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Just when we thought it was all over, Jenny offered me a ride on her Cub. When I had working bikes, I had intended to enter the late September BHR meeting at Cadwell, despite the lack of income, as a birthday present to myself. Jenny was entered for Mallory in early September and offered to share her rides as an alternative birthday present. A lovely gesture, and it would have been churlish to turn the offer down, even though I was very aware that it had not been running right when last used. A bit of work had been done on it, but nothing that had pinned the problem down. At least, if I experienced it first hand, I might be able to help solve the problem.
The bike sailed through scrutineering and noise testing, and went OK for several laps in practice but stuttered towards the end. Was it something overheating? We swapped some electrical components, it started OK for Jenny's first race but soon played up again. We swapped some more bits, checked the carburettor one more time, and it fired up OK again, but what would happen out on the track again?
On Sunday morning I was due to go out for a test session before the first race, which I was due to ride in. Quizzing Jenny on just how the bike felt, the bike seemed to be cutting out intermittently rather than just having a misfire, so when it was reluctant to start a poor connection suggested itself, not that we had not already checked them all. With engines not allowed to be run until the test session was about to start we had to hope for the best; the bike ran OK in the warm up area but cut out completely as soon as I reached the track. Hastily back to the van, my suspicion was now firmly on the on/off switch; Lewis came over to help – it is his bike, after all – and with the aid of some spare electrical connectors that I had brought along, bypassed the switch in time for the race. But the bike was dead – no sign of life at all. Lewis then realised that he had made a mistake in the rush, we swiftly swapped a couple of wires over, and the bike fired up just in time to miss the race...
So, two races left to go, one for Jenny and one for me. And hurrah! The bike behaved in Jenny's race, but was not keeping up with the two bikes that we hoped it could compete with, and, disappointingly, the lap times were a bit slower than in practice. Oh well, at least it looked as though I would finally get a go on it after two days of playing with it in the intermittent drizzle. At least we were parked close to the cafe so tea supplies were maintained.
Come time for my race, the track was dry, so no concern over tyre performance, they were bound to be fine. I had never ridden this bike before but the warm-up lap confirmed that it felt pretty similar to my own Cub; it featured the same front brake, and stopped just as well. Starting at the back of the grid, I settled in behind one of the bikes we had hoped to beat – the other one edged away. The Cub was not quite as stable as mine in extremis, but on the last lap I was able to close up enough through the Esses to be in out-braking range at the hairpin, and hung on to cross the line a whisker ahead. Second to last instead of last, what a result! More importantly, both I and the chap I was dicing with had really enjoyed ourselves, and my lap times were comparable to my 2011 Mallory times on the Cub. So I am not quite past it yet, but Cubs really can't keep up with the Hondas, some of which are now quite ridiculously fast and dicing with 500's in some races.
And just as this confirmed that it was time to retire the Cub, someone came up and said “I'm going to race a Cub next year, that will be three of us”. Er, well, we shall see...
Jenny came along to help on Thursday while Sally stayed in the shop, all went smoothly until it was noticed that the exhaust on the Cub was a bit wobbly; a bracket had broken. Not to worry, I could take the bike back home and make a new one; fabrication took half an hour, fitting and fettling – which involved lying under the bike and getting excessively warm in the continued fine weather – took much longer. Still, it was done in time for an early night and there was time to get the bracket scrutineered in the morning before practice.
The Cub felt pretty good for a lap or two – and then not too good at all. Taken back to the paddock in the Van of Shame, it became apparent that the big end had gone. OK, let's see what we can do on the 500 – not a lot, I pulled in after a couple of laps with something amiss. A strip of rubber that gives the carbs some extra support had given up the ghost, and one carb was trying to escape. So it was a swift departure for home with the Cub in the back of the van, and a busy evening ripping the engine apart, fitting my last spare crank assembly, checking the card tournament was running OK in the shop, and grabbing a quick pint with Sally and our friend John, staying with us while marshalling at Donington, then leaving Sally to close the shop at 11.00 while I continued working on the bike till 1.30.
Up at 7.30, engine back in bike, and back to the circuit. With the last bits to bolt on a timing to re-set, catching the first race wasn't likely, so the first trip out was on the Daytona which was way off the pace. The continued jumping out of third gear wasn't helping, but some of it was down to a lack of incentive to push hard once I had lost contact with the bunch I would usually have been dicing with. Hope for some fun therefore rested with the Cub; I knew I could beat one of the Hondas, and a couple more were within range, so it was particularly disappointing when the piston seized on lap three. That's the piston that had behaved perfectly well recently.
That left a couple of races on Sunday on the Daytona, with time to see if I could sort the clutch slip that had also not been helping. And lo! A cure was effected – and the lap times were all of one second better, not what I had hoped for. The poor old bike has given good service these last 40 years, but on the longer circuits it is not quite up to the ever-faster competition any more. Time to put the road tyres back on and we can potter round some country lanes and enjoy our mutual retirement.
So, just two weeks on from the good time playing with the big boys at the BHR Lydden, a go at Darley Moor with the CRMC. Only 25 minutes from home, so easy to get to nice and early to set up on Friday, and no need for an excessively early emergence from a comfy bed on Saturday. I know Darley quite well, I have had some decent results there, all very hopeful.
Clearly the Cub and rider are not going as well as they should, though both felt all right; previous lap times have been 1:20something, this time they were over 1:30 To make matters worse, there are no slow bikes or riders in the CRMC these days, so I was staring last place in the face anyway. But the situation was no better on the Morini – only fractionally slower than I had previously been on the 500 Triumph, but the Morini is meant to be faster, and needed to be to keep up. And then it went bang, again. Apparently re-using conrod bolts in a race engine is thought to be acceptable in Morini circles, the professionally rebuilt engine is a write-off.
We loaded the wreckage in the van and went home.
The full horror revealed. Note the crinkle cut big end shells having been through the gearbox.
The barrels didn't fare too well either.
Aargh! A broken spoke fortunately discovered in time to fix before departure.
It is a long slog down to the far end of Kent, but this meeting needed doing as an old school friend who lives down that way (give or take 60 miles) had made the trip to Brands Hatch last year and the meeting was abandoned before he had seen me race. The £200 spent on the wet-weather tyre was continuing to ensure dry meetings, so at least we had good weather to look forward to. We set off in good time so that despite the M25 we got the tents up in good time and did a bit of socialising. They now have a bar – that was a pleasant surprise.
The campsite in all its glory.
A fine Friday evening prompted a walk round the track like the real racers do.
We came well equipped with healthy food
And the racing went well – the Cub was, alas, still not quite fast enough but I was thoroughly enjoying riding it while coming not quite last.
The Morini was up there with the big boys; in the first race I was just beaten by a Benelli 250, for which I got a telling off from Sally, and thereafter I made sure that I was the leader in the up to 500 class.
In all four races I was dicing with a 600cc Norton Rotary, a couple of 1000cc BMWs and our friend Nic's 750 Guzzi, despite having been left off the grid for the third race due to an admin cock-up, so starting from the back with no warm-up lap; 10 people to overtake to get back in the fray added to the fun.
In the last race I was on the fourth row of the grid, and was confident that if I could get ahead of the three just in front of me, I could stay ahead.
In retrospect it was a little optimistic to hope to beat more powerful bikes on acceleration into the first corner, in the end I got ahead of one of them, I could get alongside two others on the corners but they would accelerate out of them better, especially since the mid-corner stutter was still causing problems.
But enough of excuses – I was having a good time, and Sally was enjoying the sunshine, so it was all quite splendid.
I have wanted to experience Oulton Park for years, and for the first time in a decade the CRMC had managed to book the circuit. The problem is that, except for a couple of big money events, the owners cannot use the circuit on Sundays, which rather messes up the weekend meetings that are the norm in classic racing these days. The solution was to use a Bank Holiday weekend, racing on Saturday and Monday, the paddock and surrounding areas being used for a general family fete type of event with food stalls, beer, a band and, as it turned out, just enough sunshine to make it all rather pleasant.
Lots of stalls selling food, drinks, crafts, flowers etc.
One of the bands.
Monster Truck rides.
And mini Monster Trucks for the kids.
So, what of the racing? Oulton Park is a very technical circuit that takes a lot of learning, so with no-one having had recent experience, except for a very wet practice day on the Friday attended by some, it was all down to who would remain confused the longest. That would be me then, more than likely. In the event, I was well off the pace to start with, but gradually got the hang of most of the bends. One could be taken flat out on the Cub, attempting the same on the Morini resulted in a 100mph trip across the grass, fortunately staying upright. I kept braking too late into the chicanes and messing my line up on the Morini, that mid-corner stutter was back but the top end power was fine; my times were gradually coming down but I was still several seconds off the pace.
Getting the hang of it.
Oulton Park is a place where power really counts, so the Cub being simply not fast enough was understandable, but I had expected to be in the mix on the Morini. It wasn't for lack of trying! Still, I had achieved my ambition of riding at Oulton Park and there was the huge bonus of all three bikes still running at the end of the meeting. I had taken the 500 Triumph as a back-up, I took it out for the Monday morning test session, which was kept to less than two laps, but at least it can add Oulton to its cv.
An unexpected bonus. Only four 200cc 4 strokes turned
so I managed 3rd place to get a trophy and special hat.
A grand day out.
Meanwhile, it seemed to me to be too coincidental that the loss of speed on the Morini had followed the removal of a plate under the fuel tank that had acted as a kind of air box for the carburettors – expert advice had been that it would not matter. As the original flimsy plate had disappeared a much nicer one was carefully shaped and fitted – this took three of us two weeks! Would it now run properly at Oulton?
Last year I set the time on the Cub, but got tempted to take the Daytona out for a blast in the final session so was third fastest but came third from last in what the event was actually about. This time I was again using different bikes – the Cub for practice, the Morini to set the time, so that I could see if it was running better after the latest fettling, and the Daytona to use if the Morini was still not right. At least I have last year's times to look at so guessing the right speed should be rather easier.The day started astonishingly well – it was a May Bank Holiday, and the weather was dry, sunny and hot! Almost unheard of, especially at Darley Moor. I had fun on the Cub, keeping the revs down on the straights but catching people on the bends. Jenny was on her newly acquired Morini 125 racer, also taking it easy until I rode round her at the hairpin, when she pulled her finger out, gave it some wellie, and disappeared into the distance. On the last lap I tried opening the throttle more – and felt the engine tighten up. Coasting to a halt by the entrance to the track, there was Jenny, her bike having suddenly stopped. It turned out to be a blocked jet in the carburettor, easily sorted, but the bike continued to misbehave and she had a miserable day after such a promising start. Bloody motorbikes...
No action shots of the new Morini as it didn't do much, but here it is when Jenny first bought it.
So, how would the Morini go? Fine in the wiggly bits and accelerating out of the bends, but it refused to run properly at high speed. Back to the Daytona for the final session then, I estimated the speed at 2 1/2 mph slower than last year, allowing for the Daytona maybe not being at its absolute best – and I could always back off a bit at the end. Of course, I didn't back off, so ended up 1.78 mph too fast, but 10th out of 27 is a great improvement on last year. Maybe I'll get it right next time!
Saturday dawned much brighter than expected, and having got scrutineering out of the way on Friday, Jenny and I both got through noise testing OK and it was all systems go. The practice session revealed that the Morini is still not running right, but we were soon out for the first race on the Cubs, and they both made it to the finishing line, even getting ahead of a couple of Bantams on the way. Much celebration as that is something we had failed to achieve all last year.
Next up, time to take the Daytona out, having brought it as a back-up in anticipation of continued Morini problems. An excellent race was had, battling with several bikes, and although a 500 Ducati beat me to the line my best lap time was faster, so I kept my class lap record which I was chuffed to realise that I held from last year. I was also faster than I was last year – also pleasing. Alas, Jenny's bike started playing up and she pulled out of the second Cub race.
Due to many and varied delays the races were well behind schedule, so Sunday started with what should have been the second BEARs Saturday race. The time shortage also meant that there was no test session in which to try the Morini out again, so I went out on the Daytona, was over-cautious on the cold track and went slower than the day before. In the next race Jenny's Cub still played up despite a battery recharged overnight – frustration. Mine was going well and I was confident of getting ahead of an extra Bantam when the engine suddenly stopped with a nasty clatter.
We hoped this might be the extent of the damage.
Upon further inspection this wasn't the case.
Even more carnage. The barrel broken and the conrod bent nearly 180 degrees before snapping, and both valves bent.
The whole sorry tale in one shot
A broken chain? No, much worse than that, and to add insult to injury I allowed myself to get too distracted by the post-mortem and missed my next BEARs race. The Morini had fired up OK and I was keen to try it out, happy enough to use the race as a test session since a new competitor had turned up, a fast rider on a VERY fast bike- a Seeley Weslake, distantly related to my Triumph rather as a Tornado jet is related to a Sopwith Camel. OK, a Meteor, perhaps. Anyway, my lap record is well and truly gone.
Two races left to go, and it started raining. Aha, a chance to try the brand new grippy tyre on the Morini, except that it would not grip on the starter rollers and the new sticky-backed abrasive sheeting would not stick in the cold and wet. So back to the Daytona, where the suspicion that its back tyre is getting past it was confirmed by sliding much more readily than hoped and once again I was well off the pace. So for the final race I was determined to use the Morini, and having found someone with extra-grippy starter rollers we fired it up – on one cylinder only. It would not run on the other one, and it was now too late to change to the other bike, so that was it for the day. Load up van and trailer, go home, get drunk.
At the end of last season both the Cub and the Morini were going well, so we headed off to a test day at Mallory Park for a bit of fettling and to scrub in the new back tyre purchased at enormous expense for the Morini. There was nothing wrong with the old tyre except for having a medium compound which was a bit suspect in the wet – with a bit of luck the soft compound tyre will ensure warm and sunny weather for the whole year to everyone's delight albeit to the detriment of my likely results.
Warm and sunny it was not at test day, being in March, but at least it didn't rain. And, unlike any occasion last year, both my and Jenny's Cubs survived the opening session! I had a go at tackling the Cub's front fork judder at full lean, and taking a bit of oil out seems to have helped; Jenny's bike developed an oil leak but that was swiftly sorted and she got some useful practice in.
Turning to the Morini, I ran into a problem with it running very badly under full load so I could not test high speed handling, but the new footrests and gear lever felt comfortable. After checking that fuel starvation was not the culprit, attention was turned to the electrics. One spark plug indicated that the front cylinder was running a little weak and the plug was possibly objecting; new plugs were purchased but frustratingly the last session came to an end before they could be tried. Back home in a warm workshop investigation revealed a loose carb rubber as well as an exhaust flange in grave need of attention, with a tightened clip and lots of exhaust gunge I am hopeful that the bike will behave itself at its first race – also at Mallory – in April. As a back-up, I have made a further attempt to sort out the gearbox problem on the Daytona. At least that can be tested on the road, preferably on a dry and tolerably warm day. I have just missed a couple of those, fingers crossed for one more before race day.
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