Primus Rally 2015


The Primus Rally is an event I heard about for the first time last summer, when I was staying with the Cozy Chicks MCC in Denmark on my way back from the Iceland Star Grab. Their summer party co-incided with my visit, and it was there I met the President of Hot Wheels MCC. He suggested that if I liked the Elephantentreffen, I should definitely join them in February as their fleet of sidecars would make the journey from Denmark north, by ferry to Oslo, and on to the camping spot high up in the hills of Bjornea in Norway.

I returned back to England after the party in the summer to a very empty bank balance, without work lined up, but with plenty of fond memories from Iceland and the people I met along the way. With oil coming from the base gasket of the 640, plus needing to refresh most of my camping equipment, I wouldn’t be able to commit to the journey until I got my finances in order, though I had managed to convince a friend I made on the Iceland ferry that he should join me if I could do it. After months of searching job boards I managed to pick up a short-term contract, but it involved working for three months before my first payment - in January! With money finally in the bank but with only one month to get ready I got in touch with the Danes to see if it was still a go - it was, and I was going.


My opinion is that a trip becomes an adventure when there is a certain amount of uncertainty that gradually crescendos into pure panic the day before you leave. This trip had plenty of uncertainty and panic, on five fronts

  • route
  • bike
  • camping gear
  • clothes
  • time


Whilst there are many economic and political benefits of being isolated on a small island off the coast of mainland Europe, taking your vehicle abroad affordably is not one of them. There was once a time when us Brits could catch a ferry from Scotland to Iceland, or the East of England to Denmark or Norway. These days are long gone. Indeed the only passenger ferry service going north gets you from Harwich, near London, to the Hook of Holland, near Rottterdam. Pretty useless if you want to go to any of the Baltic states without a long drive.

After some route planning, it became clear that meeting the Danes in Jutland meant having to leave the evening of Day 1, sail to Rotterdam overnight, and ride roughly 600 miles to meet them on Day 2. 600 miles in the summer isn’t a problem, but 600 miles in a snow wind and rain would be no fun - doable, but no fun. However, there was an extra dimension - how would I ride that distance with winter tyres?


‘Warhorse’ went in for a full strip down and service, whilst I researched tyres. As the base gasket leak required taking the cylinder off, opening this 640 Adventure’s 53000 miles / 85000km engine for the first time was never going to be fun. Or cheap.

Tyres. There’s no way I’m doing a journey on ice without getting this right. Tyres are a contentious topic at the best of times, and the rumours of studs being a necessity for the rally, and a huge variation in advice, gave me sleepless nights. What studs or spikes are right? How can I get them if they’re illegal in England? Do I buy pre-studded tyres and ride 800 miles on the highway or do I take normal rubber and drill studs on the way? Drilling on the road side? What if it’s not cold at all, am I worse off with studs? Are they lethal on the tarmac?

I called Germany. I called Finland. I called Sweden. I searched online. But in the end, a thread from DustyWobbls convinced me to trust in a set of winter tyres from SataPiikki in Finland. I sent Jari my requirements, and within a few days I got pictures of my tyres and a tracking code! With this essential component resolved, I could book the ferries, plan my route, and worry about the next challenge.

Camping Gear

Sleeping bag. I nearly froze to death at the Elephantentreffen in a Comfort 7 degree sleeping bag and that was only around -5. A new sleeping bag was in order if -20 was to be believed. Down bag = 1kg, small, but ~£1000 for -40. Synthetic = 3kg, huge, but ~£200 for -50. And it could get wet and still work. The Snugpak Antarctica RE was mine.

Mattress. The Exped Synmat is probably the most useless piece of equipment I have ever owned. For 7 years it has been an expensive furry swimming-pool lilo that takes so long to hand pump up crouched over it that you’ll need the mattress just to rest your back afterwards. And then it goes flat within an hour. It’s bulky and an utter bastard to pack away hungover… I can safely say I hate my Exped Synmat. And when it went flat on the Elephantentreffen, encased by frozen ice, I vowed to never let it grace my panniers again. However now I needed one to work. I looked at the Thermarests, I looked at the pads, but the Down version of the Expeds were the warmest - and believe me I didn’t want another one of these things in my life - but so another was bought. Surely they must be better now?

Tent. Fat Frog by North Face. Great tent, used it everywhere, never lets me down, fits in the panniers. I pined for a Tipi and stove but my concerns on cost and weight weren’t defeated, especially as the 640 is quite sensitive to being overloaded. Would love a tentipi, but I would love ~£1000 in my bank account more!

Stove. MSR Whisperlite Internationale. After 8 years mine’s becoming quite unreliable, but it packs down small, and hey it’s always fun throwing fireballs trying to start it, and the smell of burning hand and arm hair is addictive.

Chair. I’ve toured with foldable camp chairs before, but they’re heavy at a few kgs and an awkward shape. I took a punt on the ludicrously priced Helinox Chair One, and went with the Table One whilst I was at it. Before anyone chimes in with using panniers a) the metal would freeze to any skin, not a great feature of a chair b) panniers have no back support c) I fit the panniers on with tools to stop the 640 vibes from throwing them off, no joke.


I’ve touring leathers, textiles, winter textiles, waterproofs… What I always come back to is a light Revit jacket and trousers that I bought for a trip across Saudi a few years ago. Mesh fabric. Not great for snow [English understatement]. But great for a protective base layer.

A trip to an Army Surplus store had me buying an ex German army quilted tank suit - the quilting being my interest. This would go nicely under my riding suit.

The same store had this awesome -40 insulated Canadian-made Dew Liner over-suit that was wind and waterproof and would zip over my riding gear. Taken just in case, along with a North Face expedition jacket that would fit underneath the suit.

Boots. These Sorel wool boots talked of being very warm, good in the snow, totally waterproof, and similar in shape to an MX boot so it could still operate the gears and brakes. The downside being that they offered zero impact or ankle protection. So don’t crash.

Gloves. The KTM heated grips are amazing, they get so hot I have had blisters on my throttle hand - but your fingers won’t thank you. This time I ditched the grips and went with some Warm n Safe heated gloves wired directly to the battery. Apparently it’s normal to buy a controller, but I figured that 100% full power would be just fine for where I was going.

Legs: Sport socks -> Seal Skins -> Ski Socks -> Sorel wool inner boots -> quilted tank suit -> revit quilted trousers -> revit waterproof liner -> revit trousers.
Body: Vest -> Shirt -> Fleece -> quilted tank suit -> revit quilted jacket -> revit waterproof liner -> revit mesh jacket -> snowboarding jacket -> North Face down jacket -> Exposure suit -> rain poncho.


Breaking all the rules of preparation…

The bike got new piston rings but only had 100km on them riding back from the shop. No time to test the rebuild.
The camping gear arrived, got unwrapped, and packed. No time to test the sleeping bag, matress, chair, or table.
The clothes were bought, detagged, and packed. No time to try the boots, tank suit, exposure suit, or heated gloves until the day I left.

Then Wednesday came, the day of the tyre delivery. No tyres. Thursday… no tyres. Friday… no tyres. ****. I leave on Monday. No tyres. Equipment untested. Panic.


Absolutely fantastic write up Martin, can’t wait for episode two!


Work had me far away from home on Friday, so on a overcrowded return train journey from Birmingham to London I was calling anyone I knew who might be able to get tyres overnight. After ringing pretty much every offroad dealer I knew, Essential Rubber in London were able to get a set of MT21s ordered and fitted next day for Saturday morning - the very last opportunity I’d have before leaving on Monday.

Stress was high - I love the Pirelli MT21s and trust them offroad but I had no idea how good a winter tyre they would be. Without M+S snow markings, and given I get good life from them, I was very worried they would be too hard and provide little to no grip when things got slippery.

Whilst all of this was going on my riding buddy Mikael was planning to take a worn set of T63s on his 640 Enduro, and a German company had supplied him with some ‘Best Grip’ studs. My old tyres were too worn for this option, and I didn’t want to ruin a set of new tyres with them so the SataPiikki option worked out cheapest. However, as I was now out of options, I needed to decide if I would go the Best Grip route or not take any. Whilst in theory there would be no down side to taking the studs, we were recommended 350, but at almost a pound each… that’s more than the total price of the MT21s!

The weather report was suggesting no snow whatsoever and mild ~5 temperatures in Denmark, and the Danes suggested that only the last leg of the journey in Norway would be icy. I was a little stuck on the decision. Should I write off the money for the studs and be safe, or take a gamble that the weather and MT21s would work? I reviewed what I’d already spent: the bike service, the clothing, the new camping gear - it would all be wasted if I couldn’t make the event or crashed along the way, potentially leaving me with a larger recovery and repair bill in a foreign land.

A call to Chris at Supatracks ensured that 350x Best Grip 1200 were coming my way by special guaranteed delivery for 9am Monday morning.

Monday came, so did the studs, and I was ready to go!


love the write up!


With everything packed and ready to go, I hit the road at 18:00 to catch the 20:30 ferry. First stop a KTM dealer to pick up some spare engine oil - though now closed for the day, I had rung up earlier and 1 litle of oil had been hidden around a corner for me to collect.

Along the way to the ferry, vibrations from the engine had caused the plastic tonic water bottle to explode. Thankfully the explosion was outside the panniers, but this left both the gin without mixer, and an empty bottle space on the panniers. At the port of Harwich is a Morrissons supermarket, but without any glass tonic bottles, I settled on a 10 year Talisker whiskey to fill the space.

At this point it had been raining like I had not seen in years. Heavy, solid, unrelenting rain. I was soaked.


love your tales of adventure Martin. keep em coming! looking forward to finding out how you find riding on studs!


I think I’d have sacked off the whole ‘adventure’ thing at this point and gone home :slight_smile:


Great write up


Fab write-up !


Enter Mikael. Mike and I met on the ferry back from Iceland in the Summer and we kept in touch. I explained about this rally in late 2014, and after a few Skype calls everything looked possible and we both started to prepare. Mike was going to use his existing old T63 tyres with screw studs, so wanted to get as much life from them as possible - and him riding from southern Germany to Denmark, over 1000 miles, was not going to be a good idea if there was going to be any tread left for the studs to drill into. Fortunately he had a rather nice 4x4 VM transporter van that he could load his 640 into.

My purchase of the studded tyres was the prerequisite for all my other camping gear, clothing, and ferry bookings - without the tyres there would be no point in the trip. On the assumption that I’d have the tyres fitted in London, my plan was to quietly sneak over to the Harwich ferry with the studded tyres (studs in the UK are arguably illegal), and meet Mike and his van in Rotterdam. Once we’re loaded in, he saves his tread, and I save my studs. The plans were made before I knew that I would not have the studded tyres, but we had no cause to change them.

We slogged up to Jutland, and found the GPS co-ordinates of a farm house where Hot Wheels MCC were staying that night. Thanks to Bjorn and Lilli for their kind hospitality.

The first signs of trouble as the battery on my 640 couldn’t crank the bike. I think this was a combination of the cold and also the much better compression of the newly rebuilt engine. Thankfully the LC4 comes with a kicker, so after much guesswork and good-hearted teasing, the beast fired up.

Our impromptu spot for the night, ready for the horrendously early start the next day.


Love it Martin, can’t wait for the rest of the write-up


thanks for my lunchtime reading :smiley:

looking forward to episode 3.


Sounds like great fun :slight_smile: Looking through the pictures, your bikers seem to be shedding more layers of clothing with each write up…are we gonna get a special chapter after 9pm? :smiley:


We loaded the bikes the night before so we were all ready to go. I got up extra early to kick the 640 into life.

The ferry crossing is around 9 hours.

We arrived in Oslo around 19:00 and made our way to a hut ~100km away.

It was at this point that some decisions were needed. During our preparation, we had been told that riding with studs on the tarmac was like riding on ice without studs. As we had a fair distance of highway to cover before turning up to the hills, there was concern that fitting them now was too early. We were however guaranteed to need them to get up the hill.

In theory we could simply stop when it got icy and fit the studs. We didn’t do that, and as we then found out, drilling studs in is a complete pain in the ass. Best done with a beer, sat down, with friends, and light.

We lifted the 640 onto the porch for the job.

The tool fits into the end of the drill and the stud snaps into it. You then need to use a power drill to slowly drive them in, using your shoulder to push your weight into the stud to make it bite. It’s a fiddly and slow job, especially on MT21s which appear to be quite tough tyres. The T63 was less difficult.


to which point, Mr Jetstream decided to join you :smiley:


The bottle of gin must have made those 9 hours more palatable as it’s missing from the bike :smiley:


The studs ready for action.

Riding on the highway was an interesting experience. Firstly, the grip available was absolutely fine on the tarmac. However the sensation of having the metal in the tread felt exactly like a flat tyre, presumably as the blocks are far more rigid and can be felt in the same way. It’s fun hearing the whirr of metal coming from the wheels.

We took a scenic route along a fjord, which is where the studs came into play. You can definitely feel the texture of the road change between tarmac and ice, but once the transition has happened it becomes quite OK to ride on. If we had not studded the tyres, I think we would have crashed at the first ice patch and spent hours sitting in the snow drilling in the studs - it would have been miserable. Instead we got to enjoy a lovely day.

You can see in this video shot from a sidecar that whilst there are occasional patches of tarmac, the majority of the surface is sheet ice and shush that has refrozen hard. It would be very difficult to walk on this surface, but riding on it is similar to riding on sand in that the front will try to go where it likes and you have to let it.

We made it to the camp site without bother.

We picked our spots and got unpacking. The snow was about 2 ft deep, my right leg is not crouching but standing on the ground!

The sidecars had significantly more to unload, and also needed to dig down to the ground due to the heat from their stoves.

Once everyone was unpacked, it was time for three days of winter camping, beers, and good times.


Naturally I wouldn’t attempt to take more than my allowance of spirits into Norway. As it turned out, I found the exact same bottle of gin later on :rolleyes::Whistling:


Ah there’s an allowance for Norway… never knew that.