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19th January 2005

Winter Rides 7 - Walking With… Puddings!

Instead of curling up by the fire like a sane and sensible person, Graham Ham takes Daisy the redoubtable Speed Twin to go Walking With... Puddings!

It seems to be a tradition, amongst normally sensible folk, to punish themselves during the Christmas break. They do this in a variety of ways from visiting or welcoming into their own homes people that for the rest of the year they wouldn't be seen dead with, or suddenly dragging Fido, the bewildered family pooch, for miles of walking across wild heathland rather than the normal quick 'drag and pee' around the park up the road. They flock to the beach on New Year 's Day and hurl themselves into the near arctic water, proclaiming against all logic that it's 'good for them' and that they 'really enjoyed that'. Half the population seems to take leave of its senses between Boxing Day and New Year's Day and classic motorcyclists are no exception, it seems.

At a time that is surely reserved, by any right thinking person, for applied do-nothing-ness, quiet reflection and slow recovery from the excesses of the festive week, most clubs decide against all apparent logic to have a gathering and a ride out. They do this religiously every year, regardless of weather, apparently for fun, and I've never understood it. I just cannot see the attraction of hauling oneself from a perfectly good armchair in front of an open log-fire into the inevitably cold hostile environment surely waiting outside. I'll stay here with the mince pies thanks. In fact, it is easier to get a straight answer from a politician than to winkle me out of my sanctuary during this week in the calendar. Any other time of year, I'm yer man for gallivanting all over the place, at all hours, any distance, at the drop of a pin (or a promise of Sporran) - but this week? Nah.

Daisy, looking suspiciously clean.

So, you can understand that I find myself wondering, with no small measure of amazement and self chastisement, what on earth am I doing at 8.30am on the 28th December, fumbling about in the garage trying to untangle Daisy from within, watching in wonder my breath hang in steamy clouds in the freezing air whilst cursing virulently because I had forgotten to have a pee before putting on the long johns, jeans, leather jeans and over suit.

I have no idea really, other than the fact that over the last weeks before Christmas I had found myself being systematically badgered, cajoled, jeered at and generally abused until I finally, reluctantly agreed to attend the BSA Owners' (Kent Branch) Christmas Pudding Run, starting from the village of Lenham, some 40 miles away from home.

So, out on the windswept drive, fumbling about for the tickler, I nearly give up there and then as a cold gust cuts straight through all the layers, but with grim determination I grasp the throttle and give Daisy a half-hearted kick. The electronic ignition does its stuff and she burbles into life, despite my feeble effort of a swing, but this fails to cheer me as a fleeting memory of my nice (and let's be clear) warm bed, from which I was rudely yanked not so long ago, taunts me cruelly.

A few minutes to warm the engine, and we're off to pick up Grandad on the other Speed Twin, who looks like the Michelin Man on a bad suit day with all his layers on, and that raises the first smile of the day, but we don't hang around long before heading out to the rendezvous with the Kent Masochists' Society.

We only pause once on the 40 mile run to Lenham, to empty the contents of a thermos of tea that Grandad had the foresight to bring with him, and we pull up in the village square bang on time at 11:00. I can no longer feel my nose, fingers or toes and within seconds of coming to a halt my sun-glasses have steamed up.

Are we having fun yet?

Offering a hearty greeting that certainly wasn't matched by my inner feelings, I climbed stiffly and awkwardly from Daisy's sprung saddle and stamped around for a bit as other motorcycles continued to arrive at what was soon, to my surprise, a well attended gathering. I had expected maybe five or six hardy souls to turn out, but I could count about fifteen so far.

Something wasn't quite right though, and I couldn't put my finger on it at first, until, wandering around taking snaps another frozen morsel voiced it for me, 'Where are all the BSA'S then?' he asked. 'In fact, are there any BSA's here?' he added. He was right. I reminded myself that this was a BSAOC event but there was a distinct shortage of Small Heath's finest on show so far. A closer look around the assembled throng did in fact reveal five of the marque, jostling for position amongst the six Triumphs, two Enfields, a Matchless/AJS hybrid combo, a Yamaha XS and a Honda CB250.

The route master, a stalwart of the local branch by all accounts, had for some reason opted for a Moto Guzzi. I bump into the chap with the XS, and it turns out he's an RCer, who has been known pop up on the excellent message board from time to time under the name of KarlB. What with Shaun, Grandad, myself and now Karl that's not a bad RC turnout I reckon - nearly 25% of the total riders.

They searched long and hard, but it was behind them all the time...

Of course, none of this matters, but it's good for ribbing Kent Shaun and the lads from his branch I reckon. My mood lifts slightly with this thought, as there's nothing like a bit of cross-marque banter to lift the spirits, but even as my mind dreams up some ripe comments on the subject this shallow pleasure is denied me as I wander around to discover that they're already ribbing themselves and each other heartily, whilst joking that the Triumph Owners' run today must be almost deserted - on account that the beggars are all here instead!

Can it be... Surely not... I think it is... A BSA.Pretty soon, I find that I'm actually beginning to enjoy myself, despite my seasonal misgivings and the very firm belief that I should only just have got out of bed by now, stoked up the fire, settled into my armchair with the first steaming mug of coffee, munching toast and marmalade while the dog snores at my feet.

The almost-happy feeling is reinforced no end when I'm assured by Shaun that not only will the run terminate at a very nice country pub that serves a decent pint of Olde Sporran (I have learned to trust him in this area), but it's actually on our route back home as well. I was about to learn NOT to trust him in this area (although a recent ride-out with him in the summer should have told me this - see RC12 for the full story).

After a while, we all form up behind the Guzzi, and I look at the various faces, muffled behind their scarves, telling the same story. They're all asking themselves 'Why am I doing this?'

But in that moment we're off, threading our way out of the village and into the rather picturesque Kent countryside, which, at the right time of year is amongst the most pleasant you could choose to ride through.

This, however, is NOT the right time of year, and neither has it been the right kind of weather recently. The roads are greasy, leaf-lined and damp. At least the good roads are, but our route-master has decided good roads are not for us. Oh no, he is having none of that wimpish behaviour, and to ensure that we get the maximum enjoyment from our ordeal he takes the first opportunity to hurtle off into the myriad of tiny, mud-covered, single track roads that criss-cross the boundary between the wooded, hilly North Downs and the low flat Romney marshes.

Pausing every now and then to check that we still have a full compliment of frozen followers, he proceeds in what seems to be an entirely arbitrary direction at each junction, heading ever deeper into the boonies, until he is quite sure that not one of us has even the slightest shred of heat left in our bodies, before finally heading back towards civilization.

It should be noted at this point that the Guzzi was the only machine sporting a nice protective fairing, and probably had heated grips. But cynical? Moi? Surely not.

Triumph Stuff on

Barrey Rapley, a man who has no need of such luxuries as a twistgrip...We must have done some twenty miles or so (Daisy's ability to record such things sadly ceased some nine months ago. I'll get it fixed one day, honest!) when it became apparent that we were suddenly only seven in number. We stopped, and peered up the lane and some of us remove helmets to listen. There was no sign or sound of the ten missing bikes. We wait some more, and just as it seems that we'll have to go look for 'em, they hove into view, all smiles.

A swift conference with our leader clarifies things. There have been a couple of 'tricky moments' on that mud, apparently, followed by a more serious problem - the Matchless/AJS combo had broken its throttle cable.

Of course, such a paltry event would never actually stop an AMC stalwart in pursuit of real ale, and indeed there he was with the cable outer cover removed, the inner wire wrapped round his fist, grinning like a mad thing and ready to lead the charge to the pub.

Good man, we all agree and with no further ado set of once again, slightly blue in colour by now I fancy, but with heavenly visions of a warm and welcoming ale house driving us on. Warm and welcoming it is too, especially as a fair number of non-riding (at least today) BSAOC members have been waiting here for us, counting us in like the dam busters returning from their raids.

And here's the reason these traditions survive, because it's not the same as a summer run out at all. There's no endurance required in summer, there's no feeling of achievement as such, and there's nothing like the bond of camaraderie that comes from a gathering of witheringly cold morsels, jostling for position in front of the roaring fire in the snug bar of the hostelry at journey's end. The buzz of conversation heightens as the corner of the bar becomes a dumping ground for helmets, over-suits, jackets and discarded extra layers.

The owners, divested of all the paraphernalia that disguises the winter motorbicyclist, then congregate for a good yarn. The little events and near dramas of the morning are discussed over pints of Ye Fineste Olde neck-oil, and as I wander around I catch snippets of various enthusiastic banter. The run had been longer than planned, apparently, because our route master had in fact taken a wrong turn. He hadn't meant to take us through all those little lanes, honest!

Several folk were complaining that they still couldn't feel their fingers, whilst taking the rise out of their colleagues' collective red noses, over there I can hear snatches of a funny anecdote centred round a knackered gearbox, in the middle of the happy throng Kent Shaun is showing off his battered jacket, carrying the scars from his recent spill with the A10, whilst over here I discover that Matchless/AJS throttle cable was actually the second minor drama to befall its rider, the first being a narrow miss that had almost seen the outfit drive straight over Grandad and his Speed Twin.

Pardon? I seek clarification, and yes it's true, on one of the mud-filled lanes Grandad had fallen victim to the old disappearing front wheel. Straight out from under him apparently, but he had managed to save himself and the bike admirably. Just a shame he had a combo right behind him that couldn't stop in quite the same unexpected fashion! A very near miss was the result by all accounts, but it made for a good yarn.

I leave the merry little group and continue to wander around, until I am cornered by a trio of club members who proudly pull out RealClassic Club membership cards. Apparently the club-room had received a copy of the RC issue that had carried my article about 'Walking with Beesa People', and after a reading the thing from cover to cover, these good people promptly signed up. They all heartily agreed that it has been worth every penny, so that's all right then. That means that there were no fewer than seven of us here, and I wonder how long it'll be before a few more join the gang.

I had names for some of these people, but to be honest I'm more worried about Old Beardy in the corner, the one who seems to be eating a cucumber sandwich...

We settle down to a superb broccoli and Stilton soup, washed down with Olde Bladder, or some such concoction of the brewer's art, before reluctantly digging through the pile of clothing in the corner and preparing for the journey home. I am cajoled into taking a group photo before I leave, and so the entire throng swarm out into the car-park with us to do the honours.

The deed is done, and pausing only to swap farewells (until next time) we two head back out onto the cold road for home. I get to thinking, on the way home, that I had started out this morning grumbling about the stupidity of attending such a gathering, and with about as much appetite for the run as I would have for a hedgehog sandwich. Now, as I slowly lose the feeling in my fingers and toes once again, I tell myself that I don't really care. It was well worth the effort and had been a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon indeed.

I started this article questioning why on earth, in this particular week, anybody would put themselves through such deliberate pain and discomfort, when they could be well and truly comfy in the armchair at home, all for the sake of so called tradition. Now? Well, I find myself asking why on earth they wouldn't!

Happy New Year!


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