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31st August 2007

Opinion: AMC Anorak 28
Home -> Features -> Opinions and Columns ->

Rally Around! There are lots of rallies these days. There have always been lots of rallies, in fact, and when he was young Frank Westworth used to attend them...

Bikes are for riding, of course. Bikes are only for riding, in the view of some. I was once of exactly that persuasion myself, but have happily become more mellow as I've grown older, unhappily growing older while I became more mellow. If you see what I mean.

Back in the mists of time, I felt that bikes were only for riding. Maintaining bikes was a necessary evil, best done by someone other than me if the pocket was deep enough (which it rarely was) and restoring bikes was something only undertaken by folk who had either too much time, too much money or not enough heroic manliness to get out there and get wet. And cold. And vibrated to a jelly. Riding bikes was what Real Men (ie. me and my mates) did, and the more it snowed, fogged, sleeted and froze … the more heroic and manly the men. Unless they were girls. Although I didn't know many girls who rode bikes in vile weather without some dumb lunk of a bloke to act as weather protection. Still don't, in fact. Odd, that. Girls may be less manly, but are plainly more intelligent. Discuss.

Because riding bikes is such a great thing to do, almost every club offers a lot of excuses to go riding. These range from clubnights (the perfect opportunity to take the Mondeo out so you can bask in the air-con through a hot summer's evening) all the way to The Annual Rally (the perfect opportunity to check that the Mondeo can still pull the trailer with the Honda Deauville securely strapped as far as the 5-star hotel nearest to the rally site). This latter pastime was so popular with hard-riding, hard-drinking, hard-scratching (baths are optional for rufftuff bikers) clubmen that the doughty AJS & Matchless OC invented the Alternative Rally, where members of the club were encouraged to attend riding a motorcycle; a motorcycle bearing the hallowed names of AJS or Matchless on their shapely fuel tanks. It'll never catch on. They even had a sin bin at one event which completely upset Gold Wing riders everywhere…

Lots of other organisations offer excuses for riding, too, and I've tried a lot of them over the years, searching endlessly for a little motorcycling nirvana and escape from the drudgery of the day job. Which is what motorcycling is all about, for some of us at least. At least it was when I enjoyed the delights of a day job, of course.

The most entertaining rally from my own slightly skewed perspective was the wonderful National Rally, organised by all manner of organisations working together and which I'm not going to name here out of fear that I'll get it all wrong and upset folk. I could of course do a little research, but that is what real journalists do, and I'll have none of that, thanks.

The National Rally was a great idea. In case you've managed to avoid riding it so far, let me explain. The organisers (see note above about their identities) supply entrants with a map. On this map are shown the locations of 'controls', where those very organisers arrange to have kind folk sat in a tent or a camper van or the rain with a rubber stamp. This rubber stamp stamps your 'card', which is a card showing, by means of rubber stamped stamps, that you have been to the control. Which is important, as I will explain.

On the map with the controls, there are lines drawn between those controls showing the distance between them. The whole idea of the National Rally is that you ride around clocking up these miles.

I can't remember exactly what the numbers were now, because I am very old and the vibration and damp caused by riding in a decade's worth of National Rallies has somehow addled my memory cell, but it was something like this: if you rode 250 miles you qualified for a Bronze Award (phooey and feeble; only nesh southerners and BMW riders would be attracted by that); if you rode 400 miles you qualified for a Silver Award (phooey and feeble; only Home Counties folk and Honda Deauville riders would be attracted by that); if you rode 500 miles you qualified for a Gold Award - the pinnacle of achievement.

Real Men (and of course Real Women) who were made of stern stuff and rode AJS lightweight singles and Velocette LEs went for this. Did I mention that you had to ride all these miles between 2pm Saturday and 10am the following morning?

Random AJS Stuff on

There is a further award. This was the Special Gold Award, which was awarded to riders who not only rode the 500 miles, but also fitted in the maximum possible number of controls. It was fiendish, because once you sat down and worked out how to fit in that one elusive extra control without breaking the 500 mile limit, it soon became clear that you could only do this by starting from somewhere like Huddersfield, which was not handy if you lived in South Wales. Special Gold Awards were typically won by Francis-Barnett riders and those who enjoy the sensual delights of obscure East European 2-strokes.

In a worrying way, the Ajay Club not only ran controls for the delight of entrants, but also put several teams into the event. Most notable of these was of course the modestly-monickered Team Matchless which thoughtlessly and with great pomp actually won at least one whole event! This amazed me at the time, not least because I didn't quite understand that there was anything to be won. I am dim like that. But win it they did; stand up Lol Reeday, Kevin Coxon and Bob Boaden from the mighty Notts & Derby section of the galaxy-spanning AMC Owners. Blimey. How did I remember that? I'd better apologise in advance for those whose names I've got wrong.

I rode loads of National Rallies. Somehow the whole notion of chugging around the country on a wheezing, dripping AJS appealed. I infected several chums with this enthusiasm too, and we would call each other up during the hectic planning stages with cryptic comments like 'I've got 26 controls and 525 miles…' which was of course a lie and impossible, and caused endless head-scratching.

Not least because the mileages quoted on the map were 'notional' mileages, and you could only manage them if you could fly in a straight line, like a crow. Which is not easy, even on a 1966 AJS Model 31. Which is, incidentally, the best bike ever built by anyone.

Please let me ride the MZ. Please...

And where do you find petrol at four in the morning in the wilds of the Peak District? Petrol became a preoccupation. Folk fitted vast ugly tanks to their handsome Matchless G15CS super twins (see the photo, where my chum Allan attempts to put on a brave face after so disfiguring his own G15CS). Folk even carried gallon cans of fuel in their panniers - in one case at least this caused the panniers to stretch and sag until the fuel cans were resting on the silencers…

I've not ridden a National Rally in ten years. And it surely does beat camping in a muddy field as a way of catching colds. Does it still happen? Do RC riders still ride in it? I should be told…


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