I have a real soft spot for winter rallies, don’t get me wrong I love riding on beautiful dry roads, swinging through bends with hot tarmac giving seemingly never ending grip, pulling over by a slow running stream and pitching canvas under the shade of the arching branches of a large tree, anybody remember summer ? With my alcholic sinility I'm beginning to struggle.
But living as we do on a small island on the western edge of Europe and in this age of seemingly rapid climate change we have to learn to adapt our riding to the seasons, to simply plug in the battery charger and pull down the garage door for six months would be like giving up half my life. I guess I’m lucky as I have managed to gather around me quite a few bikes over my 30 years of motorcycling. My BMW’s are kept company by a few old Brit bikes and this year’s new comer to the ‘Sharrocks Stable’ is a Ukrainian Dnepr M11 combination called ‘Boris’.
Given the early onset of winter I had used the heavy snow fall of Wednesday 1st December as a good shake down test to get an idea of how the combo would perform in thick snow and on ice, the results were impressive to say the least.
It was with the last couple of day’s snow riding under my belt that I was now really looking forward to the ride to the ‘Icy Ale’ Rally with enthusiasm rather than the trepidation that would have faced me if I had been riding any solo machine, including my GS or even my little BSA.
Friday had seen the snow over South Yorkshire consolidate and the phone calls had started, Manny and his Guzzi were stuck over in Hyde, his work had been held up by the inclement weather and with a penalty clause in his company contract he now had two twelve hour night shifts to complete, rewiring the NCP car parks of inner city Manchester, nice! Next to call were Pete Wheeler and his brother Martyn unable to get either of their BMW R1150GSA’s out of the garages in Doncaster they offered their services as sidecar monkeys on Buckles Big Diesel and my Dnepr and as there was little chance of me persuading Kathryn to join me on this trip they arranged to get a lift over to Rotherham on Friday evening. The phone went again, this time it was ‘Tickhill’ Chris with both his BMW and his Armstrong snow bound it looked like he was stuck but given the ‘unusual ‘ weather this year the rally organisers had given the ok to attend in cars and this was the option he told me he was going to take. I didn’t take the piss, honest.
I’d already had a good two or three hours in the pub on Friday night before I was joined by Buckles and sometime later by Pete and Martyn, the beer flowed and come to that so did the Jack Daniels and then the Absinthe hence the shout of “bivy, bivy, bivy” which went up as it was drunkenly agreed that it would add to the weekend ‘fun’ if we took a basher sheet rather than tents for the Saturday night accommodation!!!! It was with blurry eyes and heavy heads that the bike was pulled from the garage,
the minus 5 degrees showing on the thermometer did help to quickly pull us round though.
The ‘Icy Ale’ Rally is organised by the Druids MCC and takes place in the Vale of Belvoir a few miles from the castle, just to the west of Grantham, a run of around 70 or so miles from home. Last time I rode down was two years ago on my BSA Starfire accompanied by Buckles on his Honda C90 as part of his shakedown run for the Krystal rally in Norway !!!. It is based just outside the village of Woolsthorpe around a pub called the Rutland Arms better known as the ‘Dirty Duck’.
Buckles arrived at my house around 10am Saturday morning cracking his Big Diesel down the back lane
and after 10 minutes of packing we were off.
Heading out through Maltby I anticipated riding the ice covered roads we had played on only a few days earlier but (unfortunately for us) the ploughs and gritters had done their jobs and the roads were now just a wet, salty mess. Stopping for fuel a large crew cab pickup pulled in at the pumps along side, it’s occupants shouting abuse, it was Tim complete with friends Daz, Brian, and Tex. Tim is still nursing some serious leg injuries following his leap from a ladder in the snow last Christmas and the other lads, given the weather, had decided to join him in the comfort of the heated cab for the journey down.
We fuelled up and pushed on through Oldcoates and then into Worksop before passing through Clumber Park all eagerly anticipating a late breakfast at our regular stop, the café a few hundred yards north of the Ollerton roundabout. Much to our dismay it was closed and we were forced to lunch on pie and chips a little further down the road.
Through to Newark then south and the snow thinned noticeably,
it was only as we got to within a few miles of the rally site that ice and snow again covered the roads. Buckles was starting to play! Power sliding the Big Diesel and carving through the surface.We pulled up by a well flaming brazier and a crowd quickly gathered around the diesel outfit.
Buck wanted a bit of video filming, no no not like that, well not yet anyway, so before unpacking we swopped over passengers and Pete hoped into my chair so we could retrace our last few miles ride and he could film Buckles and Martyn having fun aboard the diesel.
As we arrived back at the venue around 2pm I must admit to being surprised by the solo's that had braved the conditions.
The journey along those last few miles on a fully loaded Triumph Rocket 3 that was parked up must have been interesting to say the least. Barry had run up through the snow from Essex, where he had been working, on his BMW R1100GS and not long after we arrived Steve pulled in on his 1200GSA having ridden down from Scarborough with his friend Al on a R1100GS.
They had made good time but over the last few miles his friend had laid down the 1100 a few times and the panniers were now showing definite signs of wear.
Ok, this is the point at which I whimped out, Buckles and the Wheeler boys starting tying up para cord to various points on the Big Diesel and in no time at all a shelter was up. With the three of them unrolling sleeping bags and inserting them into bivies, in the distance I could just see Ray Mears holding hands with Bear Grylls as they booked into the nearest hotel.
Martyn took up his space in the middle and from then on the shelter became known as the ‘Ski Lodge’, I’ll leave you to work that one out. I on the other hand decide a tent was really required and pitched the Vango Force 10 I had borrowed from work on Friday. My new Alpkit (-20) bag was sorted out and the first bottle of ‘Icy Ale’ opened.
Standing around the tents the usual banter ensued as people rolled up to say “hello” others just rolled up !.
In the distance the strange rhythmic beating of a drum could be heard and we looked round to see Al reshaping his ally panniers with a large mallet! As darkness descended and now with quite a nip in the air we made our way the 20 yards to the brazier.
This was a mistake, the ‘cheery’ landlord proceed to complain to one of the rally organisers that whilst it was acceptable to drink your own alcohol in or around the tents, crossing the path and moving into the car park brought into play the rule of ‘only drinks bought on the premises can be consumed on the premises’. Hey this may be appropriate sometimes but a few lads stood round a fire finishing their beers before entering the pub and his complaints were viewed by us all as really out of order. I could see Buckles about to bite but instead he decided to help out chopping some fire wood he picked up the axe and proceeded to snap the handle in half, better that than snapping the landlord in half me thinks.
It then started to rain and freeze so we decided to move inside the pub, and a great evening followed I think,
we drank the ‘Abbotts’ ale till it ran out,
we drank the ‘Speckled Hen’ till it ran out
then I’m not sure what we drank.
I’m just glad that the full 250 people booked to attend hadn’t turned up or I could have been on mineral water by 9pm.
Buckles dined from the good but pricey menu.
£11 for a lamb shank wasn’t bad but portions were a bit on the tight side, then party streamers and balloons followed
before a tight band took to the stage.The band had been moved from the old stable block across the car park as it was decided that with the lower than expected numbers everyone could fit in the main pub buildings, it proved a bit of a squeeze at times but added to the atmosphere and also meant the barn was now available for anyone who didn’t fancy a night in the ’Ski Lodge’ or under canvas to unroll their doss bags under cover with tea and coffee available through the night from the adjacent kitchen.
By the time the band had finished and the raffle was being drawn I was a little ‘lost’ and so was my ‘Rab’ jacket, being pissed and trying to search the bar for a small black coat was never going to happen so before I lost the plot totally I retired to the security of the Vango. I think Martyn should have tried to leave around this time too!
Only a few minutes later I looked out to see the drunkest man in the world doing a good impression of Buckles,after a quick smoke I watched him try and negotiate the big diesels front wheel as he retired to await the comforting arms of Martyn and Pete.
Next morning a thick frost covered the tents and bikes,
the ’Ski Lodge’ had ice on the inside but all assured me they slept well.
Bucks only concern centred around how Martyns head torch had found its way to the bottom of his sleeping bag? By 8.30 ish we were all up and Chris, Martyn and I went in search of breakfast ( and my jacket ) in the pub,
Buckles choose to join Tim and the other lads for an impromptu barbeque breakfast on the pickup bed of Tim’s truck.
My jacket secured from a huge pile of mislaid hats, scarves, coats etc by 11am we were packed away and heading off over a car park of thick ice.
We followed the back lanes through to Newark, and there were a few butt clenching moments as pushing the chair into a series of bends everything stepped out on large areas of black ice but I was amazed at how the old Russian tyres grip and pull everything reasonably straight. We are forced on to the A1 for a couple of junctions but as 55mph is about top cruise speed fully loaded we left as soon as possible and followed the Trent up to Retford, from there it was Bawtry and into Doncaster to drop of Martyn before the run home.
The back lane is still thick in snow and ice but Boris makes easy work of it, reverse gets me out of the thick drifts and I reward the combo with a quick wash to remove the thick coating of salt.
Summer may be a great time to be out and about riding and camping on a bike but there’s something about the mercury freezing in the thermometer that brings riders together in the face of adversity actually thats bol**cks it's just an excuse for a pint !!!