By the time the morning session had finished I’d racked up nine laps, just one short of the leaders, and good enough to be heading up my class - to be honest that was a bit of a revelation for me. I don’t think I’ve ever led anything before, apart from the queue for the burger van.
An hour long lunch-stop gave competitors chance to rest their weary bones and work on their machines, though fortunately I had Sam to do that for me. He removed the seat on the SWM to reveal a fabulous airbox design that would allow the bike to wade into water deeper than the machine’s cylinder head, without filling up! In less than five minutes the filter was changed, the tank fuelled up and the chain oiled, and the bike was wheeled back out onto the starting grid.
As I sat down on a deckchair for a spot of lunch I could feel my hands still tingling from the vibration. I’d forgotten that about old two-strokes, how much they vibrate. Modern bikes don’t suffer anywhere near as much vibration, and it took a few minutes for the sensation to completely disappear, but not before most of my cup of tea ended up down my riding pants.
Meanwhile on the tannoy system I heard Sam announce a reminder to all competitors to keep drinking in order to re-hydrate. It was a hot day and as we were called back to the line for the afternoon race, he put it to a vote whether riders wanted to do another hour-and-a-half session, or simply make it an hour (that’s a mark of just how friendly this club is). I decided not to vote - I was after all a guest at the club - but when a show of hands revealed an overwhelming majority wanted to opt for the hour-long session I can’t say I was disappointed.
I knew the SWM would easily manage the whole hour without a refill, so I decided to simply pound in as many laps as possible and try to make a finish at this, my first ever twin-shock classic/retro/vintage race. Three laps in and a poor decision to pass someone on the outside of a bend saw me hit the dirt for a second time, Doh!
By now I was beginning to tire slightly. I hadn’t bothered wearing a hydration pack in order to stick with the vintage theme of the event, and what with all the dust in the air, my throat was drier than the hospitality tent at the Saudi GP.
I hung in there for the last couple of laps and finally crossed the finish line just two minutes after the hour. Phew, I’d made it. As I wound my way back to the van I had time to reflect on what I’d discovered. And these are my findings…
• Just because bikes are old, doesn’t mean they aren’t fast.
• Just because racers are old, doesn’t mean they aren’t fast.
• The biggest difference with an old bike isn’t the twin-shock suspension, the drum brakes or the lack of power from the non-powervalved engine, it’s in the overall handling and in particular the speed of steering.
• Bumps and jumps require a little more forethought and a lot more bravery.
• Racing an old bike brings a smile to your face and a certain whiteness to the knuckles.
• Modern bikes have much smoother controls and engines, but much less soul!