Tuesday 29 January 2019

World Domination... maybe next month?

So the day finally arrived for my fiendish plot of world domination and after a stupidly early 04:30 wake up I was on the road to Ludlow by 05:15. After arriving at the race HQ at the Squirrel Pub around 07:30, I signed on, then unloaded the bike and headed for scrutineering, only to find that unlike every other form of bike event I have ever entered, classic trials is different and you are supposed to go to scrutineering first, get a card signed and only then can you sign on! But hang on a second, I’d already signed on? It seems the early hour was affecting everyone! I managed to meet up with the other guys from the Herts TRF, Dave, Russ, Gary and Wayne. Wayne was particularly pleased as he was starting one minute behind me and aiming to follow, as by his own admission, navigation wasn’t his thing!

I ended up in a queue behind a load of cars that were taking forever to check, so had a quick word with the scrutineer and was allowed to jump the queue as my start time was fast approaching. The scrutineering itself was a bit strange as they never even touched the bike? It seemed to consist mainly of a checklist that judging by the number of “N/As” was designed for the cars. Anyway suitably completed I was able to now go and hand in my scrutineering card and sign on, only to cause more confusion as of course I’d already done that. This had all served to make me late, not helped after getting changed to find I had misplaced the van keys. I eventually found them and got to the start two minutes late, not that it made much difference other than there was no sign of Wayne. It later transpired he had decided to follow Russ.

So I got on with the business of getting to the first section, a 15 mile ride up the A49 in the mist and rain…. Great fun! Eventually arriving at the section near Church Stretton; Castle Hill, most of the other bikes seemed to be there waiting but no sign of the other Hertfordshire guys? 

We were queued up at the bottom of a muddy bridleway and I took the time to lower my tyre pressures having pumped them up for the initial road ride. Setting them at 10psi I still managed to spin my back wheel just moving up the queue, so one of the old hands advised me to drop them to 6 psi!!! I was to discover this makes very little difference and trials tyres simply don’t like mud.

You are not allowed to inspect the section so have to ride it blind, all I could see was a gently climbing, narrow track heading up round a bend, so rolled up to the line where I was told that as I was in class B2 I had to keep right when I got to the tree marked with red and white tape, sounds easy enough; if only I had known!

Flagged away, I headed up the relatively easy track and soon got to the tree, only to find the “keep right” actually meant, “leave the track, turn sharp right up a short, steep and very greasy bank around the aforementioned tree” of course I left it too late to get into position, had to turn straight up the slope and immediately lost all grip and came to a halt. I backed down to the main track and rode easily to the top of the section.

I should explain the scoring, in normal trials the aim is to get a “clean” i.e. zero penalty points, these are scored as follows: put one foot down (a “dab”) and you get one point, two dabs and it’s two points, three or more dabs and that’s three points so once you get to three, you can paddle away to your hearts content as you can’t get more than three. As long as you don’t stop at the same time or fall off as that scores the maximum five penalty points. Traditionally just stopping or going backwards was an automatic five but these days as long as you keep your feet up, you can stand still, bounce backwards and perform any manner of athletic maneuvers! I say “you” because I’m clearly incapable of any of this myself!

I was mistakenly believing this was the same in classic trials, so had just scored a maximum five but later in the day I learnt that Classic Trials are quite different. Each section is divided into twelve sectors, starting at twelve and going to zero at the top, these are marked on posts at the side of the section. The idea is that you have to ride feet up all the way to the top to score zero. If you put a foot down, stop, fall off or have to lean against a tree of any other part of the section, you score whatever is on the last number post you managed to pass. It doesn’t matter if you stop, fall off or just dab, once you do, that’s your score at that point. Although on that first stage the instructions said a fail automatically gets you a six but as that’s out of twelve, I guess it’s actually better than getting five out of five!

Until I realised this was how it worked, I was struggling to make it to the top of the sections but once I did, I also realised I could just leave the section or back down as soon as I scored my penalty; it certainly saved a lot of wasted effort.

Once I got to the top I continued up over the Long Mynd, which was cold, misty and with surprisingly large snow drifts all around to get to the next section, which was the “observed test” at Ratlinghope, a timed section designed as a tie breaker. A short rocky climb, with a stop half way up. You sit astride the start line and then when the flag drops you ride as fast as you can to the second line and stop astride it and place a foot on the floor, a marshal holds a flag in front of you, and then when he drops it you set off again and stop astride the finish line. I managed 18.1 seconds in total which turned out to be fortuitous as we shall see later.

The next section “Gatten’s Gamble” was a simple rocky hill climb that I was able to ride up “clean” with no penalty points; although so did nearly all the other bike competitors, so not that hard then!

On the way to the next section I met up with the other Hertfordshire riders and we stayed together for the next few sections that all followed the same pattern apart from one tricky one, Priors Holt 4 that included a stop and restart half way up. I stopped and immediately slid backwards as there was absolutely no grip, so that was a fail and seven points scored. This was the fate of most competitors although amongst our group, Dave managed to get up with only a two scored! I was able to clean the next two sections but thereafter I picked up penalties on all the remaining sections, the best results being a couple of fives, the worst a couple of tens.

There was also a lot of boring road work, with one nine mile stretch between sections that was particularly tedious as it was cold, wet and on trials tyres at 6 psi, restricted to around 40 mph. The final two sections were eventually completed and then another 15 mile road stretch back to Ludlow, by now it was freezing cold!

Arriving back, I signed in at the pub, got changed into clean, warm gear and washed the bike at the convenient jet wash at the garage next door, loaded it in the van and then retreated back to the pub for some food before heading back home, arriving at 7.00 that evening, so not too bad a day.

So did I achieve world domination? Well I guess not but despite the conditions, it was good fun and I was able to keep my myasthenia pretty much under control all day which was good news.

A few days later the results were out and at first I seemed to be 7th in class one place behind Dave in 6th but in front of Russ in 8th and Gary in 9th, Wayne having decided to retire at section seven and just rode round with the others after that.

However in the overall results, I was put ahead of Dave in 12th place, he being 13th, Russ 14th And Gary 15th… surely some mistake?

It transpired Dave and I both scored 60 penalty points but my 18.1 seconds on the Observed test beat Dave’s time of 22.6 seconds so there was clearly an error.

I also noticed a competitor ahead of all of us had entered the wrong class and should have been in Class B1, not B2 with us as he was on a smaller capacity bike. I queried this with the Clerk of the Course as it would we would mean we all move up one place in class. It was confirmed this was correct so the final result was:

Observed test
In Class

So I may not be dominating the world of classic trials just yet but I am maintaining a minor lead in the unofficial “Hertfordshire TRF Classic Trials Challenge”. The next round is the Launceston Trial in Cornwall on the 10th February, all four of us have all entered….  the challenge is on!

Tuesday 8 January 2019

World Domination; Not as easy as you'd think!

You’d think it would be easy wouldn’t you? I mean World Domination can’t be that hard? Especially as I’m limiting myself to the world of Classic Trials. I did decide that traditional Bond Villain style, total World Domination involving stolen nuclear submarines, laser firing satellites or deadly killer viruses might actually be quite tricky to pull off, so I decided to be selective….

So I get my entry in for the Clee Hill Trial on 20th January, acknowledgement email received and my name appeared on the entry list online, all well and good! Still only eight of us in my class, so that’s only seven people to beat (or at the very least I’m assured of eighth place if I manage to wobble all the way round) and as it seems I have been appointed official guide for the five other Hertfordshire TRF members who have entered, on the basis I actually know how to read a road book! I’m sure if necessary I could lose them somewhere in the wilds of Shropshire!

Then the bombshell, It seems my tyres are not allowed!

Some background is required; when KTM designed the Freeride, which is after all an Enduro/Trial Bike hybrid, they worked in conjunction with Maxxis tyres to produce a tyre specifically for the bike, the Trialmaxx. Now to me I just assumed this was a trials tyre, they certainly look like trials tyres and as I haven’t owned a bike with trials tyres since 1989, why would I think any different?

Back then It was a Yamaha XT250 I owned that was shod with Taiwanese made Cheng Shin Trials Tyres, which despite the dodgy reputation of Chinese tyres back then (has that changed?) were actually really good tyres for trail riding and of course dirt cheap. And the funniest thing is Cheng Shin Tyres (CST) are still producing tyres today in Taiwan under the brand name of…..

Yes you guessed it…. Maxxis!

Anyway it turns out the Maxxis Trialmaxx is not “just a trials tyre” and in fact is also an enduro/trials hybrid. Mainly down to the fact that the tread blocks are spaced further apart than a “proper trials tyre” the specifications for which are laid down in the ACU regulations and this gives it a performance advantage, especially when muddy. IThe Maxxis has more prominent side blocks, that would offer better grip in mud. I had sniffed out a rumour that whilst this was a potential problem, everyone seemed to think it would be OK and most events allowed them to be used.

And then on the 3rd January I spot that the new Motorcycle Coordinator for the Association of Classic Trials Clubs  (ACTC) has clarified the regulations and absolutely, definitely declared the Trialmaxx as non-compliant. 

The advice being that anyone who presents with these tyres (or other non compliant tyre like an enduro or motocross tyre) at scrutineering (machine safety check) should be moved into “Class X” which basically means you are allowed to ride the event but don’t get scored and therefore don’t appear in the results… not exactly in line with the World domination plan.

It seems that the weapon of choice for classic trials or LDTs is the Pirelli MT43, itself not a traditional trials tyre, which to be honest are far too soft for long distance events involving lots of road work, the Pirelli has a harder rubber compound but importantly the block spacing and tread depth all still comply with the ACU regulations.

But before admitting defeat and shelling out for new tyres, I contacted the Clerk of the Course for the Clee Hill Trial to clarify things, as the supplementary regulations seemed to imply some differences from ACTC regulations. It turns out I could turn up with the Trialmaxx’s and as a beginner I would most probably be allowed to ride but if my fellow competitors objected I would be moved into Class X. Not very satisfactory to turn up on the day before knowing my fate, so I decided to bite the bullet and change tyres.

I had also read that you only need a rear trials tyre so I asked this question too? The result is I have been allowed to stick with the front Trialmaxx as a compromise if I fit a “proper” trials tyre on the rear, so that has a least saved me £42, the cost of a front MT43.

So a Pirelli MT43 has been duly ordered; watch this space, World Domination is back on track....

So how is the Myasthenia coping with all this stress? Funnily enough apart from the ever present fatigue, which in itself has improved since my angioplasty, other symptoms seem to be pretty much under control at present. I just wish the same could be said for the side effects I get from the drugs... no fun at all!