Kye Does TPI – The Grand Plan
The idea to stay in Europe for the break between the ErzbergRodeo and Romaniacs came about when the dates were first released. The two events are almost too close together to justify coming back to Australia, let alone the extra cost of another lot of flights. So my partner, Lesley, and I decided we’d stay on.
This hatched the idea of doing some touring and training; something that neither me nor Lesley, had previously done while travelling. For so many years of my racing in Oz and OS – from the ISDE to the GNCC and now the extreme series – all we’ve tended to do is fly in, do the race, see very little of the countryside, then fly out again; straight into work back home to fund the next race/adventure.
So this time around, we decided we wanted to enjoy the adventure a little more by staying in Europe for the entire two months. Luckily both of us could get out of full-time work, but it didn’t come easy. We were 100% committed and worked our arses off to make it happen. This process began way back in October, 2016, when I had to enter all of the races for 2017 within one month! Since then, both of us have worked ridiculous amounts to set ourselves up financially and to make this trip possible. And that’s before all the organisation involved with everything from bike set-up, sponsorship proposals, equipment, KA64 clothing designs … the list goes on and on!
The logistical chaos became a logistical nightmare two weeks out from leaving Australia, when I was informed my plan for a bike was no longer an option, and essentially I was on my own. Lesley and I had put more than seven months’ hard work into this adventure and I simply was not going to give up and fly over to Europe to watch the races and not compete. So I hit the damage control button and started emailing and calling anyone I thought could help. Two days later, my mate Andreas Hartl in Germany – who transports my bikes and gear – found a 300 two-stroke I could buy brand new, but the cost? 8500 Euro! That’s almost AUD $13,000!
I was bummed, and had exhausted all my options. Almost all my options… Andy Wigan from Transmoto had been over at Erzberg for the international media launch of KTM’s 2018-model 300EXC TPI a few weeks prior, so a quick call explaining my desperate situation resulted in an instruction to “Wait out until the end of the week; I’ll send some emails and see what strings I can pull for you”. And that was just a week before we were due to fly out.
So a week before our trip, I had no solid confirmation about a bike for Europe – other than the $13,000 option, that is. I felt my fate was sealed, so my plan was to go to the bank at ‘smoko’, withdraw my hard-earned cash and send it over to Andreas. Then, literally one hour before I was going to the bank, I get a text from Wigan: “check your email and gimme a call around lunch, buddy. Good news. Great news!”.
I check my emails and, boom, there is a $13,000 lifeline – an email from KTM’s Off-Road PR Manager, Jennifer Dick, stating that KTM Austria were willing to supply me a pre-production 2018 KTM 300EXC TPI for Erzberg and Romaniacs, and supply some great KTM PowerParts to boot. And all the Transmoto crew asked in return for this hook-up was that I get some cool content with the 360fly camera they gave me (their publishing company distributes these things) to show the world the potential of the all-new 2018 KTM 300EXC TPI, and follow up on Transmoto‘s test on the bike at the media launch.
The Iron Giant
Fast forward just over a week and we are at Erzberg, Austria, and I’m walking up to the Factory KTM semi trailers to meet Mathias Kumpf and pick up the bike that will carry me around the Iron Giant and the Carpathian Mountains later on in my adventure. The KTM factory staff were so welcoming and willing to help out in any way they could. I couldn’t thank them enough because the difference their leg-up made for a small-time privateer like me – for a guy who has bought every bike he has ever owned – is just massive! Plus it freed me up to focus on the race, rather than being consumed by logistics.
The following day, I focused on adjusting the bike and fitting some of my sponsors’ parts to blend in with the livery of KTM PowerParts supplied – everything from a B&B Off-road bashplate/radiator braces, Barkbusters, Rock Oil fluids and Willmax graphics to personalise the TPI bike.
I couldn’t wait to head straight down to the test area for my first run on a pre-production bike. As soon as I took off in the test area, I immediately noticed a couple differences from the previous model. Throttle response is the first thing to stand out. It’s ever so similar to the super-sharp and clean throttle response that the fuel-injected four-strokes deliver. The engine runs smooth and faultlessly, emitting almost no emissions. That means no smell, no oily exhaust tip, nothing but clean 100% efficient burning of fuel and oil. I liked how clean the engine ran with no splutter or hesitation – unlike how most carburettor bikes feel at the drastic change of altitude here at Erzberg. On the long downhills, the engine idled perfectly from top to bottom, not stalling out like carb-fed bikes tend to.
Around comes some free time for me to walk some sections of the track, which is a massive benefit I feel is overlooked by most competitors. I walked almost every tough section of the course, including the forests – the part of the course TV coverage doesn’t show. The forest sections can make or break this race with traffic jams and chaos, and if it rains before the race, the forest turns into a near vertical ice skating rink.
The prologue days are pretty crazy. But they’re good at the same time because they are so short that you have some free time to adjust the bike, walk more of the track or just check out the sights and circus that makes up the ErzbergRodeo itself.
I’ve never been one for the super high-speed racing, where you’re clocking around 130km/h. Throw in trying to pass riders due to a high starting number, and things will always become interesting.
After the first prologue, I was intrigued with playing around with the bike’s power delivery characteristics to try and boost me along a little better. Luckily enough for me, the R&D guys from the KTM factory were on hand, adjusting the power-valve to suit the two individual maps I had access to via the KTM PowerParts map-selector switch.
After improving the bike, I was raring and ready to go for the main event, The Hare Scramble. Scramble is a perfect word for this race because it’s intense. I got taken out twice in the first two rock sections, only 100 metres off the start line. Pulling myself back together, I made up some time charging through the pack. I got stuck in a fair bit of traffic in the first couple of forest sections, costing me valuable time. Combine that with a couple of big, big crashes that unsettled me, but I never gave up. All in all, big improvements for me in the extreme world, reaching almost the end of the notoriously treacherous Karl’s Dinner.
I couldn’t have gotten this far without the help of my “Aussie Posse”, consisting of my partner Lesley and an entire Austrian family (Seebacher family) who adopt us and other Aussies when we come to Erzberg for the whole week surrounding the race. Lesley goes to massive lengths to help make sure everything goes to plan, and the Seebacher family treat us like we are part of the family and provide us with ongoing support at during the race. To be honest, I believe this year’s results don’t reflect my true riding ability. So next year, when everything falls in to place and I am settled on the front row, I believe I will hold a finisher flag at the end.
After the race, KTM head of R&D, Rupert Walkner approached me for some feedback on the new bike. According to him, I provided him with so much useful information that he wanted me to send the bike back to the KTM factory and meet with him and his team the following week.
Two days later, we are in Mattighofen, sitting down for a coffee with the engineering team who literally designed and built the bike that I’d been torturing all weekend. We discussed my findings and they were stoked. They even mentioned maybe one day I could be a test rider.
I am currently writing up a report for the R&D team to help them test and make changes before Romaniacs in late July. I may even get to visit the KTM testing facility to personally customise the 300 if time permits. Fingers crossed…
Big shout out to Wayne Orsler for hooking us up with images of Kye at Erzberg, you can check out more of his work here.