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10th March 2004

Daisy's Diary: The Rabbit Rally

The continuing adventures of Graham Ham and his sprung-hub Triumph see the intrepid pair joined by another Speed Twin. Disaster (even the minor type) could not possibly be far away...

By Daisy's standards, the Rabbit Rally, hosted by the Triumph Owners Club's Rother branch in Surrey, is a local stroll in the park. It's only 75 miles from home, along the coast to the west. The route is one of my favourite weekend bimbles - we ride up through the Barham Woods then turning onto Stone Street, a wonderful roller-coaster of a Roman Road, skirting the South Downs to weave our way through the Romney Marshes to Winchelsea. So we were going, and planned to knock off some Landmarks from that year's challenge at the same time.

There was no need for the normal dawn parade. This time we could safely leave in the afternoon of the Friday, and had plenty of time to get there, set up camp and find the bar before the sun set.

Quick! Take a photo before something falls over or off...

My daughter Chloe was riding pillion, a situation she demanded as soon as she saw the word 'Rabbit' on the forms. Daisy enjoyed even more distinguished company this time, as I had persuaded my father (aka Grandad) to attend and camp, riding my other Speed Twin - the 1955 swinging arm flavour. Oh all right, yes, she's got a name too as regular RealClassic readers will know: Winnie.

So it was four o'clock and all was well - and it really was!. On a glorious balmy afternoon we couldn't wait to get out on the green lanes which make up almost the entire route. Out of Ramsgate, through the school traffic, we were soon on the back roads between Sandwich and Canterbury. After 30 minutes or so we crossed the old Dover road, and cut across country through the Barham Woods where the canopy of trees made a refreshingly cool contrast to the blazing sunshine. We threaded our way through the network of single track roads, and duly arrived at the quaint country pub in Stelling Minnis.

Fully relaxed (but ready for a refreshing drinky) we sampled a half a pint of Olde Badger's Scrotum or some such brew, before we were off again, connecting with Ye Olde Roman Road of Stone Street, which is a gloriously humpty, bumpty but very straight route that took us down to Lympne, on the edge of the Romney Marshes.

This was classic biking at its very best. We were riding along a maze of tiny unmarked roads which meandered across the marshes, amid the heady scents of the summer countryside, passing tiny little hamlet villages, lambs gambolling in the fields, hawks hovering in the sky, little country inns nestling quietly in chocolate box surroundings… You get the picture: we rode through Ye Gardene Of Olde Englande at its grandeste.

As we did I pondered the thought (very quietly lest Daisy should hear) that an old BSA J12 or some such beasty would be just the ticket for this. I resolved, for the fiftieth time that year, to get one.

This was official, unadulterated classic bike Bimbling. Note the capital 'B'. It's that good!

We eventually found our way out of the marshes, just east of the ancient fishing town of Rye, and proceeded in a leisurely fashion westwards, through Winchelsea, with its rather amusing hairpin bended hill. Up and over we rode, through Icklesham until, without further ado, we pulled up at the rally site.

And they had this well sorted. The rally was in the field behind a large country inn (the Robin Hood), which boasts a well appointed beer garden backing onto the camping site. This was the focus for grub and beer then! We checked in, proceeded to the corner of the field closest to the bar (how convenient. TP), unloaded Daisy and Winnie, and set about making camp. But at this point the first jarring note of the weekend made itself known. Winnie had lost a rocker cap, and there was oil everywhere!

Out came the Kleenex and we cleaned up Winnie's dribbles, before setting up the tents. After a quick wander around we ambled over to the welcome tent to enquire about rocker caps for pre-units, and the likelihood of being able to find one thereabouts. (After all, this was a Triumph rally, so surely someone would have one in their pocket?). A quick conference reminded me of that fine establishment, the Miller emporium in St Leonard's, Hastings, where all things Triumph can be had in exchange for some coin of the realm. We contrived to make that the first stop next day, when we would go Landmark hunting.

We decided to take a bimble down to Winchelsea beach as the sun set, where we watched a near full moon rising magically over the sea before heading back to camp. We spent the rest of the first evening watching late arrivals whilst sipping a glass of the old mental sledgehammer, and in due course we spotted some of the Berkshire lads with whom we'd partied in Belgium. Greetings were exchanged and we agreed to share (yet more...TP) fluid refreshers later on.

Rabbits and missing motorcycle parts not shown...

As the light finally went completely, Chloe was delighted to note the emergence of a plethora of bunnies in the next field, so set off to stalk 'em - seems the 'Rabbit Rally' is just that. She spent an age down on all fours in the dark, creeping ever-so-slowly towards this teenage girl's heaven. She got to within 30-odd feet eventually, before they decided that was quite enough of that, thank you, and vamoosed in all directions.

Grandad retired early (poor old thing; the combined age of him and Winnie is 120 years!). Chloe found some friends in the beer garden, and I swapped yarns and imbibed with the Berks boys before turning in at 11.30 or so.

Up at 07:30 and already it was hot. Breakfast wouldn't be served until 9am so we decided to make a brew and then hit the road for a day of rockerbox cap and Landmark hunting. There are two Landmarks within a leisurely day's striking distance, but first we wandered down to St Leonard's to Mr Miller. We got there early enough to hunt down a café, where breakfast was duly dispatched, and we presented ourselves to the Miller establishment at about 9.30. Winnie was soon kitted out with a new cap, and I also took the opportunity of discussing a plan to fit late T140 timing gears to Daisy, in an effort to quieten down her Alton-induced clatter. It seemed that this was a good plan, and I agreed to buy a set. (It worked after a fashion - they were fitted the week after the Rabbit, and a marginally quieter Daisy is the result)

It was 10.30 or so by the time we threaded our way out of Hastings, heading west. The first Landmark was about 45 miles away, on the edge of the South Downs behind Brighton. We deliberately plotted a rural route and we were soon threading our way across country on more single track roads.

And here I must declare that it's not just Daisy who's been upgraded for travel - I have invested in one of these handheld computer gizmo thingies, and also the complete UK Ordnance Survey maps on the PC at home. I can download the relevant region maps to the handheld, and now I know where I am most of the time - unlike last year - marvellous!

We stopped for a breather. That was when I noticed that Winnie, despite the shiny new rocker cap, had produced another Herculian oil slick all over her top end! More Kleenex was brought to bear and I got Grandad to run her whilst I peered under the tank. Aha! She was actually blowing oil out of the rocker GASKET, and had fooled us with the missing cap! So, out came the spanners to check all the nuts and bolts - all good and solid. Hmmmm… a closer inspection was called for, and in due course it transpired that the gasket was a very poor fit. We decided to lift the rocker box and attempt to straighten things up. We put it all back as best we could, and set off again, hoping it would be better.

No such luck. We stopped at a little country inn (strangely situated INSIDE a chalk pit) for lunch, but it was apparent that Winnie was settling down to be a pain - she'd managed to cover herself with oil again. In the hot sun, she sat with a gentle cloud of smoke drifting from under the tank, whilst hot oil dripped down her barrel fins and made a nice mess of her chaincase.


Further prodding around revealed that not only did we fail to make the gasket better, but a half inch piece had now, in fact, fallen out altogether. There was a nice little gap in the rocker seal, bubbling straight to atmosphere!

We didn't have any gasket stuff with us, so we adopted one of those desperate bodges that keep you going until proper repairs can be carried out at home - we stuffed Kleenex in the gap, and wedged more Kleenex tightly into the head fins under the rocker box to catch the dribbles. Not ideal, and certainly not pretty, but it did the job.

Right, off we went again and we were soon at the first Landmark, a house built over a railway tunnel entrance. After getting the photo of this bizarre structure, we checked Winnie over and decided to change her nappy -- the bodge was working but the Kleenex had become saturated. That done we struck out west again to the next one, which was about 20 miles across country. Sticking to the tiny back-roads, with Winnie's incontinence plugged, we were really enjoying things in the near-perfect weather.

We reached the Landmark, a Roman villa nestled amidst the South Downs, without incident, got our photo and changed Winnie's nappy again before considering a route back to the rally. On the computer map, we noticed that we were close to Bignor Hill, which I've heard of but not been up. Up we would go! It was a long rough uphill ride through thick woods, twisting and turning, dodging the ruts and holes, until we emerged from the trees on the top of the hill where the road promptly stops. The view was stunning, so we pulled up and got off.

Picture the scene: two classic Triumph Speed Twins, parked on the top of the South Downs, surrounded by grandiose views. Grandad had picked up an admirer (I'm far more experienced, saw him coming, and took evasive action!); we were basking in his audience's admiration, and talking expansively about the bikes, when, without warning, Winnie delivered a shocking blow.

Her sidestand bolt snapped and she promptly fell over with a mind juddering CRASH!

If it wasn't for the fact that Winnie is mine, I think I might have died laughing. As it was I still couldn't help but snigger as we scrambled over to pick her up. I was almost in tears and desperately trying not to laugh out loud. Poor Grandad was clearly hugely embarrassed and his audience was no longer quite so full of admiration.

You had to be there...

I soon stopped laughing as I surveyed the damage. She'd bent her handlebars, crushed the nacelle headlamp trim and taken a nice few lumps out of her paintwork on the stony surface. Grandad was all upset, so I settled him down with assurances that this was 'campaign damage' - you have to expect it if you use the things! After ensuring that everything was straight we stuffed Winnie's stand in Chloe's back-pack and headed back towards camp, still sticking to back roads.

It soon becomes apparent that Grandad and Winnie were not keeping up. I stopped and he explained that there was a drumming noise coming from the tank, one which got louder with speed. Where the bike had gone over earlier, she'd dislodged the padding in the tank recess. So, off came the tank, we sorted out the padding and put it all back together. She was fine again and we set off in earnest, looking forward to grub, beer and bunnies.

Back at the rally site that evening, it all made for a good yarn. I promised Winnie a smacked bum when we get home!

As the evening got into full swing, it became apparent that the TOMCC Rother know how to lay on a good do. Food was available at the pub, beer was despatched in satisfactory quantities, everyone was in good spirits, the band, '90% Proof' (Good God. They're STILL going? They were old when I was young! TP) eventually got underway, and proved to be excellent entertainers. The weather was fantastic, and as our hosts fired up the biggest spit roast I'd ever seen, a full moon rose once more over the sea. Chloe went bunny hunting again and, much later, when the pub closed, another fully equipped (if you like lager or bitter) bar opened up in the field.

Eventually we all ended up around the midnight bonfire. Absolutely brilliant. Chloe and Grandad turned in shortly after, both utterly exhausted, but I stayed watching the fire burn down, nattering to various people and drinking the last of the beer. The last of us stumbled off to bed at around 3am.

Against all the odds, we were up at 8am next morning, to take a leisurely breakfast, before saying our goodbyes and heading off for a superb ride back through the marshes and home.

If you're TOMCC, put the Rabbit Rally on your list. If you're not, come anyway, as it appears that all were made welcome - even the Harleys! Good people, good venue, good beer and well, just a damn good do all round. Definitely gets the Daisy seal of approval and we'll be back next year.

Any more Rally Tales?

A brief hiatus in the nappy changing schedule.


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