Summer evening blasts help make everything better
To celebrate the long days, MCN’s Matt Wildee escaped the office to enjoy deserted roads and quality time on his R1
My R1 is lithe, alive in my hands as we trace the contours of East Anglia’s most beautiful road. The Yamaha’s a willing companion: cutting neat, faithful lines, filling me with confidence and joy. All around is sensory overload. The cool, crisp air of a coastal summer evening, hedgerows and verges so green they’re almost florescent and a deep blue sky that meets a deep blue sea. This is heaven.
It’s a quarter-past-six on what could be any Tuesday between May and September and I’ve bunked off normal life for the evening. Right now, I should be wedged in front of a creaking computer or contemplating a congested commute, but instead I’m chasing the vanishing point on perfect, clear roads. The heat of the day is being replaced with a cool, refreshing breeze and a soft, golden light that makes everything majestic. This time of year is magical for bikers. After months of praying for dry, clement weekends, evenings are now are a playground, too.
It’s light until 9pm and once I’m through the school runs and rush hour there’s a world of deserted roads, long shadows and grippy tarmac that’s spent the day gently warming in the summer sun. It’s time to exploit it.
I’ve chosen the North Norfolk coast road as my destination of choice. We’ve all got a favourite road, a place that we’re drawn to time and again and mine is the 36 miles of the A149 between Sheringham and Hunstanton. The gentle beauty of East Anglia’s best biking route is always a draw.
Cutting between pastel-painted former fishing villages, it rises over the salt flats and carves its way between field and sea. It’s bumpy and can be clogged with tourists, but ride it at the right time and everything flows. One summer back in the 90s I rode it every day, scraping together enough dole money to fill my Kawasaki KR-1’s tank and sate its thirst for £12-a-litre two-stroke oil. It was a time of perfect biking evenings that is long overdue a revisit.
The 75-mile ride from Cambridgeshire has been pretty standard: lines of traffic, slowmoving trucks and distracted parents weave in front of me. But there are still moments of pure pleasure. An empty, perfectly-surfaced corner on a Fenland road, a particularly satisfying five-car overtake near Downham Market and a grippy, traffic-free roundabout near Swaffham are highlights, but the simple fact that I’m on my bike is enough. Even a bad day on a bike is a good day compared to normal life. It’s helped by this being the first proper ride of the year on my Yamaha R1. Bought as a snap purchase before the contents of my current account would be wasted on nappies and prams, I’ve gently fettled it over the years to the point where it has better suspension and more midrange power than a modern 1000cc superbike. I wouldn’t swap it for anything.
The plan was to start at Sheringham, but I’m getting bored of the congestion, so I cut through Holt and take the back roads to Kelling. The first glimpses of the sea between the trees and through dappled light and long shadows are a triumph. The last hour-and-a-half of frustration has been worth it after all.
I’m heading straight for my favourite section, a 1.5-mile jaunt between Kelling and Salthouse. The road climbs steeply as you leave Kelling before flicking into a blind left and plunging downhill into a steeply-banked right-hander and then snaking and soaring its way
‘The first glimpses of the sea between trees and long shadows are a triumph’
to a steep crest which at its apex commands aerial views of the marshes and the distant sea. The descent into Salthouse is just as good, with a downhill sweeper that has enough visibility to use all the road when its safe.
Ridden with a little bit of commitment it’s physical, demanding and possibly the most exciting bit of tarmac in Nelson’s county. And, amazingly it’s also completely deserted.
With the rise of middle-class tourists spending a fortune in the region, visitor numbers have spiked but it seems that after the bank holiday, they’ve all gone back to their jobs in The City. I’m alone. The solitude reminds me of those long summer evenings 20 years ago when all that was important was my bike and this road. Of course, everything happens a lot faster on a 1000cc sportsbike than it does on an old 250, but the thrill is the same. Just like in 1998, the tyres dig into the rough, coarse tarmac and I lever the bike from side-to-side as I swing through steady sweepers. The bars go slightly light and shake playfully at the crest of small rises, just like they did back in the day. And just like then, all of this is done without hitting speeds that would land you in the back of a police car. It’s so much fun that I have to turn around and do it again. And again.
The rest of the route towards Hunstanton is serene. I stop off at Blakeney harbour to watch the sea recede across the salt flats. After the vibration of the ride, the bumps and the blare of my pipe, the silence is deafening. The carpark is empty, the only noise is the bobbing of moored boats and the ticking of the bike as it cools. It’s almost a little too much and I move on.
Time to retrace my steps to Hunstanton. The road here is just as challenging and again eerily quiet, just like it was in my youth. Long bumpy straights mix with switchbacks that can sucker you in. It’s best just to be smooth. Sunny Hunny is still the destination of choice for every Norfolk biker. I was a late-90s regular. It was a time when sportsbikes ruled the sales charts and the seafront was packed with GSX-Rs and R1s like mine, but when I roll into Hunny, there’s just a handful of bikes. The place is just as chilled-out as the rest of Norfolk. The tranquility is unexpected, but welcome. The only thing to do is grab some fish and chips and coffee as the sun disappears below the horizon, casting long shadows over the exposed shore and shrouding the town in muted orange light as it occasionally breaks through the clouds.
It’s been the perfect, stolen evening. It is the best time to put a motorcycle ride before the mundanities of life.
‘Long straights mix with bumpy switchbacks’
Long shadows and golden sun. Bliss
Burnham Overy Mill is a great local landmark The endless switchbacks of the Pyrenees are the perfect playground for the new Brough Superior
You can probably get some cream for that
The rises and falls of the A149 between Kelling and Salthouse are loved by every Norfolk biker
The views really do make it all worth it
Stunning windmill at Cley is also a lovely B&B
Banked left near Kelling is a challenge
Blakeney harbour is beautiful and quiet on weekday evenings