Memorable Motorcycles Classic Biking Britain

April 22, 2009
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

As well as full on classic bike events there are literally hundreds of vintage vehicle rallies - and the very great majority of these have bike sections.
As well as full on classic bike events there are literally hundreds of vintage vehicle rallies – and the very great majority of these have bike sections.

If you haven’t visited Britain before, then 2009 is the year to make the trip. The dollar is strong against the pound sterling so things are cheap, and the British tourism industry is hungry for visitors so you will be assured of a warm welcome.

And if you have any interest in motorcycles – especially old ones – you will have just landed in heaven. No other country in the world has the number, and quality, of classic bike events which we host in Britain. You can almost walk out of your hotel anywhere in the country and straight into a world class meeting and the season stretches from April until October.
 
Gettng Started:
 
First some general tips. Britain is tiny compared with the US – and densely populated. The whole country is only the size of one of the bigger US States and has something over 61 million legal residents and goodness knows how many illegals.
 
However, unlike America, the country has extremely militant zoning regulations which mean that towns end very abruptly and the visitor moves straight into picture book pretty countryside. The one exception to this rule is London which is just a giant urban mess. It’s a sad fact of life that most American visitors want to visit London and tick off the big tourism hits. So do the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace – and then escape into the real world!

Towns end very abruptly and the visitor moves straight into picture book pretty countryside with plenty of photo opportunities.
Towns end very abruptly and the visitor moves straight into picture book pretty countryside with plenty of photo opportunities.

Travelling:
 
Remember that Britain is small – and that some Brits think that a 50-mile journey is the equivalent of New York to LA in three days. Also, there is an incredible number of interesting things to do packed into a very small space. Think of the whole country as a big theme park and you will get the idea.

Hiring a Motorcycle:
 
It is quite straightforward to hire a bike in Britain and there is a good link from www.visitbritain.com. Costs are in the region of $600 a week for a tourer or $300 for something like a Suzuki SV650.

Remember, if you do decide to hire a bike rather than a car it rains in Britain during summer! Being an island, we have a maritime climate and this means a summer maximum rainfall. You will need seriously waterproof clothing.
 
You’ll also need sunblock because summer days can be California warm. In a single hour, you might need sunblock and Goretex riding gear – and then back to sunblock again.

Driving on the “Wrong Side of the Road”

This needs some careful explanation. We do not drive on the wrong side of the road any more than Americans drive incorrectly in the US. We drive on the same side of the road as everyone else in Britain. You can stand up for American independence of thought by driving on the right-hand side of the road but you will get killed in between two and five seconds. On this basis, you may well consider it better to drive on the left-hand side along with everyone else.

This seems to be a big deal with some American visitors but in reality it isn’t. If you see a 44 ton truck bearing down on you with the driver making rude gestures then you may assume that you have slipped back into US mode. Otherwise just relax and enjoy. British drivers are highly disciplined and safe – largely because of the militancy of our traffic laws – but they often lack courtesy and are frequently bad tempered.

Driving standards are some of the best in Europe – you want to try southern Italy for a real bowel loosening thrill – but the Brits lack the commonsense and courtesy which I find is common amongst American drivers.

Thundersprint attracts many rare vintage motorcycles and celebrities to the Northwich Town Centre.
Thundersprint attracts many rare vintage motorcycles and celebrities to the Northwich Town Centre.

What’s on and Where:

There is simply a vast number of classic bike events taking place in Britain every weekend from Spring to Autumn. The best magazine source for everything happening in the classic bike world is The Old Bike Mart which lists hundreds of events every month. There is also the gossip in terms of what is really happening. You can get a copy of OBM from David England: dengland@mortons.co.uk

A good web based link is Doctor Danger (actually a very nice, courteous chap). His website is:  www.doctordanger.com

Some of the Big Events:

The Classic Bike Show at Stafford: April 25/26: The world’s biggest, and best, traditional classic bike show. Mainly a galactically big swap meet, with a giant Bonhams auction tagged on. Some good club stands. The center of the known universe for classic bike junkies. Info from www.classicbikeshows.com

The same link will give information on the Classic Bike Show’s younger sibling, the Classic Mechanics Show which is also held at Stafford in October with more of a focus on Japanese classics.

If shows aren't your thing there are plenty of classic racing events.
If shows aren’t your thing there are plenty of classic racing events.

The Thundersprint: May 9/10. Northwich Town Centre. So far out of the norm – it belongs in another galaxy. Six times World Champion Jim Redman racing against twice World Champion and MotoGP star James Toseland, plus a ton of celebrities from modern and classic motorcycling and showbusiness. It could only happen at the Thundersprint!

Morris Dancers, an RAF Spitfire, Fine Food Fair and a mile of trade stands. There’s no conceivable way this event should work but it does! Spectator admission, parking and grandstands are completely free of charge. Get there early – the crowds are huge.

Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club’s Stanford Hall Show: May 24th.  A lovely show with a good sprinkling of American and European bikes on display as, as might be expected, lots of Japanese classics. Stanford Hall is right next to the junction of Britain’s two major motorways (Interstate highways) right in the center of England. It’s a lovely relaxed venue and very English.

The VJMC also organizes the Uttoxeter Show, again in the center of England but north of Birmingham rather than south, on the 4/5 July. This is another first class event.

Suzuki GT 750
The Vintage Japanese motorcycle Club show brings out many classic import bikes like this Suzuki GT750.

Details from: www.vjmc.com

Throughout the Season: Classic racing organized by the Classic Racing Motorcycle Club. By a mile, the best, most competitive classic racing in the world. Superb organization and racing which will take your breath away. Forget MotoGP. If you want to see bikes ridden hard go to a CRMC meeting. The big event this year will be over the three days of 19-21 June held at the Donington Grand Prix circuit. The CRMC’s website is: www.crmc.co.uk

Where Else to Find Classic Bikes:

As well as full on classic bike events there are literally hundreds of vintage vehicle rallies – and the very great majority of these have bike sections. Steam fairs, which major on the beautiful traction engines which were once made in abundance in Britain, are particularly strong on classic bike sections but you will also find them in car shows and even some agricultural shows. A fifty bike entry at a Steam Fair is quite normal.

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