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21st October 2004

The Veteranentreffen MTO Oostende

Ride an old bike and see the world. Well, see Belgium; in the company of Shaun from the Kent branch of the BSAOC...

When I joined the BSAOC Kent branch years ago they told me of an event they go to in Belgium. I've now been to five of these rallies so I thought I'd tell you about the 28th rally held on the 19th September 2004. It's basically a ride through the Belgium countryside, but it takes us four days to complete.

Friday morning and the A10 is loaded up with enough luggage for three nights in a hotel. This weekend is for those who want to go abroad on their bikes but don't like camping. The wife was perched on the back and we were off. Got down to Cuxton to meet up with five others, then down the M20 towards the Euro Tunnel for the 10.28 train, and on the way we collected another rider.

As a continental truck driver, I have a low opinion of the train. This is due to being stuck in 'Operation Stack' for hours on end, and also the delays caused by strikes. Plus the enormous charge they make for all this, so imagine my thoughts when we got to book in and the lady tells our Matchless outfit rider that he'll have to pay another 100-plus for the chair! And they moan that no one uses the train and how they are losing money! Perhaps if they dropped their prices a tad the train would be full...

Kent 'get well soon' Shaun and the lovely 'are we having fun yet' Janette

Anyway that was sorted with a long talk and a compromise, and onto the train which was the 11.02. The people we were meeting had gone on the earlier train which caused a bit of confusion. On the train we were treated to an empty carriage -- so why all the fuss at the booking-in bit?

Finally we arrived in France. The plan was to meet at the BP garage in Calais, I fill up the truck there every day and know the owners well. But just as we turned off the train we spotted the bunch we should have met at the tunnel, they were waiting for us at the Total garage and when you're there you can't turn onto the road... So I waved and carried on to the BP garage, we topped up the tanks and still they didn't arrive.

I said 'hello' to the owners and they had a look at the bikes (the WDM20 attracted the most attention). After a while the decision was made to carry on, as the others must by now be on their way. So up the road we found the D940 and spent a very enjoyable ride along the very pretty route toward Dunkerque, where the roundabouts have flowers on in the shape of peacocks and things. The people were waving and smiling at us as we thundered past.

Omelette and beer for lunch; life is good.

But, as I'd been warned by those who travel this road, we got lost in Dunkerque. Well, not exactly lost -- we were touring! We headed for the motorway, and came off at the very next exit, and back onto the N1 past tobacco road (otherwise known as Adinkirk), where all the shops advertise tobacco for the English. The time was getting on and as we came to Veurne we stopped for lunch. A beer and an omelette; the sun was shining and the bike was running well. Perfect!

The G12 Matchless with us had broken his clutch lever, this was holding out well with the wire we'd wrapped around. The WDM20 was losing fuel, closer investigation revealed the fuel pipes were coming away from the sleeve that fits into the tap, but chewing gum seemed to solve this problem for a while. And we were off to our final destination, Oostende.

Veteranentreffen MTO OostendeHere we found the hotel Thevenet and garage for the bikes. After a shower we just had to enjoy a light refreshment or two -- after all Belgium has a beer for every town and we like beer.

On Saturday we went for a spin to Ypres to have a look at the Menin gate and saw all those names. Like the words of that song; 'war. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.' Every one of us found our surname somewhere amongst those 55,000 names. All that is except one! But then there's always ONE isn't there?

A lovely little bar was found for lunch, with a little trench museum behind which we found very interesting. Then after a full day's mooching we were off again. The Matchless outfit rider loves off-roading, as he was leading he found the road blocked with No Entry signs. This he totally ignored and we all had the off-road experience! Seems Belgium is built on sand... but the A10 handled it well with its new rear tyre coping with the occasional brick poking through the sand.

Another night on the town back in Oostende and a few more light refreshments, but this got interrupted as we had to visit the fish halls to book into the rally. A little mini-bus collects you from the town square, and takes you to the fisherman's social club. A big hall with snooker tables and a big long bar, 12 and you get a badge, a sticker for the bike and some tickets, also a lotto ticket. Then we have a few beers and the organisers come round with sea food, all for the cost of entry. At around 11pm they take you back in the mini-bus to leave you to enjoy the rest of the night.

BSA stuff on

Sunday and the rally itself, we get the bikes ready for the short ride to the town square. A small sticker with a number is placed on your headlight; this is for the breakdown van. If anything happens on the run you simply face the direction of traffic and the van will collect you. At the town square we meet hundreds of spectators and participants, the bikes come from all over and some we've never seen before, a lot are from the UK and most have been ridden to the event. In the envelope we got in the fish halls you have little tickets -- one of these you can exchange for a coffee and a croissant from one of the big hotels who sponsor the run. A speech is made by one of the organisers and we're off.

Sunday morning in Oostende.

Getting through Oostende isn't too bad but with all the spectators we can only just about crawl along. Out in the countryside the speed increases to about 35mph, just right for looking around at some of the wonderful houses that nestle in between the trees. All the gardens are immaculate -- some had waterfalls -- so it's not just the British who fettle gardens, then.

After about 30 miles we hit our first stop, a place called Maria-Aalter. Here we were treated to a box of chips (Frieten) and a kebab (Brochette) both washed down with a beer. All these are paid for with the tickets we got at the fish halls. The queue for the food was enormous but it was all handled very professionally, and soon everyone was fed and watered and it was time for the off.

We rode through yet more of the Belgium countryside with tiny lanes just big enough for a bike and sidecar; these roads were in-between farm land and therefore contained a great deal of cow poop. As each bike squelched through this the following rider got covered in the droppings! Those of us with open-face helmets had to make sure we kept our mouths closed...

After a further 30 miles we came to Tielt and out second stop of the day. A hunt for the tickets was rewarded with a beer and an ice cream. We sat in the sunshine looking at all the bikes, eating ice cream and leaning against a Sherman tank, which was sitting in the car park. Then all too soon we were off again. Every junction had a modern bike rider holding up any traffic that tried to cut in, all the turnings we needed to take were marked with MTO arrows. Even so I managed to miss one and had to make a detour but, as I said, I WAS touring!

Back on course and the last stop at the 90 mile mark turned out to be Oudenburg market. The last ticket was used for another beer and another ice cream. The mayor made a speech welcoming the riders to the 28th run. Then after all the speeches the police came (after they finished as much beer as they could) to the front of the riders and escorted us all back to Oostende, and the finish of a great day out.

Back at the fish halls they have a set of numbers, it's the MTO Lotto. The number on your headlight for breakdowns is used as your Lotto number, if it matches any numbers that are displayed then you're a winner. One or two of our lot won things like a can of WD40 and some hand-cleaner. The organiser made a speech then started to hand out trophies for the longest travelled, oldest bike, oldest bike and rider, lady rider -- you know, the usual stuff, whilst we enjoyed yet another light refreshment.

Deep in the bowels of the earth, the notoriously shy Puncture Pixes do their stuff.

We had to fix two punctures; one of our riders on an Ariel Huntmaster, and a chap who looked worried on a Royal Enfield Constellation. He had his wife with him and thought he'd never ride the bike home with a flat. Funny how people think. As if Old Timer riders would leave him stranded!

After all the day's fun it was back to the hotel and a well deserved shower. September in Belgium seems to be muck-spreading time; talk about splash it all over!

Monday and it was time to return to Blighty. The wind was gale force and had rain mixed with it, I knew the warm September sun wouldn't last for four days. Once again at Dunkerque we jumped onto the motorway (well it's better than getting lost). Back to the tunnel and that round metal featureless tube, up the M20 motorway and home.

437 trouble free miles on my 1958 BSA A10. In our party we had a few minor troubles, all of which we sorted with stuff like chewing gum, wire and some Araldite. A bloody good time was had by all, and it makes a nice change not to put the tent up or carry all the camping equipment. If anyone fancies the MTO next year then give me a shout on

And you're most welcome to join us. You never know, you might like it!

Do rallies have to be in tents?


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