What I thought I'd better do, is post these two wee notes about the Training day / Ivan Rhodes visit, seeing as that was, er, three weeks ago (crikey, three weeks? Really???) and that'll keep you going until I get back from the VMCC Committee Meeting, followed by a day with Ivan Rhodes at Rhodes Towers, followed by a day with a friend whom I met in Shetland a few years ago, Carol, who now happens to live near VMCC HQ, followed by a work briefing in London...so what I'm trying to say is, I'll get round to the Shetland write up some time near the end of next week!
First, a few words from GBC Blog Regular....UN.
It was a fine sunny morning as I set off on the MZ Skorpion for the ride up to Alford, going via Glasgow, Stirling, Perth and Dundee. Rather than ride to Aberdeen, I turned off through Fettercairn, famous for its magnificent arch across the main street. On the way up the weather got progressively sunnier, and once past Dundee it was so hot that it felt like riding in France.
Once through Fettercairn it was over the Cairn O’Mount, and then by a fairly complex route of winding country roads to Alford. Fairly complex as I had set my satellite navigator to ‘quickest route’, and it finds all sorts of shortcuts off of main routes.
The talk was due to start at 14:00, so as I had arrived at 12:30 I had plenty of time to get something to eat and visit the museum. Well worth a visit as they’ve got a good selection of bikes, as well as cars, trams, etc.
It was soon 14:00 so it was over to another building at the Museum for the talk. The original plan was for Ivan Rhodes and his son Grahame to also bring the Model ‘O’, a prototype of proposed ‘Roarer’ based road bike. Instead the brought their newly restored Velocette racer ‘Whiffling Clara’ for its public debut. This is a 350cc supercharged racer, with the supercharger based on an industrial vacuum cleaner!
Ivan gave a very interesting hour long talk on their restoration of the Roarer, an amazing project when you realise that when they got the bike it was incomplete and without an engine internals. No dimensioned drawings existed, and they only had an exploded diagram of the engine to work from. It’s a testament to their skill as engineers that they could not only reconstruct the bike, but also that it would run properly.
Then it was outside and Ivan rode Whiffling Clara round the small race track. What a wonderful sound! He had intended on riding the Roarer next, but they were unable to get it to run successfully. We took a break for tea and cake, which was fortuitous in its timing as when we were inside that we had a burst of very heavy rain.
After tea, the weather had cleared so it was back outside for Ivan riding the Roarer. I had thought that Clara had sounded good, but the Roarer is something else! It really lives up to its name! Not only does it have a good ‘rip’ to the exhaust, it sounds so smooth, almost like a racing car engine. Fast as well, and Ivan could lean it over much further than I thought possible on a 71 year old bike with very skinny tyres. Just makes you think what could have been achieved had the bike been developed further. He came back in from the track and was happy to answer all sorts of questions from those present. Everyone there seemed to have had a great time and only too soon it was time to go.
As I had arranged to attend the VMCC ‘Training Day’ at the museum on the Sunday, I had booked into the Carriages Hotel in nearby Insch. http://www.carriageshotel.com/index.html I had found them through a Web search, and at £30 for a single room, was fairly cheap. Easy to find as it was next to the railway station, and I wasn’t sure what to expect as they had referred to a ‘chalet’ rather than a room. The ‘chalet’ turned out to be a fairly basic, but totally adequate room which opened onto a courtyard behind the hotel. Luckily the access to the courtyard was big enough to get a bike into so I could park right outside my room. Not much to report about my evening other than I got something to eat and could hear the ‘entertainment’, (a singer in the hotel lounge) from my room. All I can say about him is that if your musical taste runs to a country tinged Daniel O’Donnell tribute act with a mullet, then he’s your man!
I got up early the following morning and was out of the hotel by 7:30. As I didn’t have to be back at the museum until 9.00, I went for a ride round some of the backroads in the area. I don’t know the area very well, so just rode around at random; stopped in Inverurie for fuel, and then when it got to 8.45 I used my satellite navigator to lead me back to the museum. We signed in, were issued with numbered bibs, and given a quick briefing before being let loose on the track on a selection of bikes. We had all been issued with a card listing all the bikes with a box next to them for the owner to sign once you’d ridden their bike. This, along with the numbered bibs, inferred that there was some sort of system of arranging rides, (that’s what we were told at the briefing). As it turned out, it immediately turned into a free for all, with people who knew the owners getting rides on the bikes first. This caused some grumbling (understandably) from some of the riders, and in my case it was at least an hour and a half before I got my first ride, yet I could see people with six or seven bikes marked off on their cards. However, this was the only low point of the day, and eventually I must have ridden seven or eight of the bikes. ** Note from GBC - sorry about that UN, I can assure you, there were hardly any riders there who actually knew the owners, most people were day members, like you. I think it was the nerves that got to people, some were a bit more bold and got to the front while others watched a wee bit first. It won't happen again anyway!
My first ride was on one of the Sunbeams, chosen because it had a twist grip throttle. When you have to deal with a hand gear change, left foot brake, and no effective front brake, you want as many familiar controls as possible to start with! After that I felt confident enough to try some of the bikes with lever throttles, and it was well worth it. I’ve mostly ridden relatively modern bikes, and haven’t even ridden a 60s British bike for about 30 years, so this was a bit of an eye opener. A lot of these bikes were great fun to ride, but they are very ‘involving’! You’ve so many levers to deal with and there’s always a lot to do, not least of which is plan well in advance for the corners! None of the bikes had much in the way of brakes, some had no front, one had basically a bicycle brake, and some it was just a piece of wood rubbing on the rim!
There was a great selection of bikes, all of which had their own ‘character’, and I think all the riders enjoyed riding them.
It’s amazing that the owners of 80 plus year old bikes were willing to allow complete strangers to ride their irreplaceable and possibly fragile machines, and I’m sure that I speak for all the riders when I say a big ‘Thank you’ to them for bringing them along, and also to the organisers for all the work they put in. A great event, and hopefully one that will be repeated in coming years.
However, can I make a suggestion? At future training days, arrange the morning session as ‘Club Members and Guests Only’, with non-members joining them for the afternoon session. This would split the registration into two groups and avoid having to deal with everyone at once, and it would mean a lot less unnecessary hanging about.
Also, it would be useful to have numbers on the bikes which match the card. There were four solo Sunbeams, but I’ve no idea which two I rode. (Owners didn’t sign my card). ** I shall mention it to the Committee. GBC
If any of you out there have ever fancied trying a ‘classic’ bike, give it a try! You’ll enjoy it!
And now something from West Coast Mike...
Okay folks and folkesses. First and foremost, grab yourselves a glass of cold water and set it on the table by your screen. (Why you ask?)
Well, I have a tendency to waffle when I get started on a subject, if you find yourselves nodding off, throw the water on you and give yourself a hefty slap across the face, OK, ready, here we go.
GBC has asked if I’d consider writing a wee ‘blog’ relating to the VMCC training day at Alford, Aberdeenshire, (Aff-od to the uninitiated), (a what thinks I, bear in mind I don’t twitter, facebook or any such nonsense, e-mails quite enough for me ta), I said I’d be delighted of course.
After months of eager anticipation and annoying my wife, May 23rd finally came about, I’d driven over on the Saturday evening from the west coast near Skye to Alford, some 4.5 hours, I’d have loved to ride but it would have meant a 4am start, ouch, so after a comfortable night I woke to a nice clear day and readied myself for the signing on. Watching various vans and trailers arriving with lovely old machines spewing forth had me hopping with anticipation.
Sign on was a painless experience being marked off the register and given a numbered bib, a card listing all the machines available with sections for the owners to sign off after riding to make sure everyone got a fair crack of the whip, and a couple of free Real Classic magazines, I like free things so we’re off to a good start here.
The vintage bike owners were next given a briefing on the procedure to follow and headed for the pit area next to the small oval track while the riding group consisting primarily of folk like myself having never ridden anything older than a ‘classic’ jap inline four were given our own briefing which was short but concise covering how the queue system would work and how the machine owners would cover all the necessary controls and (most importantly), how to stop if we approached a blind panic situation, we were reminded that these machines were, in many cases, valuable and in pretty much every case as dear as a loved one to the owner though I think that the majority of the group could already understand that mindset and were notably appreciative of the opportunity and intended to be very careful, (I certainly did).
The group then meandered towards the paddock / pit area with most of use successfully doing the schoolyard hovering to make sure you’re not at the front to get picked first, (Nervous?, no don’t be silly).
The single sole complaint although I’d say that’s too strong a word, was the fact that the numbering system went to the wall almost immediately, with 40 people and 19 bikes the plan was the first 19 go to their corresponding numbered bike then the next 19, (so bib 20 to number 1 bib 21 to number 2 etc) until it worked around then work through the other bikes. **Note from GBC - yes, sorry about that, next time the numbering thing will be ironed out properly.
I’d realised after hovering for a little while waiting for someone in general charge to start co-ordinating things that the machines had already been around the oval three times so at this point looked to start chasing my first bike, the Lovely red and chrome Aerial 250.
At one point I found myself a little irritated that a fellow with 5 bikes already signed off on his card got given first priority on a machine we had both approached at the same time because he had a lower bib number although I had only ridden my second bike of the day.
Although the organisation of numbering system fell apart from the outset, gradually everyone seemed to get a fair old go at most of the machines they were particularly interested in but would certainly be worth looking at for future events.
I was briefed on the procedure for starting, using the advance / retard lever, throttle, (some bar mounted twistgrip and many bar mounted levers), valve lifter / decompression device, clutch and hand shifter, initially this seemed very daunting but surprisingly after the first couple of laps it all made sense, it was just a matter of getting out of the mindset of left foot clutch, right foot brake, and into the mindset of the brave pioneers of the before time and long long ago, most importantly remembering not to jump on the brake pedal to change down gear, thank goodness for dreadful brakes.
I finished my first five laps, the first two being very tentative, and had started grinning so much and enjoying it so thoroughly I could have started an endurance round there and then, only the thought of a potentially annoyed owner and all those other lovely machines had me reluctantly heading back to the paddock.
OK, see what I meant about the waffling, I’ll head into a list of the machines I was fortunate enough to ride and my views on them.
Of the 19 bikes, (I think there turned out to be a couple of extra ones), I managed to ride 14 of them, one of which I rode twice. In the sheet order, (as beyond the first couple I don’t remember the ride order) they are.
1921 Reed Scott
2193 BSA Sloper
1930 Aerial LG250
1925 Sunbeam Model 7 S/C
Royal Enfield K32 S/C
11. Velocette KTT
12. 1925 RE Model 180
15. 1922 Indian Powerplus
16. 1928 Sunbeam Model 6
18. 1920 Norton 16H
20. 1912 Rudge 500
While they were all fabulous in their own way of course there has to be at least one favourite, (don’t worry, I don’t do just one, just another reason I annoy my wife by having to have more than one bike in the shed). Visually, the most eye catching of the day for me was the Indian, very closely followed by the Aerial, then Panther and the 1930 Scott in that order.
Sadly I never got the chance to try the Scott as it was clearly a very popular machine, by the time I got the opportunity to the owner was having to make an early getaway, maybe the next one eh?
My overall favourite ride of the day was the 1928 Sunbeam Model 6, it was just fantastic in every respect, it started and behaved nicely, it ran flawlessly, the controls were just where they should have been and it handled incredibly well around the circuit, it was the most comfortable bike I’d ridden all day, almost as comfortable as my BMW K series tourer, I kid you not, it truly took me by surprise and I could have happily ridden it all the way home, (and given half the chance I would have), in fact if the owner is reading this I have a nicely spaced Sunbeam sized slot in my shed where it could keep my classic Kawasaki Z company.
I liked it so much I returned for a second go on this one.
It’s odd that this one should have struck me in the manner it did, as if I’d had to pick one to take away on the day the Sunbeam based on looks would have been way down my list, having seen them before they’ve never really jumped out at me, most likely due to the typical black overall colour compared to the bright red of the Indian and Aerial etc. Once ridden aside the others, this went straight to the very top of the list and if I were to be in a position to have a Vintage bike for being a vintage bike then unquestionably this would be it, if I had to balance one which I needed to use very frequently then maybe a couple of others would be in the running.
OK, waffling again, but just to quickly cover, with the Sunbeam at the top I would then add the Aerial, BSA Sloper, Panther and Velocette as my favourite machines ridden on the day.
Now, as I’ve neglected the people greatly I’ll get to that. The owners, Brave men and women that they are, were fabulous, friendly, helpful and did I mention brave, I doubt I’d have wanted to let idiot vintage novices like myself loose on their lovely bikes, though I’m incredibly grateful they did. A big big thanks to the VMCC and all involved in organising and running this event, in fact I now realise that I have a second complaint, why do you only do this once a year? ** Note from GBC - haha, you try finding 21 vintage bikes in this area along with arranging to look after 43 nervous novices!!
So anyone reading this who’s ever thought about having a go, what are you playing at, get it booked and go, don’t sit at home and kick yourself, it was one of the most enjoyable motorbike related days I’ve ever had.
In fact, no, don’t bother, at least not until I’ve booked my place!