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,
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
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
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
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
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,
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,