I've been doing a few new shows this year -ones I haven't tried before, & now I'm wondering why I haven't done ‘em sooner. I've missed out on some crackers. This week was the turn of the Welsh National Bike Show, held at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builith Wells, South Wales.
I've heard good reports on this one but just never got round to making the journey before. Glad I finally did though. Riding alone, I left beautiful bohemian Basingstoke at around 6.30 on Sunday morning. It was a Bank Holiday weekend, but I'm not really into the whole camping thing & had other stuff to do on the Monday, so this was to be just a day trip for me. The weather was looking a little iffy when I left so I pulled on a sweat shirt & dug out my goretex bike jacket just in case. Needn't have worried -by the time I'd tootled over to Newbury on my Triumph & swung onto the M4, the sun was up & warming the tarmac nicely. Through the new speed cameras on the Wiltshire stretch of the motorway & on down past Bristol. Over the bridge & into Wales. No charge for bikes at the toll booths, just a smile from the attendant as she waved me through. That's a pleasant surprise. A quick pitstop for petrol & a cuppa then on through Pontypool & Abergavenny & onto the A40 & A479 over the black mountains. Gorgeous scenery. Softly rounded green hills, lush meadows, streams, wooded passes -the kind of roads that make you glad you took up biking. Throwing Kermit the Thug, my green Speed Triple, down low into the bends, winding the throttle on as we rose up onto the apex, third, fourth, fifth, blasting along the straights then blipping the motor as I notch it back down through the gears for the next curve. Wonderful. Cruised into Builith Wells grinning from ear to ear & all set for a good day out.
Followed the signs saying “Day Visitors” & found myself going straight past the showground & up onto the hillside behind it. Off the road & into a very dusty, gravely car-park. Plenty of cars. No bikes. Hmm, something not quite right here. Trundled down as close to the entrance gate as I could & parked up. I'd done the journey in around three hours & by now the sun was well & truly up & shining down on a showground just starting to come to life. Day tickets run from 10 a.m to 5.30 p.m & cost a tenner, though once through the gate, there was no way for the marshals to know who was a day tripper & who was there for the weekend. I've since learnt that coloured wrist bands were supposed to be issued to make identification easier -but even then, what's to stop the unscrupulous from simply removing them? A very minor niggle & an awkward one to solve. Glad I'm not a show organiser!
Being a permanent agricultural & sporting showground, the Royal Welsh is a great venue, laying in a valley, surrounded by wooded hillsides, seemingly far removed from the hassles of the real world. It's years since I visited Wales & I'd forgotten just how nice it is! The show bikes were housed in two big, bright, airy halls; one for bikes, (classic & custom), the other for trikes. And there were plenty of both in just about every style imaginable. Quite a few new builds, a few familiar ones & at least a dozen that fell into the category of “bikes I'd like to ride home”. Star of the show was undoubtedly “WarHorse” -built by Vic Jefford of Destiny Cycles & on its first public outing as far as I know. What a stunning machine. An Indian engine mounted in a beautifully detailed classically long forked chassis. Everywhere you looked it was simply perfect. Deservedly, it later picked up Best Chop, Best Engineering & Best in Show. Couldn't argue with any of those, but my own personal favourite was a far less showy machine. Tailor-made's big, black & brutal looking V Rod. A stunningly awesome street fighter, sporting one of their trademark hee-uge rear tyres with the whole bike just so solid & musclebound. Loved it. But then what about the classic 1974 Kwacka Z1A parked alongside it? Not a blemish, not a mark on it. Showroom perfect with just 75 miles on the clock from new -including being ridden to the show! Or the lovely BSA street fighter? A proper British thumper given the advantage of modern technology with upside down forks, jacked up rear end, decent brakes & tyres & wearing an original Beezer tank mated to a modern Hinkley Triumph solo seat & tailpiece. Lovely. There wasn't a bike there that wasn't worthy of a prize & I'm sure, in smaller shows, would certainly go home with a few. Judging these things must be almost as difficult as organising them.
So out of the bike hall & into the trike one. The Cardiff based “Trike Shop” were there of course, the show being just a short hop from their premises, but they weren't alone in fielding some lovely machinery. Again, every style you can think of, from big matt black “Essex trikes”, to good solid, workhorse family carriers to all out trophy winners. Not sure who eventually won but my personal favourite was the lovely little Black & yellow Yam V twin single seater. So simple & uncluttered. Nothing on it that didn't need to be there & very pleasing overall lines. It's biggest point of interest was the rear brake set-up, with a bike disc & caliper mounted direct to the prop shaft with nothing on the hubs but the wheels. Ingenious & the first time I've seen it applied to a trike. Love wandering around shows. There's always some idea somewhere you can nick for your own build!
Was just thinking about seeking some refreshment when there was a huge bang from outside the hall. Better go & investigate. -Ah, a civil war re-enactment group, showing off their cannon to the assembled masses. That's alright then. I've got a mate who belongs to a Napoleonic group & I know they take this stuff very seriously. Very meticulous about authenticity. I'm sure there were probably more than ten soldiers involved in the original conflict but I guess fitting them all into their allotted display area would've been a problem. Interesting.
Time for a drink & a bag of doughnuts! Plenty of trade & food stalls at this event, nicely spread out around the various walkways between the permanent showground buildings. One of the open ended barns was full of clothing & accessory stalls, while the adjoining one housed an indoor mini moto track. A fiver a go. Had I been with a few mates I'd have loved a few spins around the straw bale course, just to see if I could keep the thing upright. Didn't want to be shown up by the 10 year olds whizzing round & round at break neck speed though so left them to it. A bag of doughnuts & a bag of stainless nuts too for my trike project from the fasteners stall. All manner of biking paraphenalia for sale around the site. Sweltering in the blazing sun in my sweat shirt, I was almost tempted to buy a new T shirt, being saved only by the fact that I was totally skint.
Wandering on through the crowds, the mystery of the missing bikes from the car-park was soon solved. A big cool barn full of bikes. Speaking to one of the marshals I learnt that these were my fellow day visitors. Those that had visited before apparently knew to ignore the signs out on the road, which were meant for car drivers, & turn in at the main entrance. I'll know next year but clearer signs would've been nice. Around the corner just in time to catch the lunatic giving the fire display. Not Fireman Sam but a guy in just a sequined thong fire eating, cycling through flaming hoops & strapping himself into a flaming gyroscope. Very odd but quite entertaining. Maybe he WAS Fireman Sam. Now his telly career's over he's got to make a living somehow I suppose. Talking of entertainment, I was sitting on a wall, minding my own business, watching the world file past, when I felt something breathing down my neck -literally. Turned around to find myself face to face with a very large, very blue dragon thing. Frightened the life out of me! Accompanied by a very pretty elfin lady, complete with pointy ears, this was part of a wandering street theatre group. Again, odd, but strangely fascinating.
Time to check out the arena display. Two young lads on trials bikes giving demonstrations of aerial dexterity. Quite amazing to see just how high they can launch a trailie off a very short, very steep take-off ramp, before performing various twists & turns & handstands, regaining control just in time to hit the steel landing ramp, mounted on the back of a lorry. Quite amusing actually. From where I sat at the ringside I couldn't see the landings, only the take-offs. Each time they'd do a run up, deftly flick the bike into the air, gracefully pirouette then disappear from view over the lip of the landing ramp before coming down with a resounding crash on the steel plated platform. A second or two later & Ta-Raa! They'd appear from behind the lorry ready for the next one. Made me smile to imagine them thudding down in a mangled heap each time before leaping up & pretending everything was fine, then waving to the crowd at the end of the performance before riding out of the arena, getting safely out of sight & screaming ”OWW, OUCH, OOH, OWW!!” -wouldn't wish personal injury on anyone but somehow I rather wish it were true.
Being an Englishman I braved the mid day sun to take a stroll around the campsite. Heard a little controversy over this since I got back. Seems several people were the victims of thefts from tents while they were away in the main showground. Second time I've heard this this year & I really hope it's not the direction things are heading. Would be easy to gloss over the problem & say it's just a few isolated cases but if that case happens to be your tent it IS a big deal. I was just a day visitor & as such, had no real reason to be in the campsite, but I wandered around for an hour or more checking out the bikes without being challenged by anybody. Fortunately I'm just a bike buff but I could just as easily have been a tent thief. Some sort of gate control would help this problem & I know this is already being discussed for next year.
On a brighter note, what did I think of the show? Bloomin' great! Some absolutely stunning show bikes, loads to see, loads to buy, plenty of jolly nice people to natter to, nice atmosphere, a wonderful location -even perfect weather. Bet there were quite a few cherry red sunburnt bikers going back to work on Tuesday morning! Yes, I'll definitely be back next year. Another new show to add to my Must Do list.
I'd arranged to visit some workmates who've got a second home in Ammanford when I left the show. Fell in behind a group of 20 or so bikes leaving a petrol station in Builith & followed them up over the hills & down into Brecon. A great ride, watching my fellow bikers strung out along the twists & turns ahead of me, the late afternoon sun glinting off paintwork & chrome. There really is no better feeling than riding in a group of like minded bikers. Left them at Brecon & carried on along the A40. And on. And on. An hour or so later & a mobile call to my mates showed I'd overshot their village by about 40 miles! But I didn't care. The roads were lovely. Twisty, turny & empty. The views were stunning, the weather was gorgeous & I was having a whale of a time, all on my own. I ended up riding on to Swansea & picking up the M4 to head homewards once again.
I had a stonking day. Even after being caught up in the motorway queues of Sheffield Wednesday's match that afternoon & finally arriving home some 4 hours later, I'd had a brilliant time. I WILL be back next year.