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18th July 2006

What is classic racing for, exactly?

"Tom Loughbridge eventually finished fifteenth in class and eighteenth overall after a five lap dice with Shallcross." Who cares? Not Martin Gelder, that's for sure...

What is classic racing for, exactly? I mean, I can see that it's fun for the competitors and the people who build the bikes. No arguments there. But what has it got to do with classic motorcycling?

It's great fun for spectators!

The only people who think this are the racers themselves. Take a look at the people watching a classic race, and you'll see that those who aren't holding stop watches are doing their knitting instead. The vast majority of "spectators" will have turned up with someone who is racing. They'll have been dragged along to record lap times, hold vital tools, keep the kids out of the way and offer tea and sympathy when it all falls apart. Which it will. These "spectators" also come in handy when it's time to load the bike back on the trailer and they can even drive the whole lot home in the event of a broken ankle or wrist.

They have rivet counters in Spain, too.

The same is true at the vast majority of club motorcycle - and motor car - races, and I'm not knocking it; it's a pleasant day out for the mechanically inclined. But classic racing doesn't offer anything over and above any other form of motorsport. No one (other than those taking part) is really bothered who wins race 17, but they daren't admit it to their nearest and dearest.

It's a cheap and easy way to get out on the track!

Racing isn't cheap. It probably could be, but it never is. As soon as a competitor gets out-ridden by someone with better (or just different) tyres, or passed on the straight by someone with a more powerful engine, he'll reach for his wallet. It's basic human nature. "I could be that fast if only I had the same engine/tyres/frame/suspension". Of course you could. Just sign here.

Going cheap racing? Better build a spare bike, just in case...

And it costs the same - possibly more - to tune an old bike as it does to tune a modern one, which would probably need less work to be competitive in the first place.

Then there are entrance fees, club memberships, tools, generators, tyres, oil, fuel, transport to the track, leathers, helmets… None of these are cheaper for classic racing than for any other bike sport. Just accept the fact that any racing costs all the money that you have, and then a bit more.

It's a chance to see old racing bikes in action, being used the way they were meant to be used!

Except most of the really fast bikes are modern replicas with magnesium engines and new frames, bristling with modern technology carefully designed to look forty years old while delivering 21st century performance.

Hey, at least it's sunny.
Classic Racing bits on

Proper ex-racing bikes are usually knackered. They need a lot of work and replacement parts before they can compete safely. When people say, "This is the bike that won the 1967 Senior TT" what they actually mean is, "This bike was built out of left over parts lying round the workshop at the end of the 1967 season. Then it was raced on short circuits for two years, where it got a new engine, forks and wheels. When it was no longer competitive, we slapped a scruffy old '67 TT faring back on it (Look! A scrutineering sticker!) and sold it to a gullible fool."

If a bike really is one that won a significant race or championship, it should be carefully preserved, not thrashed round Three Sisters twice a year by an overweight estate agent called Simon and then rebuilt with autojumble pistons.

But classic racing is all about track-craft and rider skill rather than just buying the latest, fastest bike!

That sounds like the sort of thing you'd hear from the bloke who's just come in eighteenth. All racing is about rider skill and track craft, but throwing money at the problem can always help the underskilled. Which is why there are companies making a tidy living from building bikes for classic racing.

Original Norbsa or hi-tech replica...

£15,000 will buy you a complete Gold Star engined Seeley classic racer with almost no original parts; the same price as a limited edition, track only Yamaha YZF-R1 SP. Either one will make a good rider faster but more importantly, they'll each make a poor rider appear at least adequate.

And is that fifteen grand Seeley a Real Classic? Much less so than a knackered GSX1100 running round in Early-Stocks, if you ask me.

OK then smartypants, what's the answer?

Track days are the answer. Simple, ordinary track days like the ones held almost every day of the year for modern bikes. Pay your money, turn up, ride your bike round, go home. Even better, get all the bikes to carry a number and then print a programme with some details of each machine so that the if an interested spectator does happen to turn up, he can find out that No.28 is a 1972 Norton Commando.

And because all the pretence of staying competitive while keeping a machine looking original will be removed, the chances are that No.28 really will be a 1972 Commando, rather than a bike with a brand new engine fitted in a frame built four years ago and designed to look a bit like one of Norton's.

Morini 350 Strada at Cadwell Park; rider having fun.

They already do this at Beezumph and at the Morini Riders' Club track day, and they did it at the Festival of 1000 Bikes at Mallory a couple of weekends ago. Plenty of bikes out on track, hardly any interruptions while would-be Phil Reads (or even real Phil Reads) are dug out of the gravel traps, and great fun for the riders. And the spectators.

Classic racing certainly has its place, and if anyone wants to give me a go I'll happily take them up on the offer. I just wish that classic racers would stop assuming that we're at all bothered about who finished where. It struck me at Mallory that there were more people watching the road bike sessions than watched the race bikes, and hardly anyone seemed bothered about the sprint sessions.

The best thing about the road sessions at Mallory Park was that - by and large - the bikes were all what they said they were. I'm sure most of us would prefer to watch the real classics (!) of our youth being thrashed round a track rather than a enduring a procession of single cylinder Manx clones. In fact, most of us would probably rather be out there, doing the thrashing. No need for a racing licence, no need to go that fast if you don't want to, and nothing to prove.

Martin Gelder


Morini Riders' Club

I'd rather see it down at the Ace Cafe, fitted with lights and a numberplate.

Theres photos are from the classic racing put on as a support race to the Albacete 8 Horas Nocturnas. What would be more interesting: Who finished where, or the technicalities of the bikes?


Nortons on


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