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!

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