Derrick Edmondson, 7 Times British Enduro Champion, Dakar Competitor, and recently returned from the Turaeg Rally, his latest challenge Baja GB, using the LC450 or "Elsie" as she is known. There to report and photograph the action was Tim Tighe.
Derrick Edmondson’s invitation seemed innocuous enough, to ‘come and see something a bit different at the Baja GB event at Sweet Lamb. I’ve got John Mitchinson’s Rally Raid LC4-50 Dakar bike to have a play on.’
What he actually meant was drive for two hours then sit in road-works for an hour at Newtown, spend a rain swept night at Sweet Lamb and try and get some pics during monsoon downpours, get soaked to the skin twice and drive home wet and miserable.
Standing at the start on Saturday morning I kept that ‘what am I doing here’ feeling quietly supressed and it came as a surprise to hear the same words coming from Derrick’s mouth as we gazed at where the hills were 10-minutes previously but were now shrouded in cloud. He wasn’t alone as nearly 40 other souls looked into the hills with trepidation. The organisers were upbeat: “It was a blizzard last year so this isn’t so bad’ they said sitting snugly in their pop-up awning, undercover of the barn!
Dek’s crew, well, lone helper, was Ant Charles, a calm and thoughtful guy who has endured many escapades with Derrick and was full of useful advice; ‘Man-up you wuss, it’s only a drop of rain!’ before retreating to the team accommodation for a cuppa.
It had been four long years since Dek had thrown his leg over a bike. I use that term cautiously as the LC4-50 is tall and anyone who knows Dek will immediately see that I am being somewhat optimistic. With the help of a nearby RSJ he was mounted and ready to go, despite missing half of a boot liner eaten by mice. As long as he didn’t crash or have to stop he would be fine and with the number 1 plate on his machine he was first away, heading for the Hafren Forest.
There was a small amount of concern as the rolling navigation map said San Juan to Chilecito. If that was correct, we were in for a long wait. Fortunately it was a leftover of the Dakar and Dek assured us that he could find the Hafren without adult supervision (‘it’s next to a road with trees on one side and fields on the other!)
The LC4-50 looked the business. Straight from the Dakar it was delivered to Derrick following a service, that was it! It is a bike developed by Rally Raid Products to meet the FIM Dakar specs of machines being 450cc or less. It started life as a KTM 690 (LC4) and in most basic terms the capacity has been sleeved down to 450cc, hence the LC4-50 title, but that is far too simple an explanation for such a fantastic machine.
The specs are impressive: LC4-50 Crankshaft assembly & piston with re-mapped ECU’s, EVO2 Tanks & Rally Fairing Kit, Full graphics kit fitted, Rally Engine Guard and moulded water tank, Rad guards and screen, Upper & Lower uprated tank bolts, Toolbox kit, F2R RB730 Roadbook, Twin ICO VR and a Foam Air Filter Conversion Kit.
Add to that list a host of Rally Raid billet pars such as; Rear brake pedal, Folding brake & clutch levers, Bar risers, Sprocket Guard, Suspension Linkage and 2-piece clutch cover, it is clear that this machine’s modifications are well thought out.
Additionally the bike features Tractive Suspension Rally Shock-300mm travel, WP 48mm modified forks with 300mm travel, Scotts steering damper, Cycra handguards, DEP silencer, Supersprox rear sprocket, HD X ring chain and KTM Rally oversize footpegs. Surprisingly, the bike weighs in at 156kg (including all navigation equipment, but without fuel).
With all this underneath him Dek was set to tackle anything, although his ride to the test was his ‘try-out’ time on the bike but there’s nothing like jumping in at the deep end. There is no questioning Derrick’s long pedigree and skill as an off-road rider in the most adverse conditions imaginable in hotspots around the globe, but he would need all of his experience in the coming hours plus his Yorkshire true-grit and determination.
He returned with clean underwear and a big grin, cobwebs washed rather than blown away, although he admitted that he had had a few ‘moments’ on the test but the bike was steady and solid as a rock. He was in second spot after the first test, just 30-seconds adrift of the leader with another 7 test to go over the two day event. Good going for his first outing on a new machine and not a speck of mud on him, the rain had cleansed him thoroughly.
Both tests were around the 20km mark so there was no need to use the extra fuel tanks, which certainly made things easier in the tight forest sections. A bite to eat and a quick drink saw him heading for the Myherin Forest test. He arrived at the start as the heavens opened and was tempted to change to a jet-ski but this ex-Dakar rider gritted his teeth and charged onwards.
The rain really was unbelievable at this point and Dek had ditched his goggles shortly after the start of the test, which was a great disadvantage as he was passed by the second placed rider, Mike Wells, who gained another minute over him.
By the mid point of the day the organisers were considering calling it a day as the rain increased in velocity but as the bedraggled riders arrived back at the check the rain abated and the event went ahead full steam.
The LC4-50 was holding up superbly well. Nothing needed attention, which gave the rider so much more time to moan about the weather and poor quality of sandwiches provided by the crew. A happy time, relatively speaking.
Compared to the Dakar, for which the bike was designed, the Baja GB was a simple trail ride. Built to handle the power and stresses of a 690cc power plant, the frame and all other ancillaries were having a relatively easy time of it. In comparison to the fellow competitors in the Rally class, the LC4-50 was one of only a few true Rally machines.
Derrick had two solid days of riding and won one of the tests on the second day and tied another, once he found his feet with the LC4-50. Man and machine had worked well together and both made the finish flag despite the terrible weather and considering it was Dek’s first time out in anger on the LC4-50 third in class and third overall was pretty good going.
Over to the voice of experience…...
Derrick Edmondson: The LC4-50 package is very good. It has been very well designed and engineered by a group of experts who already had a good starting point in the KTM 690.
Dropping the capacity down by around 30% throws the power-to-weight ratio out of the window and it will never match an Enduro or MX bike for performance in a short Special Test. The beauty of this machine lies in its longevity and mellow power delivery. It is designed and built to tackle thousands of miles, not dozens and the build quality is testament to that. It’s not a bike that will need rebuilding every 5 minutes, it truly is a case of strength and endurance over out and out performance.
Saying that, the performance isn’t too shabby and in the right hands it will, without doubt, be a very competitive machine. It was perhaps 40-50kgs heavier than some of the other machines in the Rally class but it is a true rally machine, not an Enduro 450 with a full rally fairing.
It is a credit to the engineering abilities of the team who put it together and it made me look nearly as good as I thought I was. The 690 LC4 was an excellent bike and has been given a new lease of life with this conversion. There should be no redundant 690’s with this Rally Raid option available. For guys who want to try the Dakar and other such long distance rallies, this bike makes it possible and affordable for everyman, not just Factory riders with limitless budgets. You might not win but you will certainly make the finish.
The Baja GB wasn’t really enough of a test for the LC4-50. It was for me but the bike could have continued for another week. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on it and the easy power delivery helped ease me back into competition without having to fight the machine out of every corner. A very enjoyable experience, apart from the rain of course.