Easy Dragon Rally

After 4 years, it’s time to tackle the Dragon Rally again. It’s taken me this long to get over the trauma of the last event… the gale force winds… the rain… the oil on the roads…. the cow juice… maybe I’m not over it… 

But I was off early this morning and the first stop is Tescos cafe for breakfast. I’d packed up the bike over the last few days. Packed and rebuilt actually…

In order to use the panniers, I’ve had to fix the MONUMENTAL COCK UP the previous owner inflicted on the bike. While he may have had all the tools in a nice heated and air conditioned garage (I can only dream of this sort of setup) he clearly was not mechanically sympathetic. I think I’ve written about this before, but mechanical sympathy is letting the bike warm up before you rev her, rather than holding the throttle wide open from a cold cranking start… It’s slipping the clutch for every gear change rather than foot bashing down thru the gears and letting the slipper clutch sort it all out…. And it’s definitely nipping up the bolts, finding out they don’t quite fit and instead of just ramming them home, taking them out and assessing why they haven’t tightened up. 

Well the wazzock who had the bike before me was not mechanically sympathetic. He assembled the panniers to the bike and when the bolts didn’t hold them down securely, he just kept turning and tightening until he snapped the subframe brackets clean off… I found this out earlier in the year when I came to install my offensively loud exhaust pipes (which I love) and had to take off the rear end bodywork. Luckily the brackets had stayed in place so I tidied them away neatly until last week when I had to get it fixed. 

I’d asked around on a local area facebook group for someone who could weld aluminium and luckily a guy in the village said he would do it for me – absolute life saver! This means I had to disassemble the whole of the bikes rear end, take off all the body work, lights, battery, exhaust cans, anti lock brakes module and extract all the wiring to get the subframe off and away to be welded. It came back and after a wire brush, primer and top coat of nearly the right colour silver paint, I had to put it back on. I was lucky to have the help of Edd, because it was definitely a 2 person job to hold everything up while I wrestled the frame back into the weave of parts and bolt it on. Together we got it back up and running and now I had panniers to carry all my camping kit. Without these I’d be in backpack only mode meaning I’d be VERY limited to just essentials. Now with loads of space I could pack whatever I wanted!

I got the bike some fuel, and then headed into Tescos to get some food shopping done. Just enough for dinner, breakfast and campfire snacks before settling into the cafe for my own breakfast. There was no way I was going to ride thru the cold February weather without a full fry up in my belly. The staff were really chatty and nice about me filling a trolley with my bike gear and bringing it into the cafe to be near me. There was also one disabled bloke who enjoyed making motorbike noises at me and laughing as he scooted away on his electric wheelchair.

Perfectly timed, Dan and Adam turned up not long after I’d finished breakfast. They didn’t know where I was but as soon as I started the bike, they knew I wasn’t far away. These pipes are loud haha! It’s a safety feature officer, I swear! Turned out they were just on the other side of the road so after a quick piss, we were off down the A50 thru Stoke and out into the Cheshire countryside, heading for Wales. 

The satnav’s all wanted to take us up the motorway and around the top of Wales on the boring, but quick roads to Conwy. And if it had been sheeeeting it down, that’s exactly what I’d have wanted to do. But for once, we had good weather. And it got better and better the further into Wales we rode! Believe it or not, I actually put my sun visor down for some of it!

We got to Llangollen in just over an hour and met Gen, Harry, Charlie and James at a roadside cafe. They were getting stuck into a full breakfast, warming up, so I just had a cup of tea before we pushed on. 

For the whole ride, there was only one squeaky bum moment on the roads for me. It was when I got a bit powerful on a drain cover coming out of a T junction joining a main road on a slight hill. The bike just squirmed and sat upright before ploughing onwards – no bother. But it did remind me that the roads were not yet dry and still a little grimy greasy. This 1000cc bike has got some grunt. Before long and having enjoyed a beautifully sunny and mild ride, we arrived at the control point to check in and collect the address of the event.

That’s right, we weren’t done yet. As part of the tradition of the Dragon Rally, you have to ride to the control point where you check in and get directions to the campsite. This is to ensure that only Proper Bikers™ who actually ride to the rally, are allowed to attend. None of this wimpy bollocks turning up in a van and unloading your incredibly shiny and impractical show bike. No No No. Every bike attending was expected to sacrifice some life to the gods of salted road rust by driving the miles to the rally. 

Finally pulling into the campground I saw that some wimpy bollocks did manage to slip thru the net. People were parking their bikes outside on the road, or shock horror in the car park! What is this civilised lunacy! I thought you were all meant to be seasoned bikers! Now I’m not one for making life harder than it needs to be, but so far it had been far too easy peasy. I was having none of it, and knowing army lads are never one to be outdone by a civvie, I took off into the camp field to find somewhere muddy to get the bike stuck. 

It didn’t take me long.

Executive decisions were made and sure enough they all followed and parked up in the mud with me. Just a stone’s throw from where we abandoned the bikes we found a reasonably flat and less wet patch of grass to camp upon. Nice.

Erecting (giggle) my brand new tent was easy. I’d practised it at home (serious giggle) just in case, as I had been expecting, I’d need to get it up (now I’m doing this deliberately) in a gale or rain or both. The only trouble was that after spending hours doing online research, watching countless youtube reviews of tents and scouring the shops for a decent price, and finally finding one I really liked, it turned out to be defective. One of the flysheet clips down to the inner was missing. It looks like it had been automatically sewn, but the machine had run out of parts so there was a load of puncture holes for thread, but nothing attached. This meant that one bit of the tent was more flappy than the rest, but it should remain waterproof enough – especially given this ridiculously mild weather – to get me through the rally.

Once set up and encamped, we walked up to the event barn to check in, get our hot soup and roll and collect our goodie bags. This contained

  • A miniature of spirits. Mine was whiskey, which I swapped for Rum – because Rum. 
  • 2 x chocolate bars
  • A slate coaster printed with this years rally logo
  • A logo sticker
  • And the sought after rally logo pin badge

We found a few suspiciously indoors-looking chairs out in the courtyard to sit upon in a rough circle. A few of us went off to get drinks. They were somewhat “event priced”, but there was a good selection of beers. Only dealing in cash and with no computerised till, this was old school mental maths at its best. It took me back to my time working at the fish n chip shop trying to mentally work out the change before the till told me. The ladies behind the bar were hot on it and passed us our beers and change quickly.

Sitting around we got talking to the people around us and we met a guy called Rob. He runs a small bike Facebook page and rides a c90 to most rally’s. I was excited to find out he had ridden one all the way to the top of Scotland to a little known one called the Wild Cat Rally. This was a rally that Eddy and I had bumped into on our second motorbike trip to Scotland in 2008 and joined in – winning furthest travelled that year! Eddy, this is something we are going to have to do again, if you are reading!

The whole place was a sea of stereo-typical biker types. I can quite comfortably say 90% of the attendees were, caucasian, middle aged, bearded, borderline obese, leather wearing, dark beer drinking, old bike riding, men. There were women present, but they mostly fit this criteria too making them hard to spot. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my bright, almost luminous green, gore tex waterproof and down puffer jacket combo. I told you… I packed for winter wind and sleet!

Wandering around the crowd, I met a chap who’s been to 40 out of the Dragon Rally events since it started in 1962. It was clear he was not fibbing either. His denim sleeveless would soon need some sleeves just to have free real estate for more badges. He was covered in them! Clearly a die hard old bloke, he was still there going hard till the bands last chord was strum!

By this time I was tired and my feet and knees were aching. No matter my comfy boots, when you bounce up and down in a sweaty mosh pit for a few hours surrounded by bikers wearing road armour, you’re going to be sore. Harry, Gen and others had retired earlier to get the fire pit going.

I head back to the campsite, passing the inflatable dragon brigade downing pints and realised now would have been a good time to have a head torch handy. I’d packed it and then helpfully left it in my tank bag when we walked up to the drinking barn. The irony of pulling out a £600 mobile phone to use it as a torch is not lost on me.

Whipping out my folding chair and kicking back with some beers was great till it broke thru the base and sank into the mud. A quick duct tape job later and I was back chilling in my chair around the fire. Now I was nicely sauced, it was not the time to be wielding a saw, so I was glad I’d been prepared. I’d brought with me a small wood saw and used it to prep a huge branch into small chunks for the fire pit ready for burning. It was great to just sit around chatting and drinking. I have to admit, while my garish bright green jacket definitely did not fit in, I felt smugly snug in my down jacket knowing just how cold I would have been if I was wearing leathers like everyone else. If you’ve got some good kit, why wouldn’t you wear it?!?

A few nips of cherry rum to finish out the night and I retired to test out my tent. Unzipping it to climb in, there was a frozen crust of dew all over it. So no rain, but it was still February and quite cold enough thank you very much.