My National Road Rally - Derek Freegard

Entry forms done and submitted early in the year the wait was on for all the paperwork to arrive with the all important matrix map and the locations of all the controls on the matrix. The pack also includes a sticker and the very important control card you carry during the rally and must get signed at each control. This year I had decided to do the full Platinum award visiting 23 controls and covering 540 matrix miles. My way of planning a route is to photo copy the matrix then work out a route with a coloured marker pen. Follow the blue line on the picture and the blue line will add up to 540, you have to finish at a final control which are marked on the map in the shape of a diamond.

The nearest final control to my home was at Warminster, number 60, and my plan was to ride a circular route from my start near my home. I was going to ride my 1976 Yamaha RD400C so I wanted to start as close to home as possible. Once my route is decided I then have to study maps and google satellite to pin point the exact locations of the controls

So with the bike all prepared and my crib sheet maps and notes neatly packed in order in the newly purchased magnetic tank map holder I was ready to go. I had decided to start at Chipping Sodbury control so I left home at 11am so I could get there nice and early to get some photos before the midday start. The weather forecast was for a few showers in the morning slowly dying away during the afternoon. When I did the rally in 2012 I suffered a few severe drenchings and would you believe it I had done less than three miles and it was bucketing it down. I had a bit of spare time and they did only say showers so I parked under some trees to wait for the worst of it to pass. Ten minutes later I was on the road again and a few miles further on the roads became dry and that was the only rain I saw for the rest of the rally. I arrived at my start control at the Chipping Sodbury Rugby Club which was run by the Bristol & Avon Roadrunners MCC with a bit of time to spare and got my first stamp on my control card. While waiting for the start I took a few photos and chatted to a few of the other competitors. There is always a wide variety people and types of bikes who do the rally. Special mention must go to Paul Duley who was going to do the rally on a 1963 Honda C110 that he had recently restored. Paul was doing the rally and raising money for prostate cancer. I spoke to his very proud father who was riding with him for some of the way. Paul’s plan was to do the gold award but he also had a silver route planned if time got too short to make the gold. Paul has a blog on the internet about the restoration and the rally ride. Search “Riding a long way slowly”. Paul raised over £3000 from the ride and later sold the bike to boost the money raised to more than £5000.

Midday arrived and all the bikes fired into life and we all headed off in different directions depending on the routes we had personally decided to follow. I was heading north towards Stroud and my second control which is known as a “unmanned” control. They are normally petrol stations where you have to buy something and keep the sales receipt which you then present at the next manned control and they will stamp your control card.

I made a quick fuel stop at Stroud and got my receipt and set off for Ross on Wye to find the control being run by members of the Ross and District Motor Sports club. They were in their club house in a up stairs room on a street off the town centre.

Next on my route was the control at Leominster at Dom’s Bike Stop manned by the South Shropshire MC. My plan was to simply follow the A49 north passing thru Hereford, the people at the Ross control advised me that Hereford would be a real pain to get thru on a Saturday afternoon. They advised me to take the A417 which skirted around Hereford joining the A49 north of Hereford. That route turned out to be a very nice biking road, not too busy with sweeping bends and nice scenery. Dom’s Bike stop was easy to find just off the first roundabout as you got to Leominster and it was 13.30.

From there I had to travel east on the A44 to Worcester, the next control was at WAC Motorcycle clubhouse a mile north of the town centre. I came here during the 2012 rally so I had a bit of old knowledge to go by. I still got lost in the town centre like I did in 2012 but eventually found the road to the WAC clubhouse after refuelling at a garage down the road. The nice people at this control were even giving all rally competitors a free Kit-Kat.

I leave the friendly people at Worcester and head north on to the A449 for the short trip up to Stourport on Severn, on the official matrix map this is only scores 20 miles. Finding some controls can be more challenging than others but this one is easy. The control is at Read Speed Scooters on the one way system in Stourport and is run by the Bewdley MCC and they had hung a huge banner out that could not be missed. As well as the control table they had a caravan with refreshments.

The 7th control on my route was the famous one behind the church at the village of Sutton Maddock. This control has won the prize for “Best control” as voted for by the rally riders in previous years and eventually won the award again this year. Getting there meant I had to negotiate the Stourport one way system then find my way to Kidderminster where I then turn left and head north for Sutton Maddock. After passing by Bridgnorth I have to keep an eye out for a nice new high red brick wall in front of a house on the right after miles of countryside. I studied Google satellite streetmaps to find this marker point, when I saw the wall I needed to take the next country lane on the left. The lane took me to the village church and the control was behind it. Must say there was a good crowd of welcoming people there and a few resting competitors. The control is run by the St. Marys Angels who are raising money for the church. I took time to enjoy a couple of there sandwiches and had my control card stamped by some young trainee officials manning the table.

I had reached my most northerly point on my route and from here I would be going south easterly. Leaving the church and other riders at Sutton Maddock I went back to the main road and turned back south and passed the red brick wall again. Some parts of the rally are not the best roads for biking and I was now heading for the Halesowen control on the edge of Birmingham, built up areas with busy roads and traffic lights, etc.. The Halesowen control is on a trading estate in front of a Sterling Power factory, not the most picturesque setting, getting to it means doubling back on a roundabout because it’s the other side of the barrier.

Next was the bit I was not looking forward too but could not be avoided. I had to get to the control at Meriden on the A45 on the other side of Birmingham. The control may be listed as Meriden but the actual location may be a few miles from the place of that name. Its quite common to find controls a few miles from the title they are given on the instruction, tiz all part of the fun. I had done some extensive homework on the route and made a detailed crib sheet but it did not get me there without getting lost. I braved the Saturday evening traffic and tried to go the direct route thru Birmingham. I missed a few turns but eventually I saw the signs for Birmingham airport and simply followed them on the A45 till I passed under the M42 and out into clear country again. Again I was on a dual carriageway and the control at Meriden was at the Barker Butts Rugby club which was on the other side of the carriageway. I had to overshoot the control by about a mile then come back from a roundabout. This control was another where good homework paid dividends because the slip road off the west bound A45 was a tiny small and not well marked then at the end of the slip road there was an unmarked sharp left which went to the Rugby club. The control was manned by the Coventry Antelope MCC and it was now 7pm and my running total on my control card had reached 195 miles.

There was quite a crowd of other competitors at this control and just like a lot of other controls my old RD400 gained a lot of interest. At this control there was a Honda Sidecar outfit who I saw a couple more times when he went the same way as me for awhile.

I left the Rugby Club and needed to go South East on the A45 but I was now on the wrong side of the dual carriageway so had to cut thru the housing estate south of the Rugby Club to pick up the A45 again. I get around 140 miles to a tank before I go on reserve so my plan was to fill up roughly every 100 miles. Control number 10 for me was at Dunchurch so on the way there I made another 9 1⁄2 L or £12 fuel stop. I actually bought a litre bottle of 2 stroke oil here as well for shocking 15 quid (I do wish I bought my own). The run down to Dunchurch was quite simple as I simply stayed on the A45 to you got to the roundabout where the A45 turns into the M45. Whereas getting between some controls can eat time, others are easy and you can gain time back. In my own mind I knew you had to be averaging 30 mph all the time so I aimed to see 40mph minimum on the speedo when on the road. The control was in the lay-by just off the “Thurlaston” roundabout and it was manned by Roger, and that’s all it said on the control instruction sheets. There was Roger all on his own with a little VW camper van and special praise must go out to these lone people who support the rally by manning controls all on their own. I visited three controls on my route that were manned by solely by one person and they were in some dark and lonely places, Without them the rally would struggle to exist and I thank them for their commitment.

The next control I had to visit was on the instruction sheet as the Land Rover gatehouse in Gaydon which I had not been able to find a postcode for on the map. All the instructions said was “off a roundabout” on A4100 before Gaydon. So my plan was to find the roundabout and hope to see signs for the control or other riders. I returned back up the A45 and took a quick left after a Texaco garage which took me down a little road called the straight mile and I followed the road signs to a place called Princethorpe. I recognised where I was immediately because I was on the part of the Fosse Way which I use to go to the annual Aircooled RD club rally in Derby. I then followed the Fosse Way down to the bridge that crossed the M40 and as soon as I crossed the bridge I turned left onto the A4100 till I came to the first roundabout. I could see a couple of motorbikes parked outside the security gatehouse by the Land Rover plant that was down the road. As my control cards were being stamped by a beefy security man in the gatehouse I asked him how they got involved to which I got the grumpy reply “We’ve been told we’ve got to do it”, many thanks to the person who told them they had to do it. It occurred to me afterwards that using 24-hour security gatehouses would be a good way of finding more controls for future rallies.

While I was getting ready to leave a modern bike and the Gold Wing sidecar came riding into the control, I had photographed both of them as they left the Dunchurch control. The riders told me they used satnavs to get here. It just goes to show that sometimes maps can be quicker. One of the satnav riders did tell me that all he had was a list of postcodes that he dialed in at each control and he just followed the instructions. Somehow it seemed to take some of the fun of the rally away.

My next control at Bicester was an easy one and meant I did not need many instructions, in fact on my route sheet on my tank bag I had just four lines of instructions. First bit was to go down to Gaydon just down the road, turn left and join the M40 and simply head south till I got to junction 9 where I was to turn left and follow the road till I came to the next roundabout where the control was in the Little Chef behind the garage. The control was manned by members of the Bicester Bombers and was a little bit hidden and as I was to find out later it caught one chap out who thought it was just an unmanned control where he needed to buy a receipt at the garage to show at the next control. I also topped up the fuel tank in Bicester the with another 8 1⁄2 L of petrol, it was now 9pm and getting into the darkness hours and I would be heading into the wilds of North Wiltshire where I knew some of the garages that were listed as 24 hours might not be open so I did not want to run it too short of fuel.

The 13th control I had to visit was number 57 at Tring so I set off down the A41 and followed the road into Aylesbury which was full of revellers on a Saturday night out. The control was at the Chilton Forest golf club which was down some back lanes. It was now 10pm and dark so seeing signposts for things like golf clubs was not easy and I was struggling so I stopped and asked a couple for directions. They put me on the right track and I soon found the golf club and had my control card stamped with 295 miles and the time was 9.45pm. The control was manned by a couple from the GB riders who were sat at a desk in a deserted golf club foyer.

It was now pitch black as I set off back towards Aylesbury to find the A418 that took me towards Oxford. The route between the Tring and the Abingdon control that I was heading for is one of those confusing ones where there is no direct easy route especially in the dark using maps. The rally matrix map listed it as 25 miles but on the maps the road route was 31 miles but in the dark it’s not a simple route so I opted to use the main roads to get to Oxford. Then I planned to go around the bypass and go south on the A34 because the control was an unmanned garage just off the A34. I made it down to the junctions of the M40 okay but then in the dark I got confused as to which way to go. It’s at this point I got out the trusty satnav which I then taped to the handlebars. With the help of the satnav I got to the unmanned Esso garage at Abingdon which was just closing for the night so the only way you could get a proof of receipt was to buy some fuel. The Abingdon control connects with six other controls so they can be quite busy with other rally-ists. Unfortunately some of the fuel pumps were not issuing the vital proof receipts and there was already one rider banging on the door shouting to the bloke inside who was just replying “Were closed”! There was another chap who had just refilled his bike only to find the pump did not give receipts. Luckily I noticed one of the pumps nearby was giving receipts because one was how already hanging out of it so I gave up to the rider without one and topped up my bike as well and got my required receipt.

The next control to visit was at Carterton and was manned by the BMW club and it meant travelling down some country roads. I dialled in the address on the satnav and off I went. I was now riding back into the area that I knew which was my plan for the darkness hours but as I got onto the pitch black country lanes you begin to realise how bad the candlepower headlights on a 70’s RD400 were. Putting the headline on full beam made little difference so navigating be country lanes was done a bit gingerly. With the aid of the satnav I was able to see advance warning of approaching any sharp bends before I could see them in the headlight glow. Unfortunately it does not give you any warning of the badger and the fox that made suicidal dashes across the road in front of me on this section. When I got to Bampton, south of Carterton, I knew where I was heading so finding the control in Carterton was now easy. While I was at the control desk a rider came in from the Bicester control where he presented his petrol receipt only to be told that there was manned control there so we would need to go back and get his control card stamped properly, he was not a happy chap. From Carterton I had to make the 20 miles stint down to Coate water country park on the edge of Swindon near J15 of the M4. I was riding roads that I knew a bit so finding my way was getting easier. The control was a lone man in a very dark car park with a wallpaper table and a couple of battery-powered lights, well done to that chap.

I did not need my route maps any more because I knew exactly the roads I was travelling so I headed south across the M4 and down to Marlborough where I joined the A4 and headed for the Hungerford control which was at the village of Froxfield 3 miles to the east of Hungerford. The control was manned by the members of the BMF South West region and was in a pub car park. They asked me to leave the car park as quietly as I could because a house over the road had been complaining at all the noise. My RD400 is fitted with Allspeed expansion chambers so it’s not the quietest of motorcycles but I did what I did could to ride away quietly. The 18th control I had to visit was the Devizes, actually it’s at a pub a few miles out side of Devizes at a pub called the Three Magpies which is only 9 miles from my own home, and my warm bed seemed very inviting at that moment. As I passed through Devizes I filled up at the 24-hour garage which luckily was open because sometimes it’s not because of staff shortages. It was at the Devizes control that I noticed the running total had been written down as 410 miles which was 5 miles short of what it should have been. Checking back on the control card I notice the adding up at the Carterton control had been done wrong.

Rather annoyed I left Devizes and headed for Amesbury and I joined the A303 and passed Stonehenge. The Amesbury control was manned by another man all on his own at the back of a very dark garage car park. He duly stamped my card and corrected the mileages that had been done in error, well done that man. There was a steady flow of riders coming into the Amesbury control and because it was getting near the end of the rally we were all beginning to head for the same finish controls.

My one slight mistake in my preparation for the rally was I forgot to take a sweatshirt and was still only riding in a T-shirt with a jacket on top and the cold was beginning to get into my bones, possibly this helped keep me awake. On leaving the Amesbury control I got out my one-piece rain suit to help keep out some of the cold for the last hundred miles. I was putting on my rain suit when another competitor stopped to ask if I had broken down and needed any help, well done that man.

I had my route maps back out again as I headed for Winchester which was fairly easy to get to anyway as all I had to do was follow the A303 and then turned south on the A34. The control at Winchester was manned by the Solent advanced motorcyclists and was in the car park of the services at junction nine of the M3. I was treated to a nice warming cup of tea. There was quite a few other riders there and with the time left there was only three more controls to go from here, some riders were heading for the Ace Cafe and others, like me, were going to Warminster.

The next control I had to visit was that Ringwood which was just fairly straightforward run down to the M27 and follow that till it becomes the A31. The control was at a BP service station and was another unmanned control but it was on my plan for my last fuel stop. Getting to it meant I had to come off the dual carriageway and cut round the housing estate because it was on the wrong side of the dual carriageway. It was 4.47 in the morning and now getting light again, I refuelled the last time in the rally and the girl on the till asked to me why she had been visited by so many motorcyclists buying Mars bars through the night. It was one of those controls where west bound riders, like me, would stop on the side of the road and jump over the central crash barrier to buy something from the garage.

I left the garage and rejoined the A31 and headed for the control listed as Blandford Forum but this one was in a pub car park in a village to the south of Blandford Forum. It was now fully light and the roads were virtually empty so you could just breeze along and enjoy motorcycling at its best, you can sweep through the bends with no worries. The Blandford control was right next to a campsite that was a joined to the park and I would think thin canvas tents are not very good at blocking out the sound of my expansion chambers at 5 o’clock in the morning. One of the control people, the Dorset motorcycle club, was sound asleep in a sleeping bag on a chair and he did not stir at my noise, I feel sorry for the other campers.

I left the control and headed up to the Blandford Forum ring road and went round it until I joined the A350 that heads north to Shaftesbury and then Warminster. The road between Blandford Forum and Shaftesbury is very twisty with loads of blind bends and at peak times can be very slow even on a motorcycle as it’s not hard to overtake cars. But at 6 o’clock in the morning the road was empty bar from one of my fellow rally-ists who was following behind on his modern bike. I rolled into the Warminster final control at about 6.30am to find the car park slowly filling up with other tired but happy rally- ists. I got my control card stamped and filled out all the details and they kept it for the final judging. On completion of the platinum rally you are giving your award plaque at the same time. Slightly disappointed that it was clear glass plaque and not the traditional old wooden trophy version which personally I think is better. I painted the reverse black (see photo below)

For me it was just a short 20 mile ride from the final control to my home in Chippenham and I got home around 8am. I had completed the Platinum rally and covered a total of 634 miles since I left my home 21 hours before. My little RD400 had not missed a beat and my petrol receipts added up to £79 for 60 litres of fuel plus £15 for a bottle of 2 stroke oil. Final Results. In 2014 there were 515 rally entrants overall, 94 of them were classed as DNF. There were 61 riders who completed the Platinum Award visiting 23 controls and completing the special tests. Me and my trusty 1976 RD400C finished in 12th place and I was the highest finishing Yamaha and probably the first 2-stroke................. Del Freegard.

ACU - Bikesport GB