Celebrated Spanish motorcycle rally marks its 25th year, adding a week-long ‘giro’ to its September-October schedule
The yearly Colombres International Rally, run in October each year by Joson and his team at the MC Piston club, has grown from small beginnings 25 years ago into one of the largest classic bike events in Europe. It attracts 700 entries and nearly a thousand people attend the four-day event, with the brand name Colombres to the forefront.
However some riders prefer a more laid-back approach, so the club, which is based 50 miles down the coast from Santander in Northern Spain, moved their spring rally to the picturesque town of San Vicinte la Barquera at the beginning of May.
Basically they recreated the ‘original’ classic event in a very low-key manner, using many of the roads and elements that made it so popular. Most of the 100-odd entrants were Brits who enjoyed socialising with everyone and riding stunning roads without going near any large towns.
As usual, I cheated slightly by hooking up with my old mate Phil Butler, a classic bike owner and aficionado who now lives in Colombres. Phil speaks fluent Spanish, and he is regarded as a local with excellent knowledge of the area (both its history and roads).
The big advantage of Phil’s knowledge is that it often allows me to dip in and out of the rally and get ahead of the route to take pictures of the riders as they come through. Another big plus is at he knows the best tea and food stops.
Most of the daily routes were the same roads as in the past, albeit strung together in a different order. It mattered little, as the pleasure of riding almost perfect motorcycle roads devoid of any traffic was sublime as usual.
If your knowledge and opinion of Spain revolves round the ‘Costa’s’, then this green and verdant part of it, devoid of McDonalds and Irish pubs, will be a real eye opener. MC Piston have not forgotten how to run a simple, addictive week of classic riding and socialising.
The Spring International is also a great warm-up for October’s 25th Colombres rally, which will have a week-long ‘giro’ added to it. Be ready for big crowds who turn up to witness the spectacle that used to include a hill-climb and motorcycle auto-jumble, and a giant paella and bean stew cook-up in the main town square at the conclusion. Of the entrants, more than half are usually Brits taking advantage of the better October weather in northern Spain, and a good number of the spectators come from Blighty, too.
The Colombres instantly becomes a must-do event. I wrote after my first one that you may go there knowing nobody, but come away knowing just about everybody. That remains true, except the number of people I don’t know becomes smaller each year.
Apart from the superb twisty motorcycle roads, devoid of police and traffic cameras and liberally spread with views of the Asturias Mountains, Brittany Ferries make it so easy to get there. A 24-hour cruise on a modern boat with cabins and real care in loading your bike (coupled with a hefty Colombres discount) make it a no-brainer.
The event also attracts guest riders, and you might see Sammy Miller, ex-works rider for many factories, all-round good guy Paul Smart, current TV GP technical expert Neil Spalding and off-road legend Dave Bickers, for example.
The October Colombres rally became a victim of its own success and outgrew its home. So, in 2011, the event moved to Sardinero, basically a suburb of Santander, and underwent a name change to the International. Everybody could be housed in one large hotel at last, with enough garage space to ensure the safety of all the bikes. One location simplified the organisation, helping club members who stage it in their spare time.
The auto jumble was relocated to a modern large sports hall, which also provided perimeter roads and a car park large enough to create a mini race track to replace the old hill climb. The format remained the same, with bikes up to 1980 eligible. Some entrants prefer to use modern Japanese and European bikes, but quite a few ride British bikes from the 1950 and ’60s.
The locals weigh in with small bikes from the Spanish factories to show that while two-strokes may no longer be socially acceptable, they are fast and handle well, easily keeping up with larger machines. Despite the dominance of British and Spanish riders, the French and Germans are well-represented so the rally remains broad-based in its European feel.
Last year there were grumbles of slogging through suburbia to get to the good roads, so this year, the organisers have added a ‘Giro’-style event allowing riders to spend more than a week in October enjoying Spanish roads and hospitality, away from the cities. The revised location and programme have also attracted new riders, and this year more than 100 Brits who have not been before have already registered.
The 2012 International Rally is the 25th Colombres Rally, and takes place from Sept. 30-Oct. 7. Click here for more details and the entry form.