Doug Miller & I had discussed doing the famous Beamish Trophy Trial whilst at the 2011 Euro Lambretta in Ireland. The Beamish TT, run by South Durham VMCC is a historic motoring trial for motorcycles, tricycles, & light cars. It originally evolved from the 1920 Travers Trophy Trial and covers approx 120 miles of Northern Dales in 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.
One evening I received an email from Doug Miller titled ‘Daft Vega Idea’. This was reminiscent of an email Darrell & I had received in 2010 titled ‘Daft ‘S’ Type idea, in which we entered the ACU National Road Rally ‘Platinum Category’ 520 miles in 20 hours, but that’s another story.
Doug suggested that we enter on Vega’s. Well, anyone who knows me knows that I’m up for a challenge, or as John Taylor who’s in to his fifth year of entering the Beamish TT put it, a fellow nutter! Doug offered me his 75cc Vega and Christine Jackson kindly lent him one of hers.
Entries opened and we got our applications in. March came around and I received another 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. Now, any sensible person would of looked at a map way before. No, not us 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 traveling 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.
This brings me to the morning of the event. You’re given a start time and a number, mine was 59 & Doug’s was 60 so we thankfully started pretty much at the same time. We signed on, picked up our numbers – which have to be displayed front & rear or you’ll get points deducted. Doug had bought nobbly tyre’s, however, within the regulations it states that you’re not allowed to use them. Doug soon saw to this, he had a chat with one the marshals and they gave us the go ahead. We fitted them onto rear of each bike, in hindsight we could of done with having one on the front as well. All of a sudden we heard the sound of another Vega, ridden by Joey Fontane, it turned out we weren’t 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. I was up, this is it, one of the most historic trials in the country, 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. My heart was racing and I was as determined as I’d ever been. I watched 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.
So, cable sorted and we set off. 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. We got to the first off-road section Oxenlaw Farm, we had been 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.
I looked back and Doug’s 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! We were back on tarmac now and the views were stunning, the weather was on our side, we were on top of the world, hills & drystone walls for as far as the eye could see, amazing! We reached the next off-road section Weatherhill with an incline down Crawleyside.
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. After battling our way up to the top, we then had to get down the other side. 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, not! I set off steadily, but I’d lost the filter and it was running really rich and it wouldn’t tick over. It wasn’t long before I lost the front end. The road going tyre on the front just couldn’t cope with the terrain. I picked the bike up and carried on, not for long mind you. I was off again, this time with a spectacular dive to avoid impaling myself on the handlebars, and damaging the bike of course. Once again picked the bike up and carried.
From here to the next checkpoint it was tarmac. We were flying, well I say flying! 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 towards it, so no chance to recreate the Isle of Man Druidale water splash. This was the first time we’d seen Nick & Lisa since we started. We were exhausted but had the biggest grins on our faces. We stopped for a quick natter, checked our fuel and set off.
The next checkpoint came without any dramas. It was an old mine that had been turned into a museum, with a backdrop of deep dark green pines and set off by a sky that seemed to go on forever, breathtaking. Nick & Lisa met us there and we decided to re-fuel. We arranged to see them at the next stop 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.
We set of with optimistic apprehension. We arrived and there was a queue of bikes waiting to do the run up. The hill is lined with stones, rocks and boulders and sharp corners and big steps. For those that have done Hard Knotts Pass, imagine that but minus the tarmac and a ton of rocks scattered along the route. Doug and I looked at each other waiting for one to say, alternative route, yeah? 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 you riding?” Doug pointed at our two brightly coloured little trusty steads. The look on the marshals face had suddenly changed from one of encouragement and enthusiasm to one of sheer disbelief. We ummed and urrh’d for a bit then both agreed, let’s do it, we’ll never know unless we try.
We were up, I went first. Into first gear and full throttle, on 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. I slowly but surely made my way to through the route. I was screaming the absolute knackers out of this poor thing, slipping the clutch and peddling from the ground up. -5 points every time my feet hit the ground! It then stalled, or had simply had enough of thrashing it within an inch of it’s life. I pushed it over to one side and kicked her back into life and off I went. Last 100 yards and I made it. 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 was another few points against me, what was it going to matter, I’d just practically walked a bike up a 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. We picked it back up and 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 easy and at one point I even overtook one the riders. We rode over the mountains and the road was amazing. It was if it had just been freshly tarmaced, the moors stretched for miles and miles. I’m sure whoever built this road must ride a motorbike. It’s the nearest your going to get to flying. When we arrived at the Velvet Path section the marshals were advising the riders to enter at there own risk, too boggy, a few riders where turning back. So we gave it a miss and headed off to the finish.
Neither of us were a hundred percentage 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. We worked out we were only about 5 miles from the finish, light was starting to fade and tiredness was setting in. Right, as much as it begrudges me I’m going to use the satnav on my phone to get us back. We had a 6 hour drive home after all! Co-ordinates in and phoned shoved into my helmet off we went. It no sooner gave me the first direction and what did we see, the finish, exhaustion had clearly taken it’s toll.
We crossed the finish line just after 4.00 o’clock. Filled with elation, relief and thoroughly exhausted, we’d done it!
Now having time to digest it and reflect, if I was to do it again or if anyone else is planning on doing it, my advice would be build a scooter scrambler. Take the exhaust up over the engine case, fit nobbly tyres front and rear, wide bars and go for an engine with as much torque as possible, you’d fly round. Think Don Noys Stingray.
I’d 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. A huge thanks goes 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. And last but not least my ever suffering other half for being official photographer for the day.
I think this message from John Taylor pretty much sums it up.
“For some years I have suffered the label of the eccentric that tries to compete in the Beamish on little wheels. My thanks to Joey, Doug and Dave who entered it this year on Vegas and now make my attempts seen comparatively sane. At the finish one experienced motorcyclist was overheard to say “I wish I had one of those little scooter things, if you got stuck in a section you could just put it under your arm and walk to the end” One of the motorcycle history questions this year was “what was the first production motorcycle to fit a disc brake?” There were 4 correct answers.
Sorry I didn’t have longer to chat to the Vega3 or to their supporters from Blyth, hope to see you all next year” – John Taylor