Gas, Gas, Gas

Ruts and Cats and Dogs

The Story of the RAF Enduro Team’s Attempt at the 2006 International Six Day Enduro (ISDE) held in Taupo, New Zealand.

By Flight Sergeant Paul Hearn and Sqn Ldr Peter Beer

“We were out in horrific weather conditions. We rode each day in torrential rain, low cloud cover and freezing cold conditions. On Day 2 a bridge across a stream collapsed and the only way to get to the other side was to attempt a jump across an 8 foot gap that was over 6 feet deep and had no real run-in. Day 5 was abandoned by the organisers due to concerns about competitor welfare and safety. Throughout the event the ground cut up very badly; I was No 541 which meant that I was frequently riding sections which had already been decimated by previous riders. Every day was spent riding through muddy ruts, often over 3 feet in depth. The terrain was also pretty firm despite the rain. Some days it felt that all I had done was push my motorcycle up and down the mountains as the ground was just too rough to ride”.

A truly international flavour In off-road motorcycling circles the ISDE is an internationally renowned and legendary Enduro event. Held annually at diverse locations throughout the World (the 2005 event was held in Slovakia and the 2007 event will be held in Chile), the ISDE is the Ironman of off-road motorcycle racing, pitting over 700 of the World’s best riders from 31 countries against each other in a bid to win the ultimate test of motorcycle skill and endurance.

 

 

JAY 'UNPRONOUNCEABLE' NARUSZEWICZ Having sustained a major injury at the 2005 ISDE in Slovakia whilst riding for the British Armed Forces team, Flight Sergeant Paul Hearn decided to recruit an RAF Enduro team to take on the challenge of the 2006 ISDE in New Zealand. After 15 months of planning and fundraising the team was ready: Wing Commander Martin Pickard (Team Manager); Flight Sergeant Paul Hearn, Chief Technician Nick Bartle and Cpl Jay Naruszewicz (Team Riders); Chief Technician Steady Eddie McKean (Paddock Engineer and Ace Domestic) and Senior Aircraftsman Chris (Pieman) Whiteley (ACU Support). A word on planning; in total the team raised thousands of pounds in order to take part in this World level event. It cost £1500 alone to transport the bikes on their 89-day round trip and £6000 just to get the team members out and back. Licences and entry fees cost another £1300 and special puncture proof tubes, just one of the many items of specialist kit required, were in the region of £1000 for the 3 riders’ bikes.

Motorbikes. The ISDE started proper when the team left Corsham on Monday the 6th November 2006 at 1700, bound for Heathrow and a 2230 scheduled flight. Everything was in order and nothing could possibly go wrong. The journey was predominantly motorway but once there the driver seemed unable to function above 50mph and able to select 5th gear only once off the motorway and attempting to pull away from junctions. Nevertheless, clutchless, the team made it to the airport on time only then to have to distribute 15kgs of luggage between the team members due to overzealous packing (by a non-rider of all people). Scraping through the gate with minutes to spare was good practice for the ISDE if a little unnecessary and the team were soon settled in the rear of the 747 with nothing but the smell of Racasan and in-flight catering for company.

The team touched down in Auckland blissfully unaware that their luggage had not touched down with them, baggage handling strikes ensuring that it would remain in Sydney for the next few days. Five more hours of travelling still lay ahead but they were greeted with palatial accommodation, the meagre price for which beggared belief. True splendour in one of the most beautiful countries in the world and for 2 whole weeks. Roll on the ISDE.

Parc Ferme Over the next few days the team prepared the bikes for the event, unloading them, checking for any in-flight damage and setting them up ready for the critical glare of the scrutineer. The RAF team has a good deal of experience so, notwithstanding the uniqueness of the ISDE, race fettling the bikes caused few concerns. The schedule even allowed for some sightseeing and a night out in between prep and walking the event course. It was a good job too because no amount of rest could have prepared the 3 RAF riders for what they would encounter over the next 6 days of gruelling and full-on off-road riding.

 

 

 

 

 

What follows is an extract of Paul Hearn’s personal account of 6 days on the 2006 ISDE.

Day One was sedate by ISDE Standards with plenty of time available (relatively speaking) at each Check. The weather was bright and sunny which meant dry and grippy tracks and trails. Team Great Britain pre-rider Geraint Jones offered the RAF team sound advice on where the course was treacherous but passable with caution. We had seen this type of terrain before, in Wales of all places - very steep and slippery. The tests were good to ride and the weather was just hot enough and the dust confined mainly to the firebreak roads. As in any sport though when things seem to be going a little too smoothly, it’s often just a matter of time before disaster strikes. I’m not sure why rider No 378 decided to stop in the middle of a narrow firebreak road, but avoiding action at over 40 mph resulted in an injury to my arm which made both riding and my later servicing activities extremely difficult.

THE LOCAL BIKE DEALER WAS SUPERB FOR CHOICE Day 2 was wet. It had started raining at the end of Day 1 and it rained until the morning of Day 2. It was just like being at home. The going was extremely tough, the course cut up by deep ruts from the tens of riders that had already been through. All 3 RAF riders managed to remain within the time schedule. The last 2 checks comprised ‘killer’ deep ruts congested with slower riders. At the end was a 10 foot drop off into a foot deep muddy puddle. By the time I had fallen in that and been rained on some more it was time for one more road check before the Parc Ferme. Shaking with cold and low on energy I managed a quick pit stop of filter change and chain adjustment – nothing more.

Day 3 was billed as a breaker, and it was. It rained hard all day and the course was horrific. In between checks 3 and 4 we came upon a road crossing and were told to stop as a bridge had collapsed up ahead. After waiting for 10 minutes the throng of riders that had by now gathered were told to follow a marshal to the next check from where we would carry on as normal. By now however, there were over 100 riders attempting to occupy the same part of New Zealand. Suffice to say the next section was one of the hardest I have ever experienced as the descents and climbs were littered with the backlog of riders all attempting to negotiate deep rutted sections. It was absolute mayhem and the going seemed utterly impassable necessitating leaving the firebreak roads and taking to the forest. I lost time but thankfully the organisers acknowledged the extreme conditions and a number of the checks were cancelled. At the end I was physically drained and for my pit stop made an absolute cluster of everything I attempted including the air filter change, of all things.

Day 4 and by now the cumulative effect of 3 days’ riding was beginning to feature in my performance. It continued to rain and we were on a much tighter time schedule which meant a need to be much slicker through the checks. Through torrential rain I arrived at the first check where I promptly got wedged in a rut. After much effort the bike came free and I struggled around through the gloop for the remainder of the check. Could it get any worse? Check 2 was worse, bikes strewn everywhere and those who had stayed on managing to cake my goggles in mud. The goggles were soon dumped. With boiled rear brake fluid I completed the check 30 minutes late, cold, wet and exhausted. I was ready to quit and I am unequivocally not the quitting type. With a lot of persuasion though and some assistance bleeding my rear brake I continued, gradually gaining in confidence and speed. If check 2 was bad then 7 was even worse and now, 61 minutes late after spending too long eating and drinking, I was in danger of an ‘hour out’. The Gods were on my side though and due to the cancellation of 2 checks I was still in the event. At my pit stop I changed an air filter and oiled the chain – I was shattered.

Day 5 and I was in a bad way. My arm was black and blue and severely swollen, and my behind was giving me serious concerns – it looked like a pizza. On top of all of that it was cold and wet. Again. Despite this I rode well and, although close to the dreaded hour and on a tight schedule, I made excellent time. Towards the end of check 3 though I rounded a corner to once again be met by a gaggle of parked bikes, all of whom had been stopped by the marshal. It transpired that further ahead there had been carnage with scores of riders going off in the terrible conditions. We waited for over an hour and a half in torrential rain before finally being told that Day 5 was being cancelled due to the appalling weather. A chance to rest but there was bad news too. We were now 54km from the start. We headed back, soaked to the skin and extremely cold where on arrival we were advised that check-ins would be done 5 riders at a time. By the time I had checked in what remained of my sense of humour had fully evaporated. The bike did not get a pit stop but instead went straight to Parc Ferme.

Day 6, the final day, and the motocross event. I was determined to do well, so much so that instead of setting up on the outside of the start gate (in my normal safe position) I went for the short inside gate. I got a poor start and arrived at the first turn too late to do any real damage at the sharp end of the field. I rode hard through the field, regularly catching and overtaking slower riders to finish in a respectable position. Most importantly of all though I had completed the 2006 ISDE, 188th in the E2 class (125-249cc 2-stroke or 250-449cc 4-stroke) and 435th overall.

Of the other RAF riders, Cpl Jason Naruszewicz from RAF Marham was 176th in the E2 class and 379th overall, but unfortunately Chief Technician Nick Bartle from RAF Lyneham, did not finish the race. On Day 4 his flywheel came loose damaging the engine’s big end and crankcase bearings as well as the crankcase itself. Of the 135 club teams entered, the RAF team finished in a highly respectable 90th position.

THE RAF ENDURO TEAM The RAF team would like to thank all those involved for making this sporting trip of a lifetime possible. Firstly, thanks go to the team’s major financial sponsors: BT, Paradigm Services, the RAF Sports Board and all the riders that have contested RAF organised events over the past 2 seasons. Also thanks are due to: Bagnall’s, Bert Harkins, BFBS, Cath Kelly, CH Design, CI Sport, Cragghoppers, Dunlop, Field & Trek, Gilmour Sports, Huskysport, Jim Aim Racing, Lower Stratton Service Station, Steve Plain Motorcycles and Midwest Racing for all their generous support and contributions. More thanks to all of the dedicated members of the support crew who did an outstanding job in keeping the team going. Without their professionalism and dedication it would have been an almost impossible task to complete this event. And finally, big thanks go to the RAF without whom this type of sporting adventure would be so much more difficult.

Text size:
medium|
larger|
largest