Monday, 28 October 2013

27 OCT 13, BMCA Rd6 at Waterfall, Hereford

With the heavy rain overnight and the year’s first big storm predicted for Sunday night it seemed somewhat prophetic to head over to Bowley in Herefordshire to a venue called Waterfall.  Having not ridden this venue for some years (on my old long-stroke G3LC) I was keen to revisit it on NT410 and entered the event way back in September.  With Carol unusually absent I signed on for the Intermediate route with Pete Reed while Penny got a brew going.  The large wood comprised a fair proportion of sweet chestnut trees and having got changed, I grabbed a bag and collected a good few pounds of the larger windfalls for a post trial treat.

A trial with benefits!

We got away bang on time and headed down the track to the first two subs which were plotted on the steep banks above the stream.  Despite the rain the going was fairly easy and there was traction to be had.  The Inters had to ride the expert route for Sub two and a steep, greasy bank leading to an off camber turn by a rabbit hole was a lot trickier than it looked however, I took notice of a few of my betters and was pleased to come away unscathed.  After a short ride through wood we descended the bank for the first stream sections.  Andy Pitt observed the double sub which surprisingly, had some traction.  I elected to ride in second gear and gunned the big Matchy up the greasy climbs that followed the stream entry and recorded another clean sheet on all four laps here.

We meandered back down through the wood to the group of sections that makes this venue so unique.  The river was in full spate and the eponymous cascade was spectacular.  The going was particularly poor here and got progressively worse as the day wore on.  The deep, claggy mud was treacherous and I saw a few riders come to grief trying to get between the sections.  Sub 5 was quite technical and Inters had to ride the expert route.  It comprised a twisty, rocky stream with a couple of nasty steps.  I watched a few of the entry go through before I settled on my line.  The last step was a double and the landing slab was really loose and wet however, it was cleanable if you stayed to the right hand side.  I had to take a steadying on the first attempt but subsequent cleans were a real pleasure and I was glad I didn’t get too throttle-happy instead favouring a measured steady pace.  Next up was a double sub (6 & 7) in the rocky stream below the waterfall.  The fast flowing river was an added challenge and it was impossible to see the rocks underneath.  I plotted what looked like a good line, steeled myself and went for it.  Such was the nature of this section that you had to keep your wits about you at each visit and I was pleased to come away without troubling the observers on all occasions.  Some were not so lucky and at least one bike turned into a submarine as the rider sank beneath the waves.

I knew that Naval swimming test would pay off!

Sub 8 was a real stinker and became almost impossible as the day wore on.  A very slick entry led to a tight turn then a full power blast up the long, greasy bank to the track.  Again, it was a second gear section and I was genuinely pleased to have held on for a clean first time around however, my second attempt saw me use third gear but NT410 found lots of grip and threw me off the back end!  My third attempt was an almost inevitable maximum but I held on during the last attempt for a paddle three.  I incurred thirteen of my seventeen mark loss here and it was the lighter bikes that had the advantage nevertheless, that shouldn’t detract from the class of those that went clean here; it was a pleasure to watch them demonstrate their talent.

Flat out up the bank in Sub 8!

Sub 9 was another expert section and it was a real tight and twisty affair which caught out many of the top BMCA regulars.  I was therefore, quite pleased to have cleaned it on the first attempt however, I had to take a single dad on each subsequent visit.  In hindsight, this was quite tricky for a big bike so I was reasonably pleased with my score but you can always do better.  The final sub was a long run up a tricky gulley with a massive rock step and rooty bank at the end.  I’m glad I walked this one first which resulted in a clean sheet here. 

The tricky Sub 9

Overall, it was a grand day out and a pleasing return to this outstanding venue.  Yes, it was typically greasy with some deep and fast flowing stream sections but that’s what makes it so special.  My seventeen mark loss was enough to take third place on the Intermediate route which is a solid result in my book.  This event, coupled with a Steve Saunders trials school next Saturday should be good practice for The Guy Fawkes trial next Sunday; hopefully, I can continue to build on a bit of form and move up the order a bit.

Grateful thanks to Jim Pickering, Ken Garfield and Andy Pitt for laying out the sections and to the observers who were: Sue Jones, Andy Pitt, Neil Roberton, Phil Gittins and Malcolm Holden.

Next up: A trials school with 10 times British Champion Steve Saunders

The Captain of U-20 surfaces to recharge his batteries!

Andy Hunt in good form exiting Sub 6 shows how it's done

Saturday, 19 October 2013

13 OCT 13, ACU Sammy Miller championship Rd 6, The Greensmith Trial

With a sticking clutch, worn rear tyre and far too much free play in the headstock bearings I paid a rather hasty visit over the factory on Saturday afternoon for some rectification work ahead of The Greensmith Trial.  Listening to the weather forecast as I drove I decided that I’d ridden my last trial with wet feet so I stopped off at BVM and invested in a new pair of Hebo Tech EVO trials boots.  

I was determined not to have wet feet on this trial!

Rain all day Saturday and poor conditions on Sunday morning coupled with a good turnout of BMCA experts riding the Clubman route meant this was always going to be a really challenging round.  Clee Hill was smothered in mist as we approached the Kremlin Inn and I was grateful that the entry fee included a complimentary bacon/sausage sandwich and a cup of tea/coffee.  Having entered in advance, signing on was stress free and I informed Secretary-of-the-Meeting, Ann Fairbrother, that Dave wouldn’t be riding (and Penny had his sausage sandwich and coffee!).

The mist gradually gave way to steady rain and having got soaked to the skin in my supposedly “waterproof” jacket too many times before, I decided to wear a pair of them over my rugby shirt; one trials jacket and one snowboarding jacket over the top.  Such was the relentless cold and rain that this proved a brilliant idea and I remained dry and warm all day.  For the bottom half I donned my Halvarsson’s rubberised denim trousers; these windproof and waterproof beauties are perfect for trials and a lot easier to move around in than the old Belstaffs. 

I got away bang on time and must confess to feeling rather lonely without Dave riding beside me on the five mile journey to the first group of five subs at Silvington Wood.  Such was the rain that getting to the sections proved treacherous and I took great care after losing the front end a few times.  The first four subs were all tight, twisty and slick affairs and I was pleased to clean them all however, the last sub here was a real stinker.  An interminably long blast through deep mud with a few corners thrown in made for some tricky going and I inevitably paid the price for not selecting third gear when I had to take a paddle three.

Kicking the bike up at the start
After a short ride we arrived at Silvington Farm for three stream and muddy bank sections.  The first sub here was so long that I queued with the rest of the entry for almost thirty minutes in the cold.  This very technical section was a real beauty and I was pleased to have cleaned the most difficult bits however, I missed the “Section Ends” card for an absolutely gutting maximum.  I was seething at how I (and so many others) could have missed it and I can only assume it was the cold/damp conditions that sapped my memory.  This affected the subsequent subs and I took an unnecessary dab in the next sub before recovering to clean the last.  I’d like to thank Matt Sleep (Honda TLR) for saving NT410 from keeling over in the soft conditions!

Next up was the wood at Starvecrow for four really slick subs.  Given the huge wood and variety of natural obstacles available I was surprised at what we had to ride.  The first two subs consisted of a downhill meander through the trees albeit on very slick mud.  The third Sub here was exceedingly tricky in that it comprised a steep climb up a muddy bank (with no traction) with no run up.  Some brave riders elected to ride down a 1:3 bank on the opposite side before gunning the bike through the “begins” cards, but they came to grief.  I selected third, gunned the bike and was genuinely shocked to find myself at the summit without penalty!  I then got a bit trigger happy and spun the back wheel up in the last sub and had to settle for a paddle three up the long, muddy climb.  Getting out of this group called for some third gear action too and I flew back to the road for the short ride to Brockleton Brook.

My old favourites of Brockleton Brook, for a double-subber in the rocky stream, then over the road for four Subs at Furlong followed and I was disappointed to have taken a couple of unnecessary dabs in the first double-subber here.  It was a shame we didn’t get a chance to ride the cascade next to the road, as the opportunity to jump the middle step in the cascade is a real buzz and something I traditionally look forward to.  A short ride to Hopton Brook followed for another double-subber where the deep water was an initial concern but a couple of deep mud slots were the real challenge.  I kept the bike pinned and was pleased to come away not troubling the scorers.

The long ride to the next group at the aptly named Bedlam was welcome recuperation.  This long, rocky gulley is traditionally where the Greensmith Trial is won or lost and with tiredness creeping in I made a concerted effort to avoid silly mistakes.  We had to ride six quite technical Subs here over the loose scree and big boulders.  I decided to be aggressive which paid dividends as I cleaned the first Sub here in style however a silly (and needless) dab in the next was a disappointment.  I was determined to clean the rest of the group here and held on in the penultimate Sub despite getting spat off line and having to inadvertently ride some really big boulders!  The last sub really annoyed me; I was so transfixed by the greasy climb to the exit that I selected second gear.  This led to me coming off a bank too quickly and I got thrown off line and had to take an absolutely gut-wrenching three.

A smile on a grey day. NT410 went brilliantly

It was only a short ride across the fields for a final four subs at Park Lane.  The first one was a long rock gully which I rode hard for a pleasing clean.  The next Sub featured lots of mud and a big root step but I selected second gear, gunned the bike, took an innovative line and came away with a pleasing clean.  The third Sub here was the clincher and I took my time to watch riders go through.  A big rock step was hard to get over and this was followed by a steep, rooty, muddy bank which meant you had to have traction immediately after the step.  I bounced up the step but was way off line and came to grief on the bank for another crushing maximum.  My right thigh cramped up and I couldn’t get the bike out unaided.  Thankfully, Neil Fairbrother’s son was on hand and I’d like to thank him for getting NT410 out of that gulley.  With cramp firmly set in I rode the last Sub somewhat gingerly and had to take an almost inevitable dab; A disappointing end to a fantastic trial.

Ride of the day must undoubtedly go to Andy Roberton who piloted his rigid James around for a measly 10 marks lost ahead of Class 1 leader Mike Holloway who was outstanding on the big rigid AJS.

With so many BMCA Expert and other Expert riders riding the Clubman route I was pleased to have attained fifth place which keeps me in overall second place in Class 2.  A couple of silly maximums were gutting especially the needless one at Silvington Farm and I must try to concentrate more and be more disciplined in my approach.  Still, at least NT410 went faultlessly during the day & I've got Dave Arkell and The Teflon Don to thank for sorting the bike out at very short notice on Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to the organisers, South Birmingham Motor Club, Clerk-of-the-Course Tim Fairbrother, the gracious landowners for their kind permission to use the land and to all the observers who braved the exceptionally damp conditions to mark our cards during the trial.  You are truly generous people.

The next Sammy Miller round is The Perce Simon Trial hosted by Ringwood at the Ashley Hollow venue near Southampton in November.

Friday, 4 October 2013

29 SEP 13, BMCA Rd 2 at Ullenhall

I awoke, aching from the previous day's trials school but eager to get back on the bike and test out what difference Mick Andrews lessons would to my riding.  Despite Hawks being on just up the road at Dowdeswell, I elected to drive to the BMCA at Ullenhall near Henley-in-Arden to contest the Intermediate route against some lightweight bikes.

Approaching a turn in Sub 4
After a quick breakfast we headed off and arrived early securing a place in the field instead of the verge as in previous years.  Signing on was a breeze and after booking onto the Intermediate route (for a tougher challenge) I entered a later round at the Waterfall venue in Hereford (which will be great practice for the last two rounds of the ACU Sammy Miller national championship in November).  This venue may not be the largest on the calendar but it is certainly one of the best when it's dry.  It consists of a beautiful wood which is skirted by some steep, rooty banks and bomb holes. 

Experienced BMCA riders Dave Jones & Mick Hemming plotted a challenging but sensible course of ten sections to be ridden over four laps.  I got away early and headed up the track for some quick practice to set my mind on the lessons I'd learnt with Mick Andrews the previous day.

Sub 1 and 2 were plotted on the steep banks of a bomb-hole and the Inters rode the Clubman route here.  A couple of tight turns on loose earth and a tight, tricky exit to Sub 2 were quite challenging but I got through clean.  Sub 3 was the first of the expert Subs and a typical BMCA section.  A rudimentary entry up a bank led to an acutely off-camber climb across roots to an immediate steep downhill run followed by a sharp right-hand turn up a bank.  I was mindful of my positioning on the bike and was pleased to have gone clean on each visit.  Likewise with Sub 4; a blip over a log after a tight turn was exactly what we'd practiced at Binegar and again it was pleasing to go clean.  
Keeping inside the markers!
Sub 5 saw us back on the expert route where the tight turn around a big rooty oak tree was a lot more difficult than it looked.  I struggled on the first lap but kept my feet up and got over for a clean.  A dab on the second lap followed but I got the hang of it for the remainder.  Sub 6 had a horrendous downhill run followed by an off-camber immediate turn up another bank but it rode much better than it looked and I took care to go clean on each lap.  Sub 7 was very technical with a sting in the tail.  Lots of tight turns followed by a steep root step led to a tight left-hander with a log across the exit (for good measure!) Having seen some seasoned experts come to grief here I was very pleased to clean this Sub on each lap.  Sub 8 was a sinuous affair on a bank but rode well.
Sub 9 was my nemesis; for some reason I just couldn't get each technical part correct at the same time until the last lap.  This was really annoying however, I was having a good run so knuckled down.  Unfortunately, Sub 10 cost me my first Intermediate route win as, on lap three, I failed to “double-blip” over a root in a steep bank, jarring the front wheel which knocked me off line and outside the markers for a maximum.  This was quite disappointing but I did finish third on the Inters route against two Bantams.
A steep descent in Sub 2
Thanks to Dave Jones and Mick Hemming for putting on a great trial and I'd like to wish Mick a speedy recovery!  Thanks also to the observers who were:-

Carol Davis, John Danter, Graham Archer, Joe Owen, Ray Barrett, Chris Taylor, Tony Crossley, Sue Jones, Roger Galpin and Malcolm Holden. 

Next up: The Moto Brittanica Trial in the Forest of Dean

Turning just like Mick Andrews!




28 SEP 13, Mick Andrews Trials School at Binegar

I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to get some lessons from trials legend Mick Andrews at Binegar quarry under the auspices of Bath Classic MCC.  With some tough trials on the horizon particularly, the last three rounds of the ACU Sammy Miller National Championship, it was a no-brainer and I jumped at the chance.  Eager to learn we arrived early but the weather was against us and we were greeted with a torrential downpour which delayed the start slightly.  After a quick meet-and-greet with Mick we got down to business.

Mick Andrews & the Trials school candidates

As there was a wide range of bikes, ages and abilities, Mick started from the basics of riding position, weight distribution and some basic turning and riding techniques.  This was followed by a practical demonstration where we followed Mick and tried to replicate his effortless style.  As we rode, he studiously assessed our varying attempts and offered sage advice for rectification to everyone.  His tips on turning and weight distribution were spot on and I made a concerted effort to comply with his direction.


Mick Andrews talks while Jon Cull and I soak up the advice

To keep everyone interested Mick got us follow him on a round on the quarry to where he could lay out a section and impart some more knowledge.  One of the first tests was riding a steep gravel covered bank.  Attempting to get traction was a nightmare but I gunned the big Matchless in second gear and just about made it before getting my descent sorted out.  Again, Mick offered quality advice to all the participants until we got it right.  What I particularly liked was the lack of pressure; you could do as much or as little as you felt comfortable with and Mick was especially attentive to the less able riders which is spot on in my opinion.  Besides, there was plenty of technique practice to get in.

I wasn't actually supposed to be doing that!

After a  hearty lunch of Fish & Chips (which would have been worth the trip to Somerset on their own!) we got back to more practice.  The afternoon session consisted of negotiating rock steps of increasing height and difficulty.  I was pleased to have got the Matchless over them and I was able to see where I had gone wrong before.  Next on the list was section practice which gradually got more difficult however, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity and I rode each one.  I didn't get it right every time and Mick was on hand to point out why.  This was the most enjoyable part of the day for me as you got a fantastic insight into the mind of a top trials rider.

I was paying attention; honest!
Following some private practice and consolidation of techniques, we finished at 1645.  I was unsure what to expect but Mick is an excellent teacher who is able to impart technical information in an easy style which is often interspersed with tales from his illustrious riding career.  This engages the student and I must say I was rather enthralled by the man and his ability.  As we trundled back up the M5 late on Saturday afternoon, tired and hungry, I was already looking forward to putting into practice what I'd learned in the BMCA club trial at Ullenhall the following day. 
The legend that is Mick Andrews

If you've ever thought about having a Mick Andrews Trials School then I urge you to give it a go.  It is great value for money, very enjoyable and most importantly it can improve your riding. 

Thanks very much to Mick Andrews for his patience and attention throughout the day and to Jon Cull of Bath Classic MCC for organising a brilliant event.

Mick gets ready to show us how it's done!