If you come back clean and nothing happened to you, you failed the mission. Mud, cold, water, fun – here we come.
I'm packing my stuff for Scramble Bee Rally which starts on Saturday in Berlin, Germany. Only 5 days left, man, get ready.
An Off-Season Rally
I have no idea what my dear Berliners had in mind while choosing November for their motorcycle rally. For those of you who have palm trees right out of the window: in this part of Europe November, more often than not, is freezing cold, damp, dark, with heavy rains being interrupted only by chilly drizzle. Or snow. And some hoar frost.
So I asked Thorsten and Uli, the organizers, why on Earth anyone would fancy soaking from the early morning, trembling for the whole day and catching a cold afterward?
"November is off-season," said Thorsten. "So we thought not more than two motorcycles would join us".
He underestimated, however, the number of motorcycle freaks. 16 of them took part in 2016 and even more – 25 – in 2017.
Scramble Bee out of Scrambler Fever
Thorsten is a cameraman/videographer who has been riding motorcycles since he could walk properly and to whom motorcycles confide when they are ready to pass away. Uli is an ex-musician who never thought he would ride again until he met Thorsten. Today he has four vintage bikes and spends every spare minute in the awesome bike shed with the Team Garage Halle 8.
The idea for their rally came up after Scrambler Fever Rally in Poland, a cozy yet challenging retro rally through forests and countryside. Only vintage scramblers/trackers/enduros/vinduros/twin shocks are allowed. I'll tell you about Scrambler Fever in a future post.
Both of them loved it (see the above picture?).
"We said," Thorsten recalls, "we know so many tracks around Berlin so why not to share them with friends".
Redu, Scrambler Fever Rally organizer, who owns a custom shop and a racing license, had, however, a sunny rally in mind and that is why he planned it for June. To attract vintage bike riders. Thorsten and Uli have twisted the idea a bit. They wanted a rally with even older motorcycles – twin-shock bikes of the 70s or, better still, the 60s.
"Waxed cotton motorcycle jackets, leather motorcycle boots, open face helmets. This kind of stuff" lists Uli.
They did not invite any sponsors.
"We do not want that," explains Uli. "Because this means signing contracts, this and that, blah blah blah. We do not need that".
So on Scramble Bee Rally, everything happens among friends or your friends' friends.
The bikes are, however, not as old as Uli and Thorsten had dreamed of, since, well, there are not so many of them anymore. In riding conditions. The 80s prevail.
They can live with it. This year:
- Uli will sport his 1974 scrambler Ducati.
- Thorsten – Bultaco Alpina 350 from the 70s.
- Red is coming with his 1978 Yamaha SR 500.
- Clément – a 1990 KLR 600, customized so it looks like a scrambler.
- I will ride my 1981 Suzuki Scrambler... only the engine block is original.
Get Stuck in the Mud
What Clément, an actor and an artist, a motorcycle rider for 5 years now, likes most about the rally is that it is not about showing nice motorcycles (and they are great) but riding them: going in the mud, water and cold.
"If you come back clean and nothing happened to you, you failed the mission, kind of" – he cheers.
"The event also takes place in the rain!" – the organizers notice warmly this year.
And in fact, it did last year. You could not see shit because of the rain and occasional, yet generous, splashes of mud on your face (open helmets, remember?). Not unusual was the sight of a lost and soaked rider who could not tell the route from the swamp or who ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. Did they mention it was 42 degrees F (6 degrees C)?
One or two motorcycles got stuck in the mud.
Someone injured his knee when the motorcycle fell on him (and could not walk for two weeks).
The motocross track was totally submerged.
With sweat from the inside and rain from the outside, everyone was wet to the underpants.
Some actually caught a cold (but all argue they were ill because of Polish vodka, not from cold).
Someone wrecked his bike while trying to get to a checkpoint located on an impressively steep hill.
They were laughing at it, Thorsten recalls, when they got back to the base. The hill was supposed to be optional with the main route leading to the checkpoint gentler on the throttle. The Scramble Bee Rally support team somehow forgot his instructions and installed the checkpoint at the top. Everyone was made to conquer it.
No one got hurt.
Lots of fun.
Riding in the Dark
Clément won the 2016 rally, the first one. Here is what he says:
"Winning is not about time, it is about completing all the checkpoints, different missions, like taking pictures or finding names, two laps on a motocross track with the least difference of time, and a trial kind of exercise. I do not know, why I won, I am actually one of the worst riders in the rally. My motorbike was good at this time". It was Honda XL 500.
Last year there was no winner. Or it could have been the rain. Persistent and cold. When the sun was going down, which one could tell because it was getting significantly darker than it was from the early morning, they checked their maps.
"We were only halfway!" – recalls Thorsten.
At this time, i.e. at 4 p.m., they were supposed to be back in the base in Berlin, and not in the middle of a forest from which only Thorsten and Uli knew a way back. The first 50 km of the 120 km route took double the time it should. Too much rain on the gravel roads made it impossible to complete all checkpoints. They were returning in two groups.
Late Autumn Rally Essentials
OK, so what to take this year?
Redu: "Airtight airbox and waterproof ignition."
Uli: "Raincoat. Whatever raincoat".
(Clément, for example, had his red bicycle raincoat over his leather motorcycle jacket last year. Redu was grateful that Steffen lent him his waterproof motorcycle pants and jacket, otherwise he would be screwed in his motorcycle shirt and motorcycle jeans. Both agree, they were not particularly stylish but a bit dryer. Someone sported rubber gloves last year)
Uli: "A plastic bag on socks in your shoes. It helps."
Thorsten: "It's the old method of trial bikers in the 50s and 60s: socks, plastic bags, boots, and then tape them all together."
Redu: "High-calorie snacks and briefly, everything you need on a mountain trip."
My Motorcycle Gear
I'm not putting any plastic bag in my worn Alpinestars. When you are wet, you are wet and nothing will make you happier. I do not want to have my feet scalded. I tried the plastic bags while running and no way I am doing it again. I will have the boots impregnated with wax.
I am definitely taking silver tape though. And:
- a jet helmet that I wear only off-road
- an old enduro Facemask+Goggles
- Crave for Ride Waxed Trophy Motorcycle Jacket with protectors
- old leather motorcycle pants
- a jet lighter
- Leatherman 300 Multitool
- Petzl Micro Headlamp
- a LED flashlight
- space blanket
- The Emergency Bandage – the best bandage one can get to stop bleeding (indeed)
- Rescue Tourniquet – you do not need it until you need it
- First Aid Kit – always, for the above reason
- scissors – to cut clothes (same as above)
- 2 pairs of gloves – two is one, one is none
- Crave for Ride Tool Roll – with them tools inside
- spare: spark, bulbs, brake and clutch lever, and loads of plastic zippers
- sweets in Crave for Ride Micro moto bag
- metal mug – fancy a cup of tea?
Bikes, Beer & Rock&Roll
I am happy to meet all the crazy boys and gals. Our old machines break, refuse to start, suddenly some parts are flying or the clutch cable breaks. The thing is, for every bike down, there are several other motorcycles ready to help. Or the humans who ride them.
And there is hot soup waiting back in the base, beer and vodka shots.
And the garage full of wonders.
"At night we were playing with them like kids," recalls Clément. "In the shed, outside, one guy even managed to hurt himself after the rally. Rock&Roll, you know."
Last year Clément was going back home the next day (the sofa was comfy enough) with his boot soles flapping because he put his wet boots too close to the chimney. He heard some weird noises on the way that later were diagnosed by a mechanic:
"Man, how did you lose both brake pads?"