Report of our ride out to the 2nd German Diesel Motorcycle Rally Hamm 2003

(incorporating the rally report itself)

When I originally wrote this trip up I drew no distinction between the ride out and the rally hence this combined article. Save pictures for bigger image.

 From the very off, our journey out to the 3rd Annual Diesel Bike Rally in Germany seemed it may not happen at all. My brother Jeff and I had originally planned to set out on two bikes, a borrowed NTV650 for him and me astride my very own Charnwood Royal Enfield Diesel conversion.

 The ‘lender’ fell through due to insurance problems and I was forced to accommodate my brother on an old Honda CB 400/4 which I have been lovingly renovating over the last 18 months. To improve reliability on the aged machine I rush fitted electronic ignition one day before the off and took it for a spin round the block. It died on me suddenly and then came back to life just as quickly. I tightened a few connections, sprayed a bit of WD40 about and prayed it wouldn’t let us down on the trip.
 We left home at 6am Wednesday and, accompanied by a little light rain, drove through the darkened morning to reach Newhaven by 7am. The crossing itself was uneventful, if a little choppy and we whiled away the time studying our maps and drinking tea. Four hours fifteen minutes later we were leaving Dieppe and heading full bore for the Rally.

 Considering that we landed in France at midday and were limited to sixty miles an hour we made good time until we found ourselves on a motorway with more on ramps than off. This, it seems, is the way with most French toll roads.
 After having gone miles out of our way we got our heads down and I hammered the Hatz through until we arrived at Mons just after dark. We set up our tents here at a friendly little camp site just off the towns main ring road and headed into the centre to see what was happening.
 As it was the place seemed quite dead apart from the odd drunken football fan shouting about. On making further enquires we learned that we’d set our watches the wrong way. We were two hours out so no wonder everything was shut. 
 We got some supplies in the end from an all night store and, thankfully, had no language difficulties. Last year Jeff had spent a good minute trying to explain to a smiling shop owner that he required some teabags only for the guy to look over his shoulder and shout, ‘Ere, Ethel, we’ve got us a fooking cockney ‘ere.’

The Diesel Royal Enfield and Honda 400/4 parked up by a Cemetery. Jeff is texting his new GF, Shelley.

 Anyone familiar with Mons will know that a small brass monkey sits in one many doorways situated around the main square. Legend says that if you rub his head vigorously you will be blessed with good luck. I tried this last year and woke up the next morning to find I had a flat tire. I had resisted the urge to take along a hacksaw this time and would advise any bikers at least to steer clear of this most noxious of brass mammals.
 Next morning we set off bright and early and covered good distance until we got stuck in an almighty tailback outside Hagen. After waiting what seemed like an age we began to see German riders weave their way past and decided to do likewise.
 We got a mouthful from at least one frustrated driver who bore a striking resemblance to Astertrix the Gaul and I feared the worst when a minute later some chap jumped out in front of Jeff. After much gesturing from this guy my brother haltingly explained in broken German that he didn’t have a clue what was being said. When the look of exasperation had disappeared from the guys face he went on to explain that his friend had broken and ankle and needed a lift to the next off ramp where his girlfriend would take him to hospital. Jeff obliged and we had our passport to the head of the queue.

 As the last of the smashed cars were cleared from the carriage way we found ourselves re-starting our journey in the pouring rain with night closing in fast. We jumped off the Autobahn south of Dortmund and headed for a small campsite near Menden. After getting hopelessly lost of a succession of back roads we eventually stumbled upon our chosen destination and were heartily welcomed by our German hosts. With a provided light to set up by and hot showers we could ask for no more.
 On Friday morning we paid a quick visit to the our sites neighbours and purchased a dozen freshly baked rolls before setting off on the short hop to the Rally site in Hamm, Westfallen. We picked up the florescent signs at junction 18 south of the town and followed them all the way to the grounds of Brauhof Wilshaus or Willy’s House.   As with the previous year Willy allows all Rally goers to camp on his front field free of charge. The field in question, which is neatly split in two by the tree lined driveway, sits before three large imposing buildings which house the tavern, stables and most importantly, the brewery.

 After deciding that our first choice of pitch was too close to the pigs we moved closer to the road in an effort to escape the smell thereabouts. As with our arrival back in 2002 we were some of the first to arrive and, as before, it wasn’t long before the Rally’s organiser, Reinhardt came over to welcome us to this most unusual of events. Reinhard is one of the modern day pioneers of the diesel bike having built himself an 850cc Ruggerini powered MZ. He’d first come across the engine having seen it fitted to an MZ variant which sported a variomatic type automatic gearbox. I understand about five of these machines were made by a chap who’s since died but Reinhardt wasn’t at all taken by the variomatic part and opted only to use the twin pistoned engine.
 Reinhard’s first attempt at a Diesel Motorcycle Rally wasn’t too successful. He staged it at his farm in northern Germany on an occasion when the weather was less than favourable. Only seven machines turned up and I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t one of them. But come to think of it I didn’t have a diesel bike then so maybe I can be forgiven.

 With an eye to improving things he moved the event south to Hamm where the access and weather were very much better. This paid off handsomely and around twenty five machines turned up for the first bash at Willy’s place.
 For those uninitiated on the subject of diesel powered motorcycles perhaps I should enlighten you to what machines are actually out there. Given that the Royal Enfield is of pre-unit construction and is still built in India it may come as no surprise to learn that most machines, one way or another, owe much to this mark.
 Indeed, up until India tightened its pollution laws and Royal Enfield stopped production, they had been the only company that actually mass produced a Diesel Motorcycle.

Jeff and Helmut

 Sadly though, you would be hard pressed to see one of these engaging machines in England because Watsonian, the U.K. importers, refused to touch the bikes because, they claimed, they just couldn’t afford to stock parts for both Petrol and Diesel bikes. This is a real shame considering the German R.E. importers take the opposite stance. Indeed, if diesel bike riders are a good barometer of just how many eccentrics there are in a given country, I’m sure, given half a chance, Britain would come out ahead of Germany. Is there a song in that one I ask myself?

 Apart from these original production R.E. bikes, most of which have Greaves or Lombardini engines in there are many other variants, most of which are self-builds. Two companies that do offer modified bikes are Germany’s Iwan outfit and England’s Charnwood Classic Restorations. Charnwood fit a 350cc Hatz 1B30 engine to their R.E. machines and sell them for £4250. Anyone in England considering going diesel could do a lot worse than check out this machine. If you regularly commute on a bike and want to save on fuel costs you should bare in mind that this bike turns in figures of 170 m.p.g.

 A quick look around the rally and many other types of R.E. bike are in evidence. Several riders have arrived on 412cc Robin engined bikes, famously pioneered by England’s Ernie Dorsett while others sporting the same lump come from the Paul Holdsworth’s Robin Industries. Other R.E. machines, unlike the Charnwood bike, have been fitted with the larger 462cc Hatz 1B40 engine.

 From Friday lunchtime onwards the bikes roll in thick and fast. In amongst the afore mentioned R.E, machines were A Dutchman or two with their Daihatsu engined Choppers and BMW's and the Raps Bear bike fitted with what looked like a Citroen AX lump.

 Before nightfall Johnny Flatau and two German friends had arrived on their self made Diahatsu machines, two of which sported sidecars. Another notable bike was the Centaurus, a very smart looking 850cc Ruggerini engined machine just produced by Iwan and showing a Toni’s Motorradshop of Weinheim label.  I’m told the lucky owner, one Udo Haubrich, got in his order just before one enthusiastic dealer ordered three of the machines and was rewarded when the bike was delivered ready for the Rally.

 Looking around us it was not hard for my brother and I to spot familiar faces. Sited almost opposite us was Helmut, a guy who comes across as just about  the kindest, most soft spoken chap you could ever wish to meet. Wearing a hat not dissimilar to those worn by the ‘Flowerpot Men’ (featured on an English children’s program) and with a face like father Christmas, it’s hard to imagine this guy riding anything other than a diesel bike. He goes up in our estimation even more when he starts handing out bottles of beer from his home city of Koln.

Vim's Daihatsu BMW.

 To our left is Rynar. Like Helmut he too owns an R.E. machine and has arrived with his young daughter in tow. He readily informs us that, like the sites owner Willy, he too keeps pigs, only his are of the English variety, three Saddlebacks indeed. When not seeing to his daughters needs or making adjustments to his bike Rynar strides about the site enthusiastically puffing away on what seems to be an endless supply of huge cigars. I’d venture to say he is the only man present that produces more smoke than his motorcycle.

 As the evening drew in we fell in with Ola, a guy who’d travelled 900km from Sweden just for the Rally. His machine, built in the best traditions of Rat bikes, consisted of a 250cc Farymann engine coupled to an NSU OSL gearbox. I couldn’t  quite work out the origins of the frame (actually a GSX) but I have to say the dog cage welded to the back made for an interesting addition. If that item detracted somewhat from the handling capabilities then I can say the fire ash shovel affixed between the primary chain and left footrest had the opposite effect. Ola tells me that without it he very nearly lost his foot, causing him to veer from the straight and narrow on more than one occasion.
 The real shock came when he started this wondrous machine. The whole engine rotated about it’s central axis to an alarming degree, bouncing back on the numerous rubber bungs thereabouts. Ola informed us proudly that he hated vibration and had done everything in his power to eliminate it.

Ola's rat bike was a sensation. Nobody could quite believe what they were seeing.

 I must say I’ve never really studied Rat bikes before but the sheer resourcefulness of their builders, who add things out of pure necessity regardless of any aesthetic  consideration, fills me with a kind of bewildered wonderment. Like Ola, I must dig out a piece of corrugated tube and fit it to the engine. I’m told you just don’t notice the cold when the other end is stuffed down your trousers.

 By this time most of the Rally goers had retired to the beer hall to sample Willy’s homebrew beer. Dossing near the tent we were pleasantly surprised to hear another English voice speak out from the dark. It belonged to an occasional e-mail acquaintance of mine, Russ (or Mouse as he is sometimes known), who’d first heard about the rally via my website. He’d long thought about attending and, at the last minute, had thrown a leg over his Suzuki Bandit and roared across half of western Europe to get here.

 After the Viking amongst us foolishly challenged my brother to another Ouzo drinking contest myself and Mouse ended up sitting outside and chatting about bikes for the rest of the evening.
 We were disturbed only once when an obviously worse for wear rider (Thomas), barefoot and clad only in leather trousers held up by braces, staggered out of the beer hall and almost fell onto our table. He looked up and attempted to say something to us in his native German. I answered with a cheery British, ‘Sorry, mate, don’t understand a word,’ and watched as a look of real uncomprehending shock spread across this chaps face. We carried on talking and he staggered off into the night.

At 1am I went in search of Jeff and found him giving the landlord an ear bashing on the topic of immigration. In sheer desperation the poor chap, who obviously wasn’t accustomed to blaming his country’s ills on foreigners, had mentioned that Germany had a slight problem with Croats only for Jeff to start slurring on about the Slavs.
 The fact that Jeff has a habit of ending almost every sentence with the word, ‘anat,’ perplexed our host still further.
 I peered into the darkness surrounding my brother only to see the Viking slumped in the corner seat, apparently lifeless. I beckoned my brother and we made our way ‘back to our tents.’

  I awoke Saturday to find myself covered in bites. Sadly these weren’t love bites, diesel being smelly enough to make this rally an almost woman free zone. I mounted my Hatz and chugged into Hamm to purchase some ointment. On arriving back I vigorously rubbed it into all my tiny wounds only to realise too late that it smelled suspiciously like toothpaste.

 But I didn’t have time to worry about things trivial as a constant stream of visitors made the rounds and bombarded me with questions regarding the bike. I got some favourable comments concerning some ‘Steel Feet’ or ‘Stahl Fuss’ I’d made for the Hatz to stop her sinking in the mud while others remarked at the cigarette lighter socket I had cunningly fitted inside the right hand side panel. This proved invaluable for charging the video camera, phone and powering my shaver. All good bikes should have one!
 I should also mention that our Swedish friend, having neglected to bring a tent, was laying flat on his back in his sleeping bag and snoring so loudly that it appeared to be worrying the nearby pigs. This was an improvment over other years when he brought only a Tarpaulin!

He'll kill me for putting this up!

 That morning brought still more interesting arrivals in agleaming silver/grey Kabuto 600 lovingly built and named the ‘Lakusch’ by Helmut Schmidt.

Helmut Schmidt's Lakusch

And a truly staggering Honda CBR 1600 Turbo Diesel put together by Werner Bratenstein. This Gulf 2 engined machine, complete with fairing had a specially strengthened frame to handle the weight of the power plant.

 When the covers were removed it’s fair to say that the majority of the people present couldn’t resist a peek at it’s workings.

How the bikes builder ever shoehorned the Gulf lump in there I’ll never know but one thing was for sure. Everyone agreed he’d made an extremely good job of it. Despite the bikes rather bloated look there wasn’t a rally goer there who’d dare mock this beast.

Under the fairing...

 As per last year the midday run out was to the Mohnesee Dam.

Filling station on the run out to the Dam. Here we see Russ (UK) (against his Suzuki Bandit - right) and my RE Hatz to the left.

I think we stopped visiting the fuel stations after this, the 2nd rally in Hamm.

Yours truly on the dam itself

 Apart from one breakdown (rear wheel bearing) and the stampeding of all cows who witnessed our approach, the run out was ordered and, as you may have guessed, earth shatteringly noisy.

Rally regular Ingle points out something on a Royal Enfield.

 We arrived back to find the owner of the Rap Bear bike in high spirits. As well as bringing his bike he’d also brought along a big Lister type pump thing which consisted of two large flywheels and not much else. Unlike Lister’s, this machine obviously ran on diesel and, laughing like a madman, he had run it up and appeared to be feeding it sausages.

Later in the day this engine was going full belt and being fed sausages I think.

 While on the subject of food I should say that the Saturday evening meal consisted of two roast pigs, sauerkraut and delicious homemade bread. But this wasn’t a meal for the faint of heart. Not a few hours earlier, Willy had marched in to an adjoining field and hauled away the protesting porkers. Willy informs us he has no problem getting dinner so openly as he comes from a family of hunters.
 Saturday night is much as Friday was only without Mouse. He had decided to roar back to Holland in the hope of making another Rally before finally getting the boat home.

 Before he went I let him take my machine out for a spin and, as expected, he arrived back looking somewhat under-whelmed. This, I have to say, is not an uncommon occurrence. On one level it’s so very hard to go from riding something like a Bandit to trying out on what essentially, is a cement mixer. 

A front shot of Mr Dabrowski's amazing trike.

 Diesel biking is so far removed from normal motorcycling it’s almost a different pursuit. With the current top speeds of most diesel bikes being nothing like their petrol counterparts and engine characteristics being so markedly different it’s not so crazy to say the only thing they have in common is two wheels.
 It goes without saying that much of the talk at the rally was of suitable engines to use in a conversion and more than a few eagerly await the coming of the new diesel powered 584cc Kawasaki KLR. There was also talk of a BMW Boxer Diesel on the way.

 As Saturday night wore on I noticed Jeff, still suffering from the night before, was taking things noticeably easier while the Viking has gone for a ride on his amazing machine. He didn’t show up until gone 11pm and by that time we’d crashed.
 As Sunday morning broke it was evident that more groups of local bikers were still arriving to view the variety of diesel machines thereabouts. Just before lunch, as most people were beginning to pack up, a stir was caused when two late arrivals showed up on what turned out to be MZ’s complete with variomatic gearboxes. 

 As the Rally wound down some I got the feeling that the events organiser, Reinhardt, was a little disappointed by the turnout. Enquires before hand had, I think, lead him to believe that more bikes would show than ultimately turned up.
 But he seemed  somewhat lifted when I mentioned the bike count was almost twenty up on the previous year, I having counted 44 oil burning machines. There were also rumours that two top men from Hatz were to make an appearance but they never showed.

 But, all in all, I felt things were markedly better at this, the 3rd Annual Rally here in Germany. There were more bikes, just as much beer as we could drink and even the weather was better, the sun shining through the whole time. Most importantly, ideas were exchanged, recent friendships were renewed and made just that little bit stronger over a glass or two of Germany’s finest.

The road home from Hamm. Just another service stop and a chance to brew up a cuppa.

One of the many camp sites we visited on our tour.

  For me and my brother the run home was largely uneventful as we slowly camped our way through Belgium and the Somme paying our respects at roadside cemeteries. Camping at Namur sticks in my memory if only for one incident concerning the Honda. We'd pitched our tents on some soft reclaimed land and when I turned to Jeff I saw the Honda with its sidestand slowly sinking in the mud. We didn't reach it in time and had to haul it up from it's horizontal position. No harm done though as I had stretched rubber shower caps over the recently painted side panels.

The campsite at Namur.

We parted company at Dieppe as I stayed on to ride down to Normandy for another week and he headed home to work. When I did finally make it back to the port of departure I made sure I had a bag full of Frence fromage and a tank full of their best and cheapest Gazoil!

Finally home. Two rather dirty bikes that certainly look like they've been halfway across Europe.


One of the Dam Towers

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