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 singletrack.
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.
|Oddly enough, some
engines will actually run
for awhile with a piston
like this (click on image
for a larger view).