Wednesday 24 July 2013

A little trip to the Cotswolds

This last weekend I had booked on a Rally Moto training Day with Robert “Burt” Hughes and Mark “Moly” Molineux at their new training site between Cheltenham and Cirencester.

As part of my preparation for the Centennial Rally in August which has a 250 mile day as part of three days of racing (the longest single day I have done on any Rally to date was 160 miles) I decided to ride the bike there and back, 104 miles each way, by way of additional practice.

An early start at 05.00 saw me on the road around 06.00 whilst temperatures were relatively cool, which made for a pleasant ride. I had managed to strap some luggage on the CCM and made good progress although riding through Luton town centre at 06.30 the ever present backfire was a bit unsettling for the few pedestrians who were about!

The trip took me over the Dunstable Downs and via Aylesbury (where due to trying a “short cut” round the town centre I got a bit lost!) and I then eventually got to Oxford where I had arranged to meet my friend and fellow Rally racer, Ann Ross-Tuson for a coffee as our routes converged here and after 50 odd miles I would be needing a rest and some fuel. Ann had also booked on the training but unfortunately dislocated her shoulder five weeks ago so was unable to ride. She instead decided to drive down and be “official photographer” for the day, not to mention being able to glean a few training tips at the same time. Actually she had planned to ride down on her KTM 640 Adventure but its starter motor decided to die on her, so the car it was!

On arrival at the BP Connect next to North Oxford BMW, a bit late due to my “tour” of Aylesbury I pulled up to find my minor oil leaks from the Ryedale were now a lot worse, luckily I had filled the oil to the maximum limit the evening before. Needless to say Ann was already there, so after hellos, coffee was drunk, lunch was bought for later, the bike topped up with petrol and we eventually set off, although the CCM did leave behind a nice little puddle of oil on the garage forecourt… whoops!

I was able to get away through the traffic but Ann soon overhauled me on the dual carriageway section of the A40 near Witney. After Burford, I turned off on to the B4425 towards Cirencester. This was a great road, nice and twisty and I had just got Ann’s car back in sight when my speedo decided to come loose and bounce around on the end of its cables! A quick stop and a bit of cable tie engineering sorted that!

We eventually arrived at the meeting point after I had caught up again only ten minutes behind schedule to find…. Nothing. A bit of an error on my part as I had assured Ann it was meet at 9.00 for a 9.30 depart to the training site. A quick check of the original email (where would we be without smart phones) showed that was the arrangement for the Trail ride the following day, meet at 9.00 for a 9.30 start but Saturday was meet no later than nine!

Luckily Ann was able to get Burt on the phone and he rode over to collect us as the training venue was only five minutes down the road.

After sorting bikes and saying hello to the others, a few familiar faces including Trail Bike Magazine Journalist Chris Moss were there and a few new ones, we eventually got started and were split into two groups and what followed was a fantastic day with great tuition and some good learning, and as it later turned out, some great photographs from Ann but you will see that below.

Training consisted of trying to perfect the correct technique for cornering:

How to tackle steep climbs:

Drop offs (Yes I know it doesn't look very steep but we could hardly walk up it and it is the same slope as in the picture above):

Riding technical stream beds:
And riding out of technical stream beds:

And riding out of more technical stream beds (and yes I did make it):
And in between we had:

Tight uphill, off camber turns (the madly spinning back wheel not obvious in this photo but believe me it was)
Some general hooning around:
before finally learning how to ride berms (banked corners).
And if you are wondering, Moly was shouting "POWWWWWEEEEEERRRRRRR!"
Everyone had a great time although there were a few tumbles (myself included). We all agreed we had learnt loads. Burt and Moly were also pleased with everyone’s progress. Although I was a bit concerned when they told me the only thing holding me back was the CCM... whoops!
As a bonus during the day we also had impromptu fly pasts from aircraft at the nearby Fairford Air Tattoo. At one point I glanced up to see an RAF Airbus KC30 tanker refuelling two Typhoons, a sight that everyone else apparently missed!

The CCM didn’t have too good time as first the neutral light gave up the ghost, this was a real pain as it is never easy to find neutral at the best of times. Then towards the end I clipped a tree in the stream bed and snapped the end off the clutch lever although that was easily dealt with as I was carrying a spare however it lasted out the day OK.

The weather had started hot but cloudy but this eventually burnt off and we had glorious sunshine, which is not a lot of fun in full protective gear but still better than rain. I went through 6.5 litres of water during the day and could have drunk a lot more. We eventually finished the day with a debrief around 5.30.

After packing up we left, I then had to return opening and closing three gates as I had dropped my goggles on the ground as I loaded up the bike, after opening and closing all three gates again, I found Ann waiting by the fourth gate. We got on our way after arranging to meet again in Oxford for a coffee, this time at the Starbucks at Oxford Services, a couple of minutes from our morning stop. This had the advantage of better coffee and somewhere to sit and on comfy seats as a bonus.

After following Ann to the B4425 again, I ran onto reserve so quickly doubled back fifty yards to the services on the junction with the A417, whilst she sat in the slowest set of traffic lights known to man as they were being operated by hand…. I kid you not!

This was to allow traffic out from the Air Tattoo. After fuelling up I set off again and I too got caught at the lights. Not only did the guy operating them switch them over to allow Air Tattoo traffic out just as I arrived, he then went for a walk!!! Eventually returning over five minutes later I was able to get on my way. I had been on the point of turning the bike off and pushing it across the lights as a pedestrian.

A great ride up the twisty B road, through quaint Cotswold villages (made not so quaint by a sweaty, knackered, oily, backfiring biker) followed and I marvelled at the grip I get on the road from my Maxxis Cross tyres despite only having 15psi in them.

I again caught up with Ann on the approach into Oxford as she was sitting in traffic but she rolled up at the services just as I was parking up.

A coffee and a chat, turned into a couple of coffees and a much longer chat until I eventually realised I was going to have to ride home part of the way in darkness so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

A long and tiring ride followed, eventually losing the light as I approached Aylesbury although I only had to suffer my abysmal 35w headlight for a short distance until I hit the street lights of the town. This time I found my way through OK and then took the route of the old A41 through Aston Clinton rather than the bypass to take advantage of the street lights.

Heading onto more rural roads near Tring, I had a very weary few miles only being able to do 40mph in the dark as I couldn’t see to go any faster! I eventually hit the street lights of Dunstable and the lure of MacDonalds was too much especially as I was desperate for the loo, some more caffeine and a chance to sit on a comfy seat for ten minutes!

After leaving my now customary oil puddle in the car park, I was able to head through the very empty streets of Luton (still backfiring) for a brief bit of darkness along the A505, I cheated at first by following behind a car until I ran onto reserve near the village of Lilley and true to form the CCM ground to a halt before I could get it onto reserve! I was close enough to home not worry about fuel although my backside was so sore I rode most of the remaining 15 miles home standing up!

I eventually rolled in shortly after eleven, the bike got dumped in the garage with a drip tray underneath, as did my rather oily boots, the rest of my bike gear got thrown in a corner and I grabbed a long anticipated cool shower before eventually getting to bed around midnight, only 19 hours after I got up, having covered about 250 miles and with one very sore bum! All I can be grateful for is that when I do the 250 miles on the Centennial Rally, much more of it will be off road so I will be standing up for a lot more of the time!

An inspection the following day showed the CCM had a pretty hard time of it, so a strip down and some new gaskets is the order of the day.

Any a big thank you to Ann for allowing me to use her photos J.

Tuesday 23 July 2013


Last year’s Ryedale Rally was a great event and even the weather was kind on the days of the race but sadly the area had seen torrential rain in the days before the event, which resulted in some fairly brutal conditions especially on the special tests.

So it was with some trepidation that I set off for North Yorkshire on a Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago.

Was it going to be another trial by mud and ruts or were the rumours from North Yorkshire of dry conditions and sunshine actually true?

To be honest, despite the conditions, the event in 2012 was still great fun with good organisation, a great course overall and some fantastic riding through great scenery. And so it turned out to be again in 2013 but this time with the advantage of much drier conditions.

After a long, hot but relatively uneventful drive up on Friday, including a stop for dinner at a Little Chef for old times’ sake (they used to be an integral part of any weekend of racing in the early days of Mad Cow Racing). I rolled up at the campsite in a field about four miles from Pickering just after nine o’clock, parked up and cracked open a beer! Some good chat and catching up with friends followed and I eventually turned in around midnight. I was thankful for always having a stock of earplugs on board as some of the local riders seemed to think that proper “race preparation” involved lots of beer, a potato mortar (don’t ask, oh if you must youtube) and what sounded like a very badly played bugle until the early hours.

Waking on Saturday morning to a brilliant blue sky and the temperature already well into the twenties boded well for the day. After sign on and depositing my fuel can reading to be taken out on course, then scrutineering (no problems) the bikes were placed in the “parc ferme” read: the other end of the field. And we had a relaxed wait for the start, resisting putting on riding gear until the last possible moment in the heat.

Eventually my start time of 10.34 rolled up and off I went. The first section of liaison was the same as last year, a few lanes, some easy off road then a ride over the North Yorkshire Moors past the village of Goathland (Aidensfield in the TV series Heartbeat), RAF Fylingdales and on to checkpoint one at the start of the lap. Here I took the opportunity to top up my fuel, remembering last year when I decided to do it after the first lap but because conditions caused a big delay in the special stage, I didn’t have time and ended up running onto reserve and loosing time in the special on lap two. This year I was determined to play safe and top up the tank every lap if possible. A lap that was largely unchanged from last year eventually took us to a heavily revised special.


It turned out to be great, a really good mix of fire roads, grassy twin track and some snotty stuff including a “big puddle”. This freaked a few people out but was no bother for me as I remembered it from last year (although ridden in the opposite direction) but it did cause my only problem as on lap three I hit it too hard, drowned the bike momentarily and at first it didn’t want to re-start. Thankfully it did eventually but I did lose a bit of time there. The course flowed really well and I felt that I was riding really well, certainly my fuel consumption seemed to reflect this as although I had calculated I should have some left to spare, I was unable to completely fill the tank before lap three. This was not a problem as the third lap was shorter having a large chunk taken out of the middle before reaching the special stage. This caused a bit of confusion as the early runners (I was number 14) got there in the middle of the riders towards the back. As these were the “sport” bikes this was not too much of a worry as they would be faster than me, so I was likely to get a clear track ahead of me. In the event I was caught by a couple of riders behind but both at points on fire roads where passing was easy, so I was able to trail them in, although riding in their dust was not very pleasant!

All in all a very enjoyable day, the sun shone all day and we even stopped for ice cream on the way back and still stayed within time.


It was a great course in all with some fantastic riding, a good mix of terrain, great scenery and the timings for the laps was spot on, enough time to get round easily but you were not left hanging around either. It was also good to be able to hang out in the sun after racing and enjoy a chat around the campsite. The curry on Saturday night (included in the entry) was a bonus too!

Sunday was another scorcher, again some familiar territory but much drier and far less muddy than last year. The special was in some ways a disappointment as it wasn’t very technical, certainly not compared to last year’s mud and rut fest. A start along a long straight grassy twin track with a couple of artificial chicanes was tricky enough but once out of that it was all fire roads (which is not my favourite).

Mind you it was twisty, undulating fire road so needed a bit of skill as well as outright speed. I think I was doing OK as I was often running out of revs in top gear so knew I was going as fast as I was capable on the straights, although my speedo had decided not to work so I was not sure what speed that was. (A later check on the road (private of course Officer) shows that my top speed in fifth gear is 89.8mph… wooo!) On the first two laps, I was passed by the leader of the big singles class, Chris Green on his XR600R about two thirds of the way into the stage. However on lap three I managed to finish before him, so I was hoping that was a quick one, or it could just be he arrived at the start of the special later as they were letting you go as you arrived rather than sticking religiously to your allotted start time!

So definitely the best Rally of the year so far and not just because of the weather (although it was a bonus).  I hope I have managed to improve on last year when I finished 20th (so no points). Bike got cleaned yesterday and I’m a bit alarmed by the amount of oil pouring out of it, so a partial rebuild with a couple of new gaskets is required I think.

But a fairly successful weekend on the basis that I stayed on (well apart from a couple of low speed tumbles in liaison so they don't count). Nothing fell off the bike, although I really must fix the very loud and frequent backfire that is becoming increasingly annoying. Whilst I can get away with it out in the middle of some forestry, it might not go down so well in Carlisle City centre!!!

It was a week later that the provisional results came out and I was chuffed to bits to see I had finished in 12th place, I was even more chuffed to realise they had combined the big singles class (over 575cc) with the Rally Bike Class (over 400cc with frame mounted fairing and at least 18 litres of fuel capacity). I only recognised one rider, Ollie Lloyd who is definitely in the Rally Class in front of me but that means 11th place at least. OK so there could be other Big Single Riders faster than me who have been placed in the wrong class so I will have to wait until the final results are calculated before I know for sure but it’s looking promising.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Blimey... has it really been that long?

Yes been a long time since I have updated my blog but that’s because there’s been rather a lot going on as all will become apparent (and most probably has already if you have read my revised biog on the right!)

But first some of the fun stuff.

In March I competed in my first Rally of the Year, the Brechfa in deepest Wales. Unlike last year when it was a two day event held in June (but not part of the Big Bike Rally Challenge) this year it was the season opener but only a one day event.


A very cold start (-2o) saw a cracking course with a fairly high level of accidents and mishaps, although I had a great run and with the exception of a very low speed tumble in some ruts on the first lap, I managed to stay on to gain my best ever position… 10th place!

OK there were a few familiar faces missing from the entry but equally I managed to finish ahead of some people I would normally expect to beat me. I had some amusing times too! On lap two I came across Dakar veteran and Touratech boss, Nick Plumb sitting beside the track having run out of petrol. Easy enough to sort as the on CCM it only needs two bolts removing to take the tank off. Easy then to pour some fuel straight in, not something you can do with modern fuel injected bikes. Got to be worth a discount at Touratech sometime

Then on the next lap, I came across my mate Phil from Guernsey sitting beside the track in almost the same place…. Yes you guessed it he had run out of petrol! This despite having an enormous 22 litre tank on his JVO Rally kitted Yamaha! He admitted that he never fills it up as it’s too heavy!

I was therefore in good spirits for the second round, a new event, the Pikes Peak Rally, Unfortunately I never made it as a universal joint on the front prop shaft of the Land Rover went AWOL only a couple of miles down the road. With no way of getting a replacement until the Tuesday as nobody had one in stock, I had to retire before I had even got out of Stevenage!

Then the real bad news arrived that weekend when Anne told me she wanted us to split up. And whilst there is a back story, I’m not going to bore you with it and to be honest that is our business, however we are keeping things amicable and trying to sort things out the best we can. We have after all agreed to joint custody of Gem

Gem guarding the CCM
So needless to say, keeping the blog up to date has been the last thing on my mind, whilst we sorted out selling the house and each buying a new place. Which of course has meant watching the pennies so weekends away have been curtailed somewhat.

At the end of May I did manage to get away for a couple of days to the Rallymoto Sprint Rally at the Sweet Lamb Rally Complex in Mid Wales. I had something to prove this year as last year’s race ended halfway through the fourth lap (of eight) when the bike broke down.

I have to say the sprint format doesn’t really suit my style of riding, comprising mostly of flat out gravel fire roads, I much prefer the more technical stuff. And sure enough the results reflected this as I finished in 19th place, just out of the points. After my encouraging start with a whole ten points from the Brechfa, my disappointment at the Sprint, combined with my failure to even arrive at the Pikes Peak meant I decided that chasing championship points was pointless (geddit?) and from now on I would concentrate on riding only those events I wanted to and enjoy my racing.

As a result I missed out on riding the K2 Keilder Rally as although I had a chance of a late entry, I decided against the very long drive up to Northumberland and back, not to mention the saving myself a lot of diesel!

On a slightly different tack I had a great trip to the Lake District in June, when a group organised through the Adventure Bike Rider (ABR) forum rode across the sands of Morecombe Bay to Piel Island at the invitation of the King of Piel, a title accorded to the Landlord of the pub on the island. Actually apart from a terrace of houses and a ruined castle there is nothing else on the Island that sits a couple of miles off Barrow in Furness and for most people is only accessible by the small passenger ferry. The island is private property with no rights of way leading to it, so it was quite an experience to gain permission to ride across.

Due to having to wait for low tide, the crossing was not scheduled until Saturday afternoon, so a few of us agreed to meet up for a trail ride in the Lakes on Saturday morning. It was decided that the Baysbrown Farm campsite in Great Langdale would be the ideal site but as like most campsites in the area, it has a “no groups” policy we agreed to turn up individually on Friday night. There were six of us down for the trail ride of which five of us were camping, plus a couple of people intending to go for a road ride on the Lakeland Passes, so we thought we could get away with it.

After swapping the wheels on the 990 for more suitable “off road” tyres and cutting my luggage down to a single small bag (as it would have to be carried on the trail ride), I set off up the M1 and M6 for what turned out to be a horrendous ride with stationary traffic for long stretches where although I could filter through the cars it meant my average speed was down to about 20mph at times!

I eventually arrived in Great Langdale and to my surprise discovered a dozen bikers sitting outside the Wainwrights Pub in Chapel Stile, so I made my way to the campsite where no less than thirteen “individual campers” had turned up on bikes!

No of course we don't know each other!
Saturday morning when well after Mike who was leading managed to get his bike started as it had a flat battery and we had waited for our sixth member to arrive, delayed because his sat nav decided to take him to Ambleside! We eventually got going and rode some great trails in the sunshine culminating in a byway that runs along the beach at Askam in Furness, this allowed us to play out our Dakar Rally fantasies to full effect!

After that we headed down to Snab Point on Walney Island to meet the Landlady of the pub who was going to lead us to the Island. With no less than thirty three bikes making the crossing, riding at 5mph behind her Nissan Terrano was a bit of an anti-climax after our antics at Askam!

Once on the Island, we set up our tents, decided it was too early to hit the pub so took a walk around the island, 20 minutes later we arrived back and thought “what the heck” and headed off to what was to be the first of a few pints that evening! A smashing dinner was had too and we eventually retired to our tents. The next morning saw a few heavy heads but we had all morning to rid ourselves of hangovers. A hearty fried breakfast in the pub certainly helped! It didn’t seem too long before we could leave and this time the Landlady had already headed off to the mainland so we were instructed to just “follow the tyre tracks” needless to say the journey back was a bit quicker!
The view looking back from Snab Point

A long ride home, this time by design took in the Trough of Bowland, Saddlegate Moor and the Peak District before hitting the M1 and heading south.

On the house hunting front I spent some time looking for my perfect choice, two bedrooms minimum, a garage (preferably attached and with power and light), not too far from work, preferably detached (not easy but I’ve got used to being able to make as much noise as I like) and best of all cheap enough to leave me mortgage free!

Well I managed most of them finding a new build, detached, two bed coach house in Kempston near Bedford, the only compromise was the distance from work but at 31 miles it’s not that bad and with several choices of route, some of them cracking biking roads, I can live with that. I might even be able to justify a third bike for commuting to avoid putting too many miles on the 990!
Not quite finished yet!

My next event is the Ryedale Rally this weekend in North Yorkshire, which had some pretty horrendous bits last year with horrible, sticky and very abrasive mud and deep, deep ruts. Reports at the moment are good though with the course apparently dry at the time of writing (two days before the rally) and sunshine forecast for the weekend!