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

- George Washington

Monday, 22 April 2013

Thundersprint 2013

I spent the weekend at the Thundersprint bike festival, and I am still here to tell the tale.  Just.  No accidents, just close to hypothermia by the time I got home.

The ride up to Anglesey along the We(s)t coast and through Snowdonia was brilliant.  Bright sunshine, dry roads and, if not actually warm, then not bone-chillingly cold.  I checked out the location of the Travelodge I was staying in, and then did a slow ride through Bangor (checking out scenes from my University days, and shocked to see the Students' Union building had been demolished) and across the Menai Bridge* onto Anglesey.  I took the coastal route and got to the racetrack at 2 pm, the scheduled time for meeting Nikos.  This fine gentleman has been to many of the previous Thundersprints when they were held in Northwich, and in fact it was he who suggested that I might find it interesting.

All this man's fault

I had no idea where to go, and ended up in the camping area next to a burger van, as you do.  I kicked my heels for half an hour (and had a burger, obviously) and then sent him a text message.  Of course, he had arrived at the ordained time and gone straight into the business of scrutineering and form-filling.  After a brief and ill-tempered mix-up at the gate to the paddock (apparently I had not received the required pass in the mail, and could not proceed without it, but I couldn't get to Race Control to get one as I didn't have a pass to get in) I negotiated the admin on foot and brought the bike in to be scrutineered.  It passed, and I got a sticker which will remain on the little fly-screen for a long time, I imagine.

Race plate overkill - most had an A4 sheet in a polypocket, I had an aluminium confection made out of part of an old Land Rover side-panel

The event had been running from the Friday afternoon, and there were hundreds of caravans, campervans and tents, but the paddock area was creepily quiet.  Traders were doing very slow business, and it was a bit like a ghost town.  We mooched around for a  bit, had a coffee, checked the weather forecast for Sunday (not good), had another coffee, and then went back to the mainland for a meal.

Sunday dawned fair but the sky threatened rain.  We packed up and made it to the circuit by 8.00 am, and things seemed a little more lively.  We parked the bikes up and attended the riders' briefing, and then watched the practice sessions.  And it started to rain.  And rain.  Bloody hell, it rained.  I was wearing full waterproofs, and ended up walking round with my helmet on to keep my head dry, envying (for the first time ever) the guys in one-piece PVC suits - nul points for style, but a gold medal for comfort.  By 11.00 am, my suit was soaked through, and my feet were standing in pools of water.  Yes, that is a 'waterproof' suit and 'waterproof' boots, which work well in everyday use, but seemed not to cope with an Anglesey downpour.

Lining up for practice, umbrellas optional

Watching the practice sessions was fun, although no-one was pushing very hard in the conditions.  Bikes ranged from early Nortons and Velocettes to 60s Tritons, 80s slab-side GSXRs and modern kit like Hayabusas and Speed Triples.  One guy was doing very well on a Harley Sportster, which sounded awesome.  The rain kept speeds modest, but the soundtrack was seductive.

For the Cavalcade (which Nick and I were riding in), we were promised a gentle ride round three laps of the 'International GP' circuit, i.e. all of it, following a pace car and limited to 30-40 mph.  Given the sodden track, I was more than happy with that.  We set out following several cars - an orange Lamborghini, a Lotus Esprit, and ... a Bond.

We have been expecting you, Mr Bond ...
We had spotted this vehicle in the paddock, a Bond Minicar of 1964 vintage (boasting a 250 cc engine! and four seats!! and 55 mph!!!) and had a gentle nostalgic chuckle, not realising that this was part of the let's-not-have-anyone-killing-themselves strategy.  The cunning trick was that nothing could overtake the pace cars, and the Bond was putting out so much blue smoke that no-one could see to overtake anyway.  I think the biggest number I saw on the speedo was 38.  I'm pretty sure we only got two laps, but it was good fun anyway - my first taste of riding on a proper track, and something to tick off the lifetime list.  I could be persuaded to do this again.

We spent a bit of time afterwards looking round the trade and club displays in the paddock.  I snapped a lot of interesting bikes (well, interesting to me, anyway), but I thought I would share just two:  a BSA B31 from the 1940s, a 350 cc rigid-framed classic I yearn to own, with no idea why -

and a remarkable Honda VFR750 converted to diesel power (why would anyone do that, except for the George Mallory reason?) -

Note the elegant frame fabrication

Note rain blurring the lens - it really was throwing it down by this time.

We pushed out bikes out of the paddock and returned to the Little Chef on the A55 for a regroup, hot drink and a farewell.  I managed to get my visor dry (rain on the inside isn't wipeable) but a quick recce in the Gents revealed that I was wet down to my underpants and socks, which didn't bode well for a 170-mile ride home.  But the scenery made it worth it.

Eastern end of Llanberis Pass - road tracks up the hillside and vanishes

Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, planning and training base for the 1953 Everest expedition **

Random goat crossed the road in front of me.  Big lad, he was

Llyn Gwynant looking moody

Eventually, the rain eased and bike and rider were happy.

XTR in its natural habitat - B road and great scenery

I love this place

By the time I got home, the wind had dried my outer layer off, but my inner layers were still wretchedly wet and I was cold to the bone.  I was in bed by 10.

In  all, a very enjoyable weekend, with good company and some great miles travelled.  The XTR wasn't problem-free, with a slight issue with stalling in traffic.  I think I may have caused this by some ill-considered adjustments a few days ago, but I reversed them before I set off home and had no problems thereafter.  On the journey up to Anglesey, the bike managed 74 mpg, which pleased my inner Scrooge.  First long trip, all good.

Finally, a slow-synchro shot of the XTR in the Travelodge car park - mainly because I just discovered this setting on the camera and was having a play.  I like it.

* Factoid: One of my very few claims to fame is that I once exceeded the speed limit on a UK road by a factor of five.  The Menai Bridge used to have a speed limit of 15 mph, because of its narrow lanes and stone pillars.  One day I got a good run-up off the mainland-side roundabout and gunned the old Jawa for all kit was worth across the bridge, and then piled the brakes on hard for the roundabout at the other end.  I briefly saw 75 mph on the clock.  The limit is now 30, which halves my achievement and makes it even harder to convince random strangers that I am totally bad-ass.  Thanks, Gwynedd County Council.

** The mountain where George Mallory perished in 1924, long before anyone thought of putting a diesel in  a VFR750.  Only connect.


  1. Nice episode, Richard. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I'm a big fan of individual track days. The best days are obviously the ones scrounged for free, but there's nothing quite like thrashing vaguely suitable machinery around a track.

    Sometimes it's a road-car (own or borrowed) or a blagged race car, but a few hours concentrating on track driving definately improves my road skills. Even if it didn't, the adrenaline is worth it....

    Having said that, much respect to Patently for being brave enough to actually race!

  4. I've wanted to do a track day for ages, but lack of suitable kit (my leathers are two-piece and don't zip all the way round, and adding to cost of a new set makes a track day a very expensive day out) means I have never got round to it. I suppose this was the next-best thing. But yeah, still thinking about it.

  5. It sounds like a great time except for the damn rain of course.

    I really hate it when I have to wring out my socks and gloves after riding in the rain.

  6. I left my gloves in the top box for the morning, but as soon as I put them on with wet hands (and that was a struggle in itself) they were soaked from the inside. The driving rain afterwards just finished the job. Nick has some ideas revolving around all-in-one PVC clothing, which I am not sure are suitable for a family audience, so I will wait until he publishes some ideas over on his.

    1. This is exactly why I stick with heated grips and unlined gloves all year round, nowadays, after an incident with wet winter gloves at a motorway services. In full waterproof gear, obviously, and it wasn't particularly cold so I was in full-on boil-in-the-bag mode. Could get one glove on, but could I get my wet hand into the other without the lining twisting in ways my available big fat wet sausage-gauntlet fingers could not unpick? Could I buggery! Twenty minutes later, in sheer frustration and still with only one-and-a-half gloves on, I ended up punching a sizeable dent in my petrol tank. Which, in all honesty, helped neither my temper nor my sartorial issues.

      It's not even as if lined gloves keep you any warmer in the long term: it just takes that little bit longer to lose the feeling in your fingers in the first place. Not that you can tell, because you sacrifice all touch-sensitivity once they're on, anyway. A curse upon them, I say.

    2. A further problem with waterproof gloves is that they are waterproof both ways, i.e. if you put a wet hand it, the wet stays. Like you, I have wrecked perfectly decent gloves by putting them on wet and wrecking whatever magical forces keep the lining in place. You end up wearing a glove within a glove - if you can get the fuckers on, pardon my French.

      There's no real answer to long-distance rides in the pouring rain as far as gloves go. The closest I have come were a pair of Belstaff overmitts, which were totally waterproof and kept the gloves and hands dry, but they were so slippery with the wax coating that you had to grip the throttle in a death grip to get any revs, and after a while you thought your right forearm belonged to Popeye. Plus you had zero sensitivity, which spoilt the experience somewhat.

  7. I was in Yorkshire at the weekend when it suddenly turned warm on Saturday morning.

    The roads went in to instant gridlock where everyone decided they absolutely had to get out. There were gaggles of motorbikes (or is the collective noun a zoom?) all traveling quite slowly as if they had just woken out of hibernation.

  8. Now is the time of year when all those fair-weather chappies take their bikes (some of which could have won international races 10 years ago) out of the garage and onto the road. If they have any sense at all (yes, I know), then they will be taking it easy for the first day or two. Skills get rusty. So acting like a brown bear that has just woken up is a good thing, really.

    You weren't in the Dales, were you? Swaledale on a Spring morning is heaven on earth.

    A scowl? A rasp? A tannery? Or, if we are talking about Harley-Davidsons, a belly?

  9. Great write up!

    How come your piccies came out? I've just got mine back from Boots and they all have a curious damp halo around them.

    I think we should keep the PVC catsuit idea just between us....

  10. I used special waterproof film.

    I'm investigating the catsuit idea. A sort of biker's onsie. I'm thinking leopardskin with fur trimmings.

    1. Expect a crowd of high class blog spotters to arrive - I posted a link here on my latest post.

    2. They were drunk, they trod the vol au vents into the carpet, and they drank all my beer. High class?

      (Thanks for the link!)

    3. Non existent by the looks of it!

  11. Heh. I had the kettle on and was keeping their chips warm in the microwave, but no one turned up. I had to drink all the beer myself.


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