Motos Classique de Chimay

We had a plan. It was a simple plan. A few of us would meet up on the Friday morning, jump on the chunnel and have breakfast in continental Europe.

We’d then amble through northern France, maybe take in a battlefield along the way to pay our respects to those who fell 100 years ago before hitting our b’n’b, grabbing some beers and watching some classic bike racing up close and personal.

This plan had been concocted a few weeks before the event but we hadn’t taken into consideration that the battery on my Ducati would decide to explode and vomit sulphuric acid everywhere, nor had we foreseen the apocalyptic weather front that appeared from nowhere and stole many a headline in the national papers.

With the reality that my bike was going nowhere in a hurry (long story) and the weather was going to be less than favourable, Ben Miller (Classic Bike Ed.) grabbed a van from work, loaded his 750SF in the back and swung by mine on the way to Folkestone. We chucked the pushbikes in for good measure and set off.

 

lav-van
Criminal not to be riding this over but…

 

London, the south east and the whole of Europe it seemed was bathed in sunshine and here we were in a transit with no A/C both of us agreeing through gritted teeth that this was still easier than being in full gear carrying luggage and camera equipment. We were right to be honest, the van made light work of the motorways plus it gave us the opportunity to talk crap and wax lyrical about what we’d do if we sold our bikes and what single bike we’d replace our stash with.

Turns out a Ducati Monster 1100S is the best all rounder in our eyes, but what do we know.

 

strepy
Nothing to do with bikes but pretty impressive engineering. photo by yannert husbertrand

 

We also didn’t pay any tolls on the motorway which was an unexpected bonus as was the discovery that the bizarre T-shaped building we spotted from it was in fact the world’s largest boat lift. The Strepy-Thieu boat lift has a vertical travel of 73.15 m (240 ft) and can lift barges weighing up to 1,350 tonnes. The structure, which opened in November 2001, has a total height of 117 m (384 ft) and forms part of the Canal de Centre, a man-made waterway that links the rivers Meuse and Scheldt (Guinness World Records). Day turned to dusk as we wound our way through Belgian country side in search of our b’n’b and when we finally found it we were met by a refurb that Kevin McCloud would have struggled to find fault with. Bonus! Thanks Sally for the find albeit in the middle of nowhere.

 

bnb
Culture clash. White van man comes to small village in Belgium.

 

In our finest franglais we found out that the nearest eatery was 15km away, ditching the van we jumped on the bicycles with a very rough map and full of good intentions aka desperate for a local ale. The roads to the brasserie reignited the wounds of not being here on the Ducati, wonderful meandering roads through undulating hills and not a person or car in sight, it was bliss.

 

dusk
No chance of bad weather tomorrow then.

 

The brasserie turned out to be a micro brewery and they served the most beautiful beer (Super des Fragnes) and we made sure the following night that we’d take some back with us. The journey home was soothed by the infusion of a litre of 8% blonde and soon after we left the darkness and silence enveloped us, and all that lit the way were the search lights in far off cities in what we can only assume were nods to the atrocities 100 years ago.

Dawn revealed hazy heads and perfect skies as we jumped in the van early to avoid the queues, of which there were none, and we approached the track to a soundtrack of two strokes. Chimay is essentially a gentleman’s club race but try telling that to the pilots on these classic machines. The circuit began life in 1926 and was originally called the Grand Prix des Frontières and was run on a longer 10.45km track over 12 laps for sports cars and even attracted the premier class with Alfa Romeo taking the honours in 1929. The racing on the longer section ended in 1972 for safety reasons and although the odd race took place in-between and on special occasions, the track has now become a 4.5km rectangle.

dayglo
Rave scene still massive in continental Europe.

This is the 25th year of classic bike racing and it’s easy to see its appeal and popularity. Everything about the event was uncomplicated, easy and it’s just pleasant to be able to walk through the pits chatting to people about their beloved machines. We were completely oblivious to any sort of timetable but eventually found out the morning was reserved for practice with racing on the Saturday and Sunday, with the forecast for the latter looking decidedly poor.

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So much of the charm of Chimay is the closeness of the spectator to the racing, at various apexes you’re literally just an arms length from being able to touch both bike and rider and it’s absolutely exhilarating to behold. The noise and the wind as each ace thunders past brings goose bumps to your skin and a perverse grin to your face. I’ve never been so close to any sort of racing before and it’s something that will live me for quite a while.

hey-mister
See! I wasn’t joking. However, autograph hunters weren’t having much joy.

With both, races and practice, being fairly short in length (5-6 laps) the time between gives you an opportunity to walk further along the track to different sessions with marshals heckling you as the next bikes peel out for a sighting lap. Ignorance to what was actually going on added to the bliss of the event with each class containing so many different types of machine it often seemed unfair as 50cc bikes battled with each other only to be blown away by some big twin from the 50s, I didn’t have a clue why but felt better in the knowledge that Ben didn’t have a clue either again, this just added to the enjoyment of the day.

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We traipsed round to the back end of the course before heading back to the pits and enjoying a culpa and a slice of cake from a true gent by the name of Patrick Walker. He owns and runs Works Racing building Norton race bikes and engines for those lucky enough to be able to afford one. As we drank tea in his motorhome and wolfed down an exquisite victoria sandwich he told us of the joy of the old circuit which although not technical really did favour those with big cahunas.

beemer
The germans tried head mounted fenders long before anyone else had thought of them.

With the racing over for the day we headed back to the Brasserie and settled in for an evening of fine beer, moules and men in leather shorts armed with brass instruments. Everyone with a penchant for motorcycles should go to Chimay and there should be no snobbery about how you get there, just get there and take in the noise and drink the beer.

ben-going-to-the-lav
Ben going to the Lav. 😉

2 comments

  • wusses…in a van…..My wife and I rode down from Yorkshire on a Victory. Great time, made many friends, great racing, excellent beer. And HOT.
    regards
    hodge

    • If the Duc hadn’t thrown its toys out of the pram we would’ve done.
      Glad you enjoyed it too. Let’s hope the EU safety police don’t get to it.

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