Sunday 29 November 2020

You may have been wondering where I've been as I haven't posted since May.

Well OK I doubt you have been wondering but I've been here... At home!

So time for an update and news of something new, see below for that.

Given that my blog is basically about motorcycling, not much has been going on!

After shielding ended at the end of August I continued to work at home and at present apart from a couple of days back in the office I'm still doing that eight months after I first started in March!

Well it isn't actually true that nothing has been going on on the motorcycling front as at Rallymoto we were able to restart events in September with a couple of Adventure Cannonball Road Book events on Salisbury Plain, then the Tour of Wales and Coast 2 Coast Marathon Adventure Cannonballs.

The Salisbury Plain Event was our normal format apart from the fact that due to Covid-Safe requirements we weren't able to hold the start at a café as normal. Instead it was a remote car park and social distancing was required during the hand out of road books, holders etc. with all equipment sanitised and contact minimised. Once out on the trails of course, social distancing came naturally:

This was the principle we were able to adopt for all these events, which proved very successful. Of course this all stopped again when we went into lockdown again and I went back into shielding, although we don't calling it shielding anymore, even if it is just like shielding, confused? I'm not surprised!

So what else have I been up to?

Well this week I decided on a new project...

You may recall I spent 18 months or so surveying green roads in the Peak District National Park for the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF). Whilst doing this I also videoed every single lane and after suitable editing posted these up on my Vimeo account to back up my surveys. At that time they were password protected but recently i've been using them to answer a few questions on Facebook for people who were asking questions like where was a particular lane, or what condition was this lane in?

As a result I made them all publically available but as Vimeo doesn't seem to the most popular video hosting site for this sort of thing I decided to start a channel on Youtube under the title Byway Nomad. 

There's only a few there at present but I have 107 videos of the Peak District to upload over time. I also intend to make a few explanatory videos on things like how they were researched or what the surfacing information actually means and a few other ideas I have. So please check it out and subscribe if you like what you see....

Click here to view the channel: BYWAY NOMAD

And here's a taster, Three Shires Head:

From now on I intend to video all the lanes I ride and slowly build up a record of green roads open to motorcycles across England and Wales.

So watch this space.....

Saturday 23 May 2020

What's in a number?

So whilst under "house arrest" during the covid-19 lockdown, I decided to review my 60 by 60 list (see right).

And if you can't see it, that because you're reading this on the mobile version and it doesn't appear on that, scroll down and select "View Web Version" and all will be clear

And yes I know i've only got 56 on the list at the moment but there's still time.... or is there?

Now the "rules" of this exercise were set by Gina, my sister who had the idea first as 60 things to do before the end of your 60th year on the planet. This sneakily gives you an extra year over if it were only until your 60th Birthday.

So that's until October 2021.

But it would appear that 2020 is going to be a complete write off due to Covid 19.
Funnily enough when I came up with the idea (or rather stole the idea off Gina) in August 2018, I wrote:

"but how to come up with a full sixty (and possibly a few in reserve in case some became impossible to achieve, either through cost, unavailability or zombie apocalypse… it pays to plan for all eventualities)."

OK so Covid 19 is not quite the Zombie Apocalypse I was thinking off but i must have known something.😱

So back to my list, I have already done:

1. Go on the London Eye with Champagne Lounge Reception (November 2018)
7. Enter a Long Distance Trial (the Clee Hill Trial January 2019)
8. Visit the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (November 2018)
25. Learn to SnowBoard (December 2018 to March 2019 at Xscape in Milton Keynes)
26. Participate in the Ride to the Wall to the National Memorial Arboretum (October 2018)
42. Opera in Verona (June 2019, actually twice in one weekend, Aida and Carmen)
45. Go on a Snowboarding holiday (Bormio, Italy March 2019)
46. Have a spa day with Grainne (The Y Spa, September 2018)
49. See Michael McIntyre live at the O2 (October 2018)
50. Drink Rum Cocktails on the Golden Hinde whilst dressed as a pirate (November 2018)
52. Visit the Sacre-Coeur in Paris (November 2018)
53. Ride along in a Piste Groomer at a ski resort (Bormio March 2019)

Yes a paltry 12 off the list.

I was due to do Nos 18 and hopefully 19 and 20 in September:

18. Visit the Isle of Man
19. Ride the TT Course (doesn't have to be in TT week)
20. Climb the highest peak on the IoM, Snaefell

This would have been whilst working on the Rallymoto Isle of Man 500 but that has now been cancelled due to the pandemic, so still just about time if it's on in 2021.

We had already booked our hot air balloon flight (No. 2) but this had to be cancelled due to bad weather. The good news is certificates have been extended for another 18 months as a result of Covid 19, so we still have plenty of time for that. No flights before July at the moment but who really knows?

This and no less than 34 others are currently impossible due to my having to isolate, social distancing rules, the ban on non essential travel that's still in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the restrictions that still apply in England, because events have been cancelled, venues are closed or borders cannot be crossed.

OK some are still in the planning stage but still no idea when they will be possible.

You'll see that includes competing in the Motor Cycling Club's  (MCC) Edinburgh Rally. You may also recall my failed attempt to start in October last year but it is hoped that the trial will go ahead this year on its normal October date so here's hoping for a second try! Entries are due to open in July so hopefully we'll know more by then.

I have also decided to add the MCC's Lands End Trial (normally at Easter) and the Exeter Trial (January) as No's 55 and 56 to my list which will also mean completing the MCC "Triple" if I do them all in the same year (So is that another for the list?) as they are all events i've wanted to have a go at.

So what's left? Well the list currently stands at 56, but....

I've already had to discount:

23. Complete a parachute jump

As my heart attack in 2018 means I fall foul of the British Parachute Association regulations. That means there's actually only 55 on my list.

Then there's

22. Compete in the Hellas Rally, Greece

Although the Rally was postponed it is still planned to go ahead later this year in October but to be honest finances won't allow it, we did after all buy a new house in January and i'm still not sure the myasthenia would react very well to a week long rally in extreme heat in any case so I think my international rallying career is definitely at an end! 😞

That's 54 accounted for so what's on the list that I can still do?:

44. Get a new job

Obviously I can still do this and jobs are still being advertised and a job closer to home is certainly an ambition but only if the right job appears and i'm able to get selected, so who knows? I originally put this on the list as an aspiration as I was getting fed up with my daily 50 minute commute. Of course since moving that has become a one hour, ten minute commute! So very much still an incentive. At least at present as I'm having to shield due to being in the very high risk category my commute only consists of walking downstairs to the study!

So maybe instead of 60 by 60 and having to come up with another six activities to complete my list, I come up with another seven and making it 61 by 61... giving me until 2022

Now there's an idea!

Monday 18 May 2020

The Covid Chronicles

A longer blog than normal as I have decided to document my experiences over these very strange times....

So I write this in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak and what an impact it has had both on my biking activities and on life in general.

At the start of the outbreak I was pulled off my normal day to day duties at work and transferred full time into the Northamptonshire NHS Incident Coordination Centre to work on the response to what we were then still calling the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus. So why me? A result of being the Business Continuity lead and the legacy of twenty five years experience in Emergency Planning, that's why.

In this mode we went from a disease occurring overseas, to one that reached our shores, to the first UK deaths then the first cases locally in Northamptonshire and eventually the first death in the County. 

All very sombre stuff, especially as in the back of my mind was the fact that having a compromised immune system due to the medication I take for Myasthenia makes me at increased risk from the virus. Not only would it be easier for me to catch it, with no available treatments all the health service can do is support patients whilst their immune system fights the disease. Oh hang on a second, what if your immune system doesn't work properly!

We started to learn new terms like Social Distancing, Self Isolation and still my favourite Covidiot! Yes of course it can travel down 5G radio waves you numpties!  And of course the virus and disease also got proper names, SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 respectfully and our knowledge grew as we dealt with a deluge of information as constant updates to guidance came flooding in from Public Health England and NHS England.

And then it all changed when Grainne went down with a sore throat in mid March, she duly contacted NHS111 and despite none of her symptoms being any of those listed for Covid-19 she was told to self isolate and of course that meant me too. So I switched to working from home, this of course makes it quite difficult to work on the emergency response so I actually switched back to doing more of the day job again. Grainne thankfully recovered after a few days but as she was never tested at the time, we don't know of it was Covid-19 or not? We do doubt it though.

Grainne was able to go back to work after her symptoms had cleared but I was to continue to self isolate for 14 days in case I developed symptoms. 

But then everything changed....

During this time the government guidance was published on shielding those at extreme risk and contained the category:

"People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection."

Sound familiar?

So I sat back to wait for my letter from NHS England, which eight weeks later, still hasn't arrived! 😕

Despite this It was certain this applied to me and work agreed that I was definitely in this category, so it was 12 week complete isolation for me. This was confirmed when work circulated the letters being sent by NHS England to GPs and one states:

"All patients on the following medications have been centrally identified and will be contacted via the letter: 
• Azathioprine 
Mycophenolate (both types) 
• Cyclosporin 
• Sirolimus 
• Tacrolimus"

Me? I'm on the immunosuppressant Mycophenolate Mofetil so no doubts there. But as I said I still haven't received a letter! It would seem i'm only one of thousands who have been missed so I'm not feeling singled out. As I said work are OK with this so a letter is not essential for me but it seems on getting a letter your name is also given to the supermarkets to allow you to get priority on their home delivery services, which would have been useful!

OK we weren't desperate for food and supplies as we had gone in to this with a well stocked fridge and freezer and even had plenty of toilet rolls in stock as we already have them delivered from the excellent Who Gives a Crap and recently got a box of 48! and Grainne can still shop but It's not exactly fair on her after working long days as a community midwife, including the stress of doing so in full PPE and never knowing if she's going to contract the virus and bring it home with her, to expect her to queue for who knows how long in a supermarket car park after her shift.

I registered on the website as extremely vulnerable and eventually Ocado came up trumps and offered me priority slots for deliveries every two weeks. Even if it did then take a week for them to agree our post code does actually exist. come on Ocado we've only been here five months and the road and house has existed for over a year. 

So currently I continue to work at home, I'm not supposed to leave the house (no not even for one period of exercise a day) but of course as mentioned Grainne is back working in the thick of it, so it is social distancing at home for us as well: separate bedrooms, separate bathrooms and trying to maintain a two metre separation in the house. Not easy at all!

And the guidance on shielding has increased the period to the end of June so that makes it 14 weeks for me and they are already talking about having to extend the date!

News update! I finally got my shielding letter after eight and a half weeks! It still says to remain at home for 12 weeks from the date of the letter.... err that would make it mid August 😲

I did get ill the other week and actually got out of the house for a trip to the car park of the John Radcliffe Hospital for a covid-19 test in a tent in the pouring rain. Thankfully that was negative, not sure that i've ever enjoyed failing a test so much. Turns out it was likely to have been a (non covid) viral infection that triggered a flare up of myasthenia.

So what about bikes?

On the bike front, I'm getting a little fed up with all the facebook posts from people saying how great it is they have all this time to maintain their bikes. 

Apart from not having loads of extra spare time as i'm still working, three out of our four bikes are still in off site storage after the house move in January so inaccessible to us. To be fair only the 450 EXC could do with some TLC but of course  that's one of them that's in storage! I have the 1090R at home but at 18 months old it doesn't need anything doing to it. I've cleaned it and done a few bits of fettling but nothing more to be done. So at present all four bikes are on a SORN and out of use.

And why is it all these people seem to have immaculately tidy workshops? Or perhaps those with messy ones like me don't bother posting pictures. Although to be fair I am in the middle of painting the garage floor a bit at a time, which involves shifting everything around, not to mention having the contents of Owen's flat in there as he moved out of his place in Sheffield back in March as the university was shut down and his tenancy was ending. So he is now staying with us for the time being and enjoying our 120 mbps internet compared to the 6 mbps he was "enjoying" in Sheffield, luckily he can continue his research and work online but what else would you expect when his doctorate is in cyber security.

On the rally front obviously all events are cancelled or postponed and at present we have no idea what the future holds, so we have turned to virtual rallying...

With Burt, Tony and Mike from the Rallymoto team we created daily road bok exercises over four weeks. Entrants were asked to donate to the NHS Charities together and every day they got sent a short road book of about 40-50km and a map excerpt and had to find the finish point.

Every week the answers were put into a conversation table (that sneakily has several wrong answers that are close to the correct ones) and these gave a letter for each correct answer. This created a five letter anagram that gave a word related to bikes or rallying. Entrants could then submit their answers each week for an entry in a prize draw to win some Motoz tyres courtesy of Adventure Spec. Enter each week and that was four goes in the draw.

The eventual winner was drawn last week and we raised £2600 for the NHS Charities Together.

Some of the comments we received back were great, so we are now looking to what we can do next. My Dakar Rally quiz is currently online and seems to be causing a few problems!!!

We are also putting together plans for our postponed events when they eventually happen, hopefully this will be the first...

Sunday 15 March 2020

The blog is back!

Well you might expect something on Covid-19 but that'll have to wait after a bit of catch up....

After my failed attempt at the Edinburgh Trial last October, things have been relatively quiet on the bike front.

A trip to the Lakes District later in October on the KTM 1090 R for the next Rallymoto Adventure Cannonball turned out pretty wet! Unfortunately we only had 6 competitors turn up but everyone agreed that despite the weather, it was a great event. The ride home down the M6/M1 was less than pleasant as although the rain eventually stopped, it was cold and traffic was awful.

Plans then turned to future events and a decision on whether to continue to use the KTM 450 EXC or not. Given that I can no longer enter Rallies in the UK due to my heart attack but can still have a trials licence, it might be time to convert it from rally trim and make it more suitable for Long Distance Trials.

I had already fitted Pirelli MT43 Trials tyres and lowered the suspension slightly by sliding the forks up through the yokes and reducing the preload on the rear spring. So what else to do?

First step was to remove the navigation tower and fairing. These to make the bike lighter, improve visibility and hopefully a bit more maneuverable. Obviously this also means losing the lights, but as my experience on the Edinburgh showed me they are bright but the beam pattern is not ideal. Also removed as a result are the road book holder and ICO trip meter but more on that later.

I decided to leave the mounting block bolted to the headstock on the basis it would make it easier to restore the navigation tower if I wished to do so in future and removing it does mean having to strip out the forks and yokes, which is a fairly involved process. 

This causes a problem as the obvious next step is to restore the standard headlight cowl but this fouls on the mounting block. In the past I have used the headlight cowl from my old CCM as it offers more clearance but both of these set ups suffer from having woefully inadequate lights, something I wanted to address.

The answer presented itself from the spares box in the shape of a headlamp cowl from my old KTM 690 Enduro. Which has a halogen headlamp, it too fouls the mounting block but I had a solution in mind for that. It also has the advantage of already being fitted with the short KTM accessory windscreen

Another issue is that it has a 55/60w halogen bulb which is a bit too much for the EXCs electrical system. I had learnt this with my original light set up in the fairing that used two 55w halogen lamps and had necessitated the fitting of the 30w LED lamps to stop the battery constantly going flat. This did however allow me to experiment with different bulbs to reduce the electrical load whilst still increasing light output.

First experiment was with a H4 HID (High Intensity Discharge) bulb, this seemed to work OK and it certainly produced a very impressive bright, white light. It also has the advantage of requiring much less power than a halogen and doesn’t have a great impact on the beam pattern. Unfortunately it suffered from a ‘flicker’ on both dip and main beam, although I suspect this might have been as a result of the battery being low, definitely more testing needed there.

The second experiment was using an LED bulb, again these are very bright but due to the way they produce light can have a significant impact on the beam pattern. Fortunately the effect is not too bad and it has certainly improved the lighting. Another issue with the LED bulb is the large ballast with cooling fins on the back of the bulb. This absolutely fouls on the mounting block so a solution needed to be engineered.

This was achieved with two 4mm aluminium plates cut to shape and mounted each side of the forks and another on the base to use the standard mounting pegs to push the headlamp cowl forward. Currently mounted to the forks with cable ties, the plan is to adapt the rubber straps from the standard light.

Next plan is to build a small dash panel on top of the cowl, firstly to block the backwash of light from the headlamp but also to allow the fitting of a fuse box, switches and power socket.

So how to address the lack of road book holder and trip meter? This came from my friend Andy on the Edinburgh Trial. He had simply used the road book to work out the route and create a GPX file that could be uploaded onto his Garmin Montana GPS. So no need for the road book holder or trip meter at all and with the added bonus that by using the powered mount the GPS is lit up and so clearly visible at night and takes up much less space on the handlebars too.

In its new set up I used the 450 to recce the Northamptonshire Adventure Cannonball that took place in November. It performed really well and without the rally fairing feels so much lighter and nimbler on the lanes!

The Northamptonshire Adventure Cannonball was also beset by rain which made conditions on some of the lanes "interesting"! But numbers were much improved with over 20 competitors turning up on the day.

After this the bikes went into storage ready for our move of house to Oxfordshire. 

The move went well in January and we have almost finished unpacking!

So far I have only retrieved one bike, my 1090 R, so used this in January to ride to the Peak District for the next Adventure Cannonball. This was an "extreme" designed for enduro bikes rather than the big adventure bikes. Although I did create a slightly modified road book for anyone crazy enough to bring a big bike along! 

This was nearly too well attended with a glitch on the website causing two separate entry forms and at one stage it looked like we might have 60 riders turn up! In the event we had 34 riders turn up to the Old Smithy Tea Room in Monyash and needless to say it rained again!

Overall it went well with only one unfortunate accident when my friend Michael forgot he was riding back in the UK and hit a car whilst on the wrong side of the road causing significant damage to the front end including a flat tyre! Luckily he walked away with just bruises; the AA got the car mobile with the spare wheel and plenty of cable ties! We recovered Michael to the cafe along with his bike that unfortunately didn't fare too well with a large chunk taken out of the swing arm!!!

Another cold, wet ride home which wasn't helped by the side stand cut out switch failing again (although I was able to rectify that after cleaning mud from it), the battery in my intercom died, so no music on the journey, my phone (that I was using for navigation as I'd never ridden from the Peaks to our new house before) wouldn't charge as it got water into the charging port. NB: newer iPhones may be waterproof but not if you want to charge them. So the battery in that died and I had to navigate round the M6 toll near Litchfield (no easy task) as best I could. And to add insult to injury my heated jacket stopped working after I stopped for fuel, forgot to unplug it and pulled the wires apart as I got off the bike!!!
I got home, bored, cold and slightly damp (although to be honest the waterproofs worked as they should).

Apart from a few rides to work one day, the bike has remained in the garage since, although I did eventually get round to cleaning it!

Since then I have been involved in getting ready for the next big projects, writing the Safety Plan and Risk Assessment for the Kielder 500 in March and starting the arrangements for my role as Clerk of the Course at the Adventure Bike Rider Festival in the Summer, although this is where Coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works, that i'll cover next time.