Distinct from the familiar rally going format are groups of competition minded scooterists’ intent on re-establishing the scooter’s sporting pedigree on some of the countries sporting trials. One such event is the Beamish TT, run by South Durham VMCC.
Billed as a historic motoring trial for motorcycles, tricycles, & light cars, it originally evolved from the 1920 Travers Trophy Trial and covers approx 120 miles of rolling Dales across Durham, Cumbria and Northumberland. It's essentially a road based event which has a number of off-road sections (21 miles this year), with check points where questions (not a quiz) are asked. This year a small team of Lambrettas tackled the tracks, Dave Hardy picks up the tale for us.
Doug Miller & I had discussed doing the famous Beamish Trophy Trial whilst at the 2011 Euro Lambretta in Ireland, Doug suggested we enter on Vega's. Most people know that I'm up for a challenge, or as John Taylor (and sporting scooterist of some considerable heritage) put it, a fellow nutter!
With our entries submitted Doug offered me his 75cc Vega and Christine Jackson kindly lent him one of hers, March came around and I received an email from Doug, ' Beamish - Excited now, our entries had been accepted - gulp!
September came around pretty quick. Nick Jordan had kindly agreed to take us up in his van, any sensible person would of looked at a map way beforehand but as typical scooterists, it wasn't until the week before we realised the amount of miles we had to cover to get there and back. In total 700 miles (the same amount as travelling to Switzerland! Thank God Nick had blindly agreed to take us.
Lisa & I set off early Saturday morning, and drove to meet Nick Jordan. We set off in good spirits, however a little daunted by the mileage ahead. We had arranged to stop at Doug's, pick the bikes up, drive and stay in Durham so we could get an early start on Sunday.
On the morning of the event we were given our start times and numbers, mine was 59 & Doug’s was 60 so, thankfully we’d be starting at pretty much at the same time. We signed on, picked up our numbers - which have to be displayed front & rear or you'll be deducted points before you leave the start line. Doug had bought knobbly tyres however; within the regulations it states that you're not allowed to use them. Quickly, he had a chat with one the marshals and they gave us the go ahead, fitting them onto rear of each bike we were ready for the off. In hindsight we could have done with having one on the front as well, that’ll have to be marked down to experience for another day. Through the cacophony we heard the sound of another rasping two stroke, making his way through the starters was Joey Fontane aboard another Vega, it turned out we weren't to be the only nutters!
I looked at my watch and we had 15 minutes to go, wow, were did the time go!? Tyres fitted, numbers taped on, instructions stuffed in pockets and we headed off to the start line. This is it; smoke belching out of the bikes, well seasoned riders, a sea of waxed cotton, the sound of a 150 angry bees of all shapes and sizes filled the air. With a wave of the marshals’ arm, I would be on my way riding one of the most historic trials in the country.
My heart was racing and I was as determined as I'd ever been. Watching the clock with anticipation, 9.24.10 and I was off! ....well, not quite, my clutch cable had come loose and I had to push the bike to one side, then find my way back to the van and tighten it up.
Cable sorted and I was away again, the first section was road and no problem, George Scobell and his wife had come to see us off and rode with us for the first few miles. We had a minor detour when we overshot one of the roads we were supposed to take, but no big deal.
Arriving at the first off-road section, Oxenlaw Farm, we were fore warned that it may be muddy and an alternative route was offered. It was ok, a mix of small rocks, mud and grass, I was even aiming for the puddles to get the bike dirty (sorry Doug). I thought “this is ok, I can do this”, then came Bridges Bank!
The small rocks had increased in size and the ruts had gone from puddles to small ponds. You have no idea how deep they are and no alternative route so you just have to hit them and hope for the best. I had visions of ending up like Charlie Chaplin, up to my eyes in water with a few bubbles of two stroked filled smoke popping around me. Looking back at Doug his face pretty much summed it up, a look of complete horror mixed with fun, excitement and adrenaline. We reached the first check point and were asked our first question. I took a wild guess and luckily got it correct! Result!
From there we were back on tarmac, with the weather on our side we were on top of the world, hills & dry stone walls for as far as the eye could see, amazing!
The off-road sections had taken their toll on my wrists; I had been grabbing the handle bars so tightly that it had stressed them so I arrived at the next section, another off-roader at Weathermill with a little apprehension. After battling our way up to the top, we then had to get down the other side to Crawleyside. I took a minute to compose myself, but Doug was off! A couple of guys, one on a BMW R75 flew past us and ended up on his backside. Then his mate ended doing a forward flip over the bars of his bike. Boy was I looking forward to this! I set off steadily, but I'd lost the filter and it was running really rich and it wouldn't tick over making the descent more difficult than it needed to be as I not only had to think about the conditions but keeping the motor at sufficient revs to pull me out of trouble!
It wasn't long before I lost the front end. The road going tyre on the front just couldn't cope with the terrain. Picking the bike up I carried on, not for long mind as I was soon off again, this time with a spectacular dive to avoid impaling myself on the handlebars. Once again I picked the bike up and carried on.
The next checkpoint came without any dramas; it was the ford that I'd seen so many photos of on the beamish TT website. We were asked our questions, one being 'Who manufactured the first two-wheeled vehicle with a front disc brake?' Get in there! You had to stop at the bottom of the incline leading to the ford, no chance of recreating the Isle of Man Druidale water splash then! This was the first time we'd seen Nick & Lisa since we started, we were exhausted but had the biggest grins on our faces. Stopping for a quick natter, we checked our fuel and machines before the next section.
We found the next checkpoint situated in an old mine that had been turned into a museum. A backdrop of deep dark green pines and set off by a sky that seemed to go on forever, breathtaking. Nick and Lisa met us there and we decided to re-fuel and arranged to see them at the next stop at Haggs Bank. This was a big one, we'd seen photos of it on the Beamish site and there was even a warning on the route details.
Setting off with optimistic apprehension we arrived to find a queue of bikes waiting to do the run up. Lined with stones, rocks, boulders, sharp corners and big steps it was going to be a challenge on ten inch wheels, knobbly or not! Doug and I looked at each other waiting for one to say, alternative route but neither of us did! Doug had a chat with one of the marshals, "Yeah, it's easy, I was here on the weekend having a go. You'll be fine. What are you riding?" Doug pointed at our two brightly coloured little Vega’s; the look on the marshal’s face had suddenly changed from one of encouragement and enthusiasm to one of sheer disbelief. We ummed and ahhh'd for a bit then both agreed, let's do it, we'll never know unless we try.
I went first with my earlier start number, into first gear and full throttle, right against the throttle stop, full bore! I was flat out, however when you factor in how steep the hill was that worked out to be about 10 mph. Slowly but surely, I made my way through the route. I was screaming the absolute knackers out of every cc of the poor thing, slipping the clutch and peddling from the ground up. Minus five points every time my feet hit the ground! It then stalled, or had it simply had enough of being thrashing within an inch of it's life.
Pushing it over to one side, I kicked her back into life and off we went again over the last 100 yards. You then get to the top and there's a marshal waiting to ask you another set of questions. Sod that, I just kept going. What were another few points against me as I'd practically walked the bike up the hill!
When I reached the top I waited for Doug and let the bike cool down. Doug had stalled twice and gone through a similar scenario to myself, I went to kick the bike over and it felt as if the clutch had gone, burnt out we thought. We adjusted the cable and headed off for the lunch stop at Allenheads, the rest of the day was easy in comparison. We decided not to tackle Raise Head and made our way to the Velvet Path. At this point we lost the trail and had to ask for directions from a couple of locals.
Picking the route back up, we tagged on to a group of guys on trials bikes, this was one of the highlights for Doug & I as it gave us the opportunity to show them what we were made of. We kept up relatively easily and at one point I even overtook one the riders. Riding over the mountains and the road was amazing, it was if it had just been freshly surfaced, the moors stretched for miles and miles. I'm sure whoever built this road must ride a motorbike, surely, it's the nearest your going to get to flying.
When we arrived at the Velvet Path section the marshals were advising the riders that they’d be entering at there own risk as it had become extremely boggy, a few riders where turning back so we elected to give it a miss and headed off to the finish.
Neither of us were a hundred percent sure of the route so we found ourselves stopping and looking at the map quite a bit. A guy on a Triumph scrambler was lost so decided to follow us. This proved to be quite funny when we stopped at the first junction and we all looked at each other with blank expressions. Working out we were only about five miles from the finish, the light was starting to fade and tiredness was setting in. As much as it begrudged me I used the sat nav on my phone to get us back to the finish line we had a six hour drive home after all!
Co-ordinates in and phoned shoved into my helmet off we went. Itno sooner gave me the first direction and what did we see, the finish, exhaustion had clearly taken its toll. We crossed the finish line just after 4.00 o'clock. Filled with elation, relief and thoroughly exhausted, we'd done it!
On reflection, if I was to ride the Beamish TT again, I’d build a scooter scrambler, take the exhaust up over the engine case, fit knobbly tyres front and rear, wide bars and go for an engine with as much torque as possible; Think along the lines of a Don Noys Stingray. I didn’t and accepted the use of as close to a Stingray that Innocenti ever made (officially) and would like to thank Doug Miller for lending me the Vega and being a brilliant riding partner.
I'd also like to thank Christine Jackson for supporting us by lending Doug a bike. Huge thanks go to Nick (spanners) Jordan for getting us there and generally being a great all round fella, thank god he never looked at the map before he agreed. Last but not least my ever suffering other half for being official photographer for the day.