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30th November 2004


Feeling Finnish?

Bored with going to the same classic bike shows and rallies? David B Bullivant suggests you make a proper holiday of it, and enjoy some Nordic hospitality...

Between Friday 23rd and Sunday 25th July 2004, the Veteraaniralli took place at the winter sports' facility at Hirmos, about two hours north from the capital of Finland, Helsinki, It makes excellent sense to use a winter sports' facility when there is no snow about, because everything for a successful summer motorcycle rally is already in place and begging to be used.

Our previous annual rallies have, from time to time, attracted rider from Britain, but not on a regular basis, which is a pity. Perhaps the old school atlas shows Finland as being too many pages away from that hallowed isle, set in a silvery sea, but it is possible to reach Finland with very little actual road-riding involved if the route is planned accordingly.

It is also possible to cover a huge road mileage to attain the country of a thousand (and then some!) lakes. One long way round is to come or go via the North Cape off the northern coast of Norway - kill two birds with one stone! Yet another route embraces riding from a Channel port across France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and shipping over the 50 mile hop to Finland.
I've left off Latvia. And Anglesey. Sorry. RealMart.

Between these two extremes are a dozen other routes. Perhaps the shortest road ride is to cross from Harwich to Cruxhaven in Germany and ride to Travemunde, adjacent to Lubeck, on the German Baltic coast (a half day jaunt) and ship out of there direct to Finland - a lot of sea miles but a nice holiday on the way. There is a massive gas-turbine powered ferry that plies that route and planes along at 42 knots; takes a mere 23 hours to cover the distance!

Any intending traveller is welcome to contact the writer [david.bullivant@saunalahti.fi] for loads of alternative routes.

You can also fly - Mr O'Leary, who operates RyanAir, will carry you from Stanstead to Tampere for something in the region of seventeen shillings and sixpence if you book in time - quite the cheapest and quickest route! But you can't bring a bike with you... although car hire is possible.

So what might put off a motorcyclist planning a trip? The Nordic countries are famous for the fact that (nearly) everyone speaks English, drunken disagreements are settled with a knife, all known credit cards work well, the currency is the Euro, summer days are long, the nights short, drive on the right, plenty of cabins at campsites en route (no need to lug along tents and things like that), your usual fuel and oil is available at the roadside, the roads are well maintained and incredibly traffic-free, the natives are friendly and have very tasty food to enjoy - and it's available at most petrol stations so you can fuel the rider and the bike at one stop!

Some years ago we had the pleasure of welcoming a gentleman who rode his LE Velocette all the way to Finland, and returned to the UK via the North Cape. How are you keeping, Mr Middleton from Chester?

The machines that turn out for our annual rallies cover a wide spectrum - don't expect to see only the products of Brum, Coventry, Redditch, Bristol and Woolwich. There's no point going so far to see only the familiar - there are plenty of other real classics!

Velocette LE on eBay.co.uk

Finland was an is an international motorcycle market and there will be makes that you may never have encountered before. A veritable smörgasbord of machines awaits your appetite for variety. The spice comes from visitors' machines from Estonia and the other Baltics - now part of Europe...

Summers up here are famous for being hot and dry. They are also famous for being hotbeds of mosquito activity, but with a good repellent there is no aggro. Some of the locals have discovered that imbibing loads of vitamin B is a good way of gaining immunity but visitors may not have the time or wish to drink so much beer!

At the 29th Rally in 2004 there were three classes: Pre WW2 which was won by a 1921 Henderson, second place a 1929 Indian and third a 1937 Harley-Davidson. All American makes but by no means the norm. The Post-War winner was a 1960 Zundapp 250, second place went to a 1953 Triumph 6T, and a 1969 Honda CB750 was third. The final classic is for mopeds which have a huge following in Finland as most people enter motorcycling by way of a moped, age 15.

This isn't Finland in the summer. It's actually Baldock, a couple of weeks ago.

The Finnish Veteran Motorcycle Club operates on a rolling 25 year ruling but may change this to a 30 year roll on as the State's viewpoint changes about what is regarded as an 'old' vehicle. But you are welcome to attend on a modern machine; car, camper, bus, silver van, for flight - whatever your MagicCarpet is. Like any motorcycle club worthy of the name, it is people who make up the club, not motorcycles.

Prizes are offered for the furthest travelled motorcycling lady and gent. There is a prize for the oldest machine - in 2004 that was a 1917 PowerPlus Indian. The oldest competitor was also a prize-winner, this time a gent born in 1924. The youngest also wins an award - and this time it was a girl born in 2003; yes, these are family rallies! There are other prizes, too; oldest Japanese, youngest rider, technical merit, shaft-drive - and more from year to year, depending on the organisers' imagination.

Each year the Rally is hosted by a different branch of the club, so that the same people don't do all the work. Finland is a country much larger than Great Britain but we only have five million people, so we are all spread out...

At the 2004 Rally there were 1343 people who stayed for the whole weekend, plus 420 day visitors.

And what about the Rally in 2005? It was be in the hands of the Pori branch. Pori is situated on the west coast of Finland, about two hours north of the port of Turku so it makes sense to use that either as your port of entry or exit. The Rally usually takes place over the last weekend of July, but is subject to confirmation.

The Finnish countryside is much as God left it after the last ice age. Man's hand is an apologetic necessity. We, and you as a visitor, enjoy 'everyman's rights' here - which means there is no law of trespass. We have access to the forests and lakes as we wish. Fishing needs a local licence...and the vast majority of Finns uphold the rules and regulations that govern life for us all to enjoy.

Tack on a side trip to Tallinn, capital of Estonia, or a couple of days in St Petersburg (visas required). You can leave your steed in Finland, of course!

Don't believe everything you read. Come and see for yourself.

The Afrika Korps Appreciation Society regretted not buying a map.

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