2nd August 2012
Stephen Benson and his friends set off on a 2500-mile across Scandinavia, on sixty year old Sunbeam twins...
We'd considered going to the Britti Rally for a few years. In 2012 everything fell just right; with the German Sunbeam rally taking place the following weekend it made sense to visit both. Next we needed the optimum number of people. Four to six people is about right because it keeps the costs down as we can share accommodation. Any more than that and number of breakdowns seem to go up dramatically.
The next consideration is the bikes. Ours were all standard, post-war 6V Sunbeams. All riding the same make and model keeps the number of spares down and the expertise up. It also means that all the bikes are happy at the same speeds, drastically reducing stress on both bike and rider. I had sidecar gearing on my bike but with my extra load I would have struggled to keep up on standard gearing. Confidence in your machine is a huge consideration. All the bikes had been completely rebuilt by their current owners and had done a lot of miles since. All of us had done several proving runs of a couple of hundred miles this year. Nobody wanted to let the others down. But no matter how much preparation you do, the bikes are all over six decades old and you never really know when a 60 year part will decide to give up…
We all understood that we had quite a distance to cover. Peter Knight and Andy Thompson were the trip organisers but they were very coy about telling the rest of us the actual miles per day needed. The ride across Sweden was over 300 miles, this we all knew. We didn't know there would be several more days where we had to cover over 300 miles. The original estimate was 1900 to 2000 miles for the whole trip, but for most of us it was over 2500 miles. It got to the point when we looked on a 250 mile day as a gentle ride around the block.
Andy Briggs and I were due to meet AndyT and Peter at Harwich. We set off and when coming off the dual carriageway for petrol, my Beam died completely. Horror of horrors! The first breakdown was down to me… my fuse had blown. It took about 30 more fuses until we traced the fault to the permanent live circuit of the horn and brake light. I found out later that the almost brand-new horn had shorted out internally. We bypassed the circuit and all was well for the rest of the trip.
We all met up at the port with a couple of hours to spare. Chris was the most recent member of the Fellowship; a good friend of Peter's who had helped him on his rebuild. It was also Chris' first motorcycle tour abroad. We were all told to bring our own cooking equipment but Peter told Chris to bring a table instead! So throughout the tour the standing joke was that we all had cooking stoves... but Chris only had a table.
All five of us in a single six-berth cabin was a bit of a squash but we made the best of it with plenty of humour. We were finally on our way to Esbjerg, Denmark. The short 160 miles to Fredrikshavn was an enjoyable if uneventful jaunt to ease us into our first 300+ miler across Sweden.
Finding our hotel at 11:30pm in Gothenburg was the first challenge but it was worth it as it had a nice safe underground car park. However, one of the beds was more for a child than an adult. I magnanimously elected to take the smaller bed; a decision I was soon to regret as the slats started creaking and finally snapped in the middle of the night!
Next day we had to catch the ferry from Stockholm that evening, something we all worried about as there was no time for mechanical problems. It turned to be a very enjoyable day. The bikes had settled down, the countryside was delightful and we were making great time.
We found a great picnic spot in the Swedish mountains and decided to cook up a storm. We all whipped out our stoves and erected them proudly to brew up, while Chris could only look on wistfully. I was soon drinking my favourite espresso coffee. Coffee was to prove very important to us all as the days rolled on. It helped us stay focused on the task in hand.
We were soon on our way in high spirits, feeling very pleased with ourselves and loving the perfect motorcycling roads. About 60 miles from Stockholm with plenty of time to spare we decided to visit one of the local towns for something to eat. It was a beautiful little place and we marvelled at the way people just parked up their bicycles leaving them unchained while they shopped. It seemed quite idyllic.
We set off for the final leg to the ferry. About ten miles later Chris' bike suddenly lost forward motion. The engine was running but the drive shaft was not turning, nor would the kickstart turn the engine over. We all suspected the gearbox at first so the side plate was removed and we all peered in, but everything was OK. I started to look at the clutch through the inspection plate, while Peter turned the engine over via the armature centre nut. I could hear a slight scraping sound. It turned out to be a problem that nobody had heard of before: the rivets had sheared on the central boss of the clutch plate. An engine-out job!
So we had several challenges. The first one was to rearrange the ferry booking; we weren't going to make it. Next; where we would stay the night? And how would we get Chris' bike anywhere? We didn't fancy pulling out the engine by the side of the road. Peter set off looking for a local campsite. We put the bike back together and tried to figure out the best way to tow it. None of us had had any real experience of bike to bike towing but we did have an idea of how it should work. The rider being towed must have control of the rope, so we wrapped the rope (tie down strap in our case) once around the central steering damper. It would be gripped by Chris as he was being towed. If he felt in trouble he could just let go of the rope.
Various people stopped to offer help; and one even offered his place for us to stay. It was same throughout the trip. The locals were so very generous - Scandinavia is full of beautiful people.
While waiting we all felt the call of nature so a trip across the road to an overgrown meadow was a necessity. When Andy came back he said 'watch out for the adders…' Thinking this was a joke I went across and was surprised find out he was right. I have never seen so many snakes outside a zoo: the grass was alive with them! As it happened, I need not have worried about the snakes: another creature was going to make a meal of me, leaving me with scars for weeks…
Peter came back with tales of a utopian campsite just 10km from where we were. All we had to do was get there. We rigged up the line so Chris could release himself. The basic principle is that the front bike does the pulling and the towed bike does the braking. However, keeping the line taut in practice is not so easy…
After a few false starts Andy and Chris managed to get to the campsite. We were relieved to find that Peter had indeed found paradise. So we were going to spend a pleasant evening tearing down Chris' S8, drinking beer and sleeping in a nice hut - rather than camping in a wood at the Britti rally. I was not displeased by the prospect at all.
Next episode: can the team fix the engine? Will this be the only mechanical mishap in nearly 3000 miles?
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