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Round Kurland Rally for Historic Motorcycles

The 2005 Round Kurland Rally – a personal view.
By Simon Grigson

  Most members of the VMCC – myself included – know little about Latvia other than the fact that it is somewhere at the far end of the Baltic Sea and has recently joined the EU. It does not have a long history as an independent Nation - the era which now embraces the country - having been for centuries under German, Swedish and Polish rule and a part of Russia. With the end of World War I, Latvia and its neighbours Lithuania and Estonia became submerged as satellite states of the USSR. With the end of Soviet dominance in the early nineties Latvia re-emerged and the last fourteen years have seen the re-establishment of democracy and investment in infrastructure and industry which had been impossible under Soviet rule. Incidentally, the population is around 2.5 million, which compares with, for instance, that of Norway or New Zealand (both around 4.5 million).

Those with long memories will know that VMCC member Juris Ramba has been the leading light on the Vintage and Veteran motorcycle scene in Latvia for many years and has visited the UK on several occasions, more recently taking part in the Pioneer Run, the Banbury Run and the TT Rally. For the Banbury and the TT Rally, Juris rode his restored 1926-ish Model 25 Norton and I took it as a great compliment that he invited me to ride this precious machine in this year’s Round Kurland Rally, of which he is the organizer. All I had to do was to get myself to Riga, and so it was that I found myself jam-packed into the singularly Spartan (but cheap) direct daily Ryanair flight from Stansted on 14 July along with Pat and Mary Gill, who were also taking part in the Rally. Pat’s immaculate 1928/9 Model X Matchless had been shipped out a few days earlier by road.

We were duly decanted onto the tarmac at Riga’s smart post-Soviet airport and Juris was awaiting us as we went through Customs. A short trip into the Centre of Riga followed, where accommodation had been arranged for us in a smart penthouse flat built into the roof space of one of Old Riga’s attractive 18th century buildings. Luggage duly left, we were whisked off to an enjoyable and convivial dinner with other members of clan Ramba and visiting American/Harley enthusiast Bruce Linsday and his Latvian wife and sister-in-law… … and so to bed.

Friday morning saw us doing a bit of sight-seeing round Old Riga, where many buildings date back several centuries and reflect Riga’s prosperous past as an important member of the Hanseatic League. Then it was time for a taxi to the gathering point for the Rally at Riga’s excellent motor museum, in which Juris is also involved.

The next several hours were spent meeting other participants and admiring their mostly immaculate machines. There were nearly fifty entrants from twelve countries and 19 makes of machine, dating from 1926 to 1979, which made it a truly international affair. Apart from Pat and myself, the VMCC was represented by Neilsen Frederick Webster from Newcastle on his 1960 Triumph, Jacqueline Bickerstaff with her well-travelled Vincent Rapide, Swedish member Mats Munklinde with another Rapide – and Juris himself, who somehow managed to ride his 1937 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead (OHV to non Harley-ites) as well as running the whole show!

The Model 25 Norton was duly fired up – it is an easy starter despite the racing gearbox with no kickstart – and obligatory numbers attached. It is very well set up with all controls nicely within reach and, I was pleased to note, the usually mediocre eight inch Ehfield front brake really worked! By about six o’clock it was time for the whole cavalcade – accompanied by yellow jacketed outriders from the “MC OPPOZITORS” modern bike Club in Riga – to launch itself into the Friday evening traffic, which was, I have to say, every bit as bad as London in the rush-hour! Perhaps not the ideal way to familiarise myself with a machine with a bottom gear akin to that of a Gold Star BSA, but the clutch withstood the necessary stops and starts well, and despite the temperature (somewhere in the eighties), there were no problems with the machine overheating. A short stop for photos was followed by a pleasant run of 70 km out into the countryside to Durbe, an attractive 18th century house which once belonged to the local German land owners. This, after years of neglect under the Soviets, has been restored and the administrators had kept it open until nearly eight o’clock in the evening so that we could see it. Then it was on to the Slokenbeck Estate at Tukums where the Rally HQ was located and where inexpensive accommodation or camping had been arranged for all those who requested it, for both Friday and Saturday nights.

Start time for the Rally was 8.15 am on the following day and one could opt for timed or untimed participation for the 108 km run through unspoilt countryside to the old town of Kuldiga. Detailed English language route cards and maps had been provided, although I decided it would be easier just to follow on and enjoy the ride. The need for glasses to read the route card and no glasses required for riding was just too complicated!

Minor disaster struck the Norton just after the route entered a 10 km section of gravelled road – the fuel pipe fractured just below the B and B carburettor. However, it was not long before one of the back-up vans appeared and we continued to Kuldiga on four wheels. Kuldiga was fortuitously ‘en fete’ and a tour round the town had been arranged before lunch. I had removed the fuel pipe from the Norton and Juris returned it to me within half an hour duly repaired. After lunch, the Norton fired up again without problem and I joined the processional ride out of town – all arranged beforehand with a police escort and crowds lining the streets – for the more direct route back to Tukums. Here, the final part of the event took place – a short regularity timed hill climb. The Norton did not do too well on this – the engine cutting out periodically on the first run due to excessive richness, although the second run, with a bit less throttle, saw a clean climb.

Then a short run back to the Hotel/HQ in a slight shower – the second in two days of otherwise perfect weather – followed later in the evening by an excellent buffet dinner, prize giving and dance. The VMCC contingent fared well – Pat Gill winning the award for a Fresh Restoration – both he and his Matchless having needed extensive rebuilds following a horrendous prang in August last year caused by yet another careless motorist. Jacqueline Bickerstaff got a silver ring – the Miss Kurland Round award for a lady rider and Neilsen Frederick Webster got the award for the most consistent times at the Hill climb. And as for me, it is an indication of ever-present fact that time flies that I won an award for the Greatest Combined Age of Machine and Rider!

Sunday morning came round and it was time to say goodbye to Slokenbeck as competitors loaded up their machines or indeed, rode away on them! Juris had organized a return route to the Riga Motor Museum for his group if I can call them that, in which we stopped off at Klapkalnciems to have a look at the Baltic Sea and the unspoilt sandy beaches – uncrowded despite the excellent weather. The only slight cloud on the horizon was the loss of the bulb and reed from the Norton’s obligatory ‘audible means of warning’ which disappeared en route.

For the rest of the day, Juris drove Pat, Mary and myself over to Rundale palace, a vast 18th century palace set in remote countryside, built by a Russian aristocrat. This had been allowed to deteriorate during the Soviet occupation, but much excellent restoration work has been carried out. One room has been retained in a ‘before restoration’ state and gives a good idea of the monumental task facing the restorers. Well up to the standard of the best National Trust properties in UK, in my view.

Finally back to the airport for the uneventful return flight and drive home, arriving at 2.30 in the morning! A crowded but enjoyable four days in which I met many enthusiasts with similar interests, and, in my opinion, a Rally organisation second to none. I certainly recommend other VMCC members with a taste for foreign events to give serious consideration to participation in next year’s Round Kurland Rally.

Click through the gateway to see...
The ROUND KURLAND RALLY 2005 - Picture Gallery
The Round Kurland Rally 2005 in pictures
  Slokenbek, Latvia   16/07/2005  
  The ROUND KURLAND RALLY 2005 - Results  
# Name,
Country Motorcycle Road Run
(average speed: 50 km/h )
Regularity Hillclimb (2 runs) Place
Make Model Year Start time Finish time Penalty points Place Time
1 SIMON GRIGSON UK NORTON MOD 25 1926 08:19 - - - 0:05:60 28 -
2 VIESTURS ALBERINGS LV AJS K5 1928 08:29 10:30 - - 0:30:50 32 -
3 VJACESLAVS AMELCHANKA LV INDIAN SCOUT 1929 08:19 11:06 40 - 0:01:26 18 -
4 PATRICK GILL  UK MATCHLESS   1929 08:18 10:39  - 0:01:76 22 -
9 VILNIS OGLE LV TRIUMF KONGRESS 350 1935 08:25 - - - - - -
10 DIDZIS STRAUPE LV BMW R4 1936 08:20 10:46 20 5 0:00:61 14 5
11 ALEKSEJS POPOVS LV ZÜNDAPP S-500 1936 08:21 10:58 30 14 0:11:76 30 12
12 HUBERT FEHRENBACH D ZÜNDAPP K-350 1936 08:21 10:58 - - 0:02:37 23 -
13 JURIS RAMBA LV HARLEY DAVIDSON E-61 1937 08:22 10:45 - - 0:05:57 27 -
14 BRUCE LINDSAY USA HARLEY DAVIDSON UL 1937 08:23 10:28 - - 0:00:34 9 -
15 ULDIS JANKEVICS LV ZÜNDAPP K-800 1938 - - - - 0:00:14 3(1) -
16 JANIS MEZINIEKS LV SUNBEAM LION 1938 08:23 10:45 - - 0:22:79 31 -
17 HARIJS KRUZKOPS LV BMW R-12 1938 08:35 11:09 - - 0:00:15 4 -
18 ANDIS DIDZUS LV BMW R-35 1951 08:23 10:20 14 1 0:00:28 6/7 2
20 URMAS REEARU EST BMW R-23 1939 08:27 11:06 36 15 - - -
21 ALVIDAS VIRGINIS LIT BMW R-12 1940 08:24 11:06 - - 0:00:32 8 -
22 ANDRIS KILVENIEKS LV HARLEY DAVIDSON WLA-42 1942 08:35 - - - 0:00:28 6/7 -
23 JURIJS KOTELNIKOVS RUS URAL M63P 1972 08:25 10:47 41 16 0:05:64 29 13
24 ARNIS ZOTOVS LV HARLEY DAVIDSON WLA-42 1944 - 10:17 - - 0:01:23 17 1
25 AIVARS SASKO LV HARLEY DAVIDSON WLA-42 1944 08:27 10:28 28 13 0:00:58 13 7
27 MARIS BEDRE LV BMW R-35 1951 08:26 10:37 18 3 - - -
28 MARKS MEIJERS LV BMW R-35 1951 - - - - - - -
29 LAURI MELLIN FIN SUNBEAM S8 1952 08:25 10:21 21 - 0:03:58 25 -
30 RAUNO EROLAHTI FIN TRIUMPH 6T THUNDERBIRD 1953 08:25 10:20 20 - 0:00:35 10
31 MATS MUNKLINDE S VINCENT TOURING RAPIDE 1953 08:25 10:44 22 7 0:04:50 26 11
32 JANIS LACAUNIEKS LV IZH 49 1955 08:27 10:20 14 - 0:01:36 21 -
33 TOM MORTENSEN DK MATCHLESS G80S 1956 08:24 10:44 - - 0:01:40 20 -
34 NEILSEN FREDERIK WEBSTER UK TRIUMPH TIGER 100 1960 08:24 10:44 - - 0:00:08 1 -
35 ATLE MORSUND NOR NORTON JUBILEE 1960 08:24 10:39 22 8 0:00:13 2 3
38 ARNIS TOMASS LV CZ 502 1963 08:25 10:41 21 6 0:03:29 24 10
39 TALIS MELKIS LV PANNONIA T-1 1963 08:24 10:17 14 2 0:00:26 5 1
40 VILNIS ZIRNIS LV CZ 250 1963 08:25 10:42 22 9 0:01:36 19 9
41 HENRY IMMONEN FIN TRIUMPH T100 SS TIGER 1965 08:25 10:21 21 - 0:01:11 15 -
45 VALERIJS KARASEVICS LV HONDA C-90 1970 08:25 10:42 - - - - -
47 GEORGIJS SOVETOVS LV PANNONIA T-5 1973 08:25 10:38 22 10 - - -
48 JURIS MARTINS LV SUZUKI GS-750 1977 08:29 10:28 24 11 0:01:16 16 8
49 JOSE RODRIGUES FR YAMAHA XS 1979 08:26 10:27 18 4 0:00:54 12 4
50 JACQUELINE BICKERSTAFF UK VINCENT RAPIDE 1951 08:26 10:29 26 12 0:00:53 11 6

The ROUND KURLAND RALLY 2005 - Prizes and Winners
  Awarded for...     Awarded to... Motorcycle
1 ...debut at the rally with freshly-restored motorcycle Book prize - Patrick GILL Matchless
2 ...failed debut with a freshly-restored motorcycle DVD Video - Janis MACAROVSKIS FN
3 ...the best military motorcycle Brass cartridge - Arnis ZOTOVS  HD
4 ...the worst hard-luck story at the rally DVD Video  - Jurijs KOTELNIKOVS  Ural
5 ...Miss Kurland Round  Silver ring  - Jacqeline BICKERSTAFF Vincent
6 ...the greatest total age : machine + rider  VHS video  - Simon GRIGSON Norton 
7 ...the greatest distance travelled Book prize  - Bruce LINDSAY  HD
8 ...the most technically-interesting machine
    (donated by "Auto Moto Retro" Magazine)
Plaque  - Uldis JANKEVICS  Zündapp
9 ...the best result by a foreign participant  Cup  - Atle MORSUND Norton
10 ...the best result by a baltic participant Cup - Urmas TEEARU BMW
11 ...the best foreign participant Kuldiga prize - Jose RODRIGUES Yamaha
12 ...the best result in the road run (by SMS member) Cup - Andis DIDZUS BMW
13 ...the best result in the Regularity Hill-climb
   (The Alfred Bader Prize)
Metal plate - Uldis JANKEVICS Zündapp
14 ...the best result in the Regularity Hill-climb
   by a foreign participant
Kuldiga prize - Neilsen Frederik WEBSTER Triumph
15 Juris Ramba's prize for the best overall result in the rally Antique carburettor & wristwatch - Tals MELKIS Pannonia

The ROUND KURLAND RALLY 2005 - Hard Luck Story
Jury Kotelnikov is a colonel in the St Petersburg militia and the proud owner of a military WLA 42 Harley-Davidson which he rides occasionally to his distant orchard out of town. The machine was restored in St Petersburg by the “Pilot Brothers” workshop, where it was rebuilt as closely as possible to the original specification – complete with leg shields.

Now it is generally known by those who really ride military Harleys that leg shields can only be used if the outside temperature is not above 20 deg. Celsius and the speed does not exceed 70 kph, as the shields interfere with the airflow around the engine. Jury’s plan was to ride his Harley to Latvia to participate in the Round Kurland Rally. You guessed it: July in the Baltics was the hottest month, Jury's Harley overheated, seized up and threw the rear rod near the town of Parnu in Estonia. Some of his friends from Latvia tried to help - the plan was either to transport the machine to Latvia and to repair it or bring a replacement engine to Parnu and replace it as there were still 2 days until the rally. Unfortunately both of these options proved impractical, so Jury travelled to Latvia minus his Harley, and was loaned a Russian ex-militia patrol motorcycle and complete militiaman outfit which he happily accepted and used on the rally.

This however was not the end of Jury's troubles. At the Latvian-Estonian check-point Jury was not let through -- some strange visa procedure had been misunderstood by Estonian border guards (or wrongly interpreted by Jury?) and Jury had to return to Riga to obtain a new transit visa to cross through Estonia!!!! Very reminiscent of the old Soviet-era hassles with visas and checkpoints!

Despite the string of misfortunes Jury is determined to participate in the next year's Round Kurland Rally; his luck can only improve…can’t it???


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