When Mark Richardson joined the BSMC Crew we didn’t quite realise what a dark horse he is. Turns out he’s a damn handy enduroist, ignore his modesty below, he’s an accomplished off-road rider. When I said I was buying a WR250 for a spot of green laning his fire was reignited and he swung into action, flogged some stuff and bought a 2017 WR450. I’ve barely used my new acquisition but Mark got stuck right in and entered Round 2 of the All Terrain Rally Championship, held in Ryedale North Yorkshire (Mark’s childhood stomping ground) earlier this summer. Here’s his race report – Ross.
I used to compete in quite a lot of Hare and Hounds races. Nothing special in terms of results; a 3rd in the Desert Rose Championship one year and a couple of 12 hour Dawn to Dusk finishes. I’m a mid pack clubman rider at best but I love it. I don’t know why I love it, because it can be painful, I need to be fit to enjoy it (which I’m not), bike prep sucks time and money out of me that I haven’t got, spare and every race meet seems to be at least an 8 hour round trip away. And then there is the risk that if I have an off bad enough I won’t be back at work on Monday morning. (Enough of the ranting old man!).
However small the reward to effort ratio is, there’s something quite beautiful about the whole process. Let’s forget about all the ‘getting away from the wife’ jokes I hear and the ‘why the fuck do I keep putting myself through this’ comments because they don’t apply to me. I fuckin’ love it because I’m riding. That’s it. Let’s face it, there are plenty of other things I could be doing where I don’t get smacked in the face by an evergreen branch or take out a knee on a fallen tree trunk as I pile into a drainage ditch in the dust, or even slamming down hard on my ribs in a damp farm yard after the race, forgetting that lean angle, gravel and front brake do not mix. I love the exhaustion and tiredness and physicality of dirt bikes. Is that weird?
Parc Ferme was 6 miles outside of Scarborough and bursting with bikes when I arrived on Saturday morning. Nevertheless, The Yorkshire Enduro Club was doing a fantastic job of signing on all the riders. It was swift and efficient, as was scrutineering. In fact scrutineering was so chilled that nobody saw that I was on the wrong bike or entered into the wrong category.
Originally I’d entered on BSMC Operations Director Stew’s KTM 690 Rally (he was kindly going to let me borrow it as a precurser to a possible purchase) but in the gap between registering the KTM and the actual rally I’d bought a WR450F from my good pal Dylan Thomas who runs the Yamaha Off-Road School up in mid-Wales, but I’d forgotten to let Burt at the ATRC know of my change in machine.
No matter, such is the relaxed state of the ATRC rounds it’s as much about riding as it is racing. Correction, it’s more about riding. The time allowances had been significantly increased due to the dust so we could take it easy if we wanted. The briefing was wonderfully brief but fully stacked with all we need to know, with the onus on the dryness of the woods and refuelling of the bikes. There was plenty of fire extinguishers on hand though I think had there been any fuel spillages that burst into flames on the hot engines, in the wrong place, I’m not sure it would have been enough to avert a brushfire.
The other riders were a friendly bunch coming from as far afield as Germany and Holland to ride through the famous Yorkshire landscape of Rydale, Langdale, Hackness and Forge Valley National Nature Reserve.
At the start, there is much less apparent attitude than at a lot of enduros/hare and hounds/hare scrambles I’ve been to and way more of a friendly helpful atmosphere. The special tests are there for those that want a competitive edge to their weekend and for those that don’t, its a 260 mile trail ride over two days! Perfect!
Day one was 150 miles of Yorkshire’s best woodland trails, fire roads, rock fields and snotty, rooted switchbacks. This report would be another story altogether if it had been as wet as last year but the constant 30 degree heat made the going uncomfortable but very favourable. After a short ride to the start from Parc Ferme it became apparent that the biggest problem would be the dust on the fire roads and except for one ‘huge’ puddle in the special test which caught a few out there was no other water or mud to be found. We ride in the wet so much in the UK that’s as far as I’m prepared to moan about it, suffice it to say it felt like a dusty desert race at times but without a crosswind to blow it away. It was treacherous in the thick of the action but I hung back regularly so as to stay out of the dust clouds and really give the WR a proper, relatively safe pasting. With the front wheel rising up in every gear I had a huge grin on my face. I’d entered early which meant I was out in the first four, so luckily for me I only had to deal with three bikes worth of dust.
After the first fifty-odd mile sighting lap, the countdown clock hit zero for the start of the 1st special test and I was determined not to spray the marshalls and everyone else behind me with rocks (as the guy in front of me did) and get away clean, which I managed. I also vowed to ride at 80% so as to not to damage myself, a decision which didn’t make any difference as I missed a turn in the dust from catching the chap in front and ended up in a drainage ditch, wrapped over the sharp end of a fallen tree, (much to the amusement of a passing dog walker). I recovered quickly but I’d lost too much time. It was hard to tell but I think this test was about five miles. The terrain was varied with a rock field section giving me the worst trouble. On the second lap/test I was in the wrong gear coming onto it and stalled (rolls eyes) losing more time trying to get a very hot bike re started. Pinning it over the rock fields is one element I find hard as it requires a conscious decision to ignore the messages of self preservation and roll on the power sufficiently to make the front end light enough to skip over the cricket ball sized obstacles and giving the momentum to go the distance – go too slow and you’re off!
Note to self. Get the bike suspension upgraded and set-up for my weight and riding style with Dr Shox, and the engine mapping, that needs sorting ASAP.
Of the three 50+ mile laps on day one, the first was a sighting lap with the other two being competitive and timed.
Day 2 started with a long liaison deep into Langdale Forest and the prospect of a new special stage had everyone excited. The first of the four, 20 mile laps the first was again a sighting lap. It was a much more enduro focussed day so the WR fared very well and felt really good despite feeling quite lively on the throttle. I reckon a remap will smooth this out and give a softer punch in the mid-range – my arms are now a couple of inches longer!
Just as dusty as day one, the initial fire roads were thankfully short lived but hitting the stopper [throttle] and flying through the gears and feeling the front lift with each change is always a great sensation, and I felt comfortable. Then came an enduro style goat track which widened to small rocks and soft sand trails before the infamous multiple, long, rutted routes through the pines. I was in a good rhythm and the ruts were great fun in the dry conditions. After dealing with around eight rutty routes we were spat out onto the fire roads for a short spurt and then back into the twisty single track. The lap finished with long but well trodden (and therefore less dusty) fire road back to the finish to fuel up and get ready to go again.
I had a seriously good time but I’ll miss Kielder as it’s just too far to get there and back to work without taking the Friday and Monday off work. However, I am seriously looking forward to the Beacons Rally in August. Turns out I came 3rd in my wrong group, 23rd had I been in the right group and 52nd overall. I’ll take that!
Whereas hare and hounds is essentially a 3 hour sprint, these rally’s give the rider plenty of time to recover after each special stage and time to enjoy the experience as much as possible. I came away with a bruised rib cage and a bent foot peg after binning on the way back the van after the whole thing had finished, other than that I was all good and back to work on monday having had a superb weekend.