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  • What, 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 even today.

    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.

    Susan had 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 City.

    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, sir.

    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 my schedule.

    Oh well, at least I’m on the way now, and this is where the tale of the RCR begins in earnest…

    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 the fairing.

    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.

    "Amy Swint.”

    "Well, that’s 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 slow. :-)

    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 more sympathetic.

    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 on

    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 speeds.

    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.

    Eventually, Beaver 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 behind.

    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.

    Spagthorpe Home From: (Martyn Wheeler)
    Subject: Right Coast Ride on a Spagthorpe (Part 1)
    Summary: It was hidden behind the Aerostar
    Date: 29 Jul 92 22:39:37 GMT
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