This weekend saw me up in North Yorkshire for the Ryedale Rally. This is the most technically challenging of the ATRC rounds and the one I was most daunted by.
I arrived around 7pm on Friday to find the field already filling up with the vans and tents of other competitors and on spotting a few of the ATRC guys, I parked up and started setting. Although the rally itself was very well attended with over 180 entrants, there were only 4 or 5 of us who were competing in the rally class of the ATRC. This meant that even just finishing would result in some valuable points.
Friday evening was uneventful execpt for the group of guys across the way who had a home-made potato cannon, a vuvuzela, a rather healthy quantity of beer and a loud stereo which were all in full swing till some time after 1am.
Anyway, Saturday morning dawned very sunny and very warm and even at 7:30 am, the heat of the sun was evident; it was going to be a hot one!
Signed on at 8:30, got my start time of 10:33 and my number 11 to stick on the bike, and then wandered back over to make some final checks. The lap was to be about 180 miles and there was a refuelling point at the first and main checkpoint, where there was also a burger van. Although I was carrying a full load of fuel at 18 litres, I thought belt and braces were in order and dropped another 5 litre can off in the trailer to go off to the fuel stop. If I didn’t use it, there was a couple of other chaps that I’d said could, if they needed it.
I got the bike scrutineered, parked it up in the parc ferme and then found myself with almost an hour and a half till my start time. I’m never usually this organised!
There was a brief riders meeting at 10 for some final instructions, after which I got kitted up, onto the bike and rode around to the start line.
at 10:33, bikes 10,11 and 12 rode off onto the sighting lap of the course. There was a long 20 mile ride on both road and trail, to get to the actual course, but we arrived at the first checkpoint with about 15 minutes to spare. My alloted time came up and off I went onto the course proper.
For the most part, it wasn’t as technically challenging as I was expecting. Certainly, more nadgery, twisty bits through trees and on narrower single track routes than the fire roads of the Kielder, but enough to keep me occupied.
About 1/2 way round, there was a long, steep climb that required some degree of comittment. I found myself in the scenery there but eventually got to the top. In the next single-track section, I lost the back end in some very snotty ruts and dabbed my foot. Unfortunately, it was so snotty that my foot just slipped away and the bike came down with me. In doing so, the bars went into a rut and the nav-towe found the top of the rut, bending it slightly.
Back on, I paddled through the snot and got around to the special stage. Untimed on the sighting lap, I just got on with it. Certainly, far more technical than what I’ve done in the past, but that’s what I’m here for. After negotiating a long, deep, muddy water splash, the bike started misfiring badly. I stopped and checked I hadn’t drowned the air filter or anything wasn’t soaked after the water section, but it seemed okay. After a while, I got it running again and it was just about rideable but it was like riding a pogo stick. Braaap! – — – – – – – – – braaaaaaaap – – – – brap – – –
I nursed it round and got back to the first checkpoint where I swapped out the water temperature sensor which is a known weak point on these bikes. Alas, it didn’t seem to make much difference, and at my alloted time, off I bounced into lap 1.
I was hoping it was something water related and that it dried off, it would clear which seemed to be the case because, as lap 1 progressed, it started running better and eventually was as smooth as ever. I tackled the climb with ease this time which was a boost as I was dreading it if the bike wasn’t running right. Nothing especially eventful happened for most of the liason and it seemed to be coming together again.
In the special stage, however, I overshot a right hander into the water splash and the only route back ended up with me entering the rutted section at right angles to it. This meant I was left see-swaing the bike on the sump guard and had to manually lift the rear of the bike up, over and into the rut so I could get going. That cost me some valuable time. Once through the water splash I made progress, and found myself back at the first checkpoint in no time.
Out onto the third lap and the misfire started again after a different section, not a wet one this time. However, I worked out how to handle it and it seemed to be throttle position related. It would idle, it would pull with just a crack over idle and then it was completely dead until WFO! Knowing this and with careful use of gears I could nurse it round, although I still didn’t fancy that climb with it misbehaving like that. However, as before, it cleared before I got to the climb and stayed clear all the way round. The special stage went without a hitch and saw me passing quite a few riders, and gaining back some time that I’d lost with the various mishaps from earlier in the day.
Towards the end of the 2nd lap, the fuel light came on despite me having put a full 18l on board. Knowing I had another 20 miles to ride back to the start I was glad I had left my can at the first checkpoint just in case.
I fuelled up and headed back, and for the most part the bike was fine, but would still missfire from time to time. I passed Mike and Ollie who are also in the ATRC rally class, where Mike had run out of fuel. As I was low myself and had a misbehaving bike, and Ollie was already assisting with some extra fuel, I decided not to hang about and press on back.
On arriving back at the start, and parking up at the truck, Burt came over to check how things were (he owned the bike before me so knows it well). His bike had died with an injector problem and he was out, so was packing up to leave that night. Ian, also in the ATRC Rally class on an LC4 wih a fairing and larger fuel tank, had had an off and broken his gear lever so had struggled round too.
I got myself washed up and checked over the bike. The nav-tower definitely had a slightly drunk appearance after being bent earlier in the day, but it somehow seemed straighter than when it had actually happened.
I then gave everything electrical a liberal coating of WD40 in the hope that IF the issue was water related, that it might help. Other than that, it seemed to have faired quite well and didn’t require any other attention.
A cold beer was opened (after I had suitably rehydrated of course), and I tucked into the curry, bombay potatoes and bahjis that was laid on by the organisers. By 10:00, I was pooped, so retired to the truck to watch the Erzberg Rodeo film I’ve got. I have a vague recollection of thinking I should go and turn everything off before I dozed off. The next thing I know, I’m in darkness, it’s only 10:30 but I’d dozed off and in the interim the generator had run out of fuel. Hmm, how convenient, so I just got into my sleeping bag and passed out.
Sunday felt even warmer than saturday if that’s possible!
Fed, kitted up, checked times and whatnot, and at 9:33 I was at the start line again. Within meters of leaving the start, that dead zone/misfire was back, but at least I knew how to ride it now. Nursing it round, It cleared before reaching the special staget. However, on a boggy, narrow downhill section, I was waiting for a 990 to get going and the bike started playing up again. I started to think it might be temperature related as it was only happening when the going got really slow. I got out the boggy section and the bike died and just would not start for a good 10 minutes. Eventually, it got going again but it was rough, very rough! As I pogoed up the trail,I just kept telling myself “you’ve only got to finish to get those points”.
Throughout the morning, I’d also been aware of the nav tower becoming more and more susceptible to being bent at the slightest touch or movement, and I could see a crack forming in the alloy plates that support it. It was a dilemma of straightening it up when it listed to one side, knowing I was fatiguing it further with another flex, or leaving it hanging off to one side but knowing that the forces were greater in that position. I decided to try and keep it straight, which was a challenge in itself and I overshot more than one corner as I was keeping an eye on the nav tower and concentrating on the throttle position.
On the run back to the start area, which was at the main field this time, the bike cleared again and was running fine. On the start of timed lap 1, I was off and other than keeping an eye on the increasingly floppy nav tower, I just got on it and put in, I think, a reasonable time on the special stage. Alas, it was not to be a clean nor unevenful lap. Dropping off the fire-road into a boggy rutted section, I dabbed lmy left foot and it just sank into the ground. The bike came down on me but it was still running. Clutch in, slither out from under and haul it up…. and it stalled. I got back on and thumbed the starter. Nothing…. not even a click. I notice the clocks are dark. Ignition off and back on. Check the kill switch. Nothing, still dead. No lights, not even the headlight is on which normally comes on with the ignition. Roadbook holder, cooling fans and aux fuel pump all run so the battery is okay and the connections are good (they’re wired directly).
I got a hand pushing the bike a short way up the trail to a safer area and then shooed the other guys away so I can get on with diagnosing the issue. It appeared to be a total electrical failure, but where to start? I checked all the fuses : maybe something went pop when it stalled. Nope, all the fuses are fine. Double checked the battery connections : fine. Connectors on ECU, temp sensor and fuel pump : fine. I checked the ignition switch, that’s fine too. I took the tank off, and traced the wires from the ignition barrel back, and I came across a little connector. I pulled it apart, hmm… that was too easy, I didn’t have to press in the little retaining catch. I reconnect it, making sure I hear the ‘click’ and turned the key. It’s alive! It seems the cable run is just a LITTLE tight, and while it’s fine for normal use, the bars must have turned that little bit further than normal when I dropped the bike and it’s pulled the connecter apart. I used pliers to get some purchase on the cables and pulled a few mm more cable through from the battery side of the connector to give a tiny bit more slack and then reassembled the bike.
As the clocks have been disconnected from the battery they have lost their time so I have no idea what time it is, and although my timecard is in the roadbook holder, the time for my next checkpoint isn’t visible. As I don’t have a clock on the bike now and my phone is in my rucksack, it would be pointless trying to check or worry anyway. I didn’t want to stop so I just pressed on and made as good progress as I could.
I hurtled past rider after rider who are all taking it a little easier on the liaisons, but I’was aware I’d been stopped for some time and didn’t want to time out by being 30 minutes late.
As I arrived at the start/finish area, I didn’t even bother contemplating lunch or a break and rode straight through the field, and around to the start again. I negotiated a few riders who were waiting for their allotted time to come around, got a surprised nod from the marshall who probably wasn’t expecting such a low numbered bike to be in amongst the 180s in the queue and headed straight back out at 13:59.
I would have timed out at 14:03.
The last lap was a stormer, I thouroughly enjoyed it and the bike didn’t miss a beat. I was still very aware of the nav tower which, by now, was more like an aluminium and fibreglass flag than anything useful. I stopped on one of the last sections as I could see there was only a few cm of alloy still intact on each side and decided to bodge what I could to stabilise it at least. If it’s not flapping from side to side, then maybe what little plate is left might support it till I get back. I got out the gaffa tape and did what I could, but there’s precious little to actually tape to on the bike. Chris Moss who was parked next to me in the paddock, and who’d been aware of all my trials and tribulations over the weekend, stopped to check all was well and I explain quickly what I’m doing. I was painfully aware that, although this is the last stretch, I was very close to timing out, and although I’d been making progress I wanted to waste as little time as possible and just get back. Chris offered to follow me back to ensure I get back okay, and I set off, negotiating the last short technical single-track section before hitting the fire-roads again.
Only seconds after reaching the fire-road the nav tower dropped noticeably and I realised that it’s finally parted company from the bike. I couldn’t give up! I knew I only had about 5 miles to go and I REALLY wanted this finish, so I did all I could do. I grabbed the roadbook holder with my left hand and got on the gas with my right. All the time, I was just thinking, “get back! get back, just finish”, and even riding one handed, I had slower riders waving me to overtake them, god only knows what they must have thought.
I reached the tarmac and knew I had only a mile or so to go, and as the paddock and camping field came into sight, I knew I’d made it. I’m not the most emotional type, but even I was punching the air : I’d made it back.
I got some odd looks riding back to the truck holding up the fairing of the bike, and it certainly looked very sorry for itself with it on the cock like that, but I’m proud to have got back and completed the rally after all that.
But, had my quick gaffa-taping of the fairing cost me more time? Had I ridden quick enough to regain some time?
Somehow, I made up 20 minutes on that last lap, and I got in well within time. An excellent result considering everything.
In the minutes after returning, I had a good look at the nav-tower and have identified a couple of flaws in how it was assembled, but more on that later.
Next stop, the Centennial rally in August. I’d better get my mechanics finger out!