Just where does classic meet custom? Or custom meet classic? On two days in June the answer became clear: the two are one and there’s nothing new in the pursuit of motorcycling fun. The Malle Mile is in its third year and still on the up. Starting out as a single-day event it’s now a three-day party and getting bigger all the time. Then there’s the Brooklands Motorcycle Show (previously known as ‘Ton-Up Day’) at the famous banked circuit – a celebration of all that’s good in vintage and classic motorcycling. On the face of it, two very different events – but the similarities are uncanny…
This began as a laid-back garden party with some low-key drag racing on grass. The organisers added a grass hillclimb slalom last year and this year the event runs over three days… with glamping.
The Mile has always attracted Bike Shed-style bikes and people: well-dressed, fashionable types riding modified café racer or tracker Triumphs, BMWs and Harleys. There’s a smattering of classics and some outrageous machines for the races: an XS650 Yamaha chopper, a ’60s scooter, Honda Cubs. One guy even put a Ducati Diavel through its paces.
But then the Pre-65 motocross crew got to hear about it and this year there was a bunch of classic scramblers with chaps dressed in period race jerseys adding a whole new dimension to the madness.
Thankfully, the Pre-65ers don’t take themselves any more seriously than the rest of the mob so that lovely hippy vibe still pervades the paddock – a paddock that feels much busier but has lost none of its charm. To steal an old Brooklands saying: ‘The right crowd and no crowding.’
Tom from Foundry Motorcycle in Chichester raced his latest creation on the hill – a Russian-made Izh Planeta 2 350cc two-stroke single, with sidecar – all decked out in period correct decals. “I bought it for a laugh and fell in love,” he said. “We speed-tested it at 50mph, took off the air cleaner, fitted a velocity stack and got 60!” Tom has opted to keep the Russinov rubber, rather than go for more suitable knobblies, figuring the sidecar ballast man could use his body to find the traction!
And Kevin Hill from Kevils raced an SR Yamaha single called ‘Rome’... because it was built in a day! Definitely not taking themselves seriously were Mark Upham and Sam Lovegrove, kitted out in their ‘official’ Brough Superior waxed jackets. As we watched the hillclimb event unfold, Brough CEO Upham said: “I’ve been going to classic events for too long, seeing the same people, the same bikes. We (Brough) need to get out there and reach younger motorcyclists and show them the history. That’s why events like this are so good. There’s such a crossover – and it’s predominantly young people here.”
Upham later showed little respect for the value of is machine (upwards of £250k) as he ploughed a lone furrow down the Mile drag strip with 1000cc of JAP V-twin power, while Sam Lovegrove, who can build a Brough replica from the ground up with his eyes closed, tried to dig his 1920s Motosacoche out of the deep ruts in a vain attempt to beat Upham to the finish line.
The Malle Mile is run by cousins Robert and Johnny. The pair of them, and their small army of volunteer helpers, kit themsleves out in pristine white overalls and everything they do has an air of chaotic cool.
The racing is started by a girl with the Malle-moto’ed flag and it’s all done to the soundtrack provided by Andrew from Bolt Motorcycles, who was not only spinning the vinyl, but also taking time out to race up the hill on a 1970s Kawasaki trail bike. Crazytown.
If the Mile is fresh and exciting , a playground enjoyed by a new breed of biker, Brooklands is part of the very bedrock of UK motorcycling. Where Malle is home to a younger breed in old tweed, bright neck ties and selvedge, Brooklands is monotone, black leather with pin badges or tired textiles. Generalisations I know, but you get the idea.
Brooklands’ motorsport history came to an abrupt halt when the track closed with the onset of World War II. Post-war it became an aircraft engineering hub and the circuit was lost; thankfully its rich heritage is preserved by some of the most ardent enthusiasts and volunteers you will ever meet.
The original 1907 clubhouse still stands, much of it kitted out as it was back in its heyday, and the original favela of workshops have been turned over to house some breathtaking artefacts of motorsport history, on four wheels as well as two.
Everywhere you look there are officials in white overalls running the event, most of them absolute experts in some or all the aspects of their circuit’s past glories.
Brooklands, quite rightly, celebrates the bikes from 1907 to 1930 so this year’s special feature was getting the grandsons of three famous 1920s Brooklands characters along and matching them with the machines their grandfathers raced. Their introductions to the crowd were done with ragtime jazz playing on the sound system.
Dale Le Vack sat on the 1929 Brough Superior, known as the ‘works scrapper’ and ridden by his grandfather Bert Le Vack. Paul Denly was introduced to the Model 18 Norton that his grandfather Bert took to the 24-hour record in 1928, and Jonathan Spring and his cousin Tim were photographed with the 1927 world record-breaking LPD1 Norton sidecar outfit from when Nigel Spring managed Norton.
The great thing about Brooklands bikes is that most of them bear no relation to how they came out of the factory. But that’s how racing has always been. Perry Barwick is one of the volunteers at the museum and he is restoring a 1938 Triumph T80 350 single that set a class lap record at Brooklands of 105mph – a record that was never broken. The build is currently awaiting a new petrol tank to be fabricated and Perry’s also got a soft spot for custom bikes.
He said: “I remember going to the first Bike Shed show in Shoreditch. I hung out with those guys and totally get the custom scene, but then I came here and fell in love with all the history. I also realised that these bikes were the first custom machines. The first thing the racers did was to slide the seats back so they could crouch down more. They’d change the bars. And a lot of them would lengthen the swingarms for stability on the fast, but bumpy banked oval.”
All the major owners’ clubs were represented too. Eric Patterson had his brand new £45,000 SS100 on the Brough Superior stand. A special Triumph Daytona 500 feature celebrated 50 years of the model that earned its name after Buddy Elmore’s 1966 Daytona 200 victory on a much modified T100 twin. And it was great to see the Triumph and Harley Guildford roadshows, two firms who recognise the crossover between new and old.
Brooklands has live action too, with a great selection of old bikes ripping up the original Brooklands test hill. The competitors attack it with style and aplomb, just as it always has been done, but no-one cares about times – it’s just about having fun.
It’s hard to believe that two such different events could have an identical ethos based around clowning around on motorcycles. What’s interesting is that the younger custom crew don’t embrace Brooklands in the same way as the classic boys are now embracing The Mile; Brooklands has always attracted the same diehard vintage/classic enthusiasts, and little new blood. Meanwhile, The Mile set a UK trend that other events around the world (Wheels and Waves, Cafe Racer Festival, Glemseck) have been successful in doing for some time. They embrace everyone.
Maybe it’s because Brooklands is a bit daunting – maybe potential newbies feel you need to be an historical expert to attend. If that’s the case, it’s an opportunity missed because there are so many great bikes to celebrate and so many friendly people.
I’m not sure how Brooklands can overcome it. Hosting a Sultans drag race on the newly-cleared main straight (they’ve just moved a complete aircraft hanger) as part of a Built party? Perhaps, but they really need to make sure it’s on a different weekend to The Mile…