Here we go again! When I got home after the 2020 Dragon Rally I swore I’d never do something so stupid again, and, if I did do it again, I definitely wouldn’t do it on my sports bike. 2 years passed, the 2021 event was cancelled due to Covid (or ‘postponed which basically means cancelled because it’s not like they’d reschedule it for a different, nicer weekend) and by the time 2022 rolled round I’d forgotten the promise I’d made to myself. This year I went with Laine and a friend from work. Laine was with me the last time, but it was my colleagues first Dragon Rally. Both of them were on Yamaha Tracer 900s and I, despite talking about needing a more appropriate bike while doing nothing to obtain one, was on my S1000RR.
I feel like I’m getting fairly good at loading my bike up for camping trips now, and I’ve built a small collection of touring accessories for the RR. I have upgraded my luggage from bin bags to Lomo dry bags and was able to fit my tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag and two nice big blankets into the dry bags and onto my back seat, supported by my soft panniers, all held together by bungee cords. I packed clothes into plastic shopping bags and put those in the panniers, and took my electronics in my Kriega dry-bag backpack. I also have a small SW Motech tank bag which held things I thought I’d need to access quickly. The handlebar muffs that I always borrow for cold trips came with me but didn’t get used because my heated grips kept my hands warm and unless I’m extremely desperate, the muffs aren’t worth the hassle of struggling to find your handlebars every time you want to take your hand out to open/close your visor. I also fitted my sheep-skin seat cover which I was extremely excited to have because it makes the bikes seat 10x more comfortable, but it does add a bit of height that I could do without, however, having a comfortable ass was a bigger priority than reaching the floor on this occasion.
Day 1 – Friday, was riding to Betws-y-coed for our first night which we spent in a hostel. Unfortunately my colleague and I weren’t able to get the entire day off from work but we were allowed to leave early, so we took the motorways 250 miles to our first night. The weather was ok, it was dry, we didn’t get stuck in too much traffic, and arrived at the hostel a few hours after dark after. The hostel was full, we shared a room with 5 hikers, and the rest of the hostel was full of people doing the same as us – getting to Wales early for the Dragon Rally. We had pizza in the hostel kitchen and stayed up until late exchanging embarrassing stories (mostly mine) with a group that were tacking the rally on overloaded Honda C90s.
Day 2 is the busy day – Saturday. We were up in time for breakfast at 8am, not having had the best sleep in a room with 7 other people who snored the whole night. As soon as we’d finished eating we were on the road heading to the Dragon Rally check point in Conwy. The process is that you take your ticket which is sent by post a few weeks beforehand, get it stamped at the check point and get instructions to get to the camp site where you check in and get a goodie bag before camping the night. It was a 45 minute ride to the check point, which was a nice big carpark with a club house next to a castle. Once our tickets were stamped and we’d walked into the town to withdraw some cash, we set off to the campsite.
At this point I’m remembering why I didn’t want to do the Dragon Rally ever again, it had started raining, the wind had picked up, I’d heard that the camp site was down a gravel track, and my gloves had started leaking. Apparently ‘gore-tex’ doesn’t mean anything after a certain point. I remember the exact moment the water seeped through the palms of my gloves and dribbled down my wrists and into my jacket. The camp site was maybe an hour away from the check point, through Snowdonia, through some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine, but we didn’t stop, I wasn’t in front so I don’t know what Laines reason was for not stopping but if I had to guess it would be because if we tried to stop the bikes would get blown over. I feel sad that we weren’t able to stop because Snowdonia in winter is stunning, and it’s a rare opportunity to get a photo of your bike there without lots of cars and camper vans in the background. As many of you know, I’m not opposed to dropping my bike every so often, but I was very aware that with all the stuff on the back I wouldn’t be able to hop out of its way if I did drop it, and getting stuck under a fallen RR is the last thing I want to do, especially a wet RR. Finally we reached the campsite which was made obvious by the brightly clothed marshals pointing us down a hairpin turn off, down an extremely steep path, round another corner and over an obstacle course of a row of plastic boards followed by a cattle grid followed by a pothole covered path into the campsite. The campsite itself had tarmac paths and plenty of places to park, so my fears melted away once I got over the obstacles because I knew I wouldn’t need to try and drop a puck under my stand to stop the bike toppling over. I was able to park easily and leave my bike knowing it would stay upright at least for the next 12 hours.
Another friend joined my little group so in a party of four we found a suitable place to pitch up – we picked a spot along the tree line to be sheltered from the wind. The camp site was in a valley surrounded by big hills, level with a lake – very very pretty, but extremely wet and windy. Our spot was soggy but a step up from some people who left their tents for 5 minutes and returned to find them flooded. Unfortunately, due to what my brother calls ‘bad tent admin’ I got water in my tent immediately, probably due to throwing my soaking luggage into it straight away. It was a problem for later. At this point water had founds its way into my jacket, my boots had soaked through completely and I couldn’t feel my toes, so it was time to go and warm up. We didn’t have a marquee like last year, but there was a building back up the hill that was serving cuppa soups, so we wondered up there for our soup and to try and dry off a bit, we also had to check in at the reception building to collect our goodie bags. At each Dragon Rally when you present your stamped ticket at the camp site you get a goodie bag which has your badge (very special), a coaster, a sew on patch, a big sticker, a mars bar and a small bottle of some strong alcohol.
The weather calmed down for a little while just as it was starting to get dark, so in a borrowed dry jacket (thanks Nigel) I took a walk around the site to see who else was tackling the rally – this was also a good way to take my mind off how cold and wet my feet were. I love seeing the huge variety of different bikes and survival techniques that show up at the Dragon, you get a bit of everything! I am not the only sports bike rider, but we were few and far between; I saw a Ducati Panigale which was probably the most unsuitable bike there, and a few other sports bikes including another S1000RR. There were BMW GSs of course, dozens of them, lots of smaller touring bikes, modern classics including some very lovely looking Triumphs. There were rat bikes everywhere which I always find fascinating because they’re covered in trinkets and homemade gadgets and I can spend ages looking at them trying to work it all out. There were of course, lots of Honda c90s, the versatile super scooters with no limits to their capabilities. There were side cars of all shapes and sizes, another very suitable bike for this type of adventure because of their capacity for extra blankets. All these bikes with their different luggage set ups and touring accessories gave me plenty to ogle at as I squelched around the camp site. Eventually It started to rain, heavily, and it was dark by this point, so I sheltered by the burger van (there was a burger van, how lucky were we!) with my group to drink hot chocolate and watch the world go by, serenaded by a man with bagpipes. The rain continued to come down forcing out the people with higher standards of living. I’m not sure exactly how many people bailed early but there were noticeably fewer bikes as the evening went on.
For dinner Laine had brought chilli con carne, we could have eaten from the burger van but where’s the fun in that? Being on a real camp site had a few perks and one of those perks was a kitchen area with sinks and lighting, so we found a spot in the very crowded space and set up to heat the chilli, boil the rice and eat our meal under cover. We’d all brought various cooking equipment with us so the meals were ready in about 20 minutes, and tasted very good.
Later into the evening the music started, no band this year, and no shelter – instead we had a truck with a DJ set up in the back. We spent the evening stood outside in the dark watching people dancing aggressively to classic rock coming out of a lorry. Lots of people got quite drunk so the evening entertainment was watching people falling over and at one point I watched a man throw an entire cup of beer over his shoulder and hit his friend in the head with it, then they hugged eachother. One man parked his sidecar over a lit fire pit, I still can’t work out why and I did wonder if maybe he didn’t want that particular bike anymore.
The music stopped and it was time to go to bed. My tent as it turns out, is amazing, it was warm inside, and once I was in my pyjamas, snuggled in my sleeping bag with one of my blankets on top, I was warm, cosy, and comfortable. I didn’t even need to wear socks and my poor soggy feet finally had a chance to dry out. The man with the bag pipes serenaded us to sleep, sort of, by walking around the campsite playing…something.
Day 3! The final day of the adventure. We woke up at first light to leave as early as possible. Packing tents in the wet makes me cringe because then you’ve got a wet tent to deal with later, the weather was doing its thing and we weren’t going to sit around and see if it would get better (it didn’t). All our stuff was hastily loaded up, wet bike jackets were put on and my borrowed dry jacket was returned (thanks Nigel). I reused my bin liners for my feet, and with dry socks it didn’t feel so bad, and Laine found me some latex gloves to go in my sopping wet Gore-tex gloves. The wind was bad, the rain was bad, everything was bad, but we just had to get home. Originally the plan had been to ride through central Wales and really enjoy the scenery, but we ditched this plan and decided to head for fast A roads out of Wales. First I had to cross the obstacle course at the entrance to the site. I can’t go into much detail about this, because it was over very quickly, I did not drop the bike, I sent it fairly steadily over the cattlegrid, over the plastic boards and up the hill. We made it! No more damaged GB Racing parts this time. I am still proud of myself.
It took us 6 hours to get home including a few short fuel stops and one Burger King stop. The ride was brutal, but knowing we would be home by the end of the day kept us going. Nothing particularly interesting happened, we just sat for hours at a time getting battered by the wind and rain, not able to see very much. The first thing I did when I got home was strip all my kit from the bike – I’m not sure if that makes much difference to the bike but I was considering its emotional wellbeing – I certainly wouldn’t appreciate being left in all my wet gear. Then I had a nice bubble bath.
The weekend was not as bad as the 2020 Dragon Rally, so with this in mind it definitely didn’t feel like as much of a challenge, and although the experience wasn’t exactly pleasant, I was happy to be there, I’m glad that I went, and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. I’ve learned a lot as I always do, which will make next year that little bit easier and hopefully in a few years the whole event will be a walk in the park. I found the limits of my gear, I knew my boots weren’t waterproof so it wouldn’t be fair to judge them as that was just my own lack of preparation, but I’m shocked and low key a little proud to have broken through what is supposed to be 100% waterproof Gore-tex textiles. My gloves didn’t last long at all, they’re 4 years old so maybe this is just the end of their natural life. The Rukka jacket is fairly new and has been flawlessly reliable up until now, once water got in up the sleeves it seemed to just spread and stay soaked, and I have no idea how but eventually the water came through onto my chest.
The RR was flawless, I had no problems at all with the bike, it started, everything worked and at no point did I feel like it wasn’t up to the task, despite being far far away from its intended environment. It was good on fuel, comfortable to sit on for long hours on the road, and I got everything onto it. 10/10 would take adventuring again.
I hope you enjoyed this write up! I’ve also strung together the videos I took on the trip and uploaded it to YouTube – watch it here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuPZbFiHcXo