18th August 2009
More than 70 different makes of classic motorcycle attended the 25th West Kent Run. Chas E Godden was there to keep count of them all...
The Vintage Club's West Kent Run has grown vigorously in its quarter century and it now attracts the largest International contingent of any such event in Britain. Of the entry of 486 this year, no less than 130 were from overseas, including super keen riders from Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic, as well as the nearer European countries.Brian Partridge presented this very fine example of Panther's 1957 Model 35, with Villiers 2T power. Loyal Yorkshire men would have you believe it was a cut above the rest for quality.
Now based in the attractive Friars complex near Chatham, the event is readily accessible from motorways and the Chunnel, and the organisers rise to the urban challenge and offer routes through the country lanes of the Garden of England. In one deviation from that plan, riders in this untimed and unhurried tour found themselves riding over the cobbled roads of Chatham Old Town and were doubly glad of the sunny weather. Riding an early vintage machine over wet cobbles is no small challenge, particularly to those not familiar with British road signs and stroppy pedestrians.Maurice Drew brought along his pretty little 1958 Motom 49cc Super Sports, to show that the Italians have an eye for style and sense of humour with model titles.
Sporting stars present included Johnny Giles, a remarkably fit man for 80 and not quite ready to admit that he's retired. Paul Smart brought along his Suzuki 750-3 of the early 70s, a bike he brought back from America and won a lot races on, despite the engine being a lot faster than the chassis; he also showed a Ducati 200cc Elite that he'd restored after owning it for 30 years.
Smart is a true star: modest, very approachable and happy to recall a few tales. Like his first little shop in Maidstone, where a lady called one day and explained that when her husband departed he'd left his old bike behind and that her new partner wasn't interested, but did fancy the used Honda CX500 Paul had in stock. Was he interested in a part exchange deal?Mole Benn, who also has a veteran Harley-Davidson that he rides in the Pioneer Run, brought along this 1955 250cc MV-Agusta racer that was part of the factory's 250cc World championship title bid. It has its original full alloy fairing and a noise output that would seriously upset a Health and Safety storm trooper.
'I went to see this bike and it turned out to be a Vincent Black Shadow in bits, but all there,' Paul remembers. 'The amazing thing was that the original owner was Colin Seeley's dad. In fact, in Colin's book there's a picture of his old chap on the bike outside my shop after I'd rebuilt it.' Near Paul when he was telling the story was Seeley himself, busy selling the book that tells the second part of his remarkable life story.Le Bar A Vins in Calais has a particularly forthright way of pushing its wine drinking message. But at a classic bike gathering? The sticker is on a 1934 Peugeot P112S commercial trike that Giles Berland brought over from France.
Sunday was the busy day. 'The biggest crowd I've seen at The Friars' said secretary of the meeting Ron Wright as the public flowed in to line the gymkhana arena and circulate around the jumble area and Club Row, where Bill Connor entertained a constant crowd with his superbly detailed miniature racing engines and a nine-cylinder radial unit.A miniature nine-cylinder radial engine in full working order? Must be Bill Connor.
Gerard Hilbers and partner, over from Holland with his 1955 500cc Horex Imperator, took a different approach to the gymkhana ride. And they got under the low bar without losing a point!
In the gymkhana arena the overseas visitors showed much less inhibition in riding around and performing a range of silly tasks while the clock ticked away; Gerhard Hilbers made the point on his 500cc Horex single, with his lady pillion passenger facing backwards and making a video record of the run; when they got under the low bar successfully the applause was loud and long. As it was for Neil Pearce's 1913 Douglas, which held Fastest Time of the Day in 22 seconds until a young lad on a mountain bike went around in 21; another big cheer.Shaun Gibbons showed fine control of his Beesa M21 as he wielded the big stick in the gymkhana.
Commentating on the day's happenings and interviewing personalities when a row of competition bikes were fired up in the arena was Dennis Bates, one time PR man to the Motor Cycle Industries Association and a keen local member of the VMCC. At 84, he showed stamina to match his gentle style and considerable knowledge to confirm that some owners last as well as their bikes. A lovely weekend, blessed with sunshine and all the profits go to the local Air Ambulance.Brooklands JAP-powered Norton that can still get down the quarter mile under 15 seconds. Old soldiers never die…
For information on the 2010 West Kent Run, please see : www.westkentrun.co.uk
Details about other VMCC events can be found at: www.vmcc.net
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