Tuesday 15 October 2019

Here we go again...

Having put my plans for world domination in Long Distance Trials on hold after my less than successful outing to the March Hare Trial, I decided it was time to resurrect my campaign….

My target this time was one of the big three of the classic trials world; the Motor Cycling Club’s Edinburgh Trial.

But no I was not off to Scotland.

To explain, the MCC as it is known is possibly the oldest motorsports club in the UK having been formed in 1901. A fact that is seen in the name, not “motorcycling” as we would say now but two separate words “Motor Cycling” as back then nobody was sure what exactly to call this new-fangled sport involving motorized bicycles.

Soon after, in 1904 the MCC came up with the idea of the London to Edinburgh Trial. This was what was then known as a "Reliability Trial" as motor vehicles of the day had dubious reliability at best, so just finishing was a considerable achievement. The aim was to ride from London to Edinburgh in under 24 hours, which doesn’t sound too onerous in today's world as that would take about seven and a half hours non-stop.

But in those days we were talking about motor cycles with only a couple of horsepower, belt drives, often no clutches or even gearboxes, manual oiling systems and acetylene lamps for lighting, so even on the main roads, which of course were largely still free of tarmac, not to mention the very basic riding gear available, it was a supreme challenge!

The trial also includes sidecar outfits, three wheelers and two wheel drive cars (4x4s being banned from the event) and these have become the majority of entrants these days, this year the 225 entrants comprised:

94 solo motorcycles, 2 sidecar outfits, 128 cars and 1 three-wheeler

As roads and machinery started to improve, the club sought out steep, rough and loosely surfaced hills to add to the challenge and in time these became “observed sections” where the aim was not just to get up them but to do so without putting a foot down or stopping or indeed falling off! 

This is the format that still applies today.

In the 1960’s falling entries forced a change and “The Edinburgh” was combined with the club’s Derbyshire Trial but the name was retained and has remained that way to the present day.

It now forms one of the MCCs "Triple" the Edinburgh and the Exeter Trial and the Lands End Trial. The latter two follow the same format but as the name actually suggests both take place in the South West.

The Edinburgh starts in Staffordshire at Tamworth Services on the M42, the first competitor leaves at one minute past midnight and takes a route to the Peak District on generally nothing larger than a single carriageway A roads. After a checkpoint at Carsington Water, the first observed section is reached (in the dark of course as the first competitor gets there shortly after 02:00 am).

The event continues through the night using a variety of sections, some on private land and some on public rights of way (with permission of course). At around 05:15 competitors start arriving at the Duke of York pub at Pomeroy near Buxton for a compulsory 40 minute rest stop and breakfast. Continuing on minor roads and more observed sections around Buxton to another 20 minute compulsory rest stop at the village of Hollinsclough just after 09:30. The trial eventual finishes at around 1:00pm back at the Duke of York.

Yes that’s potentially twelve hours of riding!

In reality competitors can make up time on the road as there are no penalties for early arrival at checkpoints and the average speed is never more than 30mph and on some roads as low as 15mph so when on A road sections you can obviously go a bit quicker, weather and vehicle lighting notwithstanding and bank some time, this can be vital as it’s also possible to end up queuing at observed sections if conditions are bad.

So that was the plan but first the preparation…

First consideration was what bike to use?

On previous classic trials events I had borrowed Grainne’s KTM Freeride 250F but wasn’t so sure this time round. The bike is lowered but by sliding the forks back through the yokes and winding up the preload on the rear shock and adding several more clicks to the damping front and rear it fits me pretty well and the lowered height can actually be an advantage. 

However it has a low seat on it and even fitting the original seat doesn’t give much in the way of comfort. And then there is the barely adequate standard headlight and the small matter of fuel range. On gentle trail rides it can do 70 miles before the fuel light comes on but the Edinburgh is not going to be a gentle trail ride and the first fuel stop (at 03:30) is 66.6 miles from the start! Could be interesting!

So what else, well in theory I could use the 1090 Adventure R, it has a 200 mile fuel range, a nice comfy(ish) seat, good lights (and additional driving lights) but…

It’s big, tall, heavy and even in off-road mode has 100 bhp, which is way more than is needed. Also these events are restricted to trials tyres only but they are too narrow to fit the wide rims of the 1090 and bikes like it. So there is a list of alternative tyres but this is an issue as a) I would have to buy them just for this event and b) they’re not brilliant when it comes to grip.

So what about my KTM 450 EXC Rally Bike? 

I had discounted this in the past but it started to make sense. A 13 litre tank gives it a range of around 120 miles, the fairing might be a hindrance in the observed sections but would offer welcome protection if the weather got bad. The bike has nice bright LED headlights. As I have a spare set of wheels for it, swapping my Pirelli MT43 trials tyres to them would be no problem and the rims are narrow enough for them. So that was it then!

The slight problem was that since my diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis the bike has sat in the back of the garage unused since last year. It obviously had no tax or MOT and was in need of some TLC.

First step was a service but that meant getting it running to warm up the oil ready for draining, this was the first hiccup as the battery was completely dead, a couple of days on the trickle charger had no effect whatsoever so a new battery was ordered.

I decided on a lithium battery as these are much lighter and supposedly perform better. And sure enough once it arrived and was fitted the bike turned over easily but wouldn’t start! I soon learnt that one downside of lithium batteries is they won’t crank the starter for long periods of time so soon started to flatten. It turned out that the choke wouldn’t stay out which was why it wouldn’t start either on the electric start or the kick starter. That was easily cured with a clothes peg on the choke to keep in out!

Suitably warmed up, I drained the oil, replaced the oil filters, cleaned the oil screens, added fresh oil, checked the tappets (no adjustment needed), adjusted and oiled the chain, added a clean air filter and did some rewiring to power up the road book holder and ICO trip meter (which were both refitted) and I added a 12v power socket so I could keep my phone charged. 

The Pirelli MT43 trial tyres were removed from Grainnes bike and the original virtually unused Maxxis Trialmaxx tyres refitted but I didn't get a chance to fit them to the 450 before....

The next weekend when it got a shakedown at the TRF Come and Play day, all on private land so the lack of Tax and MOT was no issue and i'm glad to say it all worked fine. Apart from not wanting to start again and needing a jump start from the van. Once it had been ridden a bit it started on the button no problem, so hopefully it wasn't going to be an issue.

After this the trials tyres were then fitted to the 450's spare wheels with new rim locks and inner tubes. and after the bike had a good clean were fitted to the bike.

The next week it went for an MOT and apart from an advisory because half the LEDs in the rear light had died (luckily you are allowed only 50% to be working for a pass). The LED headlights also caused some problems as the test stations Beam setter won't work with the not very defined beam pattern! This should have sent out a warning but more of that later....

Tax was quickly sorted online and the route book for the Edinburgh was downloaded and modified so it only had information for my class (the route splits in places as Class C misses a couple of sections and different classes have different restarts) and just for good measure I increased the size of the font to make it easier to read and after that we were ready to go....

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