HILL CLIMB ACTION
Climbing hills is usually the preserve of people with cagoules and woolly hats, but doing it on a 250TR and an X7/gamma is much more fun. And marginally less draining. Although not by much
Alan and MG take their X7/gamma and Kawasaki 250TR up Hartland Quay
Make no mistake, this is a hill.a big one. It’s not exactly The Matterhorn, but it’s a fair old tramp up this sinuous 516 yard slope rising to 250ft from sea level, almost literally from sea level. Hartland Quay in North Devon has been a fixture on the National Hill Climb Association calendar since 1977.The course record, held by Jimmy Hodges on a Honda CRF450, is 22.34 seconds.that time has stood for seven years.and it won’t change with the arrival of either Alan or me.
Indeed, our only aim is to not get an STD. And by that we mean slowest time of the day, as opposed to FTD (fastest).the rules are simple: you get two practice runs and two timed runs that count toward any class championship a rider might be in contention for (although all are timed). Then the top 10 riders get another climb. When that’s done, and if the daylight, and the patience and goodwill of the volunteer marshals has not been exhausted, there are a couple of extra all-comers runs.
Despite most attempts being less than 30 seconds duration, there is not a tyrewarmer in sight. Motorhomes, yes, although more of the Commer than Winnebago persuasion.the term is grass roots bikesport.
The shout goes up for scrutineering at half eight in the a.m. and bike and riders shuffle forward for the once over. In the road bike class (that’s us) we have green numberboards with white numerals (250s)
and we’ve dutifully taped up glass or lenses, removed mirrors and made double sure there’s wind in the tyres and fuel in the tank.we’re suited and booted withacu gold-stickered lids and our gloves have no holes in them.we pass, we sign on (£30 for one day licence and entry) and we’re about as good to go as we’ll ever be.
Mark Short, who’s one of the main men, gives us the lowdown: “You’re low numbers, so you’ll be the first up. Just get down to the bottom car park and the starter will give you the nod. Be ready because we like people to get up and down pretty swiftly.that means more runs for everyone.” Righto.
We’ve walked the course.twice. It was narrow and blind the first time.we noticed even more bumps and camber the second time. Plus, with steep grass banks and low stone walls all around, there are precious few reference points.
“Hey Alan, this gap in the wall looks like a good turn-in marker…”
“Not being funny MG, do you really think you’re going to pick up a missing rock on the outside of a blind turn – even at 20mph?”
It’s a fair point. Rare for Alan, but a fair point.
We’re in the car park.the white-coated start man beckons me over. I look around.
“THE LITTLE TR BEHAVES ITSELF IMPECCABLY. THANK THE POWERS FOR MINIMAL PONIES AND BENIGN GEOMETRY”
There’s no one else he’s looking at. He must mean me. Up to the door of the ladies’ loo, break the beam with the front wheel, ease back for the man to get the chock on the rear wheel. Go on green, in your own time…
OVER THE HILL WITH MG
Turn one: uphill left hairpin with precious few yards of run-up. Keep it tight, revs up, still in first, scream it into second on the exit, stay in second, blind right, fling it in (way too early) gas it out and hold second tight to the apex, drift out over the bumps, pinned in second until turn three, a left looms, snick third, lay it down, wide to the grass bank, over again into another left, pulling nicely in third now, keep left, fling it into the last right, bumps, bumps, engine revs screaming and bogging as traction
comes and goes, keep it pinned. “The one thing that’s crucial here,” said Mark. “Is to keep the gas on even after the line because it gets bumpier, and if you back off then you can get into bother.” He’s not wrong.the little TR behaves itself impeccably. thank the powers for minimal ponies and benign geometry.
I cool my jets in the top holding area and collect some thoughts: that was mighty intense, massive fun and strangely serene – 32 seconds felt like an ice age. How can that be? Not at all sure. Sound and vision. Ears pricked for engine revs, eyes fixed on the ribbon of road. Nothing else.at all. Watch the next man up Stuart Measures on his Royal Enfield Crusader Sports special, he’s done this before.we pass the time. “I don’t think anything on this bike has cost me more than £15,” he says. “Maybe the Suzuki twin-leader front brake,” he ponders.
“THE COURSE RECORD IS 23 SECONDS AND MY FIRST RUN TOOK NEARLY DOUBLE THAT”
This is bike sport by the people for the people. Minimal bull, tight, safe running, same value for the aces and the rookies. And the top riders are something else. On big motocross two and four-strokes on 17-inch rims shod mostly with race wets, they demolish the mound like one big speed bump.
Paul Jeffery is a 10-times NHCA champ. “I’m running a KTM 560 SMR that’s now 638cc, and a 1996 CR500. If you get the gearing right on a two-stroke you’re away, but the four-strokes are generally a lot easier to ride.” He’s a retired 59-year-old from Bideford (just down the road) who used to run an engineering firm. He’s beaten folks like John Mcguinness and Christian Iddon up hills. He knows the ropes. “It’s mainly about the friendship and the camaraderie.” It’s far from unknown for riders vying for championships to lend each other their bikes if any terminal mechanical mishap occurs.
And it’s about the venues. Like this one. If you didn’t even have a bike to hand, you’d have a sneaky pint and a pastie in the Wreckers’ Retreat boozer at the bottom of the hill, wheeze up the course to a decent vantage point and watch the action.
There’s an honest, earthy, homespun magic to hill climbing. It’s engrossing, elating – and if you’ve got a bike – any old bike – you’re in.try it. Mad not to.
You’ll struggle to find a nicer spot for a ride anywhere in the world
There’s only one line at the hairpin – and this is it
All lenses to be taped up
Even without the hill climb it’s a top weekend away
Get it badly wrong anywhere – and you’re in the sea
Seagull’s eye view of the course: six turns in all, and all of them blind. You need to be pretty familiar with it all to be posting quick times
John Slater: Ducati 900SS special“It’s my first go at it, used to do classic scrambles on a Cheney B40.”900SS engine in frame by Perfect Pete. “This is easier.”
Were X7s really this tiny? Alan’s a lanky number but he’s no giant. It looks mini
Kirsty Glover:Yamaha XT500“I’ve had this four like years now, once big singles.” I realised I Megacycle cam, Mikuni, GSX-R11 34mm front end, TZR250 disc
Paul Jeffery: Honda CR500 can’t 10 times HNCA overall champ: “You you’re afford to worry about falling off if going to go fast here or anywhere else.”
All manner of contraptions on the hill (above), some old and some more recent too (below)
Dick Sinkins: HondaXBR500Former NHCA sidecar and champion (2014, ’15 ’16) on his XBR500: out “I just dragged it of the shed and took the luggage off.”
Dan Hurley: Honda CR500I got this as a wreck, and it’s taken two easons to get it to this state.A lot of hill ecords have been set on CR500S”