Introduction to the Rallye FIM Article.
Of the five of us riding together you know Tony Bradley (650 Norton) and myself (750 Norton) well enough to know our bikes and our riding styles.
"Big" George Lewis from the Fosse Riders is also a well known local figure on his BSA Rocket Three. He has wide experience of foreign touring with the IMTC for whom we were riding. This was his first camping trip and he is now a canvas convert.
Steve Shutie from London rides a Norton Commando Fastback and is another IMTC member. He favours a faster cruising speed spaced out with more breaks, but we managed to compromise.
Dave O'Byrne from Jersey rode a BMW 750 with his lightweight one-man tent and all other gear packed into Krausers. He had not met us until he met us off the boat at Zeebrugge. Fortunately we all got on very well.
Now read on ...
Rallye FIM 1976
Part 1 - A typical day's ride.
The 1976 FIM Rally was held about 2000 miles away on the Black Sea coast of Rumania. To get there without taking too long required some disciplined riding in order to do about 400 miles per day. The first day is not difficult to begin as it starts after an early disembarkation from the ferry and all the kit is still neatly folded on the bike. It is always important to refill with petrol at an optimum interval; not too soon to make too many stops, and not too long to run out of fuel. This is easy in Western Europe but in the Eastern Bloc there is usually only one petrol station in each large town. Information from the tourist office gave their location and many are open 24 hours.
We needed early starts because the further south and east one travels the sooner it becomes dark. Even in early July it becomes dark around 8 o'clock local time (19.00 GMT). Packing camping gear has to be done neatly, methodically and safely each day in order to avoid delays later. Routine maintenance such as chain adjustments are best done before starting when the day is still cool and so are tempers. Without a grumble we would rise at about 5.30 GMT. Packing, washing, maintenance and route confirmation generally took two hours without any rush. We would then start at 7.30. Needless to say we were always very quiet in order to avoid disturbing other campers.
The early start usually ensured at least a short time on the road without too much traffic. Exceptions were the Wurzburg/Nurenberg autobahn that was chocker with stationary rush hour traffic, and the Hungarian and Rumanian borders, which were similarly decorated at an unearthly hour. Being cheeky bikers we naturally rode straight to the front. One irate German bratwurst tried to stop us, but at 50mph most pedestrians give up trying to stop a Norton by holding onto the carrier.
Within the first hour we always found somewhere to stop for breakfast so by 9.00 we were really warmed up for a good day's ride. Our route was the most direct possible (without taking to goat tracks) E5 Ostende to Budapest, E15 Budapest to Constanta with just a short cut to avoid Bucharest.
Cruising speed on the motorways was usually 65 to 70 mph. Keeping five riders together was no great problem providing each one watched the bloke behind. We would drone on as much as 500 yards apart, which is much less tiring on the nerves than slipstreaming. Sometimes the leaders might make a blast to vary the pace and ease boredom on a particularly disinteresting piece of autobahn. This would put the riders almost out of sight of each other and stretch us over three or four miles of road. Fortunately no-one broke down so we never got separated.
Keeping together through strange cities took more care. Vienna was very difficult. The system is to follow the man in front even if you know he is wrong. The front man must constantly check the last man is still there. Budapest was by far the greatest test as, once we were in the centre, direction signs were no longer to be found. We went round and round and eventually stopped at the central railway station. Even here there were no signs or maps of any value so we tried to deduce which direction to take from 1) the position of the sun, 2) A Michelin map of Spain 3) which way up a half Forint piece landed. We ended up in downtown Budapest suburbia. Here we held a conference with the occupants of a large tenement. Each rider was given six different routes to the same place - or six identical routes to different places. Eventually one man offered to lead us to the road we wanted. He set off in his car at 60 mph. Must have thought he was leading the US Cavalry. Maximum speed for motorcycles is 44 mph in Hungary and we had already fallen foul of one speed trap. We hung on like the hounds of hell until he stopped and in faultless Hungarian (or it may have been Portuguese) directed us to follow the transmission line for two kilometres, right then left at the tram route and follow that road. We did that and rode for the next half hour on a road we were becoming ever more certain was wrong. But as soon as we left Budapest behind we saw an E15 road sign.
Petrol was required every 140 miles in Western Europe, every 100 miles in Eastern Bloc to be on the safe side. By keeping petrol breaks synchronised and also using them for a leg stretch we found they fell at optimum intervals although the breaks probably accounted more for the length of the day than our low speeds. However, both were important for avoiding fatigue. It was necessary to get away from the motorway for petrol otherwise the fuel could cost ten to twenty percent above normal prices.
To cut the cost of drinks, plenty of which you need in the dehydrating conditions of riding in very hot weather, we each carried a half gallon of water with suitable purifying tablets. The water usually became quite hot until we learned to wrap the container in a damp cloth.
A good help in expediting bill paying in bars, restaurants and campsites was the 'kitty'. By cutting down on the amount of small change it saved on money as well as time as all we needed to pay individually was petrol.
Midday the rumble of big fourstrokes would become secondary to the rumble of big stomachs so we would start looking for a suitable lunch stop. Sometimes this would take hours, as once the riding rhythm has begun it is difficult to break off. The eventual stop would usually be combined with the next petrol stop. All our border crossings were in the mornings so we could eat our lunch in a relaxed state of mind with the smaller half of the day's journey left before us and no foreseeable delays.
After lunch a few more hours would see us to our daily target of 400 miles and by 6pm we would be looking for a campsite. Somehow I always got in front at this stage and, with my blind spot for campsite signs, invariably rode straight past them and would be lucky to find a campsite before 7.30pm.
Putting up tents, washing and getting down town were always record breaking affairs. Twelve hours of riding in a strange environment tightens up the nerves to a very high pitch so we did not feel tired until settled in a local hostelry tucking into the food and letting the beer soak down into our feet. Then we would recall the highlights of the day, reliving incidents that earlier had angered or alarmed us. We would laugh and hoot and feel the tension easing away.
By the time we staggered back to our tents we were relaxed and able to get a good nights sleep ready for another 5.30 start.
Greybeard aka Ben Crossley
Next issue .. The Great Escape.