Wednesday 25 November 2015

Time to go racing.... Part 2

The hopes of better weather on Sunday morning turned out to be wishful thinking. After a night of disturbed sleep due to the at times violent shaking of the van by the wind, I emerged to low cloud, horizontal rain and wind that was still much stronger than I’d have liked. 

Yes the bike is tied to the van to stop it blowing over!

Bleak barely describes it!

I stuck on my waterproofs and grabbed my helmet and fired up the bike. It was a bit sluggish to spin over so I decided to kick start it and it fired up first kick. I rode up to scrutineering which was a formality. After catching up with a few friends and photographing my race times, I went back to the van for breakfast. I was off at 09.36 so had plenty of time.

Whilst sorting out the bike, filling the tank and attempting to write my times down on a bit of duct tape on the cockpit (but failing miserably due to the rain) I was informed that the start was now delayed for an hour and we would only do two laps instead of two and a half. The lap length had also been cut to about 35 miles instead of 45. After getting my riding kit on, I wandering up to the start to confirm this, I got a cup of tea from the burger van and eventually watched the first riders heading off at 10.00.

At least we got to start undercover

I walked back to the van to finish kitting up then rode back to the start, still with about 15 minutes to go before my (revised) start time….

Only to find the last few riders heading off!

It turned out they had abandoned start times and just let everyone head off as soon as they wanted! Oh well it was quite good fun working my way through the beginners, especially as this was the sighting lap so didn’t mind if I got held up. The lap was fairly familiar, with lots of bits from previous years plus a few new sections thrown in. The special tests in particular were all over fairly familiar ground. Noticeably we spent very little time up on the open hillside section above Sweet Lamb, so I guess this was where the lap was cut.

Conditions were not the worst I have ever ridden in but weren’t exactly pleasant, I was soon soaked through despite waterproofs but it wasn’t that cold which was a blessing. However seeing where I was going was another matter altogether. My goggles were OK at first but soon gave up the ghost and misted up. At each stop I attempted to dry them off but soon ran out of anything dry to do this with, so just adjusted my speed accordingly.

The lap ended without incident, so I rode to the van, had a quick bite to eat, filled the bike with fuel (I hadn’t used much) and put on some clean, dry goggles and dry gloves. I then rode straight back to the start and was flagged off straight away; clearly start times had been completely abandoned.

I was now much further up the field, so in amongst some very quick bikes. The first special test went OK without being passed and I could still see for most of it. About two thirds into the test, the goggles were misting up again but as this was mostly fire road I coped OK.

Special two was trickier as I was in amongst some very quick two strokes, so let a few go past me but didn’t seem to get unduly slowed. Then a fairly long liaison where vision was being seriously compromised, my goggles were misted and I’d managed to get mud on the inside whilst trying to clean them. I arrived at Special stage three and decided it would be safer to ride without them. However I was again followed by some very fast riders (running much lower numbers than me) so I decided to be polite and let them past but this time it seemed to cost me a lot more time.

I was glad to finish, knowing that I only had a few miles of liaison left, so got back in, stripped off my soaking kit and got warm dry clothing and waterproofs on. I then dismantled the fairing and navigation tower, shoved the bike in the van and after the obligatory egg, bacon and sausage roll, hit the road back home.

Traffic wasn’t good but a detour onto the M6 Toll avoid a big queue on the M6 and a diversion down the A5 skirted the heavily congested roadworks on the M1 and I eventually rolled in  at home about 7.30 that evening, with a mountain of cleaning to be done but a feeling of satisfaction having got round in one piece and staying on the bike throughout.

A few days later and the results were out….. 11th place in the Rally Class out of 11 entrants! Not too surprising given my eight month layoff from racing and the quality of the field was rather good. I was pleased to see that I had been faster than a couple of other riders in the first two stages but had dropped quite a bit of time in the third.

Oh well, next race looks like it will be in Portugal in March, so hopefully the weather will be better!

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Time to go racing.... part 1

The forecast for the weekend wasn’t looking good as I packed the van to head off for Llanidloes and the Hafren Rally. It was nice to have plenty of room to pack as even with the bike in the back, there seemed to be far too much room. A marked improvement from when I used to shoehorn everything into the back of the Land Rover. The van even got some new (magnetic) graphics..... 

Loads of room!

A couple more advantages over towing the bike trailer soon became evident as it was nice to be able to a) drive at 70 mph on the motorway and b) be allowed to use the outside lane. Traffic was also light so apart from a small bit of queueing on the motorway and regular stops for lunch, coffee, petrol (for the bike) and a shopping trip in Welshpool, I made Llanidloes in just over four hours. By now the weather was not at all pleasant with gusting winds and frequent driving rain. Another advantage also became apparent, it’s much easier to find a parking spot without a trailer!

I had about an hour to kill before early registration was taking place at the Rugby Club House in town. So considered driving up to the Sweet Lamb Rally Complex but as I had nothing to set up and it’s a pretty bleak place at the best of times, I didn’t see any reason as it was now dark and would be pitch black whatever time I rolled up. So after finding a spot in the car park near the club house, I wandered down to the Red Lion for a drink.

Here I bumped into a bunch of guys from High Wycombe most of whom were doing the Hafren for the first time so was pumped for information. We eventually wandered down to the club house, where signing on was quickly sorted and a hearty “buffet” of chicken curry, chilli con carne and chips was the order of the day. After catching up with a few friends I decided to drive the 20 minutes up to Sweet Lamb and set up camp. As I guessed sticking the race numbers on when soaking wet might be tricky, I did them in the warm and dry in the back of the van!

Arriving at the venue, signs directed me not to the usual spot but another flattish area higher up the valley side this was particularly bleak with the wind now very strong, approaching gale force and the rain was heavy and horizontal! After driving around what turned out to be a rather more sloping site than I first realised with only about ten vans, caravans and motorhomes present, I found a flattish spot behind a couple of other vans who had spotted the potential of a small flat area (note to self, must get some levelling ramps for the van).

I did consider just shuffling the bike to one side and putting the camp bed up but thought that the inevitable petrol fumes would not be too healthy. So after donning full waterproofs and wellies I got the bike out, parked it up on what was possibly the leeward side of the van (it was difficult to tell) and strapped it to one of the van wheels to stop it blowing over in the wind. I also bolted on the navigation tower and fairing as I thought I could do it in the morning but as I was already out in the cold and wet I might as well get it done.

The" Hotel Vito"

I then retreated back into the warmth and dry of the van (I had left the engine running and the heater on full blast throughout) and after stripping off my wet gear, got myself set up for the night. Unfolding the camp bed and crawling into my four season sleeping bag I decided it was too early to turn in for the night so fired up the lap top to watch a film. San Andreas was the chosen movie and the special earthquake effects were certainly added too by the frequent gusts of wind rocking the van!

Throughout I could hear vans arriving and a peek out under the blind, showed the parking area gradually filling up, I eventually turned in; sticking some ear plugs in due to the noise of the wind and rain, set the alarm for 07.00 am and hoped the weather might improve to go racing in the morning.

Monday 23 November 2015

Nearly finished!

So I’ve had a bit of a busy time what with preparing for our impending house move. But more importantly it started with preparing the EXC for its MOT.

Firstly a shot of the repair to the oil screen bolt thread as previously mentioned... very neat job!

A new chain was fitted and everything checked over. I noticed a bit of play in the front wheel bearings and the head bearings, neither of which was likely to be a test failure. I was a bit annoyed at the front wheel bearing as this was my “spare” wheel from the Tuareg Rally that hadn’t been used so should have brand new bearings. However when I checked they definitely weren’t new! I think it was one of those jobs I always meant to get round to but had finally decided they would be OK for a spare. So I tried the wheel that had had new bearings before Morocco, the one I had used for the duration of the Rally. This was to be honest in a similar condition, so I left it on the bike anyway.

Although I had fitted a nice new LED rear light, I hadn't got round to replacing the light switches that I had bodged up after I head butted in the dunes. I tend to get the bike tested with the navigation tower and fairing removed and the CCM headlight in place as the LED lights in the fairing are of dubious legality whereas I know the CCM one is perfectly OK

To do this would require a bit of a rewire to reinstall the light switch on the handlebars, so I went for an easier solution. I just cable tied a MX style number plate on the front to cover the wiring and taped over the rear light. A bike can be presented for an MOT this way, and of course as a “single seat off road style motorbike” it doesn’t have to be fitted with indicators, mirrors or a chain guard, which is good because it has none of them!

So sure enough on a Saturday afternoon I rode away with a nice new MOT with advisories for the front wheel bearings, steering head bearings and that the bike was for daytime use only! The new bearings were promptly ordered and the front wheel done nice and quickly. The steering head bearings just turned out to be loose, so the new ones have gone into the spares box for future use. The light switch will be refitted and the wiring reinstated at some time in the future as for now the bodged up switches on the nav tower will suffice.

I also tried “wrapping” the rear mudguard in white vinyl and it doesn't look too bad. The side panels will be done separately and might be a bit trickier as they have slightly more complex curves. I will also do the air box cover as well  The only problem is that it is matt white vinyl, so will get dirty very easily and it’s difficult to clean. So if I do this properly I think I’ll invest in a roll of gloss white vinyl.

So then it was off to Wales for the Hafren Rally