Beta Alp 4.0

A collection of information as it arises. There's not a lot out there!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gold at last

After 3 months I've received my GOLD medal from the 2007 Land's End Trial at last.

I was just a little disappointed that it's the same as the bronze medal but with a gold layer. Is it paint or a few microns of precious metal? Anyway, a year ago I'd never have expected to win one; even if it was an easy trial for many, it was tough enough for me.

Air filter sealer

My local Suzuki spares agent told me that the DR350 fiche showed the airbox seal and lid as a single item at £££. I therefore doubt that the seal was available as a Beta spare. So for a DIY solution. Saves waste too!

A template was made by tracing the airbox lid outline and it would just fit within a piece of discarded mouse mat. Some crafty work with shard scissors and I had a new sear.

Naturally it was a tight fit. If you do this I'd recommend cutting well inside the pencil line.

Whilst messing I re-drained the carb and checked the valve clearances. All OK.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Air filter

I've started the post-trip tidy by giving the Alp a thorough wash and look over. Nothing seems broken or to have dropped off although there are lots of tar spots on the engine, from the few new areas of road in France I assume. They'll take a while to clean off with solvent. But not today.

The airfilter looked fairly dark and grubbby from the outside. It's hard to judge how blocked it might be. I gave the air filter two rinses in a dribble of paraffin and then repeatedly worked detergent into the foam and rinsed it out until it was lovely and clean. The airbox sealing foam is torn however and will need replacing. I wonder if it is easy to obtain the official strip sealant or if it will need an aftermarket solution.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Day 10 Arras to Home

Breakfast was running a little late at the hostel this morning and then the bread was defrosted in the microwave. That's not very French; but it is a relief that the French can be as idle with regard to cooking as the English. The jam was excellent anyway so I managed to get a good fill for the day.

There was a little dampness in the air, but for once, not rain and I set off for the Autoroute to Calais. I'd decided that the final 110km were always slow and dull and that it would be best to get them over with. The toll was just under €4 and so not a major cost. At 200km the reserve fuel light came on and I hoped to reach the Chunnel terminus without a stop, just as well as there wasn't anywhere to fill-up. The check-in formalities were rapid and we were boarded well in time for departure. Then there was announcement that we would be delayed due to a 'technical problem' ... and another. After 20 minutes they decided we would have to be transfered to another train, of course the next departure had already been loaded. So the doors opened and we all drove off. Just outside the train the Alp's engine died and wouldn't restart. Out of petrol! I quickly found my spare 1 litre bottle and poured it in, after a pause pressing the starter to get away again.

The starter spun the engine but it didn't fire. After a few attempts one of the staff came over and asked what the problem was. I explained that I was out of fuel and that my top up must have been inadequate. After a few minutes the recovery LandRover arrived without a fuel can and we drove off to get some; I was hoping that this would get things going. Eventually we got back to the Alp with 5 litres of petrol and poured it in through the world's slowest nozzle. Still nothing!

By now the next train was about to leave, luckily from just where I was parked so they let me push on to the train. At least I'd be broken down in England. What could the problem be? I'd just ridden 110km without problem, restarted and then nothing. Surely there couldn't be a serious fault. As the train set off I thought about the simple combination of sparks and petrol. I couldn't check for sparks as the train has some sort of flash detectors. The plug lead was dry and the plug looked fine, it's colour was perfect. What about petrol? In the service before leaving for the Stella Alpina I'd backed out of draining the float bowl as the screw was stuck. Now it had to be done and with my self-gripping wrench pressed firmly on the screw cracked open.

I ran some liquid onto a tissue, it didn't even smell of petrol. That might be the problem. I found my lunch box and ran the whole float chamber into it; refilled the chamber and drained it again. The run off was 50% water and full of bits of debris; this might have solved things. I was desperate to try to start the engine but couldn't until we reached England. As soon as we stopped I pulled the enricher out and spun the engine. It ran! Importantly it stayed running and settled into an idle as the train was unloaded. I agreed with the recovery that they would follow me to the edge of the tunnel area which they did. I topped up and decided to try for home.

After I'd completed the M20 I was relieved until I realised that I'd have to risk the Dartford tunnel. Four lines of lorries and no hard shoulder. The engine ran fine through this and I pushed on to Cambridge where I refuelled, flushed the float chamber again and continued homeward.

Occasionally I believed that the engine misfired but I can't say for sure. It certainly maintained an idle at junctions and picked up to higher speeds in every gear. At last I was at home and could relax.

It's always said that you shouldn't get down to the bottom of a fuel tank but as there's no real reserve on the Alp you're always drawing from the bottom. Secondly, I often run it close to empty to get the range out of it; I'd done it at least 3 times on this holiday. I blame water in the carburettor (and conceivably in the fuel tank) and possibly a critical grain of dirt in a jet for the acute lack of running. The misfires, if they really exist, might be due to a slightly clogged airfilter as the tracks in Italy were very dusty. That will be revealed at the imminent 12000km service.

110km in France, 380k in England

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Day 9 Vesoul to Arras

Three quarters of the distance has been covered in rain and unfortunately that has been the defining characteristic of the trip. Only as I started to head west today did the sky clear and the air get dry. This was fortunate as i was delayed for an hour due to a road closure for the Tour de France. The gendarme told me it would be clear in 15 minutes - well it took over an hour for numerous official cars to pass. Then more police and the 2 front riders, then a break and a few police and the peleton. After yet more support cars we were allowed through, before the lorries.

This was the only photo for 2 days as it was wet for the photogenic sections. With this weather I don't think I could have managed Cambrai to Les Rousses as I did last year. I wasn't really travelling slowly more that I was cold and fed up with every stop involving wet gloves.

At one dry stop I checked the airbox drain and found that the engine side was almost full of oily water, so that was a job worth doing. In general the Alp was running fine but on odd occasions I felt a roughness. Was this a misfire or simply roughness of the road?

The Arras hostel was busy so not a lot of space. The shared room is €21 cheaper than being in a Formule 1, which equates to a meal or the day's petrol. So that's a real saving but I think in future I'll be limiting myself to the best hostels such as Les Rousses and La Clusaz.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Day 8 Bardonecchia to Vesoul

I managed a fairly prompt start and was actually on the road at 09:00 with only a little rain. I'd decided to take the Frejus tunnel to avoid the risk of the cycle race I'd nearly got stopped by last year, to save 100km and finally to put me in line for the Col de Madelaine.

At €21.40 the tunnel isn't cheap, nor easy to have the right change for, but did speed me along. I was soon at the col and it is very pretty and less severe than most. However it was wet and misty which made it hard to find any photo opportunities.

As I headed north the ski brightened which made the slow slog through Annecy just about bearable. Soon I moved into the Jura again and this gave rapid progress and very pleasant surroundings. It wasn't raining much either! After some sun and the idea that I might dry-out a large black cloud descended and it was obviously raining underneath. It was quite a little storm. Strong winds, lightening and lots of standing water on the roads. I wondered if there was anywhere to stop and shelter. Very soon the decision was made as the engine died and refused to restart - quite obviously a lack of sparks. I was still 80km from Vesoul but apart from that it couldn't have happened in a better place. The road was quiet, level and the failure was only 100m from a hardware store which was open. I pushed the Alp into the carpark and went in search of WD40 in the assumption that bike OK, then rain, then stopped implied water in something and probably nothing serious. I squirted the sidestand switch, up around the HT coil, plug, cap and lead. Then all that again and it started first press.

A local policeman arrived and I wondered if I was to be in trouble for not wearing a fluorescent waistcoat (I wasn't on the road anyway). But actually his Citreon had died and he telephoned for help before pushing it into the carpark too. That was a good time to leave.

In the light rain to Vesoul the Alp ran fine so hopefully the problem was limited to a wet plug cap or such. In two days time I might wonder otherwise; but who can predict the future?

It really was my lucky day as restaurant within sight of the Formule 1 did a set vegetarian menu of salad, tofu stir fry and sorbet for €12, the half bottle of rose was extra.

471 km

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Day 7 The Stella Alpina

After normal 08:00 breakfast I set off from my lovely hotel without my remaining mirror and lower tyre pressures. Already there was a procession in both directions.

Just beyond Rochemolles I found an Italian gent stopped on his Alp 200. Somehow his petrol cap had come undone and fallen onto the road where it was smashed. He'd decided to cover the hole with his handkerchief but couldn't hold it in place. He readily accepted 2 rings cut from inner tube to keep it in place. I tend to carry a handful of these bands. Now I've found a purpose for them. I didn't see him later so don't know if he continued or made his way home. Pity no-one in front of me stepped in first. This is perhaps symptomatic of what I feel is wrong with the the event today.

The basic ascent had only 2 even vaguely difficult spots - a small rock step that caught out the big trailies on road tyres and the cruisers with very limited ground clearance. The second spot was snow just beyond a hairpin which needed one to align on the a[ex of the bend to take the firm line.

Whilst on the hill I opened the idle screw just enough for the engine to maintain an idle. That stopped the engine stalling every time I shut the throttle. (On the way home on Monday I turned it back little by little as I descended).

Close to the col was a band of snow which was stopping most. A few light enduro bikes made it through so I deflated the tyres more and cleared it with the help of 2 other UK riders (thanks chaps!). After that was a few metres of a scree ascent to cut out another snowbound hairpin. That was the col reached.

O the col was another band of snow but I couldn't clear this without help so I couldn't reach the peak. The stone on the cold was actually a very loose gravel suspension or mud an dthe bike kept wanting to fall into it. So with a little paddling I retraced my route and regained the route.

This year it seemed busier and faster traffic on the hill than last year and that made it less enjoyable. Too many trailered enduro machines were treating it as a training session, they didn't have to ride 1500km home on the same machine.

The afternoon was spent chatting and comparing notes on which cols can be done on a trail bike and whether the whole event should be done on a road bike anyway.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Day 6 Into the Hills

Pramand is signed 21km east of Bardonecchia on the Susa road so the route is easy to find. A few km out of the village you're warned that the road is poor- proceed at your own risk. Here I met a Swiss rider (who'll refer to as CH as somehow I never got his name) on a loaded-up Tenere. We agreed to go to Pramand and possibly further.

The track is of good quality and afford excellent views of the Susa valley. CH kept up a good pace which on some of the stoney sections I found hard to maintain. At the fork for Pramand fort he wanted to go straight to Jafferau. OK, I wanted to go there but would have liked to do the short detour to Pramand too. CH assured me that he'd done the route 5 or 6 years earlier with his wife on the back of his TT, so it can't be too bad. The track was all fail sound dirt track typical of the region but there is the famous tunnel which was having some maintenance work done on it. It's a new experience to be riding on wet stone in a dark tunnel - at least it's well surfaced. The tunnel has a pool at the west end which is apparently always there; it was only a few inches deep.

The track crosses a col on the ridge at around 2000m and continues along the ridge fro where the fort can be seen on the peak.

Some of the last 800m ascent is cobbled and shook the limited suspension of the Alp. The final 200m was quite narrow and a little exposed on the ridge. I took the odd dab for my own peace of mind but really the track was sound.

The summit afforded excellent views of the Susa valley and Bardonecchia.

We discussed our route into Italy and the various motorbikes we'd ridden and owned. Turns out that he'd only had 1 KTM - that was in the Dakar in the early 1980s. His favorite bike is a rebuilt Yamaha TT600 which he uses for 300km enduro events in Germany and has taken twice to Africa. Are you getting the picture of why he rides his Tenere with confidence?

We both preferred the idea of a circular route so on the advice of an Italian who'd ridden up on his step-thru we went to Fort Foels. By this time the track was gettig quite busy and we didn't fancy meeting a 4x4 in the tunnel. CH's luggage had vibrated loose so while he mended that I watched the traffic. Our vantage point gave an excellent view of the track leading into the tunnel/galleria.

Naturally on the descent I met a 4x4 which had stopped on a hairpin to let us pass. Being far too over cautious I dropped the Alp and broke a mirror mount. Why hadn't I removed them?

One descent from Foels is officially closed but another is open, so said some locals on trials bikes. But yes, the open track was small, passable with care. After a few km it became 18 inches wide across an exposed scree slope. I'd have been anxious to ride across. Luckily CH stopped and said it was too dangerous - we needed "the chicken's way". I agreed, I was a chicken. Yes, him too, he never does drop offs above 2.5m when he is doing downhill MTB competitions. Why can I never find anyone more incompetent or timid than me to ride with? Perhaps there isn't such a person or perhaps they don't ride 1800km to an European rally?

So we turned the bikes, which wasn't that easy, and took the closed route. The sign had been previously demolished and only applied for a km or so. I took these hairpins too carefully too I'm sure.

At the base we said our goodbyes and I headed into Bardonecchia where I met up with some other riders from the UK. Some of them had done the Stella Alpina 27 times, in a few cases on the same machine every time.

Here's a link to a video that shows some big KTMs doing the route in reverse. They come up the narrow route - it looks far wider in the video of 2006 than I felt it was in 2007.

During the saturday afternoon many machines appeared in the town. Naturally there were plentiful BMWs and KTMs but there was the occasional oddity.

81km of which 50km was on the dirt

Friday, July 06, 2007

Day 5 La Clusaz to Bardonecchia

Most of today has been cold and wet until the afternoon when I crossed into Italy. The air was wet and the roads wet. The cols at Beaufort and Iseran both windy and misty. No place to stop and linger. I had planned to try an unsurfaced col out of Beaufort with the intention that I could retrace my steps (17km each way) if need be. I missed the turning and considered turning back. The weather was foul and I didn't fancy picking my way along a trail in hail so decided that fate had made my plans here. Perhaps next year?

The sky started to clear from Lanslebourg on the ascent to Cenis. This pass is well surfaced with broad sweeping bends, easy but fun. After a coffee I decided to take a look at a track to the west of the reservoir.

I'd heard that it was closed but the start was signed to a restaurant. I got all the way round without going through a barrier or past a prohibition sign. There were turnings that were clearly forbidden or had signs for electricity vehicles only but the main track was open as far as I could tell. There were also a number of cars parked up around the route. The end of the track is at the derelict customs house and from there the sun shone. I was getting hot just motoring along, quite a relief after being cold for 5 days.

On the approach to Bardonecchia I spotted a sign 'Pramand 11km' and was tempted to follow it then and there, but the thought of a cold beer at the hotel drew me on.

263 km, 1770km in total

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Day 4 Les Rousses to La Clusaz

At last, a beer!

La Clusaz FUAJ is lovely in a location providing a fantastic mountain view from my bedroom window. However all but the very centre of La Clusaz is dead.

I had time to spare before dinner but the road doesn't have a pavement and is quite busy. There are 2 bars in easy reach of the hostel, both looked closed bot one was open. Hooray. Judging from the newspapers around, I don't think they'd tidied up since the end of the ski season in March though.

I'd planned a scenic route from Les Rousses with a few roads marked as unsurfaced on the Michelin large scale map. Early on I made a wrong turining by misreading my instructions and being too wet to care, Nonetheless it led to a pleasant ride though the forest. Once I realised exactly where I was, I rejoined my route and went on to the first track. this led to a mast. Only km each way but good to be off tarmac a little. There should have been a great view but it was misty.

Next it was into the woods again for a short 'RF' leading to a short length of Michelin's dotted red road, indicating difficult terrain. At the start was a sign which I loosely interpreted to say "This is provate land, you can come in, but if you hurt yourself then tough."

Actually all but the first few hundred metres were well surfaced and none especially treacherous. A large sign seemed to show which other tracks had seasonal access. There were a number of dear running around, but this one stood so still that I thought it was stuffed, until I rolled almost up to it.

At a cafe at the base I was wished good luck for my journey and took the main road for some distance. I'd chosen to do a minor pass across to La Clusaz with dirt on the col. Unknown to me the plain at the summit is a major tourist attraction as it has a memorial to the French Resistance and a few cafes.

The various visitor boards mentioned restrictions on vehicles and I feared that the 2km link across the top would be closed to me. No red signs though. I checked in the tourist office and she said that I could go, just take it easy.

So off I went the occasional van and car making their way across too. The descent was steep and knowing the number of cars and lorries at the summit one had to take each blind bend anticipating that a truck could be oncoming.

That brings me back to the beginning of today's report. A ski resort out of season isn't a lot of fun. Even the hostel warden complained that he only had 3 people staying.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Day 3 St Dizier to Les Rousses

In view of the likely bad weather I planned a fairly straightforward route. I'd had a good night's sleep and with an early breakfast was off by 07:40. That did mean that i arrived at Les Rousses at 15:00, but more on that later.

After Chaumont the area of Terre-Natale was very pleasant. On a good day a walk in the woods might have been a good idea, but not today. Easy navigating into the Saone area with a very welcome coffee stop at a bar at Vaite and shopping for lunch at Seveux. These spots would be worth returning to another year, although I failed to get a a telephone card from the bar even though they advertised them on the door.

Besancon was hard to get through. I thought I must be going around in circles. Eventually I saw a sign for Pontarlier and then it was easy to follow on for Laussane; that was the best thing to follow. When I'm writing my routecards it's hard to predict which town will appear on the signs - sometimes it will be the next 2 house village, other times it will be a city in the next country. Perhaps there is a logic but I don't know the French system yet.

Once on the N57 I decided to detour via the d57 which was exceptionally pretty and sheltered as it was in a valley. However by the time I reached the turning for Source de la Loue it was raining again; this illustrated the source all too well so I pushed on. The next scenic section was perhpas not such a good idea as it put me on a high, open plain. Lovely for the hail stones to fly across. My initial plan had been for back road detours but that was before the weather; so onwards to Les Rousses.

There were 2 hours before opening time of the hostel so i went into town. After a cup of tea the rain had stopped so I took a little look around and bought, wrote and sent postcards. There's a luxury. The post office had a weigh and print machine which I used to avoid the queue.

Later I waited for cooked dinner in the hostel as I didn't fancy returning to town. It was rather dreary, perhaps it;s more exciting in the ski season? Dinner got off to a good vegan start with soup and then beans and vegetables but later courses were rather cheesy. Still excellent value though.

Over dinner I spoke with a retired French couple who were walking the periphery of France. They estimated 6000km over 8 months. Now they were half way round. That's quite a trip.

After the meal I took a little walk towards the ridge, but naturally it started to rain.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Day 2 Arras to St Dizier

Today is best described as wet! On departure it was mild and damp so mistakenly I didn't wear my heated waistcoat but by the time I wanted it my outer clothes were wet and it was so cold I didn't want to bother putting it on. I'd a little dirt detour planned for 20km or so into the trip. The first took me to Two Tree cemetery from the summer of 1914.

This is a small memorial in the middle of farm land. It's size of around 30 graves made it more poignant to me than the large cemeteries. The large ones reflect the industrial war that was being waged. Hundreds died, too many to read them all. At Two Tree all the stones could be read and the site is clearly 'some corner of a foreign field'. After returning to the village I took a track to the next village, a simple farm track, just a little wet but no mud to speak of.

Then it started to rain properly so onto my route to St Dizier. The route passed through some picturesque areas and villages. Really I didn't feel inclined to stop but needs must. Frites and coffee at a layby isn't much of a break but at least they had a cover from the rain for a few minutes.

The forest around St Gobain was lovely shrouded in mist. but wet too! Worth a return visit I think. Petrol was advertised at a supermarket on one route or another but none of them were mine. There was time anyway. Numerous towns came and went, even some with derelict petrol pumps but eventually the reserve light was on all the time. I was going very gently by the time I reached Epernay, convinced that I'd need my emergency 900ml any minutes. Nonetheless I did get there at 230km with a 8.5l fill-up. Theoretically the tank holds 10.5l so perhaps I had 50km in reserve. this will become a common theme! Incidentally, my odometer appears to read low compared to the signed distances.

Worse still, I was getting wet. I had the traditional wet crotch and both knees were damp. The right knee could be explained by yesterday's little spill; duct tape isn't a great wet weather repair; but it can't explain the others. So last year's MSR pants aren't very waterproof now. As they are just over a year old and damaged I doubt that it's worth pursuing any claim on a guarantee. That doesn't make them very good value (actually as the trip continued I only got slightly damp so perhaps they aren't so bad after all!).

I'd forgotten to leave the directions to the hotel accessible but I did recall that it was on the Bar-le-Duc road. Also it was signed from my approach to St Dizier so no problem. This was only a 7hour day.

This was my first stay in a Formule 1 and recommend it. €32 is twice the price of a FUAJ hostel but at least I've got my own room and the showers are clean. The worst thing is that they are all on out of town developments. The adjacent Courtpuille grill did a good casoulet followed by mango and coulis so I was spared a walk into town along the busy road.

During today's journey as I sped along a 100kph dual carriage way I recalled how much vibration I suffered whilst the front rim lock was in place. Unless you're going to be dropping the pressure in the front to trials levels it really is best removed. I'm not sure I'll refit it for the
MCC trials as the front doesn't get that much torque.

Then it was time for bed, it was raining ever so hard and lightening. I'm glad not to be camping.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Day 1 Home to Arras

Against the forecast I had a mostly dry journey down although it was heavy showers over the QE bridge at Dartford. One of my new LED dash lamps managed to bounce out of its socket after 2 hours and was readily refitted. The fuel light works, at one point I wondered if it was oscillating (184km) but it did come on eventually. I refilled with just under 7litres at 195km.

Check-in at the tunnel (it took just under 6 hours to get there) was quick and security checks easy for me although every third car seemed to be being unpacked. The train was by no means full and I was the only motorcycle on that crossing. Last year on leaving the tunnel I accidentally turned towards Boulogne and found some pleasant eastbound roads so this year I planned to go that way but the road was closed.

I quickly regained my chosen route and continued to an area where the map showed som eunsurfaced roads. Unfortunately as I pulled away from a map-reading stop I spun the rear wheel in the mud and promptly came off. the only damage was a small rip in my 'best' MSR waterproof trousers. No other harm or damage (HD handguards excepted) so that was a fair outcome. After that little mishap it felt unwise to continue as I was clearly tired so rejoined the more major roads. The final 150km to Arras were a long way and a petrol stop turned into a big job as the supermarkets are so inconvenient to use.

The YH is on the Grande Place in the town centre so easy to find but a fight through traffic. There was a row of UK registered motorbikes on the pavement outside so I joined them.

The clerk said that she thought there was a risk of a ticket from the Police but the group had parked there in previous years on the advice of more established staff so we all stayed put. Arras is a pretty, and therefore touristy, town with many bars and restaurants so perhaps preferable to Cambrai, my stop last year.