by Mick Ayriss, printed in Fishtail
Almost 40 years have passed since my first Dragon Rally, which was my only trip by Velocette. I went a few times by Norton 750s, one bike being the Atlas in 1970 and the other being the Commando in the 1980's.
The weather in February has always been what you would expect it would be in early February, winterish, that is wet, very wet, snow, cold and this year it was really windy.
My Velo trip was in 1967 when I was just 17 and wanted to get away from home for the weekend and have an adventure. It ended up an endurance test. Getting there didn't seem to be so bad; someone knew the route and I just followed so it must have been Clive Hodgkin as he always seemed to be good at directions, or was it John Ashworth? The A5 must have been the route we took and we did arrived in daylight as I remember it.
Hot soup in a plastic cup was our prize along with our first Rally badge. Pitching the tent on the side of a hill with a bit of a flat spot was the best we could do but it was not a good choice. At about midnight, just after turning in for the night, inside our quite, new and for the time top of the range Blacks tent, the never ending rain turned our pitch into a steam. Whilst running water might be handy sometimes this wasn't one of those times so we decided to head for home.
My Belstaff "Black Prince" suit did not leak but every thing else did especially my fur lined Gold Top boots. I still have that memorable feeling as the cold water seeped through the zip at the rear until the boot was full and, of course, the elastic on my Mk 8 goggles lost more and more tension the more it rained!
The first obstacle to getting home was getting through the floods in the Llanberis pass. The police were stopping all traffic and I remember a BMW Owner with his broken down bike muttering "they don't break down, its the water, the water you know." A new route was conceived and off we went into the driving rain on a long roundabout route because of mount Snowdon. We went up to the coast via Caernarfon with its castle all lit up as we passed by looking for petrol. My very first automatic petrol station needed two shilling pieces and I only had half crowns in my pockets but everyone found some or swapped some and ended up with enough petrol for us to carry on to Conwy. The floods were out in Conwy with the police diverting us here and there to miss the deep water. Even so, the water came up to the bottom of the magneto and I remember thinking at the time "there goes the primary chain" as the water ran out of the cases. We finally ended up at Betws-y-Coed railway station taking shelter after 5 or 6 hours riding, absolutely freezing cold and worn out. It was still raining cats and dogs of course as we sat looking at the rail tracks disappearing under the water when one of the party came back with the good news "the café across the road will open at 7.30am" and boy did we need it.
Hot food and drink bolstered us up for the final leg to home just 150 miles away from this point and we made it in really good time arriving close to midday with the Velo not letting me down at all really, just dip beam going and the clutch cable giving up one mile from home. BMW's, pa, they just can't take it can they?
How different the 2005 journey was to be. Firstly, it was by BMW and no it wasn't raining, well not much, just blowing a gale. Sometimes I was over at a 30 degree angle the wind would then whip back the other way. Boy I was glad to get off the A50 onto the small roads near Uttoxeter. My passenger, John Hales, seemed to accept all this as just par for the course without a sound or was he just struck dumb with fear?
It all started a few days earlier at a Velo club night when I suggested John take my Venom as a replacement for his MAC with the stripped oil pump drive or, if he was going just for the day, I could take him as a passenger, his choice. I did fancy a ride.
We rode in the company of Pete Cumberland and Krista both riding Hondas and Alan Dennison riding his Venom. Our first stop was at the village of Audlem for breakfast in a wonderful café full of character. We had our breakfast sitting at the polished counter of an old sweetie shop sitting either side looking over to the lemon sherberts, army navy sweets and herbal tablets, all in old-fashioned glass jars with the only clue to 2005 being grams in place of ounces. Huge home made scones passed my eye line to be placed at the end of the counter to make me weaken and I sinned even more with a great dollop of strawberry jam. To my surprise they tasted just as good as they looked, wonderful!
It was another 70 miles to the Dragon checkpoint and I still had to keep it upright on the greasy and muddy roads, which seemed to get a little worse at every corner. But in just over an hour we were filling up in Llangollen and nearly at the control. Thoughtfully the control was at a café in Pentre-Foelas on the A5, we had tea and a warm before arriving at the rally site just two miles down the road. We turned into the farm gateway like every one else. Apparently over 1000 of us were to make the pilgrimage this year. Why change a successful formula when it works? So the Conwy Club haven't, well perhaps just a little. The soup is still offered but beside the coveted badge we had two chocolate bars and a mini bottle of Scotch whisky and a slate coaster. The walk to the camping area confirmed my decision to go home was correct with some tents laying flat in the wind. The entrance gateway gave us, if not the riders, some amusement with many bikes up to the axles in mud within just a few yards.
A couple of hours after arriving it was time to return home but first another feed at the café two-mile back. The setting sun was behind us as the miles drifted by until Audlem came into view once again, just in time for me as leg stretching was called for to get the blood flowing to the cold extremities. I dropped John off at his home and arrived back at my home sometime close to 8pm. A long day indeed, but what a contrast to my first Dragon.
And which one do you think I remember more fondly? Do we really have adventures any more or have modern vehicles taken that from us?
- Mick Ayriss
Fantastic. I have done the last three Dragon Rallies '05, '06 and '07, the first two on a Hyosung GV125 and the latter on an XV535 Virago. I've been told 2007 was typical Dragon weather. It's is always nice to hear and read stories about this rally. I am 25 and have only been riding for 4 years but intend to carry on riding and doing the Dragon for many years to come. I wear my badges with pride.....