It was the return of the Café Racer that kick-started the new-wave custom scene over a decade ago, and while most recent custom-bike events showcase flat tracking or riding ‘inappropriate bikes’ in the dirt, we’ve always thought that a track event, putting appropriate bikes onto the tarmac, would create an amazing new festival event for the Bike Shed’s annual calendar.
…And what could be more appropriate on a race track than proper café racers, cheered-on by friends, family and well-wishers, enjoying the usual Bike Shed hospitality and atmosphere at a beautiful track that combines modern facilities with old-school charm. Lydden Hill, near Canterbury in Kent offered the perfect venue, and our members, customers, friends and show visitors provided the bikes, the riding and the onlookers.
As track day regulars ourselves, we’ve always thought there could be more camaraderie, more hospitality, more fun – and less pressure to outride yourself and risk going home early, bathed in flashing blue lights. Riding a bike fast on-track with proper instruction is a lot safer than riding too fast down the B184 to Finchingfield on a crowded Sunday morning. Out in the B-Roads of Essex there’s no run-off and other vehicles are coming the other way, plus you only get to ride through each corner once. Getting on-track is a must for any regular tarmac rider who wants to learn more about their bike, hitting the same corners again and again. … and as for going racing, well, it’s not as scary as you might think when everyone is on the same side, and you’ve spent the day learning the track.
Knowing that we’d have a very broad range of riding ability at our new Café Racer Cup event, from professional journalists and stunt riders down to track-day newbies, on everything from 1970s 125s and old air-cooled Italians, to modern millennial retro racers, like the R nineT, Thruxton 1200 and Z900RS, we decided to use transponders throughout the day to sort riders into three groups, divided by their best lap-times into the Rookies, the Regulars and the Rapids.
For those that were bold enough to have a go at the end-of-day races, we’d have three race events, and each winner would earn the Café Racer Cup in their class. NORA Sport were in charge of the race and track logistics, headed-up by David Dearden, who ran a superb team and provided instant lap-times after every session.
We knew it might be hard for non-riding visitors to get their heads around the idea of a track-day that would make a great spectator event, so we laid on as much good stuff as we could for this inaugural event and were thrilled that over 750 people turned up just to watch, enjoying deckchair, grandstand and lounge seating, with display bikes, gear, retail, decent food, ice-cream, bouncy castles, kids tents, proper tea and coffee, and bars – we even brought our own Bike Shed burger patties from HG Walter down to Kent, with the cooking supervised by our Head Chef, Pete.
To make sure the event carried the level of detail we like to provide with BSMC events, the riders were given full race decal kits and numbered bibs – having been asked to tone-down the day-glo and modern race-rep lids. Riders also benefitted from free suspension advice and setup from Öhlins courtesy of BG Motorsport and Pirelli were on hand with GTC Tyres to replace worn rubber and advise on pressures. Triumph, Ducati, BMW, Kawasaki and CCM were kind enough to provide bikes for journos and exhibition rides, and even some of the racing.
The Rookie class was won by Jamie Chambers aboard his gorgeous Moto Guzzi Le Mans 850, one of many gorgeous Italian stallions ridden just as the original designers would have imagined. The Regular Class first prize was taken by Hollywood stunt coordinator Randy Beckman on a borrowed BMW R nineT Racer while first place in the Rapid Class was never in doubt with Adam “Chad” Childs on a new Kawasaki Z900RS Café, while Charley Boorman showed he is as quick on tarmac on his Thruxton R as he is on the Dakar’s desert sands. One dark horse impressed in particular in the Rapids, Bike Shed Founder Member Ali Latimer, who often talked a good game but in all these years we’ve never seen him actually race. With a 30+ HP deficit to Chad he did remarkably well. 2019 will be interesting……
This year’s event was a test, to teach us more about how to run a track-based event, how to use the space at Lydden Hill to it’s best advantage, and how to make sure we provide top-notch hospitality and experience to the visitors who came to enjoy the day. As it turned out, it was a very successful sighting-lap for next year, where we have properly big plans to run a full weekend festival event with camping, and multiple on-track and off-track racing and fun. Watch out for the Bike Shed Summer Festival, featuring the Café Racer Cup, the Custom Cup and much, much more, in 2019.
In the meantime here are the results, with lap times
1st Jamie Chambers, 2nd Laurence Cook, 3rd Renaat Souvagie
1st Randy Beckmann, 2nd William Collins, 3rd Stuart Martin
1st, Adam Child, 2nd Ali Latimer, 3rd Nathan Thomas
And of course none of this would be possible without our loyal and growing crew of staff and volunteers who’ve grafted to pull-off yet another spectacular chapter in the Bike Shed Motorcycle Club’s story so far. Thanks also to the NORA Sport and Lydden Hill teams and their marshals who made sure proceedings ran like clockwork. And also to the commentary team Alex Raby & Billy Ward. Classic Car Club provided the GT40 course car which was a real crowd pleaser and we hope to have it back next year.
Click on the images below to enjoy a small selection of wonderful images by Amy Shore in full size.