Mallory 1000 Bike Festival - July 17th 2013
1000 Bike Festival - Background
Mallory 1000 Bike Festival has been going a few years now and seems to have gone from strength to strength, thanks in no small part to the efforts of VMCC's dynamic CEO James Hewing and his team, who have done a great job in promoting and administrating this event - as well as managing to attract some of the biggest motorcycling stars of past and present. How many events could you go to and ever dream of walking the ‘open to the public’ pits and stroll past the likes of John Cooper, Kevin Schwantz, Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Mick Grant, Carl Fogarty, Phil Read or Jim Redman - all past racing stars who have appeared at this festival since 2006? In fact this year, I saw John McGuiness trot past me mid -afternoon, and my mate Doug said he was stood there admiring a bike when Fogarty and friend (might have been Jamie Whitam) strolled up next to him and started talking about the same bike.
For anyone not familiar with tracks in the UK, Mallory Park is one of the well known English 'short circuits' that sprung up after the Second World War, although I believe this circuit (like Brands Hatch) started as a grass track circuit, and did not become a tarmac’d race circuit until the early '60's – but from that time onward it seems all the great motorcycle names have raced there at some time, with the circuit becoming well known for helping to host the Transatlantic races in the ‘70’s and particular the Post TT races – including a memorable Post TT where John Cooper was able to beat Ago on the MV with his BSA Triple – a race that has been played out again since in at least one 1000 Bike Festival, the opportunity of having the two great names together again on the original circuit being too good an opportunity to pass up!
For me personally, the circuit has particular connotations, as it is situated in the balmy Leicestershire countryside village of Kirby Mallory – only a few miles from where I live and it was here my father first introduced me to Motor Racing by taking me to the circuit to watch one of the very first VMCC races back in the late 1960’s. I first raced there myself in approximately 1984 (no silencer’s in those days), and have been to the circuit hundreds of times, either as spectator or competitor since. It is not renowned as the most technical of circuits, but does have the longest continuing right hander in the country (Gerards) as well as the famous Hairpin which has probably seen as many ‘off’s’ as any accident spot in the country (it was this hairpin where BMW World Champion sidecar racer Schneider lost his life in the late 1960’s). As far as the 1000 Bike Festival is concerned, I think I first visited the event with Titch Allen and son Steve back in 2006, and I have attended all but 2012, where I had a small foray into racing proper again – so gave the event a miss.
2013 Events Calendar – 1000 Bike Festival only!
As I have mentioned in my occasional website updates this year, 2013 has not been the best of years for me, with family illness being the prevalent factor, overriding all other priorities . . . and time spent on my own bikes has been bottom of the queue. I did rebuild the 38 racer after last year’s blow-up, but only so I could test new engine parts which were a priority for customers. Other than this, I realised racing would be out this year (did not want to bang myself up and not be able to get to my mother in hospital).
However in the Autumn of 2011 I had started again on the Vincent Black Lightning replica build, and got to the point at the end of 2012 where I decided I would not put it on hold again until it was complete, and therefore decided to enter it for 2013 1000 Bike Festival – as I rashly thought it would be a good incentive to get it finished for Summer – fat chance of that! By June I had already realised the Vincent would not be ready, but also could begin to see that actually it was not a million miles away now, and it would make an interesting ‘static’ competition bike in its own right, so swapped my ride for the Double knocker Manx (which I had not ran for 2 years), and instead would take the Vinnie to display.
To this end, the week before the event I wrote up some A3 laminated sheets to put on a display board in front of the Vincent – as past experience of this meeting reminded me that in the afternoon it gets 1000’s of members of the public (not an exaggeration for this meeting) walking round the pits, many of them with just a rudimentary knowledge of old bikes, but a lot of enthusiasm and interest – so a build sheet with some additional information on it about the bike, would not just be my normal BS, but I hope would also give those too shy to ask me questions a chance to stop and read about the bike in front of them (as it turned out, this seemed to be a real success – as although I was not around all the time, when I was, many times in the afternoon I saw people taking the time to crouch down and read through the sheets – which was nice . . .)
Old mate Doug Mason and I found a reasonable spot (eventually) at this years 2013 Mallory 1000 Bike Festival. I took 2 bikes - Vincent Black Lightning 90% complete for display and 1955 DOHC Manx Norton
- 1000 Bike Festival has attracted the biggest names in the last few years - 2011 saw 'King' Kenny Roberts make it across the water from US
- This was Titch Allens last public event - he was taken into hospital a few days later. Notice in the background James Hewing with back to camera, and Carl Fogarty signing autographs
Having dug the DOHC Manx out of hibernation, I fitted new clutch plates
. . . shame I did not also check the engine sprocket (read on)
Find a Bike to Go On - Fettling DOHC Manx
I had dug the double knocker Manx out of the depths of the garage two weeks before the event and given it a rudimentary check over everything. I remember my last meeting had been a demo event at Brackley town centre a couple of years previous (a whole town centre turned over to motorcycles for a day – I cannot imagine many towns revelling in the prospect of that, but for this event it seems to work – with something for everyone and a real carnival feel to the place), where they asked us (‘us’ in this case being a number of Manx Norton’s representing the Norton Owners Club) to just run up and down the High Street making lots of noise. I remember due to the crowds and very tight turning circle that at the end of the run I had used up all available clutch play – which was by then slipping more than biting, and when I came to a stop the clutch had plumes of foul smelling smoke coming up from it.
So with this in mind, first task was to grab a handful of new friction and plain plates out of our website stock (with Martin tut tut’ing in the background . . . I have noticed he has become very territorial about the online business stock now . . . almost like my inner conscience, which makes me smile!) and strip down the clutch. What I found was even more knackered than expected – the plain plates dark blue and rusting (probably due to the bottle of water I had started to pour over them in the pits – until the violent reaction of the hiss and steam that came off it made me afraid something might shatter!) and the friction plates completely worn away. Shame really, as the friction plates were the solid ferodo type, no longer easily available – one had even cracked into separate parts.
Replacing the plates was not a difficult task, but I took the time to spray chainlube around the rollers between the inner and outer clutch drum, which were bone dry and feeling rough running. This had a definite positive effect, and within a couple of minutes the clutch was feeling less like a piece of rusty old farm equipment, and more like a . . . well a Norton clutch (I was going to say a finely honed GP machine – but Norton’s were never that complex!). On re-fitting I did notice that the amount of movement at the clutch lever did not seem to be being relayed into the same amount of lift at the clutch.
See Manx DOHC on Youtube - giving it a quick runup a couple of weeks before 1000 Bike Festival
This was not helped by the fact that this bike is fitted with beautifully made (and proper) Manx DOHC levers, which have blades with ‘peardrop’ balls at their ends, and the mounting points brazed to the ‘clipon’ part of the handlebars. Although these look the dogs doodah’s they do not have quite as much lever travel as the earlier competition lever type that we make for earlier Manx’s. Anyway, I decided to spend a bit of time re-adjusting the worm lever in the Norton kidney gearbox. I used to have a lot of experience of this job, as my first road ES2 was fitted with the same style of mid 50’s gearbox. Having spent some time farting around with it, I realised the arm and lockbolt that is adjustable on the worm was badly worn and not locking as easily as thought.
As I now make these arms and lockbolts I decided to treat the bike to one (I needed to bore the hole in the arm first mind, I did not realise myself that the worm shaft is wider on the later Manx gearbox until this point . . . i.e. still learning after 35 years! . . .). Actually I also made up a second arm and worm, employing an earlier narrower shafted worm, but found a spare oval shaped inspection cover for this type of gearbox, to which I made up a plain phosphor bronze bearing that was a slide fit onto the worm shaft. Although I have not fitted this yet, it should result in the worm/arm being held at both ends with a better clutch operation resulting – much better engineering practice.
Although the net result of this was the clutch was working better, I could see the cause of the problem was accentuated by that old Norton problem – when operating the clutch I could see the whole clutch body moving slightly, rather than just the clutch outer cover being pushed by the clutch pushrod. Whenever customers send me queries asking why their clutch is not freeing as well as expected, I point them first to this issue – ‘is the whole clutch moving when you pull in the clutch lever’? If so, then there is a very good chance that the special phosper bronze thrust washer fitted halfway along the mainshaft on the Norton gearbox is worn, resulting in some amount of free play of the mainshaft between the two gearbox bearings.
I vaguely remember the last time I had the double knocker out I had diagnosed this issue may be starting to play a part and now when I looked closely I could see it definitely was, as the whole clutch was moving for about a third to half of the clutch lever movement. However, having made the other adjustments and just fitted brand new plates I decided to see how we got on at this event before going any further. After all, this was more about a nice relaxing day out and meeting old mates – frankly the ride on the double knocker was incidental! That said, I did my normal bit and spent the rest of the afternoon going round the bike checking it over and spraying Duck Oil around it to remove any traces of sticky castor and 2 years of dust. As always, doing this tasks, as well as making it look better also helped me find a couple of areas that needed mechanical attention, which I was able to do. Final job of the afternoon was to call my mate Ric to help give me a push and after one false attempt (where the bike was trying to fire, but the fact I had left the ‘safety cloth’ in the carb bellmouth was preventing it!), and the bike fired into life – no doubt waking up all my dozing neighbours who were just enjoying their mid Saturday afternoon nap. With the bike still being fitted with an open Megga (just as Mr Craig intended!), it was no surprise a couple of the newer neighbours came out – no doubt thinking WW3 had started!, but I only do this a couple of times a year and am careful to only keep the engine running a couple of minutes – to check all is well, so once they realised it was just the yob over the road they left me to it and retired back to the television. There are a few moments of this warming up on a Youtube clip here – so if fancy hearing what a Manx sounds like on an open megga – here is a chance to hear one.
Drive side of Black Lightning showing carburettor and other cables now fitted. Petrol tank not fitted on the day - it was at home in primer, but I thought it would be more interesting without it fitted
The Vincent preparation for the 1000 Bike Festival was far simpler – just get as far as I can with the restoration build, then give the bike a quick wipe with a soft rag on the Saturday before I go! As I had been slowly building the bike up for the last 20 months anyway, I already knew exactly where I was with it and what was still required to get the bike finished. I had actually got a bit further towards completion than I thought I was going to be 4 months ago – simply by forcing myself to reserve some time to it every week, which frankly I have needed this year, just to unwind from the other things going on – day job, Norton business and constant trips to hospital.
So although the Vincent was still about 10% away from completion (petrol tank still in primer, having been stripped and bottom chopped/welded for carb cutaway, oil and petrol pipes needed, rear chain and guard still to add), actually it was looking pretty reasonable. A couple of recent additions had made a big difference (which I had been ‘saving’ for this very reason) – the fitting of the original 2” ‘big bore’ Lightning pipes that came with the bike, which have eaten up any reasonable cornering ground clearance!, and the fitting of the super-rare 3” yellow faced Smith’s 0-8000rpm rev counter that was particular to Black Lightning’s. The pipes in particular have made a big difference, making the build look much closer to finished than previously. I still need to make up a bracket from the rear cylinder pipe to the front, but that will wait to after the show.
In the last few weeks I had also completed all the cabling (carbs and chokes both have two of everything), as well as completing the fabrication of the Lightning rearset racing footrest assembly. Both these tasks, apart from being arduous build steps I had not being relishing, had turned out particularly well – the cables being the best quality ones available, supplied by Johnson’s Cables, and the rearset assembly (being the subject of a particularly long process I will cover in a future article) had come out looking very nice.
Therefore on the Saturday of the 13th July, all I did was pull the Vinnie out from its lair (easier said than done in my garage!), fettle a few small bits and go over the bike with a clean cloth to remove all the dust that had accumulated over the last few months/years on the black enamel engine finish that is prevalent on this model (hence its name – Black Lightning!).
As a final footnote to the preparation . . . it helps if you get the week of the event right! . . . I am embarrassed to say that I had been so wrapped up in other things in the last few weeks, that when I prepped the double knocker I was thinking the event was the week before it actually was . . . it was only on the Friday before I thought we were going that my mate Ric told me his brother had checked online and found the event was showing as the week after. What a dick I am! Unfortunately Ric could not make the following week, but luckily another old bike mate – Doug, was able to step in at the last moment – and as it transpired it was great to spend a day with Doug again, we had not been Mallory together for many years, and I kinda hope we can do a repeat of this sometime soon in the future.
I have to say, it is looking much closer to complete now the exhaust pipes are on. Still a few bits missing - can you spot them?
1000 Bike Festival Itself
The weather in the UK in the 2 weeks leading up to the 14th July had been uncharacteristically hot for English Summertime (i.e. not raining constantly - fnarr), with the Saturday 13th being the hottest day for a few years. Although this did not bode well for wearing unforgiving black race leather’s – I would rather this than it pissing with rain! Besides which, as I was not due to ride until late in the afternoon, it meant I could wear casual in the morning – including that rarity of the English attire – shorts!
We set off at approx. 6.45am, with the circuit only 6 or 7 miles away, to try and stand a chance of getting a spot in the (absolutely packed) paddock. As expected, setting up in the paddock turned out to be the most unpleasant part of the day – due to the sheer volume of other riders there, but once we had jostled for a spot and got setup we relaxed and were able to enjoy the day.
First thing to do after setting up an awning (lovely for keeping sun and rain off us!), was to get the two bikes out and put them on display. As I was not riding Manx till much later I just checked tyres and gave it a final once over – but left oil and fuel till later. I set out the information board in front of the Vincent, which I have to say looked particularly pretty and purposeful in the early morning light, and then Doug and I relaxed and were able to walk around ourselves and enjoy the rest of the day.
As always the day seemed to be a great success. There were lots of motorcycle exotica to be seen – not least being the number of 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s 90’s Japanese and Italian multi’s on display. At one point late morning, while strolling around the top tent area I heard the screaming crescendo of what turned out to be a rare Yamaha 1960’s Works multi being warmed up. This was being fettled by one of the very professional race teams present (all wearing matching shirts!) and I was impressed that one of them when he saw me there with my video camera, made a particular point of making a gap and waving me in, so I could get a better view. Having done as he suggested, I realised it might not have been such a good idea – as I could feel that very unpleasant resonance in my eardrums that told me the bike was so loud it could do damage and leave you temporarily deaf!
I spent a good part of the day walking round saying hello to old friends and generally not getting too concerned about anything. It was nice to say hello to Barry Stickland, Chris Streather, Neil Shoesmith ‘et all’ at the Norton Owners Club tent, likewise John Bottomley and old mate Steve Allen (Titch’s son)at the Brooklands tent, and also a chance to have a good chat with Bill Galliers, who had some of his very fine Norton Inter fuel/oil tanks that he fabricates, on display on the Solo Starter stand. And finally, you know that all is right in the bike world when you catch Ivan Rhodes and son Graham setting up their immaculately prepared stable of Works Velo’s – which always go as good as they look. We had a quick chat as I was walking round with video camera in hand – and noticed they had also bought the fantastic Roarer – the Works supercharged twin, which Stanley Wood’s had briefly tried in Practice for the 1938 Isle of Man TT – but had not been used in anger, a fantastic bike to behold and a real testament to Ivan and Graeme’s engineering capabilities.
One of a multitude of exotic Multis to be seen on the day. Not sure if this is a 'real' one or not - but GP Honda 250 Four would be my guess
. . . And just to prove my point above, this was probably the Honda's main competition at the time - looks like a Works Yamaha 250 of same late 1960's era.
This bikes exhaust was truly ear splitting - it is on the video
Guzzi racer was built from
parts. Supposedly engine started life as road model, but lots of rare race parts fitted. It looked the part, and the petrol tank was a real beauty
Although I could hear the sound of bikes being ran hard all day, I confess I did not trouble myself with watching too closely, but everyone seemed to be having a good time. I did hear the new Crighton Rotary bike go out and awesome it sounded too. Doug who was watching a bit closer than I, told me that a number of the well known celebrity ex-racer’s had not lost their ability and were out ‘giving it the berries!‘, I gather Jamie Whitam being one of them.
Although, as is often the case, the day’s schedule started to run behind a bit, eventually there came the unpleasant part mid-afternoon where I could not avoid it any longer, but had to try and don the race leathers, under the beating Summer sun (trying to paint a picture of a desert Western here!).
A small confession at this point; I have been slowly putting weight on again for the last 8 months since Cadwell, and a trial fitting 5 weeks ago confirmed I was not going to be able to get into my race leathers without resorting to a female corset (what? . . . rummaging through my wife’s clothes draw again?!) and a very large shoehorn! Since that rather embarrassing ‘trial fitting session’ I had been on a crash diet of sorts (my whole life has been spent going from one crash diet to another), and had finally managed to squeeze them on, on the Saturday morning, without the zip looking like it was about to rupture!
In fairness I had also purchased a brand new set of black leather’s made by RBS, just in case (great leather manufacturer by the way – nice quality and good value for money, do not look any different in quality to my much more expensive AlpineStar ‘slim-boy’ leathers, that I now totally fail to fit into), these were in the next size up from my normal race leathers, just in case, but I had made a concerted effort to lose the weight and get into the normal leathers – else it would have been ‘the rot setting in’.
So with not just a little help from my mates to heave leathers on – I then spent the next hour gently ‘broiling in the bag’ while bump starting and warming up the Manx, before heading out onto the track with a number of similar era’d race bikes – including 3 or 4 Featherbed Manx’s similar to my own.
By mid afternoon the sun was baking, but having an awning does have its benefits - Vincent and Norton both in the shade, and it was a nice place to sit and watch the world go by
They do not come much more exotic than this bike - the Velocette Roarer was bought along by Ivan and Graham Rhodes - standard of preperation, as always was impeccable
Just one of many Cammy Nortons to be seen on the day - this a very early one, note shock absorber and early clutch
Making an interesting comparison with above, one of the last racing Norton's - Norton Rotay of Trevor Nation. I watched this one race at Donington GP in its day (think I still have tired T-Shirt!)
One of the nicest bikes of the day (as far as I was concerned anyway), yet almost hidden behind parked car - very original pre-war HRD Comet TT Replica (see YouTube video)
Out on Track
The ride itself was ok - although I immediately kicked myself as I realised the one thing I had not noticed and forgotten to check was I was on far too high an engine sprocket – therefore the bike was bogging down, being very susceptible to megga-phonitis. Although the ride was incidental to the day, it was a pain in the backside that I had not noticed this very obvious omission (particularly as the number ‘21’ is written in red paint on the sprocket – rather than ‘18’ or ‘19’ as should have been the case!), but I made the most of a bad job and tried to slip the clutch coming out of the hairpin and Esses etc – which as you would expect meant the new clutch plates were getting ‘bedded in’ far more than good for them. However after about 3 or 4 laps my own grumbles paled away, as coming up to the hairpin I could see the marshal’s yellow flags being feverishly waved. Long before getting to the hairpin I could see someone had taken a tumble and although they looked conscious, whoever it was did not look good at all – they had clearly taken a hard knock. As is often the case with this type of incident, first priority was to get past the incident while not going into anyone else also taking avoiding action, and it was only when I reached the hairpin itself about a further 75 yards up the track that I came across the rider’s bike – the very sorry site of a double knocker Norton on its side, petrol tank seemingly closer to the track than wheels, which made me realise the rider must have ‘lost it’ at quite high speed, for the bike to have travelled so far on its own.
Anyway, we all filed past and assembled at the start line, I immediately turned off the engine, as I knew from a similar incident at the last 1000 Bike Festival I attended, there would be little chance of this session re-starting. It was only at this point while shouting over to my mate Barry Stickland (similarly Manx mounted) that he told me the rider had been our old friend Norman Lorton – who I had not appreciated was even out in the same session as us. As expected, that was the end of the session – and for me the end of the riding for the day. I was due out for another session shortly after, but as it was already about 5pm, and knowing I did not have correct engine sprocket . . . and had now hit ‘fully cooked’ on the race leather scale, I decided to forego my last session, and just start getting our stuff together, as it was already late and I had the prospect of another 2 hours of bike loading/unloading ahead.
Norman Lorton chatting to another old Norton mate - Derek Fox, by the Norton Owners Club stand earlier in the day (Neil Shoosmith from the club spares scheme is crouching in background). Unfotunately Norman took a tumble in my session, but hopefully will be ok
Lovely race bike from another era - RC45 in Castrol colours. The bike has 'Hislop' on the fairing screen - but since first publishing this article I have been informed it is a replica and not the actual bike ridden by the late Steve Hislop
Old friend Steve Allen went out in the Brooklands parade with late father's (Titch Allen) Blackburne engined 350 Rex Acme - a little jewel of a bike. John Bottomley (left in helmet) took out the Blown Wicksteed Triumph that had also come originally from Allen family, Ivan Wicksteeds son was also present which was nice to see
Another gem hidden away in the lower pit area of the 1000 Bike Festival, this beautifully restored Triumph GP bike was one of the best I have seen
More modern'ish exotica - HRC Honda Britains RC45 as ridden by Phil McCallum. Bike in background was Joey Dunlops similar mount
I took a bit of video footage of the day - walking around the pits. Click on the link above to view it on Youtube
End of Day
But all in all, other than hoping Norman’s tumble had not been too serious, and my pratt’ish omission of correct engine sprocket, it had been a really nice day with a chance to watch and hear lots of interesting race bikes, chat to old mates and revel in the atmosphere – and as always, the event had been very expertly organised and ran – a credit to James Hewing and the VMCC who always do a great job
As a footnote to the day – I did drop Norman an email that night, as I had not heard of his condition, but did not get a reply. A few days later Chris Streather (NOC) informed me he had high sided and landed badly, breaking his shoulder and getting badly concussed. As I write this article (only a week later, from our holiday villa in Spain), I have not spoken to Norman yet – but I wish him all the very best and am relieved it sounds like he will be ok – all the best Norman, hope you are bearing up and nurses are treating you well.
For my own part, once home and bikes unloaded, I left the double knocker in an accessible (‘ish) area, so I could disconnect oil lines and drain the castor oil overnight – but also so that over the next few weeks I can give the gearbox a strip down and confirm if offending thrust washer needs replacing, I might even change the gearing at the same time!