Whitham's Moped Marathon

Coast-to-coast smokey strokers, Whitham style

Our plan, to ride a bunch of 1970s sports mopeds from coast to coast, seemed like it would be quite a challenge until I called the hotel in Kirkby Lonsdale to book our first night away.

The receptionist said: "Oh yes, we get a lot of people staying here who're doing the John O'Groats to Lands End run on bicycles." That showed me, 780 miles on a bicycle is a real challenge. Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking 400 miles, over three days, on 30-year-old 'peds would be more enjoyable looking back on it than at the time.

I was wrong. The trip ended up being one of the most enjoyable and funniest episodes involving bikes I've ever been on. No, really!

The nostalgic/optimistic/stupid middle-aged participants were: Jamie, bike shop owner riding a Suzuki AP50; 'Boff' (so named coz he produces more gas than the North Sea), riding a Yamaha FS1-E; 'Bald Bob' riding another AP50; Shoey on yet another AP; me on my Fizzer; Mike, a local publican on a '72 TS50 Suzuki; and Marcus, aboard a modern but old-looking 'Dream 50' Honda.

This last bike was produced to mark Honda's 50th anniversary and should never have been allowed to take part, but the fact was we thought our Fizzies and APs would blow it into the weeds. I think our opinion was based solely on the fact that I heard it running once and it sounded shit, or maybe because Honda's original 70s moped, the SS50, had so little power it would struggle to pull an asylum seeker out from under your strawberry net. We thought the Honda would be dog slow.

We were wrong.  We set off from Huddersfield in a blue haze of two-stroke smoke followed by Jamie's girlfriend, Jo, in a van. The van contained our luggage and some spares and would follow us round the whole route, partly because at our time of life we don't want to do anything the hard way, but mostly because we weren't sure if all, or indeed any of these old rippers would go the distance.

Some of the bikes were better up hills, some had more acceleration, some would rev out better down hills, but the amazing thing was, over a distance there was very little to choose between them.

Getting down into the tuck position made your neck ache, but it made three or four mph difference, so we
did it - all the time. Riding three inches behind the bloke in front felt dangerous, but the slipstream made two or three mph difference, so we did it - all the time. A couple of us tried laying on the seat and pointing our legs straight out behind, like Rollie Free (the Vincent-riding speed record geeza), but after five minutes of this our backs were knackered.

Day one took us to Kirby Lonsdale via the seaside town of Morecambe, mostly on B roads or smaller. Day two we jostled and slipstreamed our way across the Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire moors to Whitby, then day three back home via Ripon, Harrogate and Bradford.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, which is why blokes get their wives to dress up in school uniforms (or maybe that's a different emotion) and why a good FS1-E is worth £1500 or more these days. But forget all the rose tinted glasses stuff. Riding them alone none of these bikes could be described as exciting in any way, in fact you'd be bored shitless within seconds, but because there was so many of us and you had to work so hard not to get left behind, it was such good fun.

Flat-out for 400 miles and only one bike had to come home in the van, and that was only because the exhaust broke in two.

My fizzer had a slight edge on any hills, probably. Well, definitely due to the fact that I'd cheated. I saw a 65cc kit on eBay for 50 quid and couldn't resist. Without any foul play the AP's five-speed box and willingness to rev make them slightly quicker, I reckon.

Jamie and Mike won the award for turnout. Most of us opted for jeans and leather jackets, but they bought 'oxblood' Doc Martins and had some nylon, Barry Sheene-style Heron Suzuki jackets made up.

Going round with yer mates on 70s mopeds will never make you more attractive to the opposite sex. In fact,
if you do enough of it the partner you already have will probably leave you. But it will make you laugh.