Archive index   Go to the Archive index

BTSC logo

Coast to Coast

Keith Clarke

The NACC (National Autocycle and Cyclemaster Club), which also caters for all low-powered mopeds and motorcycles, held its 9th Coast to Coast Run in June 2006.

This run is for brave, fearless and even eccentric riders and is open to both Club members and non-members and the 150-mile route takes in some beautiful and demanding scenery.  The start line was at Blackhall Rocks near Hartlepool and over 40 riders arrived excitedly to participate in this endurance test.  The list of bikes entered looked like a who's who of mopeds; these included a Puch Maxi, autocycles, Hondas and Cyclemasters.  I myself entered on a 1979 Yamaha FS1-M (49cc restricted moped) and my mate, Ray, entered on a 1981 Simson S51 (this is an East German 49cc unrestricted moped).  One of my main concerns about an event like this is breakdowns.  Luckily I was able to persuade another mate (Nevil and his partner, Diane) to act as our support crew and they drove behind us during the event towing the bike trailer with a spare bike on it in case of a major emergency or breakdown (this was a 1959 BSA Bantam - although not strictly a moped, it was the only spare bike we had available at the time!)

The bikes we entered may not, at first glance, seem that exciting, but they were both untried and had been off the road for many years and it was a challenge just getting them ready for the start line! I bought the Yamaha last year as a non-runner and as the previous owner had spent several pounds restoring her, cosmetically, she was complete and I only had to sort out a few minor electrical problems before she was ready for the road (incidentally this was the same make and model of the first bike I ever rode!). The Simson, however, was a different story. It had broken down in the mid 1980's and had been left rusting in a back garden until I acquired it in 2002 in a very sorry state. It has not yet been fully restored but I do plan to improve it at a later date. Both bikes were MOT'd and taxed a week before the run, it seemed that not everyone was impressed by the work undertaken on the Simson, in fact when the MOT tester saw it, he couldn't stop laughing and asked if it had been dragged out of the local canal! He passed it anyway and we were all set for the Run.

Friday, 23rd June:

We arrived in Hartlepool and had difficulty finding a camp site near Blackhall Rocks, the start line for the Coast to Coast.  We hadn't pre-booked a site as we thought there would be plenty to choose from - we were wrong!  It appears Hartlepool is not a popular tourist destination (what would I know?  I'm from London.)  We finally found one in Hart (approximately 5 miles from the start), in a quiet little farm in the village, it was small and extremely basic.  The only toilet & washing facility was shared, in fact it was unisex, with only one toilet and one washbasin, also shared with the farm labourers.  However, it was adequate for one night's stay, with a local pub just a short walk away which served excellent food.  After putting up the tents we made a reconnaissance trip to the start line in readiness for the following morning's adventure and, while looking around, we met a chap called Stuart from Redhill, Surrey (20 miles from where I live), he had also driven up that day to do the Coast to Coast - small world!

Day One: Saturday. 24th June:

We arrived at Blackhall Rocks at 9:15am thinking we would be one of the first to arrive but the parking area (in the lower car park) was already full with cars, trailers and a wide assortment of mopeds and autocycles.  We found a space and got to work.  The car park was bleak and seemed to lack a tea bar, although we did later see a tea/burger type van setting up at the upper car park once we had started the run.  Our two mopeds were unloaded from the trailer and minor adjustments and last minute checks were made.  The Simson started first kick but the Yamaha's kick-starter lever kept slipping (it is a pattern part and even when tightened, kept slipping), so it was decided that to prevent further damage it would be removed and the bike would be bump-started for the rest of the trip.  As Ray said, a good way for me to keep fit!  We checked in and received our numbers and route cards.  The route details also contained a list of planned 'checkpoints' (recommended stops, as we did not see anyone actually checking people in and out) and an emergency telephone number in case of any breakdowns.  There were four checkpoints per day, each an average of 18 miles apart and these were carefully chosen and were either at pubs or viewpoints with plenty of parking and places for refreshments.  At 10:30am the bikes departed, en masse, followed by a number of trailers and support vehicles.  We were close to the back and with much trepidation we joined the other bikes and headed out of the car park in a cloud of smoke - our Coast to Coast adventure had started.  Half a mile into the run, heading up hill towards Hartlepool on the A1086, the Simson started to have problems (it was like running out of petrol and then kicking back in again - possibly dirt in the carburettor), unfortunately this was to be a recurring problem throughout the run.  After stopping at the roadside and finding there was nothing we could do without getting all the tools out, we decided to carry on and see if it cleared itself, especially as we were now bringing up the rear.

We soon caught up with the slower machines (a Raleigh Wisp, a Honda Express and a Cyclemaster) and on we pushed.  The weather was overcast but ideal moped weather and on we rode though Trimdon, Ferryhill and arrived at 11:00am at the first checkpoint, the Wheatsheaf Inn at Chilton (18.6 miles from the start) and a welcome cuppa was taken.  In the car park, we discussed what to do about the Simson and it was decided that as it was running, albeit with intermittent running problems, we would leave it and perhaps give the carburettor a clean at the next checkpoint.  We continued our journey at 11:30am, or rather the Yamaha did, the Simson decided it needed a longer rest!  The plug was changed and it fired into life and away we went.  27 miles into the run, we pulled up at a T-junction in the middle of nowhere with the Simson sounding meaty! - the exhaust pipe nut had worked loose - the spanners came out, the problem was sorted and we were soon on the road heading towards Middridge, Heighington for the second checkpoint at the Royal Oak in Staindrop (36.9 miles, cumulative).  The penultimate checkpoint was at the High Force Hotel, which is opposite the High Force Waterfalls (54.7 miles, cumulative).  Unfortunately we did not get a chance to see the waterfall, which is supposed to be well worth a look; we took the opportunity of a well-earned drink and sandwich whilst relaxing and watching the other bikes arrive and park in the car park during which time the sun put in an unexpected but welcome appearance, and we were feeling confident about our chances of finishing the Coast to Coast.

Leaving the checkpoint, the Simson was flying (not literally but all its previous carburettor problems had disappeared); it was reaching frightening speeds of 45mph along the winding roads, with the Yamaha screeching behind at a paltry 35mph(ish), trying to catch up.  Three miles from Alston a cylindrical object was seen failing off the Simson and rolling across the road at a great pace (the vision of Barnes Wallis's bouncing bomb springs to mind) and the object disappeared into the hedgerow/grass/ditch.  The Simson stopped abruptly, the Yamaha ran over a glass object and pulled up sharply and our back-up car stopped a bit further back.  When asked what had happened, Ray said he thought the tax disc holder had dropped off, but after checking it was found to be still on the bike intact.  A closer examination of the Simson found the headlight lens, bulb and cluster was missing.  Upon looking under the Yamaha, the glass object was found to be the disintegrated bulb and distorted bulb holder, so the unidentified flying object was none other than then headlight lens - but where was it?  Walking up and down the verge the lens could not be found.  By this time several of the other mopeds had left the last checkpoint and passed us with grinning riders.

We widened our search area and the lens was suddenly spotted face down in the long grass, further back than we had expected.  Remarkably it was undamaged, except for a small knock where it had first hit the road.  What was left of the holder was scraped off the road along with the lens and placed in a sealed evidence bag for further examination later (had the bike been sabotaged by one of our competitors or was poor maintenance to blame?)  The remaining journey to Alston went without a hitch but the cobblestones down the High Street came as a bit of a shock for our small tyres.  We arrived at the fourth and last checkpoint of the day at l5:l0pm, which was at the Hub Museum situated next to the steam railway station (75 miles).  On parking, Ray commented on how much quicker his bike was now it was lighter (without the headlamp).  Keith asked if the screw that was used to hold the headlamp rim to the holder had been picked up but it hadn't and there were no volunteers to go back and look for it.  The museum itself was a mixture of local artifacts and photographs with a few classic cars and motor cycles - an interesting place and well worth a visit if you are in the area.

The campsite had been pre-booked and was directly behind the station and the tents were put up just before the rain came tumbling down.  The camp site itself was flat and the tent pitches were located between static caravans.

However, the entrance to the site was an 'experience' - it was situated behind a petrol station and the drive to it was literally through a scrap metal yard consisting of cars, lorries and junk.

This was a little off-putting but, to be fair, the actual camping area was good and the facilities were adequate for our overnight needs.  The bikes were given a once over and it was decided that as the Simson appeared to be running OK, we would not touch the carburettor but the headlamp lens was refitted with good old gaffer tape, minus the bulb!  A quick look around the Yamaha only found the rear off-side indicator loose and this was soon tightened.  After checking the oil levels, the bikes were chained up and it was time for a well-deserved rest (and a pint, of course!)

Day Two: Sunday, 25th June:

The Yamaha and Simson head into the mist
Singing in the rain

Torrential rain during the night didn't dampen our spirits and although this had eased off by morning, we donned our wet weather gear and left the camp site at 9:30am with trepidation about what else was in store for us.  The second and final part of the Coast to Coast started in a pub car park in Alston and we all departed together in a fine drizzle at l0:00am, riding up to the highest point of the route (some 1,903ft at Hartside Top Viewing Point Café).  The ascent was steep and visibility was greatly reduced by the mist.  We parked at the café (6 miles) even though it was not a recognised checkpoint, because the information board indicated this was one of the most scenic views in England - alas today we saw nothing except thick mist!  The ride through Hartside Pass was fun - or it would have been on larger bikes - but the mist, wet roads and limited braking capabilities of our machines meant we certainly tested our bikes and our own abilities.  The mist disappeared on the descent and the rain stopped (thankfully, we did not see it again for the rest of the journey) and we made good progress to the fifth checkpoint, which was a lay-by on the outskirts of Penrith (19.3 miles).

While we chatted and waited for the slower bikes to arrive, a P-reg yellow FS1-E parked alongside me.

Apparently, the owner had seen us ride past his front door and he got his bike out and went after us to see what we were all up to.  Unlike my Y-reg, his FSl-E was immaculate and had pedals with a hydraulic disc front brake and he followed usfor several miles after we left the checkpoint.  We ventured through the centre of Penrith and out on the A6 towards Wigton; the weather was overcast but it was good moped weather.

The route to the sixth checkpoint, the Sun Inn at Bassenthwaite, was very scenic, the weather had improved and it felt quite warm in the waterproofs.  The local road up to Orthwaite and Uldale was interesting and narrow which certainly tested the brakes coming down again.  We arrived at the pub at l2:35pm (45.7 miles) and quickly took off the waterproofs in an attempt to cool down.  We noticed a Honda step-through having its rear wheel removed (due to a puncture) while we rested our sore backsides and devoured a welcome sandwich (breakfast at last!)  Leaving the pub at 1:25pm, the route took us towards Cockermouth.

We didn't stop long at the seventh checkpoint in Cockermouth (53.9 miles, cumulative) as it was only 8 miles from the previous one, instead we pushed on.  The ride from Cockermouth was via the A5086 heading towards Keswick, then turning off on the Egremont road.  The Yamaha was suffering on the steep inclines and for several miles it lost touch with the Simson.  Ray later said he was trying to keep sight of the Yamaha in his rear-view mirrors and thought he could see the faint reflection of the Yamaha's headlight as he was riding and was surprised when the light got bigger and bigger and was shocked when the bike overtook him, especially when it turned out to be a large Harley Davidson and not a FS1-M.  The Yamaha finally caught up on a flat stretch of road and the descent to Whitehaven was in bright sunshine.  The finish line was in front of The Beacon tower on the quayside (71.6 miles), we parked up and congratulated ourselves on a successful, enjoyable and safe ride.  The time was 2:50pm.  A steady trickle of riders soon finished and we soon had a good line-up of bikes and happy riders by the harbour wall.  We all went our separate ways and we spent the night celebrating at a nice camp site on the outskirts of Keswick, which had great facilities, nice views and flat camping pitches, with a good local pub to relax in.

Total Mileage over the two days: 146 miles.


This had been a well planned and fun event.  Those who rode cyclemotors and pedal mopeds (like the Honda Express, etc) certainly suffered on some of the steeper hills while we, on more modern mopeds had an easier ride.  The Simson and Yamaha performed better than expected, especially considering neither had been on the road for many years and they had only completed approximately 2 miles each on test run before arriving at the start line.  The last time I rode a FSI-M was when I was 18, some 25 years ago and if the truth was told I was some 5 stone lighter in those days (probably why the bike appeared to go faster in my youth!)  The teething problems with the Simson, which were not unexpected (due to the lack of testing it had had following its recommisioning after 20 years of neglect) did not detract from our enjoyment and we would certainly recommend this event to other moped riders - if it is run again next year we might even be tempted to enter again ourselves.

The only other comment I would make is that during the entire 145 mile route, I found all the other road users gave us plenty of space and I was not cut up once, this made a nice change and helped make this Coast to Coast run a great success (this surprised me as I am used to the fast pace and lack of consideration from London drivers).  Well done to the organisers and congratulations to my fellow riders, we can all be proud of our achievement.

This article was first published in the September/October 2006 edition of 'The Independent', the magazine of the British Two Stroke Club.

Archive index   Go to the Archive index