Dragon Rally

Courtesy of Jan Heiland, here are some snippets from the THE MOTOR CYCLE in 1962.


Target -
A Dragon

EARLY next Saturday morning, 1,700 motor cyclists will be astir. All over Britain eager eyes will be surveying the weather, busy hands tilling vacuum flasks and stowing bundles of blankets on luggage grids. Even as the bleak winter dawn is breaking hundreds of riders will already have begun their long pilgrimage, with many miles behind them. And a thousand more will sniff the morning air and wish that they, too, were on the same errand.

What is the target on which all these riders will converge? It is Bryn Bras Castle, at the foot of Snowdon, where the scene is set for the biggest-ever winter gathering of dyed in-the-waders enthusiasts ever held in Britain - the Dragon Rally.

Riders will find few comforts there. Beds are available for only a handful. For the rest there will be the spartan luxury of a bare floor in a barn or a marquee. There'll be cold water to wash in and though there'll be plenty to eat you'll balance your plate on your knees.

But these men have not thronged to this remote corner of Wales to lie in luxury. Nor are they here to have their palates titivated by an elaborate programme of entertainments, for they are the Corinthians of the greatest game in the world. They were inspired by an article in our own pages last autumn calling for this mighty demonstration of the brotherhood of motor cyclists. Their hosts are the lads of the Conway Club, few in number but enthusiastic enough to turn the initial dream into magnificent reality.

However stark the comforts this weekend at Bryn Bras, rallyists will get the warmest welcome anywhere in these islands. You'll meet kindred spirits from Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Kent, faraway Ross-shire and all points between. There will be the pick of Britain's motor cycles to admire, and their owners to yarn with until the wee sma' hours. Household names in British motor cycling will rub shoulders at the castle. One of them is sidecar ace Chris Vincent, who'll be helping Barry Ryerson to run a recruiting stand for the nation-wide corps of mercy riders. And where could they find better than at the Dragon Rally?

A round dozen German boys are coming too, veterans of their own great Elephant Rally. One king-size enthusiast on a pint-size mount is Ulrich Schwab, riding all the way from Stuttgart on a 50 c.c Kreidler.

At 7 p.m., Stan Alman of the Conway Club will swing out of the castle gate to lead the spectacular climax - the headlight parade. Southward up the old mountain road will go the cavalcade, and the thrum of a thousand and more exhausts will echo over Llyn Padarn. Then back down the valley riders will return to Bryn Bras.

The moving circle of light and the glow of the welcoming bonfire will be symbols for all to see. This is the bond which links us to fellow riders, the beacon fire which had drawn us to the wonderful world that only true motor-cycle enthusiasts can know.



So You're Going To The Dragon ...

UNLESS YOU'VE FIXED yourself a bed, take a waterproof groundsheet and plenty of blankets. Your own "mug and irons" may come in useful, too. Don't forget your Conway Club receipt of booking-cum-parking ticket.

YOUR CHOICE of routes is clear from the map. The R.A.C. has sign posted A5 from Llangollen traffic lights, and A55 from Llandudno Junction, all the way to Bryn Bras Castle. The turning-off point from A4086, the Llanberis-Caernarvon road, is at the Glny Twrog Inn near Llanrug.

AS STATED in "The Motor Cycle" last week, unlimited camping space is available, even for riders whose "entries" have been returned. Write or wire Ynjerapr Veivat, Zvysbeq Ubhfr, Yyblq Fgerrg, Yynaqhqab, to reach him no later than 5 p.m. tomorrow.

FROM THE CASTLE gate Conway Club officials will direct you to your sleeping accommodation. It's first come, first served for the snuggest berths!

SEPARATE CATERING points have been sited and there will be successive sittings for main meals. Extra hot meals will be available from 8 a.m. on Saturday.

AT 3 P.M. a continuous show of motor-cycling films begins in the castle ballroom. The celebration bonfire will be lit as the leading riders in the headlight parade return to Bryn Bras. After a brief address of welcome over the loudspeakers, the barbecue supper will be served.

A LIMITED NUMBER of Dragon Rally souvenir badges in adhesive fabric will be on sale. They cost 2s. 6d. from Conway Club officials.

Weather Footnote: As we close for press snow has fallen on the North Wales mountains. The nearest meteorological station reports that more snow this week is "highly probable." Excellent!




The Only Word for Conway Club's Great Rally

LAST weekend a bitter east wind howled about the mountains of North Wales even in the shelter of the valleys the thermometer showed five degrees of frost. And at the foot of Snowdon, on the old road from Llanberis, lay Bryn Bras Castle, focal point of the greatest get-together of true motor-cycle enthusiasts ever held in this country - the Dragon Rally. What was the magnet to draw men there? Certainly there was little organized entertainment, very few beds, stark comfort all round. The Conway Club had promised nothing more.

And that was the heart of the Dragon! At this lonely castle in the mountains was something beyond price - a sincere welcome from one man to another, between kindred spirits whose love of motor cycling transcends all else. For the Conway Club had sent out the challenge: if you are keen you will come.

How magnificently the motor cyclists of Britain responded! By nightfall on the Saturday, 1,900 - the full "entry list" finally accepted - had passed through the castle archway. Yet still they came, hundreds more, long after the control had closed. That turreted pile was already packed. There was not even space on a bare floor for late-comers, and only a slim chance of a hot meal. But all were determined to join in even at the cost of a freezing-cold night spent in an open field.

For some, one night at Bryn Bras was not enough. Earliest of the early birds were young Barry Hastings and Tony Youd who had set out from Slough on their Trophy Triumph at first light on Friday morning.

Close behind them arrived the first of the 30-strong German contingent, Ulrich Schwab of Stuttgart and his lion-hearted 50 c.c. Kreidler. "A very fine trip," was his description of two days and 750 miles on that tiddler.




All Saturday riders poured into Snowdonia. From every corner of these islands they came, converging on A5, Telford's great highway to the west. They raised their hands in salute as they passed, for the badge of the Dragon man was a bedroll lashed to the carrier. The spirit became infectious and children ran to the cottage gates to wave.

Seemingly endless, the cavalcade climbed through the pine forests beyond Betws-y-Coed, every man-jack eager for a close-up of real mountains There was a following wind, sharp-edged as a razor. Snowdon's triple peaks were flecked with snow, her torrents frozen to miniature glaciers. As they swung past the slate-green waves of Llyn Padarn beyond Llanberis, riders rose on their footrests. And there they had their first glimpse of Bryn Bras Castle. They saw a fairytale outline, nestling 'mid trees. For most it had been an inspiring journey, with nothing to complain of but the cold. Not so for two sidecar outfits from Darlington. Over the short cut

through Ruthin the B.S.A.'s chain broke and jammed immovably round the gear-box sprocket They hitched a tow with the other outfit - a Brough Superior - and the grand old vee-twin did its best until, within spitting distance of the top of the Llanberis Pass, the rear cylinder dried up. So in Dragon Rally spirit the outfits were manhandled over the hump and coasted down the other side.

Then there was the farthest-travelled of all, 56~year-old Paul Hediger from Switzerland. Not long after leaving home he took a tumble on ice on his B.M.W., putting the headlamp out of commision. But he carried on undaunted.

As Saturday afternoon merged into evening the lineup of machines became more and more impressive. Interesting, in view of the controversy that raged over capacity limitations, was the fact that the over whelming majority were bigsters, with a very large proportion of sidecars.




As the light faded from the winter sky the tempo at the castle speeded. Machines moved into formation for the headlight parade. Then, suddenly, the mutter of engines rose to a crescendo. Out of the trees emerged a succession of headlights their beams swathing into the darkness, a column of light, snaking up the mountain side. Far away, towards Llanberis, went the dot-dot-dot of pin-pointed rear lamps: an endless chain of light five miles long. That was an unforgettable display.

The parade over, the vast celebration bonfire in the castle paddock blazed triumphantly. And on the other side of the castle, everyone gathered to hear the address of welcome from Conway Club chairman Don Williams. Harry Louis said a few words. And then came the evening's most inspiring moments.

"To your great Dragon Rally in the country of the Red Dragon I send the hearty wishes of the Elephant Men. My dear friends, we need real men who will face hardships to keep alive the real spirit of the true motor cyclist, to set right all the troubles in our old world." That was the recorded voice of Ernst Leverkus, father of the German rally - and indirectly of the Dragon Rally, too.

From the loudspeakers then came the stirring strains of an old sea-shanty, the song of the Elephant Men. There came the sound of racing exhausts. Inspiration was complete.

Nine members of The Motor Cycle staff had ridden to the Dragon. To them, from every hand, came thanks for the rally idea.

Yes, here at Bryn Bras was the dedicated motor cyclist, and he was being steeped in an atmosphere which could do no more than make him a greater dedicate still. Here, by the hundred, was the sort of enthusiast who typified the spirit of the mercy riders and the proposed Fellowship. Proposed Fellowship? Here was proof of a fellowship as old and as firm as the great pastime of motor cycling itself.

Take that lad over there, waving a barbecued chicken leg to make a point he's arguing. A lone-wolf Triumph rider from Norwich, he'll sleep tonight fully dressed in a two-man tent with three enthusiasts he had never set eyes on until an hour or two earlier. Tomorrow he'll fight his way back to East Anglia, through blinding snowstorms and over miles of ice-bound roads. Why did he come to the Dragon Rally?

Let's stroll over and ask. He turns from his friends and replies: "Because I count myself a real motor cyclist."



Titch Allen and his 13 year old son Roger travelled from Leicester to the first Dragon and on 22 March 1962 THE MOTOR CYCLE printed a prophetic article that foresaw, or maybe began, motorcycle rallying.




by Titch Allen

YOU went to the Dragon Rally? And now you feel a strange restlessness. So do I, and I know the symptoms. What you have is a dose of wanderlust; you have been bitten by the tingle of adventure, by the yearning to get away and explore the land you live in. The Dragon trek was something unique in motor cycling history. The bonfire which blazed in the foothills of Snowdon that wintry night kindled in thousands of minds new enthusiasm for the open air. Can the Dragon spirit spread throughout the land? Can it be used to bring adventure to a generation threatened by the sleeping sickness of spectating - of watching instead of doing? What we want is more Dragon Rallies in more places . . and with a heavy accent on self reliance. Bryn Bras proved that to try to feed and house several hundred motor cyclists is a major undertaking. Even granted the necessary facilities and organization, the product is something between an Army depot and a holiday camp. To demand a roof and fodder for a couple thousand souls restricts the choice of sites, puts a heavy burden on organization. But are these necessary? Dragons ought to be tough. Tent, sleeping bag and cooking stove must be their battle order.

Free ourselves from the ties of civilization and there is hardly a corner of the land which we could not reach enjoy and savour. Really adventurous Dragons could forgather in Skye, in the Lake District, Devon, Cornwall - I even heard one Bryn Bras Dragon suggest App1ecross, that wild pass in the Western Highlands. There are countless camp sites for those who put scenery before snack bars.

Some of them too far away you say? Well that brings me to a crucial point. The Bryn Bras meet was a wonderful show a unique reaction to a challenge of adventure but it was much too big.

The gallant Conway Club, hoping to attract a sizeable bunch of enthusiasts found itself facing an invasion force. They stood their ground without panic and did a grand job. But the sheer size of the rally defeated one of the objects: the widespread making of friends. You could hardly find the friends you already had!

Cutting out the comparative luxuries of cookhouses and marquees would reduce numbers; and increasing the mileage would reduce them some more. Not everyone could find the time or the money for a trek from Birmingham, say, to Scotland; but those who did would be linked for ever by a bond of friendship forged no doubt round a camp fire or cooking stove.

Are you with me? More Dragon rallies but smaller ones. Less organization but more adventure: indeed, no organization apart from a preliminary recce to choose a site and make sure of drinking water.

All who ventured to a rally like this would be entitled to Dragon badges . . . their cost might even pay the postal expenses of a loose knit organization.




In the very same issue the letters page contained the suggestion shown on the right.

Start of quotation Went on the first Dragon in '62 with my mate Doug Saunders, both on BSA 500 twins. Still own mine, a 1955 A7.

In my 80s now but still riding a BMW 1150. Will try and ride to this year's Dragon, now I know it's on.

Will never forget the headlight procession up into the mountains ! End of quotation

- Bill Crew

Start of quotation Dave Hampson, Roy Upson & me, Eddy Levett, plus two who's names I cannot recall, travelled from Woolwich to the rally in 1962.

Dave who worked at the AJS/Matchless factory, which also made Nortons, rode the new Dominator (special permission). We stopped at Watford Gap Pee break, Dave lifted his goggles & to his surprise it was sunny. His goggles were covered in oil smears!

Eventually arrived, put our flimsy tents up, went to pub. On return tents flattened. Re-erected, tried to sleep in our ex army grey blankets. Waste of time. Yes, it was bitter cold.

Do not remember if there were any WCs but certainly a few cold water standpipes. End of quotation

- Eddy Levett

Start of quotation For those of you, who like me, appreciate motorcycle club and rally badges and patches of the past, here's another rare image from my archive showing the 1962 badge presented to the rallyist at the time. This one has never been sewn on a jacket, or exposed to the elements, and thus has kept all its original colours, despite it being almost 60 years old.

Here is the sole picture I have in my archive of the 1962 Dragon rally. This rare image perfectly illustrates the motorcycle outfits of British bikers of the time.

End of quotation

- Jean-Francois Helias

Thanks for the well preserved badge Francois. It has now replaced the version sent by Jan Heiland in 2004.

Start of quotation I just found your site looking up Bryn Bras Castle.

I took part in the first Dragon Rally of 1962. In those days I lived in Liverpool, now I live in Adelaide Australia, have done since 1962.

I noticed people are seeking momentoes such as badges etc, I still have my original and entrance ticket; I am open to offers.

I would also like to chat to others that took part in that rally.

Cheers to you all. End of quotation

- Stan Taylor

Start of quotation Harry Louis was the Grandfather of my daughter in law who now has two children.

I am writing a family history for them and would be delighted to have any photos, stories or other information about him. End of quotation

- Peter Morris

Harry Louis was editor of the Blue 'Un (Motor Cycle). He is mentioned in this transcription, plus the 1964 and 1966 pages.

Please get in touch with Peter via the Contact Centre and take it from there.

Start of quotation I went to Bryn Bras on my Ariel Arrow and it was magic and I have printed the memories to relive my youth thanks for the bikers who took the trouble post also the BLUE UN.

I also went to the next three or four Dragons, the Conway club also. End of quotation

- Pykey

Start of quotation I think I was the only Australian on the '62 Dragon. I was a rabid motorcyclist in those days. I'd come to England in 1960 on an old VB 600 Ariel and joined the RAF (Don't ask me why, I can only give the standard serviceman answer. "It seemed a good idea at the time.")

In early 1962 I was stationed at RAF Hospital Ely and had upgraded to a lovely 1960 BSA Gold Flash. Riding to Welsh Wales in mid winter seemed another good idea (I was a slow learner) so with a mate on the pillion we rode from Ely.

The ride there and back was easy, only some 250 miles each way, but overnight at Bryn Bras was bitter cold. I was not a happy camper. On airmans pay we only had enough money for fuel so eating or drinking to warm up wasn't an option. A RAF camp never looked so welcome on our return. It took a week for me to defrost.

The next month I was posted out to Aden where I was very happy to be back in a more homelike climate.

I had sewn my Dragon badge on to a baggy sweater but obviously the sweater was surplus to requirements in Aden so I cut it off again, threw the sweater away and put the badge in my little box of serious memorabilia where it has stayed to this day along with badges from the top of the Stelvio, the Grossglockner, the Nurburgring etc, etc.

I think it was the hardest earned. End of quotation

- Bob McGrath


Open quote Having been to all but the first Dragon Rally I find the articles written bring back happy memories.
Ron Jones Close quote