Category Archives: Round Britain Rally

Arse

“My bike is louder than your bike!”

The smalls next door decided to have a sweet shop at the end of their drive this weekend, which was rather unkind at a time when I am strictly bound to the rules of Fat Club.

As I fitted the sat-nav mount to the handlebars of the Jawa they tempted me with less of a siren call, more of a bellow. “Would you like some sweeties?” I’m very glad that it was them offering me sweets and not the other way round!

As AdventureDog and I had a hard weekend of sidecar voyaging ahead, two small bags of cola bottles seemed a justifiable purchase. Larger small carefully tweezered them from her stash into a bag. “What were you doing last week under your car with a chainsaw?” she asked.

I don’t remember doing anything under my car with a chainsaw, but I was hacksawing the exhaust off. I explain, briefly. Meanwhile small small has run off to get his biker boots, for he is one of those tiny motocross riders with no fear, and wants to show me that not only is his bike louder than mine, his boots are better and he goes faster.

I have no doubt.

But it’s OK, because this weekend is about distance, not speed. I was fitting the sat-nav because for the first time in three years I was going somewhere on a bike that I hadn’t been before – the starting landmark for the Round Britain Rally.

Because the bastard snow has kept us within the city limits for far longer than planned, I was quite worried about the  160-mile round trip to the ARSE, the Annual Rally Start Event, when our furthest voyage has been the 13 miles to the Long Itch Diner. Or perhaps the abandoned run from Fife to Dundee last August which ended up on the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery’s trailer.

So Saturday’s mission was to double that with a trip to Jack Hill’s Cafe, one of my favourite biker stops, and if all went well, make it back to Asda in time to take part in the Coventry Riders Action Group Easter Egg Run. I love a good egg run and I haven’t done one since I lived in East Anglia.

Of course it was raining on Saturday. Just like the good old days. I’m impressed that my personal weather system has waited the four years I’ve been away from motorcycle touring. It joyfully precipitated upon me all the way down the A45 to Jack’s, where I had a cup of tea instead of a fry-up, and AdventureDog gave me the face because he didn’t get any bacon.

Slowly, the niggles are being ironed out. Having 40psi in the rear tyre instead of 5 certainly improves the handling. Backing off the rear drum adjusters released an extra 5mph – may not sound that impressive but when you’re struggling to get up hills it makes a big difference! And all my bad habits are being shown up. On the 125 I brake into a corner and coast round. On an outfit that drifts you out into the oncoming traffic. Get your braking before the corner – biker 101. I may even have muttered IPSGA to myself.

Damp but happy, dog, chair, Jawa and I made it to Asda in time for a coffee, a chat about the insanity of the decision to charge bikers £12.50 a day to ride in London, and a rapid turnaround to head out on the egg run.

“I’ll keep it fairly slow,” said Baz, in the briefing. There must be a local definition of slow I’m not familiar with, I thought as we hurtled along the back roads around Wolvey and back to Broad Park House, a centre for children with learning disabilities. They were so excited to see the bikes and the best thing about the day was that everyone was happy to let the kids scramble into the seats, toot the horns, and generally have a whale of a time, even the chap with a gorgeous BSA and vintage sidecar who would have been quite justified in saying no. With three kids in the sidecar and two on the bike, they looked like they were ready to hit the road and have the best adventure ever, but for dog and I it was back to the cupboard via the petrol station to get ready for our Sunday run.

I have done 360-mile days, I have ridden from Lands End to John O’Groats (more than once) and I’ve even done one Brit Butt (Lite version) but for the last three years I have only ridden the three miles to work and back. Everything else has been done sitting on my arse in the Lomax, and one of the lessons of Saturday was that my riding fitness has withered away. It is OK, I tell myself. When I got my first big bike after learning, I was daunted by the thought of riding from Buckinghamshire to Sheffield, where then-hubs was working. I printed out out maps, wrote myself some tips, and survived.

On Sunday I packed a flask, a bacon sandwich, and a reminder that this wasn’t about heroic stamina, it was about getting started. And my raincloud had decided to take a holiday so it was a lovely day to bimble south, stop to do my velcro up again (it’s given up any kind of grip), stop to let the dog have a wee (should have gone before we went), stop for a coffee (roadside coffee always tastes better when you’re sat on a bike), have a go on the motorway (not a great idea), stop to check whether I’d filled the 2-stroke tank up (yes), and finally make it to the ARSE.

Touring on a 350cc outfit is slow.

It got slower on the way home and when I pulled in to the petrol station I discovered oil all over the crankcase. 2 for 2, I thought, and went home sad. But people who know 2-strokes and Jawas better than me say it is just dribble from the exhaust. So Easter is looking like this:-

  • remove, clean and refit exhaust headers
  • de-gunk the silencers as far as possible without setting them on fire or filling them with caustic soda.
  • clean and refit the carb

I hope Jesus would approve. After all, it is a resurrection of sorts.

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Filed under Riding, Round Britain Rally, Sidecar

In which the universe has another go at finishing me off

If I had written this last night it would have been called “Red Sky at Night – Highwaylass’s delight” and it would have been a cheerful reflection on an evening ride home after a successful sidecar voyage to the far distant territories of the Birmingham suburbs.

But I’m writing it tonight and it’s called ”I’m shit out of luck, still.”

Last week the 2CV exhaust sheared off about two thirds of the way along its length. I’m already a week late going to Wrexham to collect a 2CV engine for the Lomax (snow stopped travel), and now I don’t have a car. I put the screws on a friend and he agreed to be chauffeur yesterday – then it turned out that the seller wasn’t going to be around to do a handover. So I had a free Saturday. If DPD had done their part, I would have spent the day fitting a new exhaust and all my mobility problems would be over.

Friday came and went with no parcel. After half an hour on hold I got to speak to a human who muttered something about the parcel not having been scanned out and he would upgrade me for free to Saturday morning delivery.

Saturday morning the tracker was going backwards – on Friday my parcel had “arrived” at Hinckley. On Saturday morning it was “on its way” to Hinckley. 20 minutes on hold to speak to a human who said no, don’t expect it today – it’s probably locked in a truck. Actually I’m imagining it swirling round and round some mythical maelstrom, unable to acheive escape velocity. It’s now supposed to be arriving tomorrow. I’m not holding my breath. It’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to talk to anyone prepared to give me a straight answer about what has gone wrong, and when I might actually get it.

Anyway, I was determined to make the best of it so instead of wrestling the exhaust,  Saturday saw dog, Jawa and I having a fun day out with no mechanical failures.

And today is the start of the year – the Round Britain Rally pre-ARSE ITCH, at the Long Itchingdon diner. After a foggy start the sun came out, we trundled down at a fair clip navigating the bends like someone who knew what they were doing, had a cup of tea, met old friends, and then it all went a bit wrong.

Piling back towards Cov we stuttered to a halt. OK – just need to switch onto reserve. But that’s just 100 miles from 15 litres of fuel. Is that about right for a 350cc engine with a sidecar and a fat bird?  And it seems that running dry has led to shite being sucked into the carb – 2 miles down the road there was a catch and a stutter, as if the engine was about to sieze, 8 miles down the road we could barely stagger round the Sainsbury’s car park, and then when parked up I discovered the carb pissing neat petrol all over the hot engine.

Brilliant.

Thank god for Twitter. Hit it with a hammer, said @midlifeclassics and @scunjee.

I know that it’s teething problems and to be expected. But I just want to go on a run and not have something die, blow up, risk spontenous combustion while I’m buying potatoes, or sieze.

And DPD if you’re listening, I really, really want my fucking parcel tomorrow.

 

 

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Have a little patience

Finally! After the dark, the first signs of spring are here. Not the daffodils spearing up through the verge ready to get widdled on by the dog (sorry, daffodils) and not the fact that it’s daylight at home-time. No, spring is on its way because Saturday was the RBR awards dinner.

This year (and last year, but I couldn’t go last year, because Scotland) we gathered in The George Hotel, Lichfield, in a blue, vaulted room lined with slightly dodgy paintings (“Look,” said Jenny. “That chap’s feet are floating above the grass.”)  The Wingman isn’t allowed to come and it’s a bit too cold for him to sit in the car so he stayed at home to watch the Olympics. The good news was that despite me changing the fuel line and cleaning out the carb on Saturday morning Hortense still made it. The bad news was that I stabbed myself in two fingers with the end of the choke cable doing the job and they still bloody hurt.

“We’ll do this in reverse order and start with the Finishers,” announced Dave the D. Yes, that was me. I had the fewest points of all this year’s awards guests. That’s what happens when your Lomax dies in June and your job only lets you take days off if three other women agree you could have those days. (And that, dear reader, is why it isn’t my job any more. Three women with a veto on my riding time!) I got six landmarks out of more than 50. But they were good ones, in the remotest corners of the Highlands.

Now I have to scrape together as much patience as I can muster because the 2018 list won’t be released until March 11.  A few years ago Graham began auctioning preview copies for those whose pockets were deeper than their patience – an innovation which has raised nearly £4,000 for the Air Ambulance. I bought a preview list one year – but these days the moths are in charge of my wallet so I am just going to have to wait.

Still, that gives me three weeks to fix the Lomax….

 

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“I belong to the road.” #thedarkisreading

IMG_0325“Expect nothing and fear nothing, here or anywhere. There’s your first lesson.”

According to the internet, which as we know can always be relied upon for truth and accuracy, in Iceland people look forward to the Yule Book Flood just as much as the coming of Father Christmas.

Jólabókaflóð has been a tradition there since the Second World War. Family and friends exchange books at Christmas, which must be opened and read straight away. This seems a far better way of spending Christmas than bickering over who gets to be in charge of the remote control, or sitting in separate rooms bingeing on box sets.

This year I was given a very special book by a wonderful friend so that I could take part in #thedarkisreading, a community read-along of Susan Cooper’s fantasy novel, The Dark is Rising.

I can’t remember a time when I hadn’t read it. I re-read it in 2016 when I was reading books where the plot is inseperable from the location, for a feature I was writing. The novel is set rather firmly in 1970s Buckinghamshire, at a time when villages still have post offices and London still has docks.

Both of my copies are currently in storage in Scotland. So now I have a lovely new edition, and am slightly disturbed to find that it is now a Vintage Classic.

There are no rules to the read-along – just to enjoy the book, and share thoughts. I’m reading it in real time, to match the action to the days between the Winter Solstice and Twelfth Night, so we’re currently in the pause between Christmas and New Year. The snow is falling, and the Stantons are cooped up in their rambling rural home.

It’s a story about lots of things, which I won’t go into in detail because you might want to read it for yourself – and you should.

When I read it as a child it was about British folklore, Herne the Hunter and the king who sleeps under the hill. I grew up near Alderley Edge and we don’t doubt that he is there, ready to ride out when Britain faces its greatest peril. And it was about being the youngest in a family and how that makes you separate from the rest of them.

This year I’m reading it and it’s a story about the power of the landscape, the old roads and those who travel them. John Smith says to Will Stanton:

“They can do me no harm. I come of the wrong breed for that. And in this time I belong to the road, as my craft belongs to all who use the road.”

Which means, of course, that it’s really a story about bikers. Those of us who like to trundle around the byways of Britain, at least. And the rector’s motorcycle plays a small but important role on Christmas Day.

From Susan Cooper the road winds through Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, T H White, Robin of Sherwood and J R R Tolkein to Terry Pratchett. Next Christmas I might start at the beginning of the Discworld and come back to reality some time in mid-January.

 

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You’re a bloody idiot

wales copy copyIt seemed a bit harsh. The bloke in the blue car who’d chased me down the M6 and wound down his window to deliver his verdict hardly knew me. I didn’t think I’d done anything particularly idiotic – changed lanes, discovered the  one I was in was about to dump me off the motorway into darkest Birmingham, changed back. Maybe he was fulfilling the role of Caesar’s slave, because frankly I was feeling pretty immortal.

There are few things as good as driving a car that was a basket-case when you first got it, hearing its barbaric yawp from the engine that you rebuilt,  and knowing that you and your doggy sidekick have got three more days of road trip ahead – and a weather forecast promising lots and lots of sun, which is unusual for the Welsh National Rally.

As already noted, this was my first solo run – though it isn’t ever really a solo run, not even a little bit. Steve and Jim, the Twins-soon-to-be-separated-by-a-CrossRunner were at the bunkhouse already, so Thursday night was fish and chips and a pot of tea. On Friday they were off towards St Davids, while AdventureDog and I were heading down the border towards Hereford and then heading into the mountains for what should have been a five-landmark day. The satnav foiled this plan by deciding, after I missed my turn to a landmark in the valleys, to shrug its electronic shoulders and decide we had been close enough, no need to tell me. Well done for trying. I didn’t notice for another half an hour. Bloody annoying but a good lesson for the Rally – always go point-to-point, don’t trust the technology! And the consolation prize was a drive down an amazing twisty road across a miniature moorland which I had no idea existed in this former mining heartland – stunning views interrupted by the occasional heart attack when a local came bombing round the hairpins not expecting to find a small blue roller skate in the middle of the road.

wales1 copySalt was rubbed firmly into the wound when I got back to the bunkhouse and the Twins pointed out that the back road from my final landmark to the one I dropped for lack of time was about 10 miles up a goat track, not the 40 mile detour that the Garmin wanted me to take.  It has turned into some sort of nanny, making its own decisions for me. ‘Not that way, dear, it’s not safe for you.’ It needs a telling!

On Friday evening the rest of Team RBR turned up – JD, and the Bell brothers, standing in for dad. Maps were checked – my tatty paper Wales Touring maps from my first RBR in 2003, Jim’s laminated A4 cards with route info and a photo of each target, the Bells with an amazingly detailed plan of attack and a GoPro.

We set off on Saturday morning. I got lost trying to find the petrol station, which wasn’t the best of starts, but it did mean my arrival at Castle Caerinion was perfectly timed to get my card stamped and get going.

I wanted a Dragon this year – I had worked out that to do the extra four locations added only 40 miles or so to the route, the sun was shining, and I would never have such a good chance again. But time gets away from you so quickly. This may have been because I spent the first half of the rally going up the goat tracks just for the entertainment value. On my second road I rounded a bend to find a BMW pilot covered in mud from knees to neck and his partner helping him fetch the bike out of the hedge. ‘It gets worse,’ they said. ‘You’ll be OK though.’ And it’s true – roads I wouldn’t dare on the Triumph are a breeze on three wheels. Shakey looked a bit alarmed when we headed sideways in a three-wheel drift towards the fence but it ended well.

At 4pm we were still somewhere the wrong side of Machynlleth. But there was only one WNR location and one Dragon left and the sun was still shining .We pulled in to Dinas Mawddwy, which sounds like one of P Diddy’s aliases, to be greeted by thumbs up and cheering from a group of blokes outside the pub. Cool. I stopped 200 yards further down the road to dive into the ladies. Not so cool. But they did give me directions to the Merion Mill, and that was my silver in the bag. The miles to the last reservoir were some of the best of the rally – empty roads, late afternoon sunshine, a happy dog under blue skies – perfection. And then the last miles back to Castle Caerinion were under a biblical thunderstorm with thunderbolts, lightning and torrential rain. Still, if you are gong to be soaked, far better to be soaked at the end when you can gain bragging rights but go home to dry out!

Standout memories of the day? A big cheery wave from JD who was heading south while I was heading north to the Dinas Dinlle airport. No, it’s not a Morgan. Finally escaping the 20-mph sightseers and powering round the sweeping curves of Snowdonia to see the granite soaring skywards. Incredibly polite Americans asking what on earth I was driving. A much-needed Mars Bar in the Co-Op car park. And my fabulous new coaster! Same again next year?

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Filed under Lomax, Round Britain Rally, spring, Welsh National Rally

Happy St Piran’s Day

Today is World Book Day, but I’m sure I’ve blogged about that before. It’s also St Piran’s Day, which gives me an excuse to mention the Round Britain Rally.

St Piran’s Cross was one of the landmarks in my early days of rallying. I first did the RBR in 2003, well before Sat-Nav. Some of the clues would be labelled ‘Short Walk.’ This is a short walk like that enjoyed by Eric Newby in the Hindu Kush.

Perran Sands on a sunny August day is not a great place to be roaming in full bike kit, carrying a lid, a tankbag, an RBR board and a camera. Oh, and a map. Did I mention this was before Sat Nav? My map reading skills are not very good and a helpful dogwalker took pity on me. I wasn’t the first biker he’d found wandering among the dunes.

Which is why this story made me laugh. I am quite sure the biker must have been looking for one of the more elusive landmarks and cursing Dave the D gently under his breath.

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So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind…

L1060144crop This is what the end of the RBR 2014 looks like.  Strictly speaking there are 9 days left in which to bag landmarks, but I am happy with my 215 points this year. Special Circumstances apply, and it seems to have been a low-scoring year all round. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes you need to rebuild half of your engine before you can move forward.

It looks like a fairy ring but it’s the footprint of a medium-to-large tipi. Conkers being less wild than Low Wray, Shakey and I enjoyed a bedside lamp and a halogen heater. Because I am a bit slow of thinking at the moment, I hadn’t realised that a halogen heater doubles as a lighthouse. Still, it made the Klondike look very pretty – like a pointy Chinese Lantern, but not on fire. It would have been cool to have a mobile of bikers and three-legged dogs chasing landmarks to shadow-dance on the walls.

To the right is the windbreak for our Saturday afternoon Adjudication Barbecue. Those whom Graham decides to have photographed the wrong landmark can console themselves with a Frickadillo or a bratwurst. And a beer. Normally Dave and MommyBear come and do the actual cooking.  This year it was my responsibility and my skills fell sadly short. Thank god for caravans with ovens!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wild? I was livid.

Robens Klondike

This was my campsite last weekend.

It was supposed to be the jumping-off point for a tour of the Cornwall and Devon RBR landmarks, but the Lomax’s cylinder heads were away at Ivor Searle’s for new valve seats so Shakey and I had to go in the car. Our reward was the opportunity to wave cheerfully at a big orange H-van coming the other way on the A4. There are almost no other 2CVs out there these days – I was chatting to someone the other day about Hortense and he said the only other 2CV in our town lives in a garage and comes out on dry sunny days. I think Hortense was quietly sobbing at this point.

It may not look much like wild camping but it is, in fact, an awfully big adventure.

When I was a little girl my dearest wish was to sleep in my tent in the back garden. It was a green ridge tent, the kind you would draw in a picture, or imagine the Walker children pitching on Wild Cat Island. But this tiny taste of adventure was vetoed by my mother, who was unusually concerned about stranger danger for the 1970s. Her concern that random strangers would carry out evil acts upon my person extended to banning 16-year-old me from going to see Bon Jovi, hardly the peak of rock depravity. Sleeping outside was out of the question.

So this isn’t just Martyn and Jane’s back garden. It’s a tiny slice of belated rebellion, with a side order of wish fulfilment. It’s also a bloody nice tent.

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Game over, for another year

It's time to peel the stickers off the RBR map….stars are LMs, whales are LMs successfully bagged.

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Glitter tipi!

The lovely Swedish people who designed the tentipi put these eyelets in so that you could attach a hanging rail to dry your clothes after a day's manly outdoorsing. Fortunately they're also the perfect size for a set of John Lewis glitterball lamps!

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