Back Street Heroes
RALLY VIRGINS, PART 1
I’d spent a couple of years blasting around the Essex roads to the constant rrrring-dingdingding of my RD250, and visited the local seaside haunts and bike hang-outs, but now I was looking for the next step – there must be more to biking than just screaming around in a haze of blue smoke?
I, like may others of my era, consumed the contents of the motorcycle weeklies, and in them there were glimpses into a strange world that I wasn’t familiar with; one where curious-looking bikers inhabited canvas tents, grubby-looking bikes with screens and panniers were commonplace, and riders with trousers made up from bar towels and jackets weighed down with colourful badges wandered aimlessly around fields. This was the world of the rallygoer, and I wanted to try some of that, but where to start?
The papers reported on rallies and rally clubs, so I thought I’d mention it to the guys down my local, to see if anyone fancied a trip out to visit one of the clubs. We had a small local pub we congregated in, The Bell, chosen because it was out of the way, and to get to it you had to go through some glorious Essex country roads. The landlord, Frank, was happy to accommodate us as we spent money, and made the place look busy, and we were happy to go there because we all fancied Bronwyn, his daughter – all blonde hair, endless curves, and a soft, wilting Welsh accent that made her irresistible to all the hot-blooded local bikers. Frank’s big baseball bat, and constantly ruddy face (that made him look like he was permanently on the verge of exploding), made sure we never moved beyond respectful adoration for that particular young lady. It was him who gave us a name for our burgeoning club, “Oy, you lot, Mob In The Corner, bring me your empties!” he’d bellow across the bar, and with that, The Mob In The Corner motorcycle club was born. We decided we were going to go to a rally!
The following week we all rode over to Chelmsford, an epic 27-mile journey, to visit a club we’d read about in the weeklies that regularly went rallying. As we rolled into the car park of the hall they used as their weekly meeting place, what we saw before us was like nothing else we’d encountered before – bikes that didn’t have an inch of sparkle, all of them looking as if they’d been to hell and back. There was a tired-looking A10 with a sidecar that consisted of a wooden box sat on a rusting metal frame, various BMW air-cooled twins (one was an ex-cop bike with solo seat), a Guzzi T3 with oversize ally panniers, and so on – all big lazy engines, all with brackets and hooks for panniers and luggage. To the average 20-year-old, they looked for all the world like the last thing you’d want to be seen riding, and we were having second thoughts.
As we all stood together, looking at the array of unfamiliar metal dripping the contents of their engines gently on to the car park, an object started to shuffle towards us. You heard the clanging first – the jacket was festooned with rally badges, proudly worn to show how often he slept in a field with no washing or bathroom facilities, with a few hundred other unwashed souls. Swinging from his belt was a battered and grubby-looking pewter tankard, covered in stickers proclaiming he’d attended the Elephant Treffen and St Nick’s rallies – European names that were exotic to our youthful crowd. He wore ancient-looking jeans that appeared to be held together with patches from other jeans, and various bits of bar towel, all supported by a pair of deeply unfashionable, but ohso-practical Derry boots. “Hi, I’m Grub, what you guys looking for?” the shuffling object asked. I wasn’t sure if I actually knew...
He fixed me with a stare, almost a challenge, a faint whiff of patchouli oil mixed with stale tobacco wafted toward me. “Wanna come to a rally, do ya?” he grumbled at me.
“Errrr, yes please,” I squeaked in response before I cleared my throat and carried on. “Our club’s never been to a rally before, and we fancy giving it a go.” I later learned of my mistake in informing Grub of our virgin status. The slightly malicious grin that spread over his face should’ve given me a clue that this was something he was going to enjoy. He called over to a group of what I originally thought were a bunch of throwback hippies from the 60s. They all rose as one and ambled over, clattering and jingling assorted badges, chains attached to wallets, and tankards, as they walked.
“These guys want to go to their first rally!” he exclaimed to them triumphantly. “Where do you suggest?” The group formed a huddle, and much mumbling, chuckling, and slapping each other on the backs ensued. The words ‘Arse’ and ‘Grass’ could be heard, and lots of nodding in agreement. Grub turned to us... “You can come with us to Arse in the Grass,” he said.
“Four weeks’ time, only 30-odd miles, nice little rally to ease you in. Now time for a beer.” With that we were ushered into the adjacent pub as the motley crew joyfully informed us on the unsuitability of our choice of motorcycles.
I left the pub after my shandy and, on the ride home, tried to remember everything Grub and his crew’d told me to collect.
Tent, bed roll, food, cooking kit, sleeping bag, change of clothes and, most importantly, a couple of bog rolls. There was no mention of a wash bag, or a toothbrush, but thinking back on their fragrant air, that was hardly surprising. The following week at The Bell, we excitedly made plans for The Mob In The Corner MCC’s first rally adventure. This involved pouring over mags and newspapers, and looking for suitable luggage, etc., to attach to bikes. We were going to need racks, tank bags, panniers, anything at all that could be strapped on to our shiny two-stroke steeds.
I decided I’d need a rear rack, and a tank bag, and both were duly ordered from my local Yamaha dealer, ready for collection and fitting (I had no idea and even fewer tools) the following weekend. One week later, my bike was ready. To my eyes, she looked just like a globetrotting mile-muncher, but that tank bag looked a bit on the big side!