Triumph and Tribulations – Exploring the UK, Day 4

In Dual-Sport, England, Travel by AbhiLeave a Comment

June 20th, 2017 – Christchurch, England to Cardiff, Wales: ~120 miles

Missed Day 3? June 19th, 2017 – London, England to Christchurch, England: ~120 miles

Here’s the next day of our summer UK trip to tide you over in case I can’t get service during Saturday’s 24 hour race…

Before Vy and I check out of Fisherman’s Haunt, our new buddy Ben made sure to show us a picture of his Fireblade. Ben is awesome, so make sure you say hi if you ever have the chance to stop here for a pint, a meal, or for the night.

The Fireblade is fowl-friendly.

When you’re touring on roads like this, you can’t expect to cover lots of miles in a day.

As a comparison – when Vy and I did 2 weeks in the US last year, we covered approximately 5,000 miles. We spent a similar amount of time in the UK and were only able to cover 2,000 miles because roads like this forced us to travel at slow speeds.

The trade-off is that the back roads offer some history en route. I was fascinated by this old directional sign.

Before I took off on this trip, I asked y’all for recommendations and one of the most popular suggestions was the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum. Who am I to ignore such sage advice? It’s one of the world’s largest motorcycle museums and it’s all due to the superhuman efforts of its namesake, Mr. Sammy Miller. Sammy was successful in a wide variety of motorcycling disciplines, but it was in the sport of trials that he became a legend. In addition to winning over 1,300 trials events, he helped both Bultaco and Honda develop trials machines. His Ariel HT5 (named GOV 132 after the digits on the license plate) may just be the most successful competitive motorcycle in history, with 161 championships between 1957 and 1964.

Welcome to motorcycling heaven. Turns out you go through glass doors, not pearly gates.

The museum is part of of a mini complex with farm animals, a children’s play area, and tea rooms. The tea rooms open before the museum, so you’ll see some riders and their machines in the courtyard. When this is what’s parked outside, you know the interior is going to have some choice machinery.

Vy and I are greeted by a very pleasant fellow who simply calls himself Volunteer Dave. He’s unassuming but he’s got some great stories, including one about his father who had some success racing on an AJS in the 20s. He wasn’t a works racer but after he got in touch with the factory and proved that he was competitive, he’d reach out when he needed a new part like a piston and they’d forego the OEM spares in favor of something special to keep him at the front of the pack. As they say, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

Volunteer Dave shows us the best route through the museum. It’s England, so we go left.

Dave kindly takes a moment to talk us through the collection. He says that the museum started when Sammy got his famous GOV 132 back, and it has grown to approximately 380 bikes. Around 12-14 of them are one of a kind. Each room has a theme, like the “Racing Hall”, “Trial Bike Hall”, or the informally-named “Evolving Classics.” In Dave’s words, that represents “when Japanese bikes came over and we thought they’d all be crap…they all still work like Swiss watches.”

The Suzuki RS67, a 125cc 90-degree V4 GP racer weighing 209 pounds and capable of 137 miles per hour.

I could have spent three days here, but I simply did not have the time (and I think Vy would have lost her mind). With that said, here are ten of my favorites in no particular order:

The 1948 Redrup Radial, a 248cc radial three-cylinder motor. Built by John Redrup, the son of an aeronautical engineer. It sat in pieces for 50 years before Sammy and his team brought it back to life. The motor is paired with an Albion transmission and the drivetrain has been stuffed into a Royal Enfield pre-war frame.

1929 Douglas DT5 Speedway racer. Powered by a 500cc overhead valve twin that got oxygen from an enclosed airbox, the DT5s were particularly popular with Australian racers.

A 1926 “Pacer” – not a brand, but a style of motorcycle. These were designed to act as pace machines for bicycle racing in velodromes. Also known as a Derny, it works to set pace and also to provide a slipstream for riders before it pulls off the course. Single speed, belt drive, and no brakes – plus check out the handlebars!

1905 Norton with a 500cc Peugeot motor – the museum claims this is the oldest known Norton in the world.

1935 Scott 996cc 3-cylinder. This is apparently the only working example of a very rare bike. The two-stroke inline triple is water cooled and was incredibly advanced for the time. A 1986 article in the Classic Motor Cycle magazine suggests that just eight were built.

1930 Excelsior Silver Comet. Ridden to 163 miles per hour on the Hungarian Autobahn, setting a world record in the process. It features a 1,000cc JAP V-Twin that’s supercharged and runs on methanol.

Built by the famous Lino Tonti, this 1969 Linto features a 500cc twin built from two Aermacchi 250cc singles. Just 15 were built and per the info placard they were very fast (160 miles per hour) but unreliable.

1912 Verdel with a 750cc 5-cylinder radial motor. The museum believes it may have been a board track racer with a single speed gearbox and a transmission brake.

Mitchell 50cc – the world’s only two-stroke, four-cylinder 50cc (actually 48cc) racer. Everything is adorably tiny: each cylinder is 12cc, peak power is 5 hp, and each of the 4 carbs are 10mm Amals.

The bike that started it all – Sammy’s competition-shredding HT5. The sign on the back should give you an idea of how successful this trials bike was.

If you’ve got time and you desperately want to see some more of the bikes on display at the museum, here’s 300+ more photos I took (but be warned, they’re not edited).

As a younger American rider, it’s tough to get a sense of how dominant British bikes were. It’s easy to stereotype and make jokes about how they leaked oil and then got their asses kicked by the Japanese. But as I walk up and down rows of beautiful motorcycles, this museum opens my eyes to the advancements that the Brits made a century ago. I alternate between expressions of wonder and sadness – every time I discover something fascinating or a new manufacturer I had never heard of before (Haythorn, Ascot Pullin, OEC, ABC, Duzmo), this museum feels more tragic. Is it a museum or a cemetery? Whatever you call it, it’s worth a visit. But eventually I have to pull myself away because Vy and I have to meet an ex-Isle of Man TT racer tonight and we need to get back on the road.

Before we leave, Vy mentions that while I’ve been staring at bikes, she’s noticed 14 teddy bears all around the museum. I just look at her with a puzzled expression, but on our way out we ask Dave about the stuffed animals. Turns out that the dynamic of ‘interested guy with disinterested girlfriend/wife/kid’ isn’t rare, so the museum has hidden teddy bears to entertain visitors who aren’t crazy about bikes. Guess it worked, because Vy found all 14 without knowing that this was a game to play in the first place.

1…2…3…14! I think I noticed two of these. Kudos to Vy for finding all of them.

She was rewarded with a certificate, so she got more from the museum than I did! Or so I thought.

Proof that Vy is observant.

After we wrap things up with Dave, he asks if we’d like to meet Sammy. A moment of silence ensues as I figure out if he’s joking or not before Vy elbows me and I come back to reality. I offer up a confused “yes?” and then Dave tells us to follow him.

Dave talks to Sammy for a moment and then the legend himself beckons us inside. There’s no way this is happening. Sammy shakes Vy’s hand and pulls her inside the shop. OK, I guess this is happening. I couldn’t believe how nice he was. He had no idea who I was but still humored me for 20 minutes, talking about his museum and the bikes that he was working on at the moment. He even wrapped up our conversation by offering to let me try an Adler that would be finished later in the afternoon, but we were already running late. I’m a fool.

Sammy talks me through a Rudge-Whitworth Multi that’s he was restoring for a customer. It’s a landmark bike for many reasons, but the most significant is that it was one of the first motorcycles with multiple gears (hence the name). In 1914, Cyril Pullin won the Isle of Man TT on a Rudge Multi. ⠀

The Adler I missed out on.

We traded mechanical beauty for natural beauty with a quick stop along the Jurassic Coast and the Durdle Door.

My favorite gear shop in Los Angeles is Beach Moto. Seeing as I had just ridden a motorcycle to a beach, this shirt seemed like the appropriate thing to wear.

Then it was off to Bath, named because the Romans originally used it as a spa. Even if you’re not planning on getting wet, there’s plenty of beautiful architecture to soak up.

I brought the Aerostich because I was planning on encountering heavy rain. It would pay off later, but at the moment I was cooking in 92-degree weather.

A few months ago, I was introduced via email to an ex-Isle of Man TT racer named Richard who lived near Bristol. Like many Britons, he watched the IOM in person as a young man, and loved it. Yet he figured it would be much more fun to participate instead of watch, so a few years later he was on the course himself. I’m in awe of the people who race in general, but I simply can’t comprehend the courage it takes to compete on one of the deadliest courses in the world.

From a New York Times article a few months ago: ““If Roger Federer misses a shot, he loses a point,” said Richard Quayle, a former TT winner. “If I miss an apex, I lose my life.”

Like all the TT competitors you hear about year after year, Richard is apparently missing the gene responsible for self-preservation. He competed in ’84 and ’85 – the first year he was leading the newcomers race when his motor seized 4 miles from the end. The next year, he was 6 seconds shy of setting a 100 mph lap in a 6th place finish. The same pattern of behavior appeared when Richard decided to visit Le Mans for a 24 hour race. In ’86 he found himself competing in the Endurance World Championships for three years. Eventually, the responsibilities of having a family caught up and he hung up the race leathers, but he does have a beautiful Ducati 916 that he enjoys on the street. His passion for motorcycles is contagious, and one of my highlights of the trip was simply enjoying a pint with him and listening to his stories. Racers are nuts.

Richard with his pristine Ducati 916.

Vy and I say our goodbyes to Richard and then head towards Wales for our first border crossing. Before we can hop on one of two bridges (the Severn Bridge or the Second Severn Crossing, I’ll give you one guess as to what the river’s named), we see a sign notifying us that there will be a toll. There’s pictures of a car, semi, and a bus, but no motorcycle, so I assume that motorcycles get to cross for free. I stop at the toll gate to confirm with the attendant that there’s no fee, but by the time I can get my face shield open she opens the gate and politely says, “What are you doing? Go!” Don’t have to tell me twice.

Welsh is an interesting language.

Wales, here we come!

Continue on to Day 5!