The Clubman

Participation is Everything

My Gedinne: The Belgian Classic TT

The warm Ardennes exchange shared with an official on arrival at Gedinne, the home of the Belgian Classic TT, is the first of many endearing conversations shared with locals and organisers during my first taste of ‘real’ Belgian road racing. By ‘real’ I mean old school, closed public road racing – the way it used to be and still is in the Isle of Man and parts of Ireland.

Lined with hay bales to protect riders from the miles of barbed wire fences, gateposts, telegraph poles and stone walls, the 5km course just outside the village of Gedinne slices through a valley so idyllic and peaceful, you could easily imagine Teletubbies Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po bumbling in from the next valley to peruse the 300-or so pre-73 classic race bikes and competitors, snoozing in the paddock. The plump cows in Gedinne must also be the most content motorsport spectators I’ve ever seen, happily chewing the cud in the sunshine, their tails swishing contently in the warm August breeze.

Very few other places on earth offer the chance to race motorcycles (especially un-silenced classics) in such an unforgiving or indeed organic environment. The Gedinne track throws other very rare ingredients into the heady mix of Castrol R racing oil, hay bales and dried-hard cow shit; its old-world charm and character evoke a genuine ‘Continental Circus’-vibe, brought to you direct from the golden era of motorcycle racing.

Despite a grass paddock with little or no hard-standing, the fact the entry list is regularly full of competitors from throughout Europe is telling of the quality of the experience on offer. First run in 1947, the event has struggled to attract the really big names over the years, but if you ask me, here lies its charm and identity; this is a track for amateur road racers, for those who believe in a form of racing deemed potentially too risky and too archaic for modern times.

My first few laps are taken with great care in order to learn the course and indeed familiarise myself with a unique surface and a machine I’ve not ridden for around three years. Entered in the 250cc pre-1973 Group 1 class, my steed is a rather pretty single-cylinder, NSU-powered 1960-spec Manx Norton (see profile shot above). Only a handful of 250cc ‘Norsu’ specials were campaigned in period, the rare Anglo-German combination was used primarily for the featherbed frame’s track proven superiority on fast, bumpy road circuits.

Sadly, due to an unsolvable, electrical ignition fault during the third session, a timed qualifier, my weekend of racing was cut short by Saturday morning – caused by one of the only non-period, off-the-shelf parts on the bike! Nevertheless, I qualified 10th at 94kmh and enjoyed around 15 laps of what is a truly thrilling circuit.

Teaming up with a brilliant group of fellow riders from the Norton Owners Club, I'd like to thank the group for all their help and support over the weekend. A final mention must go to Hans van Bregt and Patrick Messerli, riders who tragically paid the ultimate price at Gedinne 2015, my thoughts go out to their families and friends.

For more information visit Classic Racing Motorcycles Belgium.

Wheels and Waves 2015

You won't find too many posts covering the custom motorcycle scene here on The Clubman - we prefer our events (slightly) more track-focused. Nevertheless, as I was holidaying in the South of France in mid June,  the 'bike bug' once again proved too hard to resist and the journey from Bergerac to Biarritz by TGV train was swiftly arranged.

Organised by Southsiders, THE French custom bike blog, Wheels and Waves is a four day festival combining bizarre bikes and Biarritz's established surf scene - cue a calm sea of raw denim, facial hair and tattoos. Hipsters however, they are not. Delve a little deeper and you'll be hard-pushed to find a cooler looking bunch of girls, boys, choppers, bobbers and cafe racers. More mainstream brands such as Triumph, BMW, Harley Davidson, Dainese and Alpinestars happily set-up camp around the Wheels and Waves Village, alongside the likes of Deus Ex Machina, Sideburn, Edwin and Redwing.

Customs, despite being the latest and greatest fashion trend for young creative types, have been around for generations. Motorcycles have been chopped and swapped since the very beginning. Called 'specials' back in the day, custom workshops are now springing up everywhere - the nearest one to you is just a hash-tag away. Undoubtedly positive for the bike industry, few other towns in Europe seem to have accepted the custom bike culture as openly as Biarritz. The bike-mad taxi driver that drove us from the station to the beach may just be the event's biggest fan.

The program of events includes the camp at Milady Beach, an evening gallery of top quality 'demo' bikes, an exciting 'Punk's Peak' hill-climb dual and an en-mass ride-out. Each night of the weekend, live music, movie screenings and more ensure the even the coolest kids in town remain entertained. Although still in its infancy, (W&W 2015 was the fourth edition), its clearly growing at an alarming rate. So will I return next year? Well, as the old adage goes, if you can't beat 'em...

Coupe Moto Legende 2015

Returning to Dijon Prenois circuit in central France for the fourth consecutive year, the appeal of the brilliant Coupe Moto Legende festival (for me) is stronger than ever. Riding the ex-Grand Prix circuit in a spirited manner and the typically continental laissez-faire restrictions makes it a difficult event to resist. This year, it also provided the perfect environment to iron out any development issues with the 350 Manx Norton, a machine that is entered in the Lansdowne Classic Series in 2015.

The 2015 event once again attracted in excess of 30,000 people over the two days in late May, proving that classic road and racing motorcycles remain a sizeable draw on the continent, for both riders and spectators. The quality and breadth of machines displayed on track was very impressive – witnessing flat-track ace Frank Chatokhine chasing a very special BMW RS 51 on his quick Triumph twin was fantastic to watch.

Fitted with several new parts including a brilliant new Tomaselli throttle, the 350 Manx Norton I was riding in 'Series E' – a group for pre-1968 racing motorcycles between 175cc-350cc provided around 20 highly memorable laps. Despite being slightly under-geared, reaching close to 8,000rpm halfway along the main straight in top gear, it performed better and better throughout the weekend. The 1954/1959 350 Manx is a machine that thrives on revs and it is important to ensure it is kept 'on the boil' to return a good lap time.

Sleeping at the track, our paddock camp also included Mike Pemberton of Pushrod Performance with his very impressive 'Poor man's Manx', Norton 500 ES2.

Later in August, the plan is to ride at Geddine in Belgium, you'll find coverage of the event here on The Clubman, shortly after.