When Steve Lander approached us about whether we would like to help support him as he took on this event; we had no idea how tough it would actually be! It was a real test of whether our products could help keep the energy levels high throughout each day (and night!!). Despite a slightly disappointing end for Steve and co-rider Robin Scarry, at least they were still walking and survived to do it all again in 2015!!
Here you can read Steve and Robin’s account of an extremely arduous 4 days…
RED BULL ROMANIACS is a mental race, plain and simple. Billed as the ‘toughest hard enduro rally’ in the world it starts with a ridiculous prologue street race, followed by four long and punishing days in the Carpathian Mountains. The prologue decides your start position for the first day in the mountains, so it’s a huge advantage to be near the front to avoid the inevitable carnage of queuing riders ploughing deep ruts into the hillsides. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Bronze Single Class with a huge entry of 165 riders this year. There is a considerable disparity of riders across the class. The top 10 riders are practically championship level; the next 20 – Expert; next 40 – Clubman A, and so on right down to Sportsman level. After completing the Bronze Team event at last year’s Red Bull Romaniacs on our tried and tested 300 EXCs, Robin and I thought we’d give the Bronze Single class a try this year on the new two-stroke KTM 250R Freerides.
Since their launch last year, the Freerides have come in for some stick due to early teething problems, especially with the starting. However, after test riding one we both felt that due to its light chassis, low seat and quick handling it would be just the tool for Romaniacs – and particularly suited to us given our svelte athletic frames (ahem). We arrived in Sibiu the Sunday before the race. The bikes were transported by Patsy Quick’s Desert Rose Racing, who provided an excellent race support package. We managed to get the lengthy process of registration and scrutineering done (essentially advanced sticker applying) which would leave Monday to walk the prologue course and prep the bikes before the start on Tuesday.
A dual carriageway in central Sibiu is closed down to make way for the maddest bike track you can ever imagine. Romanian workers were still constructing the course as we walked it on Monday morning. Logs, pipes, manmade forest, car, lorry trailer, more logs, high level rock garden, wood pile, seesaws, moving retractable log, a 25ft high wall ride/helter-skelter plus more stacks of logs. It becomes abundantly clear very early on that there is a blatant disregard for health and safety with a different scale to the rest of the world for measuring danger. If you see a ‘DANGER’ sign at Romaniacs, take it very seriously indeed as it will be something that’s completely off the scale dangerous.
That evening we were introduced to something called ‘dancing fluid’. A cold, golden coloured liquid served in large glasses. Legend says it helps the untrained dance and lose their inhibitions. Sadly the effects of ‘dancing fluid’ don’t last. Tuesday morning we returned to being very apprehensive about the prologue. In my head I’m about to tackle it like Graham Jarvis, in reality I ride like Graham Norton. Being tense and nervous made for a very tiring ride, I completely messed up a few sections and even managed to show off the soles of my boots to the crowd at the log pile. Then the anxious wait for the results. The top 35 finishes from each class are called back for a 10 minute final in the late afternoon. It’s not necessarily a good thing to make the final as it means more time on the energy sapping course and bike prep for Day 1 has to be done in the evening. Results came in and deep joy, we are both in the final. Robin placed 26th and I scraped in at 31st. Thousands of people were spectating and it was beamed across the world on the live stream – no pressure then!
Eventually we were off, I made a complete hash of the ‘Dragons Teeth’ but pulled back a load of places on the timber logs. On the second lap, disaster! The engine stopped but I could hear the starter motor constantly spinning over. I got off the track and returned to the pits immediately to disconnect the battery. That evening was spent frantically trying to find the problem which turned out to be a few wires worn through on the loom creating a short. Robin turned in a fine ride and managed to stay out of trouble, placing 19th which set him up in a great start position for Day 1. I still get 30th position despite my Prologue DNF which put us both starting in the top 20% so result!
Day 1 in the Mountains (106km Bronze)
5.45am start, breakfast, pick up the GPS. This was the morning ritual at Romaniacs. Each rider’s GPS is collected first thing every morning with that day’s route loaded onto it. Ride to the start line, leave on your allotted minute and follow the line as fast as possible. Simple? – yeah right! To make things a little harder a time bar of eight hours is placed on each day, it can be missed once, miss it again and you’re out.
Conditions looked good for the relatively short distance ride. Both of us got off well and clocked some good times for the first couple of check points. I absolutely loved the course with super fast rolling wooded trails in perfect condition. The Freeride just ate them up. Then disaster again! Half way down a large mountain the engine cut out. I had a horrible feeling it was electrical and when I investigated, yep, no spark. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong so it was a case of getting back to civilisation to sort it. I managed to roll and push my way down to a gravel road at the base of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. Called the Romaniacs Emergency number and was advised that unless I was hurt they wouldn’t pick me up for hours. So I pushed 8km to the road junction where the team service vehicles would be passing through.
I struggled on through a village despite the strange looks from the locals. It was like the opening scene of Borat. Eventually I arrived at the road junction and the first service van to arrive was none other than the Eurotek KTM crew who I’d bought the Freeride from! Whilst not interested in giving me a full refund there and then, they kindly rehydrated me and took me back to the pits – top lads! After much swapping of parts and swearing (and various people lending me a hand, including Seb Fortanier, Jonny W’s spannerman!), I eventually got the bike back together at 23:30 that night. It ran for 20 seconds, then cut out and no spark again. Completely exhausted I conceded it was game over, and called Clive Town (Zippy), the Desert Rose mechanic, to let him know the truck needed locking. ‘Do you want to ride tomorrow?’ came his response, ‘right, go to bed and I’ll take a look when I get back from dinner’. Too knackered for dancing fluid, I did as I was told only to be woken by a call at 2am. ‘We’ve got a great spark so get your arse down here early tomorrow morning to get it back together, going to bed now, I’m up at 5am’. Zippy and Patsy had swapped over a stator from a spare bike. Legends. My Joker card played, I now had to finish every day within the time bar to avoid being eliminated. I also suspected I had lost my start position due to my DNF.
Day 2 in the Mountains (117km Bronze)
5.45am start, breakfast, pick up the GPS. The course took us to Voineasa and we had an overnight stay there. At the start line I asked for my start position, the official looked down the list, looked at my number again and continued to scroll down the list. ‘Last’ she eventually answered, BUGGER! The morning course followed some narrow nadgery trails with stream crossings and the Freeride handled them with ease. There’s a huge British presence at Romaniacs. This was very evident as I arrived at the first really difficult climb of the day with bikes and riders strewn all over.
Riders needed to get into teams and man-handle the bikes up. I guess around 25% of the people there were Brits, and fortunately I knew them all, so plenty of options to get help. Andrei, a cracking Romanian lad I’d got to know asked: ‘Steve, I know nobody on this hill, can I team up with you?’ ‘Ha, certainly mate!’ – clearly an advantage for the Romanians knowing some Brits! The rest of the day went really well for a change and I managed to pass loads of other riders. After starting dead last I managed to finish the day in 70th position so I was well happy with that. That night we stayed in a tiny village in old communist Romania, situated in a stunning location at the base of a huge valley. The hotel hadn’t been used for two years, and sadly the facilities reflected that fact. The water in our bathroom ran brown, the toilet was reminiscent of that famous scene from Trainspotting and the food was, frankly unrecognisable. Thankfully the dancing fluid phenomenon had reached the area so we managed a well deserved drink before bed. Here’s how Robin got on…
‘Day two started badly and got worse. Crashed down a ridiculously steep hill breaking my throttle adjuster. Then looped out, throwing the bike down a 30 foot bank which unbeknown to me undid my front brake pipe. By the time I got to 2500m I was brakeless. Not good. It’s amazing riding that high, flat out across the tops of the Carpathian Mountains. That is until your bike just stops…. fuel pipe just split and completely emptied the tank! BUGGER. Now what?
I flagged down another Brit, used my breather pipe as a siphon tube and nicked a litre. Off again. Managed to scrounge another litre from a first aid team and limped to the next ones who informed me in German that carrying on down the mountain with no brake was suicide. Top tip, two-stroke oil is great brake fluid. Turns out that the medic was one of Austria’s leading heart surgeons and a dab hand with a syringe and brakes. I offered to buy him a beer for his trouble but all he wanted was a kiss on the cheek… Teamed up with Carl Venter for the afternoon and was back on the gas, pinned and going well until the last km up a river and with the Red Bull arch in sight I sunk the bike… Quick push over the line, some bike draining and the little bike was off again. I love two-strokes.
Day 3 in the Mountains (132km Bronze)
5.45am start, breakfast, pick up the GPS. It was a race to the town of Petrosani, that had the finish on a factory roof. At the briefing the night before we were advised not to hang about on the roof for too long as they were not sure how strong it was. I’d decided to chance not fitting a new rear tyre the night before, then after lots of overnight rain regretted not fitting that new rear tyre. Reached the top of the first tough climb, then another and another, they just kept coming. I met Robin and we worked together with some other Brits to manhandle the bikes up the long final hill – pretty exhausting work but this is where all the fitness training paid off. It was those moments that dictated whether you would finish Romaniacs or not. This race will chew you up into small pieces and spit you out if you do not have sufficient fitness levels.
As we approached the gravel road at the summit, soaked in sweat and gasping for air, large groups of riders passed us by. Confused, we realise it’s the back end of the Bronze/Iron class riders who have been let around the hill on a chicken route to relieve congestion. This now meant we had around 100 or so riders from the back of the field placed directly in front of us. BUGGER! It seemed completely unfair, but sometimes Romaniacs isn’t fair. Heads down we frantically try to get past as many riders as possible to avoid what will be huge queues in the next technical section. At some point I lost Robin and eventually got into the service point. Checking the time and distance left, this afternoon was going to be tight and I was facing elimination if I didn’t get in on time.
When you are pushed to the point of collapse and all that matters is getting to the finish, incredible friendships are formed. Not many words are spoken but there’s a huge amount of mutual respect as you bury yourselves for each other. I rode that afternoon with Jamie, one of the Desert Rose lads. An ex-motocrosser the size of a house with muscle in his spit. He knew I had to make time that day and did everything he could to make that happen. We rode the flowing parts as fast as possible and dragged the bikes up sections we couldn’t ride on the quickly deteriorating course. Flat out on the open mountain sections, clicking off the K’s then more walking speed, technical sections over rocks and roots that seemed endless. This was one of the toughest days I’d experienced at Romaniacs and my now shot rear tyre was making it worse. On and on we pushed, watching the distance remaining on the GPS closely, flat out where we could, and then into more dragging.
About 10km from the finish we arrived at a 60m long climb with a bog at the base and no run up which proved impossible for the Freeride. We dragged the bikes up pretty much the whole way and checked the time. BUGGER, we were going to time out. On we rode to the finish on the roof of the disused coal factory regardless. We entered the building, up the old conveyor shaft, through a staircase and onto the roof. Thankfully the Red Bull girls were still there so we grabbed a cold drink and got off the roof quickly before it collapsed. I was late by about 20 minutes and absolutely gutted but we really had given it everything. Later I found out that a lot of riders had timed out at the mid way service point and only about five out of the 25 riders with Desert Rose had got to the finish. Robin had also timed out, caught up in huge queues. That was a tough day.
Day 4 in the Mountains (147km Bronze)
5.45am start, breakfast, pick up the GPS. Out of habit I went with Robin and joined the queue for the GPS. Whilst there I took the opportunity to whinge at an official regarding the rear of the pack being allowed to cut in front of us the day before. She took pity on me and checked the list for disqualified riders. ‘You are not on the list, get your GPS and go to the start line’ she told me. RESULT! I presumed time must have been given back to riders due to the organisers opening the chicken route. Rushed to the pits and got kitted up as Pete (one of the Desert Rose mechanics) quickly fitted a new rear tyre – top lad. The course was set over a huge distance today as it snaked its way back to Sibiu, so hopefully it would be fast. Initially it flowed with lots of open sections and then the trail disappeared as we arrived at some open moorland. It was a case of following the GPS line as closely as possible. Lots of deep ‘V’ shaped ruts and large rocks buried in the ground made for some tricky riding, particularly as visibility was reduced due to mist.
Eventually the trail appeared and it was a two foot wide rocky ledge with a steep drop to one side that required riding in single file. Suddenly I lost my balance, couldn’t save it and toppled head first off the ledge. Luckily I only fell 5 feet and got tangled in a bush but the bike remained on the ledge, hanging precariously. Not tall enough to push it up from where I was standing I needed help. Fortunately I spotted Jamie who was further up the queue again, he parked up and came to my aid. Jamie and I then rode the rest of the morning together and even managed to take a wrong turning onto a silver route up a fast flowing, rocky river that was just incredible. We got into the service point without a hitch and were off again on the run to the finish. Twenty minutes in and we spotted a rider broken down, it was Robin. I sent Jamie on and stopped to lend Robin a hand. Fortunately, it was a quick fix and we were back, hard on the gas trying to catch up with Jamie.
Nearly at the finish so trying not to do anything stupid. Then we came across the most ridiculous water crossing ever. It was a wooden 30 degree banked wall ride that stretched the whole way across a 40 yard wide river. No time to think about it, just hit it fast and high. I enjoyed it so much I fancied another go! We arrived at the finish in the rain and negotiated the steep climbs and water crossing without too much of a hitch. Another Romaniacs done, and it was a fantastic feeling. Great to see your riding buddies get the finish too. Guys you’ve trained with all year who’ve dedicated their lives to getting to that point. Romaniacs finishes aren’t given away… they are earned, well done to all.
That night we experienced the Red Bull party and the ‘dancing fluid’ flowed generously. They were right, it does make the untrained dance. The final results were posted about a week after the event and unfortunately I was classed as disqualified, Robin finished 92nd. Apparently there was no time extension given on Day 3 after all, and I had timed out. I lodged an appeal but was pretty much told that that’s racing. As I said, Romaniacs can be unfair. But what a race…
Steve Lander / Robin Scarry