Images of JB by Amy Shore & Tim Cochrane
The guys at The Bike Shed (to be found in Shoreditch, London) know their game. When they put this Festival together the event’s ethos clearly was decided to be FUN. Lots of competitions, each of which were very real, with some big bikes in the mix, but essentially each was to be light hearted, with the emphasis on having fun with a good bunch of mates. All backed up with a great social scene, a party, great food and drink.
The individual competition names kind of gives it away: Easy Rider Cup, Motley Cup, Journo Cup, Commuter Cup, Café Racer Cup. Then for off-road enjoyment, the Malle Trials: The Dash, The Scramblers – and as if it were needed a Novice Class.
The venue, Lydden Hill, in deepest Kent, was first used in 1947 for grass track and has been a part of the British motorsport firmament ever since, although actually always as a bit of an outlier. It’s a small kidney-shaped circuit set in a small valley, a real scratcher’s track, known as much for the regular rallycross competitions it hosts as for road racing. It doesn’t have the infrastructure nor the corporate swagger of the big circuits – so it feels friendly, maybe even slightly eccentric. Perfect for the Festival.
Checking out the event details it was evident this was not a gig you took an R1 to, nor a YZ450F for that matter. This is very much the time and place for the inappropriate motorcycle. Here at RUST we took a Triumph Bonneville T120 Ace. Being a homage to the rocker age of the Ace Café and all, it has that Fifties vibe and judging by the low footrests, bench seat and – I must say – a fair heft, clearly it was not made for racing. So, ideal.
Quite how The Bike Shed guys managed to get the event officially sanctioned shows their mastery in creative thinking and solutions. They managed it, though, and so for not a lot of money everyone got to play racer for the day – you know, with a real start, real set number of laps and real chequered flag. That we were out there with centrestands dragging, panniers rattling, radios blaring (in some cruiser-class cases) or lurching around on raked-out choppers (some guys really like to push the inappropriate theme) – and with not a wired sump plug in sight – says something for the Bike Shed’s spirit of laissez-faire.
Now I have a fair history in road racing, so this is not new to me. But having retired in 2001 (only to have ridden a one-off four-hour endurance race in 2015) it’s been a while – and I can’t say I’ve been wishing to return. There’s a lot of risk and so tension, not to mention expense, involved in road racing. But this weekend was different.
At the beginning, in practice, everyone was riding literally everywhere, in all directions, as they tried to get an idea of what was possible with their inappropriate motorcycles. For instance, the Ace had a very definite ground clearance issue. In the big sweeper that is Chesson’s Drift that meant avoiding the obvious inside line, which had a negative camber, and instead going deep to the back of the corner where the track eventually tipped up and gave the extra inch or so needed to effectively get the bike leant over and turned. Up at the hairpin, meanwhile, I found the Ace could brake improbably late, helped by its lack of pace, huge twin discs and a hill gradient so steep that just by chopping the throttle you almost immediately came to a standstill.
The races were hysterical. I loved the first turns where everyone was ducking and diving everywhere, all licence plates, mirrors, indicators, helmets, goggles, elbows and knees. The Journo Cup was of course fairly competitive with a few almost appropriate motorcycles. I snagged 8th out of 14 there, not my finest hour. But in Street Bike Cup Rapids – where the Ace leapt off the line and refused to stop for two corners – we’d got up to 8th before fading to finish 11th from the 31. Lack of speed and ground clearance (and bravado) counted against. But it wasn’t about the result, it was about the scrapping, the jousting, the crazy laughter, and the wobbles and the bouncing.
Watching the Cruiser Cup, with full-dress Harley’s scraping round pannier-to-pannier, really underlined the fun factor. And the Commuter Cup – where the racers were encouraged to load up with as many panniers, top boxes, tank bags and ruck sacks as they could manage – really did bring home this was all about the laughs.
Meanwhile on the grass, the Malle Trials provided just as much entertainment. RUST was meant to be competing in this but our bike was a last minute no-show. But it mattered not; instead it was so cool to watch (and shoot) the likes of a sixties Rickman scrambler line up against an eighties BMW R80 Dakar bitza-GS-thing (aka Archie’s bike), or push up against a sweet period-correct DG-kitted RM125, or a twinshock DT, or a Honda C90 special. The races were very short, kind of bent sprints up the hill, but it was all so much fun and it was cool seeing such a diversity of styles. Not to be taken seriously, of course. Which is something you don’t hear so much these days. The Malle guys (they run a boutique selling cool retro bike kit in London: https://mallelondon.com/) were putting on a great show.
If you could change one thing, it would be the month. Could we swap October for September perhaps? Just for the chance of more sun and slightly warmer temperatures, which would suit this Festival all the more – and might encourage more spectators. But in all it was a most excellent weekend.
Cynically, before the Festival we wondered whether the weekend would be all hipsters oiling their beards, perfecting their turn-ups, combing their quiffs, rocking-out to skiffle bands. Alas, we didn’t see much of that, which in part is a shame as people watching is just fine by us, and you have to applaud those who take time and get creative over their appearance. It’s fun and harms no one. But in fact, the Festival reminded us of the simple pleasures, so often lost to us if we compete in enduro or rally, or do the whole kitchen-sink adventure thing.
Yes, it’s good to chill.
Thanks to Dutch and Vikki at The Bike Shed (https://thebikeshed.cc/) for the invite. Thanks especially to James Joseph for all the last minute smoothing to get RUST and the Ace on the start line – and then for sorting the photography post event (you are a top man, James). Thanks to Dean Harfield at Performance Communications and to Triumph UK for the awesome Ace.