The Club World Record
In the Sports Games and Pastimes section of the latest edition of the world famous Guinness Book of Records there reads the following paragraph.
The longest time a motorcycle has been kept in continuous motion is 24 hours and 20 minutes by Michael Ayriss, Philip Freestone and Eric Tindall, riding a 750cc Norton Commando Mk II at Cadwell Park Lincs on 29/30 September 1972. They covered 1030 miles.
The average reader may well dismiss this as just another stunt but Phoenix members will remember it for a very long time as the club's record attempt. The idea behind the event was originally thought of by Eric Tindall the then chairman of the club way back at the end of 1971. The plan of the committee was to do something to really earn the club a name. Everyone was agreed at the time that something like this attempt could do the club some good and, though various members were later to express doubts as to both the possible success and the reasoning behind the scheme (myself included at one stage). I think we all now agree that it was an exciting thing to claim to have undertaken.
Planning the event took a considerable amount of effort and letter writing to various possible venues with the eventual result that we secured Cadwell Park club circuit at a very reasonable rate thanks to the manager-owner Mr Charles Wilkinson. Considerable thought was given to the eventual cost of the project and after considering the avenues open to us we decided to try and obtain trade support for the attempt, though still wishing to retain the club's name in any future claims.
Perhaps this last reason worked against us but we eventually persuaded Nortons to help financially with the preparation of the bike, Michellins to provide us with two tyres (providing they could examine them later). Belstaff provided a riding jacket which was later auctioned to the club members as were two crash helmets which were supplied by MCA in return for advertising space on the machine itself. All things included however I personally think the greatest contribution came from Shell who not only provided us with fuel and oil but also lent us their caravan and this was a great improvement over our tents for cooking at night. Also they supplied us with many marker flags which were to be of inestimable value during darkness as the race circuit had no lights or cats eyes of course. Also Lucas supplied us with a high power alternator and a spot light.
As to our choice of machine a surprising number of members volunteered their mounts but in the end we decided that the Commando was the most suited, being comfortable and vibrationless and having the virtue, because of its capacity, that it was very tractable thus reducing both bike and rider strain with gear changes. The bike we chose was Micks mainly because he was keenest to lend it for the job. Bearing in mind that it not only had to run for 24 hours but that it also had to stand up to three riders, it did very well. A great vote of thanks is due to Mick Ayriss.
Changing riders on the move proved to be quite a simple job and refuelling was accomplished by means of a gallon can and a length of large bore plastic pipe. After a couple of rehearsals we all felt fairly confident of success providing the tyres could stand up to the heat involved and not puncture.
Compared with organising the riders the pit staff proved to be a nightmare to sort out. We had considered that we would require at least a duplicate staff to provide a team for days and one for nights. Refuelling needed someone to hold the petrol can and someone to guide the pipe into the tank, two people to ensure that the bike didn't actually stop. It all had to be done at walking pace of course and we were lucky that the pit straight on this circuit was gently downhill. And someone had to be around with a fire extinguisher. Similarly people would be required when changing riders and also cooks and other possible reliefs were needed. As related later we really didn't attend to this side of the job closely enough.
Lighting had to provide for the night part of the attempt at least around the pit area as Cadwell had never seen all night activity before. Mr Wilkinson kindly brought down the fuel from the pump for us in the back of his van which saved us one job.
Our only remaining problem was to authenticate our attempt and we all thought this would be easy enough and so left the organisation of scrutineers to last. How wrong we were!
The ACU were our first choice of course and they said yes but at a price. In fact to have had the ACU would have cost the club somewhere in the hundreds of pounds in costs and so we obviously had to find some alternative. But the problem was who? We couldn't ask the trade as they would perhaps be biased as they were our sponsors. It wouldn't have looked good. Then someone had the bright idea of asking the BMF and they willingly obliged. They sent us Ron Bryan from the Fellowship of Riders and Pete and Adrian Gosden from the BMW Owners. These created something of a stir when they arrived on their BM and rode round the circuit a few times.
Thus we were all set for our record attempt with only a matter of days between the finalising of arrangements and the selected date. A word about this date; it was not our original intention to have a go so late in the year but with the full season of events at Cadwell we had to have this day as we really required two clear days, weekend days at that. In the event however the other club circuit using the mountain section was used for a clubmans road race the Sunday we finished.
We had decided to leave the night half of the ride until last because we felt that we would all be settled into a good routine during the daylight; it had been argued with some good reason that as the more difficult part of the ride it should have been done the other way round. Still we succeeded in the end.
Thus at eight o'clock on Saturday morning the 29 September 1972 Mick Ayriss started off on the historic (or so we all hoped) ride. He was started by our scrutineers and the BBC eight o'clock time signal from the radio was used to ensure accuracy. It had been our intention to change riders every hour thus giving any rider one hour on and two hours off. Also we planned the average speed to be in the region of forty to fifty mph. this being considered fast enough to retain rider interest and not too quick to damage the bike over the twentyfour hour period. At this speed we reckoned that the bike would need rather less than a gallon of fuel every hour. The petrol tank on the Commando was the normal three and a half gallon fastback model and so we planned on starting with the fuel level on the low side and adding to the tank hourly. Thus if we had estimated right the level should slowly rise but if we had underestimated the bike's consumption we should still not get near to running out of fuel. In actual fact we were very surprised as our calculations were out but in the opposite direction to that which we expected. In fact the bike proved too economical as was amply demonstrated during the later part of the afternoon when we were performing a routine refuelling operation. As I started to lift the gallon can up above my head to provide the necessary drop for the petrol into the tank it became very clear that the tank wouldn't hold another gallon. Utter panic. I immediately lowered the fuel can and rags appeared from nowhere to mop up the mess. The rider was dispatched for another lap and instructed to slow up so that we could inspect the situation. After that we allowed the bike to continue for well over an hour and then continued the previous practice only now with rather less than a gallon every hour.
During the opening stages of the event it had been the habit of various members to accompany the record attempt machine round the course to keep the rider company. Unfortunately this developed into a "Let me try your bike on a race track" and at least one person managed to fall off. The extra noise however attracted the wrong sort of attention from the circuit's neighbours and eventually Mr Wilkinson had to ask us to refrain from riding round the course. After that the only other bike on the track belonged to the scrutineers.
As the day wore on it became obvious that Eric in particular and the other riders to a lesser degree were going rather fast both for their own safety and for the long term reliability of the bike. It takes considerable concentration to ride quickly for any length of time on a twisty road. In particular we were becoming extremely worried about the state of the rear chain as this was already showing signs of excessive wear and we all realised that it still had to perform its task throughout the coming night with no chance of adjustment. You can't adjust the chain on a moving motorcycle. As a point of interest we put the stop watch on the riders and found that Eric was lapping not far off the club lap record for the circuit. Obviously he had to be slowed down. This was easier said than done for although he slowed we in the pits with the aid of the stopwatch still thought he was going too quick.
When night fell we had prepared ourselves fairly well or so we thought with reflective markers round the corners and our portable generator and lights round the pit area. No sooner had darkness fallen however than we started to receive complaints from the riders that although the corners were marked the braking points etc at the entrance to bends were not sufficiently well defined. This we attended to and then someone had the idea of walking round the circuit with a light to give the rider something to look at. All the pit staff thought this a grand scheme but when we tried it the rider on duty, Phil, immediately complained that it was too great a distraction whilst riding at night and so we had to drop the idea.
Then at one o'clock in the morning drama struck. We were scheduled for a rider change. Phil was due to come in and Eric was due to go out. We had already awoken Eric in his tent but as Phil slowed to dismount it was clear that Eric wasn't ready to take over and so we had to send Phil off on another lap whilst we sorted the problem out. One lap of Cadwell doesn't give one long to do anything and so Phil was sent off for another lap and then another.
Eric had decided that night riding was proving too much of a strain and therefore left us with the problem of who if anyone to put in as a substitute rider. We woke Mick who had only had an hours rest since his last stint and after some discussion we decided that the two remaining riders would continue the attempt. By this time Phil thought we had all deserted him and so Mick took over. Now we were working an hour on and an hour off.
Beside these troubles we were also running into difficulties in the pits. All was well during the hours of daylight when we had a full crew but unfortunately most of our night staff had overspent themselves during the day so that now only the more energetic and hardy were still awake. Among these were Dave Scrivens, Les Freestone, Brian Porter, myself and one or two others. The onus was now on us to fight off our tiredness and keep the attempt going. Indeed so short staffed were we during the night that the rider not on duty was usually conscripted into helping with the refuelling. Fortunately both riders considered this to be useful in keeping them awake!
Then Phil came round and slowed past the pits shouting a message about a rabbit he had run over. He asked if we could remove its remains as they were right on his line and he was worried about slipping on it. Though it sounds hard to believe it took Dave Scriv and myself nearly an hour and two searches to locate the dead rabbit. Still it provided an interesting interlude in an otherwise boring stretch through the night.
At eight o'clock the following morning Phil rode the Commando over the start line to complete our objective of twentyfour hours of continuous motion. In fact he rode on for another twenty minutes to ensure that we were over the allotted time though again we had used Aunty Beeb to check the finishing time. This also enabled photos to be taken.
Michellins and the weekly motorcycle press had sent photographers along to witness the closing stages of the event and from their faces I think both were surprised when they saw that we were successful.
After the actual finish several mock finishes were staged as were several demonstration laps, all again for photography.
Our press coverage was sadly marred by the surprise announcement by the BSA Triumph group of the Americanised Trident and Hurricane and though Motor Cycle gave a photo of a mock refuelling and a writeup MCN took a week to get anything in about us and then it was only a short paragraph. Still I suppose that's the luck of the draw.
The postscript to the above, the ratification of the record and the task of getting it accepted by the Guinness Book of Records is a tale of disaster from start to finish with lost mail and misunderstandings all round though we did eventually get our record in print although it is about a year too late. Photos of the event were promised by the official photographer for Michellins but again we were let down. Incidentally several club members placed orders for these pictures but after much effort and chasing about by three committees we think that we now have the problem sorted and we hope to offer proofs for members to order from in the near future.
The second postscript to the attempt could have been even more tragic than the first and involves the ride home from Cadwell. As you may imagine those of us who stayed up all night and then rode home the next day were incredibly tired. Phil spoke of almost nodding off until he suddenly found himself on the wrong side of the road fast approaching a bus and then being too scared to sleep! Dave Scriv battled on to a Velo Owners' Rally in the Lake District including a ride over Hardnott Pass in the darkness! I cannot imagine how he stayed awake and it's not an easy road even in the daylight. My own tale was even more hairy as I was riding the Tiger Cub home in front of RT on his 500 Triumph when, as he later related, he saw me ride off the road and waited for me to fall off. For myself I was completely asleep and until I felt the bike bumping up and down I didn't wake up, Boy was I scared. All I could see was grass and a road over to my right. Trouble was I was still doing a good fifty mph. Like Phil I didn't fall off - though I don't know why - and I didn't fall asleep again!
Eric Tindall looks back thirty years.
I have memories of the World Record event, the enthusiasm, the flying by the seat of our pants technology & the pioneer spirit in putting the whole thing together. I recall the original idea was to put the club on the map.
From memory we covered just over 1000 miles during the 24 hours, the tyres were worn on one side, Shell provided the petrol & I still have a tie presented to the riders by Shell as a momento of the event. Somewhere I have a tape recording of me being interviewed by Radio Leicester and perhaps some photos.