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|Wilts Big BIke Ride June 2011|
It was quite a long time ago now that I originally put my name down on the list for the “Wilts mini meet” thread that was posted on the Adventure Bike forum, so long ago that I all but forgot about it. A reminder from the organiser came through and I once again checked my race calendar but there was still nothing going on race wise so I confirmed that I was still up for a weekend of trail riding and camping. The weeks went by and the British Championship XC race at Canada Heights filled my thoughts, and took up my time for a while, likewise the wife’s birthday the weekend before, so come the Monday before the event I was still totally unprepared for the weekend’s fun. Ok, what was I going to need: panniers –check (got with bike), tent –check (bought one in costco last year for the endurofest up at Enduroland but did not use it), sleeping bag – check (well sort of, as it was an 20 plus year old one from SA), stove, ch...nope, off road tyres-nope.
all ready to go!
A quick call to Trelleborg and I ordered a set of cheap and cheerful Swiss army tyres to fit the Tenere, which rather annoyingly has a 17 inch rear so none of my enduro tyres fit. A tentative posting on the thread had offers of making me a cuppa in the morning so the cheap Chinese multi fuel stoves I’d been looking at on ebay were crossed off the list.
Next up was the fact that Yamaha chose to supply a bike without tools to take off the wheels. I’m sure I put together a bike wheel spanner (taken from another bike) somewhere but could not find it, so I set about making another one. As it was for the rear wheel it had to be long enough to loosen it without too much of a struggle, so an old ratchet and socket were sacrificed and welded together. This enabled me to weld the large hex onto the other end that is used for the front wheel. A quick look at the toolkit to double check I had all the necessary tools to work on the bike revealed the lost rear wheel removal tool, oh well, the second one was better.
you meet the strangest people on the trails!
Friday was booked off as I intended to ride down to Wiltshire on our old trail riding byways, but not on a KTM450 missile, this time it would be on the fully loaded and much more sedate (not to mention bloody big and heavy!) Yamaha XT660Z Tenere.
Friday dawned bright and sunny which was strange as they said it was going to rain and there was no getting up at silly o’clock for me today as I was off on a ‘big bike trip’ – I got a cold shoulder from the mrs though as I’d forgotten to ‘put it on the calendar’ so things were a bit frosty.
Cases packed I looked at the gap between the car and the bushes so see if the gap was bike and pannier width. A careful check with a tape-measure confirmed the gap was ok, so I could leave the panniers on to get the bike out into the street. I decided to load the final bits i.e. the tent and sleeping mat once it safely parked outside. I hopped on, fired it up and drove the rhs pannier straight into the car without thinking! What a tit....... I’m sure I can polish it out.
The next half an hour or so was spent getting all the last bits and pieces together so at last I was eventually ready to go. I stood in the doorway with jacket on thinking. Right have I forgotten anything? Oh crap, a sleeping bag would be good! One last trip into the loft to retrieve said item and the touratech black plastic bin liner was brought into use to keep it clean as I squeezed it under the (quite wonderful) elasticised straps holding the waterproof wolf bag in place, which housed the tent and sleeping mat. Finally it was time to go, at last. Oh, by now the sun was gone and it threatened rain.
With a full luggage system in place I now had to endure the completely un-cool method of mounting a bike. Either swing your leg like a rabid dog trying to hit the top of the lamppost while peeing or jackboot style like John Clease, trying to fling it over the rather tall seat of the ‘Ten’ (ten foot off the ground?)
I pulled up at the petrol station near Moulsford and bought some lunch to have on the trail as I was now starving and it was past lunchtime already...... John doesn’t like to miss meals! Fully stocked up I crossed over the perilous road leading to the Ashdown Farm MX track and rode up the path with a little trepidation. To my surprise the Ten seemed more than happy to trundle along so I carried on down the track to intersect the byway then turned left, up and over the hill coming out in the town then turning right to follow the road out of town until the next byway was found on the left, this route cuts out part of our old pre nerc route but I was feeling very legal with my big number plate so I decided to stick to the letter of the law and not stray onto any ‘questionable’ tracks. The next lane is not too bad though. It starts out as a road but once at the top of the hill it turns into a bit of a rutted track and there are some undulations that were a bit of an issue with the fully loaded bike. I survived it by slowing down but I was glad to get to the other side of the underpass. However this bit had nasty narrow ruts and was also a bit slick so I was glad to hit the tar at the end.
the byway leading to sugar hill. the rut is so deep its supporting the bike on its engine and pannier!
Turning right and into the village the next byway was one that would take me down onto the main Chievely route but these ruts were also fairly narrow so I took it nice and easy. Turning onto the main byway I was surprised to bump into another bike – none other than Phill, Club DB member! He’s been toying with moving onto adventure bike too, so we had a chat and this gave me an excuse to break out the sandwiches. Fully fed we said our goodbyes and I carried on down the byway all the way to cheviely and beyond, where I followed the tar road into Lambourn, turned left and once out of town took the byway on the right. A couple of gates were a right pain so once on the other side of the gallops I opted to go up the hill and cut out the remaining bit of byway which had a whole succession of gates to open and close, ok in a group or on enduro bikes but the leg splits each time were getting on my nerves a bit. At the junction a right and then a left and right led to the next byway which takes you up and over the ridge to sugar hill. I like this one as it has great views over the countryside but there were the pesky gates to deal with. Some of the ruts were so deep the panniers were grounding out when there were some bumps so I was glad to get to the end. parking up for some photos the bike could just stand on its own as the ruts held the bike in place.
the bottom of sugar hill, nice ride, crap gates
At the bottom of sugar hill you can go straight over as this part of the Ridgeway is now open (seasonal tro) but this section is very rutted and the puddles at the top can be rather fearsome, so I opted to turn left and head down to the next byway. This can also be a bit of a tricky one as the ruts at the mid point are deep and not too wide. I have to say that when I lead a group (of enduro bikes) through this bit, we always have at least one ‘off’. Guiding the Tenere through these ruts I started to get really worried that I’d bin it and be stuck there for days, pinned down by 250kg bike! There were a few close calls but a couple of well placed dabs saved the day, even if I did wrench the right knee a little. I didn’t feel it at the time but its aching again now.
Getting to the end I was very relieved to have made it and the next few lanes were nice flat tracks but one was closed for some reason so I had to skirt round on the tar roads and I came up the hill near the old burnt out cafe by Barbary Castle via the road instead of the normal route across the fields on what I call the humpy hump track.
the campsite at last, STOP raining dammit!
So no sausage and egg bap today and to cap it all it had started to rain. Riding past the old cafe site I carried on down the Ridgeway with some caution as there are some big puddles on this section. Well there used to be as it’s all flat and filled in now.......with chalk! I was riding along nicely when I suddenly spotted the change in colour of the track ahead. Oh ho wet chalk ahead (queue titanic like warning). Keeping off the throttle and brakes all was fine but some stretches were longer than others and there were a few slides. Getting to the end of the track I’d had enough of this by now as the rain was getting annoying and time was against me, so I set the GPS for the campsite/pub and to my surprise it was only a few minutes away.
pop-up tent goes up in seconds
I arrived in the site and said my hello’s to the guys already there and picked a spot for the tent. This is the pop-up tent bought from costco but never even taken out its bag so I was pleasantly surprised when it did indeed just ‘pop up’ and I had a tent in seconds. The self inflating sleeping mat was also unrolled for the first time and put into action. Then it was cup of coffee time as Russ (event organiser) had got the water on the boil while I chatted to the other guys about the weekend and the trip down. A quick stash of the gear in the tent and a change into jeans was followed by another cup coffee, as we looked on in amassment when a rider pitch up on an old KTM300EXC, having ridden it all the way from Kent. Being rather hungry I set off to the pub on the edge of the field as soon as they started serving food. The home made burger went down a treat, as did the beers. Good conversation all round but the highlight of the night was the raspberry cheesecake, yum yum.
Retiring to the tent it rained all night, quite hard at times, but the little tent never leaked a drop and the sleeping mat was surprisingly comfortable. Feeling slightly under the weather on Saturday morning I downed a couple of tablets before the headache could kick in proper and we geared up for the day in the drizzle. The group split into two and we headed off to a roadside cafe for a rather excellent breakfast and I was relieved to find the bike was once again feeling normal after being freed of the heavy panniers and camping gear. My breakfast order was the obligatory sausage and egg bap with a big mug of coffee and it went down a treat. We were joined by two more riders at the cafe.
nice sit down breakfast
Time to go cue Mike, "come on, come on lets ride"
Over the breakfast table we discussed the route to come and Russell, the leader of the little rideout, explained the start of the route. It sounded very familiar to me and I figured out that I’d ridden it before. Knowing the track, I thought it was a bit of a tricky lane to take first thing in the morning as it can get a bit wet there, and it’s an uphill rutted track with an off camber. Russell reckoned it would be fine and very shortly we were on our way, starting the climb up the slope, after negotiating the muddy bends at the bottom that is. I opted for the LHS rut as the central island was a little too angled for my liking. I followed Russell up and stopped as his rear wheel took on a mind of its own and slipped into the RHS rut, swinging the bike around and dumping him unceremoniously onto the ground.
Russ could only make it 200 yards!
Paul gets it slightly wrong
Ah picture opportunity! I quickly fished out the camera but Russell was already up and grappling with the bike to get it shiny side up. Before I could get the camera booted up his feet shot out from under him and he plopped back on the ground with a thud, rolling into the right hand rut at the same time. Laughing my head off (yes I am cruel) I managed to get a couple of shots of him on the deck.
As the bike was laying downhill there wasn’t much chance of him righting it himself, so while Mike on his 950 KTM held onto my bike (no place to park up) I walked over to help lift it. Seeing as it was now 90’ to the track, we first had to swivel the back end and then the front end round so that it was facing the right way. Once we were no longer fighting the extra force of gravity it was a simple lift and we were on our way. Further back in the group there and been some other cross rutting shenanigans going on and while the bike ended up facing the wrong way I don’t think anyone dropped it.
Wet Roads on the Ridgeway!
At the end of this short slope we entered the Ridgeway proper and rode past a surprisingly large amount of new age traveler type people camping out on the verges of the byway. We carried on up the track and I took it careful for a while but then got used to the size and feel of the bike, enough to ride on ahead and stop to take some pictures. Paul on a big Africa Twin, was really struggling and was sliding all over the place, feet out. A little further on and the slippery conditions got too much for him and he dropped the bike (again?). I think he may have been down already once before and he stood there for a bit, hunched over, red faced and breathing hard. He was clearly knackered and having a hard time of it. We picked his bike up so he could catch his breath and I checked his tyres. Mmmm trail tyres and rock hard. I mean solid, totally unable to make an impression at all when I pressed them. I whipped off the valve caps and let a load of air out, and by all account it was a lot easier to ride then, enough so that he could enjoy the rest of the day.
Paul struggles a bit, time to let air out of the tyres
Time for a break
L to R Russ, Paul, Gary, Craig, Mike
We stopped for a rest a little further on at the park bench. Once underway we turned off to the left following the track down the hill. Russell up ahead was in all sorts of trouble with the bike sliding sideways and he had to inch down with feet out. Sticking to the rhs I overtook and made my way down to the bottom of the hill keeping my speed up to help clear the tyres. The Swiss army tyres were now doing what they were designed for and the Tenere felt great. I stopped to take some pictures again and Mike on the KTM 950 stopped as well, his front tyre completely choked with mud, so much so that it had ripped the front mudguard off! Not only that, but the wheel had partially filled with mud too!
Laugh now....but how much is a new 'mud guard'?
cable tie repair
Still more mud
We stopped as a group and the cry went out for cable ties. Russell had some in his tailback and tried to get them out but the muddy ground had other ideas and his feet went one way, opposite to where they should have been going. I caught the bike at the rear with one hand and slowed the fall enough to stop it hitting the deck and the owner was soon able to regain balance to lift it back upright.
on Salisbury plain. in the background is some army vehicles that were on the move
friendly cows came running over when we stopped
friendly ranger came driving over when stopped, link?
Stonehenge so time for photos
Stonehenge so time for photos
time for more repairs
Mike gives up and take the guard off
By now I was very impressed with the way the Tenere had handled itself off-road. On the early morning slippery stuff it had picked its way along probably the most sure footed of the bikes, although the large treads of the army tyres had something to do with that no doubt. Now the afternoon was getting sunnier the trials were dry and we made our way along a great track that had loads of undulations one after the other. On an enduro bike these could be jumped off or maybe just power the front wheel into the air as you go. However the Tenere needs to be ridden with a little more finesse, mainly because it doesn’t have the engine power to lift the front over obstacles. The ground clearance is by far the best of most adventure bikes, but unlike the hard edged KTM’s the suspension is clearly made in the budget end of the market. This means that as speeds build up the rear end tends to use up all its travel too easily. We were cracking on a bit at the time and I’m not sure just how many XT660Z riders will be doing that sort of riding but it would have been really nice to have fully adjustable suspension on the bike, so I could have upped the damping to slow the speed the rear end was bouncing up and down. Preload adjustment is all you get front and rear.
We stopped near the top of a hill and the views across the surrounding area were beautiful. The sun was shining and all was good with the world. As we left to continue I spotted a nice photo opportunity by a large puddle. The lhs looked fairly deep so I opted to cross in the rhs rut, then stopped to take pics. Unfortunately the guys were there too soon so I missed the shot. Not to worry we’ll all go back and do it again for a laugh was the general consensus, so I went back again, parked up and then walked down to the puddle, camera at the ready. In no time at all I had some cracking shots of the bikes going through the deep left hand side of the puddle, then it was my turn to come back.
ah the sun is out at last!
still more great views
time for a little play time
Seeing as everyone else had gone through the deep bit I couldn’t duck out now, so I aimed the Tenere into the brown sludge, a little too fast as it turned out cos water went everywhere, arching high into the air and covering me completely! That would have been fine but the bottom of the puddle was a lot softer than I’d anticipated and the bike was in second gear, which as it turned out was one gear too high. As the mud dragged the bike slower the high gearing could not cope so the engine shut down in disgust – I was stranded in the middle of the puddle! For a moment I thought maybe the water had got into the airbox, as I’d taken off the snorkel to aid its breathing, but thankfully the bike fired up no problem and after selecting first gear it flew out the other side.
Not long after this Russell’s bike took pity on Mike’s KTM and decide to join in on the ‘things falling off lark’ and the front bolt holding on the engine guard jumped ship. More cable tie repairs.
Mike joins in on the bike repair
We then had a quick stop at a garage where I filled up the ten, it could have gone on for a lot longer but I like keeping it topped up when trail riding in this neck of the woods it can be a bit of an issue finding a petrol station sometimes, as a lot of them have closed down. Cold drinks were guzzled too as by now the temperature was on the ‘almost too hot’ side.
All the while we had been making our way closer to the OX Drove and we weren’t quite there yet when Mike and Craig (XRV) declared they were both on reserve! Eh? No idea why the petrol station pumps weren’t used when we were there, but now we had to find another one. The map was brought out and Russ used his calibrated finger to count out the miles to the town where we hoped to find another station, as opposed to continuing to the start of the OX Dove and finishing the ride. Some dissension in the ranks became evident when the calibration validity of said finger was brought into question. Back and forth argument broke out ref the finger and map ratio until it was decided that we’d just carry on regardless. I had loads of fuel so I wasn’t too worried!
No the Ox Drove wasn't very wet - just the odd puddle
The Ox Drove was a load of fun and despite the recent rains there wasn’t that much water about on the section we rode. Getting ahead again I had enough time to dismount and snap off a few shots of the guys coming though the last puddle. A bit of a boring ride back to the campsite and I was fairly hot and bothered by the time we got back, only to find about 100 school kids also camped in the field. This is when the only major drawback of the campsite became evident, there was only one shower.
The chap camped next to me was part of the second group and he had been telling me how impressed he was with one of the guys in his group who was riding a new Tenere. Getting sorted out and drinking coffee I found him walking around and around the XT660Z just starring at every nook and cranny. “Take it out for a spin if you like” I said “but if you damage it you pay for it”. The words had barely left my lips and he was off like a shot. A while later he came back in and was singing its praises like mad, completely smitten. “I don’t even want to ride that thing anymore” he said pointing to his old DR (600 or bigger I think). Oops, good for a Yamaha dealer though as it looked like another convert has been made. Having said that, there was a lot of interest in the Tenere from the guys all weekend. Now that the transalp is becoming more and more road focused there isn’t any other Japanese bike out there to compete with the Tenere.
Waiting in the queue I was getting more parched by the minute and the beers were calling so having cooled down by now I opted for the ‘wet wipe wash’ and headed to the pub. Another burger and many beers later we tottered off to the tents to sleep. Just as I left the pub the owner looked over and said “have a peaceful night” with a smile on his face. Peaceful night? With that many kids all giggling, laughing and the occasional scream when a creepy crawly found its way into the tent, there was no way we were going to get a peaceful night’s sleep.
Things quietened down at about one in the morning and I dropped off to sleep at last. 3.30 am and tweet? Tweet? Then TWEET TWEET TWEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As the whole of the uk black bird population joined in to wake us up! Eventually that also died off and I slipped off again, trying to ignore the urgent need to take a leak. Cawl Cawl Cawl – now there was a murder of crows in on the act and I know were the terminology comes from cos I definitely felt like murdering some of our feathered friends. Eventually I gave up and got up to take a pee but seeing a young girl sitting outside her tent I felt a little uncomfortable peeing in the hedge, so I had to trudge of to the loo's on the other side of the field , mumble mumble.
early but not so bright
Slowly everyone surfaced and water was boiled for coffee, and the packing could start. The tent and sleeping mat wouldn’t fit in the Wolf bag any more so the mat got strapped to the outside. We had sort of planned a ride on the Sunday too but the numbers had dwindled due to bike breakage’s and injury so we decided to all head off back home from the pub. At the time it seemed like a good idea to get in some trails on the Sunday, but the route would have been taking me further away from home all day. So after saying goodbyes all round I set the GPs for the bottom section of the Ridgeway (that we had ridden the day before) and set off in glorious sunshine. The gps chose to go a rather strange route but I wasn’t bothered as the scenery was great and the air was just cool enough for a slow cruise around. Getting to the eastern end of the Ridgeway I didn’t fancy taking the rutted tracks I’d used on Friday so I set the gps to go to Chievley and ended up on the M4 for a while.
blue linseed fields near Barbury castle
Getting off at Cheively I used the same old route to head north but decided to have a go at the Rat Run for a laugh. Some of the ruts were a bit tricky especially if they had some undulations in them. The weight of the luggage would tend to lighten the front wheel too much and make it a bit wayward at times. Of course I should have upped the preload to combat this but never got round to it.
the joys of a centre stand
mini air compressor works well.
I spotted a shady spot in a side road and propped the Tenere up on its centre stand and used my new made tool to remove the rear wheel. The three mini tyre level got the tyre off in no time and the tiny compressor I got for xmas pumped it back up in no time once the tube was replaced. The only difficulty was the stupidly designed wheel spacers. Once again the Japanese could take a design lesson from Austria. The silly little spacers fall out when you try and put the wheel back in. My KTM enduro bike has a much better design as the spacers actually fit inside the wheel bearing thus holding them in place. The ones on the Ten are only about a centimeter thick and plop out at the merest whiff of the swingarm. Anyway it long before I was on the way again, home in time for lunch and about 325 miles traveled. Time to wash the bike!
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|©2010 John Muizelaar|