23 August 2016

Blatting, thumping and ring-ding-dinging. A meeting break at Eddie's

For a biker, Eddie Roberts already has one of the best jobs on earth: he owns a business that runs a race circuit.

So while you or I might slip out of work for a break and a few on-foot laps of the local council's park, Eddie's equivalent is slipping into his leathers and blatting, thumping and ring-ding-dinging round a few laps of his own: Mallory Park, which is also probably THE most classic-friendly circuit in the country.

"Let me show you the shed," he says.

It's said with that nonchalance that only racers seem to be able to pull off - Eddie is a TT winner and ex-GP rider.

The shed is actually a corner of the HQ of his other business - he runs Pirelli's British Superbike race series tyre support organisation - where he keeps his collection of mainly ‘60s and ‘70s Japanese bikes.

If you're of a certain age, an age that bridged the era when Japanese bikes were moving from novelty to mainstream, then you're transported.

"Classic bikes are just so honest. You pull them apart and put them back together for fun. No daft electronics. The bikes I have also fall into that category of machinery and circumstances we can all appreciate: when you first saw it, you wanted it, but there was no way you could afford it," he said.

"I remember when I first rode a Honda CB450 twin 'Black Bomber'. I'd been riding British bikes, and I got on this thing that had come into Bill Smith Motors in Chester where I was working, and took it off for a test ride.

"I just thought 'wow'. It was just so fast - even with just 45bhp or whatever it was. It was light years ahead of anything I'd ever ridden, but at 17 there was no way I could afford it then.

"When this one came up, I tore the bloke's arms off."

Having a meeting in Eddie's office at Mallory Park progresses in a series of 55-second burps - 55 seconds being the frequency at which somebody testing a half-quick bike circulates, with everybody stopping, leaping up, and looking out of the office window overlooking the hairpin as that wapp, wapp, wapp downchange noise and clattering of a tortured drivetrain signal somebody arriving very quickly, largely under control, but seemingly not completely, at the tight 180-degree turn.

"I have around 40 classic bikes, I've been collecting them for years. Being around bikes all the time you come across them - some need complete restoration, which we do on the premises here, but some are just belting originals," he said.

"There's probably three that I really like above the others. Although ask me again in ten minutes, and I'll change my mind.

"The Honda Black Bomber I mentioned. But I also have a Honda C200 - 90cc - which is completely original, about 1,200 miles on the clock, which I got from Tommy Robb, one of the legendary 60s racers.

" I love my little Bridgestone 175 Dual Twin. It's 1967. Bill Smith used to import them, and I was looking for one for ages. They are so well made, incredibly innovative, with rotary valves and so many other really advanced features. Beautiful.

"People wonder why they stopped making them - because they were so good - and the rumour is that it was because one of the other bike manufacturers said they'd stop buying their tyres from Bridgestone unless they stopped making the bikes.

"That was a real shame. Who knows where they'd be now. They made a 350, though, and that's what I'm on the lookout for."

He has a pile of British bikes - the only ones with drip trays underneath them in the shed, of course, although largely unblemished - as well as a Yamaha YDS250, the forerunner to what became the RD250, and a number early two-strokes from Villiers and Greeves.

But he also has a collection of classic race bikes - mainly Yamaha TZ250s and TZ350s - which are either bikes he raced in TTs and GPs, or replicas he's built or had built.

But sitting inconspicuously on a lower shelf in his workshop is a menacing-looking four-cylinder two-stroke engine from a Yamaha TZ750, all fettled and ready to go once the chassis is done.

The motor is from one of the early bikes, a machine which introduced many of us to the concept of the power wheelie - often, with these motors, unintentional and half-way down the straight at Mallory Park - when it hit the powerband.

"We're thinking of sticking it in a TZ250 frame," said Eddie.

And while the face stays largely deadpan, the twinkle in the eye says everything.

It's another once-unaffordable dream about to come true. The power - literally, in this case - of classics.

0 Reader Comments

Join the Discussion