On Sunday 5th November I took part in the Freestyle Hafren Rally, run by the Hafren Dirt Bike Club.
My pal Dave Brace told me about the rally and encouraged me to enter. So I took a look at it via the website and some YouTube videos and thought, looks like a lot of fun….why the hell not.
It takes place at the Sweet Lamb Motorsport Complex in Wales, and this year, there are 193 riders competing in 6 categories as listed below.
1 – Beginners
2 – Rally Lite 1
3 – Rally Lite 2
4 – Rally Class
5 – Trail / Twin
6 – Big Bike
I entered the trail/twin category and my rider number was #133.
The Hafren dirt bike club organisers say: “The lap length is approximately 45 miles long with 3 Special Stages per lap.
A sighting lap will be allowed, therefore Special Stages will not be timed on Lap 1.
All classes bar the Beginners class will complete 2 ¾ laps, and the Beginners class will complete 2 laps”
I’m relatively new to off road riding, but I’ve been getting lots of practice in recently and I did ride a few hundred miles of forestry trunk roads in Canada last year which was all loose gravel, so I know I can ride the distance too, it’s just the other 192 riders that I’ll have to watch out for as I’m out on the rally.
I do wonder though how I’ll will cope with the constant pace and rugged terrain! I have feeling I’ll be just fine with it! Just gotta keep looking up and ahead and remember MOTION is my friend.
After my recent off road rides I’ve had over the past few weekends, and from previous experience when riding off road I bought a few things I need In preparation for the rally and made a few mods to the bike.
For my body I’ve finally bought some proper protection for my head and feet. I’ve never really had a proper set of motorcross boots and so my foot/ankle/shin protection has never been up to scratch that is expected when taking part in a. Rally or doing serious off road riding. Luckily for me in the past I’ve not hurt my legs badly when coming off, however, as I’m starting to take a more serious and mature approach to off road riding I bought myself some Sidi Crossfire 2 boots.
I have to say that they are amazing. The support and protection are way beyond anything I’ve ever had. The build quality is as you’d expect from the Italians superb. They are so sturdy yet so comfortable. They arrived at work a few days ago and I’ve been wearing them in the kitchen to brake them.
Previously when riding off road I’ve been wearing my BMW Evo 5 flip lid, which as good as it is, it’s not suitable or strong enough to take a hit to the jaw at force and give me the protection I need off road.
So a good, strong, comfortable helmet and goggles are being used on Sunday along with the Sidi Boots, I’ll wear my existing BMW Rallye jacket and trousers along with some new waterproof knee high Sealskinz socks to help keep my feet dry. (I’m tired of getting wet feet.)
Third item is a new set of gloves.
BMW Rally gloves.
These gloves are very comfortable. I prefer the free feel of summer gloves to the bulky astronaut style of winter glove. I can wear them with my silk glove liners and I’ve got my heated grips and Bark Busters with wind deflectors on, so warmth even in a Welsh November hopefully won’t be a problem.
For the bike I’ve taken away the Touratech tool box, as last week when I had an off on the sand at low speed the bloody thing cracked apart and I had to cable tie the thing together in order to stop it splitting and my tool box opening its guts and having its intestinal tools falling over my back wheel. Great for road riding but not if you’re gonna knock your bike about.
So, instead I’ve bought a Kriega 10 dry bag to keep my tools, pump, puncture repair kit and other bits and bobs in.
It straps down to the rear seat really nicely using 4 quick release straps that attach to the rear bars.
It’s way more user friendly that the stuffy cramped Touratech tool box I’ve been using. I don’t think I’ll put the tool box back on. I did though take the damaged one back to Touratech on Saturday on the way to the rally and they kindly exchanged it for a new one.
Other bike mods are two finger brake and clutch levers from a company called Wild at Heart, based in South Africa, although I bought these ones second hand from my pal James when he sold his BMW GSA 1200 recently. They are really nice to use and have a good groove to them that your fingers naturally fall into to use when braking or using the clutch.
“Flexx Handlebars absorb shock and vibration, isolating your upper body from abuse, allowing you to ride longer, at a faster pace with more control. Simply put, you will have a better racing results, more fun riding or better time exploring with Flexx Handlebars controlling your day.”
That’s the company blurb.
They are fitted with a set of elastomers at each side which you can change for different dampening settings. Red being the hardest and blue the softest and yellow inbetween.
I’ve been using them now for a couple of weeks and have ridden around 150 Miles off road with them and they are very comfortable and such a welcome addition to the bike. My wrists and arms have been thanking me ever since I fitted them! So, no doubt they will come in handy on Sunday and earn their place on the bike.
I’ve been riding around with a blue & yellow set up which has been sometimes a bit too soft and it allows the bars to pull upwards which is unnerving so I decided on a red/blue set up, so the bars push down but don’t bend upwards.
I stopped to take a photo or two, stretched my legs and rolled on towards Swansea.
I stopped at Touratech for a quick visit to replace and exchange my damaged tool box for a new one, bought myself a Kreiga Hydro 3 backpack as I left my other one at home, doh.
I then made my way over the Black Mountain to conquer some demons from earlier this year. That’s all I’ll say about that! I rode over the mountain and down the other side happy to et over in one piece.
Soon enough the darkness drew in and the light was fading fast, but for me that’s no problem as I have my Clearwater Ericas which I put on at a low level and the road ahead lit up! These lights really are the amazing. The clarity and depth of light they deliver over the OEM ones are astonishing. After a couple of hours of riding I arrived at Llanidoes and met Dave at the Mount Inn for a quick beer and chat before pushing on for the final few miles and eventually making my way to the Hafren Forest Bunkhouse where I was staying for the night! The Hafren Forest Bunkhouse is run by the new owners Sarah & Darren who were absolutely amazing hosts. I arrived in a freezing cold hale storm and pulled up to the bunkhouse and stepped inside to the much needed warmth of the bunkhouse and was greeted by my hosts who were waiting for me.
I then went into Llanidoes to meet Dave again and go to sign on for the rally at the rugby club in the town where the nights events were being hosted.
Darren and Sarah where driving into town for dinner and offered me a lift which I gladly accepted to avoid the rain! They dropped me at the Mount Inn where I met Dave and we made our way to the rugby club.
When we arrived Dave saw some familiar faces he knew and we joined them at the table after joining queue to sign on and get our race numbers. We ate some nice food put on by the Hafren Dirt Bike Club drank beer and talked shit for a few hours and even did the quiz! Around 10.30pm Sarah & Darren had finished their food and messaged me to tell me they were on their way to pick me up and take me back to the bunkhouse.
When we got back to the bunkhouse I placed the race number on my bike and readjusted the handlebars and got the bike race ready, after which I crashed out around midnight and slept like a baby until the morning.
The next morning I woke up early and Sarah had made me a cup of coffee and a couple of bacon and sausage sandwiches to set me up for the day. There were cooked to perfection and were so tasty. Just what I needed to see me on my way.
Llyn Clywedog Reservoir
I rode around a couple of times and eventually found Dave and also met up with another pal Chris from London too!
Dave getting ready.
I took my panniers off and stored them in Dave’s van (thank you) and took my bike up to the Marshals for scrutineering. They checked the tyres, brakes, bars etc and gave me the all clear! I was ready to rally.
Ready to Rally
9.44a.m. My start time. I was at the start line waiting to go.
I got the all clear from the marshal and was off up the hill and soon onto a plateau where the course guided us around trial like obstacles. Up and over gravel camel humps, through ruts and hill climbs and out into the moorlands through the fire roads and then into the Hafren Forest where the trails got gnarly and technical.
The fire roads were made up of hard ground and loose gravel which was fine, however, I still have a problem with cornering on gravel roads and almost got a few turns wrong, but made my way around slowly and carefully with Llewelyn Pavey’s words in my mind: “Don’t try and go fast and don’t get sucked into thinking you’ll win, ride to finish, It sounds patronising but everyone makes the same mistakes. Those events are fast and its very easy to miss a corner or have a big crash.” so with those words in mind I took it slow and plodded along letting all the smaller bikes overtake me.
When the course went through the forest it started to get more technical with ruts to choose from either side, no one to guide you through or tell you what was ahead to what to expect.
I went in slowly and thank goodness I did.
The track went down into small single track paths with big ruts and narrow edges which I made my way through, trying to look up and ahead rather than what was immediately in front of me, I rode down steep rock faces with water running by each side, twisting left and right, steep hill climbs on cambers through some amazing scenery.
After one left hand bend, there was a small narrow bridge made of metal with a bent up metal grid to ride over and then a steep right hand turn to make over bashed up slate and loose mud. My first attempt saw me getting half way up then having to roll back down 20 ft, back over the metal bridge in reverse to get enough momentum to tackle it again, which I did and felt really happy with myself for doing so.
I plodded on through more tracks and trails over camel humps where, when I hit the jump just right the bike would take off and land after both wheels being in the air, and when I didn’t the bike would either be tilted over forward too much that my arse was in the air trying to get the back end down or I’d be landing with the back wheel planted and the front still in the air. Occasionally the bike would bottom out and scrap the bash plate on the bike which didn’t feel good, sometimes I don’t think the GSA has enough ground clearance to jump it, but what a capable bike it is. I love riding it off road.
Around 15 miles later there was a hill climb which I didn’t get right the first time so had to go back down the hill again, and again, and again, and again…you get the picture? I got so far up it and down to my lack of skill and the ground being so soft and I kept taking the wrong line and instead of going off into the bushes I had to stop, then the bike went over as I lost my footings……..this happened about 15 times and drained every last bit of energy from me. After spending 30 minutes on it some nice guys on Husqvarnas stopped and helped push me up the last 20ft. Thank god they did. I really owe a big thank you to them, otherwise I’d probably still be there now. When at the top I caught my breath and drank some water as I was so hot and thirsty. I tried to muster the energy to carry on. after a few minutes I did just that.
I felt like I wouldn’t be able to make it round another lap if I had to do that hill climb again, my energy was all but gone. It took me another 30 minutes to get back to the start line and by the time I got there I had decided if they would let me start my 2nd lap 40 minutes late then I’d give it a shot.
When I got there I said that I was 40 minutes late, they said not to worry and sent me on my way. Whooo hooo I didn’t come here to quit, so I started the lap and put the hill climb far away from my mind. I went up and over the trial obstacles again and through the forest.
I tackled the same gnarly steep descents and then came around to the rickety metal bridge with the thin metal grid as a deck and went over it and around to the right and got half way up and wallop, went over on the rock. I picked the bike up felt my energy just disappear again, rolled it back down and took the route to the left through the grass and made it up and over the hill. I was so happy, just that one more hill climb to go and that was a way off, I carried on and went out of the forest onto the fire roads taking it easy, still letting the other bikes overtake me. As I rode along my back wheel caught a loose patch of gravel which dug in and sent my front wheel to the right and then the bike dug in sending me to the left and over. I was off. It was a hard crash, but thankfully at low speed.
John, one of the marshals on the course happened to be behind me at the time and the first thing he said to me after asking if I was OK was, thank god you were going slowly, that could have been much worse.
I hit the ground pretty hard and I think my head took a knock, I lay there on the ground and felt my body was okay, a bit knocked but no broken bones, which was good. I then bounced up and looked at the bike some 20ft away from me. parts of it were strewn across the trail, my front fender was off and snapped and various bits of plastic on the bike had broken. One of the OEM fog lamps was broken off and hanging down, and when I picked it up I realised the front wheel was out of line with the handlebars. My left hand was in front of my right one whilst the wheel was straight. After resting for a moment and getting my composure back I decided to call it a day. I couldn’t carry on with the front wheel and bars as they were, and I felt a little unsteady after the crash and realised that carrying on would be madness. There is always next year.
So John the marshal took me the “quick” way out through the forest and back to Sweet Lamb. The quick way was still around 12 miles of fire roads, and the front wheel was out of line with the bars which made it all the tricky to ride. But ride I did and I got back to Sweet Lamb and told the rally organisers I was a DNF (Did Not Finish) which felt sad, but also the right choice considering. I picked up my competitors mug and went back to Dave’s van where he was just getting started for his 3rd lap. I went up to the start line with him and saw him off on his way. I then went back to the van and packed up the bike said my goodbyes to a few people and limped out of Sweet Lamb a bit worse for wear, but happy that I had taken part and that the bike and I were still in one piece, if not missing a few things.
The Anlas Capra X tyres were amazing and did their job and dug in and gripped in all the right places, the handlebars felt great with so much less vibration going through my hands.
Here is John the marshal explaining what happened to me.
I rode out of Sweet Lamb and found a petrol station some 20 miles away, where I jet washed the bike three times in a row to get rid of the filth and dirt that was hiding it’s injuries. I got my tools out and loosened the front wheel axle, the yolks and aligned the front wheel with the handle bars to set them straight again. It worked. I had a rideable bike again. I tightened everything up and packed up my tools and then made my way back to London along the cold back roads of mid Wales and eventually out on to the dream road that is the M4………….
Can’t wait to do it again next year.
Until then, I’ve plenty of time to practice those hill climbs.