Tuesday 23 December 2014

Christmas is a coming....

And so preparation for the Tuareg is taking a back seat.

Well sort of!

I have continued to amass the various bits and pieces I require. I mentioned I had been loaned an ICO switch to try with my RNS TripMaster and it works perfectly, so on a trip back to Torque Racing, Martin asked if wanted to buy the second hand one for £30 or order a new one for £55, silly question really. So the 2nd hand one has now been fitted to the bike.

Whilst at Martin's I tried an Acerbis MX Helmet for size as I am looking for a more comfortable helmet for the Tuareg. My current Lazer MX6 is OK on a day long rally but does tend to press down on top of my ears (my fault for having big ears I suppose)! To be honest the Acerbis has a similar fit but it looks to be easily sorted by removing a small piece of foam from the lining but the biggest advantage is the weight at only 1050g. The Lazer is not heavy at 1250g bit those extra 200g make a huge difference. The Acerbis is also shaped to work with a neck brace but the jury is still out on them, especially as it might entail having to replace my body armour (possibly an expense too far?). And of course the biggest advantage is that the Acerbis is white whereas my Lazer is black, so bound to be cooler in the Desert.... well maybe?

My box of spares is filling up, having now received oil filters, air filters, spare levers, throttle cables as well as sundry items like a foil emergency blanket, first aid kit and zip-loc plastic bags (for air filters).

To assist in the planning, I have created a list of things to do to the bike now, other stuff to do before I leave for Morocco, stuff to buy and anything else I need to do before March. So far it runs to five pages!!!

Another task has been finding travel insurance that actually allows me to go motorbike racing and luckily a link on the Adventure Bike Rider forum turned up a policy for a very reasonable £52 that includes search and rescue costs (hopefully that will NOT be required).

Then there is the issue of actually getting to Morocco! The race starts and finishes right next door to Ouarzazate Airport; very convenient I thought! Well no, as you are limited to only one flight a day via Royal Air Maroc. This doesn't get in until 23:35 at night after a four hour lay-over in Casablanca and leaves Ouarzazate at 06:10 in the morning. It's also not particularly cheap at nearly £300. I also means flying in on Friday for registration and scrutineering that take place on the Saturday.

So I looked at alternatives, Donna at Torque Racing mentioned that some riders they are supporting will be flying into Marrakech and hiring cars. Now Marrakech is 200km away from Ouarzazate on the "wrong" side of the Atlas Mountains but once I had done some research, it doesn't look so bad. I did investigate flying in on Saturday but the timescale is just a bit too tight for comfort. What makes things convenient is we are taking a hire car from one airport to another so a fairly straightforward procedure.

Also flights are around £170 return and go direct from Gatwick via EasyJet. Now Gatwick is not my favourite Airport but both John and I are on the Thameslink rail line so we can get a train directly there. A small hatchback from Avis costs about £85 each way and of course that's split between two of us so even ends up being slightly cheaper. The hire car gives us more flexibility than getting a taxi and that costs about the same. The other advantage is that the car hire price is for 24 hours, so as the plane lands in Marrakech mid afternoon, there's plenty of time to drive to Ouarzazate and no need to drop the car off at Ouarzazate Airport (which is of course just "next door") until Saturday morning and conversely on leaving we can collect the car from the Airport on the Saturday afternoon reading for our drive back for our midday flight home.... sorted!

I did have to laugh when a colleague at work asked if it was "safe to drive in Morocco", I did have to point out that as I was racing my bike there for seven days and it would not all be off road, driving a car was most probably one of the safer bits of the trip!

As mentioned the bike has had the remote trip switch fitted and I've taken the opportunity to move the (replacement) light switch to the navigation tower from the left hand bar and simplify some of the wiring. This change also means there are less wires that have to move with the bars so hopefully removing some potential points of failure. I have also removed the wiring to the trip meter as I have fitted it with batteries and these will apparently last months. I will most probably stick the connecting wires in the tool box just in case as well as having some spare batteries!

I will be fitting a USB socket to power up the old iPhone I will be using with the Rally Blitz app to provide me with a back up CAP reading (compass heading) and trip meter. I have made the decision to place this on a flat panel on the rear of the navigation tower, along with the electrics master switch so this is more accessible.

Other changes are a slight modification to the headlight wiring, at present the two LED lights illuminate separately, i.e. one for dip beam and one for main beam. With a simple modification I will convert it so that the lower light comes on for dip as now but that on main beam both LEDs will illuminate. I don't expect to get stuck out after dark in Morocco but it's nice to know I've got plenty of light if I need it.

Other fixes soon to be done are a new front brake hose that will be re-routed under the nav tower and up the right hand fork leg as at present it just gets in the way! Also I have bought a couple of bags of fuel hose clips to sort out the pipework to the rear tank as at the moment it's a bit cobbled together with what I could find and uses four different types of clip, at least it will look a lot neater when they are all the same!

Next planned bit of preparation is the Bakery Off Road trip on Salisbury Plain on Sunday 29th December, lots of nice big wide open spaces for a full day of trail riding, the perfect way to blow away the Christmas cobwebs!

Monday 8 December 2014

It's all starting to get a bit too real!

Less than three months until I head out to Morocco!

Did a bit of pre-rally purchasing on the interweb at lunchtime last Thursday.

I bought four pairs of oil filters (the EXC runs two), the bike will get an oil/filter change before being transported to Morocco and will get at least one change during the rally. That also gives me a spare pair for the tool box and a pair for the change I plan to do next week!

I then bought six air filters. I already have two so that's eight in total and the plan (based on advice from Martin at Torque Racing Services) is to have a new filter ready oiled, sealed and rolled up in a zip lock bag ready for every day of the rally. That gives John (my grease monkey Team Manager) the easy task of just sticking a new one in each day and the old one goes straight in the bag and gets rolled up and stored away to be cleaned when we get back home (but we will take some cleaner and oil in case of unforeseen filter replacement being needed at some point).

As I will have an extra filter (the rally is seven days) that one fits neatly behind the air box in a convenient cavity that Martin pointed out to me, just in case I need it on the trail.

I purchased a brand new set of throttle cables, they will go on the bike before the rally and the old ones (that are in a perfectly good condition) will be going in the spares box. I did think of taping them alongside the working cables but as the EXC has a twin cable push/pull system, it's easy enough to bodge if one cable snaps as a get back to the bivouac measure.

I purchased two new clutch levers and two new front brake levers, one of each will go inside the airbox as spares and the other pair will go in the toolbox just in case. The bike recently got some nice shiny new Cycra hand guards so I'm hoping I wont need the spare levers but not worth taking the risk when they are so light and easy to store.

Slightly crazy that the best price I got for some RFX brand levers (exactly the same as I could get in the UK) was from Portugal, even including postage!

Then I had to start work again.

Friday saw the oil filters turn up; that should keep me going for a while....

On Saturday I popped round to see Martin and Donna at Torque Racing at their new premises. I was able to get a bit more advice on my preparations and quizzed Martin about a remote switch for my trip meter. RNS don't make a switch but it does have the same cable connector as the ICO trip meter. Martin has lent me a second hand ICO switch to try out... excellent service!

I was also able to discuss ideas for carrying emergency water on board the EXC, as I have not found anything made specifically for the model. The Mecasystem bash plate/water tank was mentioned but they don't exactly come cheap! Donna mentioned that several riders fit aluminium SIGG bottles to the front of their bash plates, which is an idea I had thought of myself, so I think I might explore that as an option.

On Monday the air filters turned up....

 I have also sourced a spare set of wheels. They will go to the rally with new tyres, mousses and bearings, making a mid rally change over nice and simple. The original wheels on the bike will also get treated to new tyres, mousses and bearings before shipping to Morocco. I'll also be taking another spare rear tyre. Rubber of choice will be Pirelli Scorpion XC Mid-Hard.

Other planned bits of rally prep that are coming soon are a partial re-wire to simplify things and removed potential chafe points. I will be replacing the lights switch as its broken and moving it from the bars to the side of the navigation tower, which is also part of the wiring simplification but also gives more room for tripmaster/road book switches.

The front brake hose will be replaced with a slightly longer one and routed across the bottom yoke and then up the right hand fork leg to get it out of the way, a fairly common mod for rally bikes.

And then it's trying to fit in some more time on the bike, despite the cold, wet British Winter with another enduro practice day planned in a couple of weeks, a day long charity trail ride across Salisbury Plain (The Baker Man Ride) just after Christmas with some other like minded rally addicts and I also today booked a weekend event at the end of January... the Rally Experience Weekend organised via the ATRC. Here Patsy Quick and Chris Barwick from Desert Rose Racing will be taking us through a dry run of what a rally entails complete with a day of trail riding on a road book.


Thursday 27 November 2014

Looks like 2015 is going to be a good one!

Just announced: there is going to be a series of three road book navigation rallies in the UK next year!

This could be a bit of an issue for me as the first round of the cup is on Sunday 1st March, only one week before the Tuareg Rally. But more importantly only two days before my bike is due to be shipped off to Morocco!

So I have a decision to make, on one hand their is the risk of crashing and damaging the bike or breaking down (or possibly both) and then only having a single day (when I am due to be working anyway) to clean, prepare and do final checks on the bike and if nece.

On the other hand it will be a good opportunity for a shakedown run on the bike, especially as I will be running with a lot of new parts (bearings, chain and sprockets, tyres, mousses etc). Hmmm I think I need to make a choice.

And on the subject of the Tuareg Rallye, I paid the balance of my entry fee last night so there's no going back now!

And more good news..... only 38 days to go to the 2015 Dakar Rally!!!

Dakar Rally

Sunday 23 November 2014

A little ride round Mid Wales

The other weekend was the date for the All Terrain Rally Challenge, Road Book "Social"; a training exercise in road book navigation and perfect preparation for the Tuareg Rally. Run by Robert (Burt) Hughes and Mark (Moly) Molyneux of the All Terrain Rally Challenge and RallyMoto GB Club.

Road book navigation is nothing new to me as I first did it in car rallies as student back around 1980 and have often used road books with their distinctive "tulip" diagrams for 4x4 green lane trips I have organised. My first experience of using it on a bike was back in 1989 when I participated for the second time in the National Road Rally (An annual UK wide navigation event). This was on a most unsuitable bike for attempting 500 miles overnight, a Yamaha XT250! Not least because of the pitiful 6 volt 35 watt headlight but also the tiny 1.1 gallon petrol tank. To facilitate navigation, I built my own small manual road book holder that mounted on the left hand mirror mount and used a till roll that I painstakingly transcribed my route onto by hand. An old side light fitting provided illumination and it worked perfectly helping me to gaining a "Special Gold Award" in the Rally.

But I have never raced and navigated at the same time and whilst I love navigation (and have a degree in Geography and training as a cartographer) I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hack it? Well there was only one way to find out!

I built the bike up into full rally spec on the Friday afternoon and after only a rudimentary check that everything was working OK I loaded up the bike on the trailer and on Saturday morning headed off to Wales.

I had booked a place in the Unicorn Hotel in Llanidloes as part of the event although finding somewhere to park in town with a trailer was a bit problematic. After three laps of the town, I managed to find a spot just round the corner. After meeting up with some of the others in the Unicorn, I was lucky enough to get my own room (the plan had been to share rooms) so dumped my bags and headed back round the corner to the Trewythen Hotel (where the car and trailer was parked)! for our roadbook briefing. This was followed by the obligatory sticking together of the road books and copious amounts of highlighting! Then we retreated back to the dining room at the Unicorn for dinner together and then the pub next door!

Sunday morning dawned cloudy but at that stage not wet and we assembled in the car park behind the Trewythen to unload bikes, kit up and load road books. We were all thankful of the extra hour in bed we had due to the end of British Summer Time.

We were flagged off from the car park in town at two minutes intervals (Just like the fast guys in the Dakar) for a 150km road book loop, this involved some (very) small back roads out of town to the first checkpoint where Moly was waiting with the sag wagon. We lost a few riders on this section and Burt, riding as tail end Charlie had his work cut out finding them!

We then did a large loop in the Tarenig Forest where most of us had raced the Tarenig Rally the month before but this time we rode in the opposite direction, which was interesting. As a result you sort of knew where you were but not entirely (they had made a few changes from the Rally route too) so had to trust the roadbook absolutely (a few people got a bit lost here too).

A second checkpoint at a filling station in Ponterwyd where we met Moly again gave us a chance to refuel and grab some food before set of on the northern loop around the Nant y Moch reservoir. Here we rode on a combination of public byways and other unsurfaced highways but also footpaths, bridleways and other private tracks where motor vehicles are not normally allowed. Thanks to Burt and Moly's efforts we had permission to use these routes that were rather "challenging" in places. You'll note from the photos that we all had to wear Rallymoto hi-viz vests to prove we were legitimate entrants in the event as there has been a lot of problems locally with illegal off-road riding. I did pass one bunch of guys on motocross bikes in one of the forests, clearly riding where they shouldn't be.

A third checkpoint back at Ponterwyd gave us a chance to regroup and the waifs and strays reappeared before we set off back to Llanidloes, this was mostly on black top but with a brief detour through the Tarenig Forest on the way. We all got back together and all agreed it had been a fantastic day, with a great route and excellent preparation for a "proper" road book event.

Best news of all is the boys will be running  three rallies with road book navigation in 2015.... bring it on!

From my own point of view, the roadbook navigation seemed to come quite easily, after a couple of schoolboy errors in the first few miles (not matching the tulip diagram to the mileage basically and turning too early) It all started to flow very naturally, I did overshoot a few tricky junctions but each time I knew I had done it and just needed to pull a U-turn and readjust the trip meter as I got back to the turn. One thing I did realise is a handlebar remote switch for the trip meter is a must!


Tuesday 21 October 2014

Further ramblings

yes, yes I know it's been bloody ages but I've had a few distractions... well one mainly but you'll most probably work that out in a bit! But despite that I've been getting plenty of quality bike time in....

After the failure of my speedo I fitted a new sensor and cable (they come as one spare part and surprisingly inexpensive for a KTM part) and I had a working speedo again!

I managed to bodge my side stand for the time being, so....

Went out for a trail ride the next Saturday with my mate John. I didn't manage to keep the EXC for long as John suggested I have a go on his KTM 690 that has the full Rally Raid Products Kit (Adventure style fairing, extra front tanks, pannier/luggage rack). This is not his bike but the same spec....

I had to include the picture above as this was the only one I got of John that day and it doesn't really show the bike at it's best!!!

I didn't want to give it back! At first I treated like I would the 990 (i.e. with a lot of caution) but within ten minutes I was riding it more like the EXC. It's a 2014 model with ABS but John has fitted the optional "off Road ABS dongle" which allows the rear wheel to spin, so was able to use the power to get the back end to drift, very nice and controllable especially when compared to the 990 (But I guess that's the difference between 67 bhp and 116 bhp).

On the road it did everything the 990 can do, decent enough wind protection from the fairing, decent cruising speed, not too vibey (although definitely more than the LC8 motor) but best of all John reckoned it gets over 300 miles from it's 22litre fuel capacity, whereas the 990 is lucky to get 150 miles from 19.5 litres.

Luckily John was enjoying the 450 so we kept each others bikes for the rest of the ride. Certainly gave me food for thought, the 690 in that spec (essentially a 690 Adventure) looks like it'd be the perfect bike for me!

Anyway back to the Tuareg, the Rally bike ended the day with very wobbly wheels as both front and rear wheel bearings were now way past their best. I had new ones on order but best of all I didn't have to fit them! John decided that if he is going to be my support crew. he had better get to know my bike a bit better. So the next weekend he came round and fitted the wheel bearings for me!

On the subject of support crew/team manager/pit bitch, that afternoon John signed up for the rally too, so one step nearer!

Since then the heavens opened and it had been pouring with rain ever since. A friend posted on Facebook that it wasn't very good weather for desert training...... he wasn't kidding! 

In between I helped run a light hearted event for the Hertfordshire Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF)... the London Dakar. This was a navigational scatter event based out of Benington Lordship near Stevenage thanks to Richard Bott the owner. The event itself used the trails of Hertfordshire (with a bit of Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire thrown in) and although we only had sixteen entries, the event went really well and everyone seemed to have fun. Hopefully this is the first of many and we can build on it next year.

AJP also brought along some demo bikes and we were able to have a play in the quarry on Richard's land.

The Rally bike had been confined to the garage as the MOT had run out but this was not a problem for the next race of the season as that was all off road...

This was the Tarenig Rally in Wales, my girlfriend Grainne decided she wanted to come along and see what this Rally malarkey was all about (I did mention a certain "distraction" recently didn't I)? So instead of the usual roughing it in the back of a Land Rover we booked a B&B in Llangurig and very nice it was too!

The next morning arrived rather grey and we made our way up the A44 to the start. By the time registration, scrutineering and getting kitted up was finished, the sun was coming out on what turned out to be a glorious day!

Lap one went well, with a couple of very steep descents proving tricky and stalling at the bottom of the second one had me toppling over. Luckily no real damage done other than a bent clutch lever (I knew I should have replaced the cheap hand guards that had got bent just a few times too many at the Beacons Rally)!

Lap two was the first timed lap and I got through the long (7.3 miles) special test reasonably well. Having the much longer special was great as it meant you had to think about it a lot more, survival being as important as flat out speed!

Lap three also went without mishap and I was really enjoying the special and feeling much faster than the previous laps until I came up behind a marshal bimbling along in the middle of the track.... what a numpty! It appears I wasn't the only person he held up either. At the time I didn't think I had lost more than a few seconds in getting past him but my time was actually 45 seconds down on the previous lap..... not good!

By lap four I was feeling very tired, whilst hugely enjoyable, the course was hard work and it was starting to tell. Mind you from what others were saying, I wasn't the only one to discover this. Determined to ride the last special at a smooth steady pace so as not to make any mistakes, all was going well until I felt something hitting me in the small of the back! I glanced behind to see my tool pack about to part company with the bike!!! I had no choice but to stop and strap it back on and despite then forgetting my survivalist policy by trying to ride as fast as I could, I lost about three minutes compared to my fastest time!

When the final results came out I had placed 7th in class, which although respectable enough, had I managed to match my lap 2 time for the following laps, I would have placed fifth! Oh well at least it was enough to move me from 11th in class in the series to 8th place and after a bit of calculation, fifth place in the rally would have done exactly the same anyway. So nothing really lost and after all.... that's racing!

A very long drive home followed and since then the rally bike sat in the garage, covered in mud until this finally got rectified last Saturday when I cleaned it up and got it MOT'ed

Sunday was a bit of fun as I led a ride out for my local BMW dealer SBW Motorrad in Welwyn Garden City. Organised by the Herts TRF it was an event for owners of the big GS models to see just what their bikes were designed for!

Although it was intended to use easy, novice friendly lanes, the guys were all up for it, so a few more "challenging" lanes were thrown in!

And now I'm building the EXC up into full rally spec complete with road book and tripmaster for the ATRC road book training event this weekend.

Monday 25 August 2014

The countdown continues.....

As I said in my quick update I've been away for a couple of weeks with limited interweb access and only an iPhone to post from (impossible I discovered) so here's a more comprehensive update on progress so far....

Only 193 days to go to the Tuareg Rallye 2015

My deposit has been paid so one step nearer and I've been getting some serious bike riding time in.

First off,
 three weeks ago I went out for a 120 mile trail ride with the Hertfordshire TRF on a Saturday, this was led by Daniel who I'd done the enduro practice day with and apart from me the only other rider was Mike. He too had been at the enduro day but didn't ride, just popping in to say hello.

As both of them were entered in the Beacons Rally the following week, their first ever rally they wanted to get a bit of "practice" in so the pace was fairly brisk and of course the distance big, as trail riding trips with the TRF can be as little as 30 miles long. Although when I met the others at Hatfield, I had already covered 30 miles and ridden three lanes.

On Hoar Lane near Hitchin on the way to Hatfield as you can
see, I've been playing with the graphics again... orange this time.

We had a great ride and I even discovered a couple of lanes I didn't even know on the Herts/Bucks border and got to ride one that has been on my "to do" list for ages. The ride was long but not without incident as Daniel managed to plant his bike in a hedge at one point.

This was after I had lifted the bike off him, he was so far underneath it
I couldn't even see him when I first stopped, his head was under the front wheel!
We got it out eventually!

Three days later I left work, did a quick change from commuting gear to off road kit at home and strapped on some luggage to head off for a two day "coast to coast" trip across Northern England with the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF). Now by road the Distance from Hest Bank near Morecombe on the Lancashire coast to Scarborough on the Yorkshire  coast is only 125 miles. But by seeking out byways and unsurfaced roads we covered over 300 miles in total, with some great trails, mountain scenery, river crossings and café stops

For this trip I took the 990 on knobblies, so a bit more of a challenge but much better for the 200 motorway miles to Lancashire and the 250 miles back home before and after the trip. On the Tuesday night I headed to Lancaster....

Somewhere on the M6, late at night
I stayed at a Travel Lodge outside Lancaster and found a nice big signpost to lock the bike to, even better they gave me the room directly above where the bike was parked!

Even better, it was still there in the morning!
After a short ride to Hest Bank and breakfast at the café, we were allocated to different groups and headed West.

We had a good (if slightly damp) morning and although we spent quite a lot of time on tarmac, it was on some fantastic roads through the Forest of Bowland and over Ribblehead and through Widdale. Highlight of the trails was the old road over Salter Fell, where I took my only photo of the 990.

If you're thinking this looks familiar, it's because this is where I had my first ride on the 450 last December... the weather was considerably better in August, the sun had come out by now!
The afternoon was cut short as on the second lane after the lunch stop in Hawes, a strange noise from the from end made me pull up and discover one of the front brake callipers had shed a couple of bolts, as well as a few other bits!!!
A bit of bush engineering ensued, stealing bolts from elsewhere on the bike and a slow and careful ride to Ripon ensued where there is a KTM dealer. Craig who was tail end Charlie for our group came with me to make sure I made it OK. After purchasing the appropriate bits, we retreated to the square in the centre of Ripon, fortified with ice creams from the nearby van and coffees from Café Nero we made more permanent repairs in the sunshine.

After a few more back lanes we made it to the stop off at Scotch Corner and later I had a trip by taxi with some fellow riders to an impromptu North Yorkshire and Teesside TRF meeting in Catterick. Here I had a few beers and dinner, discovering a new dish to me, the Chicken Parmo. This is apparently a Teesside speciality consisting of a flattened chicken breast in breadcrumbs and covered in cheese. Surprisingly good it was too!

According to Wikipedia.....

Parmo, or Parmesan, a breaded cutlet dish originating in Middlesbrough, is popular in the North East of England, North Yorkshire and especially in the towns of Stockton-on-Tees, Darlington and Hartlepool. Similar to a schnitzel, it typically consists of deep-fried chicken in bread crumbs topped with a white béchamel sauce and cheese.

The next day was spent heading West again along several lanes of a more rural character, i.e. muddy and rutted, until we climbed up onto the North Yorkshire Moors on Rudland Rigg, possibly England's longest unsurfaced road at ten miles long. We then headed to Pickering for lunch. Afterwards we rode into the Langdale and Dalby Forests, all familiar territory from the Ryedale Rally. Unfortunately Craig who was leading that day had a heavy fall and was unable to continue so as it was getting late, I agreed to ride with him back to York where he lives. Once there, I peeled off onto the A64 and started the long trek home. I did it in one stretch all the way to Peterborough Services where I had to stop for some much needed petrol for the bike and caffeine for me!

Returning late on the Thursday night meant it was a quick turnaround on Friday and load up the EXC on the trailer for a drive to Mid Wales for the Beacons Rally based near Llandovery.

This went well, with no particular incidents and an impressive (for me) 6th place in the Rally
Class, in fact my second 6th place in a row after the Ryedale.

On the whole the weather was good on Saturday with only one very heavy shower at the end of lap one but due to rain over the previous weeks, we did get a little damp!

Sunday started off very wet but did improve as the day went on, a pattern that was set in for the following week.

Following the Rally I headed over to my friend Rob's house, just over the border into England, along with another friend Jonny who had stayed there for the weekend (all three of us having raced the Rally). Here much jet washing of bikes and kit and washing of loads of filthy gear ensued. Jonny also cooked us all dinner, very good it was too!

Monday we headed back into Wales to a campsite at Rhayader where we met up with another couple of mates and the five of us spent the week trail riding throughout Mid Wales. The only significant problem was my trailtech sidestand breaking, so unless I could find a convenient wall or fence post, I was pretty much excused "gate duty" all week.... and believe me the Welsh trails have a lot of gates!

Setting up camp... the stand is clearly working here!

A stop on the hills on day one , it was shortly after this that my stand broke!!!

A stop for lunch in Clun, Shropshire on day two

I had to use the Post Office as a stand!

By the end of the week both my front and rear wheel bearings were feeling distinctly second hand not to mention my nice new tyres, fitted only three weeks previously!

So a few repairs to do as the side stand needs sorting and the repair I did to the speedo cable didn't last, so new sensor and cable has been purchased and needs to be fitted and new wheel bearings too of course. I have also ordered some new swingarm bearings as they are starting to develop a bit of play. Next planned trip is the Tarrenig Rally in September!

Thursday 21 August 2014

A Quick Update

I did try updating the blog on my iPhone from rural Herefordshire last week but failed miserably but this was the summary I typed.

The Saturday after the enduro practice day saw a long trail ride of over 150 miles around Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire with Daniel and Mike from the Herts TRF in preparation for their first ever rally (The Beacons the following weekend). We had sunshine, we had torrential rain and Daniel managed to plant himself and his bike in a hedge (pictures to follow)...

The following week I headed up north for the TRF Coast to Coast ride, from Hest Bank to Scarborough (the long way). For this I used the 990 Adventure.

A quick turnaround on Friday saw me headed off to Llandovery for the Beacons Rally, which went very well and I'm hoping for a good placing. The difference between me and the top five or so riders in the class is fairly big so I'm not sure I will improve much on my 6th place at the Ryedale Rally. To be honest that's only likely if there are lots of DNFs and whilst there were quite a few at the Beacons, I didn't see many in the Rally Class.

After the race I was due to be driving over to Rhayader for a week of camping and trail riding but as nobody was turning up until Monday I was going to be a billy no mates at the campsite on Sunday night. However my mates Rob and Jonny were also going to stay for the week but were headed back to Rob's house just over the border in Herefordshire and not going over to Rhayader on the Monday. Rob invited me back too, so I am now sitting on a comfy sofa having a beer and the bike has been jet washed and my kit bunged in the washing machine, whilst Jonny is preparing us dinner..... result!

A full update with photos will be appearing soon

Monday 28 July 2014

Hot and dusty!


Sunday saw the start of my training regime for the Tuareg; part of my problem to date has been that I only ride the rally bike “in anger” at most once a month when I enter a Rally and of course not at all after the end of the season in October until the following March.

Whilst the bike will get used for trail riding in between, this simply doesn’t replicate the style of riding that you do in competition as lanes are short, so long periods are spent on tarmac, speeds by necessity have to be kept down and you’re constantly on the lookout for walkers, dogs, horses etc. Also many of the lanes local to me are so well surfaced that there’s no real comparison with even the liaison stages in a Rally.

So it was with interest that I learnt that Enduroland were running one of their practice days on Sunday at Northaw in Hertfordshire. Very useful as I grew up only a couple of miles from there so knew where to go! These are basically cross country Enduro courses (no public roads involved) where you pay your money and go and ride at your leisure for as long as you want/can.

So on Sunday morning I rolled up at Northaw Equestrian Centre and booked in. After a coffee from the burger van, Fellow Herts TRF members Eden and Daniel rolled up and bikes were prepped and gear was donned ready for the start of practice. Unlike Racing there’s no pressure to start at any particular time so everything was very relaxed.

We eventually set off on our first lap to discover a course laid out mostly on bumpy, rolling fields with the occasional foray through field edge ditches and small wooded copses, with even an couple of (very small) horse jumps thrown in (although alternative routes were provided…. Guess what I used)!

The laps were not technical but fast with constant changes of direction; it was also hot and very dusty. After two laps I had a brief pit stop when I noticed the fuel cap off my rear tank had gone missing. Look closely.....

Although I wasn’t using the tank, I didn’t want it filling up with dust so taped over the filler with some duct tape. I then went out and pushed myself for four laps without a break as whilst I could have taken an easy approach I wanted to get as much on bike training out of this as possible. As I came round for my fifth lap, I saw Eden and Daniel sitting at the exit to the track so pulled over. At this point someone told me they had seen my fuel cap come off and had picked it up for me…result! I rode over to their van to collect it, refitted it and then rode back to the others. Eden and I decided to do a couple more laps and then break for lunch, so we went out and had a good laugh chasing each other round. Eden was on his newly acquired “spare” Kawasaki KLX450R so unencumbered by rally kit, so it was definitely quicker through the tight stuff but the extra 60cc of my meant I could make up ground where space allowed, although the tight, twisty nature of the course didn't leave many spaces where I could use my speed

As you can see I've playing around with some simple graphics and stickers, it certainly helps break up the mass of white.

We pulled in after two laps for the obligatory burger, whilst Daniel stayed out for another couple of laps. As he is younger and fitter and only riding a 250EXC I guess that was only right and proper! After a slab of cow between bread and a cold drink, we kitted up again and went back out again and I did another three laps before deciding to call it a day, as I was starting to make a few small errors as fatigue started to set in.

During this time I also had my only “off” of the day, not at any speed, in fact I was going backwards! One section through a steep sided dry stream bed had an alternative route that I had been using as it crossed the stream bed a few yards further down where the sides were less steep but one lap I decided to give it a go. Going down was no problem and neither was going back up until just as my front wheel reached the top…. I stalled! Rolling backwards into the stream bed I tried to put my feet down but couldn’t reach anything resembling solid ground and the bike fell over! With nothing injured but my pride, I crawled out from under the bike picked it up (it is certainly lighter than the old CCM) and was able to ride it out without drama. In fact the next lap I tried it again and rode through with no problem at all!

So after eleven hot, fast and dusty laps I called it a day and packed up. The best bit being that the bike only had a tiny bit of mud on it and was cleaned, lubed and put away in no time at all.

Sadly it didn’t escape entirely damage free. If you look closely at the photo below you will see the speedo cable/brake hose clamp on the front fork connector has come undone allowing the cable and hose to bow inwards and catch on the brake disc. The brake hose looks OK with some minor surface damage (although I'll replace it to be on the safe side) but the speedo cable (actually two wires as it’s electronic) had got caught in the brake calliper and snapped. Not a huge job to sort as it’ll just take a bit of soldering but annoying all the same.

Saturday 26 July 2014

The Road to Morocco starts here....

Having pleasantly surprised myself at the Ryedale Rally considering I had done virtually no fitness training as a result of various injuries and had only had three hours riding on the Rally Bike since February, I decided to take the next big step in rallying.... an international rally.

I had always said that I would prefer to try one of the European Rallies like the Hellas Rally in Greece rather than plunging straight in and doing a rally in the North African desert. A complete lack of experience of riding sand or dunes was a fairly convincing argument in my mind but circumstances have a way of demolishing those arguments!

It started when I went to see Radu when he was spraying my fairing a short while back. He just asked me what I was doing next March, in such a way that I had to answer "I don't know, what am I doing next March?" "You're doing the Taureg Rallye" he announced.

It turns out that he and Annie had entered the rally in their Mitsubishi Pajero Evo and he had measured his trailer and calculated that he had plenty of room to take my bike to Morocco and back for me. So that was a big part of the expense sorted for me.

Mind you I think Radu's got a fair bit of work to get the Evo ready after a little "incident" in the British Cross Country Championship at Radnor Forest last year....

A few days later I mentioned this to my friend John and he immediately offered to come along and pay his own way as my support crew, another part of the jigsaw had fallen into place!

So I decided what the heck and sent in my entry last week, on Wednesday I was with Martin Wittering at Torque Racing Services to collect my wheels having had new tyres fitted. He was able to give me loads of useful advice on what I needed to do the rally. To be honest if I was going to buy a traditional assistance package, I would have chosen Torque Racing and I get the feeling that I'm going to be spending a lot more money there over the next few months.

Thursday night the email arrived confirming my entry, so now it's all getting very real. Here's the trailer from this year's race to give you a taste of what it's all about:

Tomorrow the training starts, I have entered the Enduroland practice day at Northaw, as time on the bike is crucial to my preparation and it's going to be hot which I guess is appropriate but I doubt there'll be any sand...

Thursday 24 July 2014

Ryedale Rally day two

Sunday dawned hot and humid, overcast with a threat of rain in the air. As usual things were a lot more relaxed as there was no registration or scrutineering on the second day. Although there was a bit of confusion over the way the time schedule had been written out but we managed to work it out in the end.

Sunday was to consist of the ride out and back, the same as yesterday plus four shorter laps. I refuelled with my 5 litres which only half filled the tank, luckily Rob who was camped next to me had plenty of spare, so I was able to fill the tank.

The ride out went without incident and we were starting from the same place although heading off in the opposite direction to Saturday. Whilst waiting for my start time someone noticed fuel leaking from the cap of my rear fuel tank. This of course was supposed to be turned off and empty! So I was rather surprised to remove the cap and find that the tank was full. This most probably explained my odd fuelling yesterday, as the fuel tap on the rear tank was clearly faulty and didn't shut off! The solution was fairly simple, I turned off the tap on the main tank so the bike was only drawing fuel from the rear. A quick check of the rear tank at the end of each lap to see what the fuel level was and if necessary I just opened up the front tank for a few minutes to allow it to refill, then shut it off again. In the event I only had to do this twice and finished still with a fairly full rear tank. It was the first time I had ridden with the rear tank full and was pleased to note it didn't affect the handling at all, but after all 5 litres of unleaded only weighs about 3.5 kilos.

The race itself was OK, the first (sighting) lap going without too much incident, although I did managed to slip off in the special stage and bent one of my hanguards. The substantial alloy bars are not as substantial as they look! Although it made the space around the brake lever a bit crowded, it wasn't a problem just a bit annoying as it was constantly touching the back of my fingers when covering the brake.

The special was essentially the same as Saturday in reverse but with the addition of some extra technical going in the woods. The rest of the lap was without incident although very snotty and slippery in places. As I came to the end, the heavens opened and the rain came down with a vengence. Starting lap two I couldn't see much at all the rain was so hard.

Arriving at the special, one of the timekeepers stepped forward, with one (muddy) rag he cleaned off my race number and with a another cleaner rag dried my goggles for me. I was counted down and off I went, my goggles remained clear for at least three seconds! I tried to ride smooth and steady on the basis that slower but staying on the bike was bound to be quicker than fast and falling off! No such luck and again I went down at slow speed in the woods. I had to resort to riding without goggles for the last part of the special as at least I could see where I was going. The rest of the lap was OK although there was a long slippery section through the woods near the end of the lap that was becoming increasingly difficult to ride, a combination of my fatigue from lack of training and increasing worn tyres, which to be honest were past their best before I started!

Back at the start of the lap it was clear the conditions were taking their toll, with loads of people deciding to call it a day and head back to Goathland. Unfortunately for me not many of them seemed to be in the Rally Class! Laps three and four were just repeats of the first two, although the rain did eventually stop. I was getting more and more fatigued and managed to fall off yet again on special stage three. They did take out a section of single track just after the special which gave us a bit more time on fire road, which to be honest was a bonus!

By the last lap I was getting very tired but perversely still enjoying myself. I determined to ride the last special even steadier this time and managed to get through 99% of the special without falling off, only to lose the back end on the small chicane set up at the very end to slow you down for the timekeepers. I dragged the bike upright and ran over the line with it, I was that close! A very weary finish to the lap followed and I was pleased to have completed it.

The shiny Rally Bike I had started with on Sunday was now looking distinctly second hand:

I also had a long "to do" list....

Straighten hand guard
Replace rear fuel tap
Replace number plate (that had completely delaminated)
Sort out front suspension (think I need some slightly softer springs)
Get some vinyl graphics for the fairing (if for nothing else than to protect it from stone chips)
New tyres front and rear
New front and rear brake pads
New chain (although I have a nearly new one from the CCM that will go on as it's the same size and length)

Oh yes... there's also the small matter of the MOT to get sorted.

A long drive home to Bedfordshire followed, not to mention a weeks worth of cleaning!

The results came out a couple of days later and on one hand I was pleased that I had managed to move up to sixth in class, my best ever result! However I wasn't so pleased to see that riders who had been behind me on Saturday had moved in front of me, no doubt a result of my numerous "lying down incidents". The only reason I got up to 6th place was due to riders who had been ahead of me on Saturday had DNF'ed on Sunday. But then again the whole point of getting results is being able to finish in the first place, so not too bad a result I suppose.

So lots of work to do before the Beacons Rally on August 9th and 10th