April 13, 2008
The early part of the off-road racing season in the Midwest often challenges both
riders and promoters alike, but never so much in recent memory as this year’s
version of Spring. The previous Sunday, the Forest City Riders had to cancel their
enduro in North Central Illinois on account of oversaturated soil. The Sand Goblin
enduro went on as scheduled, only because its sandy terrain soaked up enough
rainfall to make riding a relative possibility.
The Grand Kankakee Trail Riders held their annual April enduro a few miles west of
Roselawn, Indiana with a saturated grass pasture serving as the staging area.
Centered in the pasture was a signup tent with curtains drawn all around, thanks to a
brisk 35-degree wind. I grabbed my Row 20 pre-entry materials and dashed back to
the warmer confines of my pickup truck. After programming half the resets on my
Watchdog computer, then the other half after my hands warmed up again, I struggled
with a new roll chart holder and finally gave up on it 15 minutes before my starting
time. Jeff Snedcor came by to say hello, and I jokingly told him I’d see him on the trail
– unlikely, considering he was starting 10 minutes behind me.
Turns out I would see Jeff much earlier than expected.
In near-freezing weather, a Gas Gas 300EC takes about 10 minutes to warm up to
operating temperature. I gave mine 7 minutes. Most enduros start out easy enough to
forgive a rookie mistake like this one, but here’s where the wet Spring changed things
a bit: the first ½ mile was straight across a waterlogged cornfield. The planned “corn
maze” in the fields around the staging area was too wet for anything but a sprint to a
barely visible road crossing. To keep the Gasser moving forward, I had to give it a
healthy, steady dose of throttle that it just wasn't ready for. Jay Hall and Tim Farrell,
who I’d battled with two weeks earlier at the Hooppole hare scramble, jumped out
ahead while I tried to take it easy.
Taking it easy meant ¾ throttle for a quarter mile before the Gas Gas objected,
strongly and silently. While the rest of the guys on my minute continued on to the road
crossing, I sat in the middle of the field on a bike that wouldn't run. Every minute a
fresh group of riders would speed by, each time their path wider around the ruts on
either side of me. Jeff Snedcor and his Yamaha YZ250 flew by 10 minutes into my
futile effort to restart the Gasser. I could see the staging area behind me and the road
crossing ahead, but there was no way I could push the bike to either destination.
Ten more minutes passed, then a slight glimmer of hope. The engine turned over
with an extra sputter that tells a cold guy in the middle of corn field that maybe, just
maybe, you might get somewhere without the help of an ATV and a tow strap. A full 25
minutes after I started the enduro, I was on my way again. At that point, timekeeping
was the last of my worries, the first of which being the brand new Vertex piston inside
the Gasser’s engine. My Watchdog computer wasn't counting mileage, but it didn't
matter. I’d never get within 12 minutes of being on time for the rest of the loop.
Once inside the woods, I found soft dirt and loads of traction, and by the time I arrived
the trails had been cut in nicely. The road sections on the other hand, were positively
frigid. I had two choices: ride slowly and try to stay warm, or take advantage of the
Gasser’s 6th gear and speed to the next woods. Since I was already late, I chomped
down on my upper lip and chose the latter option.
Between road sections and the woods sections were field sections. Wet, muddy field
sections. I spun my way through them all without incident, but a drainage ditch
crossing presented the toughest challenge of the day. The first riders through here
would have found a nice wooden makeshift bridge at the bottom of the ditch. By the
time I arrived, the approach to the bridge was filled with 2-foot ruts and riders waiting
their turn to give it a shot. When my turn came up, a helpful club member pointed me
to the last passable rut leading to the bridge. I walked my bike down to the rut, gently
let out the clutch and offered self-congratulations as both wheels hopped onto the
plywood surface. The euphoria of this lasted as long as it took for me to realize my
bike was on the bridge and I was standing thigh-deep in muck. I managed to step
onto the bridge before the bike joined me in the swamp, swung a muddy boot over
the seat and gunned it up the other side of the ditch.
The final obstacle of the first loop was an old house that’s been a part of this enduro
for several years. This time we were given the option of riding through the house or
around the house on a mini-Endurocross course. Since the house was scheduled for
demolition in 2008, I just had to ride through it one last time. It did not disappoint.
After finishing the first loop, my heart just wasn't in it. I called it a day and settled for a
DNF. Despite the cold conditions, the course was enjoyable as always.
April 27, 2008
4th of 7 in Vet A
When I was 11 years old and ready to ride a nearly full-sized dirt bike, my dad
showed me how to use a mysterious lever attached to the handlebars called a clutch.
If I wanted to make the motorcycle move forward, I released the lever. To stop, I pulled
it in. Pretty simple. In 1994, at my first hare scramble near Decatur, Illinois, I
discovered that the clutch could be more than just an on-off switch. Instead of
downshifting at each corner, I could pull in the clutch without shifting gears, start my
turn, twist the throttle just a bit and the let out the clutch at the apex of the turn. Dirt
biking, for me, was changed forever.
At the Plymouth Blackhawks hare scramble near Culver, Indiana, I was 11 years old
again. The clutch on my KX250 became an on-off switch, thanks to my persistent lack
of attention to detail when it comes to bike maintenance. It wasn’t the Kawasaki’s
fault. The inner workings of its clutch were performing quite well. The Hebo hydraulic
actuator, on the other hand, was problematic. Near the end of the previous year’s
racing season, the Hebo slave unit had developed some “incontinence” due to worn
out internal o-rings. After replacing the offending o-rings with Viton substitutes, I
quickly learned that DOT4 brake fluid (the juice of choice for the Hebo setup) pretty
much devours Viton. DOT5, on the other hand, plays very well with Viton. In the
swapping of DOT4 for DOT5 and replacement of the copper washers around the
banjo bolts, I thought I was good to go. Turns out, I didn’t get the copper washers
squished tightly enough around the banjo bolts.
The result of this, of course, was a little extra air in the system. After the appropriate
retightening of the banjo bolts in the Plymouth Blackhawks staging area, the clutch
still functioned, but the engagement occurred with the clutch lever approximately ¼”
from the handlebar. The side affect of this was felt at the beginning of this AMA District
15 hare scramble, when I was left standing on the starting line while most of the first
row was already at the first corner. A few extra kicks later, I joined a couple of hard
starting 4-strokes on a grass track.
Once inside the woods, I mixed it up with a couple other stragglers (all 4-strokes)
from our row until the first grass/sand track. Around the first corner, the sand sucked
in my front tire and I fell over, earning my first sand acclimation points of the day. To
help riders know who they’re racing against, District 15 uses colorful number stickers
taped to the back side of each racer’s helmet. The Vet A class received purple
stickers, but I didn't see any on helmets ahead of me after my slow start. I eased into
a steady pace after re-acclimating myself to sand with a couple more minor
nosedives into the soft stuff. Culver has plenty of it, as well as a healthy dose of tight
The low-lying swamps I’d scouted in the morning while the Junior classes competed
were left out of the course for the most part, with the exception of a mud bog near the
scoring barrels. On the first few passes through this wet spot, my rear tire spun
sideways in full-on Bruce Penhall speedway style, third gear and on the gas. Problem
was, I was moving straight ahead with no intention of changing direction. A few brave
spectators standing near the action became less courageous over time, having seen
me and probably 100 other guys duplicate Penhall’s style. The hot line was through
the center and over a huge tree stump which most riders tried to avoid. It was traction,
so I took it.
After the mud bog was another spectator attraction made by a 12-inch log lying
across the trail with just the perfect amount of sand buildup on either side. If executed
properly, it was a nice jump worthy of applause from a handful of onlookers.
Otherwise, the log made for a different sort of entertainment. When possible, I obliged
the spectators and picked up some compliments.
The 4.8-mile laps passed quickly in the 90-minute race. Before I had a chance to
think about how much the sand whoops were draining my energy, the checkered flag
appeared. I was so happy to be on Eastern time and done racing by 1:30 Chicago
time, that I packed up immediately and headed back to the ‘burbs. The Leadbelt
Enduro was scheduled for the following Sunday in Missouri, and I knew I wouldn't
have much time to get the bike ready on Saturday morning. Sunshine and 60 degrees
left me perfectly satisfied.
|Airing out the Gasser
(yes, my wheels did actually
leave the ground)
|Oddly enough, some
engines will actually run
for awhile with a piston
like this (click on image
for a larger view).