2013: The GS does its first Stella Alpina Rally

As you may remember, last year I conquered the Stella Alpina on my 1982 Honda CB250N Super Dream, but this year I took my recently purchased 2005 Suzuki GS500.

Usually, I travel over to Bardonecchia with my dad although this year he left the country 10 days earlier than me to attend the Phoenix Rally in Czech Republic, before continuing on to the Stella. In previous years, I have been lazy and relied on him to decide our route and give me directions through our intercom, so this year my other half and I would be navigating ourselves to and from the Alps, using just a 30-year-old paper map.

We allowed ourselves 3 full days to ride to Bardonecchia, planning to cover around 250 - 300 miles a day. Considering that we had no sat nav, it was actually quite easy to navigate through France’s quiet country roads and we didn’t even manage to get lost!

Mid-morning on the Saturday, we arrived in Bardonecchia and after a good catch-up with my friends, travelled up to a local restaurant to have our traditional pre-Stella lunch with Mario Artusio, the founder of the Stella Alpina Rally.

The next day was the day of the Rally itself. I was keen to see how far up Colle del Sommeiller I could get on my sporty machine and to see if it was any easier to keep upright on the off-road than my old wheezing slug of a Super Dream.

Stella Alpina Rally: Off-road hairpin corners were tricky on the GS!
We stopped at the 'control' point reasonably near the top which is where many have a rest, or perhaps go no further, and have the opportunity to buy sandwiches, t-shirts and the rally badge.

It was here that I met some great new people from all over the world and even some readers of my blog who recognised me! It was great to be able to meet some of you who read my geeky updates and it was fantastic to hear the positive feedback you gave me.

Stella Alpina Rally: Stopping to check out the beautiful views mid-way up
Stella Alpina Rally: Rally control point / Rest area
After a well-deserved rest, we continued on towards the top of the Colle. For this last stretch of the track I actually chose to get on the back of my dad's BMW R80 G/S as the track does become a lot more challenging and I didn’t really want to push my luck any further on the less-negotiable part of the off-road, especially considering the motorcycle I was riding.

One fellow Stella-enthusiast that I met, Dale James, totally put me to shame by riding his particular motorcycle all the way to the top; an Aprilia Tuono 1000r, albeit with Continental TKC80 tyres on – still no mean feat! Click here for the YouTube video of his Stella experience.

Stella Alpina Rally: Tightening up some important screws after the off-road riding nearly shook my rear mudguard off

I completed the Stella without dropping my trusty machine and we had a smashing time. The rest of the week consisted of 3 more days of off-roading in the area with our friends before heading back to Calais via Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.

Conquering yet more Alpine passes off-road in the days following the Stella Alpina Rally
Overall, I found the GS500 still to be a real challenge to handle on the off-road, but not quite as bad as the Super Dream. Having a more powerful motorcycle this year also helped when we really started climbing in altitude and working with less oxygen.

During the 10 days away from home, I managed 2,625 miles and 6 countries. I wonder what motorcycle I will decide to do the Stella on next year – no doubt something equally as inappropriate for off-road riding as usual!

And don’t forget; it’s the second Sunday in July – every year. See you there!

Ride Free

This weekend was incredibly busy for me, going up to Stafford for the Stafford Classic Bike Show, down to Orpington, Kent for a motorcycle club reunion and then back up to Bedfordshire for a local motorcycle event in Ampthill called Ride Free.

Ride Free is an annual event organised by Motorcycling Matters in support of the East Anglian Air Ambulance and offers a variety of attractions to check out during the day.

Held on the grounds of a local school, the show isn’t huge but there’s plenty to see and plenty to do. The main attractions include Steve Colley’s stunt show, Ken Fox’s Wall of Death, local traders and retailers and motorcycle clubs and groups. Alongside that, there are also plenty of other things you can get involved with such as the National ‘Get-on’ Scheme for first-time riders, Bikesafe assessed rides, motorcyclist first-aid courses and slow riding skills sessions.

After a 2 hour ride home from Kent mid morning, I had a tight turnaround with 30 minutes to shower and meet at a friend’s house to ride to the show. We arrived relatively early as I recall last year the car park filled up pretty quickly.

Like last year, it was a warm dry day so both car parks were heaving with motorcycles after a couple of hours. I had a quick scoot around to check out other people’s motorcycles and my favourite by far was a pristine CB 750 Four with only around 13,000 miles on the clock.

My friends and I wandered around the main part of the show, looking at trade stands and motorcycle club stalls and most important of all, there was affordable on-site catering with super tasty chips! Yum!

Later on, we stopped by to see Steve Colley's stunt show. Steve is an incredibly talented trials rider with numerous achievements including 3 Times British Solo Trials Champion, 4 Time Winner at Scottish Six Days Trials and 11 Times Winner of Manx National Two Day Trial.

As accurately said on Steve’s website; ‘The skills of motorcycle trials riders like Steve Colley have to be seen to be believed.’ Many of the stunts performed during the show I would have otherwise thought were impossible - I have since been theorising that perhaps Steve has super powers...

At one point, Steve removed the front wheel and forks, rested the motorcycle on its sump guard on a trials stand and said, “I'm looking for a female volunteer from the crowd!” at which point I looked straight at the ground (you will understand if you also don’t like being picked out for these things haha!) As luck would have it, I was chosen. Luckily, in contradiction to my initial thoughts, the stunt in which I had to take part wasn't a death-defying, life-flashing-before-my-eyes manoeuvre; I only had to remove the trials stand from beneath Steve’s motorcycle (thank god - a simple task for a simple person)

Credit goes to John Prater for these photos!

All in all it was a great performance and Motorcycling Matters made a fantastic choice inviting Mr Colley to  the show. I certainly wouldn't pass up the opportunity to meet him again!

Shortly after the stunt show, I decided to take advantage of the dry weather and go for a ride with some mates in the local area before setting off home. 

Today, the East Anglia Air Ambulance confirmed that a total of £740.18 was raised through Ride Free. Thanks to everyone who donated and contributed their time to making this event a success!

A new member of the family

Despite being absolutely mad for motorcycles from the 70’s and 80’s, I recently decided to look at something more modern as I’ve found myself needing a more reliable machine for the crazy mileage I do.

The decision to look for a new bike came as a result of my Super Dream having intermittent problems which I can’t seem to diagnose and my main concern was about having a reliable bike I can trust for taking to Italy this year’s Stella Alpina Rally.

Having been riding for a number of years now, I’ve been looking at slightly bigger motorcycles so a few weeks ago I went to look at a 2005 Suzuki GS500 K5 for sale in my local area. It was just what I was looking for; a tidy, well looked-after example with just 9,000 miles on the clock and within my budget too!

I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, but as you probably guessed I ended up buying the GS and collected it only a week after I first went to see it.

Before I ride my new mean machine, there’s some work that I felt needed doing beforehand.
Firstly, I noticed that the rear mudguard stops just above the swinging arm with a small extender piece below the swinging arm. (You might be able to see this in the picture below)

This gap means that all the road muck from the rear tyre has covered the swinging arm and consequently caused loss of paint and a little rust. What I’ve started doing here is stripping the back end down so I can remove the swinging arm, clean off the loose paint and rust, treat it and re-paint it.

Other work I’m planning is:
  • Re-pack/grease the swinging arm needle-roller bearings and all the needle-roller bearings in the suspension linkage arms.
  • Treat and re-paint battery tray and frame (due to someone fitting an incorrect battery with the breather on the wrong side and consequently allowing battery acid residue to contaminate the frame and battery tray)
  • Fit a longer breather tube to reach the other side of the battery
  • Paint exhaust downpipes section
  • Drain oil, remove sump plate and clean internal gauze filter
  • Replace paper oil filter
  • Replace brake fluid, both rear and front
  • Check balance of the carburettors
  • Replace spark plugs
  • Check valve clearances
  • Replace air filter
  • Fit recently purchased SW Motech engine bars and Renntec rear carrier
  • Any other general service checks
I’m guessing I won’t ride my GS for a month or so since I only have 1 or 2 days a week to work in the garage, but at least it’ll give me the opportunity to get to know this bike a little more before I start racking up the miles on it.