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

Classic Bike (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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


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

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