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
‘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
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
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
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.’
Diesel Royal Enfield and Honda 400/4 parked up by a Cemetery. Jeff
is texting his new GF, Shelley.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
rat bike was a sensation. Nobody could quite believe what they were
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
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.
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
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!
kill me for putting this up!
morning brought still more interesting arrivals in agleaming silver/grey
Kabuto 600 lovingly built and named the ‘Lakusch’ by Helmut
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
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.
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
As per last year the midday run out was to the Mohnesee Dam.
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.
think we stopped visiting the fuel stations after this, the 2nd rally
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.
regular Ingle points out something on a Royal Enfield.
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
in the day this engine was going full belt and being fed sausages
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.
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.
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.
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.
road home from Hamm. Just another service stop and a chance to brew
up a cuppa.
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.
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!
home. Two rather dirty bikes that certainly look like they've been
halfway across Europe.
ADDITIONAL RALLY SHOTS
of the Dam Towers
to the German Rally index
to Rally index