Perhaps “he” will stop posting on my blog now for a while ….. Lol !!
Soooo, in one hour from now, there will be the riders meeting, very early at 2:30 p.m. I had to attend the rookie meeting (haha), as I was considered “technically” a rookie (no previous finish). It was a very good presentation by route master Jeff Earls who reminded the audience what will be ahead of us the next 11 days. I took notes of ideas for the rookie meeting of the Alpenbutt Rally later in July.
Jeff stressed many things that confirmed my views on this rally: the only objective is to arrive safely at the finish and to be (hopefully) a finisher. That’s all. After my DNF in 2013, that’s the only goal for me. I know that many people in Europe think that after my track record in Europe lately, I should do very, very well in the Iron Butt Rally. Well, this is absolutely nonsense. This is a totally different story. As they say: “you only know what the IBR is about when you have ridden it”. So I will try to stay as relaxed as possible in Leg 1 and Leg 2. I want to have a good time and I don’t care which standing might come out of it in the end. Period. The weather waiting for us will be an enormous burden. Fatigue and exhaustion will build up over the 11 days which could get very dangerous. And I agree with Jeff Earls, in the end it doesn’t matter which place you achieved; being a finisher is a huge achievement. There are only a handful of guys who can win this and they’re completely nuts. That’s not my thing. I will stick to the speed limits, for this reason I have installed the cruise control on the bike. I want this to be a ride of a lifetime and not be ruined by some over-pacing.
I don’t know if I will be able to post more tonight or if I will be barred from social media already. In this case, talk to you in 12 days and I wish you fun with the entertaining posts of John Young. However, I must warn you: you might be exposed to hard-core British humour, you better be prepared for it…. 🙂
More info under
PS: I got interviewed yesterday 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_vJImjTJss&sns=fb
Yesterday morning, I packed my stuff and moved 10 miles north to the rally hotel. I checked in and started to exchange all the broken spare part that still needed to be changed after the drop of the bike during the Brit Butt Rally. I mounted a new right mirror together with its housing. I installed the fixed, big 2×7500 lumen LED Sevinas that Gerhard had brought from Clearwater Lights for me. I also swapped the clutch lever switch so that the cruise control will work again.
I spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with other fellow European and American riders. I convinced a pack of people to visit a special place in the evening: The Bauhaus Brew Labs, a small microbrewery in Minneapolis.
It produces a lot of German style beers and seems to be a special meeting place for the younger part of Minneapolis. A colourful place with music from the seventies, an open space where people can bring their own food or buy something from a food truck and drink the beer in the brewery. I tried the Münchner Helles, Bohemian Pilsner and German style Schwarzbier (sic!) and they all were very good. The beer mats/coasters explained German words and how to pronounce them. We really had a good time and a good laugh. We even entered the wrong taxi, but the driver noticed immediately when he heard us talking German. Unfortunately, there won’t be another opportunity to come back to this funny place.
This morning, I got up in a good mood and before going to breakfast, I wanted to collect all the papers I needed for today’s registration day. I looked for my bunch of papers and documents – and found only a part of it! I searched everywhere, no stone unturned, until I had to conclude that I had left back papers in the hotel room yesterday! The problem was: I was missing the contract of my medical repatriation insurance that is mandatory. I started to panic. Without a proof of this rally, I could not start the rally on Monday! I called the Allianz hotline in Belgium…as it was Saturday today, the normal help desk was not open and the medical hotline did not have access to the data base. Then I called the last hotel, they did not have anything, but they promised to ask the cleaning lady and to call me again (which never happened). Now I really had reason to panic. I had been stupid enough not to make an electronic copy of these papers, something I usually do before I go on long trips. Damn! In a desperate mood, I went down for breakfast. I met Lisa, the rally master and confessed my problem. She told me to stay cool, I still had two days until the start tot find a solution. At the breakfast table, I discussed the problem with the other European riders. Kevin told me that he had an insurance from Geos that was obtainable online. Hm, I could try this. I looked up the website and indeed, the conditions seemed even to excel the required ones.
I immediately bought the policy for $175 and was happy that I was back on track. I joined the other riders and passed through the different stations…paperwork, video recording of my acknowledgement of the liability specs, GPS Spot track, rally pack, camera and SD card check….then I met Lisa again and told her my positive news. She said that the insurance from Geos was not acceptable for there were some issues with the transport by airplane. We sat down and I tried to find the right terms and conditions, but I failed. I was too nervous.
Did I already mention that rallying is an emotional rollercoaster? My mood was close to zero again. Lisa suggested to print the conditions so they could be studied. With desperation, I tried to find the documents online and luckily the computer in the hotel lobby had a printer connected. What I found in the made me hope for a happy ending: the conditions seemed to fulfil the rules so I was slightly optimistic.
However, the check of the insurances would be right at the end of the whole exercise. I had to do the tech inspection next. The bike was checked and everything was fine except the fuel tank. WHAT??? It was not compliant (you bet where my mood was in that moment…). However, the “problem” was easy to solve…the venting hose that I placed next to my number plate needed to be extended below the number plate. I received a piece of fuel hose and attached it with zippers.
Another issue was that the bike had “commercial” stickers….there are from the previous owner and were Castrol Oil stickers and the name of the bike dealer….I had to cover them with tape….The next thing was the odo route to check the accuracy of the odometer. A 28 mile ride later, I returned back and had finished the technical part. Now I had to do the final part: the SPOT check again WITH some data points in it, the insurance and medical repatriation coverage. SPOT was fine (I had to engage the “show speed” option), the repatriation was barely looked at (!) and my tourist motorbike insurance received the exemption for foreign riders as a domestic insurance is not legally to obtain with the required insurance limits. And than I had to talk to Jeff Earls, the Rally Master who checked last things and welcomed me as a starter of the 2017!! Yes! I did it! But mentally, I was exhausted. This was an unnecessary stress that normally would not have happened. I needed a rest…But first I filled up the bike and bought some food reserves.
In the meantime, my new wind shield had arrived on time and I mounted it. I had some lunch and after that, Peter tried to help me to get me the North America map in Basecamp on my computer, because I don’t want to connect the GPS device all the time when I want to do the routing. We struggled a long time, but in the end it was Gerhard who had the solution: he gave me his SD card with an old map on it, this seems to work. Excellent. Fewer worries.
Finally we gathered for a self-paid dinner of dubious quality. Some of us Europeans decided to go to the bar instead. So the day is over and tomorrow morning, I have to go to the rookie meeting for I was not a finisher last time. In the afternoon, the rider meeting will take place.
And on Monday morning, I will be among the starters of the Iron butt Rally 2017!
OK, I’m back in the hotel. As John has correctly put it, today’s objective was to get my bike through customs and out of the warehouse.
I got up early and prepared again my papers. I had been instructed by the shipper that it was extremely important to obtain a stamped form 7501 from customs, otherwise the bike couldn’t be re-exported. I had a broker in stand-by in case customs would insist on a broker. So in a nervous mood, I went by taxi to the US customs and homeland security office in Bloomington.
It was a very quiet place, I sat there some minutes before somebody passed by and asked me if I was being served. I heard this question another four times and I realised that these people were very friendly and helpful. A friendly officer took my papers and took them to his office. There were no other customers. A quiet place. Finally, the officer returned. He had retyped all my documents and stamped also form 7501. That was very quick, after 45 min I was out again. Wow. This went quite well. I called the same taxi driver again and he drove me to the warehouse near the airport. I presented my papers and waited, reading a book. I was relaxed, this went much better than expected. Then a girl explained me that the customs clearance was not in the electronic system. I explained that I just had been to the customs office in Bloomington. The warehouse looked puzzled and told me that the correct customs office was in the airport terminal! But…..my mood changed rapidly. This was just a small glimpse what will be ahead of me during this rally: the usual emotional rollercoaster. Great. Get a taxi first. This almost failed as I was waiting at one entrance of the compound without realising there was another one where the cab would wait…but the driver found me. In the airport, I went to the CORRECT customs office where a massive officer took my papers. When he asked for the purpose of my stay, it turned out he was a biker as well and knew about the Iron Butt Association. We had a nice chat and finally I received the correct form 7501. He told me that there was an issue: the shipper had deleted an intermediate transport from Chicago to Minneapolis, this still needed to be fixed. Great….I took another taxi back to the warehouse where the validation of the change took ages, I felt. In the end, I could pay the warehouse fee and access the crate.
The problem was that the bike still was in the crate. I had to rip the box open and with the help of the warehouse people I managed to get the bike out of the crate. I attached the screen to the bike, mounted the panniers and put on the rain suit. The workers refused my tip and wished me good luck. I went back to the hotel in the rain and I was happy the the whole thing took less than 5 hours.
Yes, it is cool and rainy today. We soon will miss this mild weather. Checkpoints 1 and 2 are located near Dallas, Texas. Massive thunderstorms are happening now between Florida and Texas and in the South-West, thermometers are reaching temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees celsius!!! If you want to do well in rallies, you cannot consider what weather you will encounter. But in this case, I think I will have to monitor the elements very closely. The heat wave in the South is just too much. To be avoided.
People have been asking me about the password for the link to my GPS track. But the link for the track is still missing. Here it comes:
It will be active from Monday onwards. The start will be 10 a.m. local time.
I also learned some things today:
- Officials in Minneapolis are very friendly and helpful
- Taxi drivers here are mainly from North-Eastern Africa, such as Ethiopia or Eritrea
- I need to switch off my mobile internet and use it with great care. I have a good roaming daily pass for 5 Euro per day that gives me 80 MB of internet per day. However, every 1 MB on top is charged with 14 Euros (!!!!). The problem is if you receive the warning messages very late. That’s how I lost over 100 Euros (!!!) today…..
I have another night booked here, but I might pass by the rally hotel this evening….
Well, he’s in the air somewhere over the Atlantic at the moment and should be landing in just over 3 hours.
He’s got his riding gear, he’s got his route planning hard software, the sat navs are loaded with the latest USA maps, credit cards are ready to use – what else can he possibly need ?
Oh yes, a bike …….. but there’s that slight “issue” to overcome – the U.S. Customs …..
So here I’m sitting at Brussels Airport, killing time before I take off for Minneapolis via Amsterdam. The first obstacle is past me: I arrived here without problems. After yesterday’s terror attack at Brussels Central Station, it was questionable if the trains would run normal, but luckily they did. I also passed the security check at the airport, despite my bag full of cables and electronic devices. Suspicious, isn’t it? In the end, the security guy was only interested in one item…..”It’s a motorcycle mirror!….”???”…..Apparently it was deemed inappropriate to blow up a plane so I was waved through.
Yesterday I received my second Sat Nav from my GPS shop; they had managed to install the North America map properly on it. After more than two weeks of struggling with the Garmin support (the map had been assigned to the wrong GPS device), I gave up and bought another map that I installed on the Zumo 350….and it didn’t work properly. But in the end, it seemed to work yesterday. The problem is that I can’t transfer the maps to Basecamp on my computer, the monitor is too small (that’s difficult to explain now), so I need to have a device connected to the computer in order to see the map in Basecamp. But this wouldn’t work yesterday! A brief moment of shock. Without a GPS map, there’s no rally. In the end, a re-boot seemed to solve the problem….
My biggest concern is now to get the bike out of customs tomorrow in Minneapolis. Air freight is usually straightforward, but I have been told by my shipper that US officials increasingly insist to deal with a broker and not a private person. In this case, I’d have a problem. I have Thursday and Friday to get the bike back, if I don’t manage, there’s no rally for me. I want to think that I have seen worse and even getting the bike out of Dubai harbour did not take more than two days…Let’s keep fingers crossed.
As usual, I will provide a link to my GPS track the next days….if you want to know the password, contact me and I will send it to you.
Heading for the gate….
Only 36 hours to go before I take off to the US….
After 2013, this is my second attempt to become a finisher of the notorious Iron Butt Rally, the toughest long-distance motorcycle rally in the world. I will leave on Monday morning, 26th June from Minneapolis and will return 11 days later, after some 11.000 gruelling miles, having seen many corners of North America. This time, I start this adventure with a “proper bike”, i.e. the Honda ST1100 Pan European. I bought it in 2014 for very little money with the purpose to ride the Iron Butt Rally 2015, but in the end I cancelled my participation back then.
The bike is optimised for long distance rallying and has an impeccable track record: out of nine rallies since 2015, it came second once and won all the rest of them. A good recommendation for the Iron Butt Rally. In the last months, I optimised many features and spent a lot of money to revamp the bike. With support from Mart!n, Bavaria’s best motorbike mechanic, the bike got a complete make-over: a new (almost new) motor, a new drive shaft, refurbished alternator, new brake discs with brake pads and refurbished pistons, new water pump, new wheel bearings, refurbished fork, steering bearing, a new cruise control, and and and….not to mention all the improvements (farkles) I had installed earlier: the highest wind shield, a day-long Russell seat, a new, smaller auxiliary tank, handle bar risers, heated gear, improved suspension, 14000 lumen LED headlights, 15000 lumen auxiliary Clearwater LED flood lights….
I will write more before the start of the rally, but I want to take the opportunity to introduce my back-up writer for the duration of the rally: my friend Mr John Young, probably the fiercest Triumph fanatic east and west of the Mississippi. He did the blogging four years ago during my first Iron Butt Rally. I will be banned from social media during the rally so he will keep you updated on my adventures. Knowing John, this could be quite entertaining…
and for the next couple of weeks will be reporting on the adventures of my favourite Bavarian, Robert, as he again takes on the challenge of the Iron Butt Rally – an 11 day, 11,000 mile scatter rally ….
Despite my pleadings that he should use a Triumph, he has again chosen to attempt this rally on a Honda, albeit a different one from last time. For 2017 he is using a Pan-European.
he is attempting to convince all and sundry that this particular bike should allow him the “privilege” of being in the “Hopeless Class”.
Huh ??? It has indicators and an electric start for goodness sake ….. How can that ever be considered a “Hopeless Class” candidate …..
OK, the Brit Butt 2017 is over and finally find some time to write some lines. This is what I had prepared before the rally:
Well, here I am. Sitting in the hotel room, trying to work out the challenge that the rally master of the 2017 Brit Butt Rally has thrown at us.
We left at 6 a.m. as usual and I headed for Wales. In some villages, no signs were available, so I had to take a picture of a town sign, knowing that only a total of five town signs were allowed. In Wales it was cool and cloudy.
After three hours, I parked my bike in front of the Yarpole parish hall. I was sure that the bike was standing safely. Five seconds later the bike had crashed into a railing, smashing the windshield and right mirror. I need the help of two men to get it upright again. I quickly taped all the broken parts and continued the ride, much more chilly without the big windshield.
In Exeter it was clear that I wouldn’t get to the hotel before 3.a.m., so I asked in a Travelodge motel for a room. Fully booked. I checked the booking.com website: In Exeter, 100% booked. OK, let’s continue. I bagged many points near Yeovil, but the fog was very nasty. Finally, I arrived at the hotel at 4:30 and spent my 4 hour rest break there. After a refreshing 2 hour sleep, I had a quick breakfast and continued my ride. I knew that my initial plan to go to Yorkshire was impossible, but I wanted to continue it as far as possible.
I visited Oxfordshire, rode on the M25 and visited Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. I realised that I could not get more counties so I decided to sit down in a Costa Cafe in a shopping mall and did my paperwork, as it had to be presented at the finish before 5 p.m. The scoring was not perfect, despite my double checks I missed to claim one county and some more points. I had visited more than 60 locations. But 13250 points sounded not too bad, should be good enough for the podium. Unfortunately, John Young had to drop out due to an infection, but there were still enough rivals for the top. At the ceremony, I was called with the Horsefall brothers to the podium. They both had formed a team and had obtained about 8200 points….oooops, this meant….I had won the Brit Butt for the third time in a row! Unfortunately, I had no time to celebrate, as I had to hit the road for I had to work the next day.
So 2016 is over…many things happened, but how was my motorbike season? Well, it was a special one, maybe unique. Again, there was no big, adventurous trip. But there were many smaller trips and lots of rallies.
In early 2016, I announced the biggest motorbike project I ever have planned. I had convinced Gerhard, the IBA Germany’s president, to organise the Alpenbutt Rally in 2017 with me as the responsible rally master. It is supposed to be nothing less than the toughest long-distance motorbike rally ever organised in Europe.
Six days of almost constant riding is already a big challenge, but riding the six days entirely in the Alps opens a new dimension. I had planned to visit more than 400 possible locations in the Alps to check if they were suitable to be bonus point locations. In the end, it skipped about 80 places, but still more than 350 were left to be form part of the fiendish rally book that will be handed out to the participants. I had already done a lot of scouting trips in 2015, but 2016 saw again a lot of trips – finally I could visit Slovenia, covered most of Switzerland and did the Western Alps as well. I had seen a lot of the Alps in my life, but visiting many of these places was new to me and I made some great new discoveries.
All the hotels at the start, checkpoint and finish were booked when I finally announced the rally together with the publishing of the Alpenbutt website. Together with Florian, the IBA Germany’s web designer, we managed to establish a professionally looking page that should reflect the high expectations of this event. The response so far was overwhelming. I had arrangements for 50 participants, but in October I arranged to increase the capacities to 75 starters. By the end of the year, 60 participants have registered already and I think there are more to come.
There was only one purely „touristic trip“ this year: the trip with John on our old bikes (86’ XBR500 and 69’ Triumph Trident) to Russia. Actually, we lost one day due to a supposedly dead alternator of the XBR, so we had to skip the plan to go to Moscow.
At least we wanted to make use of our visa and see Kaliningrad and ride over the Curonian Spit. So we did and visited also Latvia and Lithuania and got really washed in a massive thunderstorm on the way back in Poland. It was a nice, very relaxing trip that proved that we can form a good team on a longer trip as well.
And then there were the rallies. In the end I participated in all European IBA rallies but one. I skipped only the Brit Butt Light Rally in 2016 because the burden with the scouting trips and the rallies was getting too high at a certain point. But nevertheless, I participated in five of them. In 2015, I had the crazy idea if it would be possible to win all the (big) rallies in Europe in one year. This seemed presumptuous – nobody had ever done this, it just seemed too difficult.
In May, I went to the Brit Butt Rally as defending champion – in 2015 I had won the BBR as the first non-British with a spectacular ride.
So this year everybody wanted to beat me. Although I didn’t find my way into the rally, I secured the first place narrowly with a high-risk last 30 minute finish. Title defended. Sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side.
The next rally was the Scandinavian Rally. I had some mixed feelings – my last participation in the annus horribilis 2014 brought me my last non-podium finish, but also changed things from then on.
It started and ended in Södertälje and led me through beautiful Southern Sweden. I had my first encounter with a moose at night – luckily I was going very slow so I could admire this massive animal without getting in danger. In the end it was again a very close shave for the first place – turning around to get back to a bonus point location to take a second photo WITH ME in the picture secured another narrow first place.
Then I skipped the Brit Butt Light, but already one week later I did the Magic 12 Rally leaving from home, starting in Brussels and finishing in Krefeld. The rally book was sent one week in advance so everybody had a lot of time to find his own personal route.
Mine started in Brussels early in the morning and led me through the Ardennes, Luxemburg, the Eifel, Düsseldorf and the lower Rhineland. At the rally finish, Gerhard had organised a big BBQ where we awaited the results. My mate John did his best to win his first rally in Germany, but my route gave me more points, so…another first place.
But the most important rally was still to come…unfinished business…in 2014, I dropped out of the five-day European Tour Rally in a virtual top position, so I was eager to do well in the six-day European Tour 2016. It started again in Stuttgart and had Brno in the Czech Republic as the checkpoint. I chose my route via Innsbruck, the Dolomites, Slovenia and Budapest, where I stayed in a hotel for a short night rest. The next day I crossed Slovakia, entered Poland for a short while and arrived at the checkpoint in time.
I knew that the crucial part was the second leg…I had intended to go around the Iberian peninsula, but the numbers in the rally book told me that the place to go was Ireland. So I set off the next morning, crossed the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and took the tunnel train to Folkestone. Not without a nerve-wrecking two-hour dramatic delay at the terminal in Calais. I crossed England as quickly as I could and took the night boat in Fishguard to Ireland. The next morning I started my adventurous day in Rosslare, went to Dublin at rush hour, passed Cork and Tralee, went to Limerick and Galway, Roscommon and Sligo.
Basically, I toured most of the island in one day and bagged almost all big points there. After a tough day, I decided to have a relaxed stay in Sligo as there was no need for a rush: I couldn’t get the early ferry to Scotland in Belfast anyway. I bagged some points in Northern Ireland in the morning and arrived in Cairnryan around noon. After a few stops around Newcastle and Middle England I boarded on the tunnel train and enjoyed the luxury staying in my own bed that night. The last morning I bagged some more points in Belgium, Luxemburg, Alsace and Germany before I headed aback to the rally hotel. All seemed lost again when the bike stopped some 20 miles before the finish, but luckily it was only some under-pressure in the fuel system. The toughest contenders John and Giel shared my fate of 2014: they dropped out of the rally in Denmark and France, respectively. But as I was the only one to choose the winning route to Ireland, no-one could beat me this time: with a tremendous 30 % lead in points I won the European Tour 2016.
As a last treat in 2016, I joined the short Iceni Rally in East Anglia in September. Instead taking the XBR500 this time, I rode the big Pan European, but as a handicap, I chose to take my mate Johannes as a pillion with me. With an estimated total curb weight of about 550 kg, this should be enough handicap for the small roads in East Anglia. When we the saw John’s rally bike, the Triumph Explorer, and not his clunker Trident at the start, we knew that he took it serious this time, no handicap from his side.
All right, best case scenario would be a podium finish. During the 8 hours of the rally I missed my little XBR when I had to manoeuvre this big battle ship called Honda Pan European over some single track farm roads. In the end, I changed my plan with a smart little move that was quite risky, but gave us 175 more points… enough to win the rally with a 80 points lead over John. Incredible, the first two-up victory in the history of the European IBA rallies!
I really felt sorry for John and the other riders at the end of this year…All these five rallies were won by the same guy! I know that this gets a little boring for the other contenders. During the European Tour I was already wondering if I should take a break from rallying, should I win the rally. The last two and a half years were an incredible achievement – bagging records one by one. Since June 2014, I have won all rallies but two (DNF in the European Tour 2014 with a crushed BMW gearbox; second place in the Brit Butt Light 2015). Winning the Brit Butt as first non-Brit and defending it; winning two rallies on a non-farkled Honda XBR500; winning the first rally with a pillion; having won all four 24 h German Butt/European Road Runner Rallies since 2005; and last but not least: having won all (regular) European IBA rallies at least once (German Butt, Brit Butt, European Tour, European Road Runner, Scandinavian Rally, Brit Butt Light, Magic12, Iceni Rally). There is only one record left that will not be broken: Rob Roalfe’s six consecutive wins of the Brit Butt Rally 2008 – 2013. So what is there still left to do? Shouldn’t this be the best moment to retire and let others have some part of the cake as well?
Yes, it would be the best moment. However, I like this sport too much to renounce it completely. But a break would be a good idea.
And here comes the outlook for 2017. As I see it now, there is little chance that I will participate in a European rally. The biggest thing will be the Alpenbutt Rally anyway where the best riders will fight for the crown of the best rally rider in the Alps. But as the rally master, I can’t participate. Oh, I forgot to mention that I never was beaten when a rally covered the Alps. So this will be a nice hand-over. I have put all my 30 years riding experience in the Alps in this rally, all I can recommend and show to others, this is my legacy to the rallying and motorbiking community. This is as good as it gets.
And then there will be the other big project in 2017: after the drop-out in 2013 and the cancellation in 2015, I want to participate again in the mother of all long distance motorcycle rallies, the Iron Butt Rally in the USA. I feel it is probably the best time to try it again, I have gained a lot of experience and I’m at the top of my rallying performance. The European Tour 2016 was a good test. Unlike 2013, I’m not overwhelmed by this enormous task anymore. There’s still a lot of respect, after all it is a hell of a rally, but I sense it is not as frightening anymore as in 2013 when I was struggling to become a finisher on a small Honda XBR500. At the time being, my bike is refurbished by Mart!n which should give me peace of mind that a technical breakdown will be as unlikely as possible.
There is a small possibility that I might use the Brit Butt 2017 as a shakedown rally before the big Ironbutt to test the bike with all its old and new farkles and upgrades…. But I think I will decide this late in spring.
So there will be a big change in 2017. The last years were marked by intense rallying, maybe it’s time for something else? We will see…
Back at home. Yesterday, I did the eight our Iceni Rally in East Anglia with Johannes as my pillion. We had quite a good plan worked out and started at 9 a.m. from Cambridge. The morning was basically a long ride on farm roads until we reached Norwich in the early afternoon. Here we were enough ahead of the plan to add another big point at the coast. Last year, on the XBR500, this seemed so much easier, but riding with a ~630 kg bike on some back roads is a physical challenge.
I was often not very well focused and missed quite some turns. As a consequence, I could not add two smaller extra locations close to the finish, the was only time for one. And then I had a cunning idea: instead visiting the closer and more obvious one for 150 points, I decided to skip it and get to the other location worth 285 points. Only a small difference, but from my personal experience I knew that rallies are decided in the very end and a few points can make all the difference. The problem was that this route would result in getting four minutes late and thereby getting 200 penalty points. So, if I could catch up two minutes, I would still have a benefit. 30 minutes to go, give it a try! It worked, Johannes was a quick pillion at the bonus point as before and in the end we even arrived before the normal finish time. I counted 12.623 points, that sounded quite a lot; I had been optimizing the route during the last days. In the end there was no extra trophy for the best team (I was hoping for that one), only for the best newcomer. Third place went to Steve Eversfield, and then there were only John Young and us left. The difference between first and second place was a mere 99 points!!! Finally, the risky stunt with the last bonus point location had paid off and we came first! John was very disappointed coming second like this, but he shouldn’t be, because he rode a great rally and missed the first place by only 0.8 %! That’s basically a draw.
After the ceremony, we headed with both bikes to the Tunnel and arrived at 2 a.m. at my place. And interesting experience riding with pillion in a rally, but riding in East Anglia is better done on the small XBR! 🙂
After a very successful rallying year, it is time to have some fun. Last year, I had won the new Iceni Rally in East Anglia on my little Honda XBR 500, despite a “veteran” handicap. The rally is the shortest LD rally with only eight hours but is supposed to hook new people to LD rallying. It is a nice day out with the opportunity to practice new things, especially at bonus point locations, because there are many compared to the total rally time.
This year I want to try something special. I have never ridden in a team or with a pillion before – why not trying this? So my mate Johannes will join me as a pillion and we will ride the rally together on the Honda Pan European. I removed the auxiliary tank and installed the original seat again. The idea to ride with the XBR would have been more work and I was simply too lazy. But that is still another option for the future. We rode only two-up once: when after the legendary XBR Alpentour 2003 his XR600 broke down in Liguria, we went back on my XBR with double luggage, crossing the Alps, having big fun chasing much bigger bikes.
The rally book was provided in advance and I have to say that finding the optimum route was a tough nut to crack – a good chance to test your planning approaches and tools. Rally master Mark Fowler has put together an interesting rally for newcomers and veterans.
If you want to follow our track in real-time from Saturday morning onwards:
That’s it. I knew it could be a very good result when I realized that nobody had went to Ireland as well. Apart from the problems at the Eurotunnel and the “breakdown” just before the finish, the ride went very smooth. I think it was an excellent training for the “big dance” next year, the mother of all LD rallies, the Ironbutt Rally in the US. I think I found the right balance between riding and resting, I never was really tired and always felt I was under control (after from the panicking moments mentioned above).
So the ceremony came….
3rd place Dave Winter
2nd place Daniel Duvskog
1st place Robert Koeber
A very nice result and congratulations to Daniel and Dave!
I am back in the hotel room and I am waiting for my scoring. I arrived well at the finish in time. That is the most important thing, a clear improvement over the ET2014.
These were some intense 6 days. I’ve ridden 7860 km (4885 miles) in 5.5 days and have seen 14 countries. The name “European Tour” is well deserved. I have taken two ferry boats and two Eurotunnel trains. I have visited 66 of the 400 bonus point locations. I was soaked and I was sweating. I pushed my bike uphill on an Autobahn. I had moments of frustration, panic, and content but above all I was in a very good mood most of the time.
My plans worked very well and I could get the points I wanted to visit. In the end I chose a route from Stuttgart to Brno via the Alps, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I was caught in a heavy thunderstorm and could not dry my gear for 1 day, riding damp to the checkpoint. From there, I chose the route to Ireland as it seemed to provide much more points and offered rest breaks on the ferries. I had not been to Western Ireland on a bike in 28 years.
But before I was trapped at the Eurotunnel where I lost more than two hours due to broken trains. Luckily I could still catch the ferry boat from Fishguard to Rosslare in the night. On Wednesday, I visited many points all over Ireland and did the rest on Thursday morning before I crossed from Northern Ireland to Scotland. I visited the Eastern coast around Newcastle and headed south via Leeds. I adapted my plan, crossed the Eurotunnel at midnight and spent the next rest break in my own bed. On the last day, I picked smaller points in Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Germany before I headed for the finish. It was 40 km to go to the finish when the bike that went so well during the tour stopped on the Autobahn and wouldn’t start again. I knew it was a petrol problem, but I tried to push the bike uphill to the nearby exit. When I needed a break, I tried to start again, it would fire and I would go very slowly to the finish. What a drama! I discovered that it is an under pressure problem in the fuel system, maybe a blocked tank vent, but nothing serious. But it was enough to start panicking, because I had done so well and now I would drop out???
Luckily I didn’t and this time I am a finisher! Unfortunately, my mates and strongest rivals John Young and Giel Kerkhof dropped out of the rally like I did in 2014. John had a broken final drive bearing and Giel bent his front wheel rolling over a kerb. I can only understand their frustration too well as this happened to me in the 2014 rally. The did excellent routes and it is a pity to miss them at the ceremony.
In one hour, I will be scored and I hope I will keep all of the many many points I have gathered, they seem to be a lot….
At 7 p.m., there will be the banquet and the trophy ceremony….
After midnight. Route of the first leg of the ET2014 is planned. It will be a flower picking ride despite the rain. Leg 2 will bring a monster route, but I will decide it at the checkpoint hotel in Brno on Monday night. Yes, Brno in the Czech Republic.
This is what we received as bonus point locations for BOTH legs. Note the accumulation of high points in Ireland and the Iberian Peninsula.
So Stuttgart to Brno is just a warm-up before it gets….spectacular!
Tomorrow start at 7 a.m. for me.
Today I will start my detour to go to the starting place of the European Tour 2016, the only real multi-day rally in Europe, this time organized by IBA UK. I do have unfinished business here: two years ago, at the European Tour 2014, I was in first place after the first leg and had an excellent second leg, when at the end of the fourth day, the gearbox of my BMW decided to initiate an irreversible, quick process of disintegration in the orange fields near Castelló de la Plana:
In the very second when I put the broken BMW on the main stand I had only one thought:
“That’s it! I’ve had enough!”
I never would ride a BMW again in rallies. The second time I dropped out during a rally in a virtual top position, the third time I needed a towing truck, countless problems with this bike. Finito. Aus, Epfe, Amen.
The statistics are very clear whether this decision was a good one: since that point, I rode 6 rallies with the new (old) Honda Pan European, came second once and won all other five rallies. Ah, and no technical problems whatsoever. No more questions, your honour.
I managed to be back at the rally finish in time, but not without a clear statement:So this time we meet again at the same place near Stuttgart. Rally check-in on Saturday, Start on Sunday morning. After 6 six riding days, we’ll arrive again in Stuttgart on Friday evening. Anything is possible, Ireland to Greece, Estonia to Portugal. More news on Saturday!
If you want to follow my GPS track from Sunday on, here is the SPOT link. I have set up an alternative track based on my phone which I run for experimental reasons. In both cases you’ll need a password that I’ll provide you if you drop me a short e-mail.
In the morning, we did a little walk to the nearby old cathedral of Königsberg (Kaliningrad), a brick-style church from the early 14th century. It was still closed. At one corner of the cathedral, the tomb of one of the greatest thinkers of all times is located: Immanuel Kant.
We returned to the hotel and met a guy from Chemnitz, East Germany who goes around the entire Baltic Sea with his little Simson moped. Chapeau!
We started our riding day and with a mixture of good orientation skills and my smartphone we navigated to one of the most bizarre landmarks in Europe: the Curonian Spit. It s a 98 km long, thin, curved sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast. Its southern portion lies within Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia and its northern within southwestern Lithuania. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by the two countries. Entering the spit, we had to pay a toll and could then ride through the pine forest until we reached the border with Lithuania. The crossing was relatively quick (one hour) and the contrast with the Russian territory was remarkable. John described it as “from black and white to colourful”.
At the border we saw a German couple with a strange BMW sidecar. We stopped in the next town (Nida) and had a little lunch. The great dune was close, but we didn’t want to lose the time climbing on it so we took a picture from the distance instead.
Nida is a nice, touristic town with lots of traditional fisher houses, partly painted in blue.
I tried to find the former house of Thomas Mann but gave up quickly; we had a big plan for this day, we wanted to get to Riga. We continued on the spit and reached the ferry that carried us in no time to Klaipeda on the mainland. The weather was sunny now, but a very chilly, strong wind blew from the West. The A-roads were in a good condition and we made good progress. We reached the Latvian border and the XBR claimed its 45th country visit. In Liepaja, we filled up petrol and booked a hotel in Riga for the night. The remaining 220 km were quick – the road was good and the wind pushed from the back.
Finally we reached Riga and found our hotel in the old town. We checked in and went for a long walk through the beautiful historic centre. Partly it’s a bit over the top in touristic terms, but the historic heritage is for real. We had a Latvian degustation menu in a restaurant and discussed our plans for the next days. Tomorrow we plan to head for Vilnius, Lithuania.
This morning we enjoyed a very long and rich breakfast and left only at 9:30. We headed north and soon the heat returned. Our bikes hummed and despite riding on b-roads, we made good progress. At midday, we needed to pull petrol and decided to have a snack in the cool station. Like yesterday, we were surprised by the good state of the Polish roads. Still riding at 110 km/h, we are passing everybody else on B-roads and are passed by everybody else on dual carriageways. When we got closer to the coast, we turned eastwards and passed Malbork. Normally, the old Castle of the Teutonic Order (Marienburg des Deutschen Ordens) is a UNESCO heritage and a must-see as it is the largest castle in the world by surface area. But we needed to get to Kaliningrad today and had the uncertainty of the border crossing. So we continued. For two kilometers, there was a basically four-lane cobblestone road that seemed endless. We were in the polish part now that was known as Ostpreussen. The road to the border was quite empty. We left it to get petrol in the last town (Braniewo), went back to the main road and headed for the border. At the polish side, our papers were studied carefully and our VINs were checked. My damaged plate caused some confusion, but I could convince the female officers, that the important number was the one stamped in the frame. We could move to the Russian border. Not without leaving a big puddle of petrol from some Triumph carburettors. At the Russian control, again some paperwork. We had to notice that for some speculative reason, a lot of handsome female officers worked there. The more tedious process was the customs declaration. We filled in two pages each just to learn that we made a mistake and had to do it again. And another paper. Unfortunately, the big thunderstorm had catched up and it started to rain. One officer did not believe the Triumph’s model year first…”1969???”. Yes. Finally we could leave. We managed to escape the rain, but the huge thunderstorm followed us. We entered Kaliningrad without any map or GPS, because our GPS maps do not cover Russia. The difference to the Polish driving style was remarkable.
We managed to get to the Centre where I used my phone to navigate us to the hotel. It started to rain and when we got to the Hotel Heliopark, we managed to park the bikes and seek shelter just in time before it was pouring down. After a shower, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant and I could not resist to have a real Borschtsch. We decided to have a quick visit to the cathedral the next morning and to head to Lithuania and Latvia via the Curonian Spit. The hotel is quite posh and in contrast to most buildings in the city centre. You still can see many concrete blocks from the Soviet era. Communication with the waitress was close to zero but we managed, “odno pivo” always works..
Yesterday the XBR appeared to be fine. Today I left before 7 to meet John near Fulda. It took us more than 1 hour to find us; a road block on the A7 and some deviations were the root cause for this. In the end, we could finally start the trip at half past nine. We headed towards Berlin at a constant 110 km/h (65 mph) and stopped for an enormous lunch break. It was a totally new feeling – no hurry, no pushing, just enjoying the ride, looking around, with plenty of time…discovering slowness…We passed Berlin and filled up before the border. It was quite hot now, some extra stop was quite welcome. We entered Poland and I was quite surprised to see this brilliant new motorway. Still at 110 km/h. After 800 km we reached Poznan, our destination for today. I had made a booking on the fly and we enjoyed the air-co inside the building. Our bikes had to be hidden from the public view in the underground parking. Bike issues: one dropped XBR with a bent brake lever and a Triumph owner desperately looking for his keys. The XBR still runs fine, I’m inclined to believe that it was a combination of an alternator with a dead battery.
Tomorrow we will head for the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Well, this is the situation.
Yesterday on the way to the XBR meeting, my battery died. I bought a new one which was dead by the end of the day as well. At the meeting, Hans and Johannes swapped the alternators of my bike with Hans’ bike. Today, my electric system still had a problem. I checked the electric components and in the end everything seems to be ok with a different battery. Did I buy a bad battery? A little trip this afternoon should clarify this.
John’s bike had issues as well which seem to be sorted at the moment. One thing is clear: it’s too late for Moscow now. I cancelled the hotel bookings and came up with a plan F or G: if everything works ok tomorrow, we try to go to Kaliningrad and visit Riga and Vilnius. A shorter program, but still entertaining enough.