DAVE GOES TO ATHENS
In a northern leafy suburb of Athens is a small airport and on a sunny, warm, late October Sunday, small private planes take off and land. As the day warms up, gliders are towed up and released to play on the thermals. Next to the airport is an equestrian centre and, as part of the facility, there is a small sand oval for training the elegant horses. However, on this particular Sunday, the place is taken over by 120 motorbikes, their riders and about 1000 spectators. It is the third annual Rotten Race, a bizarre a spectacle as you could wish to see.
Despite the absolute dire financial situation that Greece continues to experience, there is a small but thriving hipster community in downtown Athens. An essential part of this scene is a small shop selling motorcycle apparel, The Real Intellectuals. A neat little place which, when I called in, had a tiny bar with Jameson and Ginger. The lovely people who run the place are the brains and motivation behind the Rotten Race.
The idea and formula are simple and great. A miniature flat track event for whatever bike you want to bring. Entry, €8. There are three classes:
1. moped & scooters
2. motocross & enduro
3. open class
Fancy dress is not compulsory but encouraged.
There are heats in each class, followed by a generous lunch break complete with a live band. Then the finals followed by the presentations, more live bands and a party that goes on into the night.
An event like this could not happen here in the UK. It is far too much like fun. Don’t get me wrong, as with all racing, there are those who are there to ride and there are those who are there to race. People were trying hard and putting on an impressive performance. It doesn’t have the restrictive rules and regulations that we are used to. Riders did have to wear crash helmets but that’s about it.
I’m not advocating a lack of safety rules, but I have to tell you the event is a really fun day. I was there with my son, who has lived and worked in Athens for a number of years. I asked him if he thought the organisers had insurance for the event. He just looked at me in that way that only a son can, “what do you think?”.
Being a small circuit, the bikes did not reach huge speed and being on the sand, just about all the crashes were rear wheels spinning out, resulting in soft landings. I did not see two bikes coming together and I’m certain the first aid man was pretty much redundant. The fire engine was used as photographers were allowed on top of it to get better shots.
It was organised chaos! It worked because everyone is into the whole laid back good-humoured atmosphere. The spectators are patient with the inevitable hold-ups and cheer on the more amusing and gung-ho attempts to qualify. The more outrageous inappropriate bikes, BMWs, Harleys garnered the most attention.
As with any race, there were winners and losers. But here, the boundaries are blurred. Crazy bikes or costumes did not mean a heat or final was won, but the crowd were well behind you. Faceplant on your Vespa wearing a tutu and you are a winner, the same as if you trounced the field on your WRF 250. “Everyone’s a winner”.
Great fun and a great event.
We are planning the ultimate machine for next year's event. I have an idea but I just need to get it to Athens. Oh, and choose the fancy dress!
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