me cage to the RCR? Surely you must be mistaken, Ed! I know that a Ford
Aerostar seemed to follow me around, and somehow my Spagthorpe was always
parked the other side where you couldn’t see, but me drive a
van to a motorcycle campground? Obviously you need to know
The Rest Of The Story:
The Scene: It is
Friday, in a garage in Raleigh, NC. Someone be-decked in a neon green
Aerostich suit with hot pink accent panels is bungying a six-pack of Newcastle
Brown Ale to a piece of furniture. As we come closer, we see that it is
not in fact furniture, but a motorcycle. The mistake is understandable:
it is a Spagthorpe Wolfhound.
I have always regretted
that my father sold his old bike. The Spagthorpe Whippet
is legendary among enthusiasts, of course, for its innovative engineering
and inestimable character. I have been looking for another one ever since
I was old enough to spell “bike” and have yet to see such a
beast, although I have heard of several in various stages of restoration.
I am blessed, however, with a stable of not one but several modern-era
Spagthorpes, on one of which I would be attending the Right Coast Ride.
Not many people
are aware that the famous British marque was revived in 1981 when Julian,
Lord Spagthorpe, inherited his title at the age of 24. A keen motorcyclist
himself, he saw an opportunity to inject some character into what was
becoming a rather bland industry, and started a manufacturing operation
in Peter Tavy, Devonshire. His bikes have certainly been distinctive,
from the first model of the Greyhound sportbike
up until the present day.
For the ride, I
had selected the 1985 Spagthorpe Wolfhound. Aimed at the American market,
it failed miserably owing to the lack of dealerships, although I understand
from my friend “Bulldog” that it was fairly successful in Zimbabwe.
The concept was
to build a long-distance cruiser, and the emphasis would be on low-end
grunt and endurance rather than top speed. The obvious engine configuration
was a V-twin, so it was decided to take the 347cc single from the Beagle,
and join four of them on two meshed crankshafts to produce what would be
known as the 1400 W-4, although the actual configuration was more like
_|o|_, with the engine mounted longitudinally in the frame. The desmodromic
valves only required adjustment every 3000 miles, but for all but the
front cylinder even checking clearances involved removing the engine from
the frame, along with the primary shaft which ran alongside the rear cylinder
and drove the separate transmission. This complexity may have been what
discouraged potential American dealers—I can imagine Joe-Bob The
Motorcycle Mechanic’s reaction to such a task!—but for the owners
who persevered it was outweighed by the benefits of the machine. It had
shaft drive, liquid cooling, disc brakes operated solely by the foot pedal
with an ingenious “hydraulic computer” to handle balance, four-speed
automatic overdrive transmission, and many luxuries not seen on bikes
Anyway, enough of
the bike…on to the ride. Well, sort of … in fact we had to start
by going to Charlotte, where my wife Susan would be overseeing the operation
of the Timing and Scoring computers. The computers would travel down in
our Aerostar (oh! that must be where you heard “Aerostar,”
Ed!), and Susan would stay in Charlotte for the weekend while I trogged
off into the Blue Ridge.
The trip from Raleigh
to Charlotte was uneventful, so I’ll spare you that. We unloaded
the computers at the speedway, and toodled off to the motel where we collapsed
for the night after a couple of beers.
On Saturday, we woke
bright and early (well, early, anyway) only to find that the van had lost
15psi in the left rear overnight. We’d seen this failure mode before,
on the front then, where a tyre just lost pressure quickly with no visible
damage. Anyway, the solution would be to buy two new tyres. Ugh.
to be at the track, so we went anyway, hoping the 20psi would hold for
long enough to get there at the 30-40mph we felt was about as fast as
we could take it safely.
It held. We got there.
Both of us started work right away on entering the data on the cars and
drivers, and as soon as that was complete I took on the unenviable task
of finding tyres in an unfamiliar town. I pulled the van over to the Bridgestone
truck, topped up the air, and left the speedway for a tour of the Queen
Western Auto: no
Michelin XH4’s in stock in that size, but the computer shows two
of their other locations do. Call them: they don’t, not in that size,
Pep Boys: XA4’s
but no XH4’s. Make mental note and go on.
Into Charlotte: pass
Goodyear, Bridgestone, Yokohama, Firestone, General. No Michelin.
Discover am leaving
Charlotte. Turn round. Return to Charlotte.
By a weird streak
of luck, I find I am in the real downtown area at the intersection of
Independence Blvd and 3rd Street. This is lucky, because here is Kirby-Kale
Tires. They don’t have what I want, either, but one phone call later
the nice lady has found them at another place and her husband is off in
his car to collect them. Marvellous place—the sort of place that
has the owners’ home phone numbers on the door in case you need them
when they’re closed.
To make a long (and
hot) story short, I get the tyres (at a much more reasonable price then
I expected for a small business), and return to the track. Say “Hi”
to Susan, tell her I’m off to the mountains, a mere 3-4 hours behind
Oh well, at least
I’m on the way now, and this is where the tale of the RCR begins
The Spagthorpe, of
course, had been sitting in the sun since early morning, but fortunately
the seat is not black but tan, and was still tolerable even though it
was now well into the heat of the day.
I thumbed the starter,
and was greeted with the unique rumble of the W4 as it sprang into life
at the first try—fortunately good old Julian didn’t believe
in Lucas electronics, and had gone to Bosch for the wiring for his bikes,
and for electronic ignition. I certainly was glad I didn’t have to
try to kick-start the beast in this heat.
I retracted the electric/hydraulic
centrestand, hooked the selector into Reverse, and eased the bike around
carefully. The Wolfhound is well known for it’s tendency to drop
suddenly and unpredictably while reversing, and it is best to keep one’s
left foot on the ground through the manoeuvre—the right foot, of
course, is operating the only brake lever. If you’ve never tried
to keep a Wolfhound upright while backing uphill, well, let me just say
it’s an interesting experience.
The time had come
to leave. Slipping the selector into Drive, I eased on the throttle and
rumbled out of the speedway onto NC-49.
The plan was to take
49 to I-85, then pick up Route 16 going north through Newton, Conover,
Taylorsville, and thence North Wilkesboro to pick up 421, from which I
had directions to the campground already tucked into the map pocket of
49 is boring. I-85
is boring. Fortunately, before long I had turned off onto 16, which started
out thoroughly unpromising but improved rapidly.
Route 16 is full
of small towns with low speed limits, and there was not much traffic but
what there was crawled along and turned off quickly. At these speeds the
Wolfhound loped along easily, always ready for a quick roll-on to pass
a recalcitrant cager. The scenery passed by with plenty of time to enjoy
it, the fairing deflected the air around me forming a quiet calm pocket,
and when I switched on the air conditioning I might almost have thought
I was in an Aerostar or something. Eat your heart out, GoldWingers!
After a short stop
for fuel and a co-cola, I managed to follow 16 through Newton and Conover—not
a trivial matter—and rolled into Taylorsville.
The road had been
getting more interesting as I approached the mountains, and the scenery
had improved greatly by then—but this is where life in general started
to get really exciting. As I rode past an Amoco station, I saw a Harley
and a sidecar rig pulled over behind a Geo Metro. Not too unusual, but
wait a minute! That was a Virago with the sidecar. Aha! That’s
a Denizen for sure!
I made a quick U-turn
and pulled into the parking lot. Closer examination of the bikes showed
that they had Alabama plates, and the combination even had a DoD licence
plate frame! Virago, sidecar, DoD—must be TheMoped!
Just then the bikers
emerged from the convenience store, and started towards their rides.
"Hi!” I said,
“I only know one person with a Virago with a sidecar.”
"And who’s that?”
asked one of the ladies, suspiciously.
me,” she said with a bright smile, “And this is my husband Swane,
and this is Hilary. What are you riding?”
“Oh just that
thing,” I said, waving my hand in the direction of the Spagthorpe,
but someone had parked a Ford Aerostar in the way and so all they saw
was the van.
So, it was about
1:30 on Saturday, and four RCR people had met on the road. You know, it’s
really neat when you can just introduce yourself to someone you’ve
never met before, but you know they’ll be interesting fun people,
with interesting opinions. I like this.
They had been following
18 from the west, but there had been a detour onto 16. Amy was planning
to take 16 until they could pick up on 18 again, then take that and follow
the directions to the campground from there. She seemed confident, so
it seemed reasonable to let her lead. She did warn me she was fairly slow,
and that her speedometer cable wasn’t working, but I saw no problem
with that. The worst that could happen is we get lost, and in this countryside
and these roads that would be no hardship.
Amy started up TheMoped,
Shane climbed on his Springer Softail, and Hilary fired up the Geo convertible.
I walked over to the Wolfhound, and took off after the three up the road.
My first group ride with rec.motoists had begun.
By the end of part
1 we had merged two groups of Denizens into one, and this group was heading
north on Rt.16. Amy Swint was leading on TheMoped, her husband Swane was
following on the Springer Softail, Hilary Perkins was next in line in
a Geo Metro Convertible, and I was bringing up the rear on the Spagthorpe
Wolfhound, except that some idiot in a Ford Aerostar was right behind
us and I’m sure every time Hilary looked in her mirrors all she saw
was the van.
About half a mile
out of the Amoco in Taylorsville, I realised that Amy had been right.
She was slow. Some of this could be attributed to the lack of a speedometer
(how I love it when a Spagthorpe is more reliable than a Yamaha!), some
of it to the scenery and the interesting road, and some of it to Amy being
The speed really
didn’t matter, though Swane was swinging from side to side rather
impatiently every time the road became twisty. The further north we went,
the twistier it became, and signs of civilisation were left behind us
to be replaced by fields, based around small rivers gouging their way
through steep valleys. Frequently the road would be lined with tall banks
of dirt with sparse grass clinging to a bare existence, and we would lose
sight of the landscape for a while only to find it was even more spectacular
when the view cleared around the next corner.
We arrived at the
intersection with Route 18, and Amy swung onto it, apparently ignoring
the sign that said:
We all hoped that
“Miles Ahead” meant “Many Miles Ahead” and followed
her with only a little hesitation. I saw Swane glance at the sign with
a some trepidation.
Our progress slowed
once we were on Rt.18. The countryside was magnificent, and the houses
were more infrequent—it was no longer certain that the river valleys
were indeed being farmed. The road itself twisted left and right, climbed
hills, dived into valleys, and became everything one could desire for
a gentle cruise on a bike.
The main reason we
slowed was that our leader slowed. The road was winding enough now that
TheMoped apparently wanted to take things easy. For left-hand turns, Amy
Slowed, but having the chair to help in cornering; Swane looked impatient.
For right-hand turns, Amy *SLOWED*, not really wanting to lift the chair
and be the first to dump a bike on the RCR; Swane looked impatient but
I can understand
Amy’s caution: imagine the arrival at the campground: “Hey folks,”
we would say, “someone dropped their bike already!” The assembled
denizens would crowd around… Was that a scratch on the perfect chrome
of the Springer? No. Was the left mirror on the Spagthorpe a little out
of line? Yes, but it came from the factory that way (bikes for a drive-on-the-left
country had them asymmetrical the other way). Perhaps, ha ha, the Geo
Metro had blown over? Not! Hold on, Daughters of Democracy, what
is this we see here? A bent footpeg, cracked mirror, dented tank—but
surely not? A three-wheeled vehicle is the most stable of all, and Amy
dropped it? The postings would rise to 400 a day, as she was berated
Let add right now,
so that Amy does not get a reputation like Tom Barber: Amy is the person
who did not drop a sidecar rig on the RCR!
So we understood
her slow progress. Anyway, it gave us more time to look at the scenery.
I was beginning to
regret my choice of the Wolfhound for these roads. Although a very fine
motorcycle, I must admit that when Julian, Lord Spagthorpe, visualised
a bike for the American market he did not have in mind small twisting
goat-trails over steep hills. Between first and second gears, the shift
is somewhat jerky, and more and more often the automatic was deciding
to do this while leaned over in a turn. A much better choice for this
section of the ride would have been a late-model Doberman
(not that any were imported into the US, I believe)—that particular
model was test-ridden frequently on the tight roads around the Peter Tavy
facility, I gather; according to Roger, an ex-neighbour of mine who was
in the CID, the West Devon Constabulary had become accustomed to the exhaust
note, and made a practice of looking somewhere else while the prototype,
often with Julian himself in the saddle, flew past them at quite unbelievable
Ah, well, back to
reality. I was not on a Spagthorpe Doberman,
and the Wolfhound beneath me was making it quite plain it Was Not Built
For This. I switched off the air conditioning, which was not really needed
in the cooler mountain air, and that helped greatly as without having
to strain against the accessory drive, the beast would now mostly stay
in second, and the only real problem was manoeuvring the sheer bulk around
the tight spots. I could still have gone faster than Amy, though…
So, on and on and
on we went, enjoying the scenery, occasionally meeting a ratty-looking
pickup coming the other way at high speed, apparently happy to run two
wheels in the dirt to avoid having to slow down…strange, but courteous—they
always gave us plenty of room.
Creek Road appeared on our right. Amy slowed down, turned onto it, and
pulled over, fumbling at the directions. Having checked the next stage
of the trip, she pulled back on the tarmac, and we headed down what can
only be described as an awesome road.
Almost any road in
rural North Carolina that has a body of water in the name is interesting.
So we have Johnson Pond Road, West Lake Road, Sunset Lake Road, and now
to add to these, the finest of them all: Beaver Creek Road.
Many of those who
came from the North and East did not travel this way, and missed out on
the experience. I just can’t do justice to it in words. Even Amy
sped up around the left handers, especially the high-bank 270 degree downhill
sweeper. We did our best to keep up—although Swane was a master of
the Springer and stayed close on TheMoped’s tail, Hilary’s Geo
and my Wolfhound were a little farther behind. (I was, to be honest, finding
the Spagthorpe’s long wheelbase a real pain.) Fortunately the right-handers
were followed almost invariably by left-handers, and for these it seemed
that the method for cornering TheMoped was to stop, look around, ease
gently around in first gear, then accelerate slowly. It was at this point
that Amy did not drop a sidecar rig on the RCR. Over the course of the
road, it must be said that the two largest vehicles did not exactly fall
All too soon Beaver
Creek Road ended (although later Amy was to say on several occasions that
the road was sheer hell) and we took a short mile hop on Rt.268 to Mount
Pleasant Road. This was again full of twisties, although not as fun as
Beaver Creek, but was also full of gravel in strange and unexpected places—one
of the beauties of Beaver Creek Road had been the cleanliness of the surface.
Swane was quite clearly
bored. Once we turned, he passed TheMoped and sped off to enjoy the bends.
We followed at TheMoped’s pace, and would always find the Springer
Softail waiting another half-mile or so down the road.
At the intersection
with Mount Zion Road, we found Swane waiting again. As soon as he saw
we had made the turning, he took off into the distance, using enough throttle
for me to hear the pounding of the Big Twin over the rumble of the W4
beneath me (a full 48cc larger than the Harley!). We followed on as before.
Mt Zion Rd was quite
different from the previous roads, it seemed to me. A lot of the time
it followed the floor of a river valley, although rising and falling across
promontaries. There was a more personal feeling to the landscape, as if
we were more part of it than the sight-seers we had been before. The pace
no longer seemed slow, as we took time to feel the land around us.
Finally, Swane waited
for us as Mt Zion Rd changed from paved to dirt. We all took it easy at
this point, and with a great deal of caution (and a sense of relief) arrived
at the High Country Cycle camp at about 3 O’clock or so.