Sunday, May 17, 2009


My first task after landing at Heathrow was to pick up a rental bike for the weekend; insurance issues had prevented simply borrowing one of Dai's Velocettes (that's all he has, folks), so it was easier to try one of the Classic bike hire outfits (seen below). At £150 for four days, a '68 Triumph Bonneville (above) seemed remarkably good value, and by the end of the weekend I wondered how on earth they made any money.

Simple cure for Jetlag; hop on a motorcycle asap, and get a good chill riding for an hour in iffy weather and inadequate clothing. No chance of the sleepies... the Triumph was in very good shape mechanically, and continued to be a sound and reliable machine for the next 400 miles or so.

On Saturday Dai accompanied me on his oil-tight Velo Venom Clubman, to the meeting point of the VMCC Brooklands section weekend run to Devon, Lillie's Tea Room in Godalming (above).

About 20 old motorcycles showed up, including some real gems; a '36 Norton Model 40 350cc International, a '36 Triumph Tiger 90, two early Velo KSS ('28 and '34), a '29 Norton Model 18 (ridden from the Isle of Wight, seen above), plus assorted Triumph twins and a lot of Velocettes.

I was actually confused by the number of Velos present, 'is this a Velo club run too?', but Dai explained it was common in England for Velocettes to show up in large numbers for any Vintage Club event - tours, sprints, races, etc. They're pretty rare in the States though...(below, Rob Drury's mk2 KSS Velo, about which he waxes lyrical)

Lunch was at a lovely converted Granary and mill, looked 16th century to me, and as the weather was mostly dry the bikes strung out along the route according to road speed. I was doggedly following Tim Simkins on his '68 Velo Thruxton, as he had laid out the route, and I had no intention of looking at a map!

Although Tim was riding two-up, my Triumph had a job of keeping close to him, as a Thruxton finds its sweet spot at 80mph, and the Bonneville is starting to vibrate noticeably by then... although it was remarkably sweet and smooth up to 60mph.

Our three mid-60's sports machines ended up arriving at lunch 20 minutes before the true Vintage machines, each as different as could be; a '63 BMW R69S, my Bonneville, Tim's Thruxton. They seemed a good match in speed for a fast touring clip, although the BMW seemed to lag a little in the quicker bends (which is my experience with Earles fork machines as well...).

I was immediately smitten with this well-used Inter; although it had been repainted at some point, all the paint had become thoroughly patinated again, and it looked like a good original machine. Its owner, Dave Gibson, told me he'd done 7,000 miles on it in the past year! And that is what it's all about.

I begged him for a ride, and gracious soul that he is, granted my wish. I've owned a few Inters and Manxes, but this one took the cake for sweetness - absolutely smooth at all speeds, and I wound the throttle open for a bit to see what it would do. It's 'only' a 350cc, but what a lovely machine.

By comparison, my Inters had always felt more robust and macho, for better or worse, meaning they shook a bit when caned and generally felt a little rough around the edges. Dave's Norton felt more like a Velo KSS, sweet and smooth, definitely the nicest I've ridden.

Our night stop was the little town of Babbacombe, near Torquay, which had a great pub at the top of the rocky 'beach'.

This gave a chance to connect faces to the machines, and get to know my fellow riders. One gent of great interest was Chris Burt, seen here (below) with his '80 Triumph Bonneville, which he rode around the world in 2000! It took him four years to do it, and his girlfriend had a baby in Tasmania during that time. I'll relate more of his story in another post.

The 200-mile journey back to our starting point was mostly wet, with wind thrown in, and occasionaly gloom. I don't get much chance to use my rainsuit at home, so it was comforting to know it still works... again my riding trio reformed, and we didn't see anyone else after lunch, so blasted through all manner of tiny hedgerowed lanes. Definitely the Long Way.

The roads along the southern coast are dramatic, and plunge occasionally into small towns like Sidmouth (see video) with extensive tourist facilities and traffic. There wasn't a lot of traffic, although we were only truly free of cars when riding the smallest of lanes.
Riding between the hedgerows is an acquired art, and tight brush-swiping squeezes were common when oncoming traffic appeared.

Stops in pubs and tea rooms for a warmup was the order of the day, and the Land's End was a charmer, even if we had to eat in the barn as the pub proper was fully booked.

Here's how the Triumph fared in the end; it ran faultlessly for 400 miles, but the muffler bracket broke within 75 miles, the lights went duff in 200 miles, and speedo packed in at 300 miles. Like I said; how do the rental places make any money? And I never took it above 4800rpm...honest officer.

Next stop, Biarritz, for a ride into Spain with the Southsiders M.C.

Many thanks to Dai and Tim Simkins for organizing my ride!


Sleeping Dog said...


brad! said...

indeed; copious amounts of envy.

R.Dress said...

Wow I'm super jealous, but more so inspired to plan my own trip.

Anonymous said...

wow the purchase of the kodak hawkeye 127 is a real upgrade in the picture department dave

david said...

Living large, I see! A real Role Model for the rest of us.