Three day event 10-12 April. I was on my own this time but teamed up with two other guys who were first timers – Tom a 20 something engineer at Triumph on a newish Honda CRF250L – a heavy, under powered trail bike with worn hard compound knobbly tyres and Joe a 30 something property developer on a brand new (just had first service) KTM 450. Tom had loads of road bike and off road experience but had never used a road book. Joe had done very little off road but loads of road riding and track days, etc.

As the local and “experienced” road book user I led the way on the first day. All going well until we came to a slightly uphill single track, a slope up to the right and a drop off to the left. Across the track was a smallish log sloping down from right to left. Easiest to get over at the left hand side but close to the drop off. I wasn’t going to risk trying to jump it so tried to just roll the front wheel over. As soon as it was on the log it slipped left and wanted to head down the slope. After a few attempts and bikes queuing up behind me one of the guys got off and helped me lift the front wheel over – a bit of an embarrasing start! On the last day we did the same bit of trail again and I jumped the log OK.

It soon became clear that I was holding the team up so Tom took over – and vanished into the distance. It’s not the bike it’s the rider… Joe was second and me last. I had more experience than Joe and maybe better technique but he had way more balls. He did have a few offs though. Traversing a steep slope to get round a fallen tree he lost balance on the wrong side and fell off. The bike was almost upside down I started to try to lay mine down to help but he said he was fine and just picked the 450 back up no problem – strong as well as big balls. Where the track was open Joe was opening up the 450 and flying ahead, but he had problems with traction on hill climbs and was slow on descents as he preferred to sit down for some reason.

Part way through the second day the 450 ground to a halt and I spotted he was out of fuel. We tipped the CRF upside down to get some out of the tank to manage the final 10k to the lunch stop and refuel.

Towards the end of the second day Chris added an optional steep and tricky hill climb – it used to be part of the main route but he removed it as there was too much “carnage”. I started in second but needed drop to first as it was very steep and I was going very slow trials style. When I got the top the watching guys said I made it look easy as others were using lots of revs and wheelspin on the way to the top. Trials rear was good on this. Half way up I passed Joe who had launched the 450 off the trail and into the undergrowth – all OK though.

With Tom out front sorting out the route Joe and I could just concentrate on riding and trying to push along which was perfect for me and I got faster/better each day. I didn’t fall off but had several close calls (not as many as Normandie). Joe had to leave after Day 2 so it was just Tom and I on the last day.

I did the first bit to warm us up and then Tom took over and disappeared – except that I was making more effort to keep up. I found that riding flat out I could keep up with him, but I could only ride at that pace for a limited time before I started to make mistakes and then backed off a bit. He was so much faster than me through corners – carrying speed and being very smooth. I find myself braking for corners until I can see how tight the corner is and the surface conditions, so I was coming out of the corner way behind. The only places I could match his pace were on descents (don’t know why but I seem to be quite fast on these) and on fast, open but bumpy/rocky trails – but I think that is more to do with the capability of the bike (stability and suspension) – maybe that’s the case for the downhills as well?

In Normandie we were always the tail end charlie’s so it was nice to be up at the front. On the last day we overtook everyone including Dominique (lead organiser) and were back at the hotel first – even though it was a 150Km day.

Fantastic experience for me and really pushed my ability and developed my skills on faster riding. The concentration required is massive though. There were a few trails which weaved through woods, where there are trees every few feet that you are weaving in and out of – some not much more than a bars width apart. Then there are roots across the trail, old sawn off stumps and the usual dips and bumps and ruts to throw you off line. Going through these slowly (trials style) is one thing but trying to keep up a good pace really focusses the mind. It is also an advantage being at the back. There was one bit where you built up a rhythm between the trees, but the track suddenly turned tightly and both Tom and Joe ran into a tree – no harm done.

I am not currently able to pop the front wheel up over obstacles. However, I found that just bouncing the suspension (if you time it right) can do much the same thing. We ran along some gravel roads (far too fast) and they have quite agressive speed bumps. The bike will handle these on its own but you really feel the impact. By bouncing the suspension you can minimise the shock. In fact there were a few times where I got it just right and it the bike just floated over the bump.

The Bike…
Ran perfectly 100% reliable. Two other bikes broke down – a Gas Gas with a broken gearbox and a KTM with a snapped chain. Still running way too rich off idle – have now got a Suzuki needle to try.
Need to look at gloves, grips, palm guard as I have developed some blisters.
Trials rear tyre – great on the rocks, terrible in mud and mediocre on loose surfaces – will be changing for a knobbie.
My detuned setup works really well – nice controllable power without the big hit. I had thought I might need to undo some of the mods in order to keep up but it was no problem – never short of power. Engine lugs really well – but needs to run more crisply.
Quite a bit of oil spooge from the exhaust – now running oil at 60:1 – sure sign of a rich mixture particularly in the range where I tend to operate.
Mods for next time..
Make my own road book mount / buy my own reader – saves lots of setup hassle. Their mount was a bit high – hit the reader on branches a few times.
Not got a final figure yet but fuel consumption seemed very good.
Did quite a bit of gearchanging without the clutch – which seemd to work well – hope the bike can take it. Will check the state of the oil and drain plug when I change it. Two issues – one is the simple fatigue of the finger – I have a blister there too. The other is not wanting to release any grip on the bars to operate the clutch.
Neutral is hard to find and the clutch drags a bit when hot. Managed to find neutral twice when I didn’t want it – once half way up a hill clmib going from 2 to 1 and the second when crossing a stream.
Running 8psi front and rear.

The gear…
Wore the same camo gear as Normandie but without the lining and with less layers underneath. It was a tricky choice as we had mornings at 2 degrees and up to 17 and sunny in the afternoon. Also had the risk of rain.
Gradually moving to using goggles and accepting the slightly restricted visibility and steaming up issues – easpacially when riding with others. Dust is a big problem with the cycling glasses.
In a similar way I need to switch to a full face helmet – fighting through undegrowth and brambles is a risky business.
Gloves – need to look into this to help with blisters.
Rucksack – small rucksack packed to be super light but including essential tools, water, etc is the way to go, rather than strapping stuff on the bike (which I did in Normanide)

The running and cycling I’ve been doing is esential for building endurance in the leg muscles to be able to stand on the bike for long periods – this is standing knees bent like skiiing.
Need to do something to build grip strength/endurance as this is the weak point – I now don’t have enough grip strength left to crush a grape.

Oh and I’ve signed up to do the Sport Adventure Morvan in October…

Sport Adventure Dordogne