The riders are coming back

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”.

A Honda never gives up: gear box sick XBR in California

A Honda never gives up: gear box sick XBR in California

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.

14 Comments on “The riders are coming back

  1. Hello Robert,
    Well done anyway. You kept us watching but obviously our mental support was just not enough (or was it because we were sending it while you were sleeping… Damn jet-lag!). Anyway, I’m already impressed by the mileage you got (my 5000 in 3 weeks seems peanuts – yet, no hiking for you, should be the reason why 😉 ).
    Have a safe trip back and see you in Geel for the debriefing.

  2. Hi Robert

    Been following you all the way night and day on the spot tracker, a great ride even though you had problems it must have been an amazing experience.

    Well done, get your bike back to Toronto in one piece and we look forward to seeing you win next years Brit Butt rally on it !


    Chris and Bev

    • Hi Chris,
      Although the XBR has shown its potential to win a BBR, I might consider a stronger bike, just to be on the safer side…. :-D. Maybe a completely new one? Let’s see…

  3. Wie wir an Michiel sehen scheint eine Harley in den USA kein Garant für einen zukünftigen Erfolg zu sein. Eine Honda fährt mit 1-3 Gängen… eine CVO Electra Glide scheinbar nicht ;o). Michiel hätte ich das finishen wirklich gewünscht, nachdem man ihn bei der letzten Rally nicht eingeladen hatte…
    Also Robert was ist das sinnvollste Bike (in den USA) für einen zukünftigen Rally Erfolg?
    Es ist eine gebrauchte FJR1300. “FERN.SCHNELL.GUT”. Riesen IBR Support durch das, super Ersatzteilversorgung egal wo in den USA. Standardreifen, guter Verbrauch, im Gegensatz zu einer BMW problemloser Kardan und schon großer Serientank bei annehmbarem Verbrauch, Verkleidung perfekt… und als Gebrauchte bezahlbar.
    Mal schauen, wie viele FJR in den Top 10 landen.

    Gruß von einem, der auch aus einer “minderbemittelten Honda CBF 600 SA” das Beste rausholt.

    • Und hier die Auflösung: 5 Yamaha FJR1300 in den Top 10 der Rally (Platz 1,2,3,5 und 6) Alle Baujahr 2005 und 2006.

      Sollte also eine Überlegung wert sein, wenn man die Rally ernsthaft gewinnen will.

  4. Update: Michiel has made it back! With a lot of delay, but he made it! It was a worn wheel bearing in the end. I’m not sure if he’ll have enough points, though. All the other Europeans seem to be finishers! Congratulations!

  5. Hey Alter! Wir gratulieren dir erst mal dass du die Strecke ganz, heil und gesund geschafft hast. Chapeau! Und wenn du auch ein Spinner bist, hast du uns doch mit deiner Spinnerei extrem beeindruckt. Dass die alte Honda nicht ganz mitgegangen ist, würden wir nicht so tragisch nehmen, in der Tat musst du nach was Neuem, Besseren, Größerem Ausschau halten.. Bald wird hier in B eine astreine und nicht zu alte XV 750 verkauft – das wäre doch dein Ding, oder? Wir freuen uns auf die nächste Pulle zusammen mit dir, und auf deine (dann oralen, nicht nur virtuellen) Erzählungen. Bis denne, M&C

    • Eine XV 750? Äääh…hust…hmmmm….Ich wollte eigentlich erstmal nicht mehr in der Hopeless class antreten 😀
      Auf bald!

  6. So proud of you guys! All of the europeans made it back to base, some with problems, some knowingly short on points – but still struggling to reach the destination. True spirit!

  7. Hi Robert,
    Nice to hear that at least you came out of the adventure alive and that they are not looking for in in the Mohave desert. As you state correctly, it must haven been a unique experience to be part of it.
    Enjoy your trip back … and let’s hope you don’t transfer your gearbox troubles to your plane.

  8. Alle redn oiwei davo “a xbr gibt niamois auf”. Des stimmt aa, aba da Tracke (RK) gibt aa nia auf – Huat ab!
    I bin froh, dass´d wieda guat okemma bist. I hab fast jedn Dog dei Spur vafoigt und war jedn Dog froh wia sie Dei oranschs Pinktal weidabewegt hod. I wünsch da a guade Hoamroas und gfrei mi scho auf an Bericht vo Dia. A Tragl Teganseea Spezial wart auf Di.
    Übrigns, Dei Spezl da John, des is a harte Konkurenz füa Di im Reisebericht schreibm. Sag eahm an scheena Gruaß, des hod er supa gmacht.
    Stefan M

  9. Respekt!
    Ich hab nur die ‘normalen’ Saddle Sore 1600K gefahren – ob ich das 10 Tage lang machen könnte weiß ich nicht. Auf jeden Fall wünsche ich dir eine gute Heimkehr und viel Erfolg beim nächsten Mal.

    Hmm, da gibt es doch die europäische Version, vielleicht sollte ich mal … …

  10. Pingback: It’s a long way from Tipperary….(days 9, 10 and 11) | hutzlmandl on tour

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