Sunday 10 May 2015

Tuareg Rallye 2015: What could possibly go wrong?

Having finished the Tuareg Rallye, now it's time to count the cost, no not the financial cost but the wear and tear on the bike.

To recap, it's a 2006 KTM 450 EXC with the RFS (Racing Four Stroke) engine that is generally held to be bulletproof and indeed it was for the nine days of the rally however not all the other parts proved to be as robust.


Managed to flatten the (brand new) battery at the hotel when the bike decided it didn't want to start.  

Then on the start line of the Prologue, the bike refused to start at all on the kick start! Well it did eventually start but it certainly took some effort

Then just before starting the first special stage, a loose rocker shaft locating bolt, led to substantial oil loss. Luckily spotted by Zippy from Desert Rose Racing so easily sorted. So once all that was done, I got underway and no further significant problems....

Well that was apart from my GPS staring to play up. curiously only when I got back onto tarmac. Vibration kept causing it to lose power from the bike, so I kept getting the message "external power has been lost, do you want to continue on battery power or switch off?" It only took a quick tap of the screen to switch to battery but usually after a few seconds the connection was established and switched back to power from the bike. At the next stop I checked the fuse and all the cable connections but could find no problem. The issue seemed to be the way the GPS fitted into the cradle, easily sorted the next day with a couple of cable ties, even if it did make it a bit trickier to read!


First problem; both brake and clutch levers vibrated loose on the handlebars, on a long stony piste although I suspect it was a result of the very rocky tracks we had been riding just before this. Luckily I was just approaching CP1 so was able to sort them out there without losing the bolts (and big thanks to Memo Tours and Torque Racing for their assistance... I didn't even have to get my own tools out.

Then shortly afterwards my gear lever vibrated loose, again I was lucky enough to spot it before the bolt (or the gear lever) fell off. In fact this happened several times during the course of the rally but I got into the habit of checking it every time I stopped and tightening it up as necessary (needless to say my Loctite was in one of the boxes locked in the hire car.... the one I lost the key to, remember)!

Then later in the stage, whilst dropping into the river bed where I got stuck, I managed to head butt the road book and wiped out one of my light switches! I lost main beam, which was no hardship so at the end of the day just removed the remains of the switch, moved the two good switches to neaten things up and taped up the loose wires.



Then came the excursion into the "Mud" itself albeit with no real damage done and I even managed to remain within time! The bike certainly took a lot of cleaning that evening.

This stage certainly took it's toll, just before reaching the last checkpoint the oil seal on the right hand fork leg blew

Then when I thought nothing else could go wrong, I ran out of fuel on the final tarmac stretch, OK so this wasn't a problem with the bike itself but a consequence of having spilt a lot of fuel getting the bike out of the mud.

Eventually rescued by another competitor, we managed to transfer a small amount of fuel into the bike in a plastic sandwich bag, just enough to get to the fuel station 7 km outside of Merzouga. But then to add insult to injury, the fuel station had loads of diesel but had run out of petrol!

Saved by a local, who led Gary Pitchford and I to a local village, where the shop had some fuel (measured out in 1 litre olive oil bottles)! I managed to run out of petrol again 100m from the shop so had to push in, much to the amusement of the locals!


Another problem noted was that I had lost one way valve off my rear petrol cap, another source of leaking fuel! This was cured on this and subsequent days by sealing the breather with tape and then swapping the cap with the working breather to whichever tank I happened to be using at the time.

Also I managed to flatten the battery on this day as the bike was constantly stalling or falling (due to my complete lack of experience of riding sand dunes) and with the repeated re-starts and the fan running constantly, combined with my slow speed not allowing the battery to recharge, kick starting was the order of the day. However when hot the engine was extremely reluctant to go into neutral (you can't kick start in gear) although when I eventually did, the bike often started first kick! 

Later this day my Garmin Montana GPS started playing up, with the touchscreen refusing to work and "locking up" it eventually got working again much to my relief as often the navigation in the dunes on this day consisted of the road book instructing "follow the GPS"

One other issue was the old iPhone I was using to run the Rally Blitz App to provide a CAP display (compass heading), this continued to work OK but the 12v USB socket I had fitted to power it decided to shake itself to bits. As a result I had to remove the phone and charge it in the hotel each night and rely on the phone battery instead. Most days this was OK in itself but on the longer days I did resort to turning the phone off when not required to save the battery.


A cartwheel off the top of a dune caused my only major mechanical "failure" of the day, smashing the rear mudguard, number plate and rear light mount. A few cable ties held it all together...

During this day, my road book stopped scrolling forward but would run backwards, this meant I had to advance it by hand, using the knobs on the side, not easy whislt riding one handed on rough terrain! This was later traced to a dodgy connection in the wiring to the handlebar switch, loosening off the cable ties holding the wiring and a bit of wiggling eventually cured it.


The road book switch stop working again but this time no amount of wiggling would restore the connection. The fact it ran in reverse still was useful however as this is used when loading the road book into the holder each morning. 

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful until near the end, I stopped to repair the road book when it tore, only to discover my side stand had fallen off after the pivot bolt snapped.

The broken bolt later conveniently vibrated itself out of the thread! 


The only problem today was the GPS once again refusing to work. This time it packed up completely!

At the end of the day we were checking it over and on removing the battery, it was too hot to hold, so the heat definitely seemed to be the problem. The next day it worked fine!

However whilst trying to see if the problem was a loose connection I obviously didn't replace the fuse box cover properly and it fell off somewhere!


Errrr.... nothing at all


On return from Morocco, I started to get the bike ready for my next race outing, the BAJA GB in Mid Wales.

First I took my forks out (and discovered that a thread on the brake hose clamp on the left hand fork protector had stripped so replaced it with an old one) and delivered them to Torque Racing for a new seal and a rebuild. On collection Martin reported that one had no oil in at all (no surprises there) and the other one was filled with "brown sludge". They certainly feel a lot plusher now.

The rear plastics were removed and replaced with an old set I had in store, and the rear light replaced with the new one I had intended to fit before the rally but had run out of time. This involved fabricating a new light/number plate mount from 2mm aluminium plate. A new number plate finished things off.

The front wheel was replaced with my spare and sent off to Torque to have a large dent taken out of the front rim. This had the advantage of giving me a brand new tyre for the race.

I fitted a new air filter as after all I had six brand new ones that had been in my spares box in the hire car!

Then I set to on the engine, I drained the oils and removed both filters. Then I removed the bolt on the side of the engine to remove and clean one of the oil screens only for disaster to strike!

The thread had obviously been damaged in the past and a helicoil insert fitted but unfortunately the insert wound itself out with the bolt!

Unfortunately I was unable to get it repaired in time so I had to cancel my entry for the BAJA which was a disappointment, although I did feel slightly better when I saw reports of the awful weather conditions, including at one stage a dusting of snow on the course!!! 

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