Post VINCE 2021

After the VINCE 2021 we planned to stay in the same area and ride more of the trails and even re-ride some of the ones we had already done. When concentrating on navigation and finding checkpoints (CPs) there is no time to stop and take pictures or admire the view so this was an opportunity to do just that. The original intention was to do “van camping” – camping under the awning of Dougie’s van, but the awning got damaged by the storm during the VINCE and was not useable. In addition the unsettled weather was set to continue and being under canvas didn’t seem like a good idea. Fortunately the camp site where I had booked us in with the the van had some log cabins and we were able to book one of those for the week.

I went out for a run to explore a trail that we had used on the VINCE and which came right past the campsite and then up into the mountains. I was rather shocked to discover the sheer drop off from the side of the trail which we hadn’t noticed when riding the route, see the video…

Mind The Drop

With plenty of free time we were able to explore the trails at our leisure and even had time to take some pictures…

Spot Dougie in the background…

My bike ran perfectly for the whole trip, but Dougie had a few issues with his Freeride. He noticed a small amount of play in the rear wheel and decided to change the wheel bearings. This could have been a tricky job to do on a campsite, but he’s done it before and carries spares in the van (mobile workshop) – it only took him 30 mins to change them !

Wheel bearing change..

There were several other people we knew competing in the VINCE, but most had left after the event. Nigel and David stayed on for a few days and had the same idea as us (but staying at a different location), so we met up with them for a ride one day…

Picnic at a remote Church…

It was at this picnic stop that I picked up my only injury of the trip… A small herd of cows with loud clanking bells came wandering over, but one of them was a huge bull… and I was wearing a red T shirt. I was doing something on my phone and didn’t notice the bull making its way towards us, nor did I realise that the other guys had scrambled over the low wall out of harms way. I tried to make my escape by leaping over the wall, but slipped and banged my shin on a rock. Ouch ! Even though I was wearing motorbike boots my shin swelled up and was very painful…

Out of harm’s way…

The weather was looking threatening so we decided to head back to a nearby village for a coffee and just as we arrived the heavens opened. We sat ouside under an awning watching the downpour and contemplating the long ride back to the camp site (24 Km). We were very glad we were staying in a warm log cabin and not a tent…

Cloudburst…

The rain eased off slightly and we headed for home. I didn’t realsie until I got back that the rain had shorted out my phone USB charger and melted the plastic connector…

Melted connector..

The next day I went out to find a new lead and fix the problem…

At least it’s not raining today…

On another ride we came across a surprising sight up in the hills and miles from anywhere – a Gaudi building…

Surprising sight…

What we did see on a number of the trails were mountain refuges. These are available to provide shelter to travellers and in bad weather would be a welcome respite compared to the camping alternative…

Mountain Refuge

And that was it… After a week of free trail riding and soaking up the views (and not a little of the rain), it was time to pack up and move on to our next scheduled event – the Mondo…

Picnic lunch with a view…

Coming next – the Mondo !

PS. I forgot to add the pic of one of the times I dropped my bike, so here it is…

Oops, dropped it – in a big muddy puddle too !


VINCE 2021

This is the third year that Dougie and I have entered this event. You can read the tale of last year here:
https://v2xs.com/the-vince-2020/

The VINCE is the creation of Austin VINCE (one of the first people to ride around the world) and the event is called the V.I.N.C.E. or Very Interesting Navigation Challenge Event. It takes place each year in September in the Spanish Pyrenees and is much like a traditional treasure hunt. Austin and his team have secreted small metal tags (usually attached to a sign post or abandoned farm building) – typically about 80 of them. A couple of months before the event he sends out the maps (in 1: 50,000 scale) and the all important Check Point (CP) booklet. This book has a page dedicated to each CP and provides a small map of the precise location, a photograph of the relevant post or building, a map reference and usually some additional instructions to help you find it.

Each team then has a few weeks to prepare for the event which consists of trying to define the best route to allow you to visit and collect as many CPs as possible and record the tag information in the CP book. The actual event is run over two 12 hour days – from 8am to 8pm. However, this is not enough time to visit all of the check points so you have to be selective. The preparation is further complicated by the fact that the CPs have different values (1, 2 or 4 for the 2021 event), the routes to the CPs can be roads, easy trails or more challenging goat tracks. In addition you have to allow time for food, drink and piddle breaks as well as planning a fuel stop. Finally the main competitive class for the event is restricted to only using the maps that Austin provides, plus a compass. However, there are other classes for older twinshock bikes and an “anything goes” class where GPS is allowed.

Amusing CP Tag
Some of the CP tags are not a set of random characters…

Last year (2020) we finished second in the map and compass class, but there was a reduced field due to Covid of only 40 competitors. For 2021 this had increased to over 90. Dougie and I were determined to turn in a better performance and had made a note of lessons learnt from 2020…

Optimise route for points score
More road miles in order to cover distance – winners doing 200 miles per day and scored 130 (we scored 82 !)
Reduce down time : No fuel stop – saves time and gives more flexibility for route planning
Need 1:25k maps (two times enlargement of Austin’s map)
Add CP info to maps
Use Sharpie to record CP tag details on map
Don’t take CP book
Use intercom – easier to correct mistakes – faster CP turnaround
Make even better use of Google Earth

Route preparation…

We tried to incorporate all of the above into our planning for 2021, including the “Don’t take the CP book” which proved to be a fateful choice….. The book is quite cumbersome and has to be dug out of the rucksack at each CP, flick through it to find the right page, pull out the page from its plastic wallet, write down the CP tag information, re-insert the page and stuff the book back into the rucksack. We decided this was wasting a lot of time and that we would create a laminated sheet and record the CP data on that using a “sharpie” – the CP book stayed at home.

Final routes shown on Google Earth for Days 1 & 2

The preparation for the event took weeks. Doug did his usual great job of creating a route for each day and converting it into a GPX track. I then validated that using Google Earth and discovered a few errors and suggested some changes. The revised route was then “walked through” using Google Earth and the knowledge used to mark up the official maps with the route we were to follow together with additional information such as embedding the photos of the CPs. This took hours and hours of work…

Validating the Route using Google Earth

A lesson learnt from last year was to avoid the need to refuel as this wastes time and compromises your route – filling stations are few and far between in these parts of rural Spain. I had managed to obtain a second hand larger tank for my bike (20l) which was a direct replacement. Dougie had tasked his Durham engineering students with developing a solution to gain fuel capacity on his KTM Freeride (standard tank size 5.5l), but he ran out of time to implement this and in the end just carried additional fuel in panniers strapped to the bike (total 19.5 litres) – like a bouncing bomb along the trail.

Big tank and A4 map board fitted.

The final marked-up maps were printed and laminated – Dougie preferring A3 format, but me sticking with A4 (I like to be able to see where I’m going). In addition we each had a crib sheet for each day. Mine was quite simple as my job was simply to navigate and find the CPs. Dougie had a running order sheet with the distance and time between each CP, together with our expected arrival time and space to fill in the actual arrival time. This meant that as the day went on he was able to keep a track of progress against the plan and to think about rescheduling/rerouting if we started to fall behind.

My crib sheet for one day showing CP Number, Map Number and notes on locating the CP.

Dougie drove down from Yorkshire to my place in France and after some final tweaks to the bikes and maps we were ready for the off…

Van loaded, ready to go…

We arrived at the venue in Spain and set up a base camp in the car park. Gradually the other competitors arrived with a wide variety of machinery from Honda Monkey Bikes through to big KTM Adventures. The Honda CRF 250L seemed to be a very popular choice and is the bike Austin uses himself. As usual I was the only idiot riding a two stroke… The clouds circling around the surrounding mountains looked very threatening and the forecast didn’t promise anything better over the next few days – it seemed that getting a good soaking was going to be unavoidable.

The evening before the event Austin gave his usual entertaining briefing. However, he suprised everyone by announcing some last minute changes to some of the CPs – some had been deleted altogether and others had been relocated. This was a huge issue as we had already defined our routes and there was no time to do any replanning – this would be a real test of Dougie’s on-the-run rescheduling abilities. The only consolation was that this setback was the same for all the competitors.

Day 1
We set off on the dot at 8am after having forced ourselves to eat the high protein breakfast provided by the hotel – and realising that there would be no time for a lunch stop.


El Jou Breakfast


Conditions were dry and looked promising. We made a good start as we had spent some time rehearsing the route to the first few CPs to ensure we made good initial progress. It wasn’t long before some navigation errors started to creep in, but it was very useful having us both navigating using the same maps as we could quickly agree on where we had gone wrong and how to get back on track. In the morning Austin had handed out some notes on the CP changes, which was fine until the rain started and washed the notes away…

Then the heavens opened – Austin himself described the rain as biblical – it was impossible to go on in these conditions and it was necessary to stop and shelter – but there was no shelter….
The trails that had been easily manageable became very slippery in no time and visibility was drastically reduced. My goggles misted up and this together with the dark cloud and tree cover made the trails treacherous and we had to stop with no shelter until the storm had passed – or at least eased off a bit.
I was confident in my goggles as they are “double glazed” and don’t normally steam up. I didnt realise until I got back to base that the water had penetrated between the two lenses…
Another issue with the rain was that the “sharpie” we were using to record the CPs would not write on the laminated sheets when they were wet. The intercom we had setup was a great idea and worked well at very short range but was soon abandoned as it couldn’t cope with more than about 50m of separation and struggled with background noise from the bike and wind.
We didn’t complete all of the planned route and Dougie had to work hard to replan our route on the fly. But we got back just in time having covered 250 Km for the day.

Day 2
Slower start today – Dougie overslept and once we got out to the paddock it was pouring with rain which delayed things and we were about half an hour late starting. It was obvious that the conditions had taken their toll as not many other competitors were there for the early start.

Day 2 start delayed by heavy rain

Day 2 was the mountains for us and although the rain was not too bad the mist made visibility poor.

Fist CP of Day 2, up in the mountains

CP at one of the many abandoned farmhouses…
Another amusing CP tag…


On Day 2 we managed 200Km and fewer points than the first day.

Back at base in time we were asked to hand in the completed CP book (which we didn’t have) and could only offer our laminated score sheet. The stewards (Austin and co) went away to deliberate and the results were announced after dinner that evening…. And we won ! But were disqualified for not completing the CP book… No hard feelings from us as we were really pleased that all the preparation had worked and our plans had more or less come together.

The Twinshock class was won by a father and son team on a pair of old road bikes – and they posted better scores than some people on dedicated “dirt bikes”.

We are entering again next year as “Team Disqualified”….

KTM 950 Super Enduro R

Oh no, not another motorbike blog post !
Yes I’m afraid so… I bought this bike last summer and it is still a work in progress but I thought it was time to post something about it and the progress I’ve made.

History

The 950 Super Enduro R is a limited edition bike produced by KTM between 2006 and 2008. It is the equivalent of an “homologation special” from the car world and was created to allow KTM to compete in the unlimited class of extreme enduro racing. Only 3,000 were made and there are reputed to be about 30 in France. More of the history of the bike can be seen in this unofficial YouTube video :

History of the 950 Super Enduro

Why ?

I must admit that I didn’t have particularly compelling reasons to buy this bike as in reality it has far more power than I can use and is a monster to try to wrestle along the narrow local trails. However, it is certainly an interesting bike to own and riding it (off road) is a challenge which I quite enjoy, and which will hopefully improve my skills. I did have in mind to take it down to Morocco this winter but those plans were binned due to COVID – maybe next year…?
The rest of this post talks about the various mods I have made to the bike to make it more suited to trail riding, in addition to maintenance work and upgrades which are still ongoing..

Rectifier Relocation

The rectifier unit is located in the middle of the bike directly above the hot exhaust and they have a tendency to overheat and fail, often taking the alternator and battery with them.

Rectifier cooking above the exhausts

Resolving this issue involved relocating the rectifier to the side of the bike away from the exhaust and exposed to cooling air..

That’s better..

Fuel Pump

The engine uses carburettors which are located between the V of the engine with the air filter under the fuel tank. Normally carburettors are gravity fed fuel, but in this case the tank wraps round the sides of the frame and the level can drop below the carbs, which requires an electric fuel pump. This unit is a simple diaphragm pump which is actuated by contact breaker points. Over time the points wear and can fail. The ones on my bike were still working but in a sorry state :

Worn fuel pump contact breaker points..

The recommended mod for fixing this problem is one developed by a 950 enthusiast in Holland who goes by the Forum username of “Dr BEAN” and this mod is know as the Dr. Bean Mod. He has developed a printed circuit board with an optical trigger that completely replaces the points. It comes as a complete kit and just requires some (rather fiddly) soldering.

Remove Indicators and Tail Tidy

For off road use (and the inevitable offs) it is wise to remove any extraneous parts that will otherwise only get bent or broken. In my case this included the mirrors and indicators and part of the rear mudguard. You can buy aftermarket “tail tidy” units to reduce the expanse of plastic hanging off the rear of the bike, but I managed to come up with a solution by simply cutting the existing tail unit..

Tail tidy mod..

The end result is a lot neater..

Tidy rear…

Other mods in the same vein were changing the grips, fitting new “flag style” handguards – I prefer them to the full wrap round guards that were originally fitted. I fitted a small mirror out of harms way and some shorter brake and clutch levers – less likely to be bent or broken in a fall.

Tyres

I could write a blog post on just this subject as there are lots of options and pros and cons. But in simple terms a bike that can be used on road as well as on the trails places a mix of demands on the tyres and tyres that are good on the road do not work well off road. This has resulted in a wide choice of dual purpose tyres that are supposed to cope with both situations. The bike arrived with 50/50 tyres but they were not much use off road so I swapped them for Pirelli MT21 Rallycross tyres. These are “full knobbies” and the most agressive tread option available for the 950 – you wouldn’t want to go too fast or lean too far on the road with these, but I wasn’t planning on doing much road mileage.

Original dual purpose tyre v the MT21

Emissions Equipment and Air Box

For mainly off road use I wasn’t interested in complying with emissions regulations and the exhausts had already been changed from standard which saved significant weight as the standard silencers are fitted with catalysts and very heavy. Removing the emissions equipment from the engine should make it run better (I don’t need more power) and removing the huge airbox will also get rid of some weight quite high up on the bike. The air filter was replaced with a foam element – much lighter and easier to service and the carbs rejetted to suit. This was quite a fiddly job as everything is buried within the frame in between the V of the engine.

Carb rejetting..

I was pretty pleased to get it all back together and working and it seems to run better than before !

Wrestling the 950 along the rock garden and up the waterfall..

Suspension

As I mentioned at the beginning this is still a work in progress as I continue to work on the bike to make it more manageable on the trail. The various mods I have done have reduced the weight by 10Kg but it is still a 190Kg bike ! This is almost twice the weight of my KTM 250 Enduro bike with over three times the power – quite a handful !!
As I have ridden the bike more I’ve become quite critical of the suspension which is very stiff and harsh. This should not be too much of a surprise as the bike is capable of carrying two people plus luggage and has to be able to cope with that load. When it’s just me on a rocky trail the suspension doesn’t have enough compliance and as the speed increases it starts to behave like a bucking bronco.
In a bid to improve this I have removed the suspension and taken it to Max at TraxxControl near Cahors. We will probably need to change the rear spring and revalve the rear shock as a minimum, but we’ll see what he comes up with once he has everything stripped down…

Suspension off, ready for fettling..

Left Hand Rear Brake

As with nearly all other motorbikes the rear brake is operated by your right foot. On the road this is absolutely fine. But when descending a loose, rocky downhill section off road you need to maintain your balance (standing up on the pegs) and be able to delicately operate the rear brake. It may just be my general lack of competence but I find this really difficult and the brake tends to be either on or off. Part of the problem is that with big clumpy motocross boots on it is hard to feel the pedal at all, never mind delicately control it. I did shorten the pedal which helped a bit but was not a complete solution…

Shorter brake pedal..

On my KTM Enduro bike I was faced with the same issue and fitted a left hand rear brake (LHRB) system from Clake in Australia. This was a revelation and that bike is just like a big mountain bike riding downhill – front brake on the right, rear brake on the left controlled with one finger each while being able to move about and keep balanced on the bike.

Clake LHRB on my KTM 250

Unfortunately this system is not compatible with the 950 for various reasons and I have been unable to find another supplier. As a result I am currently working on a system of my own and the most workable option I have found is to try to use a thumb operated brake on the left hand side. I’m waiting for the custom brake line that I’ve ordered so that I can assess the amount of braking force that I can generate with my thumb. If it’s not enough I’ll have to come up with another solution…

Mock up of thumb operated LHRB (work in progress)

Steering Head Bearings

When removing the suspension I noticed that the steering felt notchy – something I hadn’t noticed when riding the bike. I was quite shocked to see the state of the old bearings and that I hadn’t spotted it before. Maybe I should just stop fiddling about with the bike and just learn to ride a bit better…?

That’s not a bearing race, it’s a ratchet !

To be continued…

Shade Sails Transport…
Until next time…

Trek-OZO Electric Mountain Bike

Welcome to my latest mini-project – building an electric mountain bike… Why would I want to do that….?

  • I’m surrounded by loads of great off road trails, ideal mountain biking territory
  • Unfortunately there are a lot of steep and rocky climbs which are just hard work
  • I’m a “petrol head” so already have plenty of motorbikes for riding these trails, but I’m interested in exploring the potential of electric power

I do a reasonable amount of cycling on the road on my Sirrus X, but that is no use off road. I could just go out and buy an electric mountain bike, but they are very expensive for anything of decent quality (thousands of Euros) and are constrained by the EU regulations. The regulations restrict the motor power to 250W, are pedal-assist only and the motor cuts out at speeds over 19 km/h. These are all sensible safety measures and even a 250W motor is the equivalent of having a second person pedalling. And where is the fun in buying something ready made when you can build your own ?

I spent some time researching the possibilities and options and quickly concluded that I didn’t want to be restricted by the regulations so would be building an “illegal” bike – but reasoned that for mostly off road use this would be OK. There are many options regarding motor type and location, drive system, battery capacity and mounting that I won’t go into here. Having looked at the choices I decided to start by finding a second hand full suspension mountain bike with disc brakes and then buy the individual components for the electric conversion (motor, controller, battery). I hadn’t finally decided between a mid-drive (mounted on the bottom bracket) or a hub drive (mounted inside the rear wheel), but did want a large capacity battery which I planned to carry in a rucksack. Mounting a large battery on a full suspension bike is not easy and needs to be very secure to survive the off road abuse. My goal was to be able to cycle from my house into Cahors and back on the trails that I have used on the motorbikes…

Having come up with a plan I went to look at some bikes… As I was looking for something a bit specific and France is a big place this involved a few 3h round trips and I didn’t find what I was looking for – one of the issues being frame size. The bikes I looked at were apparently size L but were too small for me. Eventually I found a suitable machine – a Trek Remedy. This is a quality full suspension bike with disc brakes and an ideal base for the project. What made it even more perfect was that it came with an electric conversion kit from French supplier OZO. The kit was a year old and had previously been fitted to the bike but the owner had removed the kit to try to sell the two separately. The complete package met my requirements and made my job a lot easier (assuming I could get it all back together). As a bonus the electric kit was still under warranty…

Trek Remedy

This is the naked bike (the main picture at the top of the post shows the finished conversion). The bike seemed in well used but pretty good overall condition. There are a few things I need to sort out:

  • Pedals are awful and need to be changed
  • Brakes need swapping to get the front brake on the right (which means bleeding the system)
  • Dropper seat post doesn’t lock – it’s hydraulic so may need bleeding/servicing
  • Has a front derailleur with two cogs – this can probably be binned as with the electric assistance 1 cog should be enough. The current big cog (alloy) looks a bit worn.

Having given the bike a check over I did a bit of riding around on it and found it very hard work getting up the hills. I used to do a bit of mountain biking in the UK around the South Downs and brought my bike over to France with me when we moved but soon changed it to road tyres and eventually sold it – now I remember why. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed at this stage… Maybe the electric kit will make a big difference ?

Just need to fit this lot…

The kit has a 1000W hub motor, a hand throttle and a 1KWh battery. It all went together OK but cable routing to my satisfaction took a long time (and used lots of tie wraps). Did some test riding and hill climbing and the transformation was absolutely amazing. What a fantastic piece of kit – overcoming all of the disadvantages of the naked bike. I tend to pedal all the time and just use the motor as a top up to get up hills and in terms of range can already tell that used in this way the battery will last longer than me – 80Km or more should be achieveable.

Disadvantages ?
Well there’s no denying these things cost money – the OZO kit is 1750 Euros new ! There is a lot of added weight – maybe 25Kg +, the motor alone is 10Kg. The battery in the rucksack does start to feel heavy after a while and doesn’t get any lighter as it loses charge ! The heavy rear hub motor does compromise the bike’s downhill performance, overwhelming the rear suspension and then bouncing out of control. There is some resistance from the motor when pedalling but it seems reasonable to me – pedalling on the flat is hard work anyway due to the fat tyres and overall weight, but is manageable.

All looking pretty good, but after a few rides the hub motor started making a funny noise… I’ve contacted OZO and they think it is a hub bearing so it will have to go back to them for a replacement…


Box Trailer

As a close follower of this Blog you will be aware that I had decided to go down the route of a small car plus trailer for my summer shade sail deliveries. The car was covered in the previous post :
https://v2xs.com/ford-focus-2/

I was looking for a relatively lightweight (Max 500 Kg gross weight) box-type trailer. Trailers of this size don’t need to be separately registered in France, are covered by the towing vehicle insurance and can be driven on a normal car license. Shortly after beginning my search I found an ad on a local Facebook Group that appeared to be the ideal solution. I got in touch with the seller and, completely ignoring the sage advice of “Caveat Emptor”, I agreed to buy it without seeing it. The seller very kindly agreed to deliver the trailer 50Km to Alexander’s house in Limoges – this was during lockdown so I had no legal means of being able to view the trailer in advance. The price was right, the deal was done and the trailer duly delivered. It then sat in Alexander’s garden for nearly two months until I had the opportunity to collect it. Once I had got the trailer back home and started to inspect it, I quickly realised it wasn’t such a good deal after all…

The main problem was that the wooden floor of the trailer was completely rotten and needed replacing. The owner had covered the floor with lino so on initial inspection it looked OK, but having peeled back the lino the floor itself was very soggy and falling apart. Having started to strip out the floor the second issue quickly became apparent – the chassis frame was rusty and would need rubbing down and repainting. Fortunately the structure was solid and it was only surface rust, but it was another job I wasn’t expecting.

Rotten floor stripped out
Mushroom crop removed !


Other issues were that one of the tyres turned out to have a slow puncture and the other one wasn’t much better as the rubber was badly cracked. Finally the electrics were a mess and the lights didn’t work so would need fixing or replacing. Altogether quite a catalogue of jobs that meant the trailer definitely wasn’t a bargain. And I now had no choice but to fix it before I could use it and even if I just decided to resell it there was still a lot of work to do. Lesson learnt ? Maybe…

I visited a few of the local DIY shops to price up a replacement floor. The correct trailer-spec marine grade plywood was expensive and only available to special order so I started looking at alternatives. It’s not the right time of year for decking so the stores had some leftover stock that was cheap which set me thinking. I felt sure it would do the job and is treated timber but was concerned about the expansion due to temperature and humidity. The store also had some composite decking which was more expensive but a lot cheaper than the marine plywood so I bought some lengths of that. It was a few mm thicker than the original floor so had to be shaved at each end to get it to fit in the existing metal framework. In addition the composite decking is hollow and I didn’t want to leave the ends exposed as they looked rather odd and would be a hiding place for dirt and spiders. At the front end I welded in a new section of angle iron to block off the ends and at the rear fitted a strip of Aluminium checker plate which had the added advantage of protecting the loading lip. The end result was very tidy.

Painted chassis and interior..
Composite decking planks to make the new floor…
Looking good…
Edge finish…

I decided to rub down the interior wood work and treat it to a coat of paint to brighten the interior and generally make the trailer a bit more presentable – I had some old pots of paint left over (don’t we all ?) and managed to choose what I thought were complimentary shades…

Chassis repainted..

The chassis frame was treated to wire brushing / sand papering to get off the old flaky paint and loose rust before painting with silver Hammerite – left over from the Focus re-painting.

The electrics and lights were all stripped out and replaced with a brand new set.

I bought two new tyres and decided to fit them myself (how hard can it be ?). I fit all my motorbike tyres and had recently replaced the tyres on my motorbike trailer so was feeling reasonably confident. However, these were “full size” car tyres 145/70-13 and it proved almost impossible to break the bead in order to remove the old tyres. I eventually came up with a lever system which worked a treat – but only after a lot of struggling and swearing.

Bead breaking…


Apart from a general clean up and fitting new locks that was about it – one fully reconditioned trailer ready to go…