British Diesel Motorcycle Rally 2011

Bat and Ball

Jeff and Merlin enjoying the 2011 Big Knock.

My brother and I arrived at the Bat and Ball a little after noon on the Wednesday leading up to the rally. We’d been watching the weather forecasts like eagles and couldn’t believe our luck when the MET office upgraded ‘our’ weekend from hot to a scorcher. Looks like we were in luck yet again!
We expected to find Ola already encamped there after seeing his posts online and sure enough, he'd pitched his tent in the far right-hand corner of the event field.
Coming all the way from Sweden on a small diesel powered motorcycle, he is a veteran of past gatherings in both England and Germany and this time round had also visited the Rat bike event and Santa Pod prior to visiting us.

The Pub. A great venue for such an event.

He told us that on entering the country and driving onto our motorway system he received an instant welcome from Her Majesty's Police Force who told him in no uncertain terms that he had to remove himself from the Motorway because he was A: too slow and B: smoking too much! On hearing that I thought, "The 2011 Big Knock is a go!"

During the course of the rally he informed us that his new motorcycle, this time powered by a larger Hatz diesel engine, is well into its construction phase and hopefully will be on the road for the next Big Knock. He says it will be similarly configured to the present bike in that the engine will be designed to rock back and forth to reduce vibration on that plain. The fan/flywheel arrangement will also be taken in to reduce the width and allow for an easier fitting to the frame. The frame itself is likely to be constructed from sections of large diameter tubing. We wait with a certain amount of anticipation for this creation and will endeavour to take plenty of pictures before it too disappears under a layer of grease and grime!

Being short-handed this year we had to take all the camping and BBQ stuff up in the van and then returned for the bikes. Putting the tents up proved to be rather troublesome when a pole broke but that was quickly fixed with a Swiss army knife.
Some of the earliest arrivals were rally regulars Matt and Klaus who travel over from Germany. They travelled over separately this year on their black diesel Enfield's and lost no time in getting a beer in!
It was good to again see Matt come over from Germany on his diesel Enfield. He informs me that since the last time here he has stripped the engine down and fitted an up rated five hole injector over the previous 4 hole affair. He was advised against doing this without upgrading the piston etc. because the injector was only for the newer engine but decided that there was no real engineering reason it shouldn't be done. They we just trying to cover themselves he said. A few more tweaks here and there and he's now a happier and faster diesel biker!

Diesel Enfields owned by Matt & Klause.

I talked with Klaus for a while after he parked up directly outside the pub and he told me his Sommer Enfield had been tweaked by some enthusiastic tractor guys back in Germany. Klaus had previously owned the now infamous Centaurus but had given up on the bike after it broke its second frame. As far as I know all but one of these bikes went the same way, the 360 cranked engines simply generating too much vibration over a 180.

We were pleasantly surprised to see Jochen, Peter, Steph and friends arrive about midday on Thursday. I'd checked my Twitter feed the previous day and seen that they were on the road but you never can tell if the party will be delayed along the way. I know from experience that all manner of things can slow ones progress when travelling long distances. They say that the stop offs are the most interesting part of travelling but not when they are sometimes enforced on you and you are in a hurry with a ferry to catch!
Thomas and wife also turned up early with Thomas riding a 1000cc Lombardini Triumph Street Triple complete with CVT arrangement. We have seen the bike quite recently in Hamm as it was constructed by the multi-talented Heiko.

Triumph ridden over from Germay byThomas and Ian with his Ruggerinni Chopper.

There was something a little different about Jochen Sommer's ride this year and a closer inspection revealed that it was indeed, not a Royal Enfield Bullet. That venerable old British motorcycle has given us guys in the diesel community some good service down the years, (the separate gearbox being especially useful) but it does have its limitations. With this in mind Jochen has chosen to now build his own frames and iron out some of the Bullets failings. Interestingly, he was inspired by another iconic British Motorcycle, the Triumph Bonneville - that of the early 70's design- when it came to making the new frame.

Jochen Sommers new motorcycle frame based on a Triumph Bonneville.

The custom tank is rubber mounted on forked cups and secured by a thick ‘O’ ring at the back. Having actually owned one of those Bonneville's I must say I was struck by how similar the large diameter frame looked to the old bike. And last but not least, Jochen had redesigned and strengthened the rear swing arm mounting arrangement improving it far beyond what the Enfield ever had.

A full view of the above bike.

Other, smaller parts, were laser cut at a good rate meaning very little of the bikes heritage was there to see. Sure, at first glance it looked like a Bullet, but it was anything but! Well done, Mr Sommer, for bringing along this new creation. We are told there are ten more just like it coming together at this very moment.

Old Tigers don't die - Neil converts them into motorway maulers capable of 100mpg & 100mph.

So, there we have it, on Thursday night, there were, unusually, about 20 of us at the BBQ! The best start we’ve had in 7 years of holding the rally!
The next morning saw Jochen and friends head North to Birmingham on a combined business and pleasure outing but typically they ran into problems at the M25 junction at Leatherhead and soon returned to the site. Instead they visited other more local places of interest before the rally got started in earnest. A journey that far North is not easy when you are coming all the way from the continent.

The Dutch Diesel Enfield.

Friday saw more arrivals from all over - too many to remember accurately. Neil Laughlin (Smart Tiger) and wife Helen rolled in from Northern Ireland along with Ian (Ruggerini Chopper) up from Plymouth. Ian had lost the nut that held his suicide shifter in place on the way up and had used some quick thinking to secure it with a bungy strap.
Diesel Dave Warham came charging down the field on his 1000cc Lombardini bike, chin guard up and standing tall on his Tigers foot pegs. Good to see his wife Brenda came over for Saturday night as well! Dave, as many of you know, is veritable font of knowledge where the Royal Enfield is concerned.

Ireland was well represented at this years rally.

Someone who has attended every rally is Guzzi Ray from the Bexhill region of East Sussex. In the early days he'd arrive either with his Missus in a camper van adorned with the Confederate flag or on his Guzzi. These days, having taken inspiration everyone else here, he arrives on a diesel Yanmar chopper motorcycle constructed in his own garage. This year he couldn't make it on the Saturday but came instead on Friday with fellow biker Joe. Last year the bike was awaiting an inspection before it could be allowed onto the road but I'm glad to say it passed and Ray tells me he now uses it as much, if not more than the Guzzi! Truly 'Miles with Smiles!'

Guzzi Ray on his Diesel Chopper.

On Friday and indeed Saturday too, we were very pleased to see a Morgan style Diesel Trike – two wheels at the front and one at the back. I’m grateful to the owner who brought it over from Aldershot on both days and gave everyone a demo of it running by taking it around the field. At its heart was an engine we’d never seen in a bike before, a 30 year old G10 Honda V twin commonly found on refrigeration units. The only person I know to ever have a bike with such an engine was Mike Dixon who was a close friend of Ernie Dorsett.

This Morgan style Trike, made mainly from old British car parts, is powered by a Honda G10 V Twin Diesel engine.

In between welcoming all these guys I had a few other things to do. The rather infamous building (that masquerades as a toilet & shower block) was not functioning very well. I had noticed that the automatic lights were switching on and off a lot faster than I, or others, would have liked. This was a real problem at night plunging unsuspecting diesel biker's and campers alike into complete and utter darkness at just the wrong moment! The Swiss army knife came out again and, after removing the tiny bladed screwdriver from the corkscrew, I was able to tweak the small adjustment screw (in both loos) sorted the problem. Thanks to Mr Taylor for standing guard!
I also got a busted toilet seat hinge fixed after a maintenance guy turned up from the brewery to replace a cracked cistern situated within the pub. Turns out the landlord had forgotten to tell him about the other repair that needed doing. He later thanked me for sorting it and I'd like to thank the repair man for robbing bits from the broken pub loo to fix the other. Top marks to that man! Who’d be a rally organiser eh?

An original Enfield Taurus complete with a larger size 462cc Hatz engine.

Around this time Sonke's friend arrived on a Boxer with his wife Nasri riding pillion only to say that his friend was stuck way up in Scotland with a busted injector pump! If he could get the part in time he may just make it down on Saturday but unfortunately we never saw him or his bike affectionately nicknamed 'The Mule'. It seemed as if these guys had all had trouble because they went on to explain to me that they too had set out for England on their diesel bike only to have a cable break on them. They did not have a spare and had to return home to put their gear onto the boxer. I was grateful that they had made the effort but what with Sonke's problems way up North it seems they were never destined to meet up in England.

I was over by the pub Friday when I heard and then saw a flatbed truck steaming onto the site. I remember thinking "Who the hell is that?" Only when I wandered over later did I see that it was Whiskers (he of the Harley Dieselson fame) and bike builder Brian. Turns out these guys were working locally and had decided to pop over and checkout the bikes. These guys and their friends came back Saturday bringing along the V twin diesel Harley and an Axiam diesel car which sported a two cylinder Kubota diesel. Unable to stay Whiskers then returned later Saturday on his CBR.

Whiskers, an enthusiast and the Harley Dieselson. Axiam Diesel car in the background.

It's pretty essential that Wi-Fi is available these days and after checking that the pubs Wi-Fi was OK earlier in the week I was a bit annoyed when it started to play up on the first night. It's important these days as so many of the guys use Smart phones and communicate using internet voice services rather than direct calls. I'm glad to say it sorted itself out the next day and we had no problems for the remainder of the rally. Phew.

Perhaps the most awesome motorcycle to make its first appearance this year was Russell Couper's 1.9 VW powered machine built around a Dnepr frame. In raw and naked splendour this bike had just about everyone gawping in wonderment. When Russ rolled onto the site towing a trailer with his dog Molly occupying it you can just imagine the kind of attention this combination received! The bike apparently pulls like a train and the drive is good despite the fact it has no gearbox! Russ has recently taken this bike as far afield as Slovenia.

Russ and Graham

Soon after, Kevin pulled onto the campsite we exchanged a bit of gossip regarding a mutual friend he met whilst travelling. But the conversation soon moved onto more pressing matters when Kev mentioned that his regulator had packed up on the way down! In the blink of an eye and needing no second invitation, Diesel Dave was in there with our socket set, reaching into the most awkward and oily recesses of the Yanclone Enfield. As luck would have it Graham Weatherly (also down on his diesel Enfield) carried an assortment of spare parts, one of which was a regulator. A consideration changed hands and Kevin was up and running!
When Rudolph came in (after arriving late Friday) he too had electrical problems. His SatNav device had suffered a malfunction and we could see several of the pins appeared to have burnt out.

English and Dutch guys, both owners of Royal Enfield Diesel Motorcycles.

The Run-out.

After having the run-out to Bury Hill in recent years we decided upon a change of destination this year and took the guys to the Chalet Café, a local transport come biker stopover situated on the A281 between Cowfold and Henfield. I should say here that Ola, knowing how slow his motorcycle is, decided to set off early and took directions from Jeff on how to reach our destination. More of that later!

Just before noon we put the word out of our imminent departure and, under a blazing sun, rider after rider suddenly became very animated. All about me jackets were flung over shoulders and helmets lifted into the air. Onlookers stepped back as the guys turned their keys and started their machines. The characteristic whir of the heavy duty starters was followed by multiple and thunderous detonations as the heavy engines rumbled into life. Beneath our feet the ground trembled and that small area of West Sussex went ever so slightly off the Richter scale.

I saw Jeff throw a leg over the Ruggerfield and glance down at the unfamiliar right hand change. He engaged 1st and pulled out over the undulating ground towards the gate. Everyone else slipped their clutches and funnelled after him. Across the field little Corrin climbed into a waiting Goldwing sidecar combo down from Essex and to my left Nick Paxton sat brooding upon his low slung chopper. Up front were Neil Laughlin and Dave Warham, their tall, black Tigers surrounded by a gaggle of Royal Enfield's. Everyone and every bike were now straining at the leash. More guys suddenly appeared from behind having ridden down from the top of the field. It was Reinhard and Rafael, the main players on the German scene.
This time I was on convoy duty and riding the Honda XL600L with Corrin's Mum, Gaye, riding pillion. As the riders continued to converge at the gate Jochen Sommer hurriedly appeared at my left elbow and shouted something over the roar of the bikes whilst wrestling furiously with his helmet strap and jacket. I caught the word 'ride-out' and shouted a "yes" in reply, nodding towards the exit. He ran back for his bike and I looked towards the gate to see everyone was now stationary. Then, suddenly, Jeff's white helmet bobbed into view from behind the hedge and we saw that he'd walked back to check everyone was ready. He waved and I gave him the thumbs up (after a prod from behind) and he jogged back out of sight. And then, from up ahead, we heard an even louder, thunderous roar as the revs went up and the bikes there started to roll forward in earnest. We were off!

Russ and Molly on the runout.

We headed south from the pub and onto the A272 before then riding East through Billingshurst. It's a pretty straight run from there on to Cowfold with only a few crossroads to worry about. Unfortunately we cross a dual carriageway where the lights are prioritised for that road and this did serve to 'cut' the line temporarily.
Eventually we hit Cowfold and I saw that Jeff and the other leaders had pulled over to await us. As we came into view they pulled out and took the right fork South from the village towards Henfield. Midway along this road was the Chalet Café, situated on the right hand side under some large, shady Oak's. Just the thing to protect us from that heat!

Some scenes from the Chalet Café.

The car park out back is gritty in nature and a dusty colour white. It reflected the sun up mercilessly upon all who dwelt there and it didn't take long for us all to seek the cover afforded by the trees and the refreshment provided by the Café. Of course, the arrival of our bikes tempted others to do the exact opposite. Those already present were drawn out into the brilliant light to inspect and gawp at our motorcycles.

And from the parking lot out back.

It was whilst inside the Café that we learnt business had been slow that morning due to the roads closure. Nobody quite knew why this had been so but we later heard there had been an accident due South. Most riders ordered up a drink whilst a few got some food in. On getting my coffee I thanked the staff for leaving our rally flyers out and pocked the few that remained on a nearby table. Always pays to do that I think.
We'd been relaxing out front for a while and 'shooting the shit' as you do when all of a sudden we heard a rather familiar knocking sound in the distance. Before long, who should come riding round the corner but Ola, our very own Viking! On his approach from the car park he explained that he had mistakenly taken a wrong turn at Cowfold and travelled East instead of South. He then got some light-hearted 'stick' from Jeff because of it. We ended up staying at the Café for a little while longer whilst Ola got some food in but eventually Jeff roused everyone and we all piled back out into the searing midday heat and made ready for the off.

The guys get ready to depart the Chalet Café.

Watching all the bikes pull out from the Café I couldn't help but smile as a couple of onlookers spotted Molly the dog being towed behind Russ's recent creation. Their heads had been turning left to right as the other bikes filed by but I'm sure their jaws dropped on seeing a hound in a trailer!

Unlike previous years we took the same route back and this time managed to hang together a bit better through the lights. It was a good run back and as we turned back onto the camping ground I could see there were a few more members of the general public ready and waiting to view the bikes.

The Saturday afternoon the air was often tinged with the smell of vanilla scented pipe tobacco as Reinhard strode purposefully from bike to bike, casting his expert eye over every little detail. By his side was his son, Merlin, taking in the sights and sounds of England on his first visit to the country. And then there was Rafael, webmaster at Dieselkrad, recording all he surveyed with his smart phone and camera. High above jets roared by their circular route into Gatwick whilst thousands of feet lower, the odd bi-plane from Shoreham limped by so slowly we feared they might actually just fall from the sky and hit us.

The main players on the German scene: Rafael and Reinhard.

I'd been communicating with diesel bike enthusiast Colin for some time before the rally and he had come down from up North on a 125cc Honda along with his daughter Amy. Colin has recently acquired an engine and needed certain brackets to further his build. Needless to say he made contact with Jochen whilst at the rally, a man who has a few to hand, and expects one to be arriving soon by post (it has –via me!). I'd like to thank Colin for giving Corrin a taste of what motorcycling is all by taking him round the field a few times. That brought a smile to his face!

Corrin sits astride one of the German Diesel motorcycles.

That Saturday afternoon it was good to throw a leg over Neil Laughlin's ECU controlled Diesel Tiger. Neil is currently constructing a similar bike for myself and we discussed some of the finer points of the build (when we could!). I shall take him up on his suggestion of adding risers to the bars as I find it more comfortable to be sitting in an upright position on a bike made for touring. I'm certainly looking forward to having a decent touring motorcycle that delivers over 100MPG and still gets the front wheel off the ground if need be. Seeing a Turbo boost gauge sitting there on the dash is a little reminder that there is something more between my legs than a standard Triumph engine!

Britain's first fully electronic diesel motorcycle fresh back from a trip to Nepal.

Having taken his creation on a 'proving run' all the way to Nepal earlier in the year Neil is willing to build other interested parties one of these bikes. Go on, you know you want one!
It was good to see a few locals and bikers alike come pay us a visit during the day. This year we placed adverts in local paper The Resident, The West Sussex County Times and the Friday Ad. We also placed ads in bigger, motorcycle nationals such as MCM. There was also an interesting article in MCN! We also advertised with Facebook in the weeks leading up to the event although I'm not sure that pulled in as many people as it should. I didn't meet any from there! We also spent some time putting out flyers at various biker haunts and handing them to riders of more exotic machines figuring these guys may be a little more in tune with our way of thinking. I'm glad a few made it along including CX man who seemed very interested in the V twin diesel bikes thereabouts.

Saturday saw a steady number of interested people come by to view the bikes.

There are always a few little incidents at rally's that come to the fore. Matt told me the Cops were out in force to the North with the speed guns (not that that bothered most of us) and that they'd stopped one of our guys to the West when he took a bike down the road for a test ride without a helmet. I'm not sure who that was!

And good to see Yorkshireman and GS rider Pete at the rally this year. Some well observed and accurate comments on everything from Motorcycle dealers to the state of the beer (“that pint were so dead it looked like someone had shot it!”) raised a smile or two. I think guys from his neck of the woods have a natural affinity with diesel bikers and their desire to travel cheaply! In fact the more I thought about his choice of motorcycle, the more I found it hard to conceive of two things more diametrically opposed than a Yorkshireman and a BMW Dealer.

Close-up of the Smart Tiger. Notice the gearbox is now hydraulic courtesy of the Tigers old line.

It was great that Dan managed to make it over despite his wife recently having a child and it was also good to see Max come up from Devon. I saw plenty of other regulars, many of whom I don't know by name. Sorry about that! We also saw some of the new Price Part Diesel motorcycles this year brought along by a chap from Northern Ireland and rally regular, Len.

We had a BBQ every night with both Gaye and Jeff putting in some sterling work at the grill. It was a small miracle that the wallpaper table we used for food preparation never collapsed but sitting beside it Harken did manage to knock over the kettle that scorched the boy wizard's leg! As for myself I had not one but two teeth giving me pain and spent the entire rally downing antibiotics and painkillers. If I seemed a little more distant than I normally am that is the reason!

I did quite well with T shirt sales this year but still have a few left. The remainder will be stamped ‘AWOL’ and sold via our merchandise page. Let me know if you want one. Unfortunately we’ve no Large or Small left. Some XL will be cheaper having no logo on the rear.

The entertainment this year was provided by Mythago, a local Morris dance group who entertained bikers and campers alike. These guys were a good laugh and you can see them on youtube.

I'd like the thank Ola for riding out and buying a ton of burgers for Saturdays (or was it Fridays?) feast. A proud man who would not take the any form of reimbursement! Perhaps we will magic a bottle or two of Baileys to Hamm this September if we can fit them onto the panniers? With an exceptionally sweet tooth, this liqueur was something both he (and Jeff) consumed in alarming amounts this year. The next morning saw both exclaiming just like the rally name, they had a 'Big Knock' in their heads! Believe me, when you are nursing a sore head the morning after, the last thing you need is for the guy next door to start a diesel engine up. And, believe it or not, it happens quite a lot at our gathering!

Ola poses for a shot taken on the Wednesday night outside the Bat & Ball.

The BBQ itself (a cheap affair given to us many moons ago on a fishing trip) held out despite the best efforts of the sizzling sausages and sticky burgers. Invariably, after each meal, the grill was removed and the glowing coals used as a basis for a fire. All those carefully selected off cuts of wood I had purchased for the motorcycle side stands to rest upon went up in smoke. Luckily, what with the recent drought, the ground was hard as nails and they weren't really needed.

All my carefully selected blocks of wood for bike stands go up in smoke!

Ola was, for the second year running, the furthest travelled diesel motorcyclist to attend and so was awarded the Ernie Dorsett Long Distance Award. Distance measured using Google maps from zip to zip was around 950 miles. As you can see from the presentation photos, we don't stand on ceremony at the Big Knock. Jeff, complete with cigarette sticking out from his mouth, slurred his way through an impromptu speech before handing over the laser cut award. Well done Ola!

I'd like to thank everyone for coming and making the rally what it was. These events are the best place to get advice about your bike and meet fellow enthusiasts. Several people asked how many Diesel motorcycles had attended and by my count I think we saw 24 in all over the weekend. Thank you for bringing them along!

Enjoy more shots on this YouTube Slideshow.
Pictures by Chris Taylor, Stuart Scarry and Rafael Hausler.

If you want to stage an event why not book it in at the Bat and Ball? Check out their website or call Mark on 01403 700313. It is an excellent venue set in the beautiful West Sussex Countryside with three fields for camping and caravans.

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