Report on the 1st British Diesel Motorcycle Rally

held at the Bat & Ball, Newpound, Billingshurst, West Sussex between 3rd and 5th June 2005.

The Big Knock

 Anyone passing through deepest, darkest Sussex early June could rightly have been forgiven for thinking everything wasn’t quite right thereabouts. On the face of it everything seemed fine. Customers at the nearby Bat & Ball relaxed over their drinks while campers situated in two of the pubs three fields did what campers do and flew Frisbee’s about while Barbecuing themselves to death.
 However, those present in the third field were engaged in pursuits that were far from normal. This was the setting for Britains 1st Diesel Motorcycle Rally, a meeting which saw a healthy turnout of twenty bikes roll in from across the U.K. and Continent. Machines ranging from converted Royal Enfield’s to Daihatsu engined Cossacks took the trouble to ride out from as far afield as Germany and the Republic of Ireland. 
  First to arrive was a 462 cc Enfield ridden in by Ralf Engelberger, a Diesel bike enthusiast who’d set off at 5 am that morning and hotfooted it in from Western Germany. He was followed shortly by three more identical machines and the German RE dealer that carries out this conversion, Jochen Sommer.
 It wasn’t long before the British riders started arriving in numbers headed by Ernie Dorsett, legendary diesel bike builder and father of over 152 machines. Ernie, accompanied by Mike Dixon, brought along three bikes, a converted Matchless, an AJS and his very first creation, a Petter/Lister powered Ambassador on which he did the John ‘O’ Groats to Lands End run.
  Other notable attendees were the organiser of the annual German Rally, Reinhard Hötger and webmaster of the German internet site dedicated to the subject, Rafael Hausler.

Saturday was by far the busiest day with a steady flow of inquisitive people from the surrounding area visiting the rally while others, currently without bikes, came from as far a field as Glasgow to camp out and enjoy the spirit in which the rally was held. One such participant even stated he’d once seen an old picture of two bowler hatted gentlemen studying a bike engine with the obvious aim of improving it  To him this rally was what that was all about and those about him whole heartedly agreed.

 Some of the less enlightened kept the diesel bike owners busy with questions such as ‘why’?
To a man they replied that they thought their oil burning machines were superior to their petrol powered counterparts. The engines fitted to most of the rally bikes may not be that high revving but what power they do deliver is far more useful and enduring they say.
 In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that both breeds of machine had two wheels, riding out on a diesel powered motorcycle could almost be described as a different pursuit altogether. While HP may be a convenient way of measuring an engines performance, it’s an engines turning power or torque that ultimately delivers an effortless ride.
 With some super fast turbine based bikes in existence along with the generator based machines, these bikers complain that they have the fastest bikes in the world as well as the slowest. But all they really want is something in between.
 With some engines governed to a maximum of 3800 rpm it’s fair to say that the generator based bikes won’t set the world on fire. But when they do 170 mpg it’s easy to see that there is a gap in the market for such machines. The bikers here confidently predict that motorcyclists of the future can look forward to machines that ride to over 100 mph and turn in an mpg of around 110.
 Most of the machines on show at the rally were Royal Enfield conversions offered by Jochen Sommer of Germany and Charnwood Classic Restorations of England. The fact that these bikes are still made in India and are of a pre unit construction  makes them easier to convert than most.
 Sommer specialises in fitting the larger 1B40 Hatz engine into these machines, something which isn’t easy to do when you consider the height of the cylinder. Offering more usable power than the previous 350cc 1B30 conversions originally created by Charnwood, these current builds give riders just that bit more oomph when it’s needed.
 While these concerns produce small numbers of bikes for a small market, private individuals blessed with the required mechanical skills are constantly searching for bigger and better engines for use in their home produced machines. As those present at the Hamm based German Rally will testify, Peugeot and even Golf diesel engines are not immune from being given the two wheel treatment.

One bike present that was guaranteed to turn heads was Johnny Flatau’s Daihatsu based Ural/Cossack machine. These abnormally long frames are ideal for housing the 3 cylinder 1 litre diesel engines previously found in the Charade. Kick starting these bikes is not easy at the best of times but when Johnny found his glow pugs had inadvertently be switched on during the crossing over from France and, as a consequence had burnt out, I had to get my ‘skates on’ to find replacements.

 For those seeking diesel powered machines of a decidedly more Far Eastern  flavour needed to look no further than the two machines built and exhibited by Sam Brumby. Sam acquired the bikes for next to nothing and quickly set about fitting a 275cc Yanmar engine into the Honda. Finding himself short of a gearbox he took a spanner to an old rotavator and came away with a half sized three speed Albion box complete with two foot lever. In less than a week he’d fitted to whole arrangement up and into the old CB400 and produced a machine capable of generating 6.5hp and travelling at speeds up to 41mph.
Sam’s other offering is perhaps the more interesting of the two being that it started out life as a Yamaha XJ. The bikes original engine was discarded in favour of a large Ruggerini 750cc twin cylinder lump that was originally fitted to a road-sweeper.
 This bike is notable not least for the work that went into driving the alternator. Behind the side panels, a complex series of chains and pulleys drive up from the rear of the clutch, across behind the engine and back to where the battery was previously housed. There sits the small electrical generator with a battery squeezed in between it and the rear wheel. This machine develops considerably more torque than the Honda and accompanied the other bikes when they set off for their 2pm run-out on Saturday.

 You know when this diesel thing is starting to become popular when Sam discovered that Tom Veevers, owner of a 380cc oil burning Yanmar chopper lived within walking distance of his home. Tom’s built to order bike was created by Gaz’s Workshop and consists of a refurbished and chromed cement mixer engine fitted into a custom frame. Despite the lack of a front mudguard and lights this bike is apparently road legal and accompanied the other machines on the trip out where it achieved speeds in excess of 40mph.
 Given that most, if not all the participants at the show have an interest in things mechanical, it was hardly surprising to see some interesting innovations on show. Personally, I had made use of the existing centre stand design and created my own slot in mud feet which looked not dissimilar to flippers.

 A closer look at my engine reveals that the previously wasted air blown across the cylinder by the stationary engines integral cooling fan had now been cunningly redirected onto the riders kneecaps. These so called ‘wing pipes’ made winter riding a lot more bearable and plans were afoot to directed the rest of the air to the handlebars and a small teapot that would eventually be fitted atop the gearbox.
 One German rider, Peter, went through a rather slack period at work and, being in possession of a laser cutter, decided to fashion a new primary case cover. The end result of which we think would look more at home in the Tate Modern than on the side of a Royal Enfield.

 It’s clear that any manufacturer that delivers a half decent diesel powered machine to the masses is sure to see it snapped up firstly by hardcore two wheeled commuters and dispatch riders alike. Indeed, necessity being the mother of invention has already seen the U.S. Army pay the British to develop a multi-fuel off-roader for the Marine Corps. NATO’s one fuel policy has meant that existing petrol powered machines are to be junked in the near future and something had to be found that could continue dispatch and convoy work. Even though the new Army Diesel Bike is of a smaller capacity than its petrol powered predecessor, it makes the same torque at half the revs and it does 140mpg at a steady 55mph.
 The producer of this Kawasaki based machine, Hayes Diversified Technologies, has been threatening to release a civilian version onto the market any time now but to date delays have meant it has yet to appear. It has even been said that should there be sufficient interest in this particular version of the KLR then Kawasaki themselves may step into the breach and take up production.
 If one of the big Japanese four doesn’t take the lead in this field they’re sure to be pipped at the post by BMW who are strongly rumoured to be testing a diesel powered Boxer engined bike in, of all places, Quebec.
 All in all the 1st British Diesel Motorcycle Rally was judged a success. Twenty bikes may not sound like many to some but when they are as rare and, dare I say it, as smelly as these machines were, any gathering of this size is most certainly not to be sniffed at.

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