Serious Dirt Bike Fun?
I thought it might be fun, within the next few posts, to share some of my exploits over a six year period with regard to riding in the annual ISDE on a 500cc dirt bike.
It all started with a casual remark to a friend of mine who was a reporter for an off-road motorcycle paper, I said that I had given some scant consideration to riding in an ISDE before I was to old, this was in ’84 when I was already 36 years of age. The upshot of this was a brief mention in the following weeks paper announcing my intention to compete in this years event which was to be held in Holland. That should teach me to keep my thoughts to myself.
Anyway, I was now hung by the tongue, so preparations were made to go at the end of the year, usually September or October, the only challenge that I could see, was the fact that the ISDE was riding for 6 days and the most I had ever raced a dirt bike was 2 days. All I could do was to keep on doing the National Championship rounds and the local 1 day events and hope that my natural fitness would see me through.
The big day finally arrived. We loaded the van with 3 bikes, kit-bags, spares ( I’d managed to get some support from the importer on a sale or return basis ) and 4 blokes and off we went. We caught the ferry boat to France, then made our way up through Belgium and on to Holland and by mid morning the next day we finally found our hotel. After resting up for a while, we made our way to Assen in the north of the country to register our entry and get my dirt bike scrutineered. This was a far cry from what I had been used to, for example, I had never been subjected to a medical check priore to an event before and there was a lot more administration involved than at home, but with a little help from some of the old guard we got through it and started to relax and enjoy the process, I mean, after all, there were dirt bike riders from all over the world competing. There were even riders I had only ever seen in magazines and here I was, li’le ol’ me, rubbing shoulders with some of the worlds off-road bikings finest…
On the Sunday before the actual race, there was a lot of speech making, parading around and razamataz which we subsequently learned over the following years was all part of the show. In the afternoon we all took off to find some of the motocross special tests just to get a feel of what was to come.
Let Dirt Bike Battle Commence!
Monday morning arrived with humungus amounts of trepidation. What had I let myself in for? Too late now, there I was sat on my 500cc Husqvarna 4T along with 2 other guys, who looked just as nervous , waiting for the starter to give us the nod. This he duly did, and we were off. It’s a strange thing that once your on your way, all the nerves and butterflies disappear and you just get on with the job in hand, I had an enduro to ride, so, lets get on with it.
On the whole, it was a pretty uneventful day, I continued to gain time penalties check after check due to the fact that Holland is a low lying country and is constructed of sand and more sand and more sand and… get the picture? For those of you who have never raced on this type of terrain, ( like I hadn’t ) It has got to be one of the most difficult surfaces to race on, it requires a different set of skills and if you don’t have them, you end up at the end of the day completely knackered having wrestled with a dirt bike that wants to go where IT wanted to. To cut the story short, by Wednesday night I was so tired it was an effort to get my racing gear off , wash and have some food, and there was still 3 more days to go, Hell !!!
Thursday morning. Not feeling too bad, I get into conversation with a Swedish guy (Swedes are dirt bike gods) and he asked me if I am enjoying the event? Now, “enjoying it” is not a phrase that immediately sprang to mind, however, I explain my difficulties with the sand and he offers me some advice, he said ” Forgive me but you ride your bike very stiff and upright and seem to be fighting with your machine and that is why you are so tired, what you must do is to ride in a taller gear with lots of power from the engine and just relax in the saddle and to some extent let your dirt bike weave about, all you have to do is steer it, simple….The starting Marshall signals our departure and I give the husky a big hand-full and took off with the back end weaving all over the place but this time I follow the advice given and bit by bit begin to relax, and, what do you know? I’m in control and riding faster than I had been all week, wow, this is more like it, I’m still losing time, but nothing like before and I’m now actually racing and really starting to enjoy myself, if only I had talked to the Swedish guy sooner…
Friday, I am now really looking forward to the days racing. I’ve slept well had a good breakfast, arrived at the start, changed into my wet riding gear, ( I only had two sets and both were wet) collected the bike out of parc ferme and got under way. What could go wrong? Only another day after today and I would be on my way home with a finishers medal. I started to really get the hang of the sandy conditions and was whizzing from checkpoint to checkpoint with very little loss of time, then on a particularly fast stretch before the penultimate check, I found myself racing neck to neck with another English rider and we were really going for it, when all of a sudden my engine stopped dead, and down I went, taking out 2 or 3 small saplings with my bash plate into the bargain. I jumped up and tried to restart the motor but it seemed to be locked so I pushed it along the trail towards a road section still trying to figure out what might be wrong. When I got to the road, I started to push it along towards the next checkpoint where I knew there to be some of our crew members. One of the Dutch riders stopped and asked what the problem was, I replied that I wasn’t sure, but If I could just get the bike down the road to the crew, I might be able to fix it, with that , he indicated that I should sit on the bike and he would come to the left and back of me and push me with his foot on the rear end of my bike whilst accelerating along the road, highly illegal of coarse, but very effective. As we got close he bade me good luck and got on his way. What a gentleman, eh? I found the Dutch to be a cracking bunch of people, always very helpfull.
Dirt Bike Competition = High Emotion.
With a little bit of obscure outside assistance, I got the bike to the checkpoint and proceeded to try and fix it. First thing, off with the clutch cover, I expect that something has just got jammed or something, but no, after inspection, everything in there was just fine.It was only then that it finally dawned on me that this dirt bike was going nowhere, in fact it was terminal. The problem was that the big-end had given out actually splitting the con-rod resulting in the piston coming down the cylinder bore and whacking the flywheel, thus flareing the skirt. I just stood there in total disbelief, feeling very,very emotional, the crew sensed this and gave me space to compose myself.
It’s difficult to describe the emotions at a time like that, I’ve never been one to cry over things, even serious things, but at that very moment I could have burst into tears, all that effort, all that huge learning curve, the let-down. Too much adrenalin.
BUT, did I enjoy my first international dirt bike experience? Well, with the benefit of hindsight, of course I did, it was a huge dirt bike adventure a massive learning curve and I came out of it a stronger, fitter rider with a strong desire to settle unfinished business and that would come the following year in Spain…
Despite All Of This, We Still Love The Dirt Bike.