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A week of biking

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A week of biking Empty A week of biking

Post  weasley Tue Jun 18 2013, 13:54

I categorise myself as a part-time biker – I don’t ride religiously and I don’t run my life around my bikes, but I do like to get out now and then.  This typically means that I don’t do a lot of miles in a year and much of it is on weekend meets with you lot.

Last week was somewhat different.  What follows is my reflections on a week of fairly intensive and diverse biking.  It will no doubt go on a bit, so if you plan to read it I recommend you set yourself up with a cuppa and get comfortable.

Part 1 – BC5

Having read [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] of the weekend I was struck by a thought.  In reading it I was transported back to various times through the weekend where we shared common experiences – mostly the social side of it.  However the bits he wrote about the riding were new to me, because we rode with different people at different times of the weekend.  For example, I shared a memorable 10 minutes with DirtBikeDave playing catch-up through some fast roads – just him and me riding in close formation with unspoken but mutually-understood ‘rules’ that meant we were comfortable with what the other one was doing.  I realise that sounds more sexual than I had meant, but I'm leaving it in.  Oops, that sounds wrong too.

Anyway, the last section of the day I rode totally alone, having been separated from the group whilst waiting for the Ducatis to refill (again!) – nobody shared this time with me and nobody can write about it, but it is a great memory of BC5 for me.

I also shared a great ride home through some fantastic countryside down the Wye valley with SteveCat in the lead.  A cream tea taken in glorious weather in the shadow of Tintern Abbey is not the classic picture of biking, but we were surrounded by sportbikes, nakeds, tourers and numerous cruisers.

In the end I had a great weekend, with friends old and new, riding a great bike on fantastic roads with no issues and plenty of laughter.  I’ll admit I found it difficult to return to normal life.

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Part 2 – Motorcycle Offroad Experience

Still, I didn’t have long to wait because on the following Friday I went to Brigstock in Northamptonshire to attend the second annual MCIA event designed to encourage people to try and hopefully take up offroad motorcycling.  Inspired by MrNutt’s report of the first running last year, I signed up for this the day it opened and got a place on Friday afternoon.

I have done a motocross experience day before and absolutely loved it.  I also bought an enduro bike a couple of years ago with the intention of doing some green-laning but sadly this bike has sat broken for over a year after the engine seized and circumstances conspired against me in terms of time to fix it.

On the day the forecast had threatened rain (which was no bad thing) but it turned out to be warm and mostly sunny.  On arrival people were allocated to a manufacturer based on filling a group size, so it was pretty much pot luck as to what bike you got.  I arrived as they were starting to make a Kawasaki group but as I was about to go and join them one of the Suzuki group decided they were too small for the bike, so they were transferred to the Kawasaki group, meaning I was the last to join the Suzuki group.

I was directed to an awning attached to a support truck and handed a load of kit – helmet, gloves, goggles, boots, shinpads, trousers, body armour and an over-shirt.  No modesty here – just strip and dress and suck that gut in.  In the corner of the awning stood a refreshments table with an urn of tea, some cakes and biscuits and, food of the biker, cream teas!

Once dressed we were introduced to the bike.  We were going to be riding Suzuki RM-Z 250s (there were also a couple of 400s) and they wanted to show us how to start them, and for us to show them we could start them.  These are proper motocross bikes, with no side-stand and only a kick-start so require ‘the knack’.  Some of the group had never ridden an off-road bike before and a couple had never ridden a geared bike before – kudos to them!  Anyway we all had a go and I managed to kick it to life on the first prod.  Must be a natural.  Or, more truthfully, I have spent many a futile hour swearing at my KDX 125 trying to kick the bastard to life.

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Anyway, after that it’s off for a rider briefing (be careful, have fun and make sure to take up the sport afterwards).  They explained that we would stay with the group we were allocated but if, at the end of the session, there was some spare time you could ask to try one of the other bikes.  Then we went off and found our steeds.

Firstly we rode around a small circuit on the side of a grassy hill to demonstrate that we could start, stop and corner without falling off.  On only my second lap I very nearly binned it as I realised that the throttle was VERY sensitive and a tiny movement I made accidentally as I reached for the front brake sent me off into the long grass and almost onto my arse.  Stability and dignity recovered I carried on with no more incidents.

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Now it was time to tackle the off-road ‘trail’ they had made.  It was a track around a wooded area with various jumps carved into it as well as some steep up and down-slopes and plenty of nadgery corners.  It was all dry and dusty and the surface was a mix of polished mud and loose gravel.  Once I had acclimatised to the bike moving about underneath me, with both the front and back wheels sliding, I started to up the pace and overtake some people.  A lap took around 2 minutes and we were supposed to get 3 laps.  As a consequence of getting a move on I got 5 laps in before being directed back to the ‘pits’.

Time for a short break to refuel and rehydrate, as well as calm down a bit, and then back out for another 3 laps.  One of our group opted for a go on the 400 and I considered it, but decided that rather than just have a go on different bikes, I wanted to ride the bike I had well, so I stayed on the 250.  I went out behind the instructor and the guy on the 400 and started to get gapped but once I’d found my mojo I caught them again.  As we crested one jump I was still in the air as the 400 in front of me landed and crashed.  With no wheels on the ground there wasn’t a lot I could do but wait to land and then avoid him – luck and physics were with me as the rider fell left and I dodged right, coming to a stop on the side of the course.  The bloke signalled he was OK so I set off again.  I chased down the instructor again and we did a total of 5 laps again before calling it a day.  On arrival back at the pits he told us we were by far the fastest group out there and we’d got quite a move on.  At this point I realised I had also been lucky with my group allocation, because many of the other bikes there were enduro bikes whereas we were on full-on motocrossers.  The manufacturers present were Suzuki, Honda, KTM, Yamaha and Kawasaki and whilst I would probably have chosen another group if I had been asked, I am glad I ended up where I did.

By now the session was basically out of time, so it was another undignified (and much sweatier) strip and dress in the awning, some time to calm down and re-energise before getting in the car for the drive home.

It was an awesome experience for only £15 and it has had the desired effect on my – my eBay search history is now mostly full of offroad bikes, and I have even found a track very close to me that does open sessions and runs competitions.  Must fix that KDX!

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Part 3 – Bike safe

The day after the above event, I attended a BikeSafe event that had been set up by the company I work for and was with the Thames Valley Police.  I am a big advocate of advanced training but had never done anything formal on a bike.

I arrive at work around 8:30 (on a Saturday!) where around 12 bikers from work were gathered.  We spent the morning going through the theory and presentations with two very practical bike coppers, who were happy to give us the formal answers as well as the realistic answers (will you get in trouble for a dark visor?  No.  Small plate?  No, so long as it isn’t stupidly small.  Etc).
 
After lunch we were then paired up and allocated to an assessor.  I was with a bike cop on an unmarked VFR 1200, but with the lights and front camera and all that.  He checked our documents (licence, MoT, insurance) and a quick check of the bikes (tyres, lights) and described the route we’d be doing and how we would ride as a threesome.

We set off behind him for a while, then I was motioned through and he followed me for a bit over mostly 50 mph road in South Oxfordshire (A417 from Goring to Wantage if you know it).  Then he overtook me and motioned for my partner to lead for a bit, with me at the back.  We stopped for a while and chatted about how it was going and what to work on, then set off again in the same way.  At this point the weather turned from partly cloudy to rain.  Then it rained harder.  Then it really started raining.  At this point I was leading and I was doing my best to ‘make progress’ and not let the rain get in the way.

So there I am, riding along with a police rider in full hi-vis behind me.  I overtake a car and get back to the right (left) side of the road.  As I approach a junction on the right I see a car appear there and stop at the give-way.  I roll off a little and move a little left.  Then the car starts pulling out to turn right, presenting me with a side-view of their Honda Civic.  I am already fairly hard on the brakes (remember the rain!) and starting to calculate the chances of stopping in time.  I had just decided it was time to maximise the brakes when the car sees me and stops, half-way out of the side- road, and I ride around the front of it.

A lucky escape but for the next couple of minutes I am re-running the incident in my head, working out the what-ifs and what I could have done differently.  As a consequence I am not riding well, so I park that thought and carry on.  We ride for another 45 minutes or so, wth various changes in leader.  At one point I enter a roundabout turning right (2 o’clock exit) and hit some standing water.  Even at a slow speed the front wheel moves from under me and in that instant I recognise the value of off-road riding to on-road situations.  I wobble a bit but stay upright and carry on.  We eventually arrive back at work and it’s time for the debrief.

My assessor tells me that I had a great ride.  As far as he was concerned I did nothing wrong in the Civic incident and he puts all blame squarely on the driver.  My partner tells me that from the back what he saw was the car I had just overtaken started to indicate right, to go into the road the Civic was exiting – the Civic driver obviously concentrated on this and thought they’d get out before the car arrived, not seeing or allowing for me (until the last moment).

I am chuffed to bits with the results I got – the scoring system is from A (perfect) to D (needs serious improvement) on a number of different aspects of the ride.  I scored a mix of As and Bs – he tells me that although advanced rider training will always be beneficial, he doesn't think I need it.  I am over the moon.

I then ride home, strip off my wet clothing and reflect on the most intense, diverse and enjoyable week of biking I have ever had.

I hope you drank that cuppa before it went cold.
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Post  SteveCat Tue Jun 18 2013, 14:25

Didn't get a chance to have any coffee whilst reading, good write up Paul.

Back in the dim and distant past, in my early years of riding, a few of my friends were off roader's. Always told me the advantages of being able to ride 'in the dirt', bike control and also how to fall off - I'd always counter that by saying my idea was never to fall off, none the less the knowledge gained is invaluable.

Good one for saving the 'day' with the car, bet your heart was pounding for some time afterwards. Well done on the scores.

I must apologise for the scenic stop and then a few minutes later we came to the Abbey - brain was barely functioning.
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Post  robertcains Tue Jun 18 2013, 14:33

Excellent Paul, sounds like you had a blast & it must be nerve wracking to have an instructor follow you looking for every mistake, Top marks Clap
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Post  weasley Tue Jun 18 2013, 14:38

Thanks Steve.

The main thing that the off-road experience taught me was that it is OK for the wheels to slide a bit - it didn't necessarily mean I saved the spill any better, but it meant I was more relaxed and ready to accept a little movement from the bike, rather than panic, tense up, grab the brakes and cause a secondary crash.
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Post  weasley Tue Jun 18 2013, 14:39

Nick - it is a little unnerving having a police bike following you!
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Post  bobh Tue Jun 18 2013, 20:54

Great write-up, Paul.  And glad you managed to get through it all unscathed!
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Post  Dirt Bike Dave Tue Jun 18 2013, 22:40

Excellent take on a weeks biking Paul,
We had a great little run together on BC and i think you described it perfectly...we had a great run and you got the psyche 100%....think cos we've ridden together a few times before, theres a bit of respect and trust both ways..no hand signals or talk...we just got on with it and did our thing....i like that!!!
Was a pleasure mate..left thumb up

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Post  Rosco Tue Jun 18 2013, 23:11

Must admit Paul I lost concentration reading that and can only seem to remember the following snippets.

I shared a memorable 10 minutes with DirtBikeDave .... with unspoken but mutually-understood ‘rules’ that meant we were comfortable with what the other one was doing....I wobble a bit but stay upright and carry on.....how we would ride as a threesome.......We ride for another 45 minutes or so, wth various changes in leader...strip off my wet clothing and reflect on the most intense, diverse and enjoyable week.

Sounds like you had a blast. Smile

Seriously though - I missed out on that off-road day this year but would love to give it a go next year.  I might get an email about it since I missed out but if you get any info on it please let us know.

Great write up btw - glad you enjoyed it.

Cheers
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Post  Radar Tue Jun 18 2013, 23:22

Great write up, good to read another persceptive of the BC run too. I didn't have much quick running this year...just how the ride panned out, but still great fun.

Off road riding is something I have never done, but would love to have a go at.

I have never been terribly interested in Bikesafe or advanced riding courses, but maybe I should be.

Sounds like you had an entertaining, interesting and thought provoking week. Thanks for sharing your experiences
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Post  MrNutt Wed Jun 26 2013, 01:58

only just seen this, great write up paul, Thumb

glad you liked the off road day. I am hopefully doing a bikesafe day with the thames valley lot at the end of august, nervous about it but looking forward to it.
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