Sunday, 24 November 2013

17 NOV 13, ACU Sammy Miller championship Rd 8, The Winston Grove Downland Trophy Trial

After an early night and compared with the previous day, a lay in, Penny and I headed up the A40 towards Didcot for the final round of the ACU Sammy Miller series which began from the Horse & Harrow pub in West Hagbourne.  The final round is generally the most well attended and so it was this year; as 110 riders were signed on to compete for the Winston Grove Trophy.  The car park was already beginning to fill up and I was glad to see my fellow factory rider Dave Arkell (Ariel HT5) had bagged a good spot near the pub.  With such a large entry signing on could’ve been problematic but Claire Robinson’s military precision ensured it was pain free.  After a bacon roll and tea in the well appointed pub we changed and headed for scrutineering ready for the off.  Having had a terrible result here last year I was determined to give a good account of myself and having had a good ride in the Perce Simon I did feel quite relaxed.
Dave and I at the start of The Downland Trial

We got away bang on time and headed for the first group of three sections a few minutes ride away at Napper’s Lane for a couple of subs adjacent to the old railway line.  Whilst the first sub went well a tight, uphill turn on very loose scree in Sub 2 caught me out and I had to take a steadying dab in order to stave off a maximum.  The weather had taken it’s toll on the track and the going between sections here was treacherous however, I managed to clear the tread of the tyres which proved a good idea for Sub 3 which was a sinuous affair plotted in and out of a gulley.  The two Subs at The Moors used the stream which is always tricky but having successfully negotiated an underwater obstacle in the first and gauged the grip levels correctly in the second, I came away without troubling the observers.  The last sub here generally catches me out; the exit is very close to a barbed-wire fence which always catches my eye and I dab but this year I put it out of my mind, rode the stream perfectly and exited the greasy bank for a pleasing clean.

The bowl in Seymour's Arena

Next up was the brilliant Seymour’s arena where we had to ride six technical sections.  A large crowd had built up to watch the sidecar entertainment which gave me time to think about the first tricky sub which featured a huge jumble of rocks in the middle.  The tight entry and exit needed some thought however, my line was good and I only had to take a dab.  I rode really well here and overcame the urge to dab by using innovative lines and good control to move ahead of my main rivals.  Interestingly, traction was a little more difficult to come by this year but I held my nerve and came away with that single dab in the first.

The tricky Lollingdon Hill group followed where wet clay and steep banks combine to make this the most challenging of groups in the entire series.  The first Sub here was a real stinker and most people had taken “fives” rather than get stuck in the deep, muddy bowl as this drains your energy reserves for the rest of the trial.  I was on a high from Seymour’s and decided that if I could get the bike down the hill in third gear I should be able to make the extremely difficult climb.  I rode the decompressor, hopped over the greasy log and lined myself up.  I decided to ride the contours of the bank in a “S” shape and as I opened NT410 up the power came in smoothly and I was away.  The plan worked and I popped out of the ends cards with the first clean of the day and a round of applause from the observer and Dave.  It only became apparent how lucky I’d been when, at the next section I realised I had ridden Sub 12 with the petrol tap off!!  The double Sub of 13-14 was just as difficult and I was overjoyed at getting my weight right in 13 however, Martyn Wilmore got in my way on the exit of 14 and caused me a two.  The observer said I could have a baulk however, looking at the severity of what I’d just done I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and I settled for my two dabs.  They were the last of my penalties for this trial as I cleaned everything else.
Most people dabbed at this point. Keeping
my feet up in a technical section at Seymour's

The ride between Lollingdon Hill and Aston Pit is one of the most beautiful scenes in trials and I was on a high from the last two groups.  We refuelled at Aston Pit where we did a couple of Subs on the muddy banks before heading off to ride the steep banks of Pump House.  Interestingly, the apple trees here still had some large fruit so I helped myself to the windfalls which, I must say, were wonderfully tasty.  This natural sugar rush stood me in good stead for the steep banks of the four Subs at Air Raid shelter and after polishing off a corned beef sandwich we headed off on the long cross country ride to Bower Farm for one sub on the steep grassy bank.  It was here that I fell off between sections and I really hit my head quite hard on the ground.  Unfortunately, a group of walkers witnessed this impromptu spectacle and I rode off sore and rather embarrassed.

Strange's Gate, the final
The wood at Deer Lane followed and it was great to see the observers had got a roaring fire going in the bomb hole.  After warming myself up I got to grips with these sections and could’ve taken a dab coming down a steep bank and over a fallen tree however, I kept my feet up and was pleased to have come away unscathed.  The long ride back to the start saw me taking much more care as I really didn’t want another skull cracking crash. The penultimate section at Dickie’s rocks was a bit tougher this year especially, the exit and I did spend a lot of time looking at this to ensure I came away clean.  The last section at Strange’s Gate is a stream section near to the start and as always there was a large crowd in attendance.  I did gas NT410 and very nearly over-cooked the exit however, I was able to get the big Matchless under control and finished with a clean.

I thought my four mark loss was par for the day, so I was very surprised to find that I had achieved the best score throughout all classes on my route and beat my rivals quite convincingly by seven marks.  Dave struggled with his chest infection but did finish and provided me with some sound advice throughout the day for which I am most grateful.  Veteran rider and Gentleman, Mike Holloway (Matchless 410) finished second on the day to take the Class 1 championship; very well done Mike.

My prediction was one mark too many

Despite the strong finish I finished my 2013 Sammy Miller campaign as runner up in Class 2 which is the best I could’ve hoped for especially since I have been penalised for competing in all the rounds.  The rules state that you drop your worst round but the winner didn’t do the first round and therefore, loses no points at all (i.e. all his rounds count).  This is a pretty poor ruling in my opinion and goes against those that spend a lot of time and money to compete in all the rounds.  Hopefully, I can take the fight to my rivals next year but I haven’t ruled out changing to Class 1 and will be practicing on a rigid between now and the first round, The Cotswold Cups Trial, on 6th April 2014. 

As always, I owe grateful thanks to the Factory, especially Dave Arkell and Nige Townsend without whose engineering expertise, generosity, time and good grace I wouldn’t be competing.  Thank You both.

Dave (Ariel HT5) exits at Strange's Gate

Thanks to all at North Berks MCC for setting out another superb trial and to the observers.  The route marking was outstanding and I’d like to thank the advance riders for doing such a great job; by far the best route marking I’ve seen in a trial. 

Thanks to all at North Berks MCC
Next up: Zona 1 MCC Race Techniques Trial at Nettleton

16 NOV 13, ACU Sammy Miller championship Rd 7, The Perce Simon Trial

For Classic trials riders November predominantly revolves around one thing; the Sammy Miller championship double header.  A gruelling two days of hard riding in the Home Counties where competitors look to build on their season’s performance and finish strongly.  With second place assured and little chance of taking a third championship title I went into this weekend a little more relaxed than normal which, as it turned out, was a good thing.

Series sponsor Sammy Miller, MBE saw
us off at the start
After defrosting the van, Penny and I hit the road at 0600 for the long drive to beautiful Ashley Hollow venue on the outskirts of Ringwood.  The home of Lord Normanton looked in prime condition and as the fog eventually cleared to reveal clear skies the cool winter sunshine did little to alleviate the chill.  The Perce Simon Trial was originally run as a national trial in 1936 and remains arguably one of the best rounds of this series.  Organisation at the club is spot on so it was not surprise to see Hel’s Kitchen hot food van and a Turdis or two in the pits.  I signed on with Club Secretary, Mary Hodgkinson, and paid here the outstanding postage incurred when Royal Mail refused to honour my Christmas stamps.

Series sponsor Sammy Miller was on hand and waved us away bang on time for two laps of twenty sections split between Ashley Hollow (10 subs) , The Quarry (3 subs) and Hamer Warren (7 subs).  The first four subs in Ashley Hollow comprised traditional loose earth and tight turns over roots with steep climbs and it was good to see a lot of spectators braving the cold conditions.  Sub 5 was the most challenging; a deep mud entry led to a steep, slick bank and after a ninety right a further long, steep, loose climb for more twisty stuff.  This was a cracking section and I was pleased to see Sammy Miller with his notepad, calling us through for the observer who was perched high up the steep bank.  Further twisty descents and loose, steep climbs ensued before the long ride to The Quarry. 

NT410 in the turn on Sub 4

Three subs were plotted here this year and they were much more challenging than in previous years.  The first comprised steep descents and steep climbs up earth levees which were a real challenge to the old iron especially on the front suspension.  The final grass bank of the first sub demanded a high initial attack speed which nearly bottomed out the front forks but I compromised and was clean on both visits.  The next sub here was a real cracker; a tight twisty entry to negotiate before a sheer 100ft shale bank which was like riding in treacle.  The loose stones sapped the power of the big, heavyweight singles which literally sank into the bank and drew to a halt.  I selected third gear and rode the clutch in the twisty preamble before picking my line and opening the 410 up fully.  The bike snapped alive but there was no way I was shutting off until I reached the summit as to do so would have meant failure.  The run down the bank was just as tricky and I rode the decompressor lever until a few feet from the bottom.  Despite Dave’s poorly chest he made it up here on both occasions as did Pete Collins whose Ariel could’ve been designed by Sir Frank Whittle!

The muddy climb of sub 5

The final group of sections were in Hamer Warren and comprised a few old favourites however, I was disappointed to see that the corner mud bowl was omitted this year as that is a guaranteed mark taker.  Nevertheless, there was a stand out decider of a section and that was the tricky Sub 17.  A long, steep descent led to a deep mud slot turn around a tree with a plethora of roots.  This was followed by a steep, muddy climb up a tree laden bank and I saw a lot of riders come to grief here.  Spetacular for the spectators but not for the poor bikes!  I was genuinely pleased to have cleaned this on the first lap but when we arrived for the last lap it was practically impossible.  All the Class 2 hopefuls waited for each other to go but as it turned out we all got threes which decided the final results of the class.

Getting NT410 lined up on the off-camber
turn on Sub 10

In hindsight this was definitely a cleanable trial but a slack dab in the muddy sub 5 and an inevitable three in sub 17 saw me slip to third place with my four mark loss.  Factory riders Dave Arkell (Ariel HT5) finished a creditable eighth on 10ML with Pete Collins (Ariel HT5) on 13ML.  Class 1 leader Mike Holloway (Matchless 410) cemented his position at the vanguard of his class with a solid third place finish on 23ML.
Thanks to Lord Normanton for his continued and valued support to the Perce Simon trial, to all the organisers at Ringwood MC & LCC especially Mary Hodgkinson and to all the observers who braved the cold conditions to mark our cards.

Dave Arkell (Ariel HT5) in the deep mud of Sub 5
Pete Collins (Ariel HT5) finds some grip in Sub 5


Sunday, 10 November 2013

3 NOV 13, Western Classic MCC, The Guy Fawkes Trial at Bisley

Following my visit to Steve Saunders I was active in the garage until 2115 fixing all the bits that had fallen off (or broken off) NT410 during the trials school.  Still, at least it got my mind focussed on the bike and I went over it with a fine toothed comb. Unfortunately, the headstock bearing problem had re-occurred but it was far too late to do any investigation work ahead of an early morning start.  Fortunately, I got to the venue just as Mossy was opening up the parking field however, my various attempts at getting into it came to nothing and I headed for the hard standing at Bisley Community Centre (along with the rest of the wise heads and early arrivals).  Dave (Ariel HT5) & Masterchef (Ariel HT5) arrived shortly after followed by Teflon (Matchless G3LC) and Pete (Ariel HT5) and we headed to the Stirrup Cup to sign on for the Expert route and break our fast on bacon rolls washed down with tea. 
Pete Collins (Ariel HT5) attacks a Sub in Hailey Wood
A good entry of Pre-65 machinery was bolstered by riders from around the country who were keen to build on success in previous rounds of this championship.  It was brilliant to catch up with our fellow West Countrymen, Robin Hoare, Pete Meeson and Gary Kinsman who made the long run up from Devon to ride.  It's always great to see them and they've been absent from the National trials scene for too long!!
Apart from parking, starting at any Western Classic trial is always a problem and so it was that despite having a number in the thirties the factory were among the last group of riders away once again.  To compound matters the first section (as indicated on the supplied map) was omitted and we started instead on the steep slopes of St. Mary’s Wood in Brownshill for six fantastic subs of tree roots and rocks in the undulating ground.  Despite heavy rain in the previous week there was plenty of traction to be had and I was pleased to have come away clean. 

Next up was a sub at “Joes” followed by a no-inspection double subber at The Coombe.  These always have to be ridden with care and I erred on the side of caution favouring first gear rather than second.  This allowed a bit more flexibility in the long, uphill muddy gully that greeted us however, I did have to over rev the bike a tad to maintain forward motion; Nevertheless, I didn’t trouble the observers.  A short ride to Beech Pond followed for a tight, twisty double subber in the mud and roots of this natural but surprisingly dry, muddy bowl.  I paid attention to the tight turns and remembered what Steve Saunders had taught me the previous day and was pleased to come away clean. 

Dave (Ariel HT5) prepares for a steep descent

We blasted up the track and entered the fantastic Hailey Wood for six subs which rode really well before carrying on to the wonderful Oakley Wood for six  quite challenging and technical sections plotted on the steep banks which were laded with greasy roots and decaying leaf litter.  My first dab came at Sub 20 where a tight, sinuous Sub over undulating ground proved difficult to judge.  I went far too slow in a turn and couldn’t get the momentum needed to crest the deeply rooted and greasy bank that followed however, I faired better than Dave who got the big Ariel aerial and was lucky to come away without a maximum.  The last section here was a real stinker however, after spending ten minutes working out my line over some really awkward turns and roots, I was genuinely gob-smacked to see Masterchef ride it for a single dab; a truly outstanding effort in what was one of the day’s real testing Subs.

Robin Hoare (Dot 250) negotiates the roots well

Next up came the traditional Cotswold sections in Gulf Wood and Henwood before the long ride back to the outskirts of Bisley for the final five Subs at Battlescombe.  The first sub here was a real challenge of slick roots, deep mud and an off-camber rooty turn around a mature Oak.  I was very pleased to have cleaned this in front of a watchful factory audience and it was my favourite of the day. 
The remainder of Battlescombe rode well but the technical Sub 30 caught me out and I had to take a couple of dabs as tiredness caused me to misjudge a rooty step and subsequent steep climb.

Gary Kinsman (Ariel HT5) prepares to tackle
Oakley Wood

All things considered this was one of the best Cotswold trials I’ve ridden.  The mix of sections coupled with revisiting some of the traditional Cotswold favourites from years ago was a wonderful experience and my single figure loss was enough to top the factory standings on the day. 
Nevertheless, I’m always amazed that a club that can put on such a great trial is piss poor at the other bits of organisation that are inherent with trials and as I write, there are still no results available!  Furthermore, at the rider briefing Mossy said he nearly cancelled the trial because of a lack of early entries.  Perhaps if the club got a website and communicated with the world more effectively they wouldn’t have to entertain any thoughts of cancelling such great trials.  I sincerely hope that Western Classic MCC will join the 21st century and get a website soon!

My grateful thanks to all the observers who turned out to mark our cards during the trial.
Robin Hoare (Dot 250), Gary Kinsman (HT5) and Pete Meeson (Francis Barnett 250)
take a welcome pause for the camera in Oakley Wood

2 NOV 13, Steve Saunders Trials school at Nettleton

Having completed a thoroughly enjoyable trials school with Mick Andrews and done a few Intermediate routes at the BMCA, I decided to build upon my experience by going along to a Steve Saunders Trials school at the Zona1 MCC ground in Nettleton.  Arriving at 1000 for 1030 I was a little disconcerted to find that I was the only Pre-65 bike at the event however; I resolved to attempt everything the monoshocks did and came away the better for it.  There were riders of all abilities present from a complete novice to two experts from Yorkshire.

NT410 & I on a previous visit, try the
log box!

Steve is an excellent teacher with an easy going style who imparts his knowledge with ease across all levels of ability.  After a quick briefing and consolidation on the basics of riding the bike we immediately began some section work which got progressively harder as the confidence levels grew.  Under Steve’s watchful gaze we were able to iron out a few basic errors and once we got the hang of it Steve moved us up to the next level.  This was an excellent idea; I personally enjoyed the fast pace and being challenged throughout the entire day riding sections I would not normally attempt such as flick turns into deep gulleys!!  Understandably, I didn’t always get it right and there was some attrition on the bike so when I got home there was some rectification work to be done before the Guy Fawkes trial the following morning. 

Overall, it was a fantastic trials school with arguably the best British Trials rider of his generation.  Riders of all abilities were catered for and we were each given tailored advice aimed at correcting our deficiencies and improving our technique.  It was great to catch up with Andy Barefield again and have time to chat to him about his Tiger Cub project which is progressing nicely.  Andy did say I could give it a test ride when it’s complete and I am very much looking forward to doing so.  You can keep up with Andy’s progress via Trial Mag or click HERE

Time for some sump plate graphics?
NT410 & I on a previous visit

Next up: The Guy Fawkes Trial