By Dave Abrahams
The term “motorcycle economy run” conjures up images of old farts in smelly waxed-cotton riding gear wombling along at 65km/h on midweight streetbikes, desperately trying to keep the engine revs exactly in the sweet spot just below the torque peak and not to open the throttle one degree more than necessary to get the bike up the next hill.
Forget it – that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Pretoria Motor Club has been organising the annual RFS Econorun since 1981 and convenor Francois Jordaan knows exactly how to push a sports-bike rider’s buttons.
A lot of the rules are based on car-rally practice – the most important being that, for every minute you arrive late at a checkpoint, they add half a litre of fuel to your tally for the day. There’s no penalty for arriving early – Jordaan says riders who do that are penalising themselves by burning more fuel than they need to.
What they don’t tell you is that arriving early is damn near impossible.
I had been invited by Honda SA to join their team effort on a 670cc Integra and I’ll admit that, for me, the main attraction was the chance to ride this off-beat half-bike, half-scooter with its innovative semi-automatic dual-clutch transmission.
What followed was the steepest learning curve of my life. From the start, at one-minute intervals, from Zambezi Mall in Montana, Pretoria, the first section involved a short stretch of the N1 South before turning east through Delmas to Bethal. The speed limit is 120km/h and competitors were expected to average 100km/h.
Except that running a steady 100km/h on the severely congested N1 at mid-morning on a Friday required an almost insane level of commitment and a lot of kamikaze lane-splitting. And the two-lane country road between Delmas and Bethal was full of huge coal-hopper trucks trundling along at 65km/h, swaying all over the road, with oncoming traffic allowing few overtaking opportunities.
Every time I got stuck behind slow-moving traffic, riders who had started several minutes behind me came sweeping past, neither slowing down nor accelerating as they lane-split down the white line. It didn’t take me long to work out that every 30 seconds I spent waiting for a safe opportunity to overtake was costing me about a cupful of fuel in time penalties.
I had learned the number one rule of economy riding: Don’t slow down - ever!
Even so, I was four minutes late arriving at Bethal, and missing a vital turn-off to the re-fuelling point cost me another three, so before my first Econorun had really got going I was 3.5 litres in the hole - the biggest penalty awarded to any rider on the first day.
Which highlighted another problem nobody tells you about: multitasking. To avoid time penalties you have to ride outside your comfort zone most of the time, while keeping an eye on the bike’s odometer, scrolling through and reading (accurately) the instructions on the route schedule in a lunchbox taped to the fuel tank and constantly checking the stopwatch mounted on the handlebars so you can calculate just how far behind time you are and compensate by increasing your target speed. Boring, it’s not.
The second leg to Barberton started off as a fast run across rolling farmlands where the main problems were side winds and dust devils – but the target speed was 115km/h, requiring almost superhuman concentration. The final stretch into Barberton was a drop of more than 1000 metres down the escarpment, a sequence of tight downhill twisties where 85km/h was fast and 95 was downright scary – but the smart guys knew that and they’d been hanging on the cables all the way from Delmas to put some time ‘in the bank’.
That section cost me another minute, another half a litre in penalties.
The final section of day one took us through Malelane and an astonishingly convoluted back road called Boulders, where the target speed was 80km/h and even the professionals were hitting 120 on every short straight to make up time.
The more open sections from there to the final pit stop of the day and overnight at the Hotel Numbi in Hazyview, were no more than a blur of road numbers and pushing the Integra as hard as it would go to avoid further penalties.
I’d covered 518km in five hours and 38 minutes of actual riding, at a cost of 21.6 litres, which looked quite respectable until you added on no less than four litres in penalties!
Jordaan, taking a friendly interest in the only entrant from the other side of the Big Grey Water, explained that the target speeds had to tread a fine line between boring and scary – and that, above all else, they had to represent real-world riding, because a number of manufacturers used their Econorun results in their publicity material.
Day two took the Econorunners on a 329km ride over some of the twistiest, hairiest motorcycling roads in the southern hemisphere, including the infamous ‘22’ and Kowyn’s pass.
Target speeds ranged from 80 to 115km/h depending on terrain.
For me that meant riding as fast as I could go, all the time, never backing off for slower traffic and constantly keeping an extra eye I didn’t know I had on the rear-view mirror as the more experienced competitors came barrelling past.
A deliberate error in the route schedule for the final section saw two riders on big BMW GelandeScooters go about 10km down the wrong road before realising they’d been had – about twenty minutes later, as I was threading my way through the worst potholes I’d ever seen at about 35km/h, they blitzed me, one on either side, at well over the National speed limit.
To my astonishment, I arrived at the final refuelling point to discover that these two hoonigans had made their time back over the final 55km, whereas I’d picked up another two minutes’ worth of penalties – and I hadn’t even get lost!
The 2013 RFS Econorun was won by Shado Alston on a Honda NC700X, who recorded an overall fuel consumption of 3.03 litres per 100km without picking up a single penalty. It was his second victory on the trot, having won the previous year as a rookie.
Second, on 3.08 litres per 100km, was Grant Scott, on a Honda CBR250R single, who’d ridden the entire 847km draped over the bike’s tank like melted cheese – and nearly all of it flat out!
Third was Justin Seager on a 10-year-old BMW F650CS streetbike, with an overall fuel-consumption figure of 3.29 litres per 100km, which so impressed chief scrutineer Rupert Culwick that he insisted on seeing the bike’s air filter, to confirm that it was, indeed, bog standard.
But the most impressive result of all was that of Jerry Paice and blind rally navigator Bonita Blanckenberg, who won Class J for unlimited machines carrying a passenger on a BMW R1200RT, recording an impressive 4.54 litres per 100km and not incurring a single penalty.
And the rookie from Cape Town? I wound up 26th out of 43 classified finishers, recording an official tally of 4.65 litres per 100km (which included no less than five litres in time penalties!).
The only casualty was veteran racer Reg Gurnell, who got into a huge tank-slapper on a brand new, liquid-cooled BMW R1200 GS late on the first day; he rode it out, but by then the bike was off the road and it spat him off as the front wheel hit the ditch. Gurnell walked away with a sprained wrist and a bruised elbow, and spent the rest of the 2013 Econorun making rude comments at the rest of the riders.
Boring? No way! Would I do it again? Absolutely – only next time I’ll be in ‘take no prisoners’ mode right from the start!