So I am sitting here in the hotel lobby and welcome the riders entering the building. The European riders seem well, except for Giel Kerckhof, who seems to have stopped…due to a broken gear box! This is ironic, because my problem appeared when I tried to follow Giel after the start in Sacramento. After a couple of miles, we had to exit the freeway and it was there when I couldn’t shift gears anymore…we must have caught a gear box virus in Sacramento 😉
I immediately knew: “that’s it”. I had to stop for I couldn’t switch down gears. First I thought to get back to a Honda garage in Sacramento and with the help of MJ I found one – but on Mondays, services seem to be closed in the US. That’s also what Lisa Landry, the Rallymaster, had told me on the phone. After a while, I managed to use the first three gears and while back to Sacramento, I learned how to put forth and the fifth gear, carefully, avoiding to have them jump out again. One thing was clear immediately: I couldn’t ride my planned route to LA, Tucson and New Orleans. I seemed simply utter madness to cross the Mojave desert with a broken gear box. A breakdown there could get really serious. But if I could not go that route, I wouldn’t get enough points to be a finisher. So the most logic conclusion was to try to get back. First, when I only could use the first three gears, I was calculating the time I would need to get back to Toronto Airport going at 45 mph….6 days? That would do…When I managed to get the fifth gear back, I changed my objective to “Let’s try to get back to the finish line in Pittsburgh”. So I entered the Interstate 80 near Sacramento and followed it for the next four days. What kept me thinking a long time is why this happened. I still have no answer. Gear box problems of XBRs are basically unheard of. Well, my first gear box lasted 232.000 km until the second gear died. I had expected that something similar would happen one day to this gear box as well. Since I had placed it, it never had the smoothness of normal gear boxes and lately, the second gear would jump out a little bit too often. But problems with fifth AND fourth gear, out of the blue?? That doesn’t make sense. Was I riding too hard? Not really, I was going faster than usually during the rally, but in Europe, I ride a lot harder than that. The temperature was still cool in the morning, so overheating is unlikely, the oil temperature was hot, but in a normal range. I categorised this as “simply bad luck”.
In the end, I have achieved my prime objective: Arrive safely and healthy at the finish. The second objective, “be an official finisher”, I cannot meet for I could not collect more points. Well, with some detours, I could have bagged some, but it never would have been enough. So why taking a risk. The gear box still could fail completely any time. And there was also another problem: risking a total breakdown would have gotten me into a big trouble: How to drop off the bike next Monday morning at Toronto airport? This would have been a major logistic (and financial) disaster. So under the circumstances, I am happy to be here, safely and with a (more or less) running bike.
Rob Roalfe and others have mentioned that the ride back must be very frustrating. That just seems logical. The funny thing is….it wasn’t. I am surprised myself. I did everything I could do, but when force majeure happens…you only can make the best out of it. Was the whole project worth it? Yes, it definitely was. It would have been nicer to finish the rally properly, but I was already very happy to reach the second check point in Sacramento. I learned of things during this rally and it was big fun. Remember, when I had the fuel problems in the beginning, I was hoping to make it at least to the first checkpoint. By the way, these problems did not come back after I bought always top grade petrol….Things could be worse. Eric Jewell, a top rider who was also very close to win this rally many times…but never managed, was leading after leg one and two until he had a small accident during leg 3 that took him out of the rally. I am sure, he would finally won this time. THAT is tragic.
Could I have been a finisher? Yes, I think I could. But it would have been very close. There is a reason why this is called “the hopeless class”. I learned that my pace was good enough for the first leg where I did quite well. But when it came to cover big distances…the XBR is not strong enough. Not in terms of constant pace. I did obey the speed limits in the West, going at 75 mph (122 km/h), but I was constantly passed by other riders, often with a considerably higher speed. That was also the reason why I lost so many positions after the second leg. I had not done Pikes Peak that was worth 8000 points. It was a mixture of several factors: I thought it would be tougher to get there (missing experience of regional geography), I didn’t know that the difference in altitude was not that big to the top and I thought that the road was still partly unpaved (it isn’t anymore). But my considerations were correct at that time: I simply had no time! Remember, on leg 2, I did 3500 km in 37 hours (including one hour tyre change in the beginning) in one go! My calculations left simply no room for Pikes Peak. With a more powerful bike that is not subject to power loss at higher altitudes, of course I would have done it. Also because I would have got quicker to Colorado Springs in the first place. So, summarising: Leg 2 was already a hell of a ride for a XBR500, 4600 km in 59 h total time.
Leg 3 would have been similar. When I heard that the minimum points to be a finisher were set to 60.000 (I had expected 45.000), I thought “UH-OH, this will be tough”. My route that included enough points was 6200 km long, to be ridden in four days, with tricky daylight bonuses that probably required a lot of night riding to get there on time. It appears to me that this rally was maybe the toughest ever – I wonder if there will be finishers with less than 10.000 mls. Something previously unseen. I had initially estimated to do some 9000 miles, but my planned route would have forced me to go more than 10.000 mls. Well, there is a reason why it is called “the toughest motorcycle rally in the world” 😉 I am happy that I did it.
Riders are still at the scoring table. Tonight, there will the banquet and the ceremony. I’ll report about it later.