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

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Contents - Words: Mark Gra­ham & Alan See­ley | Pic­tures: Tracey Rich-pit­man & Alan See­ley

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”

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