Crotty’s Treasure : a short trip to Ireland

This trip took place 9 years ago and pre-dates my writing up of regular reports on bike trips.  However, with Xander Harkness’ untimely death from cancer this last weekend, it’s a trip that has really come back as one of the stand-out journeys I’ve made on the bike and as part of working for Red Hat. 9 years okay, things were a little more ad hoc in Consulting and myself and others in the UK team, which was 7-8 people had picked up reputation of travel-anywhere fixers. This was at the end of period where the bulk of our work was doing Oracle RAC installs on Linux in 4-5 weeks, that were taking Accenture and others 12 months. A couple of years earlier, following a Severity 1 call from Bord na Mona in Ireland at 9pm, I’d ended up on another overnight ferry trip and in their data centre in Kildare at 8h30 and problem solved before the morning tea and scones.

Therefore the consulting team was made up of some very self-sufficient people, who could plan travel and make decisions autonomously, all to good effect with the customer.   Over the previous year or so, Xander had been working with  large retail  in Eastleigh and Southampton and in a creative effort to cut expenses we’d rented a house cheaper in the marina in Southampton, so we’d spent some time together onsite and at the house, and we’d even held a UK Consulting team meet up there, which involve a lot of recycled computer hardware and skullduggery.    At one point, Xander has discovered the main build server and version control system was on a PC under a receptionists desk,  rather than in the data centre. With 80% of the people working there as contractors, it wasn’t the easiest environment, especially as you normally had no desk or chair and worked from cardboard boxes.   The main office was Mitchell House, opposite Eastleigh railway station and it’s reputation amongst the Red Hat team wasn’t high. At one time over 50% of the RH Consultants in the UK worked there.

Mitchell House, the main offices used by the customer in Eastleigh, which had a serious poor reputation. After resigning, one of the contractors made a slight alteration to the signage.
Mitchell House, the main offices used by the customer in Eastleigh, which had a seriously poor reputation as a workspace. After resigning, one of the contractors made a slight alteration to the signage.

Like all good trips, it wasn’t really planned and unfortunately I cannot remember how I ended up in Cardiff at 22h00 on a midweek April evening and picking Xander up at the station. I was going to the Red Hat Cork Office for a meeting, and as a bit of a surprise for Dave Owens, original Finance lead for Red Hat in Europe, as was leaving and taking a new job with ex-RH CFO Kevin Thompson. Somewhere during the day, I must have said to Xander I was off to Ireland and did he want to come. So with some borrowed motorcycle kit, we headed off at 22h30 from Cardiff, with the aim of getting to Fishguard for the 02h30 sailing to Rosslare.

Fishguard waiting for the night ferry to Rosslare
Fishguard waiting for the night ferry to Rosslare

At the time, my KTM 950 Adventure was nearly 3 years old and just run in. Pretty good bike for a two-up run and it didn’t hang about. It was a pretty chilly run down to Fishguard, but pretty rapid and we ended up in a cabin on the boat by 02h00.  Unlike some friends and colleagues, Xander you knew was pretty self-sufficient and one of those people who leads and adds to trips rather just follows and doesn’t want to get involved.  As with some previous trips,  travelling and working with Xander was easy as he (like me) had a natural self sufficiency and an ability to pass this on to others.


We did read the sign and yes, we did ask to go up to the lake. A superb April day in the Comeraghs
We did read the sign and yes, we did ask to go up to the lake. A superb April day in the Comeraghs

You get off the ferry a bit too early at Rosslare, at 06h15, and that’s especially true in April as its only just getting light. It was going to be a nice day, but it was a chilly start.  As part of the reason of being in Cork was to be a surprise turn-up at the leaving party, we had some time during the day and given it’s only a 2 – 2.5 hour drive to Cork (this was before the Waterford bypass before you ask why it was taking me so long on the bike), I’d already planned a bit of diversion.  At the time I was doing some Geocaching with the kids and as part of work event in the Black Mountains in Wales, had placed a few caches, including one that I’d rated 4 / 5 for terrain.  Therefore I’d been eyeing up a cache in the Comeragh mountains between Waterford and Dungarven, which had had very few finds and was a bit inaccessible. Crotty’s Treasure was obscure to say the least, and rather than picking off hundreds of micro-caches in motorway services and in city parks, I’d started to do a few of the difficult ones.  It was probably this plan, with a bit of walk in the middle of nowhere that had interested Xander in the trip, as much as the Red Hat meeting and Dave’s leaving do.

Xander above Crotty's Lake at the bottom of the gully leading up to the cache location
Xander above Crotty’s Lake at the bottom of the gully leading up to the cache location

After some breakfast somewhere around Waterford, we’d headed up towards the mountains, with some printed instructions of where to get access, to park the bike and then kick off for the walk. The KTM  was excellent offroad and did a couple of steep miles up a track until we hit a locked gate on the mountain, and then finding somewhere flat parked the bike and got ready for a walk. The mist was burning off and it was going to be an exceptional day in April (for Ireland) with no wind or rain.  Unlike the UK, where most upland areas have some form of right to roam and public access, this isn’t the case in Ireland and as such the paths are less well define (or undefined) and access is a little more restricted. We’d asked permission to go up the lane and not had any issues, though this why the cache was archived later in the year.   Walking in Ireland is a little more wilder in Wales and you have a greater sense of remoteness. The walk up to the lake, following the description and the GPS was all good. Getting up to the cache wasn’t so easy and was a bit of scramble to the base of a steep gully. A few exchanged glances and we continued up what was all a bit slippery and filled with loose, recently descended rocks. Xander found the remains of the cache in washed down mud and rocks at the bottom on the gully. The cache owner, who I’d contacted beforehand had asked that as I was going there, whether I’d take a replacement with me, just in case.  I’d therefore taken a plastic tub with us on the bike and carried it up the hill and we set about finding the remnants, putting then in the new box and signing the new log book I’d also brought.

Arrow marks the spot; the cache was meant to be halfway up this gully, but was in fact in bits at the bottom. We'd brought a replacement at the request of the cache owner
Arrow marks the spot; the cache was meant to be halfway up this gully, but was in fact in bits at the bottom. We’d brought a replacement at the request of the cache owner

We went up the gully, to what we though was the right location and position the cache out of the way of water and rockfall, though we suspected that it’s future wouldn’t be a long one, given usual weather. It was a great walk and scramble and on the way down it was even warm enough (just) for a swim in the lake, though instant testicle retraction was guaranteed, as was the afterwards warming up agony of feet and hands. Given the lack of sleep the previous night on the way over, it was one way of keeping awake.


Comeragh Mountains, aren't far from the coast and are a superb range of hills
Comeragh Mountains, aren’t far from the coast and are a superb range of hills

Back to the bike and down the lane, before continuing on the road to Cork, I think stopping for a late lunch in Youghal.  The KTM was a great bike and went brilliant until 2010 until an idiot in a Mazda RX8 put me and the bike into the central reservation on the A419 coming out of Gloucester.  We made Cork in plenty of time for the meeting and then the bar, prior to having an interesting night out with Dave Owens and colleagues for his leaving do. To be honest, whether it be the 9 years or the amount of drink consumed on the night I don’t have many recollections of the evening, though searching through the photo/video archive I’ve some scary footage that should deter some people from trying to remember what really did happen.


KTM 950 Adventure, probably the best bike for road/off road I've ever owned
KTM 950 Adventure, probably the best bike for road/off road I’ve ever owned


Coming back from Ireland a day or two later, I was heading for the coast in Pembrokeshire, West Wales to spend a week with the kids and then wife (and the ex Mother-in-Law) and Xander also joined us for a day, doing some surfing and canoeing on the beaches of Broad Haven and Newgale. It did involve taking him down to Withybush A&E and he got smacked in the chin be the canoe when he got wiped out. He headed back east on the train from Haverfordwest, hopefully having enjoyed the trip. He did speak to me afterwards and like many things at the time, it was part of the culture of Red Hat, combining what wasn’t an easy job with quite a few laughs and adventures to keep you sane.


Later that night in Cork, as Dave Owens looks in to the face of what he was going to be become on working with closed-source software
Later that night in Cork, as Dave Owens looks in to the face of what he was going to be become on working with closed-source software

Over the last few years, with Xander changing jobs and settling down in Stockholm, I’d seen less and less of him and not really spent anywhere the amount of time that I’d done up to an including 2007. A really nice guy and great colleague, he was a person that was easy to be with and who had taste for the adventurous and less ordinary. Though I’d not forgotten about this trip, it’s something that I’ll now look upon with even fonder memories and with a continued to determination to live as much life as possible. If there is an opportunity, then grab it, as you may not get another.


Roar on the Moor: North Devon Classic Scramble 29/May 2016


With the Border meeting at Welshpool cancelled, a few of the Welsh regulars (myself, Kevin, Ian and Graham) ended up getting late entries for the Roar on the Moor, run by North Devon (Atlantic) near South Molton. New venue and track, and possibly with the Bank Holiday weekend, it wasn’t a massive entry (50 twinshocks and 35+ classics as an estimate).  However the weather was excellent and was a great location.  The track was, er different, 70% scramble, 30% enduro but personally I enjoyed it, with some technical bits and some open sections, so that all 4 gears on the Husky were used each lap.

The 360 Automatic went well in practice but whilst waiting in the pit box, with engine running, before the first race, it decided to stop and not restart for the rest of the day. What’s always entertaining when you are trying to fix a bike is the amount of advice you get, both good and bad from others. Some of these  comments are excellent and useful whilst some are just a distraction. Spark and fuel, a carb stripdown, flywheel off to check the crankseal and timing, but all these looked good. I’m presuming the bike is just completely flooded after the wait. One of the disadvantages of the Automatic is that you can’t bump start it down the field. Anyway gave up on that and focus on riding the 1970 Husky instead. Got 4 good races out of it, with the first pre74 race being the best. The bike had some weird tyres on it (Kenda rear) and trying to give it too much to stay up with a Metisse saw my downfall in race 2. The Twinshock C races were a bit frenetic for the first couple of laps but good fun. Missed some gears in the last race and the 250 was down on power on the fast sections towards the end of the lap.



The first Twinshock C race (which I missed with the non-functioning Automatic)  ended up with a red flag after a coming together with new riders at their first meeting; one broken collarbone and one broken leg.  This provided a long break which turned into the lunch break. In the end the racing schedule ended up about 17h00, after the second age related race didn’t start after a finisher in the previous race decided to drive straight into a stake and ended up with he and bike going flying.



Kevin’s CanAm shed a chain in race 1, and then in race 2 whilst he was running 3rd (he blamed the split link I’d lent him) and after fitting a new chain, with borrow battery powered angle grinder for the 3rd race, the internal clutch nut had come undone. He’d gone well on the YZ400 and had got a 3rd in the Twinshock C race. Ian Hall’s return riding continued on the pre74 and in the in race watering system does look a bit weird but does do the job of mouth wetting. Best Welsh championship regular on the day was Graham Trump, who’s ability to wheel out a working bike from the tatty transit doesn’t cease to amaze. Perhaps it was the missing front mudguard, but there were a couple of 3rd places and some good racing.

With no traffic there and back (honest 2h10 only from Bwlch to South Molton) it was as easy to get as Welshpool nearly and you can use the cruise control for most of the journey.



Don’t see too many of these out racing.  A Greeves Hawkstone, with Dave Bickers favourite front fork selection.

Nice atmosphere, great weather, not a bad track and a well run meeting. Recommended Bank Holiday trip away. As an additional bonus for the travelling Welsh contingent I’d brought along the portable record player I’d picked up in Belgium last year.   As well as some Motown, Northern Soul and 80’s managed to play an appropriate track for the location. The Wurzels were on Top of the Pops with Combine Harvester, which was at #1 in the charts 40 years ago this month. I’ll be taking requests and maybe spinning the decks at Narberth in a couple of weeks.  If you want to sing along, the lyrics are further down:



I drove my tractor through your haystack last night
(ooh aah ooh aah)
I threw me pitchfork at your dog to keep quiet
(ooh aah ooh aah)
Now something’s telling me
That you’m avoiding me
Come on now darling you’ve got something I need

[Chorus] Cuz I got a brand new combine harvester
An’ I’ll give you the key
Come on now let’s get together
In perfect harmony
I got twenty acres
An’ you got forty-three
Now I got a brand new combine harvester
An’ I’ll give you the key

She made I laugh ha ha

I’ll stick by you, I’ll give you all that you need
(ooh aah ooh aah)
We’ll ‘ave twins and triplets
I’m a man built for speed
(ooh aah ooh aah)
And you know I’ll love you darlin’
So give me your hand
(ooh aah ooh aah)
But what I want the most
Is all they acres of land


Ooaah she’s a lovely bit of stuff an’ all

For seven long years I’ve been alone in this place
(ooh aah ooh aah)
Eat, sleep, in the kitchen, it’s a proper disgrace
(ooh aah ooh aah)
Now if I cleaned it up would you change your mind
(ooh aah ooh aah)
I’ll give up drinking scrumpy and that lager and lime


Who loves thee baby ha

Weren’t we a grand couple at that last wurzel dance
I wore brand new gaters and me cordouroy pants
In your new Sunday dress with your perfume smelling grand
We had our photos took and us holding hands

Now I got a brand new combine harvester
An’ I’ll give you the key
Now that we’me both past our fifties I think that you and me
Should stop this galavanting and will you marry me
Coz I got a brand new combine harvester
An’ I’ll give you the key

Aahh yu’re a fine lookin’ woman and I can’t wait to get me ‘ands on your land.

Suspension Part 2

Decided to rebuild the Fox shocks that I had on the Husqvarna 360 as they looked like they were pretty tired and the measurements showed a lot of sag. I didn’t have a service kit for them so it was a bit of a rough and ready job. For the longer term, I’ll make a spring compressor, but for this job it was out with the rachet straps and slip off the bottom collet. There is a preload adjuster on these Fox (non-air) shocks and noticed I could have tried them with increased compression.


Fox shocks on rear

Fox Shocks had a bit too much sag, so there would be very little suspension travel on the rear of the bike. 

They are relatively easy to strip and a relatively straight forward design. The only challenge is getting out the lower circlip which is about 40mm down inside the bottom tube and ideally need some long nose internal circlip pliers. There was oil left in the shock but not a lot (<50ml) and expect 60-70ml in the shock. Didn’t change any seals but ideally would want to this going forward.  There is an air top for the shocks, where you’d normally put some form of inert gas, lets say 50 psi as air will heat up with work on the track. However, can probably get away with this for now.



The oil looked a bit original and maybe missing some volume

Shock back together with some fiddling, again with the lower circlip and the compressing the spring. It didn’t seem quite right when back together but the proof will be the using.  Doing a proper service with seals etc might be the better plan. But given they were £50 shocks (from Telford) and period items, I’m happy to experiment with them  Did some other work on the bike to get ready for the North Devon meeting coming up, but have worked out the starting technique for the bike, which has a Mikuni carb.  All of the Huskies flood easily and then can be buggers to start (you need to take the plug out and given them dry) and the Automatic isn’t an exception.

I’m also becoming more of a fan of the looks of the 360 Automatic despite it having a large enduro tank (which has its uses if I ever do another Gentle One). The 1976 models are lower than the 1975 models it seems and the frame and shock length different.

Bike after cleaning


Classic MX Suspension Setup ?

Spent 30 minutes or so at lunch today looking at the suspension on 3 of the Husqvarna’s. Like a lot of riders, probably spend more time tuning engines, fuel and ignition than we do suspension and even then spent 80% of that time looking at the rear suspension. The front suspension on the 360 Automatic was looking a bit wrong at Abbeycwmhir on the weekend, but decided to do some more research, before doing an overhaul.

Most conversation about suspension is whether it is within the regulations

The measurements are as follows, all in mm.  Rear suspension travel was calculated using the ECMO online calculator, and front was measurement/estimate on the front forks.

[table width="500px"]
Bike, Suspension, Travel, Free,Load, Sag
Husqvarna CR250 1970,Rear,108,435,405,30(27%)
Husqvarna 250 Bolt-up 1966,Rear,115,440,403,37(30%)
Husqvarna Automatic 1976,Rear,140,420,380,40(26%)


Looking at a modern MX suspension set up example, it says that rider sag should be 33% of the total suspension travel, but this is of course for modern bikes that might have 300mm+ suspension travel, where of course pre74 classic bikes are limited to 130mm in Europe and 120mm in the UK. Therefore, for your classic scrambler, rider sag of 35-40mm would be about the maximum using this formula.

One thing you also notice, well I did with the Automatic, is the impact of having an imbalance between the front and the rear if one set of suspension is either too hard or too soft.  On the 360 Automatic, I’d picked up some very used Fox rear shocks at Telford, but with them on the bike it’s clear they are worn out and too soft. On the other hand the front was a bit too stiff and so this made the rear work in a different way. They need to be in balance to work effectively and getting the rear wrong impacts on the handling of the front.

Based on the measurements above,  the front was too stiff and sticking so decided to strip it down.

The fork oil had been contaminated with something, probably water and needed a complete strip to clean
The fork oil had been contaminated with something, probably water and needed a complete strip to clean

One of the fork stanchions was also bent, as usual just below the bottom yoke and the took a bit of cleaning out. The springs seemed okay and put in 250ml of oil into each leg. One of the advantages of having an Automatic is that you have plenty of HVI26 oil, which is primarily for hydraulic applications, and same spec as Ohlins fork/shock oil.  Works out cheaper than fork oil and is around 10 weight, it seems.


The fork tube isn't quite straight
The fork tube isn’t quite straight


Some further adjustment needed as once back on the bike, they still seemed to be too stiff but this might be because of the rear being too soft and that is where all the give is in the suspension.




Mid Wales 23rd May 2016 : it became muddy

Not so the first time, a midday shower at Abbeycwmhir changed the nature of the track, the racing, the mood and general feeling of the meeting. It has happened before, honest . An easy day out on a recently restored bike on a really nice track changed into an event for the committed (foolhardy) to take their beloved machine into a very damp muddy field.

It was a non Welsh championship round, but it was a British championship one.

Click on the image for Eric Miles’ Flickr Album of the event 

Abbeycwmhir May 2016 [ Supplementary ] -  First S/C Race


One of the questions remain is why ? Why do people still want to take their bike out when it’s really muddy when you know :

  • it’s going to be hard going and you’ll likely fall off
  • it’s more survival than racing
  • half the people you’ve riding against have put the bike back in the van and are already sitting in a cafe somewhere
  • that you will spend 3 hours cleaning it and annoy the neighbours as you spread Mid Wales topsoil down the road

True, that to some extent, spectators really love it, more for the amusement factor than watching exciting racing. This is especially true for the sidecars. It’s not really the case that poor conditions are more dangerous, as there is less racing as such and speeds tend to be slower.

You can get lodged under the bike (as Ian Hall found on Sunday) or just slip off in a muddy heap through exhaustion. You can’t usually see anything until you throw your goggles off (no tear off’s I hope).  If the bike stops it is guaranteed to not start or at least take 3 to 4 times the effort needed to make the bugger start than it usually does in the paddock.

So why do some people still find their way to the line, even it’s just a slog round ? They’ll be the purists who say that this is what scrambles (not classic motocross is about)

Jerry Scott
Jerry Scott at a BBC Grandstand Scramble

A lot of the BBC Scrambles in the 60’s were muddy, but they ran them in the winter for TV, so no surprise. The incentive of fame and glory, as well as prize money were all good incentives. That said, with the lure of Welsh Championship points in 2015, a few riders braved the very muddy track at Llanfair Caerienon just to get ahead in the race for a trophy.

Some riders do prefer slower, muddy tracks and will perform well on them.  They are the ones praying for rain on the drive to the venue on a Sunday morning. Even for the British Championship events on the day, the second, wet and muddy races, had a significantly reduced line-up.

In all in all, it does mean, that whatever the weather, you can have good racing, though the majority have a strong preference for a dry track. Then again, they don’t want it too dusty.

For the team at Abbeycwmhir, it was a mixed day. Paul Prosser chose not ride as it wasn’t a Welsh round, whilst Kevin took three bikes but in the end only used his recently acquired pre74 Can Am. It went well, though by the end it seems it might need the base gasket replacing.  For Karl Stevens, at his 3rd ever event it seems that he may be related to St Swithan, given his first meeting was the Border event last year. On the 1975 Husqvarna he’d gone well at Pontrilas in April but struggled with the difficult conditions post rain at Abbeycwmhir.

I took out both the 1970 Hallman framed 250 and the 360 Automatic Husqvarna’s, both of which seemed to go well. The 250 didn’t shear a woodruff key, like on its other two outings, which was good. The 360 ran okay after the engine rebuild by Jef Bens, though Kevin pointed out after a test spin the front end was a bit off-cock.

Good to see Ian Hall back after his stroke and though he spent 10 minutes under his bike waiting for rescue, seems to have come through it fine and is ready for the next event (now Devon this weekend), as the Border event is cancelled.

Kris Winder, after winning the first British pre74 race exploded the engine on the Elsinore in pretty dramatic fashion and John Cash took a bit a lob in the same race. It’s only round 2 for the season so a lot of time to get the points back.

With nearly 140 solos and 15+ sidecars it was a really good turn out and shame it was spoilt by an hour burst of rain. It is a great venue for riders and spectators and it will be the Welsh Championship round there in July, with hopefully better weather.