The hill alive with classic motorcycles
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