Post VINCE Trail Riding

After the VINCE we did one more day of riding in the same area (Arnes – inland from Tarragona), then moved 2h North to the Arragon region to join Austin VINCE for some scouting of trails for the VINCE 2022 event – camping this time as we had been staying in the hotel for the VINCE. Well more like Glamping as we were using Dougie’s van which he is gradually converting into a motorhome. We then came back to Cahors for a bit of local riding, then set off for Spain again to Oleana – just south of Andorra for another few days of riding.

Post VINCE Trail Riding in Arnes

We went out following some trails we had not used during the VINCE competition and met up with the VINCE winners who were very helpful in passing on some tips for the future – it was clear they had done much more preparation than we had and we did A LOT.

The Crew – Nigel, Dougie, David and Richard

Gentle trail ride after the VINCE

Trail Scouting

The trail scouting for Austin was great fun as we were given a GPS route to try out – make sure the trail existed, was rideable and legal. Mostly they were OK but we encountered a couple that were “experts only” or “bring a chainsaw or preferably a JCB”.

Base camp
Campsite breakfast
Trail scouting, I’m standing on what used to be a trail which seems to have been blocked off when the main road was widened..
Just managed to squeeze my KTM through the gap between these rocks, but any bigger bikes would struggle…
Amazing views at every turn…
Mountain scenery…
Back at camp every night to share a meal – some of the guys were staying in cabins and we all took turns at cooking…
Austin still going strong but Nigel feeling a bit tired after a long day…
Dougie had a birthday – the guys managed to source a cake and some candles…
This was the toughest trail we scouted…
Taking a break after fighting our way through an unusable trail…
A rumble of KTMs – we met up with Simon and Amaeus(?) on one scouting run..
Time for din !
This is the summary video that Austin produced after the six days of scouting as a teaser for the 2022 event. Drone footage courtesy of Dougie. Austin was editing recorded footage every night and uploading video snippets – extremely well done especially considering this was on a campsite in rural Spain.

Trail Riding Cahors

After the scouting trip we came back to Cahors for a break, some bike fettling and a bit of local riding…

Run down to And Co in Prayssac for coffee..
The beach at Albas on the river Lot..
Trying to wrestle the 950 along the rock garden and up the waterfall just below the house…
Trail ride into Cahors – view from the Iron Cross of the Pont Valentre
Bit of maintenance on Doug’s Freeride – starter problems…

Back to Spain – Oliana

After our short break we headed back to Spain to Oleana (south of Andorra) and the site of a previous VINCE event for more riding. Only about 5h from my place…

Checked into a cabin (shed) this time – very compact but with all needed facilities and more comfortable than glamping.
Susan supplied us with cake for the trip and Doug’s JetBoil meant that a welcome cup of cofffee was never far away…
Freeride broken down (again) – starter motor running continuously…
A bit of trail-side fettling soon sorted it – bump start only from now on as they don’t fit a kickstart…
As before, the views at every turn are stunning…
Way up above Oliana is a remote church clinging to a rock pinnacle. The narrow access trail runs along the side of a cliff and I made the mistake of following the precipitous footpath that runs right up to the church door…
On one day we rode the old smugglers route into Andorra – no customs or COVID checks at the border…
Our shed did allow more elaborate camp breakfasts…
Views and more views…
It’s over there…
A few of the trails we rode….
Not under pressure to collect checkpoints we even had time to stop for coffee and lunch…
Another church (Ermitage) in the middle of nowhere…
On the last day after a month of riding we did “one more trail” which turned out to be the most difficult one we had encountered…. And I fell off and bashed the exhaust…. Doh !

Plenty of time over the Autumn/Winter to do the necessary repairs – the Freeride needs a complete rebuild, but we’ll be back…

The VINCE 2020

This was my second year of competing in the VINCE, a two day navigation event based in the Spanish Pyrenees. Last year I was teamed up with Dougie and Mark and we scored 39 points. This year it was just Dougie and myself and we managed to more than double our score and finished second !

Here are links to blog posts about last year’s event :
http://v2xs.com/the-vince/
http://v2xs.com/the-vince-2/
http://v2xs.com/the-vince-3/

For the 2020 event, the organiser Austin VINCE put together a nice little video explaining a bit about himself, the background to the event and showing the huge amount of effort and planning that goes into creating something like this – now in its 15th year…

The VINCE 2020 SETUP

This year there were two classes for the event – the traditional “maps and compass” class and a new GPS class. Last year we did the maps and found it quite hard work so had intended to switch to the easier GPS class for this year. However, a few weeks before the event Dougie attended a map reading class held by Austin and decided we needed a change of plan… So it was maps and compass again.. This didn’t leave much time and the first job was to find some way of fitting the maps on the bike. Last year we used a road book reader and I combined the target route into a continuous A5 scroll that we could just roll through as we went. However, the huge disadvantage of this system is that you have no flexibility to change from the pre-defined route. Dougie was happy to go with A3 maps and already had a massive windbreaker fitted on the front of his bike. I felt that A4 would be big enough (with a magnifying glass on board just in case)..

A4 Map Board

Our friend David O’Brien (Dangerous Dave) did a great job of scanning the four full size maps, adding the routes already tested by Austin and all the checkpoints (about 80 of them). Dougie did his usual excellent job of planning the routes for the two days allowing for fuel stops – you ride from 8am to 8pm and the best guys are covering 200 miles in that time. Fuel stations are few and far between so careful planning is required. Using Google Earth we were able to do simulated fly-throughs of our planned route to check the trails appeared to exist and to gather additional information regarding difficult junctions. Dave had divided the huge map up into individual “tiles” and I got these printed locally and laminated on double sided A4 sheets.

Maps Galore…
Dougie’s van all loaded and ready for the off…
View of Arnes village from the hotel room – the event was based inland from Tarragona
Final route checking the day before the event…
Our colleagues David, Nigel and Richard doing some last minute prep in the car park…
Early start by the light of the silvery moon – had to be up early as the start is at 8am
Out on the trail – stunning views everywhere…
Quite a mix of teams – this is team “Ape Shit” who did the event on Honda monkey bikes
A classic VINCE checkpoint – tag screwed to the underside of this long abandoned farmhouse doorway
Wow !
Austin VINCE
Short video of three of the checkpoints

Really pleased that our planning and preparation paid off. The number of participants was dramatically reduced due to COVID concerns but more than doubling our score from the previous year was an amazing result.

Until next time…
Here is the link to the sign up page…
http://www.austinvince.com/the-vince

Suzuki DR350S

I had been on the lookout for another bike that would serve as a bike for Alexander to use when he is down from Limoges, but also for guests to use and local running about. I didn’t have anything very specific in mind – cheap, simple, manageable – and then my mate Phil mentioned he had a DR350S for sale. This is a 1990 bike (30 years old) and is a bit of a classic “Japanese Trail Bike” – it is relatively simple compared to modern machines, being air cooled and kickstart only. It was also cheap, but there was a catch – it didn’t work !

Phil had bought it as a non-runner/project and spent some time and money trying to sort it out but without success. The main problem was that it was “an absolute pig to start” – it seemed to run fine once it was going (usually by bump starting) but was impossible to start by kicking. The deal was done just before lockdown so it was 3 months later that I eventually collected the DR. And Phil was right, it is a PIG to start – it took me two days of trying to eventually start it for the first time ! I discovered that the cable to the decompression lever was slightly out of adjustment, but really it just came down to having the right technique and it now starts up in a couple of kicks (usually).

Looking good for a 30 year old bike..

The starting issue really boils down to the gearing of the kickstart lever – in order to make it easy to kick it is very low geared which means that even a healthy kick barely takes the engine through one revolution. This means that the engine has to be in EXACTLY the right position before starting the kick. Fortunately the decompression lever can be used to get the engine to the right place, more or less. But when you are tired, hot and sweaty half way up a rocky hillside it is easy to forget the right technique.

Other than the starting issue the bike seemed to be in pretty good shape, although there were a few jobs I decided to do…

  • Replace the fork gaiters – old ones were split
  • Replace a bush in the rear suspension linkage to eliminate the slight play
  • Change the footrests – the originals were very small and rather bent
  • Fit some tougher hand guards – on the basis the bike would probably be dropped a few times… Had a set left over from the Scorpa T-ride which were just the job.
  • New grips to replace the crumbing old ones – actually used the old grips off the KTM
  • When replacing the fork gaiters I realised one of the fork seals had been leaking so took the forks to PCG Racing in Cahors who stripped and rebuilt them with new oil and seals for 95 Euros the pair.
  • Tyres – the originals were “full knobby” motocross tyres but also rather old and as hard as wood. So they were replaced with the Trials tyres I had spare from previous bikes.

Alexander was keen to try the bike out and came down for a visit – first time since the lockdown – it didn’t go well…
He doesn’t have a lot of bike experience and is shorter than me so the tall seat height and heavy bike (he was used to a scooter) made it quite a handful. He must have fallen off half a dozen times or more – mostly at low speed round the garden – but not having any protective gear (apart from gloves and helmet) doesn’t help with confidence. After he had done a fair bit of practise we went out for a short trail ride – I took the Montesa trials so no risk of going fast…

Alexander first DR350 trail ride

So although he enjoyed the experience it seemed the bike was just too big and heavy for him – anyone want to buy a DR ?
However, I did a bit of research and discovered that it was possible to buy a lowering linkage for the rear suspension and we could raise the front forks to lower the bike at the front. The next time he came to visit it all got a lot better…

This is the “valley hill climb” in the valley below the house which is quite steep, loose and tricky to get up…

The next video is the “waterfall” which is just below the house – not so steep but lots of rocks and tree roots to avoid. There are two rock steps that you have to get up and the second has a fallen tree across it, which means you have to duck at the same time as trying to get up the step – tricky…

He seems to have got the hang of it now – or maybe just getting carried away with youthful enthusiasm…

The bike had a bit of an oil leak that I decided to try and fix. In the event it turned out to be three oil leaks.

  • Drive shaft sprocket seal – got a new one and fitted it
  • Oil drain plug – was only nipped up rather than being tight – an easy fix
  • Clutch cover gasket – replaced with a new one
Clutch cover off..
When I pulled off the cover – this bit fell out. I wonder where it goes…?

Alexander getting more confidence – still not much protective gear although he managed to borrow some boots from Susan. I did a search on Le Bon Coin and managed to find some second hand boots and armour so for his next visit he was fully equipped…

All the gear…

So on this visit we did a trail ride into Cahors and back which is about 80Km and nearly all off-road. Both bike and rider did really well and tackled all of the varied trails on the Cahors route…. Until we were nearly back at the house and had to get up the waterfall again…

Cahors Trail Ride

This was another attept at the waterfall – but already being hot and tired it probably wasn’t such a good idea….
WARNING BAD LANGUAGE !

Even managed a bit of site seeing….

Made it to Cahors (and back !)

Looks like Alexander won’t be down for a while now, so I changed the DR suspension back to standard settings and had a go myself. Compared to the KTM it feels very sluggish and tractor-like – the steering response is slow, the throttle response is also quite lazy (it has a CV carb) and the cable operated clutch is rather vague. These are probably all helpful characteristics for a beginner as it is less likely to get you into trouble (says the person who managed to loop the KTM on a hill climb soon after I got it !). But I’m now more used to the snappy response of the KTM throttle and clutch and the super-quick steering – so the DR just felt slow and vague to me. I think Alexander did really well on it. Here is my attempt at getting along the rock garden and up the waterfall on the DR – note the tree across the second rock step part way up the waterfall. Also tried some figure of 8s on the terrace but the limited steering rock and vague clutch response make them quite tricky…

Capri RS3100

At the end of my last post : My First Car. I was stuck in lodgings in Shoreham with a written off car and no real means to buy another one. I needed something now and cheap – didn’t really matter what it was and there was certainly no need to go for anything “big and fast” as I had already shown myself to be incapable of keeping it on the black stuff. But then you’re getting used to my buying track record by now so won’t be at all surprised to learn that I bought a rally prepared Capri RS3100 !

What use is a rally car when all you need is basic transport – what was I thinking? Well I did have a plan and the car was local and only cost £150. Why so cheap ? It was a part completed, abandoned project and an MOT failure! My thinking was that I have a written off Capri which apart from the body shell is in perfect mechanical condition, so I ought to be able to make one decent car out of the two of them…

The plan was slightly flawed because the RS was a Mk1 model and there were a lot of changes when they introduced the Mk2 and the RS didn’t need lots of mechanical components anyway (even if they did fit), what it needed was welding and lots of it! Did I mention I had never done any welding before…?

The RS3100 model was a “homologation special” to allow Ford to compete in Touring Car Racing. The rules specify that to be able to race the car you have to make a certain number (not sure how many in this case) available to the public. Over the years there have been some great “drivers cars” that wouldn’t have existed if not for this regulation. The RS version of the Capri had a bored out engine, different suspension, revised bodywork with a front air dam, duck tail spoiler on the boot lid and flared arches. Genuine RS3100s are now very collectable and valuable as there are probably not many left.

Was my cheap car a genuine RS3100? I don’t actually know.. but think it unlikely. It did have a 3100 engine, spoilers, flared arches, stripped out interior, bucket seats and extremely stiff suspension. My car looked just like the one in the picture above even down to the “racing” bonnet pins, except that mine was white (once again I don’t have a picture of the actual car). Apart from the colour the only other difference that I can spot is the wheels – my car had the bulbous arches, but was fitted with standard wheels which looked rather anorexic. I think the owner had flogged them off separately as he was off-loading the car on the cheap.

So having bought a cheap car I then moved out of Derek’s place and into a farm cottage near Small Dole with Alan Wall (MGB Roadster) and Gary Dwyer (TR7) who both worked at Ricardo. We towed the wrecked 3.0S there and my plan was to dismantle it, use what parts I needed for the RS and sell as much as I could to try to recoup some money.

Doug stayed on at Derek’s and, shortly after I had moved out, managed to write off his own car – which then took up the recently vacated space on Derek’s drive! Actually it was our mutual friend “Strad” who wrote the car off – he fell asleep one night on the way back from a kart racing weekend with Doug asleep in the passenger seat beside him. Derek was not amused..

In trying to reconstruct these events from memory there is one bit I haven’t been able to fathom – if the RS had no MOT, how was I able to use it to get around…?

At the farmhouse the strip of the 3.0S got underway – there was no garage so I was working outside and by now it was winter and cold. Having barely started on the job the tenant farmer asked me to move it as the farm owner was coming to visit. I remember driving it down the road to a scout camp site for a couple of days, hoping I wouldn’t be spotted – in spite of the caved in front, roof and lack of windscreen the car was still driveable. After that the strip went ahead and I was able to sell many of the major parts – engine, gearbox, rear hatch, windscreen. I then had to pay a scrap merchant to come and collect the shell.

The RS needed a lot of welding – new sills, some floopan repairs and repairing the front crossmember. I borrowed Dougie’s gas welding kit, taught myself to weld and got on with it – usually working after work in the cold and dark. The interior had been stripped out but I managed to just about make the carpets from the 3.0S fit. I was welding short runs to join sections of metal and decided to go over the repair with fibreglass and underseal to protect it. However, this backfired as, when I took the car for an MOT, the inspector said the repair was sub-standard because it looked like I had just fibreglassed some of the repairs and then undersealed over the area as a cover up. So I had to take it home and then burn the extra layers off with the gas torch to expose the bare metal and my welds in all their glory. The other item the car failed on was the front suspension which was so stiff that the inspector thought it was seized. The makeshift solution to this was to change the oil in the suspension struts to a lighter grade – the springs were still stiff but at least the dampers now allowed some movement.

So now I had a running cheap car, but it was pretty crap – noisy, very harsh, very little grip (on the narrow tyres fitted), but at least it was worth more than I paid for it. Rather than persevere with trying to develop the skills to control the car properly I decided the car was at fault and didn’t want to repeat the mistake I had made with my first Capri – so I decided to sell it and look for something with more grip…

My First Car

The year is 1982 and I have just graduated from Durham University and ridden back home to the folks in Preston on my Honda CBX. The bike story so far is covered here : Bikes – The Early Years. I am due to start work at Ricardo Consulting Engineers at Shoreham-By-Sea in Sussex in mid-August and need some transport to get me there. I need to sell the bike and buy a car…
I also need a driving license…
Fortunately, I had managed to sort that one out earlier in my final year. I applied for the test, scraped together as much spare cash as I could find and went to the driving school in Durham. The test date was two weeks away and I only had enough funds for 5 lessons. Of course I had a lot of experience on bikes but had never driven a car before – amazingly I passed !

My experience of cars was somewhat limited… My brother Tim had owned a Mini and now had a Triumph 1500. I think my Dad was driving a Renault 16. The lads at Durham had a Mini and Escort Vans, although Steve did upgrade to a VW Scirocco in his final year. The other guys I knew from my time working at Leyland Vehicles (who sponsored me through University) tended to favour British Leyland – MG Midget, Austin Allegro, Austin Maxi. The most exotic cars around were a tuned Mini and a Ford Escort RS2000.

So it was against this background that I had to decide what car to look for – no Google to help with research in those days. The sensible option would have been to look for something small, economical, reliable and cheap to insure and run. But if you’ve read any of my bike history you’ll know that I seem to be drawn to the fastest thing I can get my hands on. Probably not a good idea for someone with only a few hours of driving experience…

Ford Capri 3.0 S

So I sold the bike and bought the fastest car I could find – a Ford Capri 3.0 S. This was a 1977 Mk2 model and cost me £1500 cash, which in today’s money is around £5.5k – a lot of money for a 22 year old to be spending on anything…

The Ford Capri was first introduced in 1968 and promoted by Ford as “The car you always promised yourself”. It was based on the mechanicals of the Ford Cortina and you’d have to be even older than me to remember them. CAR magazine unkindly called the Capri a “Cortina in Drag”. They had lots of engine options (all petrol) and even had a 1.3l which must have been a real dog. Having said that it weighed less then 1000kg – todays base model Fiesta weighs 1150 kg. It is now a modern classic – even Jamie Oliver has one..

Insurance ? Didn’t seem to be as much of a problem in those days, although I did only insure it TPF&T – quite a risk to take with an expensive car…

The picture shown is not the actual car as I can’t seem to find one, but it was white. I can’t remember if it had the vinyl roof and mine had steel wheels instead of the alloys shown – otherwise it looked pretty much the same. My mate Paul Robinson who lived opposite the old folks had a Mk1 3.0 Capri – so maybe there was some influence from him ?

I think Tim gave me a lift to Manchester to collect the car and I remember the drive back – on the Motorway for the first time and in “control” of a powerful car without really knowing what I was doing. And the bonnet on the Capri was so long you had no idea where the front of the car ended. Although I did find that out the first time I parked the car in my Dad’s garage and put a dent in it by running into the workbench at the end.

I’d like to add more about the car and the driving experience and my impressions but :
a. I had nothing to compare it to – apart from motorbikes
and
b. I can’t remember anyway
I seem to remember liking the instant response and good mid range torque of the V6 engine and also that it wasn’t great at going round corners which I had a habit of tackling as if I was still on a bike. Definitely some tyre squealing involved.

Room for a V8 in there..

Before long it was time to load up the car with all my worldly possesions – one suitcase, a rucksack and a tool box – and head South to start my new job…

I was “in digs” with a guy called Derek in Shoreham – just a short walk across the footbridge to work – and this is where I met my mate Dougie who was also lodging there. I was a long way from home and even further from Durham so didn’t really know anyone – but there was a guy called Tim who lived near Brighton who I shared accommodation with in Durham – at the Shafto Arms. One evening I drove over to see him, taking the back roads to make the drive more interesting, very interesting as it turned out…

I was on a country road and ahead was an open right hand bend, it had been raining so the road was damp but not soaking. Not sure how fast I was going (officer), but I wasn’t pushing hard, just enjoying the drive. At the apex of the bend the rear lost grip and started to slide… As a novice driver my reactions were slow but I did start to apply some opposite lock – too slow as the car started to cross the white line and by the time it was coming back into line I was in the middle of the road. If the road had been clear all would probably have been OK…. But it wasn’t ! There was a car coming the other way and there was nowhere for him to go as the road sloped down into a ditch on the inside.

We hit each other head on… My car then bounced off to the left ran up a slope on that side of the road, rolled over completely and ended up facing the way I had just come. The other car was stopped on the road. The door wouldn’t open so I climbed out through the space where the windscreen had been. I seemed to be all in one piece so walked back down the road to see if the others were OK. The other driver extracted himself and walked towards me. I said “Sorry about that” and we shook hands. No-one was hurt but both cars were write-offs.

Dougie very kindly towed the car back to Derek’s where it sat forlornly on his drive (much to his disgust). I went back to look at the corner where I lost it and discovered that the road had recently been resurfaced – I had been driving on a resurfaced section but the resurfacing came to an end – just at the apex of the corner. The damp, worn tarmac was very slippery compared to the newly surfaced section.

I’d only had the car a few weeks, it had cost me all the money I had and was now a write off with only Third Party insurance. I hadn’t even had my first paycheck… And I needed some transport as I didn’t want to lodge with Derek and had the opportunity to rent a farm cottage with a couple of other guys, but it was 8 miles away…

I needed to find another car, soon and cheap…