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.

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