We are just back from a family vacation in Europe, which was in part timed to allow a visit to the 2015 April Stafford Motorcycle show in the UK. If you think you have been to a large motorcycle show before then think again – this one is huge ! I think that it, and others like it in the UK, is special in the sense that it puts on display an aspect of British culture that I haven’t seen in many places elsewhere in the world. It is far more than just some large swap meet/jumble/flea market or boot sale. Whether the result of having so many people crammed into such a small area (the entire United Kingdom is one-quarter the area of the Province of Ontario, but with five times the number of people) or as a result of the long exposure to crafts guilds and being the home of the industrial revolution and the evolution of piecework in a manufacturing context, there exists in the UK a tradition of independent craftsmen/women producing high quality speciality motorcycle parts and fittings in very small batches – often in a small shed at the back of their property !
This year there were about 900 vendors, and something like 30,000 people attending the two-day event, including Allan Millyard, the master craftsman and builder of many very unusual engines. The photo (just click to see a larger version) shows his latest creation, called the ‘Flying Millyard’ which is a 5000cc engine created using two cylinders from a radial aircraft engine. He actually had just finished riding it in a parade lap at the show – amazing !
Walking around the Stafford show soaking in the sounds and sights was a treat, and something I would recommend to anyone.
While in the area we visited the National Motorcycle Museum located just south of the city of Birmingham. The NMM has an amazing collection of British machines, dating from the late 1800’s, but was also a bit frustrating as they were not arranged in any obvious order, grouping or theme and often were also not very well labelled or in some cases not labelled at all. They did have a couple of bikes I was especially interested in: a fully restored example of a 1946 Norton 18 similar to what my Dad used as a side car tug to haul my Mum and I around England before we moved to Canada , and a beautifully restored 1926 BSA Model B similar to what my Grandfather had when he first met my Grandmother.
Note that unlike other museums, the NMM doesn’t have machines from other countries (it is called the ‘National’ museum for a reason !) which does make for a few gaps in the time line as the UK motorcycle industry imploded and had largely ceased to exist by the early 1980’s. However that is of course changing and now new UK machines are being added to the collection of about 600 beautifully restored machines on display, with another 200 odd still to be repaired following the catastrophic fire they had in 2003. It is well worth a visit.
As we had a bit of spare time, we also drove down to the south coast of England and visited the Sammy Miller Museum near the small town of New Milton. The NMM could well learn a few things on how motorcycles should be displayed if they also were to visit, as the Sammy Miller Museum is one of the best I’ve been to. In addition to the machines themselves, the place is packed with related memorabilia and period articles that provide context to go with the displays. Best of all, the machines themselves, much like the ones at the Barber Museum in the USA, actually work and can be ridden.
As may be expected, one that I found especially interesting is what is claimed to be the only working Scott 1000cc two-stroke, water-cooled triple. It is a stunning machine and a pity it never went into full production, but then it is only one of many stunning machines in display. If you enjoy seeing a selection of really interesting two-wheeled machinery, then the Sammy Miller Museum needs to be on your list. Recommended !
We had a great time away, but I have to admit that am I looking forward to spending some time in my own shop and getting the current project (a 1977 GT750 Suzuki) out the door. All it needs is a bit of paint so my hope is that Guy at Cyclemania Artworks in Okotoks has been busy with it while we’ve been away………………..