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.

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