RUN THAT BY ME AGAIN...
Some say young people are only interested in social media and there will be no next generation to take over classic bikes. Our man Rick says this is nonsense and set out to prove it at one of the runs he goes on every year – the VMCC West Kent Internation
Rick, a load of young ’uns on vintage iron, the West Kent Run... breakdowns assured
The International West Kent Run is organised by the West Kent section of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club and, as its name implies, the idea has always been to utilise the proximity of the Channel to welcome riders from overseas. This year France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and even the United States were represented, as well as riders from all over the UK.
My friends Gav and Alex Curtis, and Nick Cleaver with his wife Claire and her father John come down from the Midlands every year for the event, held at The Friars, Aylesford, near Maidstone. They bring a diverse selection of bikes from late vintage Triumphs to Honda CB200S and camp over for the whole event. So what’s the attraction for visitors from afar? Well, first of all, it’s not just a one-day event. Running from Thursday until Monday makes it worth the journey time. There are short runs on Friday and Monday with the main run – offering a choice of 70 or 100-mile routes – on Saturday. Sunday is the public day with a show, autojumble and gymkhana.
But as Nick pointed out, there’s more to it than that: “When you go to the big European meetings like Dijon, there’s none of the my-bike’s-better-than-your-bike thing that can crop up in the UK; you’ll get a Kawasaki triple parked next to a belt-drive veteran, with both riders able to appreciate each other’s machines. When you come here, the Continental visitors seem to bring that attitude over with them. You get all sorts: British, Japanese, European, sidecars, mopeds, flat tankers, scooters... nobody cares!”
Well Amen to that, brother. The most vibrant events are those where variety is welcomed. As Nick says, the UK old bike scene has always struggled with narrow-mindedness. Recruits have always typically been early middle-aged and motivated by personal nostalgia. Bringing along bikes of their own era, they can run into a ‘that’s not a classic’ attitude from their seniors, which they pass on to the next generation. The situation is much healthier when young people get involved – they have no past to relive and just appreciate bikes from before their time, so I encouraged a few friends in their twenties to come along this year. Maria Coombs has been in CB before when I helped her with the rebuild of her BSA D1 Bantam. I met Tom Garner as a baby 25 years ago, but now he rides a Norton 850 Commando, an Enfield Meteor Minor and is gathering up parts to build a Velocette Venom, while 22-year-old tattooist Will Coleman who lives locally rides a 1982 Kawasaki Z440 Ltd (in fact he has two, one standard the other a flat track special he built himself).
Tom and Will brought tents and joined the rest of us on the campsite for a couple of nights of barbecue, beer and bike talk – plus a few practice rides round the car park, because I’d also talked them into leaving their own classics behind and borrowing a couple of mine. Tom stepped back in time to ride my 1932 hand-change Sunbeam while Will had his first British bike ride on my 1968 Triumph TR6. I was riding my ‘new’ 1928 Sunbeam Model 9.
Handing out the envelopes with tickets and instructions, entries secretary Keith Gibbins pointed out the photo on this year’s programme, which showed me sitting next to my 1928 BSA surrounded by spanners. “Every year you end up fixing your bike on this run,” he said with a wry smile. “This time you’re taking three bikes – how’s that going to work?!” Very funny.
As it happened it worked fine. Well, I say that… As soon as I set off I was having trouble with my Sunbeam which very soon began misfiring badly and seemed to be running very rich. The only explanation I could think of as I spluttered along was that I’d (rather rashly) just fitted a proper nickelled brass float chamber to replace the postwar alloy one it came with. It seemed fine, but now I wondered if the float height was wrong. The other problem was that Tom was struggling to start the
‘WE UPPED THE PACE A BIT AND THE SUNBEAM WAS MUCH HAPPIER’
other Sunbeam, which is usually a first-kick starter but can be difficult if you don’t get it right first or second go. After Tom had given it a dozen good swings it wouldn’t start for me, either, and needed a plug clean. But Will was alright on the Triumph; he did at one point think he’d broken the kickstart but didn’t realise that, unlike a Japanese bike, you can’t kick it with the clutch withdrawn. Maria’s Bantam seemed to buzz along quite contentedly.
Keith Gibbins is right – I am always fixing things on the West Kent, mainly because I use it as a long test run to shake down a new machine. But I was annoyed about my Sunbeam; it had run perfectly until then. I did a bodge to lower the float height but it didn’t help; why should it carburate so badly now after tearing round Mallory and zipping about round home all summer? Then it struck me: ‘tearing’, ‘zipping’; now I was thumping along at club-run speed for mile after mile with the throttle barely open, revealing a low-end carburation fault I’d never previously noticed – probably too low a cutaway on the carb slide.
Not having a weaker slide to try, I pulled over again and dropped the slide needle a notch. It still wasn’t right, but it was much better. This taught me something about machine preparation; you tend to set a bike up to suit your riding style. I’m not saying I go flat out everywhere on the bike, but when I potter along I choose the pace which is dictated by the bike’s ‘sweet spot’. It’s only on a run like this that these faults show up.
We enjoyed a very tasty lunch at Hole Park near Cranbrook, but on our return found Maria’s Bantam had a flat front tyre. I carry a highdelivery cycle pump, but it was obviously more than just a puncture. So we left the bike with the breakdown van and Maria jumped on the back of the Triumph to finish the run.
We upped the pace a bit and the Sunbeam was much happier, but near the end Tom’s Sunbeam started running very rough. We pulled over and checked the carb for blockages, but didn’t really find anything. Another plug clean got it going again and he limped back to the Friars. Later, when I got the bike home, I had a look at the contact breakers and they were barely opening, which probably explained the difficult starting – sorry Tom, I should have checked that!
Never mind, we all got back safely and I had a great time; let’s see what everybody else thought...
You get all ages of bike on the West Kent. It’s all very inclusive
West Kent attracts a multinational attendance
Breakdown? No, just a misunderstanding
Leafy lanes and a convoy of classics. Deep joy
Rick wonders which bike will start playing up next...
Looks like Rick’s found his next project
Young people. No mobiles. Lovely
Smile for the camera, but keep your eye on the road...
Tim acted as the gang’s outrider for the day
Always pack a few essentials