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.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Pam Ayres needn't worry

Courtesy of Boston Police Department:

The hunt is over
The search is done
The terror is over
And justice has won.  
Suspect in custody. 

Good to see that even Boston's finest have poetry in their souls.


In about an hour I am setting off to go to the Thundersprint, described by the Telegraph as "Brilliant bike gathering and sprint meeting" and by the organisers as "Europe's biggest and best motorcycling festival". It's held this year at the Anglesey Race Circuit, and entry includes three laps of the course. It's strictly non-competitive, of course, but I do get a race number and as I have never ridden on a race track before it should be quite a laugh. Hard to think of a less appropriate bike for a race meeting than the XTR (perhaps a full-dress GoldWing) but we'll give it a go.

It's looking like a good day for a ride, with a clear sky and light winds. Tomorrow for the return leg is promised to be wet and cold, so I will be dressing for the worst, not the best. I'm looking forward to meeting Nikos and perhaps some other like-minded folk up there, and pics and a report will surely follow in due course.

Now, where's that First Aid kit ...

Friday 19 April 2013


Imagine, if you will, an animal like a polar bear.  Now reduce it to a height of three or four feet, and colour its pelt a dirty shade of pinky-beige.  And let it move silently about the landscape at dusk or after dark, sometimes upright and sometimes on all fours, visible from a great distance in the monochrome moonlight of the infrared, pale against the pale fields, dark against the woods.

They tend to move slowly and travel alone, occupying the spaces outside our fences and settlements, and if you go abroad at night, one may creep up on you from behind.  They are not necessarily harmful, but they certainly make you feel nervous, and stories have been told ...  Present or not (and they may be, or may not; you won't know until it is too late), they make you look over your shoulder constantly, and quicken your pace until you find safe haven behind a wooden door or within a sturdy garden gate.

These creatures have populated my dreams tonight.  It's not the first time, although it might of course be part of the dream - that I have had the dream before.  Who knows?
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