If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 8 February 2010

Cadwell Park

Wrinkled Weasel's comment on a recent post has set me thinking.

Cadwell Park is a racetrack in the Lincolnshire Wolds. It's not big-league, like Donington or Silverstone, but it is a challenging and interesting track. There's a section called The Mountain where riders regularly get airborne, and plenty of places to stand where you can see a lot of the action.

I have only visited Cadwell once, even though I lived only about 25 miles away for several years. It was some time in the late 1980s, and I was in a rather unhappy domestic situation. The bike I had at the time (a 1979 Moto Guzzi V50II) was the only thing that was keeping me sane. One sunny day, and to my intense surprise, my then wife suggested that I take the day off and go somewhere. I knew that there was Classic racing on at Cadwell that day, so off I went.

The ride there was a delight - sunny and warm, with dry roads and little traffic. The Guzzi was at its best on B-roads, where its light weight and easy handling made it very satisfying, and the lack of monster power was irrelevant. When I got there, it was fairly crowded, so I parked where I could and found a place to watch the racing. After a while, I had seen all I wanted to see (I've never been a big fan of racing, if I am honest), but there was no rush to go home, so just lay on my back in the sun and relaxed. If you've ever been in a 'difficult' relationship, you will know how few those moments are, and how you treasure them when they occur.

I can only have lain there for half an hour or so, but the memory is so vivid it seems as though it lasted all day. The race was a Classic, and as is so often the case with Classic races, more than one class of bike was allowed on the track. As long as the bikes were roughly competitive, what's the problem? So there was a race between the large 4-stroke singles and twins like 500cc Nortons and 650cc Triumphs, and the smaller 2-strokes, mainly Yamaha 350s and 250s.

If you are not familiar with the technology, a word of explanation. Four-strokes twins play in the bass register and sound, depending on the level of silencing, like the bass grunting at the end of each chorus of Leader of the Pack (remember that?) up to a kind of bull-like bellow at full revs which makes the hairs on your neck stand up.

The two-strokes, in comparison, rev a lot harder and tend to scream and howl. In addition, for the musically-minded, the four-strokes could make useful power from just above idle right up to peak revs, so a 4-stroke on a charge would start low and rise like a charging rhino before dropping a whole octave on the next gearchange. The 2-strokes, on the other hand, made almost twice the power (per engine size) as the 4-strokes, but could only do so in a narrow band towards the top of the rev range. The challenge for the rider is to keep the motor on the boil and in the magic powerband by clever use of the gears.

Where the 4-stroke was bellowing up and down the scale like the two pianists in Carnival of the Animals, the 2-stroke was wailing in a limited range at the very top of its voice, constantly rising and falling as the rider frantically changed gear to keep the motor on the pipe.




Lying in the sun, staring at the sky, and just listening, I realised that I was hearing a kind of counterpoint. The bass of the Nortons and the treble of the Yams, rising and falling independently but in a kind of rhythm, so that a sonic pattern was weaved on the Lincolnshire air and tweaked all my synapses into a thrill of delight. I was, for a day at least, deeply happy.

The Guzzi was the only bike I have ever really regretted selling, and if I could track it down I would buy it back in a heartbeat. Small (it was a 500, but physically the size of a 250) and very nimble, it was the ideal companion for any journey where sheer power was not a requirement. I think it made about 40 bhp, which is very tame, but the way it made its power, with a slight shake and rumble of the transverse V-twin, was addictive. Leaned over in a corner, it was a steady as a rock and flicked from side to side with ease. On the winding lanes of North Lincs, it took a very committed rider of a bigger bike to keep up.

There are plenty around on eBay, but Guzzis were not built for the British climate and most are sad old wrecks by now. Even so, if I had the time and facilities, I would get one (it would have to be 1979 and in that lovely flame-orange) and take a couple of years to bring it back to its former glory. And then I would ride it.


  1. A wonderful evocation of a great day at the races. I must confess I am not a biker, having learned a few lessons very early in life that involved falling off or nearly getting killed on the IOM during TT week. But most of my family were, and in the lovely days of the early Sixties, off we would go, in convoy, me and my sister in the back of a Singer Gazelle convertible or a Morris Minor convertible, followed by others on Nortons and Triumphs and Ariels.

    As you know, Cadwell is (or was) fairly basic, but the immediacy and the enthusiam made up for it. I swear Murray Walker did commentary from time to time.

    The smell of burning oil, and the burger vans with onions wafting over the track was magical.

    Most of our visits were off the tarmac on the grass, with scrambles and trials riding. Arthur Lampkin was a star of the circuit.

    It's ages since I have been to a live event. I stopped going mainly because I actually don't like watching people falling off and being injured, contrary to what people think we go to races for!

  2. If you watch any bike racing these days, you'll find crashes are pretty rare, and the consequences usually benign. Partly it's bike technology (traction control in MotoGP has made the spectacular highside pretty much a thing of the past) and partly it's track design, with massive runoffs and gravel traps for the riders to safely slide across. (Yes, I know I boldly went in that sentence - my blog, my grammar.)

    Moggy convertibles! My friend Phil had one of those. Well, his Mum did and she lent it to him. They were posh, mind.

  3. Excellent article.

    I do believe I may have to disagree slightly, though - crashes in bike racing are still very much a part of the deal (MotoGP races are a bit of an exception - partly because there are so few riders involved! - but they tend to make up for it in qualifying).

    There are more lowsides these days, what with corner entry speeds being far faster, and fewer highsides, as electronics can help. Protective gear is considerably better, thankfully, so injuries do tend to be reduced. But there are a whole new set of problems. Gravel traps aren't great for riders, who tend to dig in rather than skate over, but the new F1 style run-offs mean you don't stop sliding till you hit something.

    Perhaps the biggest difference is that there are fewer mechanical-failure (but more rider-error) crashes these days, still, I'd honestly be surprised if - taken across the spectrum of major race series - there had been a big reduction in number of incidents. Reduction in severity, definitely.

    I love live race days. Not the crashes and especially not the occasional fatality. But a Sunday out at Brands or Thruxton is still a mighty fine experience. Particularly with fresh-cooked doughnuts thrown in!

  4. I bow to your superior knowledge of racing. Most of the racing I see is on TV, and the crashes there are certainly rarer than they used to be.

    I think you are right about live events, though. There's something about seeing something live which makes it a totally different experience. I have been to concerts of music that I would never normally listen to on CD, and loved it. I imagine I would even enjoy a football match if I were actually there, and football is something I normally avoid like the plague.

    And the doughnuts help, of course. Especially when they are doughnuts, rather than donuts.


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