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13th September 2005

Durham Dales Run and A Summer Solstice Excursion

Martin Peacock takes his 1972 Triumph 650 on two different organised rides. He gets wet in the Dales (surprise!) and travels back in time on the longest day...

My first experience of an organised ride was last year's Durham Dales Run, and it was glorious. Riding through some outstanding countryside in bright sunshine with a heady mix of sound and Castrol R fumes from the (pre-war) Manx Norton ahead of me was almost intoxicating and definitely habit forming. The run, early in June, is one of the Teesside Yesteryear Motor Club's premier events and this year I booked early.

'Glorious' however was not among the words I chose to describe the conditions this year. A damp, grey drizzle provided a taste of things to come as my daughter and I rumbled into Spennymoor. Even so, there was as good a turn out of bikes and riders as you'll find anywhere.

Are we having fun yet?

The Durham Dales Run is open to members and non-members alike and winds about 90 miles around Weardale, the North Pennines and Teesdale. It starts and finishes at the Shafto Inn, Spennymoor with a lunch stop in Mickleton Village Hall. Apart from the awful weather, it was well organised and began with a well organised start. The older and smaller bikes went first, giving their riders a chance of early dibs on the lunchtime sandwiches and cakes. This is of course only fair but if an early lunch were your aim then I'd say a decent '50s bike would be the sweet spot between performance and starting order. Certainly my '72 Triumph was well back among the 55 starters though kindly allowed into this pre-68 event by the nice TYMC folk.

Martin's bike. Very clean. This is before the run, then.
650 Triumph Stuff on

Perhaps inevitably the strict starting order deteriorated once the smaller bikes were on their way. It only took a couple of Goldies and a few twins firing up to drown out the enthusiastic but decibel deficient starter. I decided it must be my turn when a couple of Commandos and a rotary 'Classic' set off.

The organisers provided clear route maps and directions for the 90-mile or so route. Coupled with good signage and marshals at most turns, it was difficult though not impossible to get lost. Thus we wound our way through lovely countryside, up through Weardale and around the Derwent reservoir near Consett. This was the northern extent of the run which then turned south over the North Pennines, curving east to Stanhope then south to Middleton in Teesdale and on to Mickleton for lunch.

Mickleton for lunch...

The Pennines were bleak, cold and wet but the many sharp inclines and sharper bends at least kept you busy. These plunging, twisty lanes meant a lot of low gear work and precise riding round the slow hairpin bends. For the first time I understood how 'comical hub brakes' gained their notoriety and was grateful for the sporty twin's engine braking. Most of the time there was little or no other traffic but roadside sheep were a bit of a worry on the moorland. In the event they were content to stand, chewing quietly in the rain and it was a daredevil of a bunny that crossed narrowly in front of the B33 ahead of me. Clearly feeling confident, its next trick was to re-cross the road, between my wheels. Now I reckon that a bike with a 56-inch wheelbase travelling at 50mph provides a gap of about 50 milliseconds. Sadly, the rabbit had the speed but not the timing and at 50mph or so, a Dunlop K70 carrying its share of bike, rider and pillion is an unforgiving thing.

It was from about that point that the pace picked up and following the B33 over the North Pennines became less of an easy tag-along than I expected. Even allowing for my bike being two-up, I needed to wind out more of its 650cc torque and lean over at angles that just should not be necessary when following one of BSA's fine cooking singles. So much so in fact that I wondered if it was really a Goldie!

BSA B33 with Goldie internals 'runs well'...

' runs well.' I said as we parked among the gathering throng of bikes at Mickleton. 'Yes' he said grinning: 'I put Goldie internals in it... I just love opening it up for that stretch over the top.' Well, so did we!

The winning Greeves, a Norman, and an Indian Velocette.

More importantly, we were in time for the last of the sandwiches, good selection of baked goods, and steaming cups of tea. The weather was almost fine in the Tees valley but our return route took us back over those starkly beautiful but cold and wet Pennines. Back in Spennymoor, prizes for best bikes went to a TYMC member's lovely Greeves Sports Twin and a non-member's very finely turned out Dommie. As with many events, there were so many great bikes it was hard to make a choice, each rider voted for his or her favourite and it must have been close.

From there it was but a 20 mile bimble home, well satisfied with the ride but both of us needing to dry out and warm up. Unfortunately I then had to put the still dripping bike away and leave for a week long course many miles away. Much needed cleaning, fettling and tracking down of a late developing sort of clonking, resonant noise would have to come later.

But why bother to go for a ride in such weather? (Other than for Charlotte never forgiving me if we didn't). It's not pleasant and I hate cleaning the bike, but at the same time it made me think. A good run on a good day is its own reward and you're too busy grinning to think much beyond that. This time I had to look deeper to understand why, cold and wet, I was still grinning:

Top box. Uuugh. I hate 'em.

Firstly it's always a good thing to support the people whose hard work makes events like this possible. The marshals were out there in the rain too and didn't even get a change of scenery; they should at least have someone to wave at. Then there was the pleasure of riding in the company of like minded folk on some fine machines. See, quite a lot of plusses already and I had also found much confidence from riding on rain soaked, gravel strewn roads without incident. Such experience is hard to come by when you are a fair weather rider (to the extent that such a thing is possible in the UK!) And in the same vein, the ride showed what a good idea it was to have ordered a pair of Alt Berg's fine, hand made and most importantly, waterproof boots. This really was an idea whose time had come and one that could only have been improved by having ordered them in time for the run!

Would it have sold better if they'd made the engine look less like something ripped from the inside of a 1960s washing machine?

Still feeling smug and cracking open the club newsletter a couple of weeks later I read of 86-year old Cyril Purvis who rode his 1950 Bantam down from Sunderland. Cyril completed the run despite over-cooking it at one point and was 'full of beans' at the end, ready for his ride home. Sometimes you need to see your own achievements in perspective and reading about Cyril both humbled and encouraged me. Here was a man the same age as my dad, who at the time was sitting in an urn on my sister's mantelpiece, riding a bike scarcely younger than me and in the most spirited fashion. Yes there's hope for us all.

Later That Same Month

Cleaning the bike was the usual monumental pain in the rear but the clonky, resonant rattle was quickly traced. The tank securing bolt had crept out of its slot allowing the tank to slop around even more than its squishy mountings normally allow. This was soon fixed and we were ready for the next run, one of very different character on June 21st, the summer solstice.

Sedgefield. Tony Blair not illustrated.

In stark contrast to the Dales run, we were enjoying one of those rare, clear summer evenings that make you glad to be alive and on a bike in the English countryside. This particular part of England, Sedgefield, was host to one of the finest classic and vintage vehicle events I have ever experienced. Given the present government's attitude to personal freedom in general and private transport in particular, it was odd that such an event should take place in the heart of Blair country. Perhaps they were trying to compensate for something.

Much to her delight, I picked my daughter up from school, earning maximum 'cool dad' points in the process. We were too late to join the VMCC gang but still enjoyed our ride up to Sedgefield for '...a good crack, a pint or two and plenty of old bikes and cars.' It was true: the place was full of classic vehicles of all kinds and ages. They were parked in the streets, on the village green -- anywhere there was a space - even outside the pubs! Smiling marshals and policemen were helping to maintain order but what struck me most was the wonderful informality of it all.

Replica or Real?

Most strikingly, it wasn't just the vehicles that evoked earlier times. The pubs were open and doing brisk business and the place was crowded but there was overwhelming warmth that wasn't just from the evening sunshine; it really was a proper, old fashioned family occasion (mobile phones and bouncy castles excepted).

I couldn't even begin to list the many and varied bikes and old vehicles there. Well OK, I could have a go: They ranged from the likes of an immaculate Jaguar SS to the more common products of Austin, Ford, Triumph, Morris, MG, Hillman, Daimler, Leyland, Rover, Ferguson, Lotus, VW, Riley, Wolsely and the odd special. Bikes were well represented too and featured good selection of mostly 50's and 60's Nortons, Triumphs, BSAs, AJS, Matchless, BMWs, Vincent, Panther, Ariel and so on. There was even a scooter or two but we won't make too much of that. My '72 Tiger 650 was a real whippersnapper among that distinguished company and especially alongside the 1921 Mk1 Brough Superior, 1914 Triumph and 1920 BSA from the South Durham Section. So it was with a certain amount of pride that I noted it was the one bike among the many that was not dripping vital fluids onto the once pristine block paving.

Definitely Real.

There was no parade, no judging or prizes just many, many fine machines and people enjoying the evening. Everything there was ridden or driven in and the random parking order meant you could find an Austin A35 pickup (one of 426 made) parked between an Edsel and a Frogeye Sprite, directly opposite a rainbow coloured Honda CBX. A Real Classic event if ever I saw one.


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