The alert came on my phone from Central Bristol TRF Members Only, John Hewer posting… “The Hafren Rally regs are open”. Memories of the Hafren event in November last year came flooding back, the Sweet Lamb Rally Centre, the laughs, the adrenalin and the excitement were bright in my mind… gotta be done!
Last year had been my first event since I was 26, (that’s a while back then…!), back then I had done the odd hare n hounds event in Surrey, I’d certainly never done a long distance timed event on the Welsh hills before and off road I had only been trail riding with the TRF since. So in 2017 I had entered the Hafren as a beginner, just two laps – that’s 90 miles, had flown by. This year after doing a similar event called the Brechfa Rally in the spring it was time to do the Hafren again, the full event this time. So I entered in Rally Lite 1 class up to 250cc. After a short while my feelings of being slightly wary turned to doubt and so I had to go into “just do it” mode. I prepped the bike, called a few TRF buddies to ride with and booked our accommodation, we were a team of 7 it would be a blast!
The tradition of meeting at Magor Services was repeated and a small convoy of 3 vans left, John Hewer with Chris, me with Ian and our treasurer Dave Ingles as tail end Charlie. The two remaining in our informal team, Pete and Jeff would drive up in the morning arriving at 8am after a very early start. We arrived at the small Welsh town of Rhayader as dusk fell on Saturday, booked into the Crown Inn, drove to a local rugby club to sign on and then back to Rhayader for an evening of curry and general piss taking.
After a curry where Ian had a really hot dish, that would come back to haunt him, our dubious highlight of the Rhayader evening was a local pub gig with the band in wigs and the lead singer channeling Tina Turner, rocking it!
The grey morning light welcomed us as we left the Crown before breakfast, downed some coffee and went to get scrutineered. When we get there it is rammed in the pits carpark, we fuel up, grab food and get scrutineered. The scrutineer questioned my rear wheel bearing, there was a small play just detectable… he said “ok, I’ll let this through but check it after each lap, you don’t want the wheel to collapse out there”. The worry worm in my head started!
The bikes around us vary from gorgeous classic Beemers and Kawasakis to Enduro tools and even a brand new BMW 1250 GS in show room condition… spend 16k to throw it down a dirt track, why? You’d better take a picture of that matey, it’ll never look like this again!
No time to waste we note our times for starting each lap, put them on tape on the tank, have a drink, have a pee then roll down to the start. Race face on! ☺
Lap 1… We set off at 20 second intervals, it is a sighting lap, no timed sections but you need to be round in time for your start slot for lap two or your day could be over. Each lap is 45 miles, we need to get around in a set time and from the second lap onwards the result places are decided from our times on the three special sections. The timed special sections are a mix of narrow steep and wet woodland trails, fire roads that are as fast as you like, mixed in with a few technical tricky bits. But this is not an extreme event and it is designed so you can do it on large bikes, (you must be mad!), old bikes and trail bikes – happy days!
There was also one timed section with jumps and berms just so we can pretend we are MX heroes! That section was definitely good for the “Air at Hafren” picture though!
Lap 2… this was the first time to go quick, my rear wheel bearing failure fears were receding so we cracked on, the bike went well but seemed a bit gentle on the power at times, more on that later, at least I got traction everywhere!
The fire roads are fun, but slippery the team all agreed that they were sliding a lot and losing the front end too regularly for comfort, ride it like a trail ride is a good call. We gather at the start and end of the special sections for the usual leg pulling and I followed Chris through one which really helped my pace.
Lap 3… by now three of the team have decided to do a DNF and stopped, all for good reasons and each with pride that they have completed two laps of the mighty Hafren Rally. The rest of us press on, the most notable bit of humour on this lap was seeing Ian disappearing into the bushes alone and on foot to relax with his curry!
it is a physical lap but we got back in good time to get given our “trophy” Hafren Dirt Bike Club mug!
Then a short while later we eat together, the carpark mobile stall tea and burgers have never tasted so good!
At the end of the weekend all of our team agreed we had a fantastic time, we were exhausted but felt great. True we had three DNFs who may have wished they had better luck but our last words across the carpark were see you at the Brechfa Enduro Rally in Spring.
So the week after Mid West Racing and I have changed those wheel bearings, then tested the engine compression, finding it is 40% down and observed a leaking crankcase seal… I suspected the power was low. So “kerching” the engine is coming apart to see if the cause is a piston or valves… was it worth it, hell yes!
Words by Phil Yarnell