24 May 2010

KTM Forum Welsh Weekend - May 2010

Normally I would have been in Arromanches this weekend, but after my Morrocan trip in April I'm a bit short of holiday so I went to Wales instead. The KTM Forum's Adventure Wing had a fund raising trip for the Welsh Air Ambulance, because in the past they've had cause to use its services.

The plan was to go through to Rhayader on Friday evening, ride all day Saturday and again on Sunday morning before heading home. A friend, Craig, picked me up in his van on Friday en route from Norfolk (I know, I should have ridden) and we arrived just in time at the campsite - last arrival is 22.30, and we got there at 22.28!

We pitched Craig's tent in the darkness, and I went in search of my B&B - which turned out to have a four-poster bed! Never slept in one before, but I can't say it made much difference to the sleeping experience.

Saturday morning arrived and I set about getting me, my bike and my riding apparel in the same place at the same time ready to meet the others at 09.00.

There were three groups: two normal and an advanced group. I opted for the second of the normal groups partly because I'm a wimp, and mostly because the guys in the advanced group really are good riders.

We lost our first rider six miles in, before we even got to a lane: Craig misjudged a junction and toppled over at less than walking pace owing to the camber of the road. He stuck his leg out to catch himself, and pulled his ham-string in the process, putting him out of the ride. Not a good start, and it was Craig's first trip out on his new KTM 950 Super Enduro which he bought to replace his stolen 690 Enduro.

Still, onwards and, this being Wales, upwards. The lanes were an interesting mix of green, slightly rutted routes to rocky paths and the odd stream to ford.

On one lane, rising up from near a quarry, I had a bit of a crash. The surface was stony but firm and fairly smooth, except at the top of a climb there were two ruts with a knife-edge strip between them. I got cross-rutted and went down at about 20mph. I somehow managed to abandon ship while the bike slid along on its side, slewing round across the track.

Having heard an ominous 'ping' I was hoping that the damage wouldn't be either expensive or annoying - it would be too bad to have to stop with a bust footpeg, or a holed engine casing.

The sum total of the damage was a snapped engine bar where one of the welds gave-way. Damage to me, none - I even managed to stay on my feet :)

Lunchtime saw us arrive in Clyro, and one of the guys in the other group flapping fit to take off because he'd lost his wallet (or thought he had).

From there, our ninth lane of the day was a steep climb up to a gate. It was a pretty nasty one with a deep, single rut up the middle of the narrow lane. The gate had a foot-high step, albeit steeply sloped, which made for an entertaining time as people tried and failed to get through the gate.

The lane is obviously very lightly used because the surface was so loose - think freshly turned soil - and hadn't been packed-down by vehicles, horses or even pedestrians.

Attempting to escape from the single rut was futile, because the angle of the embankments ensured you just slipped straight back in.

With all the bikes finally up, we carried on through some wonderful scenery (we don't have hills in Cambridgeshire!). We stopped at one point for a rest and had a visit from a National Trust ranger making sure we were behaving. He checked his map, but even then wasn't sure of we were allowed to be where we were (which of course we were).

Some of the group was starting to tire, so while most of them set off back to Rhayader, three of us carried on. We were all tired, and on one lane my coordination abandoned me and I just couldn't ride along a fairly easy track. Time to stop, reset and try again :)

We caught up with the other group, and just we did, one of us got a puncture - and as it happened the leader of the other group's bike decided to have a bit of a fit and put on its oil light. And someone came prepared in case I had battery problems...

A new tube, and a bit of poking and prodding and we were off again. This lane had a number of water troughs, which gave some people an opportunity for a swim... 950 Adventures don't like swimming, and after a lot of fiddling around the bike still wasn't having any of it, and as it was around 19.00 we then towed it the three miles back to the road to be collected later.

We got back to Rhayader eleven hours after we left, had covered just 90 miles but had a great day out.

A few drinks seemed a good plan, and after a quick shower we made it in time for last food orders.

Sunday morning, with Craig unable to ride, we set off home again.

I've now got a very grubby bike, a broken engine bar and I ache a bit, but it was great fun - and much easier going than in January's snow. And we raised a good few hundred pounds for the air ambulance (which wasn't required this time). And I got more sunburnt in one day in Wales than 2 weeks in Morocco!

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