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Team Firefly

by Jacqueline Bickerstaff

The FIM Rally is the premier touring gathering in the international calendar.  Two years ago, when it was announced that this year’s event would be held in Holland, Jan Ragg asked me how the idea of attending on Vincent Fireflys sounded.  ‘Great’ I said, ‘count me in.’  One aim was to take the Challenge Luxembourg for the highest number of 50cc entrants, which research showed had been won by not more than ten machines for the last ten years.  As an avid cyclemotorist, Jan extended the idea/invitation to other under-50s but on the day it was in fact all Vincent Fireflys; a mixture from the VOC and cyclemotor clubs.  A pity in retrospect, as support from some other groups would have made a difference.

30th June: ten people gathered at the Ragg household with a variety of vaguely tried out machinery.  Frank Pearson had a load that wouldn’t disgrace his 1000 Vincent, including camping equipment, a complete spare wheel, Union Jack, bowler and brolly.  He was advised to lighten it but still travelled the most heavily laden so that the bike frame visibly twisted as the week went on.  Nevertheless, Frank’s was the only bike to complete the trip without an involuntary stop (although needing a spot of maintenance during other people’s stops).  My own paratrooper’s bike had been taken down from the garage wall, run to the MoT station, and otherwise left alone on the principle that every test mile would be one fewer to the first breakdown.  Other team members arrived on almost their first ever trial run; Gordon Powell, in fact, had never ridden one until this day.  Geoff Ragg had been busy building and refurbishing loan bikes right up to the day itself; in fact the VMCC Cyclemotor Section loan bike which he was riding failed a test run on the morning of 1st July and required a handlebar change (the originals just bent).

1st July: 10:00am and photos, and ‘they were off’, closely followed by the first breakdown (broken engagement cable on Steve Winter’s bike).  Ten people tried to follow a pre-plotted route but with different speeds, involuntary stops (better sounding than ‘breakdowns’) and navigation errors this soon failed.  Everyone made the fuel stop but it was two parties again by Harwich. Nevertheless, everyone got there, even if it was at only 10mph average, and in fact we were eleven, having been joined by Andrew Pattle at the pub stop.

After a night’s rest on the boat, team spirit was high, and everyone set out on Geoff & Jan’s pre-planned route, albeit rather late at 8:30 due to some wasted time at the ferry terminal.  With a few navigation errors, and eleven people stopping every time one had a problem it soon became apparent that progress was inadequate, and we broke up into two teams again.  The ‘A’ team consisted of Geoff and Jan Ragg, Steve Tippet, Frank Pearson and James Garratty: Geoff the navigator and chief mechanic but with most of the team competent, and James as chief spares officer (carrying a piston!)  The ‘B’ team had Steve Winter as navigator, using mainly photocopy fine scale maps.  Gill Winter, Bernard Davenport and Gordon Powell were all riding borrowed bikes and new to the game.  Andrew Pattle and I were designated mechanics.  It worked OK and the teams played ‘tortoise and hare’, passing and re-passing as we suffered the usual blocked jets, fouled plugs, punctures and sundry bits rattling apart.  It would have been quicker without the engines.  ‘B’ team finally arrived at 9:30pm after around 100 miles plus detours; and A team campers (being the mean ones) at 10:30.  Geoff and Jan stopped in Tilburg and rode the last few miles next morning.

The little bike were stars of the show, everyone was taking photos and we should have asked for sponsorship from Kodak or Fuji!  James had heard a nasty noise and took his engine apart to reveal a departed piston ring peg, and so did a quick piston change. Spectators brought their own chairs to watch!  The rally format consists of three days with Day 1 a ‘ride-in’, Day 2 a bus trip for entertainment and Day 3 the ‘Parade of Nations’ around the town streets.  Of course there is a lot more than just that: evening entertainment with meals, etc.  We cheated a bit on the ride in, just joining in the last mile.  The day trip was to ‘De Efteling’, a fairytale park (or Dutch ‘Disneyland’ but with queues).  Fortunately, both for enjoyment and roller-drive reasons, the weather was hot and sunny so a good day was had by all.  For the Parade each country forms up separately but, concerned for our ability to keep up with the GB group (towards the back of the parade) we cyclemotorists made up a separate little group right at the front behind the pace vehicles.  At 15mph some of the bikes had trouble trying to go so slowly! Everyone enjoyed themselves, and most ended the last evening with someone else’s T-shirt, as is customary at the event.

Judged on the arrival trip, the group was worried about getting back to the boat in time; in fact Gill decided to take the train.  Everyone was embarrassed to find that the train took 1 hour 20 mins!  However, everyone else was game to try, and we all set out for Hoek van Holland keeping to our ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams again and endeavouring to leave at 7:45am (Gill’s train would be almost exactly 7:45pm!)  ‘B’ team had a very clear run, good weather, a couple of punctures and jet/plug foulings but arrived at 4:00pm with hours to spare.  The ‘A’ team fared a little less well, having got over-confident at Rotterdam and stopped for a meal.  Retribution was served when the Raggs’ bikes played up and arrived at the Hook more by pedal than by power.  They were very tired but, nevertheless, in plenty of time for a meal before the 9:30 boarding.

Morning revealed that Jan’s bike was suffering from petrol and oil which hadn’t mixed and was easily fixed.  Geoff’s was given the same treatment and ran again, but must have been suffering from something else as it gave repeated trouble and Geoff had a hard time getting it back to the fuel stop.  James’s bike too was making more loud noises and was not run on the engine after this stage, and I believe one seized and had to be pedalled the last five miles to Harlow.  I had left the group about ten miles earlier, to make my own way home (to Daventry).

So eleven Fireflys set out, eleven Fireflys got there and took part, and eleven Fireflys got home, albeit one or two were in need of attention.  The Challenge Luxembourg?  Well, with the easing of Eastern Bloc regulations things have changed, and a Polish team of under-21’s riding 50cc Simsons turned up, 18 of them according to the results, so they won it.  But they were modern and had a big back-up van, we had only our own resources.  Anyway, we all thoroughly enjoyed it (at least I think I did?)

[Editor’s Note. I must add my name to this list of those who had to pedal home. I left the others about 10 miles from Parkeston Quay and managed another 5 or 6 miles before the moving contact on the points disintegrated. Fortunately, the wind was behind me so my pedalling was not too strenuous]