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.


  1. Ha! Oh bugger was rather restrained under the circumstances!

    1. Well I did remember the video was running