2003 National Motorcycle Rally

(A tale of 23 Checkpoints - it should have been 24)

Famous Quote - "20psi - thats plenty" - Dave Coomber

OK, I did the National Rally last year, my claim to fame was that I knew exactly where Sutton Maddock was. Apart from that I was just along for the ride. This year, I wanted to contribute - translate that as - I want to lead everyone else astray.
The format for the Rally this year had changed as well. There were now three outer lettered zones and a numbered inner zone. The outer zone was open until Midnight, and the inner zones only opened at 10:00pm. An interesting Logistical exercise.

The club SCAM that own me put up two groups again this year. As usual I opted for the slow and steady group as against the fast and steady group... We had been round to John Brady's house the Sunday before to plan the event, I took along the now obligotory laptop with AutoRoute 2003 to help with the planning. However during the week John Brady and the fast team decided on a totally different route so this time, we were off in different directions. No worries though, from experience, I knew that we wouldn't have seen them again after we started.

So Saturday morning dawned, and Dave, Richard and myself met up at Grocotts at Crewe for the ride up to Stalybridge. For a change, and possibly to check just how bad I was, Dave let me lead most of the way up there. Which gave me the opportunity to try out a couple of back roads to avoid the A556 M56 junctions. However, I did let Dave lead us into Stalybridge and we promptly got lost in the town center! 1-0 to Martyn and we hadn't even started.

So here we all are at the start at Stalybridge. Weather probably perfect for a longish ride, dull but comfortably warm and most importantly, dry. Just time for a quick cup of tea, a couple of sarnies and a chill before the grand start at 2:00pm. We were so chilled in fact that we only realised it was 2:00 when everyone else rode out, leaving us to hastily get our lids on and fly off after them.
Our route was to take us to Penistone (really Silkstone) and then up to Leeds. Its quite a nice start really - Dave led us up over the Woodhead Pass and totally ignored the signs that say "Road Closed" because they are always wrong. But not on this occasion, so a minor detour and up over the old road into the outskirts of Penistone. A quick re-assessment (translate - ask some old geezer) and we were soon back on track. (Martyn 2 Dave 0) It was just after we left Penistone that I thought that it would be a good idea to photograph all the checkpoints. So that is what I did (Sorry Penistone aka Barnsley Bikers MCC - you came too soon).

Leeds East

Leeds East
Leeds East was fun to find, the direction said "Pub Car Park, Eastbound A64 1/4 mile from A6120". Not bad except the A64 crosses the A6120 and we were unsure which side of the A6120 we should go. Dave said 'Right', I said 'Left', and as I was 2-0 up at the moment Dave bowed to my better judgement. Bummer! I was wrong - he was right - score now 2-1. So a very pleasant stop courtesy of East Leeds Lions MCC and a free bar of Chocolate (a Lion bar - what else) and a short break to screw my speedo cable back in again (this is getting embarrassing) and off we went to Hebden Bridge.

Bridge Rats MCC
Hebden Bridge

Its amazing who you find

Triumphs at Hebden Bridge
Dave let me lead the way to Hebden Bridge - he reckoned that because I'm from that part of the world I could find it with my eyes closed. I think I have been to Hebden Bridge twice in my life before this weekend and certainly not in the last 7 years or so. And I always approached it from glorious Red Rose county, not from the windswept barren east. But nonetheless, find it I did and as a celebration, I awarded the three of us a cup of tea. While we were supping away, guess who should join us but the other group from the club - also on their 3rd stop. So we had a natter, admired the bikes and eventually got away to the next stop at Skipton.

White Rose MCC

Dave signing in at Skipton
The ride up to Skipton was wonderful. Once again, Dave let me lead and we headed up through the Worth Valley. There is a steam railway here and it was the location of the film of "The Railway Children". You can still see the towns roots in the cotton industry - I must come back here for a weekend. Anyway upto Skipton over the nice twisty moorland roads. No real problem finding this - it was in a layby exactly where it was supposed to be, so a quick stop to sign in, find a couple of bushes (the tea from Hebden Bridge was now taking effect) and then off up the road to Whalley.

Bloody Hell, that road is so boring. I am of course referring to the A59 that heads from East to West and sadly is a mandatory element of the route from Skipton to Whalley. It just goes on and on without even a decent roundabout for 20 miles. Autoroute was now in its element as the Whalley checkpoint was located at a Picnic site and Picnic sites are registered on Autoroute. So Whalley was dead easy to find - straight there, even though Dave was a bit dubious about this one. Another short break at Whalley while we chilled a bit - found the three Triumphs again and had a quick sandwich. Then headed off on the A59 down to Southport.

Sunshine at Southport


Southport Checkpoint
Waterloo & District MCC
I was glad to see the back of the A59. The Sun was shining but we were riding straight into it. Dave took over the lead now and got us through Preston OK and on the correct road out to Southport. I had a feeling that I knew where Tesco's (the next stop) would be and I guessed it would be the same location as McDonalds. However Dave got us into Southport OK, but missed the turn for A570. So a big U turn for Dave on a GPZ1100 and Richard on K1100RS (my FJ will U turn on a metaphorical sixpence (smug)) and I guessed the correct turn and led us straight to Tescos (getting smugger). I claimed another point for that, so Martyn 3 - Dave 1.

BMW Club - Northern
Our final stop and the last of the lettered outer zones was for our mandatory one hour break at Warrington. This was nice and easy to find, located at the truck stop services at J20A, the M56/M6 interchange. So we signed in at 20:40, 195 nominal miles and went to get a meal. The choice was either McDonalds or the local services hostelry. Late evening breakfast for me and Cottage Pie for Richard and Dave. They definitely made the right choice! A phone call to the nearest and dearest letting them know we were still alive and wishing them good-night etc. As we prepared to leave it was just starting to get dark. On the bikes and the FJ had this incredible knack of wanting to fall over at low speeds. As Dave and Richard were already away, I chose to ignore it and followed them out onto the M56.

Ellesmere Port
Dave led us all the way to Ellesmere Port without problems, although I was convinced that he had got it wrong at the end of the M56. Ellesmere Port was the first of the inner zone checkpoints and we arrived at exactly 22:00, just as the checkpoint officially opened and signed in at 22:01. We really couldn't have timed it better. So a quick sign in, a quick chat with a marshall about the usefulness and verbosity of Autoroute and we were on our way to Ruabon. However, I was getting a bit bothered about the front end - getting very ponderous at slow speeds - but its dark so I must be imagining it, and anyway, Dave and Richard had left so I just got on with it.

Ruabon was very easy to find, a quick blast down the A540, through Chester and then out on the A483, bypassing Wrexham. However, when we got there, we couldn't find the checkpoint. The instructions said Glenrid A5 Services on the junction with the B5070 The same place as last year. We weren't the only ones who couldn't find the checkpoint. I took this snap of another couple trying to find the Checkpoint. But after riding around for a while, we assumed that the checkpoint team weren't present, took the photo to prove we had been there and headed off to Welshpool.
Two other searchers

Welshpool (ACU)
The Welshpool checkpoint was located at Welshpool Airport, second only in the UK in terms of handling freight tonnage and passenger volume to Manchester International. We knew where it was, because this is where we started from last year. However, last year when we started, it was daylight and now it was midnight and very dark. So the three of us rode straight past the entrance. Dave pulled up and said "We have just passed it". Totally blank expressions from Richard and myself. Dave said look on the otherside of the road when a car goes past. Sure enough, there was the entrance with the Checkpoint sign. Serious respect to Dave for that because neither Richard or I had seen it, so I graciously awarded him another point. Score now Martyn 3, Dave 2. So we signed in. I was quite chuffed to find that I was the first one in, though as we left three or four more riders turned up. As we pulled off the aerodrome, the front end collapsed in again and it was only a heft twist of the right wrist (with resultant wheelspin) that kept it up..

The next two stops (Knighton & Church Stretton) were Virtual Stops, ie pass throughs, because there was no one available to man the Checkpoints. A little bit sad really, but at least it saved us a good half hour not having to stop and check in. So off to the junction of the A44 and A49 at Leominster. I like the A49, its a proper bikers road, so quite enjoyed the trip down from Church Stretton. And the Checkpoint was dead easy to find, and there was fuel available as well. So we filled up - as usual the FJ was the thirstiest, I would guess by about 15%, however I was still managing about 45mpg. Not too bad for a 14 year old bike manufactured before Greenhouse Gas became the main excuse for improved fuel efficiency.



I have a cure

To be honest, the ride from Leominster up to Worcester along the A44 was probably one of the best bits. I had got past that "it must be bedtime" sensation and was really enjoying the ride now. Poor handling at walking pace was forgotten as we cracked along. The Worcester Auto Club were out hosts and this is where we had our second mandatory stop. We pulled up and this was the first chance to check my front tyre. Alarm bells rang when I noticed the size of the contact patch. It got worse when I found that I could easily flex the carcase with one hand. Bugger. Sort out the priorities. Sign in and finish off our sandwiches. Put my head down for at least 30 seconds before I realised I should at least find out what the problem was. Dave lent me his pressure guage. 20psi fer Christs sake. "Thats plenty" said Dave. Wisely I chose to ignore those words of enlightenment and seek out a pump. One helpful chap says he has got a double action pump. "Thanks" said I. It was a bl**dy push bike pump. Anyway, after 20 minutes of pumping, I managed to get the pressure up to a massive 24psi and the front of the pump was in serious risk of meltdown. Another guy watching me for 10 minutes just happens to mention he has a footpump in his sidecar. A godsend - he was my hero!

After Worcester, came Stratford. Dave led us out of Worcester and onto the bypass, thus avoiding the city center. It appeared to be a good move, and miraculously, my slow speed handling problems had disappeared. However, now it felt like the back end was breaking away. Could it be because I now have 40psi in the front? Another good road, the A422, and we were making some good progress. Into Stratford to try and find Swan Nest Lane Rec. Ground. Could we find it? Could we hell! So we pulled onto a 24 hour garage and ask the man. He points us across the Roundabout where there is this incredibly bright flashing red beacon. Feeling pretty chuffed I walked back to Dave and Richard and pointed it out to them, but the bloody thing had disappeared again. Anyway it was there somewhere, so down to the recreation center, sign in courtesy of Shakespeare MCC. A slowish check in by my compatriates, however its get your own back time and Dave suggested that I lead up to the next checkpoint, the junction of the A45 and M45.

Coventry Revs
This checkpoint, number 17 on the list was dead easy to find, or it should have been if I read the instructions. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I had to get out of Stratford. I knew we needed the A439, so I carefully followed the painted signs on the road, whilst at the same time acting really cool like I knew where I was going. All went well until I screwed up on a mini roundabout and had to go around again. It was even worse because the other two didn't follow me. Bugger, score now Martyn 3, Dave 3. This was going to go into extra time. So up the A439, then the A46, a bit twisty in places which kept it interesting. Onto the A45 and then looking for this layby, which was really a doddle to find, right at the end of the A45. A fairly quick check-in/check-out and we were off again, on to the 2nd most boring bit of road on the Rally, upto the NEC.

National M/C Museum

National M/C Museum
By now its starting to get murky light. That horrible twilight that totally screws up your night vision. The only saving grace is that it doesn't seem to last as long at dawn as at sunset. At this point I have a confession to make. I have never been to the National Motorcycle Museum before, except to attend a conference about 12 years ago. So up the A45, trying to keep track of the incessant speed limit changes and associated speed cameras. Until we reached the M42. A shrug of my shoulders and Richard came diving through and led us safely onto the car park. Nice one Richard! Checked in by Kings Norton MCC, a quick chat and then checked out again and we were off to Leicester for yet another cup of tea, with ever improving light.



I like the Leicester checkpoint. Similar in many respects to Worcester in that it is a club house for enthusiasts. I felt good when I was here last year, and I was looking forward to the repeat visit. But we had to get there. Dave knew where this one was, I didn't so Dave led the way. Sadly, it did mean we had to abuse the central bits of our tyres by using the motorway, but we did recover some lost time. Not enough, but it was about 5:30 am and I was starting to look forward to the end. So Leicester, courtesy of the Fosse Riders, and a very welcome cup of tea, a very quick chat and off to find Melton bloody Mowbray.
Now this is where Autoroute cocked up big style.... The route up to Melton was OK, nice fast roads, and nice scenery. But we already had alarm bells ringing from the instructions. At a sailing club, on an unclassified road between Ashfordby and Frisby. (Does that mean the road runs between Ashfordby and Frisby?) So we zoomed in on Autoroute, couldn't find a road, but we could find the lake. Not an unreasonable assumption to put a sailing club adjacent to a lake really. However, it all went pear shaped when Dave peeled off to the left at the Frisby sign. Autoroute reckoned it should have been on the right hand side of the A607. So a bit of misdirection by yours truly had us heading back the wrong way down the A607 (Score now Martyn 3 Dave 4). I suggested that we ignore the signs and as I could see a lake in the distance and AutoRoute put the lake to the right of Station Road we would go down there. But the lake was on the left... By now we were tired and getting quite frustrated. Directions from a local pointed us in roughly the right direction and eventually we found it. So The Wrinklies signed us in and out and we were off again. Now getting to the end, we were actually heading in the right direction for home.
Melton Mowbray

Even I knew where Kegworth was, but I let Dave go in front. There was no way I was going to recover the lost point now so I graciously accepted defeat. A nice ride down the A6006 and then up the A6. The only catch was that we were running short of fuel so also looking for somewhere to fill up. Not really much to say about this stretch, so we just got on with it. The trip was totally uneventful, I am not sure who checked us in, but thanks anyway.

Darley Moor
We filled up just outside Kegworth. It must have been 8:00am because the garage was just opening. So a few minutes delay while the pumps were turned on, then up the A6 to join the A50 for nearly the final leg. The A50 is boring, it's a noisy (road surface) concrete dual carriageway. I was looking forward to hitting the A515 and seeing if the handling was improving. It was. Nice road, the A515, it always seems half as long coming back as going. But we checked in at Darley Moor. Warrington MCC were our hosts, and the temptation to have a quick blast round the circuit was resisted (I'll settle for "they were using it to train para-gliders" as an excuse). As we were now on the real final leg, we thanked our hosts and we were off to Uttoxeter.



The ride to Uttoxeter was just like the previous leg, except in reverse and a good bit shorter. I knew where the racecourse was, so I had the pleasure of leading us in. The mandatory photo on arrival and then into the check-in area. Now a slight digression. We had originally intended to go for Gold, but the requirement to do the Special Test stage had been made optional so our Route took us the required 540 nominal miles and maximum number of Checkpoints - 23. We explained this to the marshall, who told us we had the wrong colour card for Platinum. The referee was called over, we explained the situation. "How many miles?" he asked, "540" we cried in unison, "How many checkpoints?", 23 we shouted. "Sorry" he said - "there were 24". Bugger. Apparently there was only one path from each of the outer zones taking in 540 miles and 24 checkpoints, and only one person from the North had sussed that out. As I said at the beginning, - it should have been 24! So we got our Gold, we got our Breakfast, we even got a free pair of socks! and then we headed home. Total Rally Mileage, 558 miles, Total Mileage door to door, 642. Roll on the Scottish National Rally in September.

Finally, a big thanks to all the Marshalls and clubs that manned the Checkpoints through the Day and Night. Without them there would be no rally.