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2nd September 2015

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Rallies: Another Old-Time Tall Tale

Once upon a time, motorcycle riders rode to muddy fields and created almost entirely innocuous entertainment with whatever fell readily to hand. Matt Swindlehurst recalls one such bike rally...

It must have been in the late 1970s that a number of disparate, Leek-based bike enthusiasts met together to form a club with the intent of drinking, socialising, runs out, drinking, etc. Big Rob set the ball rolling with a letter in the Leek Post and Times, and persuaded the Red Lion to let us have a room. I think we were all pleasantly surprised at the turn out.

An eclectic assortment of machines littered the market place on Tuesday evenings. From early 1950’s AMC machines to new Japanese rice-burners, with a sprinkling of café racer Tritons, V-twin Morinis and the last of the Meriden Triumphs.

The riders were equally scattered. Computer managers, diesel mechanics, office staff and factory workers. All up for a ride out and some ‘good craic’ as the Irish termed it. (I’d discovered Guinness by then).

We planned a trip up to the Lakes. Big Rob had some contacts and found us a campsite near Kendal. On the Friday we all skived off work early and, with Rob’s new Mk2 Commando setting the pace, we shot up the M6 at around legal speeds.

Bike Rallies in the 70s

And a great little campsite it was too. At that time a lot of sites didn’t allow bikes but the owner couldn’t have been more helpful. He found us an area to pitch up and indicated a wooded area some way away from the main site. It was frequently used by scout groups and had a fire pit.

Saturday saw a good day’s riding which included the two great Lakeland passes; the Hard Knott and the Wrynose are absolute ‘must do’ rides for any discerning motorcyclist, as well as us scruffy reprobates. The one-in-three inclines, hairpin bends and dizzying roadside drop-offs resounded to an assorted selection of big singles, Brit parallel twins and triples, and Japanese fours.

Bike Rallies in the 70s

Mission accomplished we retired to base camp. A communal fry-up was enlivened by someone who we shall refer to as Pete (because that was his name). Most of us were using Optimus petrol stoves for cooking as a) you always had a ready supply of cheap fuel to hand, and b) gas stoves were bloody useless in cold weather. Pete had chosen this particular weekend to graduate. Now don’t get me wrong. Pete was a ‘good ’un’. Stood his round, helped out with spannering, etc, etc. Unfortunately he had little grasp of the rest of the world around him. I suspect he may have been an accountant.

Bike Rallies in the 70s
Commandos on ...

Anyway, what Pete hadn’t realised was that pressurised petrol always has the potential for hours of fun. He dutifully set up his stove, but for some strange reason instead of lighting it he turned instead to opening the assortment of tins his mum had lovingly packed. Above him the world started to shimmer as the petrol vapour began to mix with the air. We all got very excited. The fun of the passes had waned and we looked forwards to some teatime entertainment. Pete didn’t disappoint.

Bike Rallies in the 70s

He lit the match for the stove and the cloud above instantly obliged by converting itself into a small but very satisfying explosion. Flames drifted across the field and the smell of scorched eyebrows became apparent. We threw a bucket over him to make sure he was out, plastered him with an old tin of Germolene and finished our meal.

Bellies stuffed we retired to the fire pit with bottles of beer and some logs that the campsite owner had obligingly donated. We spent the evening in the usual manner. Drinking, telling appalling jokes and lying. There may have been some light use of illegal substances involved but I couldn’t swear to it.

Anyway it got to about 11.30 ish. We’d put the world to rights, smeared more Germolene on Pete’s eyebrows (or rather where his eyebrows had been) and were generally thinking about getting some kip when all of a sudden it happened.

Through a loud hailer a disembodied voice announced: ‘Stop what you are doing. This is the police.’

A blue light flashed for a couple of seconds.

We all stopped. Except those who had fallen asleep, who carried on. And Pete, who was so busy moaning he didn’t even hear.

The voice continued. ‘Send out your leader.’

We all laughed. It may have been the beer.

We looked at Big Rob but realised more tactful diplomacy was needed. We chose Tim instead, who was the computer manager for the local building society, and therefore quite clearly a towering intellectual compared with the rest of us. He also played jazz banjo and was therefore, in my opinion, entirely expendable. We encouraged him to walk towards the voice and sent Big Rob as company.

After ten minutes they returned. Explanations had been proffered and accepted. I think the whole deal was greased with a couple of bottles of John Marston’s finest. The Rizlas and their contents were extracted from their temporary hiding places, the moon shone benignly down upon us and all was right with the world.

Even Pete cheered up.

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