Sunday, 26 January 2014

So much for resolutions (New Year or otherwise)

Yes the usual pattern repeats, I say I'm going to blog more often and then don't post anything for ages, so time for an update on the Rally Bike front.....

After I got the bike back home from it's foray on Salter fell, I stripped it down for a good clean and then set about sorting a few bits, like setting up the suspension, refitting lights and tidying up the wiring as I hate those blue plastic insulated connectors (the type you can buy in Halfords) and there was a few of those in the loom. All were replaced with 3.9mm "Japanese style" connectors, that are virtually identical to OEM equipment.


Much better, I'm sure you will agree!

A new LED rear light (from one of the boxes of bits I got) was grafted onto the rear end but the headlight was a bit problematic, the standard headlight fouls on the mounting block for the nav tower and as I was taking the bike out on the Baker Man's Run on Salisbury Plain on the 29th December, I didn't really want the nav tower on for it's first proper ride out.

The answer was provided by the trusty CCM, the headlight mounts slightly further forward so would avoid the mounting block. A couple of zip ties and some temporary wiring and all was sorted!

I then took it for a quick shake down run along the only Byway anywhere near my place at Woburn Sands (and a stop for coffee of course) and it all felt great!

On December 29th A great ride was had on Salisbury Plain and I was utterly convinced I have made the right decision, the bike is a revelation after the CCM...
Unfortunately my nice new rear light didn't survive too well as the heavy, standard number plate proved too heavy and it snapped the hanger (see below)!

So the following weekend, I started work again, after yet another good clean, I removed the rear light unit, unbolted the new LED light and stuck it on the old plastic carrier. I then fitted a newly arrived flexi number plate, much lighter than the standard one. I also fitted a secondary rear "rally light" again from the boxes of bits, as much to get the right "look" as any real need.

I decided that if I'm going to race it in fully rally trim, I had better get it sorted so I can get some practice riding it that way, so I started the rebuild:
Some of the spec:

2006 KTM EXC 450 / 525

Suspension set up by Broken Legs from the KTM UK Forum (feels damn good to me)!
KTM 13 litre tank
Reprofiled seat with gel pad
New Polisport Plastics
LED rear light
Clutch Saver
Trail Tech side stand
MotoRally Services Nav Tower and carbon fibre road book mount
F2R Road book holder
RNS Tripmaster "ICO"
Lazer LED headlight (but this may change)
KTM handguards (nicked off the CCM)
The bike is fitted with Michelin Desert Mousses
Alloy bash plate

So why is it going to look different?

I have the carbon fibre so called "toilet lid" fairing that previous owner Mike campaigned the bike with last year but I was waiting for the arrival of a Dottorri fairing (thanks again to Mike) which will be grafted on. Once I've got my greasy mitts on it, I shall decide if I'm going to run it with the standard headlight (as it's designed for) or whether it can be modified to retain the Lazer headlight.
A couple of weeks later I took the bike out for a spin yesterday with the Herts TRF, fully Navigation kitted just to see how it went.... really impressed!

I thought the road book would get in the way but not really that much different to riding my KTM 990 Adventure off road with its screen and if anything it helps your technique by making you look ahead and not at your front wheel (because you can't see it)!
Just before I went out, my neighbour popped round with a large parcel he had taken in for me, inside I found my Dottori fairing......

After the day's ride I got it out to take a closer look. Mike had warned me about the rough finish and that it would need proper prep and painting, luckily I had popped into see my mate Radu at his car repair workshop on the way back from the ride and he said he can do all that for me as well as fabricating brackets etc.... result!

Just had to try it for size.....

The view from the seat....

Now I'm just wondering what colour to paint it (apologies for the very rough and ready mock ups)

Orange to match the tank?

Or black to match the rest of the plastics?
My mates on have been pitching in with suggestions, so far these are: white but with graphics that fade from orange into white, or a black/orange fade or "don't worry it'll just get trashed... thanks guys and girls!

A few more photos



Thursday, 12 December 2013

New Toy Alert!

I know it's a bit early for new year resolutions but I've decided that in future I am going to try and avoid infrequent and lengthy blogs and instead keep them shorter and more frequent, so here goes....

Last weekend I finally sorted out myself a race bike for next year's All Terrain Rally Challenge. Next year I shall be riding a KTM 450EXC in the Rally Class.

Prior to the 2013 season the rally class was proposed in the UK for "proper" rally bikes... But what exactly is a "proper rally bike?"

In short, it's a bike with big fuel tanks, a frame mounted rally fairing and navigation equipment. This is essential for overseas rallies where stages are long and fuel stops infrequent, riders have to navigate, the fairing helps protect the navigation gear and also the rider on long stages. Also in rallies forming part of the World Championships the bikes are now limited to a maximum of 450cc. But essentially a rally bike is one with the correct "look", something like this a 2013 KTM 450RR...

But for UK rallies, the rally class is a fairly nebulous concept, we don't need big tanks as courses are shorter and we don't need navigation gear as frankly the Forestry Commission don't want us finding our own way in case we get lost and ride where we shouldn't and without long, fast stages a fairing is not really required and can even be a hindrance on tight UK forest courses.

So the Rally class was essentially established as a "silhouette class" about the correct look.
As a result it needs to be "450cc or above" as many UK bikes are older international specification, 660cc or 690cc for instance (and although many bikes labelled as 450s are actually just below the limit they are still allowed in) In fact my 450 started life as a 449.3cc but has been fitted with a 525EXC barrel and piston (the rest of the engine is identical) although confusingly it's actually now 510cc. And the bikes must have a minimum fuel capacity of 18 litres and a frame mounted fairing.

So what does my new bike look like?

Well on collection it has none of the above but is currently stripped down having had new "plastics" fitted (mudguards, number plates etc) and doesn't even have lights fitted. But did come with a couple of large boxes full of all the necessary kit.

I bought it from a friend in Lancashire and trailered it back home but first took it for a spin on the unclassified road over Salter Fell in the Forest of Bowland (after strapping the number plate back on).

The bike will be built up into full rally spec over the coming weeks, including fitting a 5 litre rear fuel tank (it already has a larger 13 litre main tank), navigation "tower" and a fairing. It has a fairly rudimentary fairing at present (pictured with previous owner Mike at this year's Hellas Rally).

However for me this doesn't give the right look so I have an Italian Dottori fairing on order so hopefully the final look will be something like this:

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Carlisle and beyond

It's catch up part two.......

The Centennial Rally in Carlisle was the one we had all been waiting for. Organised to celebrate the centennial of the International Six Days Trial or ISDT (now called the International Six Days Enduro or ISDE). It first started in Carlisle in 1913. The Rally promised three days of racing with one day of over 200 miles and a City Centre paddock, it looked set to be a good event. 

But of course nothing seems to happen to me  without a struggle these days and my hotel booking was changed with a few days to go due to “plumbing problems” at the Swallow Hotel on the edge of town, to a City Centre hotel with no parking and situated right on the main street of Carlisle. This was not good news as Carlisle has a reputation as a “lively” place at the weekend and on-line reviews of the hotel all spoke of not being able to sleep on Friday and Saturday nights due to the noise…. great! 

However I persevered, especially after discovering a fellow racer had cancelled his booking at the Swallow (thanks Mike)! and eventually got the news that my room was confirmed, half an hour after I left home for Carlisle! 

As to getting to Carlisle, Trev, a friend of mine offered to lend me his Vauxhall Vivaro van for the weekend, in exchange for trying out my Defender, so all was arranged. Fitting the CCM in the night before departure was fun as the back of the van is racked out and still had most of Trev’s tools etc in the back. In addition I was carrying spare wheels, tools, spares, three fuel cans, riding kit for three days and every eventuality/weather/conditions even down to a spare crash helmet and spare boots. 


I had agreed to pop in and see my friend Ann in Towcester on the way, as she was missing the Rally having only just had a major operation to fix her shoulder back together, following her accident the previous month. She had also offered to lend me her Klim Powercross Jacket so a brief stop in Towcester and a cuppa was the order of the day. 

The rest of the journey was relatively straightforward despite heavy rain most of the way and was certainly more comfy (and more economical) than had I trailered the bike behind the Land Rover. Arriving at the Swallow Hotel, I checked in and headed into the City Centre to the paddock. I signed on and caught up with friends. 

That evening a bunch of us headed out for an excellent curry in town, then an (early-ish) night before racing commenced on the Friday morning. 

The day dawned a bit overcast but dry and I headed back to the paddock for scrutineering that went without a hitch and to get ready for the start. This was very different to the usual start in the middle of a remote forest, seen off by one man and his dog. Instead we were flagged off by the Mayor of Carlisle, under an impressive start arch and there was even a sizeable number of spectators to watch us leave. 
Rob Loupart at the start

Riding out of Carlisle alongside organiser Burt who was heading out onto the course on a borrowed BMW R1200GS, I remarked to him at some traffic lights that It looked like I had finally sorted the backfire. Of course as I slowed down for the next set of lights the damn thing let out an enormous BANG! Famous last words and all that! Burt was killing himself laughing!  Curiously the bike didn’t backfire again (well not until Sunday but that’s another story).

After crossing the M6 heading towards the days stage in the Kershope Forest, we followed some pleasant back roads until reaching a T Junction. I turned right and accelerated away up a hill to another junction, as I rolled off the throttle…. Absolutely nothing happened! The bike was stuck at full throttle and heading for the give way line whilst still accelerating!!! A brief “oh shit” moment occurred until I had the presence of mind to hit the kill switch and coasted round the junction and a short distance down the road to a halt. 

The throttle was jammed solid, on investigation it was clear that one strand of the cable had become undone and jammed inside the outer cable housing, so although several people stopped to help, I sent them on their way as there was no quick fix and no reason for them to lose time on my behalf. Burt then caught up again and we investigated using the choke cable as an alternative but it was not long enough. Burt had to go and promised to send the van that had taken petrol cans out to the refuelling point to pick me up, although it was likely to be several hours. 
The culprit!

The cable failure was annoying as there had been no way of spotting it as the strand had unwound inside the cable outer and was not evident until we pulled the two apart (and that took a lot of brute strength) and despite the fact I had carefully examined all the cables during the rebuild. 

Sitting at the side of the road, I suddenly realised I was on a road and I do of course have “roadside recovery” with the RAC, so I called them out. I don’t usually carry a phone with me on Rallies but did this time due to the large distances involved, a fact I was now very grateful for. I had to walk back to the junction to get a signal. I knew the RAC would ask for a post code and as there were some holiday cottages on the corner and the sign had a website address, I tried looking them up to get the exact location but couldn’t get a 3G signal. On calling the RAC, I told them I was “at a road junction in the middle of nowhere” but could tell them what the three nearest villages were (from the finger post on the junction) and the name of the holiday cottages and their website address and eventually they decided where I was and dispatched a van. 

Shortly afterwards, a woman emerged from one of the cottages and asked if I’d like to wheel the bike up and put it in the courtyard in front, which I did. Whilst we were talking my phone rang and it was the RAC Patrol, he too asked if I knew the post code and the woman was able to tell me, it turned out to be completely different to the one he had been given by RAC control! The good news was that he was only minutes away and was soon on the scene. 

A biker himself he soon had an idea and rather than call for a recovery truck, he proceeded to construct a temporary cable from some electrical wire, making “nipples” out of solder on each end. We ran it through the centre of the handlebar clamp so it didn’t alter the throttle setting if the bars were turned (well not too much) and then when decided to test it, discovered the battery had gone flat after my earlier attempts to start it with my unsuccessful choke cable bodge. A quick push down the hill and we bumped it into life and I set off the twelve miles back to Carlisle at a steady 25mph, with the RAC guy following me to make sure I got back OK.  

After getting back to the paddock, I completed the paperwork for the RAC, got some lunch from the excellent Lakeland Burger Company stall and then went looking for bike shops. Whilst I knew there no chance of getting a proper CCM cable, the second shop I visited came up trumps with a “universal” cable repair kit for only £5. 

Back at the paddock, I set to and soon had the bike stripped down again but needed a new outer cable too as the lining was wrecked. When my friend Dave returned from the day, he provided an old cable from his Yamaha 660 Tenere that had a broken (plastic) fitting on one end. The outer cable was almost exactly the same length as the original throttle cable, so we cut the inner cable and removed it, changed the Yamaha fittings for the CCM ones and threaded through the new repair cable. This had a selection of “solderless nipples” to screw onto one end, so I chose the smallest one as this matched the original most closely. After fitting everything it was clear it wasn’t small enough and was jamming inside the throttle housing…. Shut this time! So a bit of “engineering” with a flat file got it small enough to run through the throttle housing and I was in business. A brief test ride showed that the cable had a bit too much slack in it despite the adjusters being wound all the way out but as I had filed the nipple down destroying the screw head, I couldn’t move it along the cable so although not ideal it would work!  

With my DNF from the day, I wasn’t going to get a result but still had the prospect of two days riding in great terrain and with no pressure to compete, so I could just get out there and enjoy myself!
Day two was a marathon day billed at 250 miles, across to the Kielder Forest on back roads then some big laps of the forest. As my times on the special stages were immaterial, all I had to worry about was not getting in anyone's way. So had a long, wet, windy, knackering but thoroughly enjoyable day.
Phil Page in Kielder
Whoops! Someone had a bad day

I needed new brake pads by the end of the day!
Dave Shield had a tricky moment when his fairing bracket broke, he finished the day (and rode the next) like this, whilst his fairing came back in the refuelling truck.
Sunday dawned a bit brighter although the paddock was still a bit damp!
Sunday was a repeat of Friday back to Kershope Forest, so for me was completely new. As everyone had already ridden the special stage, there was no sighting lap. But of course I hadn't, so my first lap was a bit scary having to learn my way round whilst trying to maintain race speeds to try and avoid holding anyone up. Of course I had no need to ride fast but the last thing I wanted was to get in someone's way.
The CCM was up to it's old tricks, the sealant having blown out of the exhausts, so the backfire was back with a vengeance!
We eventually finished back at Carlisle and all agreed the Rally had been a great success.

Rob's "Rally Alp" looking a bit battered on Sunday morning
As my house move was coming up I had decided not to race again this year and the CCM was in dire need of TLC, which is becoming a bit of a chore as I never get to ride it on the trails anymore as I seem to spend all the time between Rallies fixing it. Something needed to be done for next year! It got cleaned up, the chain lubed and it got stored away in my Sister's garage whilst I sorted out moving house.
Then a change of plan occurred and Ann offered to lend me her KTM 400EXC for the one-day Hafren Rally at Sweet Lamb in Mid Wales. The deal also included a night in the spare room at Ann's so we could leave at stupid o'clock on Sunday morning.
A decent drive to Wales was had, the bike scrutineered and numbers affixed I set off while Ann headed out onto the course to take photos. The first lap was a revelation for me, the EXC was a completely different beast to the CCM, light, easy to handle and surprisingly torquey for a "little" engine. It was also viciously quick steering, that caught me out several times each lap, although I had the height and strength to manhandle the bike back into line each time but explains how Ann had her  accident on a seemingly innocuous green lane.
Towards the end of Lap One (Picture © Ann Ross-Tuson)
All went well for the second and most of the third (last) lap until the final special stage. Turning up a fast rocky ascent, the front wheel caught a big rock and the front of the bike reared up and the handlebars hit me full in the chest! I then was flung over the bars and crashed down on my hip (a few naughty words were said at this stage)!
After getting my breath back I discovered I had ripped the threads out of the handlebar mount, leaving the bars flapping loose, unable to repair them, had to ride back very slowly. Stopping to use some plastic course marking tape to tie the bars in place, so they didn't let go altogether.
I eventually finished the lap and by now the adrenaline had worn off and I was in serious pain from my hip and chest. My other friend Michael helped Ann get my kit sorted and loaded the bike. My hip was now seriously swollen and sticking out several inches compared to the other so Ann took over the driving duties and took me straight to A&E at Shrewsbury Hospital.
An evening of Hip, Pelvis and Chest X-rays and an ECG ensued and eventually I was pronounced bruised but otherwise OK and allowed to go. 
Ann drove me home in the Land Rover and even gave up her bed for me as it was more comfy than the spare room, where she retreated to!  A real mate indeed!

The bruising was extensive and very painful and whilst the amazing technicolor display has long gone, eleven weeks later the swelling still hasn't fully gone away and my hip is still sore and movement limited. The bruise eventually spread from my chest to my ankle and right across my body front and back.... not good!

So definitely the end of my racing career for 2013.

A week later I moved into my new house, carrying furniture around was not enjoyable to say the least. Since then it has been loads of domestic stuff like buying furniture, fitting blinds and stuff but I have eventually got round to sorting out a bike to race next year.... watch this space as they say!



Saturday, 16 November 2013

A bit of a catch up

Yes it’s been a long time since I updated the blog but a heck of a lot has been going on in my life, so hopefully you will excuse me dear reader!

Last time you may recall I had just done a training day in the Cotswolds and got some great photos from my friend Ann. I had also recently finished the Ryedale Rally, where It looked like I might have got 11th place in class. The good news was that I eventually wound up 8th in class, my best ever result, I knew I had been riding fast but didn’t realise just how fast!

Racing was forgotten for a while and I enjoyed a couple of days out with Ann. As she was waiting for an operation on her dislocated shoulder and wanted to get in as many miles on the bike as she could beforehand as she would be spending several weeks unable to ride afterwards.

In early August we rode up to the Peak District on the day of the protest by the TRF/GLASS against byway closures by the Peak District National Park. A cold, damp ride from Towcester saw us arriving rather late so we bypassed the event at the National Park centre headed straight for the cafĂ© in Hope for coffee and cake (anyone notice a trend here)?

Afterwards we did some green lanes near Sheffield.

Ann on Houndskirk Moor

A Choice of KTM Adventures, little and large!
Then we rode up to the top of the  Long Causeway on Stanage Edge, where the weather started to deteriorate rapidly:

I don't think Ann was enjoying the weather!

Heading for home we stopped at a T-Junction but as I pulled away something was clearly wrong and the bike was almost uncontrollable. I pulled up to find the rear tyre had punctured....

It's only flat at the bottom!
It was still raining and wouldn't be too long before it started to get dark, so I was reluctant to try and repair it, especially as I only had some very short tyre levers, fine for changing a skinny 120/100 on the CCM but I wasn't sure they'd be any good on the meaty 150/70 on the back of the KTM (I struggle with a set of 14" tyre levers in the warmth of the garage)!
So after wobbling along the road to the thankfully close pub, I called the RAC and they said a patrol would be with me in an hour. So we retreated to the pub and ordered dinner! In the event the Patrol driver called me and asked if it was a tubeless tyre as he could plug it, of course it is a tubed tyre, so no joy! As a result he ordered up a recovery truck straight away, which saved some time.
So after a very pleasant dinner, I got to head back to Stevenage in a truck, whilst Ann had to ride home to Towcester in the dark and the rain.... and yes I do still feel guilty about that (something I'm sure I'll get reminded about for a long time yet)!

A week later we met up again for a much more pleasant ride to Didcot to Premier Bikes, where Ann wanted to take a look at a Husqvarna TE 449 for sale. After that we headed down to Stonehenge but first stopped off at the Costa Coffee at Solstice Service on the A303 for the obligatory Cake and Coffee!

The A303 was at a standstill so we bypassed it to the north through Larkhill Camp (and past the curious Woodhenge) and then down the byway to Stonehenge. On arrival the byway was being used by literally hundreds of cars avoiding the charges at the car park, although it manage to snatch a photo of the stones...

We soon retreated across the A303 and further down the byway for some peace and quiet:

A bit quieter here!

Anne starts to have new ideas about what bike to get (good job I removed the keys)

Needless to say, the ride home was "interrupted" at Starbucks at Oxford Services!

Next I had the CCM to rebuild, the next event was the three day Centennial Rally in Carlisle, so I knew I had to cure the now very serious oil leak before that and sorting the backfire was a priority too.

However in sorting the first I found a (temporary) cure for the second! After degreasing the bike thoroughly, I took it out for a spin on the road to try and detect where the oil was leaking from. At first the bike just didn’t want to run until I realised I had forgotten to replace the air filter after removing it for cleaning. “Not a problem” I thought and put the choke on to balance up the mixture. This had the almost magical effect of eliminating the backfire. A bit of playing around with the choke settings and it became clear that the bike was running too lean in the mid-range so a solution looked possible.

It was soon evident that the cause of the oil leak was the cylinder base gasket, a big job but not impossible, so I ordered up some parts and set to pulling the bike apart.

Now it is the perceived wisdom that you can’t remove the cylinder head on the 604 engine whilst it is in the frame, let alone the cylinder itself but I knew differently. Getting the engine in and out of the frame is a truly horrible job as at the factory they used a jig to spread the frame to get them in, so without one it simply doesn’t fit into the frame without a monumental struggle! So I was looking to avoid this if at all possible.

By removing the two front engine mounting bolts, you can rotate the engine forward and down in the frame and this gives you just enough space to remove the cylinder head…. So far, so good.

By removing various bits from the frame (coil, ignition unit and the wiring loom) I hoped to be able to lift the cylinder off as well. It was an extremely tight fit but I eventually managed it.

The reason for the oil leak was immediately obvious!

I think that base gasket has seen better days!
A new base gasket in place, I spent a considerable amount of time (and skinned knuckles) trying to get the cylinder back over the very long retaining studs. This at first seemed impossible but working on the principle that if it came off in situ, it must go back again, I persevered and eventually got it back in place. Then the next challenge began, getting the piston back inside the cylinder!


This involves compressing the piston rings into the liner… easier said than done. Having struggled to do this on other engine rebuilds in the past, I knew the easy solution was to get the right tool for the job; a piston ring compressor. Unfortunately I found it impossible to find one larger than 75mm diameter; unfortunately the bore on the CCM is 97mm. So I admitted defeat and attempted to install it by hand. Over the course of several days I struggled with the damn thing and whilst I could get the first two (compression) rings into the bottom of the barrel, the third, oil scraper ring just wouldn’t go. It is a complicated bit of engineering containing a spring and having two “scraping” edges that are very sharp, the ends of my fingertips suffered a bit during this process.

Doesn't look much but they did sting a bit!

Eventually I managed to snap the oil ring, so had a couple of days rest whilst I ordered a new one from CCM, at the princely cost of £38 + VAT!!!

Whilst waiting for this to arrive, I decided to smarten up the bike and fitted new tank graphics and number backgrounds; going for a black, grey and white combo as opposed to the old black, grey and yellow. I also tidied up the wiring loom and fitted a new chain and sprockets, front brake pads and tyres. Other jobs involved replacing the cable tie holding the speedo on, with a more permanent solution and sorting the non-functioning neutral light. That turned out to be easy as the bulb holder had simply fallen out the back!”

When the new oil ring turned up, a few more days or struggling, cursing and split finger tips ensued. Eventually the ring “slid” into place but with a horrible “snapping” sound, that sounded suspiciously like the noise the old ring made when it broke. However the barrel slid on OK and the engine turned over smoothly with no worrying noises, so reluctant to go through everything again and rapidly running out of time, I continued with the rebuild.

New O rings for the head (the Rotax doesn’t have a head gasket), a new cam belt and spark plug were all installed and the rest of the rebuild went OK.

I altered the position of the carb needle to make the mixture richer in the mid-range and took care to seal the exhausts into the head properly, all in the interests of eliminating the backfire.

Eventually finished, the bike fired up easily and seemed to make no strange noises, so all looked good. A brief road test and…. No backfire, no oil leaks result!

 So all was ready for heading off to Carlisle…. To be continued!