Backcountry Navigation Trials - the motorcycle motorsport for the thinking rider.
We are now entering the third year of VIME navigation trial events and the skills-and-knowledge base of participants is growing. In order to level-up the implicit savviness of participants and prospects alike, I would like to compare and contrast two GPS tracking/timing systems and explain why one is preferable to the other for use in VIME events. Also I would like to suggest how an event leg can be best ridden to take advantage of the mode of operation of that preferred GPS system and minimise time penalties.
But first, in order to give contex to this, a little of the evolution of VIME "backcountry navigation trials" events....
The motivation to develop and stage these events arose from the realisation that the north of Vancouver Island had thousands of kilometers of gravel roads which are public roads and accessible by road legal drivers/riders and vehicles and are not greatly used for recreational motoring or motorsport.
Circuit motorsport participation has become remote and expensive for grassroots enthusiasts. Rally motorsport is less expensive in comparison but still an indulgence for well-resourced amateurs and local-to-British Columbia motorcycle rallysport events are nonexistent.
These north island venues would be ideal for motorcycle motorsport events, provided an affordable genre could be developed that conforms to the legal requirements of private, amateur motoring in public places.
Road closures to allow race and speed events would not be granted
If road closures were granted, the costs of providing rescue/recovery/medical services at an event with courses in excess of 100km would be prohibitive - as would event insurance premiums
The size of the field of entrants and the numbers of event workers would likely be small, especially during the start-up years, limiting event budgets
Events would have to be shaped in order to meet legal requirements - no speed or race elements, riders would have to not exceed posted speed limits, have road legal, registered and insured road bikes and ride on their ICBC driving licence, on public roads, singly - without any element of "head-to-head" competition.
Events would have to be affordable, achievable, maximising the use of resources that were already owned by participant-prospects. The DS or Adv bike they already owned, operated on their ICBC insurance/registration/licence, no more than one day's travel from home. Navigation tech had to be as easy to use as possible, using hardware that was probably lying around at home running software downloaded (preferably for free) over the internet.
Mobile phone cell coverage across the north of Vancouver Island is patchy at best, absent at worst and a graveyard for hybrid tracking systems that use a passive GPS downlink for location coupled with a cell-signal uplink to report the vehicle's position.
The mountainous topography limits short wave radio communication to line of sight - often less than one kilometre.
There is a well established motorsport that fits this bill, Regularity time/speed/distance rally. A combined test of navigation using rallysport roadbook instructions (as used in rallyraid type events) and vehicle speed management in order to cover set road distances exactly at required (legal) speeds. These events are usually car club tarmac events with cars having a crew of driver and navigator, the cars being largely unmodified except for very accurate time, speed and distance measuring instruments. Courses are prepared and documented to the same degree of precision of time, distance and vehicle speed.
An example page of a roadbook, displayed on Rally Navigator Roadbook Reader.
Traditionally, participant/competitors had their progress around the course monitored and measured by a small army of volunteer timekeepers, a very difficult to find workforce.
More recently, a number of different GPS systems have replaced human timekeepers and to some extent also replaced the precision time, speed and distance instrumentation carried on vehicles.
Geographic Information Systems (mapping apps), coupled with GPS location technology using satellite downlink information has taken most of the mystery and difficulty out of mapping and navigation. These information technology systems transfer to steep/remote backcountry travel very well.
We therefore have the ways and means of running legal, time/speed/distance type navigation trials, over rough (very rough at times) public highways in remote areas, with the minimum of event staff, in a way that does not require extensive medical, rescue and recovery cover.
The intended participant-base for these events are new-to-motorsport riders of dualsport and adventure bike riders who wish to try some low intensity / low commitment motorcycle motorsport not FSR from home. Attracting new riders as novice motorsport participants, usually at an age well past when they expected to participate in a motorsport for the first time.
This explains how we got to where we are. Now to go into a little of the technology that enables these events.
One of the pillars of the genre of rallysport at every level from entry/grassroots to top level pro/international is GPS timing technology.
The system of choice for top-level rallysport tracking and timing is RallyComp.
It is a devoted, single purpose software and hardware system.
The RallyComp system and hardware uses a live satellite up and downlink to constantly report (via satellite) the real time position - and therefore speed - of every event participant.
Sometimes/usually event support workers also have a RallyComp transmitter-receiver as well as competitors so that Race Control knows at all times where everyone is.
Because RallyComp continuously relays the position (and therefore the speed) of every bike, it is possible for Race organisers to designate sections of road that have a "hard maximum" speed limit.
Riders who exceed those maximums on those sections attract speeding penalties.
RallyComp is a pro-level piece of equipment that is accepted as the gold standard for rallysport.
It is expensive to operate, requiring continuous active satellite communication and it is a system that is only made available to high level events by the owners of RallyComp.
The amateur event alternatives are passive GPS systems, that may or may not incorporate cell phone uplinks. One version of such a stand-alone system called...
Richta Rally Timing.
It is a GPS positioning smartphone app that will run on GPS chip-equipped smartphones.
It is a passive system in that it receives, via the smartphone GPS chip, positioning information and compares that to the pre-loaded GPS positions of virtual timing gates.
It does not need cell phone data to operate, timing data collected over the course of a day can be downloaded into the scoring side of Richta over wifi or by hotspotting the (SIM card free) Richta smartphone to a cellphone with cell service.
To set the course, the event organiser rides the course, and while checking the roadbook, stops at (or near... say +/-100m in order to confound potential timing gate lurkers) every timing point and records the GPS position of the gates. Later at a desk, the distance between every pair of virtual timing gates is worked out from the roadbook (not the road distance - see previous blog posts about the systematic differences between GPS distance measurement and on-road measurements in steep country...) and the required speed is used in calculation to deduce the corresponding target elapsed time required between each pair of timing gates.
These target times are entered into the Richta app and the course is set.
Unlike RallyComp, Richta as a system is totally insensitive to what each rider does between each timing gate. Position and instantaneous speeds are not detectable. The information that Richta and similar systems generates is the elapsed time between GPS locations.
The significance of this is that riders need to achieve the set AVERAGE speed between timing gate pairs. Speed = distance/time
Riders can expect to face course legs that combine a range of road conditions that in places make set average speeds impossible to meet and in other places the set speed seems less that what a competent rider can achieve.
These three pieces of road comprised the same leg...
It shouldn't take much insight to realise the technique successful riders use to acquire minimum time penalty points in these circumstances is to exceed the set average speed in the "easy" sections in the knowledge that there may well be a difficult stretch coming up that will slow progress. THIS IS NOT "RACING"...
It will be necessary to exceed the set average speed by only 5 or 10kph on the easy bits to offset the slower harder bits, to remember if you started off slow or fast and accurately judge by how much and for how far you need to go faster in order to offset the amounts you needed to go slower....
A typical backcountry navigation trial course could be as much as 200km, divided up into ten or twenty timed "legs". The course may have as many as 150 or more navigation waypoints with which riders need to decipher the route. Add into the mix open public roads with unaware other road users, testing backcountry terrain and the task of keeping as closely as possible to the set average speeds while riding solo and keeping any inner doubt-daemons under control - it becomes clear how demanding such an event is.
The motorcycle motorsport for the thinking rider.
Starlink...... the satellite system to come for the Common Man? Gazing into the future, Elon Musk is in the process of launching a network of low earth orbit communications satellites which has the potential of rendering obsolete the current telecommunications technologies of cell towers and high earth orbit satellites. It may be that in ten years or less, satellite communications will become as unremarkable as cellular telecommunications are today. With such technology, further interesting applications can be expected that may complement or replace RallyComp and Richta.
The GoldRiver400 - Les Chemins Sauvage: https://www.gr200.com/product-page/goldriver400-les-chemins-sauvage
The Sayward September Showcase: https://www.gr200.com/product-page/sayward-september-showcase-a-dualsport-navigation-duel
Blog link. There is much to be found on the VIME blog, indeed everything you need to know about these events is there. https://www.gr200.com/blog
All this is on the VIME website: https://gr200.com
I hope to meet you some time.
Jonathan Binnington. 1 January 2024