The hill alive with classic motorcycles

Classic Bike (UK) - - Contents -

Red Marley has be­come so much more than just a race up a hill. It has be­come a mag­net for the weird and won­der­ful of off-road mo­tor­cy­cling. If you want to see fast, un­usual – or just plain strange – ma­chin­ery be­ing worked to the max­i­mum, this is the place to come.

The orig­i­nal Red Marley hill lies just a few hun­dred yards from today’s course – rac­ing started there in the mid-’20s. It was an im­mensely pop­u­lar event in its hey­day, but a de­cline in en­tries led to the can­cel­la­tion of the 1971 event and that was that... un­til AJS and Match­less Own­ers Club mem­bers re­vived the hill climb in

2000. With the orig­i­nal hill un­avail­able, they re­lo­cated to a suit­able slope nearby and Red Marley was back in busi­ness.

Since the re­launch, it’s be­come a fix­ture on the classic scene – and a must-do event for a le­gion of classic mo­tocrossers, ca­sual off-road­ers and any­one look­ing to show off the weird and won­der­ful on the dirt.

At the sharp end, the rac­ing is fierce – and the 16 rid­ers who have the best records on the hill are seeded into the All­stars Su­per­class. For the oth­ers, there’s a choice of the up-to-350cc class and the over-350cc class, with an All­com­ers class (split into rid­ers un­der 50 years of age and 50 and above) to al­low ev­ery­one an­other ride. Ev­ery­one gets two prac­tice runs be­fore their first heat, and the first two fin­ish­ers from each four-man heat go through to the next round. Each race is fast – the top men dip un­der 20sec for the 440 yard climb – and usu­ally event­ful. The ac­tion is non-stop, save for a cou­ple of half-hour breaks for food and main­te­nance.

For some, the achieve­ment is just get­ting to the top of the fear­somely steep quar­ter-mile climb – it’s around 1.5:1 at its steep­est. And, with all re­spect, The Wid­ows Bob­sleigh Team – com­pris­ing broth­ers Milo and Ren­shaw His­cox, Stephan Adams and Satoshi Ogawa – prob­a­bly fall into that cat­e­gory. The four friends are all Har­ley-david­son mounted

with all their steeds be­ing based on 750cc side-valve mod­els. Ren­shaw’s started life as a 1953 KRM model, while the other three are Wl-based. A turquoise 1970 Mercedes 406 camper van pro­vides their base for the week­end and, while the bikes are far from im­mac­u­late, they’re all ready for the hill.

“We’ve been com­ing here for the last three or four years,” ex­plains Ren­shaw, who re­minds me of a young Oliver Reed. “We all met through a shared pas­sion for Har­leys and In­di­ans. Toshi ac­tu­ally makes his liv­ing with Har­leys. He’s an ab­so­lute mas­ter with them and runs his own work­shop – Bell 45 – in west London.”

In con­trast, Tim Man­ton is a se­ri­ous racer. A reg­u­lar on the classic mo­tocross scene, Tim usu­ally com­petes at Red Marley on a methanol-burn­ing Jawa-en­gined Cheney replica. But today, he’s out on the 600cc BSA he nor­mally races in Euro­pean mo­tocross. “I built it six years ago, af­ter most of my bikes were stolen,” says Tim. “They didn’t get the Jawa (though they did take an­other one I had), be­cause I had the wheels out of it. I used to run the BSA on dope, but it was a bit fierce, so I went back to petrol. I haven’t rid­den it here, so we’ll see how it goes.”

I wan­der a bit fur­ther round the packed pad­dock and stum­ble across Ben But­ter­worth. Fresh from win­ning the trial over­all yes­ter­day, he’s one of a raft of young guns tak­ing on the hill reg­u­lars. Just 24 years old, Ben is one of sev­eral rid­ers who are rid­ing both the trial and the hill climb. Orig­i­nally en­tered on a 580cc Cheney BSA, he hit trou­ble in prac­tice. “The clutch let go and that was that,” he shrugs. “But a guy in the pad­dock lent me his CCM. I don’t even know his name. That’s how friendly the classic crowd are. He’d rode it in a classic scram­ble in Scot­land yes­ter­day, so it’s still muddy from that.” Muddy or not, it gets Ben through five heats in the All­stars class and a cou­ple of heats into the All­com­ers un­der-50 class.

There were plenty more rar­i­ties in the pad­dock, too. Joe Tin­ley from Maiden­head had turned up with both a Match­less G85 he bought last week and an ohc Match­less G50 en­gine in a MKIII Metisse frame. “My dad got me into old bikes and I’m im­mersed in the life­style now,” he says. “I’m start­ing up a cloth­ing brand and café – Tool­box Life­style. I raced the G50 last year, but it’s get­ting a bit tired now, so I’ve brought it as a spare. It’s bored and stroked to 660cc and made 61bhp on the dyno. I snapped a head stud on the G85 and had to get my brother to go back home for a spare while he was on the way up here yes­ter­day. Hope­fully, today it’ll be OK.”

A bright yel­low Du­cati sin­gle is not some­thing you see very of­ten at a classic

off-road event, ei­ther. But Neil Williams from nearby Hartle­bury dared to be dif­fer­ent with his home-brewed spe­cial – and very ef­fec­tive it proved. He to the semi-fi­nal of the over-50 All­com­ers class. “I had Du­catis when I was young and I’ve al­ways loved them,” he re­veals. “I built the bike for my son to race, but he’s packed up rac­ing, so I’ve taken it over. It started life as an in­com­plete 1966 valve-spring Se­bring model. I’ve length­ened the swingarm, raised the seat rails and it runs forks from a Du­cati road racer – suit­ably mod­i­fied. I’ve ported the head, con­verted it to twin-spark and run it on methanol. I blew it up three years ago – the gud­geon pin broke – and it’s never been as fast since.”

It looked pretty fast on the way to the All­com­ers’ semi-fi­nal – and Neil was pretty easy to spot in his match­ing yel­low Du­cati race jersey.

Equally easy to spot – though for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons – were a happy bunch of AMC fa­nat­ics tak­ing on the hill on an as­sort­ment of AJS and Match­less rigids. Richard Chas­ton on a bor­rowed 1942 Match­less G3L and Ajs-mounted Sean Walsh were out in the up-to-350cc class, while Mike Mell­strom (1949 AJS) and Eric Clarke (1949 Match­less) went in the over-350s. “We don’t live near each other, “ex­plains Eric. “We just meet up here once a year – though Mike and Sean are mates. I’ve been com­ing here for the last five years and I bought my bike on a pal­let in bits. You don’t need to spend a for­tune on a bike to have a great day at Red Marley. We’re not ex­pect­ing to win – get­ting to the top of the hill is such a buzz, though. It’s all about hav­ing a laugh on old bikes for us.”

For the se­ri­ous com­peti­tors, though, it is about win­ning – and the star of the day’s rac­ing was an­other younger rider, Tom Crump. Rid­ing in both the All­stars and All­com­ers classes, the 22-year-old Jawa pi­lot from nearby Clifton-on-teme looked just about un­beat­able all day. Tom had put down a marker in 2016, win­ning the over-350cc, All­com­ers un­der 50 and All­com­ers Com­bined classes in style. And he hasn’t got any slower over the last 12 months. This time, he took the All­stars ti­tle ahead of hill record holder Carl Pope and reprised last year’s first place in the All­com­ers un­der 50 class. And, though it looked like Carl Pope might just steal the win from Tom in the All­com­ers Com­bined fi­nal, a com­ing to­gether be­tween Carl and Tim Dal­loway saw Tom cruise home to take a hat trick of class wins. That’s rac­ing.

Top racer or have-a-go hero, though, the crowd loved them all. Im­mac­u­lately-prepped race bike, or oily rag con­verted roadster. Squeaky clean mod­ern mo­tocross kit or vin­tage boots, open-face hel­met and oil-smeared rugby shirt. Only the smile plas­tered on the face of every rider af­ter they crest the hill is stan­dard. That’s Red Marley.

The Wid­ows Bob­sleigh Team were there to prove Har­leys can do hill climbs

Chris Carter ap­plies his own per­sonal method of ‘get­ting in the zone’


Ben But­ter­worth rode in the trial the day be­fore, when his CCM was rac­ing in Scot­land Joe Tin­ley brought his fab­u­lous G50 Metisse, but opted to ride this G85 in­stead

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