Friday 15 December 2017

Funny how things turn out

Having set out in search of a suitable dirt bike for Grainne, little did I suspect what would result....

After the disappointment of losing out on the Freeride 250R at the KTM centre we sat down with chief honcho Jason to discuss options.

Sitting next to the just sold 250R was a brand spanking new Freeride 250F, KTM having decided to replace both the two stroke 250R and the four stroke 350F with this, a four stroke 250. It was so new it hadn’t even been built up yet with no footrests fitted but we held it up so Grainne could try it for size….

And sure enough she was left with both feet dangling way off the floor! After convincing her that it was almost identical to the older bike but with a standard seat and the suspension wound up much harder, so could easily be made the same height as the other bike (or in fact 25mm lower with the official lowering kit), we got into discussion with Jason just what it might cost.

After a bit of fiddling with the figures, it turned out not to be too outrageous, largely due to the sizeable deposit the Suzuki VanVan provided, so a deal was done.

So that’s a Freeride 250F, with the brand new twin cam 250 four stroke motor, which at the end of the day is likely to be easier to ride, especially for a beginner, than the two stroke. the only (very slight) downside is that it weighs 7 kilograms more than the two stroke but still comes in at a featherweight 97kg. We are also having it fitted with the optional remote engine mapping switch. This allows it to be switched between two engine modes (i.e. a tuned down mode or full power) and enables traction control to be switched on and off again all very beginner friendly. It has also been specified with the optional low seat, wrap around hand guards and the aforementioned lowering kit.

The shock absorber needs to be sent away to be rebuilt with the lowering kit so it’ll take a while to be ready but that's not a problem really when everything has been covered in snow lately.

Two days later I took the Suzuki down to part ex it and also put my 990 Adventure in the van to see if I could get a good price for it. It had been sitting in the garage unloved on a SORN for a year  needed a new MOT, a service, a replacement Y piece for the exhaust and a new rear tyre, that lot would cost me around £500-600 just to get it into a state where I could sell it, not to mention the time it would take and all the time it was steadily depreciating, so I needed to do something. 

Well I didn't end up taking it home and in a slight surprise even to myself (and no I hadn't planned it in advanced as Grainne suspects) I am now the owner of a mint, low mileage KTM 690 Enduro R with nearly five grands worth of extras.

Extras include:
Britannia Composites Lynx Fairing with upgraded headlights
LED Auxiliary lights 
Low front mudguard
KTM Powerparts Silencer
Rally Raid Products front tanks (an extra 10 litres of fuel)
Rally Raid Products billet brake pedal
G-IT Aluminium Bash Plate
Pivot Pegs
Touratech pannier Frames with Aluminium Zega panniers
G-IT Rear Rack
GPR damped handlebar mounts
Scotts Steering Damper
Remote engine mapping switch
Cycra Pro Bend Hand guards
Carbon Fibre engine case protectors
KTM Ergo seat
And a few other bits and pieces plus the original bits.

Monday 11 December 2017

Unicorn spotted in Hemel Hempstead!

Our search for a low and lightweight dirt bike for Grainne had ground to a halt, not least because we had still not managed to sell her Suzuki VanVan. A couple of too low offers and a few timewasters later and it was becoming abundantly clear that November was not a good time to sell a bike and especially not one very obviously designed for learners. After all would you decide to start biking just as winter arrives?

So having put plans on hold for the time being, as you will have read in my last blog post, attention turned to running the Hertfordshire Caper, a Road book training day organised by the Rallymoto Club. The KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead had agreed to host the event and Grainne volunteered to help out by driving the van and manning (womanning?) the checkpoints. 

As reported, after meeting up with Burt from Rallymoto who had printed the road books and supplied “Give it a go” manual road book holders to eight of the ten participants, we did a pre-ride briefing, spent ages getting road books loaded and eventually sent them off on their way.

I was getting ready to go when Grainne appeared from inside the KTM Centre with a beaming smile and handed me her phone, which had a photo of her sitting astride a KTM Freeride with both feet on the floor. Remember this was the model i thought would be ideal but turned out to be way too tall at the bike show … what was going on?

It turned out they had a second hand example of the two-stroke 250R (they also made a four-stroke 350) fitted with the optional low seat and the suspension set to its softest positions. They also explained that bikes at the show would almost certainly have have had their suspension wound up to the hardest settings to allow for anyone of any size to bounce up and down on them! In addition they could fit a lowering kit to this one to bring it down another 25mm (1”).

It also has a few useful additions and a big factor in its favour was the paltry weight of only 90kg, a whopping 70 kg lighter than Grainne’s BMW; that’s equivalent to chucking a pillion passenger off the back!

By the end of the day we also had an offer for the VanVan in part exchange, not quite as much as we had been asking for but the possible alternative was having to hold onto it all winter before we can sell it, when it would be worth less anyway so quite reasonable in the circumstances.

So next step is to pop down for a test ride and look at the options for financing the purchase, which might also include chucking my 990 Adventure into the mix… it could be the only way to get enough room in the garage!

UPDATE: we eventually made it down to the KTM Centre only to discover they had sold the bike literally minutes before we arrived!!!

Back to the drawing board; 

to be continued....

Friday 8 December 2017

So what’s been going on in my world?

Having slowly got back into riding after tearing my anterior cruciate ligament and then breaking my nose on my first trail ride… yes keen readers will recall that on the day A&E said I hadn’t broken it. However they also said that I should see my Doctor if the swelling and the pain didn’t subside in two weeks.

It didn’t, so I did, he took one look and said it was definitely broken; luckily it’s not displaced so I get to keep my handsome good looks (I wish) and all I needed by way of treatment was a steroid nasal spray to bring down the swelling, although he did mention that if it doesn’t improve I might need what they euphemistically refer to as MUA or  Manipulation Under Anaesthetic. Grainne informed me this was when they re-break your nose with a hammer and chisel and re-set it. She should know as she’s had it done twice after horse riding accidents (a good reason not to participate in dangerous sports like horse riding methinks)!

The knee is still sore and although I can ride OK (wearing knee braces), the biggest issue I have is standing for any length of time, so recently I’ve helped out on the Rallymoto stand at the Dirt Bike show and the TRF stand at Motorcycle Live (I’ll do anything for a free ticket me)! And these have proven to be quite painful as you are on your feet all day.

Apart from resuming my surveying work in the Peak District for the TRF, which I did on a very cold, wet, windy and thoroughly miserable day in the aftermath of Storm Brian, my motorcycling focus was on helping Burt Hughes of Rallymoto to run a “Road Book Caper” practice day around Hertfordshire.

This involved plotting a route, converting it into a road book, then getting out and reconnoitring it and then updating the road book appropriately. Then making arrangements for the day, The KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead kindly agreed to host the event and provide coffee and cookies before the off (actually if you’re visiting the centre, there’s always coffee on offer)! Burt printed off the road books and coordinated the entries and we were good to go.

The day itself went off really well, we had two more experienced participants but eight road book virgins, they got lost, they fell off (but nobody was hurt), ran out of petrol and some finished after dark! But what was clear afterwards was everyone had a great time!

We learnt some valuable lessons; a large single loop with multiple checkpoints doesn’t work as well as hoped, so in future a cloverleaf pattern with several loops returning to the start/finish point is the aim, also a greater element of training is required for the newbies, we had forgotten just how amusing watching a bunch of guys trying to load road books for the first time can be, much assistance was required.

Now to start work on the next one!

Wednesday 6 December 2017

In search of unicorns


or Santa Claus, 

or the Easter Bunny.....

Yep looking for something mythical that you suspect doesn’t really exist.

In our case a dirt bike suitable for the vertically challenged

No sooner had Grainne passed her test and got a new bike, she fancied another one!

Perhaps I should explain, once she had got into biking, the next ambition was to be able to come out trail riding with me, no problem with that I hear you say, well not in theory but it is when you’re only 5’3”. Dirt bikes are not generally compatible with those of shorter than average stature.

Add into the mix that even at only 160kg, Grainne finds her BMW G310R inordinately heavy and this has already resulted in a couple of “lying down in car parks” moments!

So the other week we set off to Motorcycle Live at the NEC (that’s the trendy name for we all still call “the bike show”) unfortunately this involved another horizontal moment when the Beemer stalled leaving a (much needed) coffee & breakfast stop (it was fooking cold that day), as soon as it starts to topple, Grainne simply doesn’t have the strength to hold it. No doubt it will become easier with more experience but a potential problem for leaving tarmac where balance is more of an issue and the potential for landing on your ear, that much higher.

So we proceeded to hit every bike manufacturers stand to try anything that looked remotely like a dirt bike. Unfortunately this just seemed to result in numerous instances of Grainne sitting on bikes with her toes dangling at least six inches off the floor!!!

I had envisaged that the KTM Freeride would fit the bill, a hybrid between a trials bike and an enduro bike. But sadly not as the seat height of 915 mm proved far too tall and the feet dangling in mid-air scenario was repeated.

There were a couple of potentials by the end of the day, A Honda MSX125 (known in other markets as the Honda Grom) not a dirt bike but built the style of one and inspired by the old Honda Monkey Bike and critically knobbly tyres are available for its 12” wheels. Importantly it’s light (101 kg) and low (765mm seat height) but still possessed of decent ground clearance (especially if you get the older model with a high level exhaust) you can also pick up these older models for under £2K, so with a littler bit of modification, maybe?

Another candidate was the Herald Scrambler, these are Chinese made bikes imported into the UK and rebuilt by Herald to UK specs and hopefully the levels of reliability we expect these days but rarely see from China. A Street Scrambler rather than a proper dirt bike, it did meet the low seat height and relatively low weight criteria (although actual figures were unavailable) and was shod with some knobbly(ish)  tyres and is less than £3K new. The down side was a very low exhaust that would be unlikely to last long off road and did I mention they’re made in China?

The further downside we discovered is they have yet to be introduced into the UK market so not actually available at this point in time.

One positive note was that after the excruciatingly cold ride up to Birmingham where Grainne was seriously in envy of my Keiss heated jacket and heated grips, we scored a good deal on a jacket for her and some heated inner gloves. This of course saw me in the bike park after the show (thankfully indoors and well lit) attaching the jacket connector to the battery of Grainne's BMW before we could ride home, both of us now comfortable rather than hypothermic! 

Meanwhile the search for unicorns continues…..

PS: Of course Santa Claus exists, although the jury is still out on the Easter Bunny!

Thursday 30 November 2017

Grainne gets in on the act

Whilst I was languishing in self-pity due to my inability to ride a bike the other month, another member of the Nomad Racing family was going the opposite way.

Grainne decided to start riding herself last year and we started by looking for a suitable bike for the shorter rider, she only being 5’ 3”. Which we discovered wasn’t exactly easy but eventually decided on a Suzuki RV 125 VanVan, which due to its “beach buggy” style look was ideally suited with a seat height of only 770mm. A 0% finance deal was the icing on the cake.

After signing up for her CBT (Compulsory Basic Training, not Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with a local training school, Rebel Dog Motorcycle Training, all was going quite well with only a couple of “lying down moments” with the schools Yamaha YB125s. However when it came down to further training (all included as part of a package) towards her 2 part bike test, they turned out to be less than cooperative!

As Grainne was working a Monday to Friday job at the time she asked if both her further training and Module 1 (off road) and Module 2 (on road) tests be arranged at the weekend?

Rebel Dog duly arranged for training at the weekend and tests during the week, when Grainne pointed this out to them, they rearranged for tests at the weekend but training during the week. We weren’t very impressed to say the least. When Grainne complained about their error she received a curt email saying they were refunding her money (she hadn’t asked for this) and “wished her luck with her new training provider”. Clearly when training their staff they skipped the customer service module!

So on the basis that she had two years to take her test (the CBT and the Theory Test that she had passed expiring after this time) we decided she could get some experience under her belt before tackling the tests.

And I was very proud of her when on one of our first ride outs together she inquired…. “can I go green laning on a VanVan?” I like that sort of enthusiasm!

On the subject of motorbike training I have to say after my many years of riding bikes, I’m often unimpressed with modern training schools, the bikes are often well bashed (understandable but failure to rectify this on a regular basis doesn’t present a very professional image), hi-viz jackets and loan equipment often looks grubby and quite often their facilities aren’t exactly confidence inspiring. Rebel Dog were no different in this respect, operating out of a shabby porta cabin in an industrial estate car park.

However all was going well and her confidence and riding were improving nicely when she broke her shoulder in non bike related incident….

This set Grainne back a few months but this summer she got back in the saddle and started  riding the VanVan again and I'm pleased to say,  despite her claims to “have forgotten everything” she clearly hadn’t!

I then happened to spot a good deal from BMW. Having just brought out their new G310R, a perfect next bike after the test they were also offering a package for the new rider. Their “Rookie to Rider” scheme is based around a 2 year PCP of a G310R but in addition and for no extra charge they throw in a 7 day training course including CBT and both test modules at the BMW Rider School (worth £1800) and £1100 worth of BMW riding kit… what was not to like?

The deal was done, a shopping trip to the clothing department of BMW Wollaston Motorrad in Northampton duly undertaken and the training course booked, although the earliest slot was not until late September. We also got to see her bike that had already arrived in the showroom. It was wearing a 17 number plate but upon finding out it couldn’t be collected until after the training course, they re-registered it on a correct 67 plate.

The date eventually arrived and having booked a week off work, Grainne decamped to my sister Gina’s house for the week as she only lives 10 minutes away from the Rider School that is based just north of Royston on the Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border.

Grainne fully expected to be training on a G310R which would enable her to get an A2 licence (bikes up to 47 bhp) but although they had just taken delivery of them at the school,  they stuck her on a BMW F700GS!

Thankfully it was the lowered suspension model with the low seat option but still quite a beast for someone of Grainne’s height. A week of training followed including a refresh of her CBT on a 125 and then training at the rider school and many miles around the Cambridgeshire roads. Her training was very professional and even included a trip to the test centre near Cambridge to practice the Module 1 test in the exact place she was taking it rather than the normal car park in an industrial estate. 

Thursday dawned and full of trepidation she headed off for her first test, of course she needn’t have worried and passed easily! First hurdle surmounted!

The next day it was back to take the Module 2, on-road test and once again she passed! And as she had done both on the 700, she has a full A class licence with no restrictions! To say I'm really proud of her would be a huge understatement!

That evening, the ceremonial removal of the L plates was followed by a ride round the local lanes on the VanVan whilst I followed on my Honda CB500X, this was also my first foray onto two wheels following my knee injury.

Then on the Saturday morning we headed off to Wollaston BMW, two up  on my Honda to collect her new bike. Cue one happy biker and a fun ride home on the back roads to Milton Keynes.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Back in the Saddle Part 2

All started well, I was impressed that the road book mileage was absolutely spot on with what my ICO trip meter was showing, not bad considering the road book is created with Rally Navigator Pro software, using Google Maps in satellite view. There were only a couple of changes to make as I progressed, such as adding a prominent junction that riders go straight through so not originally marked (the rule being, if it’s not on the road book, go straight on) but I decided it would make a good check for riders due to being very distinctive, in other words you couldn’t really be anywhere else, so a good point to check and correct your mileage.. Or the point where a broad gravel track becomes a narrow dirt single track was not quite where I had judged it to be from the satellite view. 

I was taking things very easy as I was out of practice and definitely not bike fit (or any sort of fit to be honest), unfortunately this turned out to be an error.

Whilst riding up over the byways on Totternhoe Knolls near Dunstable Downs, I had to ride through a small depression and took it slowly; unfortunately as the front wheel hit the other side the bike didn’t have enough momentum and stopped dead. I on the other hand still had plenty of momentum and promptly head butted the road book holder! This resulted in the mother of all nosebleeds and a line of small cuts across the bridge of my nose, caused I suspect by the lens in my goggles being pushed out of the frame and the relatively sharp edge being pushed into my face… not funny!

In fact when I later examined my goggles, the lens now has a dent the shape of my road book holder permanently embossed into its surface!!! 

Not too long after this the route took me past the National Trust centre on Dunstable Downs, I took the opportunity to stop and have a wash, although I did get a few funny looks on the way in with my blood splattered face!

Most of the rest of the day went without incident, the road book requiring only a few corrections and I stopped on one lane for a few photos just as the bike ran onto reserve.

After the stop I set off again and completely forgot about my need for fuel… I bet you can guess what happened next.

I reached the Shell Petrol Station near Redbourne, marked on the road book of course... and rode straight past! After riding through Redbourne, I stopped at some temporary traffic lights and the bike died completely. I at once realised what I’d done and first tried a trick that has worked in the past. I laid the bike down on the ground on its left hand side as a bit of fuel usually ends up getting trapped in the right hand side of the tank but to no avail, although it did get some funny looks from a couple of passers-by. 

So there was only one thing for it, a long push back to the petrol station. I considered unbolting the fuel tank and carrying it to the petrol station but figured that’d be easy when it’s empty, we’ll not that easy really as it’s a very awkward shape and certainly not easy with fuel in it, even if I were to only part fill it. So a long hot slog pushing along the B487 was the order of the day

When I’d left in the morning it was grey and quite cold and looking like it might rain, so I had dressed appropriately, of course now the sun was out and temperature nudging into the twenties and of course it was almost all uphill to the station!!! And it goes without saying that going for a walk in Moto Cross boots and knee braces is not the most comfortable experience either.

I eventually got there having pushed for nearly a mile now sweating profusely and after I filled the bike with petrol, I downed a litre of water and half a litre of coke before I got back on my way.

After this there was only a relatively short stretch of the road book left with two more green roads to ride until I reached a suitable point to head back home and by now I was starting to loose daylight. So 100 km checked out of the total of 170 km, so I had an excuse to go out and play the next weekend!

Thursday 19 October 2017

Back in the Saddle Part 1

So after seventy seven days off the rally bike since my accident, I finally got back in the saddle this Sunday, although my plan for a nice gentle bimble round the Hertfordshire Road Book route I have planned, to check the final details didn’t quite go to plan!

Firstly there was the bike; it literally hadn’t been touched since the accident so first job was to sort it out. The front wheel bearings needed replacing but a quick check showed me the tyre on my spare front wheel was in slightly better condition than the one on the bike, so I simply bolted that in so I can replace the bearings at my leisure.

I was thinking of a full service but the oil didn’t look bad and the tappets don’t sound too noisy, so I decided that could wait too. I did clean and re-oil the air filter as that was definitely past its best! I did the ritual looking at the back tyre, thought about reversing it as the front edge of the blocks were well rounded off but decided it still had a least another days riding left in it. Although to be truthful I just couldn’t be bothered. I did consider using my spare wheel in the same way as the front but this would require changing the sprocket from one wheel to the other and that just seemed like too much work (and is one of those jobs that always seems to leave me with skinned knuckles)!

I fitted my road book; ICO trip meter etc. that I usually leave off for trail riding and that all worked fine. This was good news as its not been used since the “Cotswold Caper” road book event in June.

The other small job was to sort out the tear in the fairly new seat (that also occurred on the Cotswold Caper), this was done by cutting some vinyl from the cover on my old seat, luckily a decent amount was left at the ends despite the cover and foam being comprehensively wrecked in the middle (the reason for the new seat). I then inserted a square inside the cover and glued it to the inside. I then glued another square to the outside, so in effect the two pieces sandwich the torn area. I used some “Loctite 60 second glue” which is like superglue (but a gel rather than a liquid), works on multiple materials and more importantly for a seat cover remains flexible, it has worked really well and saves me the cost and effort of buying and fitting a new cover.  And it lasted the ride on Sunday… job done!

That’s when things started to go wrong, despite having started the bike up the other day, when it started first kick (the battery needed a bit of charge so the electric start wasn’t an option), it resolutely refused to start. An attempt to jump start it off an old Land Rover battery I keep in the garage for just such occasions just demonstrated that despite having been on a trickle charger, it was completely flat! So that’s heading to the tip but then I guess it is about 10 years old.

So I took the bike of its workshop stand and wheeled it out onto the drive only to find it leant over way too far and was in danger of toppling off the side stand. This being the culprit as the part of the aluminium stand that rests against the stop on the bracket has become damaged…. Another thing to fix!

I eventually got the bike to start by leaning it against my neighbour’s wall to kick start it and set off on the 40 minute ride to where I could join the road book route, plenty to charge the battery up I hoped.

To be continued

Friday 13 October 2017

Back on two wheels

So the knee continues to improve slowly with physio and I went back to see the consultant yesterday and it looks like there’s no operation needed.

In the meantime I’ve missed the Tour of Mann rally on the Isle of Man for third year running! In 2015 my bike was still in bits after a thread stripped on the crankcases and it took longer to sort out than anticipated. Then last year I was in New Zealand (so no need to feel sorry for me)! And now this year the knee injury, oh well maybe next year!

I have at least managed to get back on two wheels, albeit just on the road at the moment and at the weekend I even managed to check over the rally bike. After the accident I washed most of my kit but the bike just got a spray of lube on the chain to stop it rusting and was then chucked in the garage…

Luckily it wasn’t very muddy so is in not too bad a condition, although the front wheel bearings are completely toast! The tyres are very worn on the edges of the blocks but the simple expedient of turning them round will get a few more miles out of them and to be honest re-lubing the mousses is most probably long overdue so I have to take the tyres of anyway. Unfortunately I do tend to use my knees rather a lot when changing tyres so not something I’m looking forward to. A decent wash, a check of the valve clearances, an oil and filter change and a clean air filter should be all it needs as I really need to get out and recce my road book route for the Rallymoto “Hertfordshire Caper” in November.

A visit to Martin Wittering at Torque Racing last week also set the wheels in motion for another road book event hosted at Torque, this time I’ve planned a 170km route along the Cambridge/Essex/Hertfordshire borders, which should be fun!

I have previously mentioned the monster route I had planned taking in all the green roads in Hertfordshire (well at least all the ones worth doing) this is currently standing at 490 kilometres (304 miles) and an estimated 16 hours of riding. 

You won’t be surprised to learn I have also converted it to a road book. In a discussion with Burt from Rallymoto he had suggested doing this as an overnight ride, Martin took this one stage further and suggested doing it over two days with a “bivouac” in between at Torque Racing. 

Hang on I hear you cry “Torque Racing isn’t in Hertfordshire”! 

True, but it’s only just over the border into Cambridge. In fact the route is only 6 kilometres from Torque and 4 of those are along a byway (the Icknield Way). As an added bonus this point is at 230 kilometres (142 miles) into the route, so almost at the half way point….. 

I see a plan forming here!

Friday 8 September 2017

I'm bored now!

Needless to say, rally action has been curtailed for the moment; my knee injury was confirmed by the MRI scan as a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) that has partially separated from the Tibia as well as severe bruising to the Femur and Tibia. As I write I’m awaiting physiotherapy which whilst it can’t reattach the ACL, will strengthen what remains. In October I’m going back to the Orthopaedic and Trauma Clinic for an assessment where they may decide to operate to reattach the ligament properly. So at present I just have to wait.... and yes it's boring!

So my rally related exploits have been restricted to planning, firstly a road book training day in November in Hertfordshire for Rallymoto, running from the KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead. I have created a 170 km route, mapped it online and created a road book via Rally Navigator Pro. Now I’m just hoping I’ll be fit in time to do final checking on the bike before November.

My second project is a GPS route covering every green road that is a through route in Hertfordshire, of which there are 110 separate routes. 

This came about last year when a fellow TRF member Mark Harvey, came up with the idea of a moped marathon around all the green roads in Hertfordshire to raise some money for Marie Curie Cancer Care and asked for help. 

I obliged and plotted a route including every green road including all the dead ends. In July I then came up with the idea of trying the route (but omitting the dead ends) on our normal trail/enduro bikes, just to see what a mammoth task it was likely to be.

A route was duly plotted and I then I injured my knee, which put me out of contention to actually ride the route. However a post on the Hertfordshire TRF Facebook Group got over twenty riders interested in riding it. A GPX file of the route was duly created and a small recce group came together to trial the 480km route!!! 

Two friends Andrew Dalton and Andrew Prendergast attempted the ride on the August Bank Holiday weekend. Starting at the Valiant Trooper pub in Aldbury, near Tring (where the TRF was originally formed in 1970) they set a fast pace and managed to get approximately half way round in six hours when on a byway near Bishops Stortford, Mr Dalton parked his Husqvarna 701 upside down in a ditch!!!

A broken collarbone was the result…. But thankfully the bike was OK!

So the route remains to be ridden in full but will obviously take at least 12 hours to complete, so I’m now hoping I’ll be fit enough to attempt it myself before the lack of daylight and two seasonal traffic regulation orders mean the route in full can’t be ridden until the Spring…. Fingers crossed!

Sunday 6 August 2017

Oh bugger!

Sunday was spent surveying some more green roads in the Peak District National Park on behalf of the TRF (Trail Riders Fellowship) unfortunately all did not end well.
Upon reaching the end of the fourth green road of the day, it turned to rough tarmac, that due to an adjacent farm entrance was covered in mud and descended steeply to T junction, just as I was approaching the junction, a car swung round into the road at speed, unable to make the very tight turn he swung right across onto my side of the road....

and stopped!

With the car completely blocking the narrow lane, I had two choices:
a) Run into the front of the car
b) Attempt to stop

Naturally I chose the latter but given that it was on a steep slope on broken tarmac covered in mud, not surprisingly the front tyre gave up the grip and down I went! Luckily I was only travelling at about 10mph but it still hurt as I went down hard on my right hip, even more lucky I stopped sliding before I hit the car!

The driver it turned out was trying to follow his sat nav to Buxton, so quite why he thought a narrow lane clearly marked as a No Through Road would take him there I don't know. Of course as is common with green roads it's not a no through road at all but I don't think he'd have got his old Rover 75 up here:
Clough Head
He did do the decent thing and helped pick me up but we decided it wasn't worth swapping details etc as there was no damage to the bike and I'm sure if I did put in a claim his insurance company would say I fell off for braking too hard! Maybe option A) would have been better financially?
At the time it seemed I just had a bit of a bruise on my hip anyway but unfortunately it turned out to be a bit more!
On arriving back at the van and taking my knee braces off, my right knee was rather sore, I think the brace was supporting it and masking the fact.
On stopping at the services on the way home it was clear all was not right and walking was a bit difficult.
Once I got home and finished cleaning up and putting the bike away it was clear all was not right and the knee was swelling and seizing up...
Cue a trip to the Urgent Care Centre at MK Hospital who told me to go straight over to A&E 
At least it was a relatively quick experience arrived at 22:15, triaged, examined, x-rayed, seen again, got a second opinion from an orthopaedic registrar and was home at 00:30!
Diagnosis was that there's no fracture just soft tissue injury but by now the knee had swollen up nicely, I was on crutches and a trip to fracture clinic was booked for Thursday to be doubly sure! 
The hip has bruised up very nicely....

And Fracture clinic have referred me for an MRI scan to find out what exactly i've done (but confirmed there's no fracture) and kitted me out with a very natty knee brace for the time being...

The worse part of it all was I couldn't make the Keilder Rally this weekend and lost my entry fee as a result and it doesn't look like I'm going to be back on the bike very soon!

Saturday 29 July 2017

The Infamous Five?

Then there were five….

As it turned out the “hilly route” out of Bridestowe was pretty much one big hill, at the top of which we switched back to a railway path although this was on the same line as yesterday the two sections do not connect. This was pleasantly level and led to some more roadwork through the village of Lydford.

Before we reached the village we were given some good advice by a local cyclist, firstly to keep out in the centre of the road on the next steep descent into Lydford Gorge to avoid some potholes near the kerb and secondly to ignore the signposted route (The Devon C2C follows National Cycle Network 27) and follow the road all the way to Tavistock avoiding some bad hills near Mary Tavy. 

We followed his first advice, which was spot on but on the second point we took a variation, as we didn’t want to go into the centre of Tavistock. We ignored a turn left on NCN27 as instructed and then shortly after a very steep climb round Brent Torr (but at least it was only one) instead of continuing straight on into Tavistock, we took another left onto NCN 327, a route that descends a minor country lane to join NCN 27 just outside the town. This gave us the option to cut straight through the town at high level on the old viaduct avoiding a climb out on the far side. 

Yes this is the view from the viaduct right in the middle of Tavistock

And this only a few hundred metres along the track

The route then got a bit convoluted diving around industrial areas, retail parks and housing estates before re-joining a railway path on the far side of town. After a short detour off the route for food, we joined the path and what a path it turned out to be!

The tunnels were cold, wet and very dark!

The Viaducts were incredible

 A series of tunnels and viaducts took us on a nice level route as far as Yelverton where we were forced to climb again to detour round the town, after crossing the main A386 we joined a pleasant and fairly level track that led through woodland then out onto open moorland. This was followed by a steep descent into the village of Clearbrook. 

Our disappointment at losing a lot of height so quickly was soon tempered by the realisation that the route continued downhill from here, and indeed as we discovered was now downhill all the way to Plymouth. A gradually descending railway path took us over more spectacular viaducts and through another amazingly long and dark tunnel , eventually descending through Plympton Wood to the outskirts of Plymouth.

Route finding got a little tricky now but we eventually picked up the correct one alongside the River Plym as far as the Laira Bridge where we crossed into Plymouth itself. The route now followed back streets as far as the Sutton Harbour Marina, where the route crosses over the lock gates… or rather it doesn’t! 

We were greeted with a sign informing us the crossing was closed until further notice, there had been no prior warning or diversion signposted so we had to backtrack a distance and ride on busy city roads with a final sharp climb to Plymouth Hoe, where we rejoined Grainne at the Pub on the Hoe (yes that’s its name).

As far as we could ascertain this was the end of the route as unlike the C2C “up north” the Devon route is not individually signposted, nor does it have specific landmarks to designate the ends and the OS map showed the route as finishing ambiguously somewhere near the far side of the lock gates (that we couldn’t cross)?

Tim and Andrea decided to go off in search of the “dipping the front wheel in the sea” picture but the rest of us decided to stay at the pub! After all we had all cycled down to sea level at the closed lock gates and certainly for me that was close enough! Of course students of Geography will know that Plymouth Hoe is on “The Sound” which is the estuary of the Rivers Tamar and Plymm and the true coast is about three miles further south! But I guess to suggest the Coast 2 Coast doesn’t actually reach the coast is being a little pedantic!

Stay tuned until the next adventure….

Thursday 27 July 2017

Then there were two!

Devon C2C Part 2

Tim and I set off again from our lunch stop in Okehampton to re-join the former railway, only like Ilfracombe this was not situated in the town but at the top of a very steep hill. In fact we later read it’s the worst hill on the entire route…. We certainly agreed with that! And of course the rain continued to pour down!

After gaining the railway track again we followed the valley south at high level, at first climbing gradually which was not a lot of fun but thankfully it didn’t take long to level out. Tim made a comment along the lines of “at least it’s not windy”… of course it was soon after that the wind started to get stronger and blustery which combined with the crossing of some impressive (and high) viaducts made things “fun”. 

Eventually we reached the turn off to Bridestowe and our second overnight stop. A steep descent underneath one of the aforementioned viaducts and down a twisty bridleway to join a minor road and then more descending to the village made a pleasant (if still wet) end to the day. 

Despite the foul weather we agreed that the ride from Okehampton was one of the most enjoyable parts of the route (from the top of the hill that is)!

After a much need shower and change at the excellent Hunters Moon B&B there was a quick drive back to Great Torrington to collect the remaining car. 

We then retired to the White Hart pub in Bridestowe for a great meal.

On the third day the morning dawned dry and warm although a bit overcast, we eschewed the return to the railway line as this would lead us onto another main road, instead we took the alternative “hilly route” on minor roads directly from Bridestowe. After the first couple of miles, Grainne realised she was still not feeling very well and would struggle to complete the day, so decided to turn back and return to the van before she had gone too far.

And then there were five.....

Thursday 20 July 2017

Six go mad in Devon

After the fun and games on the Cotswolds Caper Road Book day, thoughts turned to pedal powered two wheel tomfoolery.

The target this year, the Devon Coast to Coast from Ilfracombe to Plymouth is shorter and with smaller hills than last year’s classic C2C route from Whitehaven to Sunderland but with 100 miles to cover in three days, still a challenge. This year as well as our friends Tim and Andrea who we rode the C2C with, we were joined by Glenn and Wendy (all of us veterans of the 2015 Via Ferrata trip to the Dolomites).

Now you could consider this as training for rallying but seeing as I did no training for the ride apart from one thirty minute cycle from MK Hospital to home the other week, I’m not exactly sure of the training benefit as I found it bloody hard work!

Day one from Ilfracombe started with a very sharp pull from the quayside after the ritual “dipping your back wheel in the sea” photo alongside the strange Damien Hirst statue "Verity". Then it was up through the town to the former site of Ilfracombe railway station… 

Yes the hill was too steep for trains back in the day! The day started with some light drizzle but improved to a nice sunny day as the time went on.

What followed was a pleasant enough but steadily climbing former railway route for a few miles, this eventually levelled out and then switched to minor roads, which turned out to be surprisingly hilly with short, sharp climbs but eventually followed by a welcome downhill into Braughton where a coffee stop was in order! 

After this we had 20 miles of flat railway path first along both sides of the Taw Estuary (to cross a bridge at Barnstaple and then reverse the route into an unwelcome headwind) then after a smashing lunch at Framlington Quay we turned into the estuary of the River Torridge then up the river past Bideford and to our overnight stop at GreatTorrington. Where we were faced with a very steep mile uphill into the village! An evening of car shuttling ensued (thanks for the lift Pete)!

Day two dawned grey and wet and that’s the way it stayed! Grainne and Wendy decided to opt out; I didn’t blame them especially as Grainne was still suffering the after effects of a recent chest infection. They spent the day shuffling one of the cars and our van around and later meeting us for lunch.

After the very welcome downhill to re-join the route, more railway path ensued, however near the village of Petrockstowe we again joined minor roads, the railway continues but results in a dangerous section on main roads, the detour took us on a similar route to yesterday with short sharp hills (and some not so short) and corresponding descents and all the while it poured! 

The early part of the route went surprisingly quickly so that we arrived at the pre-planned lunch stop at Hatherleigh too early and had to keep pushing on (although some of us did avail ourselves of the chip shop for a quick “refuel”).

We eventually joined up again at Okehampton for a welcome lunch and a chance to dry out a little. After this Glenn and Andrea decided they’d had enough rain for one day and jumped in the van (good job we have space for up to six people and six bikes)!

To be continued….