My Centennial Rally Experience

August 17th, 2013

A while ago I volunteered to help out with marshalling at the centennial rally which is up in and around the north this weekend. Saturday they were going into Kielder/Wark forest so this morning it was an early start. I met up with some fellow TRF members and together we made our way out to Gisland and up past Spadeadam. I volunteered to take the fuel for the group in the discovery into the forest. So far so good.

On the way in, I hit a deep pothole and stotted bike off the back window of the discovery. On the one hand it has marked the glass, on the other it didn’t smash it, how I don’t know. I made a mental note to take it easy even if at this point crazy forest worker come marhsals towing trailers with quads on appeared and were flying around and asking if I’d left the hand brake on.

So we found where we needed to be, I unloaded, kitted up and found the others. We were to be on course in the special test. Two roving posts at the start/end and a static in the middle. I took the first stint on the static and was there for a couple of hours, I had been promised some relief and it did come. I then roved around the end section a bit. There was a corner the bikes seemed to be having trouble with where many were going straight on into the grass and a nice deep ditch which I helped pull several out of.

The day had started off dry, turned into a drizzle and then by now was a near constant light rain. The rain eventually ran into the boots since I’d put the trousers into them, to try and avoid ripping them into any more shreds on the YZ kickstart. I gave up on the googles and just let my glasses get wet.

At one point I was offers a trip down a “hard” short cut, I suspect I made a bit of a fool of myself since I was going slowly, coming off and then was too worn out to continue. At this point someone else got the bike out of the rut I was stuck in, making it look easy. They did check it if was a 125 or a 250 to know how much throttle to give it 🙂 I’m sure I could have done that myself, had I been able to get enough oxygen into my blood stream to think clearly. Anyone who is honest about their first off road experiences on bikes will know the vicious circle of come off, tire getting things back on track, come off again because you’re tired and so on. Its been a while since I suffered quite like that. I couldn’t suppress a chuckle when the two I was following both came off themselves.

By this point, the YZ was making worrying engine noises, there is something wrong, the next suspect is the power value mechanism since it doesn’t seem to be coming into the raw power it should (not that is mattered on a day like this!). I also found I’d run out of back brake pads.

Being rather wet by this point, it was good when we figured out the course was closed and we helped demark it. It was then a case of loading the bike onto the discovery, finding some dry clothes and heading home. I went back out via Spadeadam so I could drop the fuel back to the others.

Driving on the forest fire roads on the way out, I wondered if something wasn’t quite right. I’ve had this feeling on previous occasions driving the discovery off road and this time told myself to ignore it, every little noise makes my jumpy. I could see the bike was fine in the mirrors and the car seemed level and all that. The stability control light did briefly light on one occasion accelerating which seemed odd.

As soon as I reached tarmac, I knew something was very wrong. Having stopped and walked around I noticed a not very happy looking tyre which was clearly written off. No problem, reverse into the layby to get off the road and I’ll have to change it for the spare.

Reversing into the layby totally destroyed anything that remained of the tyre. Ok, no use crying over spilt milk. I calmly flicked through the owners handbook to the section on changing a tyre. Firstly, I have to say that whoever wrote it should get a different job, preferably after being made to change a tyre in the pouring rain. Its full of things like explaining how to jack the car, then mentioning that before jacking you should loosen the wheel nuts. The main reason I was reading it was to figure out where the tools were, how to release the spare wheel and what to do with the self levelling air suspension.

Obviously the jack and tools were in a compartment in the rear of the car, with piles of wet bike gear filling the boot and the boot door inoperative due to the bike on the rack on the back. There was also 85L of petrol in the way amongst tools and all kinds of other junk. I also noted with dismay that to lower the spare wheel you need to access a winch under the rear two pop up seats, which have all this stuff on top of them. I would also note it is raining, it would be, right!

To cut a long story short, I did manage to move things around, I was able to jack the car up, put the spare on, stow the shredded wheel and continue home. The self leveling suspension did quite an amazing job of hiding the flat. I bought the discovery to use and have a bit of adventure with so I guess I’m getting that and these things happen. Nobody can accuse me of not using it as it was designed or call it a Chelsea Tractor! 🙂

I am now totally worn out, I think I’ll need to take it easy for a few weekends and I’ve some work in the garage to do now. I haven’t dared closely inspect the rim yet, if I’m lucky, it might be ok, we’ll see tomorrow. Marshalling tomorrow? I think not.

The 675 for a change

August 7th, 2013

On Sunday with Cadwell coming up it made sense to check the 675 still works and scrub in its new tyres a little. Scotland seemed the logical direction choice. I’d started heading for Morpeth/Rothbury and then found myself in the middle of a cycle event which seemed to head to Bellingham. I’d not have liked to be cycling up some of those hills. The roads seemed otherwise quiet.

Going past Kielder, the fuel warning light came on, I’d evidently incorrectly ‘remembered’ filling the bike last time I used it :(. This is about the worst place to run out of fuel as there isn’t any for many miles, particularly on a Sunday. I was closer to Scotland at this point so continued to head for the border, it being touch and go whether I’d reach anywhere selling fuel. I remembered someone telling me the old garage at Kielder had reopened so there was a small chance that would be open and I’d be passing it anyway.

Going past the garage at Kielder the garage looked deserted and shut, the signs said open. The fuel pump looked odd. I’m pleased I stopped and checked as its now an automated self service one and I could get fuel there which solved my worries about running out.

It was then into Scotland and onto roads which were mostly single track with passing places ending up in Hawick which was the planed refuelling stop. Since I wasn’t in a hurry, I then looked around some roads over to Langholm and Newcastleton using some further minor single track roads going from the Scottish Borders into Dumfries and Galloway and back before heading back to Kielder in my native Northumberland and then home via Chollerford. The weather was mostly good with odd rain showers, the only one I really got wet in was near Langholm (hence the dark photo) other than that there were just wet roads as evidence of them.

It was nice to use the 675 again, I do love that bike although I’m not used to the riding position any more which was comparatively painful, particularly after the couple of hundred miles I covered on this trip. The 675 behaved well and the new tyres seem good although it has a few squeaks for example in the air intake mechanism and will benefit from a good service.

Fatigue

August 5th, 2013

I’ve had some extended vacation time recently and shortly I’m probably going to get questions about how I enjoyed it. It would be tempting to nod and smile and quickly change the subject since the answer I’d truthfully give is hard to understand and not what people would want to hear or expect, I’ve actually found it rather like a form of torture.

Its an open secret that for whatever reason I seem to suffer from some kind of fatigue. There is no known medical explanation for it, the catch all “we don’t know” of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) being the “diagnosis” once you rule out everything else. So what does that mean in practise? Imagine having a finite store of energy which replenishes at a fixed rate. As long as I use it carefully at a rate approximating the replenishment rate I’m perfectly fine. If I do something strenuous, I need to go easier for a while to allow the store to replenish and for example with the motorcycle trail riding, there will be a mild price to pay (say approximating flu like symptoms the following day). The real problems start if you use up a large amount of the store, I’ve experimented to varying degrees and near involuntary collapse followed by a week of feeling like you were badly beaten in a boxing ring is a possible outcome. I’ve carefully improved my general health and fitness over the past few years in the hope it would help. Sadly the size of the store or rate of replenishment doesn’t seem to change, even if I’ve noticed significant other improvements in my general fitness.

A colleague recently posted about being unable to do nothing and I had to smile since I share this “problem”. Combine this with the fatigue and you can see where this is going. There are a ton of things I want to do yet I know that if I try and do them, there will be a price to pay. The availability of extra time puts temptation in place and to be honest, I’ve totally overdone the activities and physically feel like a wreak now, yet I haven’t used the time as fully as I’d have liked either.

So if you ask me if I enjoyed my vacation and I laugh you might better understand why. That isn’t to say I haven’t done some things I’ve wanted to do for a while or enjoyed. I also appreciate things could be much worse too!

Historic Karting at Rowrah

August 2nd, 2013

For five years my kart (CR250 powered) has been buried behind mountains of “stuff” at the back of two different garages quietly dreaming of once again driving on open tarmac. Partly this has been a time issue, partly its due to not being able to drive it on any of the local circuits after they deemed gearbox karts too dangerous on them.

The kart is “only” 19 years old and is water cooled so is frowned upon in historic kart circles however I was invited to attend their annual meeting over at Rowrah last weekend. The circuit is my favourite kart circuit since its somewhere unexpected (a national park) and is picturesque, nestled in the bottom of an old quarry. Since I was last there (must have been years) they have built a new clubhouse replacing the corrugated iron shack I remember of a canteen and generally improved facilities there.

Prior to the event I’d cleaned out the carb and fuel lines, found slick tyres for it, filled it with coolant and was pleased to find it started up on the rope without any real issue. My Dad was also there with two karts, one a Bellotti with a air cooled ‘red rocket’ CR250 on it, the predecessor to my kart’s engine and the other, the cougar, a kart from 1979 which has its main components manufactured then but was only recently brazed up on the jig which was dug out from under a compost heap. This was the Cougar’s first outing after several late nights last week finishing putting it together.

After arriving on the Friday night and meeting some people I’ve not seen since the School’s Karting Association (SKANE) days and a good night’s sleep on the top of a hillside, the Saturday had beautiful weather. The sessions were alternating between class ones and class fours, 20 minutes each. That is ancient terminology for 100cc direct drives (ick) and then anything with a gearbox (the proper karts).

Basically my kart performed wonderfully given its condition, the only issue was that it was geared for long circuit (26:30) and I was only using the first 2.5 gears. There were some modern 125cc karts there which were thrashing me on acceleration. Initially I decided to ignore this but I appear to have some kind of competitive spirit as I ended up taking the sprockets off and changing to 26:36 which was chosen from the available sprockets and chain availability. This gave me 4 gears and made a massive difference to keeping up with the modern 125s as I could now act as a road block and keep up with them. I’m not sure I could have overtaken one, would have needed better gearing again for that but I was happy enough.

I played in various sessions, torn between pushing the kart and not wanting to break it, particularly the engine. I soon realised that the back bumper had cracked around the radiator mounting on one side, an age old problem its suffered with since forever however I decided to ignore that. I was less able to ignore the squealing the kart was now making under braking. A quick check showed the rear pads were not looking healthy, it turned out one has partially disintegrated:

thankfully, I’d taken a set with me having realised the pads were low and even had the cordless drill to make the oval hole round on the new pads to fit.

I tried Dad’s red rocket and it was fun, the engine makes much more sense on that chassis that some of the others we’d had on it 10 years ago in the SKANE days (2.5 YZ125s reduced to shrapnel in the end). We then turned attention to the cougar, the engine fired up no problem although pushing it up the hill to start it was hard work as the brakes were new and binding a bit. Dad took it out onto the track and it threw the chain. Hmm. We replaced that and tried again. As I was push starting it, I had a hand on the engine and as it fired and set off, I noticed the engine move 4″ sideways. My brain registered that it shouldn’t do that, ever. I signalled for Dad to stop and we found the engine mounting posts had sheared from the chassis, the engine literally now able to fall off. Game over for the weekend but it can and will be fixed and the weekend was always meant as a shakedown for it.

The memories of how to drive a kart came back, I only spun once over the weekend and kept the engine running. When chasing 125s, I did run wide off the chicanes onto grass on a few occasions and despite effectively rallying the kart, kept it on full throttle and didn’t lose ground. I suspect I’m channelling some of its former rally driver owner there (who’s name is still on the front bubble).

At this point I was bruised and battered from bouncing around in the seat, a seat bolt finding a particular connection with my ribs which were now visibly bruised along with my left shoulder blade. I had quickly resorted to driving with a towel wrapped around my waist but even that didn’t stop things. Dad took plenty of photos and I also swapped roles and took from photos of him in kart for a change, venturing out onto the circuit in the high-vis with a camera much to the bemusement of people (its usually Dad doing this).

It rained heavily over night and part of the Sunday morning, I wasn’t optimistic the track would dry but it did. I hadn’t slept too well due to the bruised ribs and shoulder. I did get out a bit more on the track and was pleased with the kart holding its own apart from against a particularly quick twin 250. One of the things which I regret from the SKANE karting days is there weren’t many photos despite hundreds of hours in the various karts. I now at least have some photos of my in the 250 thanks to Dad, its only taken 20 years to get them!

More wheels than normal

August 2nd, 2013

I’ve been wanting to try this since I brought the Discovery. Last Friday on my way elsewhere with a full load of karting stuff in the back I took it over Long Cross since I was passing. This is a steep rocky climb with no tarmac surface, just rocks. I decided not to stop for photos on the steepest/most technical bits and the sun was in the wrong direction but you get the idea from these. I was impressed with the way it handled things as it never missing a beat. Stopping and starting again wasn’t a problem anywhere and it slowly but surely crawled its way up and over everything.

One thing which didn’t impress me is when I took it out of low range and the rock crawl mode at the top of the hill, it also decided to drop to normal suspension height itself without prompting. This lead to the vehicle grounding out which was annoying, the towbar/bike rack mount took the brunt of it.

I think the weirdest feeling of all was after this, feeling bumps and twists through the steering, driving back onto tarmac and resuming 60mph cruising of twisty roads up and over Hartside and into the lake district. It feels so at home on both.

The size does make things interesting on some of the narrow roads over in the lake district but it also has its moments where it shines. For the trip back there had been heavy rain which had washed large gravel onto the A686 but this wasn’t a problem. Hitting a few inches of water flowing over the road at speed was also interesting, its the first time I’ve felt it thinking about aquaplaning but the main issue being its tendency to seemingly remove all the water from the road and put it on the windscreen making seeing where you’re going trickier. All in all I’m quite enjoying it!

Trail Riding in the Yorkshire Dales

July 22nd, 2013

Whilst I know some of the roads and places from road motorcycling and camping I’d never been trail riding in the Yorkshire Dales so when the offer came up, I was happy to accept. We met up on the A1 and made our way to Leyburn which was to be our starting point.

I was with a group of people I’ve not really ridden with before, often just passing out on trails so it was a nice change and they seemed like a friendly enough bunch! 🙂

I had no idea what kind of terrain to expect and it turned out to be quite rocky, kind of like the lake district but quite different too. This meant learning a new kind of surface which is always interesting.

I thought I might have gotten away with my rather worn front tyre, in hindsight, I should have changed it as it caused problems with a lack of grip and confidence. The YZ’s gearing was also suboptimal for that kind of terrain and as I couldn’t go slow enough yet have the engine behaving comfortably.

Whilst there had been rain overnight and there was plenty of cloud cover, it was dry and the trails were hence very dusty. At least the cloud cover kept the temperature reasonable.

The trails themselves were rather nice for a change with some interesting variety of different types. Unfortunately one of the group started having problems with a rear tyre puncture. Attempts were made to pump it up but it became clear this couldn’t be sustained. Shortly after that, after being stopped my bike started rattling. It was hard to figure out where it was coming from but it became clear it was from the engine which is never good.

It seemed to be coming from the kickstart area but inside the casing so we did take the clutch cover off to see if anything untoward could be spotted but there wasn’t anything visible. I therefore made the decision just to ride it and see what happened. Through several more trails it became clear that the rattle only happened when the clutch lever was engaged. Clearly this meant I should just not use the clutch so I switched to clutchless/crash gear changes. Unfortunately the gearing made use of the clutch unavoidable on some uphill sections but on the plus side, the noise didn’t seem to get any worse.

At the lunch and fuel stop in Hawes they patched the problematic rear tyre and I noticed my brake light lens had been smashed and gone missing at some point. We set off for the return journey with the warning that an “interesting” uphill section was coming up and a comment about stopping for photos. For the newbie who has never ridden the trail, this is always a good sign.

Initially it didn’t seem so bad but it did indeed have an interesting section. I decided to try and save the clutch but ended up stalling, I turned around to see the person following then falling off in sympathy (sorry)! Once I’d decided to (ab)use the clutch and got going again, I made it up the rest of the steep section without incident other than stalling it again in relief having made it up the worst bit!

Some of the trails are quite a decent length, some of them being old Roman roads and the Yorkshire Dales scenery is spectaular as ever. Sadly I don’t have many photos as I seemed to be going slower than others for whatever reasons and it wouldn’t have been fair to stop the group to get the camera out.

Sadly the patched tube didn’t hold up and we ended up stopping again to change it and put a spare front tube in the rear wheel to replace it. There appeared to be a trials event going on over that section of trail. Changing the tube over seemed easier this time, perhaps as the tyre was loosened up already.

With the various stops we were a little behind schedule but we did decide to put the final loop of trails in and I’m pleased we did since I think these were the most enjoyable of the day for me. The surface was a different type of stone and for some reason I and the bike were a lot happier on it. There were a couple of small fords and some massive eroded tracks. I’ve never seen a road eroded before the “unsuitable for motor vehicles” sign like that before, it did get even worse after the sign too although not enough to trouble an appropriate motorcycle, just made it more interesting. It was they back to Leyburn, load the bike onto the disco and time to head home.

I’m grateful to the group who took me out, I hope I didn’t hold you up too much and thoroughly enjoyed going somewhere new, and being with some different people too!

Lake District Trails

July 22nd, 2013

The Lake District is a place I haven’t been as often as I’d like recently. I’ve spent school holidays camping there, sailed on its lakes, raced karts in one of its quarries and ridden motorcycles over its passes. I’ve don’t comparatively little trail riding there though so when the opportunity came up I decided to go for it.

It meant an early start so I loaded the bike onto the bike rack the night before. We met up near Tebay after an uneventful trip on the A69 and M6 which the Discovery coped with nicely. Parking wasn’t a problem since I’d have been complaining to trading standards if it couldn’t get itself back off a grass verge!

There were four of us, we met up and the first shock of the day was one of the bikes tank ranges, at 45 miles which is worryingly low. We set off and the first trail of the day was Breast High road. There is an interesting slimy ford near the start which caused some fun and is good for catching riders who haven’t quite woken up yet, we all did make it through without an early bath.

There is a photo of my only other attempt of Breast High road where you can just see the underside of my bike and I’m lying on the other side of it, I’d hoped to do better today. The road is covered in comparatively large rocks which are hard to ride over since they’re big enough to deflect the bike. I passed one of the group who’d fallen off but was ok, shortly after that I managed to hit a rock which bounced the front wheel off the edge of the track. I did the sensible thing and stood off the bike whilst it plunged over the edge and onto its side, ending up lying there teetering on the edge.

Given some time to think through the recovery all would be ok however the bike was leaking fuel rapidly and the fuel tap was under the bike so I couldn’t get to it to shut it off. I therefore made the decision to lift the bike and it started off over the edge again, the front brake wouldn’t hold it. I therefore decided to let it find its own way down the 10ft drop and which point it was still on its side leaking fuel :/. This time I could lift it, roll it into some handy rocks to stop it and start to think about how to get back onto the trail. I gave the fallen rider I’d passed a thumbs up as he went past at this point, it being clear I’d had an issue given the bike was pointing the wrong way and I was off the track. Once I’d caught my breath, I was able to get back onto the track and continue up past where I fell off last time (another rider was off there today) and continue up to the top.

The trip down the other side was less eventful and there wasn’t that much water in the ford on the other side. We covered a few more trails and then stopped to discuss where the turning for the next trail might be. We were navigating with a paper based route but I was tracking it on the GPS and it was interesting comparing the two to figure out where we were since my GPS had no useful basemap of the area. We were in one of two places and decided and as it turns out, we picked the wrong one so ended up with the mandatory U turn. I also noticed one of the bikes was chucking out a lot of oil like smoke to the point it looked like a two stroke yet I knew it was a four. At the next stop, I mentioned this to the rider.

We set of again and found the lane we were looking for however half the group was missing. We turned back and found the smoking bike now wouldn’t start, seemingly with a lack of electrical charge. We tried bump starting it but we couldn’t find a problem, or get it going so we towed it to a junction with decent signposts and they called their recovery policy. Then we were three.

We made it to the first garage at 47 miles so we never did get to test the 45 mile tank range since it had broken down first. After a quick food/drink stop, we continued on looping around the southern lakes and then northwards towards Coniston Water. We stopped and chatted to some other trail riders but didn’t see much in the way of walkers or other road users, presumably the baking hot weather had put them off.

One interesting moment of the day was on a nice single track tarmac road which weaved both horizontally and vertically. I had to admit I’d underestimated how much it did so and ended up feeling like the bike was rather light on traction with a trajectory projection heading towards the grass verge. I remember thinking that as vehicles go, this was not a bad one to have that issue on and that I’d aim for the tarmac/grass join which I targeted correctly and continued without incident. I’m reliably told by the person following that “rather light” was in fact airborne, oops.

We then headed up through Grizedale and over to the Langdale area where we did see a few more people and a chain of 4x4s. The route ended up cut a little short since it was now after 6pm and we needed to get back as we looped around and then back over Breast High Road. I made a better job of getting back over it than I had that morning (or its easier going to other way). This is the first time I’d done it the other way since we’d “shortcut” our way back on the previous Lake District trip using the M6 instead of going back over it.

For the return trip, I took the Discovery complete with bike on the rack along the A686 over Hartside. I have to admit I also thoroughly enjoyed doing it. For a vehicle as heavy as it is, you can’t often feel the weight with the engine power, brakes and power steering hiding it and having beautiful handling for something of the size. You do however notice it going down hills since it picks up speed like crazy. Despite some spirited driving, enjoying the road, the bike rack held the bike solidly, I was quite impressed.

The A686 has some hairpin bends and it was amusing to note that with the weight of the bike on the back, putting the power down on hard lock uphill on the hairpins did get the front end slipping. You could feel the electronics waking up and taking note :). I’ve been noticing that sliding in a 4 wheel drive is something quite unlike anything I’ve ever driven too since it can do all wheel powered drifting and the stability control system seems either unable to detect it, unable to do anything about it, or probably both.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the day although it was very hard going (in all senses) and I ached for days afterwards. Thanks to Phil for leading!

Alnwick and back

July 7th, 2013

Its been a while since I’ve ridden the northern lanes from here. Even though there were just two of us interested/available to do it, I decided to go ahead since the weather was lovely for some river crossings.

We met up and set off with the run up to Alnwick being slightly more tarmac biased, stopping for fuel near Morpeth. Its always interesting to see how rivers and river crossings change over time, what was a 1m deep raging torrent I drowned the bike in last time I went through it was a silted up few inches this time!

We kept a fairly leisurely pace but that didn’t stop me sliding out a rut and falling off, first time I’ve done that for a while :/. Kept the bike running and felt ok at the time but appear to have hit the top of my pelvis with the elbow armour and have a lovely bruise there today.

One of the lanes had notices about police action against motor vehicle use so we didn’t use it and and will need to look into it what the rights are there. Near Alnwick we came across the first deep crossing which did look rather washed out. We ended up going slightly downstream to cross where it was a much more reasonable depth.

After a fuel and lunch stop in Alnwick we headed back southwards covering a lot more lanes including a few more interesting fords. I think this part of the trip really made the day for me.

The only downside was that time was getting on and many fuel places were now shut. I thought I should make it back to the start point on the fuel in the tank. There was a minor panic when the bike spluttered out of fuel but that turned out to be a kinked breather hose. A while later it needed to go onto reserve for real though.

Waiting at the bridge to cross over to the start point I glanced in the tank and fuel was conspicuous by its absence. I knew the garage at the start point was also now shut too so I headed straight for the other nearby garage that should still be open. As I waited in traffic to make the right turn into the garage, the bike spluttered completely out of fuel. I knocked it into neutral and pushed it the 5m to the fuel pump. Never have I had such a close run on fuel!

All that remained was to ride back home but there were still a couple of interesting twists left. I decided to ride through Newcastle, something I’ve never done on the trail bikes, taking a route past the football stadium. I’m still a little unclear about what happened but I think someone who had likely had a bit too much to drink decided my hand signal for a turn meant I wanted a hug and therefore ran at the moving bike with his arms outstretched. It was that or a rugby tackle. Thankfully I managed to avoid him, how I’m not entirely sure.

The final part of the route home was the coast road where I kept the bike at comparatively high speed/revs for several miles. Pulling up and stopping in the queue for the roundabout, I was looking at my shadow and noticing a strong swirling haze at the back of the bike. This caused me to turn around to see copious amounts of smoke coming from the exhaust as if something was on fire which in all likelihood, it probably was. I think the oil in the exhaust was probably burning however the engine sounded fine so I continued without unduly worrying about it.

It was an enjoyable day out, thoroughly worn out now mind!




















Marshalling at the K2 Rally

June 10th, 2013

They were looking for volunteers to marshal at the K2 rally around Kielder forest at the weekend, I decided after having enjoyed the enduro last year I helped with last year, I’d give it a go.

Even the trip up to Bellingham that morning turned out to have its interesting moments. The A68 is a very straight Roman road with lots of steep dips with blind summits. I had the bike on a bike rack on the back of the vehicle and naively set the cruise control. I soon found that it would plummet down the dips like a stone, then come to the other side, realise the incline needed throttle and that the speed was rapidly decreasing so it would open the engine right up. It would do this up to the summit of the hill with an effect like applying rocket boosters. The only way to describe the result is “big air”. Thankfully the air suspension does appear to be able to cope with this, much more gently and gracefully than I expected.

I’d not actually been able to get much information other than what time to turn up, even where was a little bit vague. The rally was two 80 mile loops of mostly forest fire road. The day was looking to get rather warm and the fire roads would be extremely dusty.

Firstly, I found out there were two refuelling points and the fuel trailer was leaving ASAP so I put 5L on each and hoped for the best since I had no idea where I’d be. At this point I didn’t even know what the organiser looked like. I figured out who he was and was assigned to the group manning the first section. We set off and followed the course around getting a feel for where we were supposed to be although the section with two way traffic where it loops back on itself confused us.

We shortcut some of the section and reached the first refuelling point. We decided to split up with some going to do traffic management on the two way section and some of us figuring out our shortcut to loop back to the start and the enduro loop we were responsible for.

I found the GPS invaluable at this point. We had a paper map of the route and comparing the trace on screen with that gave some idea of where we were, even if the scale seemed incorrect and the route had changed a bit from the one marked.

The final part of the course has some horrible bends covered in large rocks which I really hated, our enduro loop was good fun, starting off with brash, a drop and hill climb, then a nice green lane forest track.

I did have one interesting moment where both wheels lost traction and I was travelling along the track semi sideways doing a lowside in slow motion. I remember thinking that it felt like I could just tweak it back into line however there was a significant risk of turning it into a highside. I gently tried anyway and much to my surprise the front wheel started working properly again, even if the rear was fishtailing like crazy which was a much less serious issue. I think that stands as the single best recovery I’ve ever made on a motorcycle, I just wish I had it on camera.

So we made it back to the start and waited around a bit for the bulk of the riders to head through, then set off ourselves. We soon came to a fallen rider who was in a bad way. The fractured wrist was clear, the back pain worrying but they were conscious and alert which was a big plus. We had a few marshals around and some riders had summoned emergency services having been unable to get the satellite phone link to the organisers to work properly. I went back to the start and escorted paramedic to the scene who decided to call for air support. At this point there were too many people around the scene so I moved further down the course. The marshalls there were going to flush the first section so I skipped to the first refuel and refuelled, watching the air ambulance come in from a distance. We realised no marshal had been over the section to the first test so agreed I’d change plans and head over that way.

I rode for what seemed like hours without seeing another person, eventually reaching the special test. Great, except there was no safe route back to the start that I could see, so I did the only thing I could and continued onwards. I stopped and checked a couple of people dealing with punctures were ok. I also found someone who’d had an off and damaged their wrist, I advised just following the course since there was no shortcut out that section of forest I knew of. Eventually I came to the second refuel point and refuelled. I waited there for a bit and was able to direct the injured rider on a bit of a shortcut back.

The course was due to close at 2pm and I was supposed to be helping close it so I didn’t look at the enduro loops and headed back to the start, meeting up with another start marshal who’d had to find fuel point two since his fuel was there. We made it there slightly late but were the first there. Two others left to close the course, I was left manning the tape. I spent the next four hours there since I’d been told that I was not to move on account of anything, or let any rider onto the course. I was pleased when the closing marshals finally appeared.

Sunday started an hour earlier and for us, had the added fun of demarking. The riders would only do the first section on the first lap, then it was getting closed and demarked. The course would close at 1pm and then we’d sweep through and close/demark the remaining parts to the start of the special test.

The day started with ensuring the first section was clear and all the correct gates were open. It had rained overnight which meant there was more grip and less dust. There was a nasty bog in the first section which was interesting. I picked a line and took some reasonable speed into it. The bike threatened to stop half way but I really wasn’t keen on that, opened the throttle and put the weight on the back. Much to my surprise the front lifted to head height and the YZ did what it does best and powered onwards. I was in a deep rut at this point and using the front wheel for steering is overrated anyway :). I was mildly concerned that there might be something in front but there wasn’t and I was able to land safely on the other side. Another of the marshals hadn’t faired quite as well but we all got through in the end.

Some of us went to figure out who the last man was so we could start the demarking, I went on with another to check the rest of the course to the first test. With riders setting off behind us, we were needing to get a move on but I was finally starting to remember how to ride fire roads (inside line on corners instead of road riding stick to the left for example). We were able to back track from the special test a little and short cut back to the start where we refueled.

When we got back, demarking had started but the gates needed locking. No problem, I can do that so I set off. This meant I was off by myself and reached that bog. This time around I tried a different line and managed to ground the bike out. I therefore spent quite a while extracting it and ended up rather muddy. Moments like that where the bike is on its side and your foot is trapped under the front wheel are always good fun. With the gates shut we went to the start for course closing. On the way there I found someone struggling with a stuck throttle after an off. I pointed out the cable was jammed by the barkbuster and helped them free it. A short while later I also loaned out an allen key to stop the guard catching their brake lever.

With the course closed, we set off, demarking as we went. I got the awkward signs to do since I had the sidestand. Obviously getting off the bike for each one is a pain so you attempt to ride the bike through some interesting obstacles. Occasionally you’d ride into what looked like a nice safe area, only to find for example it was full 1ft sized lumps of rock covered in moss. All good fun though. We demarked all the way to the special test, then passed on the batten to the team there. We’d passed a broken down rider so we went back with a tow rope for them and took some short cuts to pull them out the forest. I then manned the tape for half an hour before calling things done and headed back to camp and then home.

The bike is going to need some TLC now, the rear tyre was worn at the start, now its totally knackered. My number plate is also disintegrating and the sidestand spring gave out when I was unloading the bike. My hands now have blisters on the blisters and muscles I’ve never felt pains from before are aching. All things considered it was a good weekend :).

Camping Weekend

June 10th, 2013

The first weekend in June was the Northumbria TRF camping weekend (as it is each year). Sadly numbers were down this year, we’ve wondered if the switch to the electronic version of trail had something to do with this but there were still many old faces and some new ones.

I arrived at the site near Hexham on the Friday evening, most people had already arrived and a pleasant evening was had around the campfire. We were entertained by Neil’s outdoor jacuzzi which he’s long since threatened to build. I’m sure next year the minor design issues will be resolved and people will be queuing to use it!

Saturday morning started off looking a bit damp but it is Northumberland and it looked like it would burn off. The group was an interesting mix of bikes and people, some older riders and some riders who were relatively new to trail riding. The 690 on semi offroad tyres wouldn’t have been my choice for the day. I only wish I’m doing as well as Bob is if I manage to reach that age!

We headed off in a south easterly direction, quickly turning northwards, crossing the Tyne and off into the wilds of Northumberland. As we went North the lanes grew greener and more overgrown. There were a few nice river crossings but the water levels were well down compared to normal making them quite enjoyable. The aim of the day seemed to be that if you were going to fall off, don’t let anyone see and then it didn’t happen! Despite some valiant efforts some group members were spotted although nobody did spot the moment I had my legs flailing around with the bike veering in every direction but the one I wanted to go in. I never did actually come off although how, I have no idea.

The first part of the route was in a light annoying drizzle and it was hampering the readability of the GPS but I am starting to get a feel for where the lanes are. I managed to avoid the tour of a housing estate as featured the last time I lead this route though and thankfully the drizzle stopped once we started heading turning towards the west. The pace was whatever each rider felt comfortable with as we were waiting at the lane ends.

After a river crossing, some of the group failed to show up so after a while I went back to find out what was going on. It turned out Nic, my backmarker’s exhaust had fallen off. Those with a good memory would remember this featuring in the run I did last year too. We’d even been joking about this at the campsite that morning. I have started carrying a small reel of lockwire, I was wondering how much this was worth at this point. Equally, I wanted to get to lunch so we wired the exhaust back on and continued, stopping for fuel in Scots Gap a short while later.

Just before the lunch stop we bumped into one of the other groups going the other way. They’d already had lunch and were debating what to do about a breakdown but there wasn’t much we could do to help. We eventually made the lunch stop sometime after 3pm having found the first choice of cafe shut. It had been a tiring but enjoyably morning.

We set off from there through Wark forest, I believe Nic had to tweak the exhaust mounting again. We made the final fuel stop and then back to camp, being the last group back and having covered 138 miles.

On Sunday we were feeling the effects of the day before so we decided not to go as far and get back a bit earlier. The weather was lovely. One local rider decided they’d done enough the day before so wouldn’t be joining us. A trip over Plenmeller common and then looping around finding the A686 started the day. The 690 headed back to camp at this point as they wanted to get home for a particular time so then we were five. Since its good to have a challenge we went over Limestone Brae which is a steep decent, through a river and then a steep rocky climb though a set of switchbacks on the other side. We then continued up over Long Cross, another rocky climb which I quite enjoy in that direction (I dislike coming down it, not least with the bike on top of me as has happened at least once).

We stopped for fuel and some food in Alston which we took up to the stop on the top of Hartside where we talked with some other local trail riders and watched all the bikes that were out.

After lunch we headed back to Alston, looped around some trails there (note to self to reverse the loop next time as I prefer rocky climbs than descents) and then it was over to Nenthead and Tynehead. As we drew closer to Hexham, it was clear people were starting to get tired, making silly mistakes and dropping bikes, me included having cross rutted it trying to avoid something I should have just ridden through.

I think everyone enjoyed the weekend and everyone made it safely back, including Nic and his exhaust. I live in hope that he will fix the bracket for the next time so we could at least have some variety in the breakdowns! 🙂 By the time I got home I was totally exhausted.