SCREAMIN' UP THAT HILL
SEVERN FREEWHEELERS - SHELSLEY WALSH EVENT
If you've found a successful formula, why not repeat it? That's what the Severn Freewheelers have done.
Part of the National Association of Blood Bikes, they're skilled and experienced riders who volunteer to transport blood and other medical items outside of conventional work hours on behalf of the NHS. They provide a service that can help to support medical staff, and in some cases, save lives. Moreover, because 'blood riders' are all volunteers, they save the NHS budgets considerable amounts of money.
Six years ago, they organised the Prescott Motorcycle Festival, based on the historic Prescott hill climb circuit in the countryside, near Gloucester. It has been a resounding success and is now a familiar part of the annual motorcycle events calendar. Not content, however, with having just the one annual achievement, they decided this year to organise a second event. This time based on the famous Shelsley Walsh hill climb circuit, near Worcester.
The big draw for riders is the chance to 'run the hill'. Normally these hill climb courses are used for timed runs for both car and motorcycle competition, with super motards being the quickest two-wheelers up the hill. But Prescott (and now Shelsley) is not competitive and is open to anything with two wheels and an engine – at the riders briefing, one of the riders asked the clerk of the course if he could stand on the footrests going up the hill. This 'strange' request was granted; he later crossed the finishing line atop the hill, standing tall on his trials bike.
At Shelsley, on Sunday 13th September, the whole gamut of motorcycle riding life was on view. Out and out racers, super motards, mini motos, classic bikes, trials bikes, historical TT racers such as Manx Nortons and Velocettes, three-wheelers, Morgans, regular road bikes, specials, and my 1988 250 FZR Yamaha. I mention this because there's a back story here.
I made a spur of the moment decision to buy this bike – the only way really – at a very wet Darley Moor circuit early in 2014. It was sound but a bit tatty, but, most importantly, the price was right, and rather than do the work myself - as there's already a rebuild project in the garage - I gave the work to a restorer who had been recommended in January of this year.
I'd entered the Prescott event in April and was assured the bike would be ready well before then. As the date drew nearer, I became more concerned that I wouldn't be riding it there - luckily, I was able to collect it just before the date. It looked lovely, but it didn't go, despite assurances that work on the carbs and engine had been carried out. In the end, I stripped as much weight as possible from my Moto Guzzi Breva and rode that.
My local mechanical and technical wizards sorted the engine problems and it sounded great (the original restoration people gave me a refund). This is a two-fifty, made for the Japanese market (imported to the UK in 1997), where they have long had licence restrictions, and had consequently manufactured a whole series of fast revvy smaller capacity bikes. Most people are familiar with the 400cc versions churned out by Honda in the form of the NC30, the Yamaha FZR and Kawasaki's ZXR.
With the 250 FZR, there is no power whatsoever below 6000rpm. At 8000rpm, it picks up and then zips up to 14000rpm. It performs best between 10000rpm and 12000rpm, and using the six speed gearbox to keep it 'on song' is akin to a racing two stroke...an urban bike it ain't. I squeezed in a few road rides before the Shelsley event, but didn't feel the familiarity needed to chuck it into bends and retain corner speed, as you can with these bikes. i.e. I can't ride it properly yet. No matter, it was about having fun.
The Prescott events are well organised and are run superbly by the large contingent of volunteers the club can call on. They were at Shelsley on the Saturday when the camper contingent arrived, and from early morning on 'race day' when the gates opened at 8.00am, and were still there when the last bikes had completed their runs and begun to leave.
There's almost endless interest in the paddock, especially amongst the bikes entitled 'paddock specials'. A wonderfully eclectic mix of race bikes, classics and rare machinery. Amongst the invited rarity was the Mad Max Racing turbine bike, powered by a Rolls-Royce helicopter engine and their recently built Eisenberg V8 - a 'street bike' with a unique one-off design engine, pushing out 500hp at 10500revs and weighing just 82kgs. Both these bikes ran the hill, filling the air with their distinctive sounds and the nostrils with a smell akin to a busy weekend on a Heathrow runway. Check out their website and YouTube clips.
Another over the top creation, also purported to be a 'street bike', was Allen Millyard's Viper; this one is a V10 Dodge engined monster, pushing out 500hp ( in 2009 it reached a speed of 207mph in a Motorcycle News test). Millyard is a famed special builder and genius engineer. His work can be viewed online, along with clips from the speed trial. He also brought his other giant creation, 'The Flying Millyard'; just a 5litre V-Twin powering this one.
Waiting in the collection area after the first run of the day, myself and another rider were approached by a woman who asked if we could assist in helping to 'catch' the last rider up the hill and help to turn him around. Talan Skeels-Piggins is a paraplegic bike racer - the first to be granted an ACU racing licence. After being launched up the hill, ourselves and the marshalls needed to steady him at the top, manoeuvre him around, and point him in the right direction back to the paddock.
I'd noticed Talan's team in the paddock, and after getting some of his story and information about his racing team and charity from his helper, I spoke to Talan and have arranged to go and interview this remarkable character early in October. Look out for the story on Wemoto News.
Running the Hill
So what of my three attempts to get the little Yam up the hill at a respectable pace? It's a slight uphill start at Shelsley, and a marshall holds the bike on a chock, so no need to worry about front brake. The FZR clutch is light and responsive. It's not difficult to build the revs to 8000 and then feed it in for a smooth drive, and all four cylinders scream in unison as the bike gets away cleanly. I just managed to get my left foot on board in time to change to second, then third, before the first left-hander Kennel Bend.
I just notched fourth before two changes down at the left hand Bottom 'S', then up to third again for a tricky right Top 'S', with a drain cover right on the racing line – my racing line anyway. Then another upward change, and maximum screaming, to the finish line. It's just 914 metres (1000 yards), so there's not too much chance to think about what's happening.
My second run didn't lodge itself in my memory, but the third was enjoyable. I felt by then that me, the bike and the course had come to some kind of collaborative understanding, and the rev counter just nudged the red line before I shut down at the finish banner.
There's lots of waiting around between rides, but that seemed to be part of the day out for a lot of riders as they relaxed, wandered and chatted in the warm September sunshine. Not only enjoying the bikes, but the trade stands, displays and the facilities at Shelsley, which included a band playing in the old barn and a decent restaurant.
Thanks to the Severn Freewheelers and all the volunteers who made this festival happen. Sign up for either Prescott or Shelsley for 2016, or better yet, both.
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