additional photography by Coral at www.saltimages.uk
What we did…
Since the last issue there’s been an online update (check out our Blogs at rustsports.com), in which detailed a training day with ActionTrax in Kent – more to get JB dialed in than the bike. And now we’ve competed in the All Terrain Rally Championship (ATRC) again, at the Ryedale Rally in Yorkshire.
Me and the Honda are not quite there. The Honda would probably tell you I’m a little heavier than I should be (90kg) and more timid than I should be, too. Need more attack. While I’ll tell you the CRF250RX is great, but we need to check out the suspension and longer gearing would be a help, especially for rally work. But small issues aside (diet, training and workshop time should sort these) we’re very happy together.
How good was this rally? So good!
Yorkshire in mid-summer is very hard to beat, it’s a beautiful county and if you love the gentle nature of English countryside (rolling green fields, woods, centuries-old stone houses, villages, pubs) it’s just sublime – and in the sun and comfortable 20ºC warmth, we were ahead even before we started riding.
This was apparently the 20th running of the Ryedale Rally and it’s fair to say the Yorkshire Enduro Club have got the job well and truly sorted. They know what works, what riders will like. So we had fire roads for those flat-in-top adrenaline buzz runs, we had miles of sinuous single track weaving through the forests running on a bed of pine needles that were just perfect – stuff you could ride to a rhythm, with handily placed roots and banks to kick you straight if your steering lock wasn’t going to be enough for that one tricky turn. There was even a short section or two of sand, nice sand at that, bermed-stuff you could lean into, feet up and get onto the gas early. The section times were sufficient so that if you ran a decent pace you’d have time for a wee chat, feed and a refuel before your minute, but not so long you got cold or bored. And the two tests were long enough that you’d be quietly admonishing yourself for not taking fitness more seriously, but not so long you suffered a coronary. Yeah, about eight-nine minutes each.
I had mate Craig Keyworth along to share my minute (we were the second pair away – so clean air almost all day). As you’ll know from reading these pages, Craig’s lining up for the 2020 Dakar Rally so bike time is very important to him right now. And on his current rally bike – a modded Husky FE450 – he runs plenty fast enough. So at the start of every check it was a case of ‘You get going Craig, I’ll follow along’. It would seem this was Craig’s first ATRC and he was impressed, it gave him good terrain and plenty of hours in the saddle – great training for his big race. And for both of us, as well as the other 167 riders, it was simply a highly enjoyable course, with a perfect blend of challenging sections then rest sections to get your heart rate back down.
So on the CRF250RX I was having a lovely ride (it would be hard not to, in the conditions). As before, at the Brechfa, I found the gearing just too short, even in the trees. It feels like it’s geared for supercross, not motocross (the RX has the same ratios as the R motocrosser). I found a guy with a CRF450RX and he had a similar problem but has, if my recollection is right, gone up a tooth on the countershaft and dropped one or two on the rear. I think I’ll look to do likewise. Given I’m often running third and even fourth gear in the woods I think the CRF will take the higher gearing without the risk of losing the use of the bottom ratios for real tight stuff. That’s quite the opposite scenario to the usual KTM one where you look to fit a smaller countershaft sprocket straight away.
The suspension I’d put back to stock settings (after having tried backing off the compression and rebound in the rooty woods at Ightham) and this worked well at Ryedale. The CRF felt to have the right ride height and good balance for everything, it handles sweetly and I could charge the woods single track, but I was still feeling the shocks through the handlebars as we hit roots and rocks.
A quick ride on Craig’s FE450 – equipped with Dr Shox fettled suspension – was the perfect comparison. The Dr Shox WPs were soaking up the rocks and roots without any negative energy transfer back to the rider, but still offered bags of feel and so was seriously confidence boosting. You could run at stuff faster and harder and suffer no consequences. I think the general performance of the Honda’s Showas is about right, but I could do with the energy saving, confidence-inspiring plushness that Craig’s enjoying.
NOT FAST ENOUGH
Okay, that’s the bike sorted. The rider is the real issue here. Let’s look at the numbers. Finished 55th from 169 starters, 19th in class. And because if you look hard enough you can usually find something positive to hang your hat on – hey, I was first 250cc four-stroke! That beats my usual fallback of saying I was the first rider with the name Jonathan Bentman (I’ll be in trouble the day another JB turns up).
The results are based on the special test times and here I can see both days I started slow and finished fast(er). On each day I was about 30 seconds quicker on the last run through the test than on the first – that’s quite a lot on an eight-minute test. That’s not stamina, that’s just been dog slow on the first run. I can put fear into the equation there, too. I really detest crashing (the pain) so will only push when I feel safe. Also I don’t practice enough (like almost never), so it takes me most of the day to improve my feel and technique. And I guess, really, I’m just chicken.
Yet I do care about my results, I can see I can get better if I apply myself more. I could pick up a few places if I could just do my fast times from the start. And if I practiced, maybe I could gain some more. Can’t see me ever being a winner though – the gap to the top ten is just light-years. But weighing against this: well, I’m at the bottom end of being fit for my age, I’m a little overweight but not too much, I don’t suffer much in the way of aches and pains (left knee is a bit wobbly after stretching the ligaments in a rut in an enduro, and the right foot can be a bit stiff where I broke all the metatarsals when I landed a WR250F on it) but generally I get along fine. I don’t need to be throwing my body down a stump-strewn track, or go bouncing off some trees – I like the idea of a mobile old age! So I’m at a kind of stalemate with myself, reluctantly accepting this is me.
Nonetheless I need a plan. Now I make lots of plans, so don’t expect me to follow through on this. But here’s the thinking. My life on the CRF can be improved. I can change the gearing, the time will come for a new chain and sprockets soon enough anyway. So for about £100, that’s one job sorted. And I could get the suspension revalved. Old friend Chris Hockey (www.drshox.co.uk) offers to revalve/tune forks for £130 and shocks for £120 – with maybe a few small extras as you never know exactly what might be needed. Bear in mind that cost includes a full service and overhaul, that’s bloody good value for probably biggest gains you’ll find short of improving your fitness. I’ll have more ride comfort – so less fatigue – and will be able to go faster more safely. On an £7850 bike, that’s seriously good value for money, and the bike deserves it. I should do it.
In the meantime, like now, it’s time for a big strip clean in the garage, gotta have the CRF all sparkling again, ready for the Beacons ATRC perhaps…
One last thing. Yes, I punctured at the Ryedale. I got carried away for a short while there, chasing Lee Green on his KTM 690 Enduro R – he finished third outright! Racing into a rock field, before I knew it, I’d pinch-flatted the front tube. So I rode the last hour of day one on a flat, which held good given the integrity of the Metzeler Six Days (hard compound) tyre and rim lock. I fixed the tyre back at the paddock with the odd borrowed tool (thanks Tim and Dave) – and backed off a fair deal on day two anytime I saw rocks.
Should I swap to mousses? If I really want better results then yes. But the expense holds me back as does my sense of waste (I mean how much of the world’s resources should we be throwing at this?), plus there’s the bind of fitting. Yeah, even given the hassle of the flat, part of me still feels that enduro would be safer if we learned to ride tubes again, it would be cheaper too, and maybe we’d be kinder to the land.
Some days I just know I’m a fossil. You know I’m resisting electric cars/bikes too, just can’t see batteries as being the answer. Hydrogen, that’s the future I think…