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

Sunday 20 July 2014

Ryedale Rally day one

The Ryedale Rally, a tale of two different days indeed....

One a sunny, hot and very pleasant day where dust was my biggest problem And one (very) wet, muddy and slippery where staying upright was my biggest problem!

The drive up on Friday was not without incident, heavy traffic on both the A1(M) and the A64 meant a long, slow trip eventually arriving around 6.30 in the evening. Unlike in previous years where the Rally was based a few miles from Pickering in a farmers field, actually a few miles from just about anything! This year it was based in the village of Goathland nestling in the heart of the North Yourk Moors.

Goathland is perhaps better known to viewers of Sunday Evening "comfort telly" as Aidensfield, the setting for the Heartbeat series that was set in the 1960's. Indeed you can still see "Aidensfield Garage" and one of the pubs, The Goathland Hotel still bears it's "Aidensfield Arms" sign on one side. The village clearly still cashing in on the series and judging by the hoards of tourists, it still works!

The village also has a station on the North York Moors Railway (A private steam railway) that also doubled up as Hogsmeade Station in the Harry Potter movies (not to mention various other period TV and Film railway stations).

The Aidensfield Arms AKA The Goathland Hotel
The following morning dawned bright and sunny and registration was dealt with and the bike given a quick check over before scrutineering

Scrutineering was a formality and the bike was placed in the parc ferme (i.e. the corner of the camping field) ready for the start.
At the rider briefing a few people were surprised to learn the days route was to be 180 miles as the final instructions said 130 miles. This did cause some concern as the trailer carrying everyone's spare fuel had already left so no chance sending out extra. I had a full 13 litre front tank and had sent out my 10 litre can, so I reckoned that was good enough.
At 10.08 I was on the start line ready to go when the battery decided it was flat! Luckily it starts easily on the kickstart so I was only a couple of minutes late starting! The first section was a liaison along the  A168. This had been recently resurfaced with loose chippings and had the usual "maximum speed 20mph" signs out..... needless to say we all ignored them.
The lap started at the same place as usual so whilst waiting for my start time, I topped up my fuel to find I needed a lot more than I anticipated as I'd only ridden ten miles!
Whilst the new lap used a lot of previous year's tracks, there was also a lot of new track too. Also the familiar bits were not in the same order as previous years so suddenly I'd realise I was on a familiar bit and anticipating where I was going next only to suddenly find myself on a completely new bit.
The course was fantastic with a real variety of tracks, fast fire roads, snotty forest sections and everything in-between. The special stage came right at the end of the first lap and had a lot of familiar elements from previous years. On the first lap it's not timed to allow "sighting" and went OK. After the first lap, the bike wasn't looking so clean and shiny...
I topped up the fuel and was surprised to find I used the rest of my 10 litre can but couldn't quite fill the tank. Oh well nothing I could do but carry on for the next two (52 mile) laps and see how I could get on.
The next two laps included a timed special and I went fairly well on the first. On the second I felt I was going even quicker but managed to drop the bike in one technical section so knew my time would suffer. We eventually finished and then headed back to Goathland in convoy, to awaiting photographers on the hump backed bridge over the railway, then into the village past hoards of tourists. Sure beats turning up in a field in the middle of nowhere.
The good news was that I had completed the 114 miles from the last fuel fill without going onto reserve.
Later that evening, results were posted and I was lying in 8th place in the Rally Class, so I was quite pleased with that. My second timed special had been 17 seconds slower than the first so I guess I had been going quicker as it certainly took me longer than that to pick myself up, get back on the bike and get going again.
After dinner followed by a couple of pints in the "Aidensfield Arms" we retired to bed, only to be woken by very heavy rain during the night, a foretaste of what was to come on Sunday....

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Final Steps....

The bike has finally reached completion..... Well sort of! After fitting the fairing on Friday night, a week ago, the next day saw it's first shakedown run. I accompanied a beginners ride for the Herts TRF and the bike performed faultlessly.

On Sunday it got a thorough cleaning and a few remaining jobs were completed. First, replacing the front wheel bearings (another simple job), then connecting up the rear fuel tank and finally fitting the new rear plastics.

The fuel tank was fairly simple to plumb in but first I removed it!

This was because the back wheel was touching the inside edge of the tank, so I modified the bracket to allow the tank to sit a few millimetres further out. I then fed the fuel line through two holes already present in the air box from where it had been fitted previously.

I had bought a new fuel tap of the type that screws in and out, rather than having a lever as I thought this was less likely to get turned on (or off) accidently. It fitted very neatly behind the frame rail....

And then I completely pulled apart the fairing and electrics!

Having fitted the halogen lamps, which required relays to handle the current I had decided what I really wanted was some LED lighting. At the HUBB UK meet I had looked at a couple of Rally Bikes, fitted with Vision X LED lamps. All very nice but at about £115 each, way above my budget.

Then I discovered some LED lamps on eBay at £26 a pair. Well that was too cheap to ignore and if they didn't work out I'd always have a pair of auxiliary lights to bolt on the 990 Adventure!

The lamps look almost identical to the halogen lamps, being almost the same diameter, although a little shorter.
First stage was to change the mounting, as can be seen they have a clamp to fit on a round bar. This was unbolted and a hole drilled into each side of the lamp (having checked there was a nice bit of "empty space" behind the LED and electronics. Into these was fitted a "rivnut" giving an M6 thread in each side. The lamps were then bolted between the plates of the nav tower in exactly the same way as the halogen lamps.

I wired them up straight to the battery to see how they worked, they may have been cheap but they certainly seem to chuck out plenty of light...

Then I removed all the electrics and started again. As the lamps only draw 30 watts (as opposed to 55 watts for the halogens) I felt safe running them straight through the switch wiring without needed the protection of the relays. After all the standard KTM headlight runs at 35W and doesn't need them. So I have retained a single relay for the "master switch" but that's it and even this is designed to be easily bypassed in the event it fails.

The new electrics before being wired together, much simpler than the old set up
The final job was to replace two of the fairing mounts, when I first made them I used 3mm x 19mm aluminium strap but only had enough for two mounts. The other two were made from 2mm strap so were a bit too flexible. In the meantime I managed to get hold of some more 3mm aluminium so replaced the two offending mounts. Originally I had also tapped a thread into the mounts but now replaced all of these with rivnuts to give a longer thread and a more secure connection.

So finally it was ready for it's first Rally, the Ryedale Rally in North Yorkshire....

To be continued

Sunday 6 July 2014

Getting there slowly...

With only a week to go to my first race of the year, the Ryedale Rally in North Yorkshire, the bike is almost there.

After getting all the electrics, fairing mounting and fuel tank sorted the next job was to make the cut outs for the headlights and then spray the fairing.

For both these jobs I entrusted the bike to my friend Radu of RCBS 4x4 Specialist a fellow Rally racer (on four wheels).

First up was to cut the holes, this is the result, although the holes are going to be opened up a bit more possibly to allow some rubber edging strip to be fitted around them.

Looking pretty good so far!

This picture does show the extremely rough finish of the fibreglass, more on that later.

You may also notice the new hand guards, I had fitted the black ones off my CCM (which were KTM ones anyway) but these were just plastic. Whilst they do a pretty good job of keeping branches etc. off your hands, they do tend to flex when the bike goes over and therefore don't protect the levers (you may recall I'm rather good at breaking levers)!

I spotted these ones on eBay, only £29.95 and they have the alloy bars running through them, like much more expensive models like Bark Busters that cost about £90. However they were only available for 22.2mm bars not the thicker 28.6mm Fat Bars that I have.

Except that is if you buy them in orange, which for no apparent reason come with two sets of clamps for both size bars at no extra cost?

When they arrived I was very impressed with the quality, whilst they are clearly of cheap Chinese manufacture they are nearly as good as the Bark Busters I used to have but for only a third of the price. As for the orange, they match the colour of the tank fairly well and with a KTM it is pretty difficult to avoid the colour.

A few days later I popped round to Radu's workshop where he was still spraying filler primer on the fairing and bemoaning the poor finish. This kept resulting in small pinholes appearing in the primer so had stripped it back and filled all the holes by hand, then rubbed the fairing down again before applying another filler/primer coat...

You'll also notice the new front mudguard that will give you a clue to the final colour scheme.

On my next visit, the fairing had been painted but Radu was not happy with the finish so had decided to rub it down, fill and primer it again and then spray it again. I always guessed he was a bit of a perfectionist but it was at this point I discovered his secret......

He was using child labour!

The ever enthusiastic Andrew helping out.
I had thought long and hard about the final colour scheme for the fairing, from black to black and orange to just orange. But finally decided on a scheme that did involve having to buy a new set of plastics but worth it in the end I think.
Firstly I removed the black fork guards and re-used the orange ones in my box of bits. These were cleaned up and refreshed using orange reflective vinyl.

As previously noted I swapped the black front mudguard for a new white one

Then on Friday I popped round to Radu's workshop to collect the bike. He was still not happy about the finish as there were still two pinholes evident in the paint.... yes that's right only two! I did say he's a perfectionist didn't I?
Assuring him that A) it's likely to get scratched the first time out and B) I'm going to be covering it with vinyl graphics anyway, he agreed it was OK. We then fitted the fairing using thin self adhesive foam between the fairing and the aluminium struts to minimise wear between the two. We also glued thicker black foam block around the headlights to prevent too much light reflecting back after dark.
I had thought long and hard about what to do about where the edge of the fairing meets the petrol tank and finally settled some "boot edging strip" from Frost Auto Restoration:
I'm not so keen on the final result, the way the edging strip actually looks, whilst it is doing exactly what I intended it doesn't look as neat as I had hoped. I also bought some plain edging strip (without the rubber tube) so may try that as an alternative.

I have removed the road book holder for the time being as it is not required on UK Rallies and it leaves a convenient place to mount my Garmin Montana 600 GPS using a Ram Mount.
There's still a fair amount to do, the rear plastics are going to be changed to white and this means refitting the rear lights and number plate holder. The rear fuel tank needs to be connected up and the black air box will get a white vinyl covering to reinforce the orange/white colour scheme. I also have some ideas for graphics for the fairing as that large expanse of white needs breaking up. But all in all I'm pleased with the result so far....

To be continued....