Alpentour 2013!

Finally, my favorite roads are on the menu: from Saturday on, I will guide my 20th XBR Alpentour. As the XBR still has the sick gear box, I’ll take the Sportboxer. Which is OK, because I neglected her this year. My favorite roads in South Tyrol and Trentino need another visit. Some good riders will accompany me: Gernot, Martin and Hans. The weather will be very good, only 10 degrees too hot, with highs close to 40°C.
My spot is visible under SPOT Alpentour 2013


After the rally…

…is before the rally 😉 . The European Road Runner Rally starts in 10 weeks… 😀 I attended the final banquet and the award ceremony. It was announced that the minimum level to be a finisher was lowered to only 55000 points. hmmmm, what would have changed things for me. Not that I had a chance to collect enough points on my direct way back, but my routing for leg would have been different. And: without the gear box (and any other problems), I would have been a finisher, I am very convinced. They probably have lowered the limit because too many riders would have DNFed.

And then the success story of the European riders began:
62. Giel Kerckhof
35. Kevin and Lyn Weller
23. Gerhard Memmen-Krüger (president IBA Germany)
14. Phil Weston (president IBA UK)

Brilliant results! Congratulations to everybody. On that evening and also during the next day, I had a lot of nice chats with other riders discussing what had happened. Gerhard and Giel also stayed another day.
I was mentioned even in the conclusive report of Bob Higdon:
Robert Koeber went missing a few days ago after he began to experience gear box problems with his Honda XBR. Imagine our surprise last night when we went into the hotel’s dining room and found one of our favorite German riders contentedly eating dinner and having a glass of wine. Excuse me? Where did you come from? He explained that he had never been able to get the bike repaired, so he just learned how to jiggle the shift lever around enough to keep rolling toward Cranberry Township. He’s a non-finisher, but he’s here and that’s all that matters to us.
I decided to do a little „service“ on the bike which consisted in …changing the spark plug. I also found out why the Kristas lights did not work anymore…the cable at the battery was simply broken. I needed to put petrol and to clean the bike and when I went to town, there where some girls offering a car wash….Do you also do motorbikes? Yes, of course! This was hilarious, my XBR was cleaned by a bunch of young cheerleaders…including drying with towels. They were apparently fund-raising for some charity. I had to assist a bit with the dirty, oily parts…not perfectly clean, but the bizarre situation was worth a couple of bucks.
The next day I left for Toronto…a hot day and I got stuck in a one hour traffic jam at the border in Niagara. I felt being cooked alive. I removed jacket and helmet before getting a heat stroke. A woman in a car had mercy with me and offered me a small bottle of water! The border control was quick and friendly – the officer said that she also had been to Kenia. I arrived soon at the hotel at Toronto airport and dropped my bags, but the riding was not over yet! I still had too much petrol in my tank! The ride from Pittsburgh did not burn enough so I had to ride 130 km (!!!) up and down the airport highway to bring down the fuel level to a level that was acceptable for the bike transport (dangerous goods regulations allow 1 gallon max…and not three). I found a car wash and cleaned the bike and the still dirty parts with high pressure until I considered the bike clean enough for transport.
I thought I was very clever to check in the Sheraton directly at the terminal. The cargo terminal was very close by, I wouldn’t need a taxi, the internet rate was OK…but then the rip-off began…$21 taxes, $5 local taxes, $20 breakfast, $15 wi-fi, $28 parking and not to mention the dinner last night. Ouch! A taxi to the terminal would have been cheaper. I dropped off the bike this morning, the agent was very friendly and allowed me to leave my motorcycle gear incl. helmet and a lot of tools on the bike. This saves me another €75 surcharge for the second piece of luggage and I don’t have to carry all the stuff next Friday to Paris when I will pick up the bike.
So now I am killing time before my plane leaves in four hours. A great trip is slowly coming to an end…

The riders are coming back

So I am sitting here in the hotel lobby and welcome the riders entering the building. The European riders seem well, except for Giel Kerckhof, who seems to have stopped…due to a broken gear box! This is ironic, because my problem appeared when I tried to follow Giel after the start in Sacramento. After a couple of miles, we had to exit the freeway and it was there when I couldn’t shift gears anymore…we must have caught a gear box virus in Sacramento 😉

I immediately knew: „that’s it“. I had to stop for I couldn’t switch down gears. First I thought to get back to a Honda garage in Sacramento and with the help of MJ I found one – but on Mondays, services seem to be closed in the US. That’s also what Lisa Landry, the Rallymaster, had told me on the phone. After a while, I managed to use the first three gears and while back to Sacramento, I learned how to put forth and the fifth gear, carefully, avoiding to have them jump out again. One thing was clear immediately: I couldn’t ride my planned route to LA, Tucson and New Orleans. I seemed simply utter madness to cross the Mojave desert with a broken gear box. A breakdown there could get really serious. But if I could not go that route, I wouldn’t get enough points to be a finisher. So the most logic conclusion was to try to get back. First, when I only could use the first three gears, I was calculating the time I would need to get back to Toronto Airport going at 45 mph….6 days? That would do…When I managed to get the fifth gear back, I changed my objective to „Let’s try to get back to the finish line in Pittsburgh“. So I entered the Interstate 80 near Sacramento and followed it for the next four days. What kept me thinking a long time is why this happened. I still have no answer. Gear box problems of XBRs are basically unheard of. Well, my first gear box lasted 232.000 km until the second gear died. I had expected that something similar would happen one day to this gear box as well. Since I had placed it, it never had the smoothness of normal gear boxes and lately, the second gear would jump out a little bit too often. But problems with fifth AND fourth gear, out of the blue?? That doesn’t make sense. Was I riding too hard? Not really, I was going faster than usually during the rally, but in Europe, I ride a lot harder than that. The temperature was still cool in the morning, so overheating is unlikely, the oil temperature was hot, but in a normal range. I categorised this as „simply bad luck“.

A Honda never gives up: gear box sick XBR in California

A Honda never gives up: gear box sick XBR in California

In the end, I have achieved my prime objective: Arrive safely and healthy at the finish. The second objective, „be an official finisher“, I cannot meet for I could not collect more points. Well, with some detours, I could have bagged some, but it never would have been enough. So why taking a risk. The gear box still could fail completely any time. And there was also another problem: risking a total breakdown would have gotten me into a big trouble: How to drop off the bike next Monday morning at Toronto airport? This would have been a major logistic (and financial) disaster. So under the circumstances, I am happy to be here, safely and with a (more or less) running bike.

Rob Roalfe and others have mentioned that the ride back must be very frustrating. That just seems logical. The funny thing is….it wasn’t. I am surprised myself. I did everything I could do, but when force majeure happens…you only can make the best out of it. Was the whole project worth it? Yes, it definitely was. It would have been nicer to finish the rally properly, but I was already very happy to reach the second check point in Sacramento. I learned of things during this rally and it was big fun. Remember, when I had the fuel problems in the beginning, I was hoping to make it at least to the first checkpoint. By the way, these problems did not come back after I bought always top grade petrol….Things could be worse. Eric Jewell, a top rider who was also very close to win this rally many times…but never managed, was leading after leg one and two until he had a small accident during leg 3 that took him out of the rally. I am sure, he would finally won this time. THAT is tragic.

Could I have been a finisher? Yes, I think I could. But it would have been very close. There is a reason why this is called „the hopeless class“. I learned that my pace was good enough for the first leg where I did quite well. But when it came to cover big distances…the XBR is not strong enough. Not in terms of constant pace. I did obey the speed limits in the West, going at 75 mph (122 km/h), but I was constantly passed by other riders, often with a considerably higher speed. That was also the reason why I lost so many positions after the second leg. I had not done Pikes Peak that was worth 8000 points. It was a mixture of several factors: I thought it would be tougher to get there (missing experience of regional geography), I didn’t know that the difference in altitude was not that big to the top and I thought that the road was still partly unpaved (it isn’t anymore). But my considerations were correct at that time: I simply had no time! Remember, on leg 2, I did 3500 km in 37 hours (including one hour tyre change in the beginning) in one go! My calculations left simply no room for Pikes Peak. With a more powerful bike that is not subject to power loss at higher altitudes, of course I would have done it. Also because I would have got quicker to Colorado Springs in the first place. So, summarising: Leg 2 was already a hell of a ride for a XBR500, 4600 km in 59 h total time.

Leg 3 would have been similar. When I heard that the minimum points to be a finisher were set to 60.000 (I had expected 45.000), I thought „UH-OH, this will be tough“. My route that included enough points was 6200 km long, to be ridden in four days, with tricky daylight bonuses that probably required a lot of night riding to get there on time. It appears to me that this rally was maybe the toughest ever – I wonder if there will be finishers with less than 10.000 mls. Something previously unseen. I had initially estimated to do some 9000 miles, but my planned route would have forced me to go more than 10.000 mls. Well, there is a reason why it is called „the toughest motorcycle rally in the world“ 😉 I am happy that I did it.

Riders are still at the scoring table. Tonight, there will the banquet and the ceremony. I’ll report about it later.

Back at the finish!

Dear all,

these are my first words since 11 days ago…I have reached the finish line despite my sick gear box. But, as you know (Skye and Hampe, does this sound familiar?) :

„A Honda never gives up until it is burning up“

Despite a sick gear box that needed very careful shifting, the XBR made it back to to finish. So far, this bike never stopped in 356.000 km and still keeps running!

I am quite tired and I need some sleep now because I have to get up early for the scoring (which will be very short 😉 ). I will write more during Friday. But first of all let me thank John for his excellent job during the last 11 days. He did this during his trip to Norway, trying to find access to internet, was woken up in the middle of the night by my status updates…..thank you very very much John, the comments posted show that your reports were very much appreciated by the many readers….maybe your writing makes you a potential successor of Bob Higdon in the future 😉 ?

As Thomas commented correctly, you shouldn’t be worried about the restaurant – it will be definetely above fish ’n chips level 😀

Day 10 – Nearly there …….

Robert has sent me a quick update before hitting the sack (that means going to bed …..)

He’s had a relatively quiet 750 mile ride today.  The bike still runs perfect – apart from the gearbox.

He’s been through Nebraska, Iowa  and Illinois.  Iowa was were I lost my chain, number plate and half my chain guard back in 2011.  I wonder whether he saw it …..

He’s done his „call-in“ bonus today which will increase his points tally

He says he’s tired at the end of today but he is now only 540 miles away from the end of the ride.

So as Robert will be back at the chekpoint hotel by the time the next update is due, (which I assume he will write himself), this will be my last „blog“ entry.  I hope that you’ve all enjoyed reading my updates and not been too annoyed at some of the comments and thoughts that I’ve committed to text over the last 10 days or so. 

I was really honoured to be asked by Robert to keep his blog going whilst he was riding the rally and so Robert I thank for for that priviledge, admire you for your determination to finish the rally under extreme circumstances and wish you all the best as your friend ……….





Day 9 report …..

Robert sent me an email earlier today – except I didn’t receive it …..

So, I’ve just had a lengthy phone call bringing myself up to date with what is happening.  I should point out here, that I had to make the call and so yet again, that damn German has suckered me into paying ……  This posh restaurant he’s taking me to at the end of all of this had better be bloody good !!!!

Anyway, at the end of day 9 he finds himself in Nebraska having covered 650 miles today (that’s Tuesday in the USA).  He’s some 1300 miles from the finish now and expects to be somewhere around Chicago this time tomorrow.

Once the bike is in top gear (5th), it runs just fine but each and every time he stops to top up the bike and/or empty his bladder, then getting the bike through the gears back into 5th is a real problem.

He says that he is starting to feel weary and his knees are hurting.  That will be nothing more than the fact that now is he just limping the bike back and not under pressure any longer, the adrenalin is leaving his body.

We also agreed that the format of this rally has been particuarly tough for the „Hopelessclass“ bikes.  In 2011, I got a finish with somewhere around 8500 miles.  We reckon another 1000 miles, at least, is needed to be a finisher for the 2013 event.  Not a problem on a modern bike, but a real problem for the „Hopelessclass“ machines.  I notice, for example, that it already looks as though the 1978 XS1100 may not make it either – albeit for other reasons than the mere performance of the bike. 

But that’s just the issue – riding a Hopelessclass bike puts so much stress on both the machine and the rider, that the likelihood of something going wrong is just multiplied many times over compared with the riders on modern machine.

What I am pleased to say though, is that he has spent the thinking time as he makes his way back very wisely – he is already considering what bike he will buy to use in 2015 – Pepa you were right !!  You obviously know him so well 🙂

The other thing that he has said is that the gearbox failed as he was following the other Belgian „immigrant“ riding in the rally, Michiel Kerkhof at a speed above what he’d set himself as his limit.  Typical – a German blaming a Dutchman for his problems ……. 🙂  🙂  Us British of course are above all of this squabbling between you Europeans ……..  Thank goodness for the English Channel ….. 🙂

He has asked me to pass on his thank to all of the readers of his blog (actually MY blog !!!) and all of the kind comments that have been posted.  He says reading them form time to time has given him great pleasure.  I have to say throughout the 2011 IBR, I received a constant stream of text messages that always gave me a lift when I read them.  No mention of what I’ve written though I notice … 🙂

Robert agrees with me that the expeience of riding in this rally has been invaluable.  Without the risk of sounding condescending, the experience of riding in the IBR is something that you simply cannot really explain – you either have ridden it and therefore understand or you haven’t and you don’t.  Robert will get to the final checkpoint of the rally, of that I’m sure.  No he won’t have enought points to get the coveted „3“ digit IBA number, but he will have something actually as valuable – the experience.

Yes, it will hurt for the two years between the end of the rally and the start of the 2015 rally.  However, at the end of the 2015 rally as he collects his finishers award at the banquet, with a top ten (at least !!) placing under his belt, it will all be forgotten ….. 

With apologies to the former „Governator“ of California, in 2015 „He’ll be back“ !!

Right, I’ve got a days work ahead of me now ……

See ya !!!!