Some Random Thoughts on the National Rally.
Why do we do it - ride all through the night just for a small trophy or maybe raise some funds for those less fortunate by getting sponsored? (something slightly ironic as funds go to mencap and my wife reckons I qualify for mental assistance!!). In my case this year it was an excuse to use the bike for a "proper" ride instead of the 37 mile round trip to work.
I did 2 or 3 back in the seventies (much younger and dafter then) and a couple more in the last few years (much, much older and still as daft) Strangely enough the recent rides have all been on the Ducati (GT1000) - never seemed tempting enough to do it on any of my other "modern bikes".
Non of the characters I've ridden with in the past was interested this year so the decision became do it alone or wait until next year and try to get more persuasive. Riding for 540 miles over 20 hours alone had certain drawbacks - no one to help if anything went wrong (that can include bike breaking, rider breaking, getting lost). However it would give me the opportunity to plan the route I wanted along roads I fancied (perhaps the best bit of the National is the planning - at least that bit you stay dry). Fuel stops dictated by me and not someone else's stupidly small tank. Food and rest when I'm ready not at someone else's need. Loneliness wasn't considered a problem as you can't talk on a bike and every stop one meets great characters at the controls.
The main drawback as I found out about midnight is that I was covering the route far too fast!! But more of that later.
I started at the Leicester control - Fosse Riders club room on Hinckley road (no boos at the back there) and as always the start is almost an anticlimax after weeks of planning. No flag to be dropped just 4 or 5 riders looking at each other wondering if it really is 2 o'clock. Five past and we decide we can start without being accused of cheating!
Next control is Meriden and here forward planning showed. Perhaps because they'd only just started they got the mileage wrong so I had to get it corrected before carrying on (I plan route fuel and rest stops and mileages and times based on 30 mph averages so can easily check at every stop)
Next was Cannock and blow me if they also managed to get cumulative mileage wrong - this is starting to give bad omens!!
Things start to settle down but I don't seem to see many other riders on the road and only the odd one at controls - must be a low entry this year, but I speak too soon as the heavens open when approaching Stoke, and I realise even modern kit isn't 100% waterproof over a long run. Hail on the way to Ashbourne and the run up to Tideswell on a minor road isn't much fun as there's gravel and tree branches coming down the road carried in the flood. Not too bad as I'm going uphill but then realise I've got to come back down the same road - oh pooh. Still it helps hone the wet road riding skills I suppose.
Accrington comes up on the route and I leave the only bit of motorway (Wigan to Accrington) on the whole ride. Control is at a "Hells Angel" pub and a great stop it turns out to be with free tea/coffee and hotpot. Just what I need as it's starting to get dark and is getting colder.
On through the night and controls get harder to find in the dark and rain. Still not a lot of bikes about - I'm sure there were more in the past, one often found a control by seeing other bikes leaving.
Gainsborough is a pub - all locked up and an empty car park - a rider at Skipton warned me that it was just an old lady sat in a car in the carpark. Then the pub door opens and I'm beckoned in. Turns out the old lady's daughter runs the pub so she ran the control in the carpark during opening hours but as it was now 12.30am the landlady had gone to bed leaving her mum the run of the pub downstairs!!
I was offered the use of the snug if I wanted a rest and as I was getting seriously early I stretched out on a couple of chairs for an hour. (You can't arrive at final control until 7am so I had to slow it down)
Thus it was tea and biscuits at Horncastle. Tea x 2 and breakfast at Langrick (near Boston). Peterborough had little to offer apart from conversation so it was round to the local Tesco for fuel and browse the magazines in the shop. Wisbech was tea and toast (and please have you a loo!!) before heading for Ely. Even then it was stop round the corner for 10 mins chatting to a couple of BMW riders as it was only 6.50am
Then the worst bit the long slog up the A14 to home, all the while trying not to get tempted into winding it on to get home. Might need the licence again you never know!
So final impressions:- Far fewer entrants or is this a result of more final controls. Quite a few controls just a guy sat in a car and some not even that - virtual controls you don't visit just claim at the next real control.
Hardly any interesting bikes about, only saw 2 sport bikes no old ones (did BMW really make this many bikes? - about all I saw)
Duke ran well and was as comfy at the end as at the start (VERY) I almost used the Norton but checking the weather Saturday morning decided the Duke would be the sensible choice as it has a good screen to hide behind. (wise choice in the event)
So would I do it again? Yes but probably not on my own (hint hint for a riding partner next year) though it might be nice to sit it out and man a control or maybe act as travelling marshal next time.
Just have to wait and see.
Oh and a big ps Thanks to all the guys and gels who sit somewhere cold and boring waiting for idiots like me to ride in demand tea and toilets and then ride away into the night.
- Dave Smith
Would have thought Dave would have learnt by now ... Megaphone 1977