Sunday, January 23, 2011

Training for the desert in subzero temperatures

Its at the end of January and there is still quite a lot of snow left here in Sweden in and around Stockholm. I need some time in the saddle so my plan is to get as much riding time as possible up until the rally in March so since it was a beautiful winter day today I took the opportunity to get some good riding on snow covered dirt roads.

Pogies keeps your hands out of the wind
Riding with spike tires on snow covered roads is actually quite fun and I can really recommend it if you never tried it before. The only real differences compared to riding in the summer is that you need to put on a lot more clothes and if it's really cold you might need to cover up the radiators with some duct tape or cardboard so the engine gets warm enough.

It was about -7°C today with a clear blue sky and nice, dry snow. I had to stop every now and then and warm up my fingers but apart from that it was great and I got a couple of hours of riding. This was my second ride with the new KTM 530 and I'm starting to get used to it now. It's heavier and got different motor characteristics compared to my KTM 400. I think I need to adjust the gear selector a little and I also need to experiment with some different size sprockets to find out what I will be using in Morocko. I spoke to my riding partner Carl and we are currently thinking of using 14/45, with the possibility of switching to a 13 front sprocket if we need to in the dunes. The plan is for us to have as identical bikes as possible so we can share each others spare parts.

Clear skies, beautiful sun and cold temperatures
The rally is getting closer but when there is snow everywhere and you are standing with your hands in your underwear trying to get the feeling back in your frozen fingers the dunes in Sahara feels very distant...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Steering damper or big biceps?

One bike modification that I will be doing differently this year compared to my earlier desert races is the use of a steering damper. I have never used a steering damper on any of my bikes before. Not at home when riding enduro or offroad and not in the two previous desert rallies either. Mostly because I have never really felt the need for it.
In 2008 in Morocco I rode a KTM 625 which is a pretty heavy bike that more or less behaves like a freight train plowing through any obstacles and sandy courses so I didn't have any problems with driving without a steering damper. And when I'm at home I usually never ride for long enough periods of time that I will feel any fatigue caused by a nervous front wheel. But in 2010 I rode a KTM 400 during the Tuareg rally. The 400 is a much lighter bike that becomes quite nervous when riding at high speed in tough terrains. For the first time I actually noticed how much the front wheel was bouncing back and forth and during some stages when I was going flat out on loose sand roads I actually had to slow down because I simply couldn't hold on to the handle bars anymore. A friend of mine who was riding with me later described the situation as: "Ronnie has a steering damper, Danny has arms the size of my thighs, and I have nothing but pain". Ok, granted that I'm in fairly good physical shape but I was also getting tired at that stage so after last year's rally I promised myself that I would never race again without a steering damper.

Öhlins steering damper
So, said and done. My new KTM 530 has been equipped with a Öhlins steering damper. For you who don't know, a steering damper works by dampening the movements of the handlebars. But it does so in a way that it only dampens fast movements. This means that when you are turning the handlebars during normal riding no dampening takes place and you will not notice it at all. But when fast and sudden movements occur, say for example when you hit a rock with your front wheel, the movement is heavily dampened. So instead of sending the front wheel, and you, off in a random direction the front wheel will keep straight and you can continue riding in the direction you intended.

Now this will of course help you avoid some situations that might otherwise lead to a crash, but it will also save you a lot of energy since you don't have to do all the dampening yourself as you otherwise would when you are using your arms as steering dampers.

So this year I am not going to slow down on those loose fast tracks or in those tricky dried out river beds. I'm going flat out all the way... ;) And hopefully I can avoid crashes like the one last year when I hit a rock in the middle of a curve that lead to a face plant and a sprained ankle.

Or if nothing else, it will at least be a cool looking piece of gear on my bike.