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.