Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 4, Königstage (King's day)

Today was the infamous King's day. Probably the hardest and physically most demanding day of the Tuareg rally. It consists of about 250km of sand dunes and the entire day is a special. It has a Le Mans style start which is a neat twist on the rally. Navigation is not the difficult part but rather your dune driving skills is what determines the result of the day.

There are four laps of different length that the riders have to ride and there is a time limit for each lap so if you are too late you will not be allowed to start a new lap. Me and Carl had a good tempo from start and had a good flow throughout the day despite it being 32C hot. No navigation errors and no crashes and I think we came in on third position but it's not confirmed yet.

One funny detail with sand is that it will get softer the longer into the day you get. The more the sun is heating it the more dry the sand will get and when it's dry it's soft, and when it's soft its harder to ride in it. Today I really noticed how the sand got softer during the day.

Today will be a hard day for many riders and I am sure we will have some really tired riders in our team tomorrow. It is also not unusual for the rally that some bikes will spend the night in the desert after the drivers have been picked up by the sweep trucks.

I am still not sleeping properly because of the cold I have and I am more tired after the riding than I should be. I don't really think about it while I'm riding but I can feel it when I get to camp. As long as it does not affect my riding I can live with it. And especially while we are doing so good in the results list. :)

Tomorrow is a short day and most riders will be done by lunch. This gives everybody a chance to catch their breath, rest their bodies and give some TLC to their bikes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 3, Merzouga rundkurz

Woke up feeling terrible this morning. Only got four hours of sleep because of my cold so I felt like falling asleep when I stood at the starting line. Luckily, once I started to ride the tiredness disappeared quickly.

The entire stage of today was a special so there was no time for rest. The stage consisted of three different Ergs (Erg = desert area with nothing but sand) with different types of sand and a lot of high speed tracks. The first part went very well and we only had one rider ahead of us for a while. A couple of navigation mistakes later and we had lost a couple of positions. The worst problem came when when my riding partner Carl Hagenblad ran out of fuel and I was almost out. We managed to take a hose and get some fuel to Carl's bike from mine and we continued at a very low pace the last 22 kilometers to the next check point where the service truck was waiting with fuel. Unfortunately Carl ran out of fuel again 800 meters from the check point so I continued myself to the check point so I could get fuel and then return to Carl. My bike stopped after 500 meters but I was able to get the last fuel to the carburetor by tipping the bike over so I could take myself to the check point. Once there, I started to refuel and then Carl showed up. He had managed to blow the last drops of fuel from the fuel hose to the carburetor and took himself to the check point.

After the check point there was a lot of dunes and it all went on smoothly. Considering all the problems we had today I'm sure we lost our 5th place but the race is not over and anything can happen. Especially in the dunes. We had a good flow and was keeping a pretty good pace so it feels promising for tomorrow when there will be nothing but dunes the entire day.
Heating water for the dehydrated food

Now it's time for dinner (dehydrated). I'm starting to feel a bit stiff in my muscles but usually it stops after the third day. It's like your body gets used to the hard work and adjusts to it.

Some of the riders in Team Rally Raid Sweden, who are doing a desert rally for the first time, had a tough time today in the dunes and some of them decided not to continue the stage. The good thing about the Tuareg rally is that even if you does not finish one day you can still continue the next day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 2, Missour - Merzouga

Today's stage brought us more beautiful views of the high Atlas. The day started with a special with a lot of riding in riverbeds and several fast high speed sections. I don't know the results yet but it felt pretty good. After that there was some liasons and navigation stages and lastly a second special that took us down to Merzouga in southern Morocco. We also took the time to stop at a gas station during one of the liasons and had a quick cup of coffee and a chat with some English blokes that we usually meet at the rally.

Yesterday me and Carl, the guy I'm team-riding with, ended up on 5th place and we are very pleased with the result. That meant we started in the second line this morning and we caught up with all the previous riders except Tomkinson, an English bloke who won the rally last year, so hopefully we closed the gap to the riders ahead of us in the results list.

The day was good and we only had some minor problems at the end with dust from the cars at the high speed sections. But with a wide open throttle we managed to get by them eventually...

My rear tire was a lot more worn this year compared to last year so I decided to change it today (one day earlier than planned). And I had some minor fixes to do on the bike so I was not done until nine at the evening. I'll see if there is something eatable from the dinner and then I'll call it a night. The entire day of tomorrow will be a special so we have a demanding day ahead of us.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 1, Nador - Missour

Today was the first day of the rally and it started with a 400km stage that took us from Nador at the coast up into the Atlas mountains to the city of Missour. The enduro path through a steep canyon (that I described a bit in the previous post) went well for me and my riding partner Carl Hagenblad. We got off early from the start at the port in Nador so we were among the first up the canyon so we didn't have any problems with other riders standing in the way. After the enduro path there were some technical navigation stages followed by a special that took just about under an hour.

The mechanics at work in Missour
The special was a mixture of somewhat tricky navigation and technical riding in a long riverbed. We made no mistakes and had a good flow through the special. The only problem was that there was a lot of cars that we caught up with and the dust makes it extremely difficult to try to pass them.

We were the first ones of the Swedes to reach the finish and the Berglund brothers showed up a short while after us so I don't know how it went for the others yet. The results of today will probably be posted later this evening. All in all it was a good first day and I'm happy with how the day went. The cold I felt yesterday doesn't seem to get any worse so hopefully that will not become a problem.

The upside of being among the first to reach the base camp is that the showers are hot and the toilets are working. :) Plus, you have a lot of time to get everything sorted for the next day. Right now its about 1830 and I'm all done for today so now I just have to focus on eating and talking to new and well known faces.

Day 0, scrutineering

This was the first day of the Tuareg rally and pretty much the whole day was spent at the port of almeria, in Spain. The day consisted of getting my paperwork done and getting the bike and myself through inspection. The paperwork mostly consist of stuff needed for customs as the routines for entering with a vehicle into Africa is not the fastest. The bike is checked for function; brakes, wheel bearings, brake lights, etc, and you have to show your complete safety kit before you are cleared and can load your bike back on the service truck.

Everything passed quite smoothly for me and most of the other Swedes so I was all done by lunch and could spend the rest of the day taping my roadbooks so by now I have taped all the roadbooks for all nine days. This is good since it means I will have more time to do other things during the rally.

A bad thing is that I got a sore throat and it feels like I am getting a cold and that precisely what I don't need right now. Doing a rally is hard enough without being sick. We will see how it feels tomorrow.

The stage tomorrow is quite a long one and the day starts with an enduro track in the mountains that can be somewhat challenging for some of the riders. The main purpose of the enduro track is to make the riders think again about wether they should stay in the Profi group or switch to the Amateur group.

I'm sitting in the wait room at the port right now and there is no WIFI here so we will see when I will be able to post this. Maybe tomorrow night in Missour but chances are small they will have internet there so it might not be until we are in Merzouga.

[Note] They had WIFI in Missour so I'm posting this on Day 1 of the race.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day before scrutineering

Today was the day before the scrutineering and I spent a couple of hours doing some last minute checkups on my bike to make sure that nothing has been damaged during the transport down to Spain. Went over my riding gear and made sure I had all the neccessary stuff needed for the mandatory emergency kit. Each motorcycle driver needs to carry emergency rockets, a map of Morocco, a lighter, a compass, a rescue blanket, 4 litres of water, a cell phone, a set of tools for your bike and, of course, a helmet. If you happen to miss one of those items during any of the unannounced checks you will get heavy time penalties so you better have your gear sorted.
The riders checking their bikes one last time
Everything looked good on the bike and after a short shakedown ride to make sure everything worked properly and that nothing was coming off the bike I packed my gear and am now looking forward to relaxing the rest of the day. Björn Nygren, another rider in Team Rally Raid Sweden discovered some weird engine noices and is nervous about an imminent engine problem. Hope everything works out for him.

Tomorrow is the first day of the rally and the whole day will be spent in the port of Almeria with scrutineering. Getting all your paperwork done, getting the bike through inspections, and preparing everything before boarding the ferry that will take us over to Nador in Morocco. The ferry usually leaves at about 2300hrs so I'm expecting to spend at least 10-12 hours at the port. Fun times. Hopefully we will have a smooth crossing over to Africa and then the actual racing will start in Morocco on Monday morning.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Managing IT in the wild

If you want to stay in touch with your family and friends and share your adventures during a rally there is quite a bit of IT involved. In Morocco, where I'm going now, the cellular networks are pretty good and there is actually some WIFI available too at one of the base camps.
I am combining texting, a smartphone and a mini-PC to cover my information needs. Posting updates to various sites, uploading pictures, calling home, etc. Apart from that I also bring two GPS's, one for backup, and they need to be connected to the mini-PC for uploading routes and waypoints used for navigating the stages. The mini-PC also serves as a storage for unloading images and videos from cameras and helmet cams that we bring with us.

Of course all these units needs to be recharged every night. In the past I've been running around with a bunch of cables that connects everything and then plugging in the whole mess in a power socket. It works but it's messy and it leaves all the units visible to anyone who might be interested in stealing them. So this year I put together an "IT-case". It's a small tool case that I've fitted with various velcro straps that secures all units and everything is neatly connected in the case. I placed a power socket on the side of the case so when I need to charge everything I just place the case near a power source and I plug the case in with a power cord. No more messy cables and a lot more easy to handle and less eye catching.

Enough space for GPS's, a camera, a smartphone and
a mini-PC. 
On the picture you can see the mini-PC and the two GPS units. After the pic was taken a I also fitted connectors for my camera and smartphone. And anything that uses an USB plug can be connected as well.
Hopefully this solution will be a lot easier to handle than having everything in a mess with loose cords.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The rally bike of 2011

I thought I would try to sum up what I have done to the bike to prepare it for the rally this year and also to take the opportunity to show it off for all you petrol heads out there.

KTM 530 EXC SixDays Rally Lite Edition
The bike is a KTM 530 EXC SixDays 2010 with about 55hrs on it. My goal has been to build a "rally lite" bike just as I did last year. That is, I try to do as little modifications as possible and I try to keep the bike as light and slim as I can by not putting on to much stuff on it. Rather taking things away to keep the weight down. The reasons for building a lite version are mainly these:

140/80 Michelin Desert is
one wide tire...
  • Keep everything you do as simple as possible. The less complicated the less chance it will break and the easier it will be to repair in the field.
  • Every custom part you put on must be field tested before the rally. And by field testing I mean a lot of tough riding not just riding down a dirt road for a while. Preferably you should do a race with the part on your bike before you can trust it.
  • If you build your own parts instead of buying parts of a well known brand you need to test it even more.
  • The more stuff you put on, the more stuff that can break. And things do break. The most effective way to prevent something from breaking is not to put it on.

The non-standard components on chassis and engine are:
  • Rebuilt front suspension (springs, shims)
  • Rebuilt rear suspension (springs, bladder)
  • Cylinder head ported
  • Carburator (jets, etc) adjusted on bench
  • Akrapovic exhaust
A degreased chain will last longer in the desert
All these mods were made by the previous owner and since the bike has done one previous rally I consider these mods to be well tested.

Here is a list of the preparations I have done to the bike just before this rally:

New plastic and decals just
for good looks
  • New wheel bearings
  • New grips (soft to reduce vibrations)
  • New motor oil and oil filter
  • New gear box oil
  • New fork oil (thicker)
  • Checked and greased steering head bearings
  • New brake fluid
  • Checked all electric wiring for wear and function
  • Mounted electric wiring for the roadbook holder
  • Mounted navigaton tower
  • Mounted roadbook holder (MD with backlight and remote)
  • Mounted GPS mount (I'm using a Garmin Foretrex 201)
  • Mounted remote control for the trip computer
  • New (dry) chain and sprockets
  • New Michelin Desert tires and Michelin Desert mousse (front, rear and second rear wheel)
  • Cleaned the carburetor
  • Changed cooling fluid to Engine Ice
  • Mounted large 13L tank
  • Mounted rear fender bag
  • Put thread lock on pretty much every single bolt on the bike
  • Checked brake pads (they were almost new so I didn't change them)
  • New plastic and new decals (absolutely no function, just for good looks :)
  • Charged the battery
  • Mounted custom skidplate with water tank
Aluminum skidplate with water tank
Apart from that I have pretty much checked everything else on the bike for wear and function. Spokes, handlebar controls, gas wire etc. Every part of the bike needs to be in mint condition if  you want it to run smoothly through an eight day race without any major problems.

Roadbook holder, GPS, trip computer and remote controls
As per usual when preparing a bike for a race, most of the work is not visible so you will not get any credit for it from someone who doesn't understand how much work that goes into something like this. But thats just how it is. :)

Now its only two days left before I'm leaving for Spain and I can't wait to get on the bike and head out to the dunes!

Spare levers strapped to the skidplate
Both front and rear suspension has been modified
Ready to jump over those Sahara dunes!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The bikes are ready to go

So it's finally time for the bikes to start their journey through Europe down to Almeria in southern Spain where the Tuareg Rally starts. That means no more time for fiddling with my bike. And I just finished everything on it. The night before the bikes are to be loaded on the truck.

It is kind of funny that no matter how far in advance you start planning a race it always comes down to the last minute. And it's not just me you know. Everyone is doing the same thing and it doesn't matter if it's a small race or the Dakar. You're always going to do last minute changes and be deprived of sleep when the deadline is getting closer. If you got more time you will just do more stuff but you will keep going until there is no more time. That's just the way it is I guess.

Tomorrow we are heading down to the city of Örebro, in Sweden, where we will meet up with the rest of the guys and load the bikes and all the gear on the service truck. I'll be sure to get some pics of all the bikes and the truck.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Carburetor cleaning

One of the less exiting but absolutely necessary bike prep you need to do before going on a desert race is cleaning your carburetor. Even if you don't do races you should clean it once every year anyway just to save you trouble. A carburetor is an ancient piece of technology for combustion engines as compared to injection. But it has its pros and cons. On the plus side is that since the construction of a carburetor is so simple it is mostly possible to fix it, should a problem occur, when you are out in the middle of nowhere far away from your sterilized garage. You basically cannot fix an injection. Most people will carry an entire injection kit (or several) as a spare when doing rallies.
Removing and cleaning jets

My cleaning procedure consists of taking apart most of the carburetor. Cleaning each part and checking for wear and tear. All jets, the mixture screw, needle, float, float needle, the throttle valve, the accelerator pump etc etc. And when everything is nice and clean I put it back together again.

When I put it together again I usually put just a little bit of thread lock on the screws to make sure the stay fastened. I also put some thread lock on the mixture screw so it won't come lose. (I actually lost my mixture screw in a rally in 2008)

As I said, not the most exiting bike prep but a carburetor problem can possibly ruin an entire race so it is definitely a must.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Revamping my skid plate

I have a skid plate made out of aluminum that also holds 2 liters of water. Those two liters are the emergency water that every rider must carry and having them in the skid plate rather than in your backpack or somewhere else on your bike has its advantages. First off I would really recommend trying to put as much stuff as possible on your bike instead of carrying them on yourself. Having extra weight to carry will be tiresome when riding long days. The skid plate is about as low as you can get on your bike and it is good to try to put any extra weight on your bike as low as possible to keep the center of gravitation low. So having those 2 extra kilograms on the skid plate is perfect.

Johan doing his TIG magic
I was down at my friend Johan at Pro2 and his shop the other day to get some help to modify my skid plate since I can not weld aluminum myself. I drilled a hole through the water tank and put in a tube that I can use to get better access to the bolts when mounting and demounting the plate when servicing the bike. Everything to save a couple of minutes each day when servicing is worth doing.

Johan did a superb job and all it cost me was a couple of brews. Since Johan is also going to the Tuareg rally I will repay him in the Sahara. :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cook it, peel it or leave it

Cook it, peel it or leave it; is a pretty well know slogan among world travelers and it holds equally true for how you should approach food served during rallies. Most often desert rallies take place in countries where the type of bacterias that are found in food can be quite different to what your body is used to. And it is not unusual that the handling of food is done under conditions that are far from ideal when it comes to hygiene. Thats why I always bring my own food and if I am to eat any of the local food it has to be really hot and newly cooked. If its luke warm or has been kept warm for a long time I wont touch it. Same goes for salads and stuff.

Lunch break in a canyon in Morocco
The food I bring is mostly dehydrated food that come in ration packs. All you need to do in order to cook them is to fill the bag they come in with boiling water and wait a couple of minutes and then they are ready to be eaten. During the day when I'm riding I will eat various energy bars and I always try to throw in some canned food to mix it up since only eating energy bars can be quite tough on your stomach.

This is how my typical food intake would look like, and will look like this year too.

  • Breakfast: Dehydrated breakfast ration pack (cold)
  • During the day when racing: Various bars (Flapjacks/protein bars), canned tuna or similar
  • Dinner 1: Dehydrated dinner ration pack (hot)
  • Dinner 2: Dehydrated dinner ration pack (hot), and some small pieces of what I find eatable from what is served by the rally organization.

Apart from that, I just try to constantly eat while I am at base camp in order to get as much energy back into my body as possible. A friend of mine wore one of those heart monitors during a race and it showed he had burned 7,000 calories during one race day so you really need to eat as much as you possibly can.

Dehydrated breakfast
Bringing your own food and being really picky with what you eat of the local stuff is an easy way to avoid getting ill during a rally. Getting the shits during rallies in Africa is so common it's not even funny. Just ask anyone who's been to a rally and they'll tell you.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wheel bearings

So, it's about three weeks until the bikes are loaded on the service truck and begins the journey down to Spain so its time to start doing bike preps. I've mentioned the steering dampers I will be using in an earlier post and today I  want to say a word about wheel bearings. Or actually two words: Change Them!

During the years I have made it a habit of changing the wheel bearings every year on all my bikes no matter if I got them brand new or used. I have had a rear wheel bearing fail on me once and it totally destroyed the entire hub. Costing me several hours of work to replace the hub. When it happened I had checked the bearings when I changed tires just a couple of riding hours before it happened and they all seemed fine. So I learned the hard way that when bearings fail they can fail so fast that you will not notice it until it's too late. And I might add that that particular bike was less than a year old and with me as the first and only owner.

Fill the gap with grease and your bearings will live longer
While I'm at it I might as well share a tip about wheel bearings. Once you fit the new ones on there will be a gap between the bearing and the sealing. Make sure you fill that gap up entirely with grease (also do this if your bike is brand new from the factory). The bearings themselves are sealed so the grease will not lube the bearings but it will act as a barrier and prevent water and dirt to get in and reach the bearings. And water and dirt is what will kill your wheel bearings. I've done this for a couple of years and it really does make a huge difference.

If we go back to fact that bearings can fail fast it should be obvious that I will never go to a rally without having brand new wheel bearings on. Most manufacturers have wheel repair kits that contains all bearings, seals and spacers that you'll need and they are relatively cheap and it's quite an easy operation to change them. So changing my wheel bearings is an easy insurance that my bike will take me through deserts and rivers for thousands of kilometers without any troubles.