** Guest post for Keep Britain Biking **
I have no power socket on my Triumph so I have no satnav. I have no luggage rack, so I am riding with a tankbag and a tailpack. I have no money in my bank account so I shall be camping. None of these things would matter if I weren’t heading for Wales to do a navigation challenge – the Welsh National Rally, run annually by the Clive MCC –against a forecast of gale force winds and heavy rain.
Why am I taking the Triumph when I have a perfectly good Africa Twin? It seemed like a good idea at the time. This is what they are going to write on my gravestone. I bought the Triumph new in 2000, then bought two other bikes and relegated him to a corner of the garage. Spiders moved into his rev counter. I know that bikes are just collections of moving machinery but too many episodes of Bagpuss in my childhood leave me with the firm belief that when no-one is looking he weeps quietly at being left out of my adventures. Motorcycles may just be machines but they are machines with souls, and their soul’s purpose is to move.
So this year I have resolved to go back to basics. Also the Africa Twin needs an oil change and the brakes bleeding and I spent too much time recently crawling underneath things and getting covered in grease. I am due a break. So is the Triumph. We tack north west on the M54, interrupted only by a brief pause on the hard shoulder to strap the luggage back on.
A finish in the Welsh National Rally requires a route that covers at least one manned control and visits five other checkpoints. Hardy types, such as Grim Rider Robert Roalfe, go for a Platinum Award, which requires 3 manned controls, 15 unmanned controls, and the Dragon Award. Lovers of Plastic Pigs and sidecars can aim for a Belenger award for three-wheelers. Hazards include getting lost, getting stuck on single-track roads when two cars enter a Mexican stand-off about who is giving way to whom, and being flagged down to help in emergencies. Greater love hath no man than he lay down his Platinum to go and get help for a competitor with a puncture and no mobile phone signal.
This is my first year as a competitor – the rally has always fallen on the same weekend as the Thundersprint, where Frank Melling has always kindly invited me to ride in the Cavalcade. This year the Thundersprint moved from Northwich to Ynys Mon, and also changed weekends. I like to believe Frank did this specially for me.
Because I am both lazy and gregarious, I am aiming for a Social Silver. This will be gained by the simple expedient of following Biker Paul, who has done all the actual work of route planning and satnav loading, with regular stops for tea. I am hoping to spot Twitter bikers @ledwardio and @niksix00, and I know that we will bump into friends from the Round Britain Rally, for whenever there is a challenge that involved navigating to obscure places while being rained on, the RBR will be represented.
Bikers are tribal creatures and I think David Attenborough has missed a trick by failing to devote a mini-series to our diverse plumages and pack behaviours. To fit in on a track day, you need knee-sliders, this year’s leathers and a very small camera attached to your bike. To fit in here, you need waterproof gear. Fashion gives way to function; glamour gives way to Goretex. And high-viz. I need sunglasses to look at the signing-on queue. Unfortunately that’s the last time I’ll need them all day…
The Big Gnarly Bike is the weapon of choice for sensible rallyists. As Paul and I plunge off into the sheep tracks I envy them. The Africa Twin would skip over the potholes and laugh at the thick crust of mud and grass on the apex of each corner. The Triumph crashes into each ridge and pit, setting my bingo wings flapping. We spend large parts of the day in first gear. But we don’t fall off the road and down the mountainside, and any day that doesn’t happen is a win.
The heavens open about five minutes after the start. I did have a fantastic set of BMW waterproofs. I left them on the ferry home from the Simmer Dim. I have a jacket-and-trousers combo for this weekend but after the first hour in the rain I remember why, for all their problems when it comes to lady loo breaks, onesies are better – no trouser seams can cope with the puddle of water that runs off the jacket and collects on the seat. Five hours of sitting with damp pants provide a cautionary reminder of the evils of drink.
But Wales would not be Wales without rainwater, suicide sheep, narrow lanes filled with unhurried buses, comedy place names – Pantperthog? Really? – and amazing views. Our 250 mile loop took us from the Aberystwyth mountain road to Cardigan Bay, via Happy Valley, and back to Castle Caereinon to be rewarded by a small trophy, a big curry and some great company.