NOW I’M NOT SURE WHY I HAVEN’T DONE THE ISDE EVERY YEAR SINCE 2007
with josh strang
Leading up to the ISDE, I was doing some practice and had some of the most fun I’ve had this year, so I was really looking forward to the race. I was a little worried about changing tyres, though. I change tyres here at home but I practise on tubes. Then, at the races, my mechanic mounts wheels with mousses so I hadn’t changed a mousse since Chile in ’07.
I was also worried about the bike I was going to be racing. This year I’ve been racing the 450 SX (carb version). For the ISDE, KTM Australia and Jeff Leisk had organised a hire bike, a 2013 450 EXC. It was EFI and had no linkage so there were a few differences I was a little worried about.
I’m going to be honest and say the KTM and I haven’t really got along this year, but after riding the bike at the practice track I was happy about how it all felt. All I did to it was throw on a set of Renthal 997s, plus we found a set of heavier fork springs to help hold it up a little as it was pretty soft. So I was on a real stocker!
I got into Germany early and waited around for the rest of the Aussies to arrive. I hadn’t met all of the team but after our introductions it was good to finally meet everyone. From the moment we all piled into our rental vans I knew it was going to be a fun two weeks.
We started walking tests and I soon realised I don’t miss walking test after test. I find it hard to remember every little detail like some of the boys do; I think I’ve learnt to remember sections like a hill or mud hole or dangerous section. We got lost most days trying to find tests but we saw some good countryside.
The motel was as funny as anything: between eight and 10 guys hanging out in one room talking about anything and everything and then to the buffet-style dinner where again we talked about anything and everything. It’s cool to see the bond that grows in a team when we all hang out together. Sure, there were some tense moments with some of the boys, but overall everyone got along real good.
I was talking to GK (Glenn Kearney) a fair bit, asking for advice about the ISDE when walking tests. One of my questions was about what I should carry in my bumbag. The funny part about it was that before this he’d told me some stories about his previous Six Days. If you ever get the chance to talk to GK, ask him about it. Anyway, he told me the normal things to carry but after his previous experiences he made me think I was going to have to hook up a trailer to carry all the parts and gadgets needed to complete the ISDE. I think he has these stories because he’s a guy who will never quit — from cooking oil to keep a motor running to river, rock and tree branches to replace a linkage, he will never quit, which makes me look up to GK.
This year’s ISDE was no different. The end of the fourth day, I’m sitting down changing after a pretty tough day on the bike. GK comes hobbling over, nothing bad, and says his day went OK. A few of us notice some blood on his pant leg; he brushes it off and says he had a small crash. Interested, I watched as he took off his knee brace and sock to reveal a massive gash in his leg. You’d think he’d been attacked by a shark — it was the worst thing I’ve seen as far as injuries go.
True to GK’s “never quit” attitude, the first word that came out of his mouth was a swear word, but it wasn’t in a tone that meant he was surprised by the hole; it was as if to say he might not be able to finish the event, which is damn crazy. I know for a fact that I would’ve quit right then, which makes me have that much more respect for GK than I already did. He did half the day and two tyre changes on that thing, then went and got it stitched up and raced for two more days on it and finished. Anyone who wants a role model or just an example of not quitting, look up GK!
My race went pretty good. The first day I got to start with both Hollis and Phillips so I wasn’t worried on trail sections and I had a good group to ride with when it came to special tests. At the end of day one I think I was sixth outright and the trophy team was in second.
Day two was tough for me. There was one test that I think everyone must have crashed on (Toby crashed and broke two ribs, another good example of a tough bastard) and my turn came up on the first loop on day two. Coming out of the woods onto a fast fire road section, my rear wheel started sliding — which I was OK with — but then I think my front started sliding also. I ended up hitting the edge of the road and the bike just spat me over in a pretty big high-side. That shook me up and I struggled on the rest of that test; then, on the next lap around, I struggled as well.
Day three and four went pretty good for me. The start of day four was difficult as it had rained and the trails and special tests were so slippery, some of the slickest conditions I’ve ridden in. On day four I started with both Pricey and Phillips again; by this time, Toby was hurting pretty bad so Matty and I were trying to keep an eye on him to make sure he made it up all the hills OK.
One of the first tricky hills we came to nearly ended Toby’s Six-Day. Matt and I made it up and both parked our bikes to go back to help out Toby. Matty ran halfway down the hill to where he was at; I was just at the top near the final steep part of the hill. He had about three goes and on the last he crashed and it looked like he was done. He kept telling Matt he could keep going but it’s tough to see that and not really be able to help. Finally a bunch of spectators helped us get him up and get going. The trails were tight on time so we were going pretty fast to try and catch back up.
Day five was fun. The race was pretty much over and we had road and gravel trail sections and some really fun tests, so it was a relief to get to day five and get some good stuff out of the way.
Going into day six, team Australia was pretty solid in second place so all we really needed was to finish with decent results to cement our best result for the trophy team. Things didn’t start too well: Milner went down in the first turn, destroying his front rotor, so he was at the back with no front brake on a supermoto-style track. But GK was toughing it out and got a good time.
Our E2 moto was a tough one. With the starting gate broken we had a flag start and our first start was red-flagged. I think there were four Aussies in the top six so to restart wasn’t good. The restart didn’t go well for all of us. Hollis went down pretty hard in the first turn and we were all spread out. I think I passed into fifth on the last lap and about four corners later had a silly little high-side and lost about four spots; in the process I lost fifth place in E2 for the event. But the bummer news was that Hollis had crashed with two laps to go and broken his collarbone, so the team couldn’t use his time for the day. But we still needed Toby to finish. He finished second so it all worked out well.
The whole team worked so hard this year — from GK and Toby toughing it out to Hollis who rode well but injured himself on the final day. Milner was a new guy to me and impressed me with his speed toward the end of the week, winning three tests outright, which is pretty awesome on any day. Matty Phillips also did an awesome job; he was solid all week and was our top finisher.
I’d like to thank Motorcycling Australia and all the supporters who helped us get there and get the results all the boys and girls got. I’d also like to thank KTM Australia again for lining the bike up for me. Anyone looking to buy a bike, I do recommend the new KTM 450 EXC.
Until next month, stay safe and pin it.