“One thousand miles of merciless vibration!” was the headline above an early 1950s advertisement for Tudor’s recently-launched Oyster Prince which, ran the text: “…was worn by a competitor in the Monaco international trophy for motorcycles. For 29 hours, over a course of rough, winding, alpine roads, it was subjected to an ordeal by dust, rain, and especially the constant, merciless vibration of high-speed riding. And yet, at the end of the gruelling test, it emerged ticking smoothly, having maintained perfect time throughout…”
As regular readers might know, we are rather keen on motorcycles at Revolution – so were more than pleased when Tudor revived its presence in Europe a couple of years ago and installed a bike-mad boss to run the UK operation. His name is Sven Olsen, and back in January 2015 I persuaded him (surprisingly easily) to take part alongside me in the somewhat demanding, 18-hour Exeter Trial, our escapades at which were chronicled in Revolution UK issue 5.
We completed the event wearing Tudor watches (of course), the idea being to demonstrate that they are even more fit for (motorcycling) purpose than they were back in the 1950s. They acquitted themselves nicely, and did so again in last year’s edition of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride in which the Revolution Motorcycle Club expanded to include members from Rolex, Private White VC and The Rake magazine. Olsen and I have been on the lookout ever since for another, equally appropriate two-wheeled event at which to test the Tudor mettle.
Run what you brung
Just such an occasion cropped up this summer when news arrived of what can fairly be described as a unique happening in the world of modern motorsport: a hillclimb and a series of sprint races that take place without the red-tape imposed by official organisations. They are also open to adult riders of any age on machines of any type from any era – with the one small proviso being that the latter fit with a loose “retro” theme, which encourages bikes of the classic/bobber/cafe racer/street scrambler/home-built special ilk. In other words, nothing too new, too shiny, too plastic-clad or too off-the-shelf.
The event is called The Malle Mile and was first staged by motorcycling cousins Robert Nightingale (33) and Jonathan Cazzola (34) last year. The “Malle” in the title refers to the company run by the two designers which specialises in hand-crafted leather, canvas and waxed cotton goods such as tool rolls, back packs and panniers that are designed to withstand the rigours of open-air use by bikers while being both practical and good-looking. Put simply, it’s just the sort of kit that complements the type of machines mentioned above – gear, in other words, that’s designed to appeal to hipster riders with a sense of adventure.
The story goes that Nightingale and Cazzola were inspired to create the Malle Mile after discovering that taking part in some of the world’s better-known automotive contests had become not only prohibitively expensive but also rather exclusive in the worst sense of the world, both in terms of the vehicles required and the conditions of entry.
Like all the best entrepreneurs, therefore, the pair decided to stage an event of their own that would attract people who, in their words, “share our ideology that motorcycles are there to be ridden”.
The germ of an idea blossomed into a project to stage a day of “gentlemanly” racing to which everyone would be welcomed, followed by a thoroughly good party and, for those who wanted it, a night under canvas right beside the course – and all for a reasonable fee and with the minimum of bureaucracy imposed. But the masterstroke, perhaps, was to make it all happen in the grounds of an elegant 17th-century stately home called Kefington Hall which lies in 250 acres of gently sloping countryside on the outskirts of the sprawling Kent town of Orpington – a place sufficiently close to the metropolis for the event to warrant the unofficial title of “The Malle London Mile”.
Olsen was barely able to contain his excitement during the days building-up to it, not least because it provided an opportunity to give an outing to his superb 650cc Cheney Triumph enduro bike that won a silver medal in the 1973 US International Six Days Trial for British rider Dave Randall. I, meanwhile, was less fortunate in my choice of potential weapon with which to tackle the hillclimb and sprints: despite having a varied selection of machines tucked away in different sheds, few were appropriate to the event – which is why I ended up aboard my trusty, and entirely unsuitable, Harley-Davidson Sportster. On road tyres.
The day of the Malle Mile dawned bright and warm, and by 10am an impressively large – and extremely varied – number of machines had turned up to take part, ranging from a pukka 1950s Ducati road racer (which made my Harley look ideal for the job) to a brace of Steve McQueen-style Husqvarna motocrossers, lots of custom-built Triumph Bonnevilles, a host of classic Japanese trail bikes and some machinery that you would never have expected to see wearing motocross tyres and being prepared to run up a slalom hillclimb laid-out on a stubble field – a BMW K1000RT tourer, for example.
Kings of the hill
With the minimum of organisational fuss, everyone was soon lined-up for the hillclimb – for which I had donned the lovely Tudor Heritage Chrono Blue launched in 2014 as a reincarnation of the Oysterdate ref. 7149/7159/7169 versions, which came to be known as “Monte Carlos” by dint of the design of their dials, which were slightly evocative of a roulette wheel. The Heritage versions of the watch have 42m cases (2mm larger than those of the original) but replicate the urgent orange dial markings and chronograph hand that make them look like a real racer’s watch, especially when complemented by the optional fabric strap with go-faster stripes. In truth, of course, the fit, finish and durability is far better than that of the original models but, like all Tudor watches, they still represent excellent value for money. Olsen, meanwhile, was sporting his own vintage Tudor Big Block, an example of the maker’s third series of chronographs that was launched in 1976 with the ubiquitous Valjoux 7750 movement -– that meant Tudor had a self-winding chrono way before Rolex. And it was the extra case space required to accommodate the rotor that led to the watch being given the “Big Block” soubriquet. Both pieces proved ideal for checking the times of our fellow competitors as they raced, two-by-two, up the Malle Mile’s relatively short, but clearly challenging, hillclimb course – and Olsen and I were slightly daunted to see that no one was exactly hanging about. As they say in off-road motorcycling circles: “If the mud ain’t flying, you ain’t trying….” And, believe me, flying it was, with a couple of the keener riders on vintage scramblers demonstrating some superb opposite-lock control around the hay bales.
Olsen performed admirably, too, on his (perfect for the job) Cheney, while I’d rather not mention my times on the Harley – on which I managed two runs before being banned when my road tyres were spotted. We both acquitted ourselves reasonably well in the early stages of the 80-competitor, eighth-of-a-mile, knock-out sprint, however. But not well enough to get down to the last 20 or so, by which time the remaining riders were really – and I mean REALLY – going for it.
What a drag
The thrilling final race proved to be between a 1970s Yamaha XT500 and, believe it or not, a Honda CB900 running a tuned engine and a vast motocross tyre. “No contest,” you’re thinking? As it happened, the Honda proved to have just too much power and simply dug a furrow up the field, allowing the far more manageable Yamaha to romp home to a well-deserved victory.
I doubt there are many places in the world where you’ll find two such incongruous motorcycles going head to head in a sprint race. But that, I guess, is the beauty of the Malle Mile – which I’m thoroughly looking forward to attending again next year. This time with the hottest vintage dirt bike I can lay my hands on…
The 2017 Malle Mile is set to take place during the first weekend of July. Keep an eye on Mallelondon.com for details.