ALL UP HILL...
AT THE PRESCOTT BIKE FESTIVAL
The best laid motorcycling plans often go awry. So it was with the first outing of my Yamaha FZR250 at the Prescott Bike Festival, which centres around the hill climb course of the same name, owned by the Bugatti Owners Club.
I bought the bike last year in a moment of decisiveness at the last Thundersprint held at Darley Moor circuit. The Wemoto crew, like many others, were huddled beneath their promotion tent staring out at the bleak grey rain filled skies, and the mud under our feet. We wandered around at intervals with the few hardy spectators, filling our time as best we could.
My colleague John, of Harley Sportster fame, spotted the bike for sale at a good price. So I snapped it up for no better reason than these little in line fours imported from Japan are rare good looking bikes. This one is a late eighties model and was imported into the UK in 1997. As I'm already involved in one (slow) garage project I had the refurbishment work done for me with a view to running the bike at a few hill climbs and classic track days.
I collected the bike a week before the Prescott event: it looked gorgeous, with new paint work, and service work on the brakes, forks, carburettors, new chain and sprocket, tyres, and oil and fluid changes. The weather was set for dry, so I had time for some road miles to get used to the very revvy engine – power is between 8 and 14 thousand revs.
It started, but didn't sound happy and gave indications of fuel starvation. If the carbs had been serviced it must be the fuel pump. That checked out okay, but in the process the starter failed to respond. Must be a flat battery. Charge. Still nothing. Fuses all okay. Contacts on the cdi unit had all been renewed, and a visual check of the electrical connections looked okay.
I gave up at this stage and consulted Andy at Moll Springs Motorcycles. He's probably the best mechanic/technician/restorer in West Yorkshire. He's always busy. In fact he's just finished some work on a Vincent Black Shadow, bought as a present for his grandad by Tom Sykes the World Superbike title challenger.
Andy would sort it, but not in time for the hill climb. So I took as much spare weight as I could off my Moto Guzzi Breva and re-psyched myself to ride that instead. What you ride at this Prescott event is immaterial: the wild, weird, wonderful and whacky all qualify. People turn up with their road bikes; race bikes; super motards; mini motos; prototypes; vintage and veterans; three wheelers; sidecars; scooters. Riders from eight to eighty line up to tackle the 1200 yards of uphill twisty tarmac, through the fields and woodland.
The bike festival is in its fifth year. The organising club, Severn Freewheelers, have made this a very popular event in the south west England calendar and beyond. They are part of the national blood bikes network; volunteer riders who work on a regional basis, delivering emergency blood products where needed. Their bikes are rigged with full emergency lights and equipment, but as things stand at the moment they have to obey the same traffic laws as the rest of the population. Though there is a strong lobby for them to be given the same leeway to make progress on the road as the other emergency services do www.thenabb.org.uk
This year there were 180 'run the hill' entries, and 105 Paddock Specials: race bikes, classics, specials, and those with a historical or eccentric interest. That's a lot of machinery to get onto the course for the two runs allocated; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. You can walk the course if you arrive early enough, as I did. From the finish line the view is through low hills and across pastoral England to the River Severn flood plain around Gloucester. Marvellous.
The organisation by the Severn Freewheelers members and the Prescott/Bugatti people is efficient and friendly. Not only does the 'run the hill' timetable run to time, but all other aspects of the festival too. At the riders briefing we were informed that the residents in the surrounding area were unhappy about having the course there, despite it being around since 1938...umm. We were asked to keep noise to a minimum. Tell it to the super motard boys and girls, they just can't stop wringing that throttle.
I was in the blue group and my first run was mid-morning. At the start line a 'grid girl' was in attendance along with a photographer. I politely declined the offer of a picture, but did manage to download one of 83 on the circuit, which I hope the Editor will include to exhibit the style, grace and speed of a Moto Guzzi and rider...some confusion in the writer's memory and imagination here (Ed).
This is a non-competitive event, in that the runs were not timed. You feel a need to give a good account when in a track environment, but despite having walked the course it felt like a practice run, and of course it is all over before there's a chance to settle in to any kind of riding rhythym: and don't the bends come at you quickly? The second hairpin corner (Pardon Hairpin) is a steep cambered uphill. Ideal Guzzi territory, down to second, slow in, and slip the clutch on the way out with a quick shift to third for the difficult to get right (for me) Esses.
Between runs at the hill there was the chance to mooch around the stalls, listen to the bands, take a closer look at the bikes parked up and on display, and soak up the atmosphere. I by-passed the Oily Rag T-shirt and clothing stand where Carl Fogarty was hosting selfies and no doubt trying to get punters to part with £21 for a Foggy T-shirt. I bagged a pair of very classy Richa short boots at another stall, £55, no contest, they'll last longer and won't fade in the wash.
After a lunch break the afternoon sessions got underway. They organise the timetable so that 'run the hill' bikes take to the track, followed by Paddock Specials to give the crowds on the banks a good variety of machinery to view. They also ran a 'Passenger Experience'. After handing over fifteen quid people were strapped into the passenger seat of a Grinall three wheeler sports car and treated to a very fast, tyre squealing run at the hill.
This would have been over even faster than the 1200 yards for most of the other hill runners. It's fun and frustrating in equal measure and leaves you wanting to go at it again, but the only way to do that is to sign up for the hill climb series run throughout the country by the National Hill Climb Association www.nhca.co.uk or enter the new Severn Freewheelers end of season event at Shelsley Walsh near Worcester www.shelsleybikefestival.co.uk See you there.
Here are a few more pictures of this great event for you to enjoy:
Any comments? Did you visit this event? Email us at email@example.com
John Newman for Wemoto News
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