BACK What a way to start the year! This rally made a great season opener, only the second year it's been run, let's hope it's now firmly on the calendar.

Here's my story:


A (very) last minute entry, only 10 days or so before the event obviously meant I was traditionally well prepared. New-to-me bike as well, but one I know quite well. I last raced a 650 Transalp in 2008, but have been busy since! (XR650r, and Vara racing, talk about different!)

Wimped out and towed the bike over, well, I've done less than 150 miles on it in the month I've had it and need to be sure it will last the distance. I know it will now. I'd take it to Africa tomorrow! (Well, next Jan, but that's a later instalment of this story. Bit of a broken printer/no final instructions caused a little navigational error on the way to the start had me driving wonderful Welsh forest minor roads at 1.30am, but a good guess let me find the correct forest. A night in my "tour bus" at the forest gate, alarm at 7.00, and a gentle fire road down to the start.

Very cold hands getting the bike off! Signed on, scrutineered bike, knocked back on sticky throttle. Brief adjustments led it to work, back and straight through. Wandered round, chatted to a few friends from various events. Always good to catch up. Been too long with some. My start time was 10.25, nothing was a rush, so coffee was the order of the day. Most of the other bikes in the field were, shall we say, more off-road focused than the Transalp. There was a lovely heavily modified 600 Alp, great to see. A good clutch of 950/990 KTMs and an HP2. Oh well, I knew I was going to be slow!

May I apologise here for the lack of photos, I didn't take any. There wouldn't have been a lot of time to do so anyway. There are quite a few of various riders etc here: Gary Jones Photography | Brechfa bike Rally 10th March 2013


There was the standard rider briefing at about ten to ten. Enjoy, be nice, 4 laps, timed on laps 2-4, 90 min check, should be easy to stay on time.
Easy to stay on time! They always say that, and I'm always working hard to do so. Average speed set at 25mph. Road riders would find that easy. It's probably not too hard on an off-road bike. It'll be OK, I've reasonably good tyres, and some bits stolen from other bikes in my garden, mudguard and brushguards off Hippo (my '87 600 TA "classic"), Renthals from Pilgim (my custom VF700), and I'd left the panniers in the shed.

Lovely to have an efficient button, starts first push when those around are either kicking or having to push a few times. Warmed up in no time, settled to a lovely tickover. Then we roll down to the start, and wait for the clock to roll over our minute. Let the other 2 bikes roar off, think both were KTM 690s, so I'm not going to play there! Now, the rally route was the orange arrows, with an optional harder 'enduro' route marked with green arrows. Orange all the way then! Rallies are normally very well marked, a single arrow warning of up coming route changes, and a double arrow saying "NOW", and this one was no exception. Navigation then was easy. I do like this!

Fire roads in forest can be very different, depending on exact surface, dampness, temperature and time of year! For those that know them, the Galloway fireroads were great last year. Great surface, tonnes of grip and confident high speeds possible. Boris and I had a blast! Today, the fire roads were not like that. Temperatures of about freezing and some moistness left me finding them slippy and rather insecure. Grand start though, nothing too rough for quite a while. Tracks ranged from really smooth fire road, the odd bumpy bit and some little sections of slightly looser rock. Lovely.

First interest really came just after a really sharp turn, with plenty of overshoot potential, used by me twice. Hairpin right on loose gravel, beginnings of a steep climb, then a banked log across the track, photo stop! Well, photo jump, or roll over for me, I need to see the landing before I dare take to the air. (Unlike some on here... This will get trickier as the day progresses. The banking often seems to wear away with use, leaving just the log. Oh well, we'll hit that when it happens. This hill was great, sort of whoopy, up hill, but good grip. Some sections of slate, seemed to have good grip there too. having not sorted/made a sump guard yet the rocky step near the to of the climb needed prior planning to miss the step that would have me bottom out, sump/frame to rock. Don't really want that to happen. (Again. No, really I don't.) No worries though, we missed it!

Out the climb and back onto fire roads. Brief excursion off the track to slow down a long very fast straight, lovely. These tyres do seem to work well. Far better than the slick TKCs worn at the last EnduroLand. A spot more fire road and we're down to the start of the 'test. This is, I guess, the real reason for the rally. The timed test, special test, or just 'special'. Line up, watch the traffic light. Red - don't worry. Red and yellow, soon. Red goes out then the yellow counts down, green your time starts now! Not timed on this lap, so I tend to take it quite gently and try and work out how to do it quicker!

Fire road start, some corner, some hairpins, some bits you can't see round. This is not ideal for me, I'm not quick compared to the other big twins on this sort of course. Changes then, onto mud, hairpin right and single track downhill. Gentle rut, with quite a drop to the left. This is nice to ride. Gets muddier, and a little steeper as it drops through a few bends towards the hairpin exit back onto fireroads. This bit was quite loose already. Then a blast up some more fireroads, some bends etc, the odd tree poking into the track. It's nice to be allowed to push a bike off-road, and be allowed, nay, expected to. Some sections of throttle wfo in 3rd, back end sort of pushing you forwards as it snakes along behind you. Test ends with a common chicane style arrangement, and relax.


The rest of the lap followed, 4 sections merit particular comment:

A section that had me confused. Green arrows point right, up an unfeasibly steep hill and into the woods. Orange arrows also point the same way. A couple of hundred meters on, orange arrows point off the fireroad to the left. Oh well, up the hill. Hit it fast enough, it was fine. Some muddy woods follow, with a corner that was already rutting up. That could be an issue on the Alp. (I'm wide and low!) Down a bit of a hill, then a sharp drop off back onto the fireroad. Hit that slow, scrape the belly over, roll down, then back up to what's now a left turn. Very steep, so the first bit uses my patented clutch brake system. (Well, it's not patented, it's not mine, but it is useful on a big bike, slippy surface steep downhill Gentle down, roll in second, then a very muddy rut section that has me paddling!

Some more fireroad, a great rest taken gently, leads to a long hill with a slippy steep start. Great fun, the Alp climbs really well. Long, gently rutted climb follows, some whoops, hard work on the forearms. This is the sort of riding it's really hard to find while green-laning. That ends in some very welcome fireroad!

Then a flat, rutty, muddy and very slippy section. Sort of just hang onto the bike and dab when it starts to go sideways at the front. There's plenty of that near me, but I'm not fast on it!

The final tricky bit is a short sharp climb, mostly muddy with the odd rocks in it. This is great. My favourite bit, short enough to ride the Alp like a little bike, with a sharp left hander at the top. Then some muddy, almost rutted, climb where the back can be left loose and the bike ridden hard.

Then we're up and onto fire roads for a while, and it's trickled back to the start/finish. That's a wonderful lap, about 27 and a bit miles by my trip meter, varied, not too hard but never boring.

About 80 mins. Leaves me 10 mins to stretch my legs and suck down some water. That means I'm within time. Rallies will normally give either an hour or 30 mins of leeway if you're late, this one was a 30 minute rally. I usually use all my spare time, so it was good to be within the guide time. many folks use this time to refuel or repair, with the Alps 17 litres and no damage yet I needed neither. All good then!


Not much more to say really! The next 3 laps all went smoothly enough.

By the time I got there on lap2 the log had been removed from the start of the first hill climb. Result! That was one less thing to worry about. End of lap 2 had broken one of my front mudguard mounting bolts, and it was flapping about. That got removed, and left at the start. Pity I forgot to pick it up at the end of the day, and only remembered near Cardiff.

The special on lap 3 was eventful, with a rider who'd just overtaken going down on the first muddy hairpin and looking like he'd hurt his arm. I was stopped to help, but a spectator arrived and I was able to contine. Other incidents occured during this lap too, see Bob's post above.

The last half of lap 3 had me tired, with forearms and legs beginning to play up on the gnarlier bits, so most fireroad was being riden gently as a rest. The Alp was suprisingly well planted even sat down. The confusing section seemed to be out, at least the tape had been moved, so I skipped it. Better that than holding up everyone behind me with the bike beached in a rut. Only little fall of the day as the ruts got the better of me, but I was chancing my arm a bit in terms of speed. No damage, and an easy pick up.

Laps 2 and 3 also took about 80 minutes, so still on time!

Lap 4 was hard work, and took 85 mins, but still had me finish within time.

Quick burger, with the included with entry burger-voucher, then stick the bike back on the trailer with a bit of help 'cos I can't load it myself, and home.

Maybe I should have a lighter bike?