurfaced roads. At certain points along the way there are “Observed trial sections” that provide a test of skill and at the end a timed special stage around a field as a final decider.

The Trials sections are scored on the traditional system, with the aim to ride through them with both feet up and without stopping. Penalty points are awarded with the aim to get through with a zero score. Points are awarded in the following way: one foot down, known as a “dab” is one penalty point, two dabs is two points and three or more dabs is three points. In other words once you have dabbed three times you can do it as many times as you like and still get three points. Stopping, rolling backwards or falling off scores the maximum five penalty points and if you think a section is too difficult you can elect to take a “five” and carry on.

I decided that rather than take the CCM which was looking a bit worse for wear after the Cambrian and would require trailering to the start, I would attempt my first competition on the 990 and could then ride the 70miles, nearly all on motorway to the start.

A bit of preparation was in order, as previously posted I had fitted new tyres, a Continental TKC80 Twinduro on the front (a part worn example donated by my friend Michael) and a brand new Mitas E10 on the back. I changed them myself, the front was fine but the big 150 section rear was a real sod to get off and to seat the new tyre. I’m not sure if I could do that at the trail side!!!

I had fitted some handlebar risers for a more comfortable riding position off road and both these and the tyres had got a brief test at the Dawn til Dusk the other week. The only other modification was to remove the stock mirrors and fit a single “double take” folding and allegedly unbreakable mirror on the offside.

So 08.00 on the Sunday morning saw me at a cold, damp and foggy field just outside Odiham in Hampshire for the start. I nearly managed to drop the bike just riding in to the field…. Not a good start. So task one was to lower the tyre pressures to 22 psi on the front and 25 psi on the back for a bit better grip. I then signed on and got my road book and got the bike scrutineered. I then had to put it into the “parc ferme” ready for the start.

Michael was also riding on his Adventure R and we had consecutive numbers so were starting together. He turned up and joined the queue for signing on, whilst I got the obligatory bacon roll and a cuppa!

We started at 09.57, nearly an hour after the first bikes and slid our way out of the field. The road book was good but printing it on A4 sheets was a pain as it wouldn't fit in my road book holder, even if I had been inclined to stick the pages together in a damp, foggy field at 08.00 on a Sunday morning. Also it was too big to fit in my map holder (designed to fit an OS Map) without folding it, which made it awkward to read.

I eventually give up on having the map case round my neck as apart from trying to throttle me at times it was a pain to read and I ended up gaffer taping it to the top of the tank. A road book holder is clearly a great advantage but only if the road book fits.

It was interesting to see the number of people who were at the start with homemade road book holders with the road book all prepared and loaded. Now either they had been very creative sitting in their vans that morning or as I suspect were Witley club members who had prior access to the road book!

The first lane was soon arrived at and was slippery to say the least, the tyres were not great and I had to ride quite slowly to stay in control. Luckily they improved becoming a bit less muddy and my ability improved as I started to get to grips with the weight and power of the 990.

Before long the lanes started to become great fun, especially on the stonier ones where grip was good. Some of the observed sections were doable and Michael even cleaned a couple, on the basis he has a lot more experience of riding the 990 off road and better tyres. I tended to just paddle my way through for a “three!”

A couple of sections were clearly impossible on a 990 and we took the option of a "five" and bypassed them, no point in wrecking the bike or yourself trying to ride something that just wasn't going to happen. A couple of tests were done with a dead engine, the first was OK as you just pushed off down a short downhill section of byway and freewheeled through some ruts. The weight of the 990 actually worked here as we both got through OK (me with only a couple of dabs) but a guy behind us managed to fall off on a lightweight Yamaha Serrow, nearly taking out the observer in the process.

The second dead engine test was a non-event as it was a long rutted descent, round a bend then through a large puddle and a slight climb out the other side. As the 990s wanted to hurtle down the initial slope we both had to brake hard in the early stages, so when we hit the puddle we didn't have enough momentum and both ground to a halt.

The next test involved climbing a very steep bank and then descending the same to stop and turn in a distance that looked considerably shorter than a 990, so we both took a five and rode straight through. We then took a wrong turning and got to do an unplanned byway that was a bit on the steep side (going downhill); the sign at the top saying "unfit for motors" wasn't kidding!!! Luckily we managed to squeeze past the gate at the bottom as there is no way we could have got back up it. A quick circuit on the road got us back on course!

After a few more lanes that were getting increasingly slippery as the chalk became more predominant, we eventually reached our nemesis.... Butser Hill!

It didn't help that we took the wrong byway as there are two up the hill that join near the top, the first starts flat then climbs very steeply, the second is a more gradual climb up the line of the ridge. I turned up the first one in error because rather than follow the road book, I was running on (30 year old) local knowledge as this is the area I first started green laning around and turned up the first byway we came too.

The lane started badly with almost no grip from my front tyre and lots of spinning from the back... and this was on the flat bit!

It got worse as the lane narrowed into a steep climb up a v shaped groove on bare chalk, I managed to get to within 150 of the top of the steep bit but it became clear that as it was even steeper ahead we weren't going to make it and then I just ground to a halt! Michael was struggling too despite having a Mitas C02 on the back; the chalk was like riding on teflon coated ball bearings.... on ice!

We noticed some bikes up on the ridge to the right and realised that we should have been on the other byway.

There was no choice but to back the bikes down the lane, dead engine and in gear and using the clutch to control the rate of descent. I managed to squeeze past Michael’s bike that he had left leaning against the bank.  When the track widened we backed my bike into the fence at the side and physically dragged the front wheel round (not too hard on the chalk), then I was able to ride back down (leaving a chunk of my number plate in the fence) to a flat spot and park.

I then climbed back up the hill and we repeated the manoeuvre with Michael’s bike. Another slip and slide down the lane and then a further half mile up the road to where we should have turned left. This lane was barely rideable but at least you could just about maintain forward motion. Again the chalk had zero grip and it was a very fine balance between having enough speed to steer but not so fast that you lost the front end, which happened quite a lot with the occasional “lying down moment”. The road book showed the lane as being 1.45 miles yet it took over an hour to reach the top and regain tarmac. As you can see it wasn't without incident...

By this time we both had enough and decided to bow out. Although on later examining the road book which had the closing times of the sections, we were already way outside our allotted time so would most probably been excluded at the next stage.

Luckily my local knowledge now came in to its own and we headed down the other side of Butser Hill to the cafĂ© at Queen Elizabeth Country Park. After a decent lunch and attempting to drink most of the contents of their drinks cooler (we were a bit dehydrated after our struggle up the hill). 

After lunch we phoned in to the finished to declare our DNF (as we couldn’t  be bothered to ride back there on the roads) and hit the A3 northbound to head home. I had to pull off at Petersfield for fuel and then spent a couple of hours in the pouring rain on the heavily congested A3 and M25 to get back home.

Monday 22 October 2012

The River

After the Hafren Rally one weekend and the Dusk til Dawn the next, bike preparation had not had a lot of time. So on the Thursday night before the last Rally of the season the Cambrian Rally, saw me checking the bike over and sorting out my kit.

Now you may recall I have a bit of an issue with breaking clutch levers, not least because I've done two, not in crashes but when the bike simply falling off the stand. And to make matters worse replacements cost a whopping £35 each.

However a bit of research led me to the belief that the lever from an Aprilia Pegaso 650 would fit. Unlike the CCM lever that is a fancy adjustable number (hence the price), this is a simple unadjustable lever and I had found a pattern copy on eBay for only £5.00. So I decided at that price I could afford to take the chance it might not fit and ordered one anyway. It only turned up on the Thursday... talk about leaving it to the last minute.

So I fitted the lever and the good news was it fitted and worked perfectly, the bad news that I discovered the clutch cable was almost gone with only a couple of strands left intact. Of course it was now about 8.00pm on the Thursday night. To make matters worse you can't exactly walk into your local bike dealer and order specific CCM parts. In fact there are only really two places to get them, CCM themselves or Haines and Co in Gloucestershire.

Now to get to Llandovery for the Cambrian Rally I drive through Gloucestershire, so a quick check on-line and I discover that Haines are actually in Cinderford, only about two miles off my usual route… result!

I also noticed that the rear brake pads were trashed, no worries I thought I’ve got a spare pair, only upon checking I discovered I had two spare pairs of….. front pads!

Friday morning I was on the phone to Haines and got a clutch cable and a pair of rear pads put aside for me to collect that afternoon.

The journey went without hitch and I collected my parts on the way. Arriving at the campsite at Llandovery Rugby Club about 6.30, I sorted out my pitch and caught up with a few of the others who were already there, Dave, Mark etc. I decided to change my clutch cable whilst it was still light. I had disengaged the old cable from the handlebar and was trying to disengage the lower end of the cable from inside the engine (a tricky task at the best of times), when the others decided they were heading to the pub for dinner and persuaded me that I would have plenty of time in the morning, so I headed off to the Kings Head with them.

The next day and we were up early for the 40 minute “procession” up the valley to the start, I left early to get a good parking spot as the WTRA’s idea of a “paddock” is the side of a fire road in the middle of nowhere. Once parked up, I signed on and set to sorting the bike. After fitting the clutch cable and brake pads I went to take the bike to scrutineering only to find I had no clutch at all! Releasing the lever did absolutely nothing, it was if the clutch was permanently engaged. After lots of fiddling around with the cable adjusters I managed to get the clutch to just about bite so headed to scrutineering.

The scrutineer wasn't happy about my rear wheel bearings and I have to say I agreed, this was bit annoying when I have a perfectly serviceable spare wheel at home but this is what happens when you leave bike prep to the last minute! He advised me that he was not happy but allowed me to ride, so I returned to my parking spot to get ready.

After getting into my bike gear, my start time approached and my clutch refused to work again! After frantic efforts it was clear I was not going to make it and started to strip the bike down to get at the cause. It turned out that the clutch mechanism inside the engine cases had somehow jammed in the engaged position. After winding the adjuster fully out and the judicious use of a large hammer, I was able to free off the offending item and after reassembling everything it was fine.

Trouble was that I had now missed my sighting lap but I was allowed to start on lap two even though I had to run the special stages blind. I went off with  my friend Michael as we were on adjacent numbers and of course it chose this moment to start pouring with rain!

Stage one was a bit scary, a fast fire road only test, Stage two was easier as we had ridden it four times in the same direction on last years rally. But the big issue on the Cambrian is the fact you ride a large section of the Strata Florida track, which involves numerous crossings of the River Twyi. Reports from thse who had ridden the first lap were that the second part of the route was particularly deep!

We got through the first section and I have to say it was the deepest I have ever seen this track! Fellow Rally Racer Rob wasn't racing but as he only lives an hour away, had driven his pick up down the "Strata" and was waiting at the first major crossing offering an impromptu rescue service. And of course taking photos

No marks for style but I didn't drop it!

At the half way point, the marshals were offering a diversion to avoid the deep section, Michael having already tried it, decided to take the cut out, so I decided to follow him.

Stage two came later and as mentioned went well, there followed a short section of fire road and then we finished for the day.

After packing up we returned to the Rugby Club where a bit of maintenance took place. Dave had dropped his bike in the River and although he hadn't suffered any serious damage, the design of the engine breather meant his oil had been contaiminated. A an oil change removed what looked more like chocolate milk than engine oil!

A hot shower and a change and we headed off to town for a BBRC meeting to hear some of the plans for next year, which look good. Then it was back to the Kings Head for dinner.

Sunday morning dawned very cold with ice on the windscreen and we drove through thick mist to arrive back at the start for some spectacular views.

Day two was three laps and we started in the opposite direction for the sighting lap and were soon into stage one (yesterday's stage two) which went well and then we headed off towards the Strata. At the split in the route, the diversion was taped off and a marshal was present to guide us towards the river.

The first major river crossing was particurly tricky as it involves dropping off a large rock step into the river, Michael went first and headed off, then it was my turn and I got across without drama.

I arrived at the second to see Michael almost drop his bike at the far side of the river. I got across OK but not without a few problems... it was deep!

I parked up and went back to help Michael who was still stalled in the water with his bike refusing to start. We pushed it out of the river but despite our efforts we couldn't get it to start and it seemed the battery had died. Michael eventually admitted defeat and told me to carry on.

I went on and got through the rest of the lap OK, Lap two went without incident but this time the diversion was back in play and I was able to avoid the first part of the Strata this lap. I got back to the start and there was no sign of Michael so I guessed he was still out there. After a refuel and some food I went out for my last lap and after stage one it started to rain and stayed that way to the end.

I was feeling pretty good so when I had the choice I decided to ride the full Strata Florida track this time. As I headed off a couple of other riders who had been riding with me took the diversion.

I suddenly realised that this late in the day, riding the river might not be such a good idea as there was no one else around. Luckily another rider caught up with me and we stuck together through the river crossings, which all went without incident. There was no sign of Michael so I guessed he had got back OK.

After a long wet lap I finally finished and discovered Michael had got back OK, the problem? He had managed to fill his exhaust with water and that stopped the bike starting. Once he had got it drained everything worked fine.

All that remained was the long drive home.

And those rear wheel bearings? completely knackered by the end of the race but they did last.

And if you really want to know how wet the route was here's a couple of videos from Mark who rode the event on his KTM 950 Adventure.

Friday 19 October 2012

Darkness on the Edge of Town

It all started with the idea that Mad Cow Racing where going to enter a team in the Dawn til Dusk, a 12 hour overnight mountain bike race held in Thetford Forest.

Not feeling up to the challenge myself, I said I’d turn up to support the team but wasn’t going to race. Then on the Friday I get a message asking if I can cover the event as a Commissaire. So I loaded up the KTM and headed of for Thetford on Saturday.

Well actually it wasn’t that easy! As I was riding up I had every intention of taking the 990 round the course as is my usual fashion but obviously this is a bit of a more serious proposition than taking the CCM round for a course inspection as I normally do.

Tyres were the first priority, so I set to on Saturday morning to fit a Continental TKC80 on the front (a part worn example courtesy of my friend Michael) and on the back went a nice shiny Mitas E10, this is a close copy of the TKC80 but cheaper and better wearing. Neither are the greatest off road tyre but a good compromise seeing as the bike is used mainly on the road.

Then I fitted some handlebar risers to improve the riding position off road, unfortunately I managed to drop one of the washers inside the frame and then in my attempts to retrieve it by dismantling only the storage compartment on top of the tanks, I managed to drop two small bolts down there as well!

In the end I had to remove the storage compartment, the right hand crash bar, the right hand side of the fairing, the right hand fuel tank and the side of the sump guard before finding all three missing items!

Eventually I headed off an hour later than planned, the ride up to Thetford was uneventful although the bike did feel quite strange on the new tyres. However I was later to discover this was largely the effect of loading all my camping gear on the back of the bike rather than the tyres themselves. However, the front tyre in particular does roll into bends in a completely different fashion to the original Pirelli Scorpion AT.

After arriving and finding the others I set up my tent next to their pit area in the camping field, which was to prove later on to be an error of judgement!

It transpired that Kevin, Simon and Bill were riding as a team of three but Graham had entered the solo class, so with still some time to the start and having dropped off my luggage I set off for a lap.

Well! It’s certainly a bit more of a handful than the CCM, although the fact I was not running full off road tyres does make a huge difference. The fact it was by now getting rapidly darker didn’t help either.

On the gravel fire roads I was able to keep up a good pace at about 50mph but as soon as I turned off into the tight singletrack, that dropped to less than 10mph. In my defence the track was cut for mountain bikes, which are of course a lot shorter and narrower not to mention lighter than the KTM. The weight and power was really noticeable with the back wheel easily spinning up when I applied a bit of throttle.

Upon reaching Mayday Meadow, where Thetford Races often start, I stopped to chat to the marshals here, they mentioned that marshal point 4 was missing a radio and they had a spare, so I offered to take it there. This meant a deviation off the course on gravel roads and a short stretch of tarmac. I had marked the marshal point as a waypoint on my GPS so it was easy to get too although the last section appeared to be another fire road on the track. It turned out to be an unsurfaced grassy track and was a real struggle to keep the bike upright. I reached the marshal and handed over the radio only to discover the battery was dead! So much for my good deed.

Time was getting on so I cut part of the course to return on fire roads I know well from previous races, by now it was completely black and even on the gravel my lights only allowed me to travel at about 30mph. I got back to the arena, went and got changed out of my bike gear and left the bike by my tent to return for the start.


This went off OK at 8.00 pm and we settled into the routine of the race. Laps were taking about an hour and most teams changed riders each lap, although the solo riders who had their own "pit" and camping area to one side of the arena just kept plugging on, with occasional stops for food, drinks, battery changes for their lights etc.

This went on until about 01.00 in the morning when I decided little was happening so decided to get a few hours of sleep. Returning to the camping area I discovered the guys had possibly the loudest generator known to man that was only ten feet from my tent! Despite wearing ear plugs, I didn't get a lot of sleep and especially as teams kept coming and going all around so even when I did drift off, I was frequently woken again.

At 05.00 I decided enough was enough and got up just as Kevin came in after his lap. Earlier in the night his brand new wheels had almost fallen apart as they clearly hadn't been tensioned properly by the wheel builder. Luckily he was able to get them tensioned properly and trued up by one of the on site support guys. On his last lap his seat clamp had broken, so he was forced to ride much of the lap standing up!

I learnt Simon had had an "off" and thought he might have broken his collarbone and Bill was now out for what might be their last lap. Graham meanwhile was plugging away.

As the sun came up at about 07.00 we prepared for the finish. The rules are that if you start a lap before the 08.00 finish you are allowed to finish, so the race can last up to 13 hours. Graham had shot through at 07.50 so was still out there as we closed off the track.

Simon decided to leave going home via A&E but the others waiting with me for Graham's return. He had been circulating neck and neck with his friend and sometimes Mad Cow Racing member Ed and sure enough at 08.55 they crossed the line together. Watching Graham dive into the back of his car was amusing as he desperately searched for food, after 13 hours of energy drinks and food, mostly consisting of sugars, he was desperate for something savoury. However the combination of Hot Chili Dorito's, Milk straight from the bottle and Marmite straight from the jar was a trifle unusual!!!


After helping with the packing up, I loaded up the bike and headed for home.

In the event Ed narrowly pipped Graham with a time 2 seconds quicker, both having completed 12 laps to give them 12th and 13th place respectively.

The lads did less well with 9 laps to give them 42nd place after their early finish. Given their problems it wasn't too bad a result though. Sadly Simon's trip to A&E found he hadn't broken his collarbone but he had broken his wrist!

Thursday 11 October 2012

Hafren Rally... the return!

Once again I was bound for Mid Wales and the Hafren Rally on the last weekend of September.

This represents things coming full circle as last year the Hafren was my first ever rally, so I was hoping to improve on my 34th place in the Trail Class (no separate Rally class at the Hafren as we are all grouped together regardless of capacity) which equated to 17th in the BBRC Singles class.

The Hafren is only a one day event, so this meant a relaxed drive up on Saturday afternoon to Sweet Lamb Rally complex near Llangurig. Unlike last year where I stayed at a B&B, I decided to save some money and camp at the race venue in the Land Rover. A fair few of us were doing this and despite the rather bleak conditions we got settled in.

The Hafren Dirt Bike Club allows you to sign on the night before and was combining this with a hog roast, quiz and raffle at the Llanidloes Rugby Club. Dave gave me a lift there and we met up with a few more regulars but discovered that we had missed the signing on but took advantage of the hog roast and the bar!

I didn’t win anything on the raffle (last year I won a Terry’s Chocolate Orange) so that was one down on last year. We decided not to stay for the quiz and headed back to Sweet Lamb for a relatively early night as we had an early start in the morning as sign on was between 06.00 and 07.00. By now the wind was getting quite severe as it funnels down the valley and I went to sleep with the Land Rover gently rocking in the breeze.

At 03.00 I was woken by a loud banging noise, so stuck my head out the back door to investigate only to be greeted by the sight of Ben who was camped next to me, up a ladder on top of his van trying to secure his awning in the ever increasing wind. I decided he had the matter in hand and anyway there was only room for one up the ladder.

I stuck some ear plugs in and went back to sleep, awaking again around 07.00 and the wind was still blowing hard and had been joined by largely horizontal rain. I eventually got up and into waterproofs and made my way to sign on. Now you may remember that it ran from 06.00 to 07.00 but as I suspected they were still signing people on at 07.30 and indeed were doing so for some time to come.

Returning to the car, I stuck my race numbers on the bike, not easy in the wind and rain and then went to scrutineering, where the bike went through with no comment. It was then a matter of writing down my times for the day, getting some breakfast and getting ready although I had plenty of time as I didn’t start until 09.54.

Although the start times showed is as leaving at 20 second intervals, they were starting us three at a time each minute, so at 09.54 I left the start with Michael and Mark, both mounted on their KTM 990 Adventure R’s. We set off for the first special test, marked as only being five minutes down the trail but found nothing! OK the first lap is an untimed “sighting” lap but it would have been nice to know where the test started and finished. We could only assume that test 1 was essentially test 2 from last year? In 2011 we had crossed the river (over the foot bridge) for a short special test on the other side of the valley, returning through the ford. This year we stayed to the East of the river and given the rapidly rising water level this was most probably a good thing.

The trail took us down a short stretch of tarmac road (where we eventually discovered the test started at the other end) then up a stony climb and out onto the open hillsides on gravel fire roads. Up here the wind was much worse and the cloud low which combined with the driving rain made visibility almost non existent.

Yours truly on the "Moto Cross Track"

 After a drop back down to the “motocross track” where S4C were filming, we then headed back over the tops and then down again into the Hafren Forest, this was a combination of rocky descents, tight single track trails and a long muddy trail before finishing on more fire road. By this time my goggles had steamed up completely and despite numerous stops to clean them and borrowing Michael’s demister spray, I eventually gave up and rode the rest of the lap without goggles.

A relatively short stretch of fire road took us to the second test, this time thankfully marked and which consisted largely of narrow rocky trails winding through the forest. This was followed by a long stretch of liaison, that had just about everything, fire road, muddy trails, water splashes and muddy climbs, rocky ascents and descents but nothing so serious that it wasn’t all fun. And thankfully the mud was of the liquid variety (not difficult given the amount of rain) and not sticky.

Special test three was the same as last year and was a tricky combination of rocky climbs, rutted trails and fire road but went without incident, the last part of the 46 mile lap took us up over the high ground again, where conditions were predictably harsh, riding into the wind and rain with no goggles was particularly unpleasant.

Michael on the Moto Cross Track 

Returning to the arena, I refuelled the bike and grabbed some food and a drink and we set off again for lap two. At first we were surprised to find there was no longer a check point at the start so just headed off to the start of the first special that did turn out to be in the same place as last year’s stage two and turned out to be over 10 miles long. The lap went pretty much without incident, I had changed to my old Oakley goggles that despite being about 16 years old managed to stay mist free throughout. The weather actually improved during this lap and we finished in good order.

Another refuel and a bite to eat and we were off again, the weather starting to turn nasty again. We had determined that Mark was quickest, I was next fastest and Michael the slowest, however this was the opposite way round to our start order and the starter at stage one decided to be a jobsworth and insisted we start in number order. As a result we ended up in a procession down the single track as I had been unable to catch and pass Michael on the open fire roads and Mark had been unable to catch me. I knew there was a point where we turned right onto a muddy twin track through the forest and gambled on Michael taking the obvious right hand track as we both had on the first two laps. At the turn he obliged and I took the left hand track and passed him easily. Mark obviously had the same idea and followed me but was then able to pass as we exited onto the last fire road section.

Stage two came up quickly and this time the starter allowed us to start the other way round which was much better.

Mark getting airborne

After the test we carried on with Michael in the lead and with me following him. Just after we  finished a long descent through woods, he slid off at very slow speed and had the misfortune to have a root hit him in the eye, having just taken off his goggles as visibility was so bad under the trees. He had two nasty cuts, one on his eyelid and one across his eyebrow. To say there was a lot of blood was a bit of an understatement! After Mark and I did our best to staunch the flow (our "first aid kit" only consisted off some (thankfully) dry tissues), he was determined to carry on, no doubt still annoyed at his DNF in similar circumstances at Keilder, despite the fact we still had special number 3 to ride.

We let him ride slowly at the front so he could set the pace (not helped by the fact he had completely worn out his rear pads so had no back brake) but he had to stop as he couldn't see very well. I went in front to give him someone to follow and so he could judge the more technical sections. I was riding along a fire road when I caught sight of one of the ambulances just pulling up on a side track. We did a quick u-turn to let them have a look.

They explained they had just been redeployed because special three had been cancelled (we were rather pleased at that), so it was very good luck I spotted them, 30 seconds later and we would have been gone. They took one look at Michael's eye and declared it needed stiches and he couldn't continue. He was having none of it and asked them to dress it and he was prepared to carry on, especially as we only had a few miles of liaison left now.

They washed out the cuts and taped a dressing over them but as soon as he put his helmet on, it pulled the dressing off. So they bandaged an eyepad over the cuts by putting right round his head but of course by putting his helmet on he managed to push it right over his eye. The St John guys were rather concerned and reiterated their advice not to continue but he was adamant but agreed to go straight to the ambulance at the finish and then to go to hospital to get it stitched.

We rode the last part of the course going over the tops at about 30mph which was amusing (not!) with the rain and the wind getting really quite vicious.

Michael had his eye redressed at the finish and headed off to A&E at Shrewsbury to get it stitched. Mark and his wife Vanessa wanted to follow him there so that if necessary one of them could drive Michael's van but he was adamant he was OK and drove to the hospital. After being treated he left the hospital at 02.00 and got back home to London at 05.00!

Earlier in the day Michael had offered to give Mike H a lift home as Mike had ridden up that morning from Reading and Michael was planning to go back to London via the M4.

In addition Mike had suffered a broken chain during the race (resulting in another DNF) and which disabled his clutch as all the hydraulic fluid had leaked out so was in no position to ride home, which is how I ended up taking him back to Reading…. Again!

Dave had another bad day, after his DNF at the Beacons Rally with a collapsed wheel bearing, he once again had an early finish.... due to a collapsed wheel bearing (no not the same one)!

The results were out on the Tuesday evening and I was pleased to see I had improved from 34th to 29th place in the Trail class but sadly this was not reflected in my BBRC result, as just like last year I was 17th and scored 2 points in the series. This can be explained by there being less under 575cc singles in the Trail class this year.

Mark and Michael did well with 4th and 6th place respectively in the twins class.

This means I am now in 32nd place in the series (over 575cc singles) with 7 points, Michael is sitting in 4th place in the twins with 48 points and Mark is just behind him in 5th with 44 points. With one round left (The Cambrian Rally) this is going to be interesting.

It does make me think I could do better if I switched to a twin next year?

Thursday 4 October 2012

New Toy Alert

Well I’m almost up to date!

So what else has been going on since the Beacons Rally?

I got a new bike, no not the Rally bike, I replaced my Triumph Tiger 1050 with a KTM 990 Adventure. An ex demonstrator from the KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead that had previously been loaned to the Hairy Bikers for their “Bakeation” Series. However the only images I can find show a different, although near identical 990 to mine but I have been told that the “white bike” in the series was changed part way through but can’t find any pictures, looks like I’ll have to watch the series on iplayer to see if my bike really is an ex TV star!
The bike was fairly standard but I got a great deal on some Akropovic silencers, a lovely sound and several kilos lighter than standard, not to mention they run much cooler than the stock pipes which is important when they sit right under your bum.

On the subject of which the bike also came fitted with the optional KTM Ergo seat (aka a gel seat), luckily it also came with the standard one as I find the Ergo seat more uncomfortable, largely because it is lower, so puts more strain on my (admittedly dodgy) knees.

Being a 2011 model it doesn’t come with crash bars as standard but I was offered the chance to have a look in the yard out the back where they had a few bars from insurance jobs. Unfortunately it seems everyone had fallen off on the same side so I could mix and match to fins a decent looking pair but as they were free, I wasn’t complaining. Whilst we were out there a pair of pannier frames was also found and so they were donated too. All in over £300 of bits free of charge… not bad!

I’ve since added a few more bits and pieces but will post them up later.


Monday 1 October 2012

Team Hangover Rides Again (Day 2)

Day two dawned nice and bright although what affect the rain had on the course remained to be seen!

Chris headed off home in the van but I had converted my trailer back to a two bike configuration the previous evening so I could give Mike a lift back home to Reading after the Rally (he had travelled up with Chris on Friday) .

Whilst Mike and Mike F rode to the start, I drove up there and promptly slid the Land Rover into a ditch trying to find a parking spot, luckily there were plenty of willing hands to unhitch the trailer and get that clear but all my attempts to drive back out were in vain. Luckily Mark from Cumbria was parked in front of me in his Land Rover so was able to tow me out, it turned out I had got the front axle hooked up on a concrete pipe running under the track.

That small drama over, we set off on the same course as Saturday but ridden in the reverse direction, the going wasn't too bad although the muddy sections did seem a bit more slippery. I was riding with Mike even though he was not going to get a result due to his DNF the day before. Arriving at the start of the first special (the end of the second test the day before), I found that my silencer had come loose again despite having replaced the bolt last night. And then I discovered I had left my multi tool (with the all-important Allen keys) out of the tool kit!

Luckily Mike came to the rescue with an Allen key and I was able to carry on. The first muddy section was quite different but using the same line in reverse that I had spotted on Saturday got me through easily. It went OK but the muddy rutted climb at the start was now a horribly rutted descent to the finish, quite taxing!

We carried on, with the scary rocky ascents from the day before now becoming scary descents and vice versa. Arriving at the second test, I set off for my sighting ride and was surprised as I descended through the forest by a deer nonchalantly strolling across the track! The muddy climb that had been taken out of the course on Saturday had been reinstated as a descent; this was horribly slippery and almost impossible to retain control as you slid to the bottom. The next long section under the trees climbing up the valley was also almost impossible to ride, with several riders falling along here, myself included  although it did no harm as we slipped and slithered at little more than walking pace. Once the going became firmer as we broke from under the trees, the pace could be picked up again all the way to the finish.

A short section of fire road ascent followed by another muddy climb, took us to the rocky road, with even bigger puddles after the overnight rain then a climb up the track over the rock steps where Chris had come to grief and back to the arena.

After a quick refuel and grabbing something to eat we set off again for our second lap. Almost straight away my exhaust decided to dislodge itself from the cylinder head again. This resulted in a lot of noise, a loss of power and a serious reduction in engine braking on the descents. Unfortunately it kept happening on the very rocky descents where there was no way of stopping to fix it so I just had to hold on tight and crash my way to the bottom, relying only on the back brake to try and slow down.

At the first special, I once again stopped to tighten the silencer and headed off, sadly my repair didn’t last and the pipe came adrift from the cylinder head again. Not wishing to stop and loose time, I pushed on and scared myself again on the long muddy descent roaring in over the line to some amused looks from the time keepers. These become even more amused as I stopped, selected a rock and proceeded to beat the exhaust back into place again.

This happened a couple more times and it was clear the silencer was moving down and forward on its mount despite the bolts being tight and this caused the header pipe to swing forward a little at a time until it reached the point where it bounced out again.

Starting the second special it seemed fine until a small rocky drop off on the track caused the pipes to dislodge yet again. As I was heading for the slippery descent I decided stopping to fix the problem would most probably lose me less time than if I was unable to stop on the descent, so a suitable rock was found and I hammered the pipes back in again. The descent and following slippery track was even worse than last lap but I struggled through and after getting on to the faster track up to the head of the valley, the pipes came out yet again! I decided to carry on this time and pushed the bike hard down the other side of the valley and up the final climb.

On finishing the special stage, I looked around for a suitable rock but the slate available was too soft and kept fracturing as I tried to knock the pipes back into place. I eventually got my tool kit out and managed to manipulate the pipes back into place with a couple of tyre levers and a few well aimed kicks!

Mike F had joined us and we rode together up the fire road and via the muddy climb, rocky road and the rocky climb to finish. The frequent exhaust repairs had eaten into my time and an even quicker refuel followed, then a few kicks to seat the exhaust and a quick tightening of the bolts and we were on our way again.

To try and prevent the exhaust problem, I resolved that every time we stopped whether for a quick breather or one of our numerous “lying down episodes” I took the time to kick the exhaust pipes back into the header. Arriving at the first test I stopped to do this and noticed one of my seat bolts had fallen out: Checking the other side I found that one missing too! I’m not sure how long I had been riding with nothing actually holding my seat on.

A quick bodged repair with cable ties and a kick of the exhaust saw me on my way, this was a really good ride and I caught up with Mike on the long descent but was unable to pass him before the finish that came soon afterwards. A brief stop and a quick kick of the exhaust I was on my way. This then became the pattern and it seemed to work, with the exhaust staying in place.

Arriving at the second test (we did three full laps on day 2), Mike started and I was due to go on 30 seconds but had to stop and do my little party trick with the exhaust much to the amusement of the time keepers, this meant I missed the next slot so started one minute down on Mike. I set off fast, confident I had sorted the exhaust and was very pleasantly surprised to catch Mike at the bottom of the steep descent, I passed him on the long slippery section which was even worse but the low down torque of the CCM really came into its own and I could just chug along at walking pace. Mike told me later than on the far more revvy KTM 690, he was having to slip the clutch and was frustrated that he couldn’t stay with me.

A bit further up the track I came across a KTM 990 Adventure sitting on its side with my other friend Michael sitting underneath it! Now the unwritten rule is that you always stop and help when on the liaison stages but during the special stage it’s every man (or woman) for themselves. But realising he was trapped by being in a position where he simply couldn’t get his foot from under the bike and couldn’t get the leverage in a sitting position to lift it, I decided I had not choice but to stop.

I slid to a halt and leant my bike against a handy tree and helped lift the bike off him, before jumping back on and sliding my way up the track. Getting to the firmer going I fired it up the valley in an attempt to make up time, flung it round the turn at the valley head and down the fire road on the other side, getting completely out of shape and running into the undergrowth at the side at one point. I managed to wrestle it back on the track and carried on to the bottom of the last climb, heading up the relatively straightforward track at full throttle I was doing OK until my somewhat second hand tyres got the better of me and the back wheel tried to go in front again in a repeat of yesterday’s climb on the other side of the valley. This time I wasn’t as lucky and hit the deck. Getting up quickly and unhurt, I picked up the bike and started it up and was just about to get moving when another bike passed me. He disappeared up the slope as I got back up to speed and another rider came up behind me. The track now became narrow and twisty and it was clear the following rider was being held up so I swung wide on one turn and allowed him through on the inside. I then took the opportunity to use his speed as it’s always easier to follow than to lead.

Sitting on his back wheel we soon caught the other rider who had passed but unfortunately  he wasn’t going as fast. However there was nowhere to pass and we both trailed him into the finish.

A short wait for Michael and Mike to turn up and then a quick final kick of the exhaust, the three of us rode to the finish.

We packed up, shoehorning all of Mike’s gear into the Land Rover and set off through Wales and down the M4 to drop him off at Reading before getting home about 10pm and going through the usual tiresome business of sorting out all the wet and muddy gear.

Apart from the seat bolts going missing, I also discovered the silencer bolt had fallen out (again)! and it had gathered a sizeable dent where it had hit the back wheel, one of the subframe bolts had gone missing as well as the lock nut off the sidestand and the only reason the bolt hadn’t fallen out was that it had got bent, clearly some serious maintenance was needed!