Monday, October 24, 2016

2016 Isle of Man Classic TT

For the fourth year in a row, Team Obsolete had been invited by the Classic TT organizers to participate in the Lap of Honour and Jurby Festival.  This year we shipped over the Arter Matchless 'Wagon Wheels', so named because it was perhaps the first bike to race with cast magnesium wheels.  This is the bike that Peter Williams developed and used to finish 2nd in the Senior TT three times, behind Ago on the MV-3 in '70 & '71, and Jack Findley on a water cooled 500 Suzuki twin in '73.  Chasing Findley, Peter did a 102.72 MPH lap, a single cylinder lap record that stood until Robert Dunlop won the inaugural Ultralightweight TT on an RS 125 Honda in 1989.
In addition to the T/O entourage of Rob Iannucci, Josh Mackenzie (who had done much of the prep on Wagon Wheels), Josh's girlfriend Cristy, Mike Gontesky and Stu Carter, Peter Williams himself came over.  Peter hadn't been there since 2000, and people were very glad to see him and be able to say hello.
The Arter Matchless 'Wagon Wheels' at Team Obsolete HQ
Mike and I arrived Wed., 23 Aug., and we picked up a rental car and van.  We got oriented and uncrated the bike.  Thurs. morning, Rob and Stu arrived and I took Stu around for a lap of the course. That afternoon, Josh and Cristy arrive and Fri., after signing on and Scrutineering, I took them around for a lap.  We stopped for a cup of tea with a couple we had met at dinner at the hotel the night before who lived on the course near Cronk-y-voddy crossroads.  They suggested the we get lunch at the Milntown Cafe, just outside Ramsey.
This year's Transit Van
Saturday was the first day of racing and we went to Barregarrow to watch the Senior Classic from the top.  This is a very fast, blind bend that then drops down a steep hill at the bottom of which it bends again and the bikes bottom their suspension and drift (or wobble) to the curb.  Initially is was close between John McGuinness on the Paton and Dean Harrison on an MV 3.  Harrison pitted at the end of the second lap, but McGuinness wait until the end of the 3rd lap and established a clear lead with a new lap record.  Maria Costello ended up a very popular 3rd on another Paton.
The view across the circuit at the top of Barregarrow
We had parked on the outside of the circuit but were spectating on the inside.  I had thought we'd be able to walk across the circuit between races so we could drive into Kirkmichael for some lunch, but it turns out that wasn't permitted.  So, to kill time until the next race, we walked up the road that headed toward Brandywell on the other side of the course.  We walked maybe a couple of miles with beautiful views of the Irish Sea behind us when a guy on a dual sport bike came up a trail towards the road we were on.  He stop to open the gate, so I held the gate open while he rode the bike through.  We got to talking and he said that he almost thought that I was Dave Roper.  I admitted the awful truth.  Turns out we had been in a race together at Brands Hatch many years before.  He was just coming from a seemingly abandoned property that he was considering buying so that he'd have a place to stay when he came over to the Island twice a year from England to watch the races.
We saw these Bantam trials bikes (and the Cub) at several places around the Island including here at Barregarrow.
We walked a bit further, then turned around and went back for the next race, the Classic Lightweight. This time we watched at the bottom of Barregarrow where the bikes are screaming downhill very near their absolute top speed with the riders almost brushing their left shoulder on the corner of a house at the apex while their suspension bottoms.  When I raced there, I often thought about the strength of materials at that point.  Definitely one of the most spectacular places on the course to spectate.  This race was mostly populated by TZ250 Yamaha and RS 250 Honda two strokes.  Bruce Anstey dominated appropriately, having won the last 250 Lightweight TT in 2002, and broke John McGuinness' 250 Lap record from 1999 with a 118.744mph lap, the fastest 250 lap ever around the Mountain course.  Ian Lougher was a clear 2nd, but over a minute behind.  And, we were still stuck on the inside of the course and had to wait for a practice to finish, while getting eaten by the midges, before we could get to the van and drive back to the paddock and load the van with Wagon Wheels and gear for the Jury Festival the next day.

Ian Lougher stopped in an early practice at St. Ninian's Crossroad with a fuel problem
The team went to a very good Indian restaurant a short way from the hotel and Charlie Williams stopped by our table and told a very funny story about Peter Williams (no relation) streaking at a prize giving ceremony at the Finnish GP in the early '70s.  I was in line at signing on with Charlie, winner of 8 TTs from '73-80, when he told me about falling off trying to catch Peter at Brands Hatch. He said he never saw any racer use as much of the road as Peter.  It started to rain while we were eating dinner, but stopped before we walked back to the hotel, and rained some more before dawn but the next day was beautiful and that's the only rain I saw the 8 days that I was there.
Jurby is a WWII airfield in the north of the Island where they've laid out a 1.7 mi. circuit.  The Festival has static displays of classic racers as well as lapping divided up into different groups based on year and capacity.  The Lap of Honour riders get two sessions of their own and I was able to do 9 laps in each on Wagon Wheels, on the track with Freddie Spencer, Pier Francesco Chili, Mick Grant, Graeme Crosby, Phillip McCallum, Hurley Wilvert, Maria Costello, and many others.  John Cronshaw rode one of the George Beale replica 250 Honda Six. Wagon Wheels worked well and it's a great opportunity to check everything out before doing the Lap on the Mountain circuit the next day.
Once again, there was a huge crowd at the festival.
That evening we went to the embarrassingly titled 'Heros Dinner'.  I sat next to Dan Cooper, winner of the 2005 British 125 Championship and participant in over 40 TT races, at our table.  Charlie Williams was M.C. and he recognized all the TT winners before he interviewed John McGuiness and Bruce Anstey then Freddie Spencer, Graeme Crosby and Pier Francisco Chili.  Rob Iannucci had created a new trophy, The Peter Williams Trophy, for the best finisher on an AJS or Matchless motorcycle in the Classic TT, and he and Peter presented it, to be awarded the next day after the Junior Classic race.  Australian Cameron Donald, winner of two of the 28 TT's he's been in and someone who's done a 131+ mph lap of the IOM, came over to our table and told Peter and Rob that he really wanted to win that trophy.  He loves the Classics as well as the modern Superbikes and his dad raced a AJS 7R and he was to be racing one the next day in the Junior Classic.
So, the next morning, I went to spectate somewhere relatively close to the paddock and missed the turn for Union Mills and ended up at Crosby.  But, there was no good place to spectate there and I went back to Union Mills and watched from the Railway Inn.  Michael Dunlop won the race on an MV350-3, with Michael Rutter 2nd and Alan Oversby 3rd, both on Hondas.  But, sure enough Cameron Donald was 4th and first single on the 7R, becoming the inaugural winner of the Peter Williams Trophy.  5th was Dan Cooper, my table mate from the night before.
I saw this Benelli 2T and Gilera CX125 while spectating at the Railway Inn in Union Mills
Then it was back to the paddock to prepare for the Lap of Honour, which included a small panic over a failed tire valve core and an over full fuel tank.  John McGuinness was first off, then Steve Plater, then Freddie Spencer (on his third lap ever around the Mountain circuit; he told me that he'd never been around in a car), then me.  Steve Parrish came by me first, riding a hopped up Norton 961, then Graeme Crosby on a XR69 Suzuki, then Brian Reid, Ian Simpson, and Mick Grant.  I passed Freddie, then Croz.  Croz passed me back along one of the straights, I passed him braking for Sulby Bridge, then try to take it in 2nd gear, bogged it, then missed the downshift and totally hashed it up and Croz went by again.  Leaving Ramsey, Glen English came by with both feet off the pegs on the 500 MV-3 he was riding, looking like he was trying to win the parade.  It felt really tight going around Governor's Bridge with limited steering lock and my hands about one foot apart inside the fairing, but I made it without hitting the kerb or tipping over.  The bike worked great, the weather was glorious, another day in paradise.  The Lap of Honour is wonderful because it accommodates everyone from Freddie Spencer, who just wants to cruise and wave to the fans, to Glen English for whom it's a chance to get the juices flowing again and experience the thrill and satisfaction of going quickly.  We went to the prize giving that evening and Cameron Donald was presented with the Peter Williams Trophy.
The next day, we crated the bike, then I took Peter for a lap around the course in the van.  He hadn't been around since 2000 and he couldn't get over how long it was between corners, he remembered doing it at race pace and we doing it at close to legal van speed.  He told me of a scary slide he had at Union Mills, of having Alan Barnett crash in front of him at Doran's Bend, of being proud of how he did Rencullen, of a tank slapper at the kink in Sulby Straight, of how he felt that he never got the corner between Mountain Box and The Black Hut right (I feel the same way but somehow I think Peter not getting it right and me not getting it right are two very different things), of how one had to get Windy Corner right in order to do The 33rd flat out (the two are separated by almost a mile), of how much he loved the Hillberry/Cronk-ny-Mona section, and how he fell off one on the incredibly slow Govenor's Bridge.  As we crossed the start/finish line, I said that we could turn at St. Nininan's Crossroads to go back to the hotel, to which Peter replied "or, you could do another lap".  So, we did. What a treat to do a couple of laps with one of the real masters of the circuit.
That afternoon we went to the Norton Rally at the Shore Hotel in Laxey, where Peter sold a bunch of the revised edition of his book "Designed to Race".  There were a number of interesting bikes there and I got to chat with Mick Hemmings and Art Bone.
One of the many beautiful bikes at the Norton Rally
That evening, we had dinner in Douglas with one of Peter's old friends, Billy McCosh and his wife Denise.  They're Irish and Billy did his racing on the public road circuit with his greatest success at the Ulster GP at Dundrod.  Billy told a story of his first race at the IOM.  A friend of his, who had raced the TT several times, happened to watch Billy go through Glentramman in practice and told Billy that he wasn't doing it right.  He advised Billy to stop at Glentramman in the next practice and wait for Peter Williams to come through.  He did and said his jaw dropped when Peter came by.  That was typical of the respect one hears for Peter.
Rodger's '61 Greeves 32T 
Ken with his '56 British Anzani 325 Greeves.  Ken and Rodger were staying in our hotel on the Prom

Daily transport at the Classic TT
A very clean CL350 at the Norton rally, of all places
A Norton Navigator 350
Just like my first bike: a Ducati Diana
A Motosacoche ready for the Parade
A Moto Guzzi Dondolino
A Bultaco Metralla racer
Your typical commuter bike: an H-1 Kawasaki with nitros
A Velo MAC spotted in the paddock

A 'field expedient' oil cap
All the horn and headlight needed to make this Bantam legal
ES-2 Nortons were thick on the ground

Saturday, October 1, 2016

VRRA Vintage Festival

I was contacted by a documentary videographer, Daniel Lovering, a while ago who wanted to make a documentary on me.  I told him that this had already been done ('Roper #7' by Don Lange at Staightface Studio).  Daniel replied that he was aware of that video and thought it was good, but he had a somewhat different take on the story.  In the 'small world' department, it turns out that Daniel and Don had both worked on the same TV show years before and vaguely remembered each other and I had bought a Velocette Thruxton from Daniel's dad, Talbot, maybe 35 years ago.
I told Daniel my schedule and he asked if he could come along with me to the VRRA's Vintage Festival at Mosport, now officially known as Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.  So Daniel, who lives in Cambridge, Ma., drove down to Team Obsolete HQ in Brooklyn, videoed the T/O shop and conducted a interview with T/O founder and owner, Rob Iannucci.  Daniel then followed me home and videoed an interview with me at my house.  He returned the next morning and started shooting me doing the final load of my van.  We then headed off to Mosport, he following me in his car.  We soon got separated an went different ways but managed to meet up again just north of Binghampton, N.Y.  After eating on the fly, we got to the track close to 9p and I set up my pit area, Daniel recording everything into the dark.
The next morning, we awake to dense fog which still hadn't lifted after I got registered, went through tech inspection and attended the riders meeting.  They couldn't start practice because the corner workers couldn't see from one station to the next.  The fog didn't lift enough to start practice until about 12:30p and they scheduled one round of practice for each group.
The '46 Moto Guzzi Dondolino and '70 H-D ERTT with Daniel videoing in the background
My '46 MotoGuzzi Dondolino had run poorly at Road America and, while I found and fixed the problem with the clutch, I had no confidence that the minor changes I had made would solve the misfire problem.  Sure enough, while it would start easily and run fine in neutral, as soon as I put it under real load it would misfire, so I pulled in after one lap.  My H-D ERTT 350 Sprint on the other hand ran well.  I was entered in the first race of the day on the Sprint, the Magill Masters Lightweight.  This is open to any lightweight vintage bike piloted by a rider over 50 years old.  We assembled on the pre grid and while we waited, the fog descended again and they sent us back to the paddock.  Then it started to rain heavily with lightning close by and it was decided to cancel all racing for the day.  After raining with lightning for several hours, it let up and the sun even came out, so I decided to change the magneto on the Dondolino.  Guy Martin of Martin Brickwood Performance dove in to help and together we got it changed and timed.  The tapered armature has a keyway to locate the magneto gear on the shaft, but for some reason, if I install the key, I can't get the timing correct.  The motor has no vernier adjustment for the mag gear and the points plate is fixed in the magneto and can't be rotated to adjust the timing. So, I've just put the gear on the shaft at the correct point without the key and relied on the taper and nut to hold it in place.
When I went out on the Dondo for Sunday morning practice, it ran great initially with no misfire, but then started running slower and slower and I pulled off after two laps. 
On the Dondo at Moss's corner.  Alex Bilo photo
 I then went out on the Sprint and again it ran well.  But, at the end of the session, I did a plug chop and was coasting into the pits with a a dead engine holding the clutch in, when the clutch suddenly engaged and the cable all of a sudden had a massive amount of free play.  I quickly disassembled the clutch as I was in the first race of the day.  I found that one of the friction plates had de-laminated and jammed. I scrambled through my spares to find a new clutch plate, installed it and re-adjusted the cable.  I got it all done just in time to make the pre-grid only to be told that I didn't have my transponder on the bike.  
Alex Bilo photo
I rode back to my pit and screamed at who ever was close by to get the transponder off the Dondolino and put it on the Sprint, but of course they couldn't understand what I was saying or know where the transponder was located on the bike.  So it took a while to get this done and, by the time that I got back to the pre-grid, everyone had left and I had to start from the pit lane after everyone had passed.  I picked off 5 of the 10 starters, many of them newer and/or bigger bikes, and closed on Stan Nicholson's TD 2B Yamaha, but ran out of time to catch him in the shortened races they had to run on Sun.
Alex Bilo photo
I found that the ignition timing had slipped (to about TDC) on the Dondolino with the mag gear moving on the shaft and I had pretty much given up on fixing it before race race 6.  The only hope was to put the key back between the gear and the shaft, mounting the gear in the advanced position, then retarding the ignition to the correct time with the cable operated manual retard.  I explained this to my friend Mark Heckles when he stopped by and he volunteered to help and encouraged me to give it a try.  So we dove in.  It's fairly involved and a buch of stuff has to be removed to remove the timing cover to remove the mag gear.  Then  it took several tries to get the timing close before buttoning everything back up.  Mark was also in race 6, as oddly, the Pre 50 class was at the back of the grid behind the P2 Heavyweight that he was in on a CR 750 Honda.  Mark kept saying that he had to go to suit up for the race and I kept saying ' yes; you go', but then he'd say that he'd just replace this or tighten that.  We finally got it finished and we both managed to get suited up and to the pre-grid on time to make the warmup lap.  I got a good start and led the Pre 50 class most of the way through the back straight when Ingo Reuters came by on his Pre war Rudge as the Dondolino slowed, and slowed, and slowed, then started to seize.  I whipped the clutch in and the motor stopped as I coasted into pit in.  Then I realized that in the frenzy, I never turned the oil supply back on, having shut it off to remove the timing cover, a huge mistake.  I have a reminder that I attach to the oil valve when I shut it off, but I had forgotten to attach it in the frenzy.  A reminder for the reminder?  No, I need an electrical cut out that grounds the points when the oil valve is in the off position.  Oh well, the show must go on.
My last race was the P1 350 Class which was gridded behind the P1 Open bikes.  I got a good start leading the 350s and started picking off the Open bikes.  I ended up 1st 350 and 5th overall, having caught 4th place and, waking him up up from his stupor, he got me back and beat me by a little over an eight of a second.  A somewhat satisfying end to a fraught weekend.
Alex Bilo photo
Daniel was shooting footage until the end and he has a huge editing job ahead of him as he can only use probably less than 1% of what he shot.  It a little unnerving to be followed constantly with a camera, but Daniel is a good guy and I'm sure he won't show anything that will embarrass me more that failing to turn on the oil. 

Daniel never stopped shooting
Stuart Dey said he couldn't afford a TZ750 so he had had Denis Curtis of CRM Products build him a chassis for a TR750 Suzuki Waterbuffulo

Friday, September 30, 2016

NJMP Thunderbolt

For the AHRMA race at New Jersey Motorsport Park I entered the Friday practice to test Team Obsolete's MV Agusta 350 three cylinder, which mechanic Josh Mackenzie had recently finished going through.  In the first round, the tach stopped working and I had little front brake.  Josh fixed those problems, but in the second session I lost clutch release, which was just a matter of the handlebar adjuster backing off.  With that secured, the bike went well in the third session.  Having accomplished what we set out to do of making sure the bike was sorted and ready, Josh loaded up the bike and took it back to Brooklyn.
Team Obsolete MV 350 3 cal. on the bench and myTC200 Suzuki in foreground

Josh Mackenzie working on the T/O MV 350-3
I took my H-D ERTT Sprint out for one session and it seemed good.
Sat., my 'bump up' class ran first, the 500 Premiere class, which was gridded in front of 500GP, Formula 500 and 500 Sportsman and Vintage Superbike Lightweight.  There were only four of us in 500 Premiere and Tim Joyce on Maurice Candy's Manx soon cleared off.  I chased Helmi Niederer on his Minovation Seeley G-50, but he slowly pulled away.  Tim Tilghman, Rich Midgley and Kerry Smith all came by on their F-500 Honda 350s, but Midge got a flat tire and dropped out, so I finished 5th overall.
On the ERTT in turn #4  Etech photo
The 350GP class was gridded behind the electric bike class with Class 'C' foot shift and Handshift and Formula 125 behind us.  It took me several laps to chase down the electric bikes and I was able to win overall, but with only the 4th fastest lap, the electric bikes peaking early, then fading a bit.
Joel Samick brought his Retro Tours to NJMP Sat.  Joel runs tours on his Twins from the '70s and he had four guys with him and they were going on to Delaware on Sun.  They were riding an XLCR Harley, a TX 750 Yamaha, a RD400 Yamaha, a V50 Moto Guzzi, and a T100C Triumph.  He invited me to join them for dinner and I ended up spending the night with them in a condo at the track.
Joel told me that I had to check out this Corvair power bike in the swap meet.
complete with '60 instrumentation....
...and quad headlights
Sun. went much like Sat., though in the 500 race Helmi didn't ride and Midge didn't have a flat tire and Mark Morrow on his F-500 Yamaha and Brad Phillips on his 500 Sportsman BMW also came past me, so I was 7th overall.
In the 350 race, I was again able to chase down all the electric bikes and win overall, this time with the 2nd fastest lap.
Leading the electric bikes of Robert Berbeco 690, Art Kowitz 1, and Peter Nicolosi.  Etech photo

Eddie Fisher, age 91, winner of the '53 Laconia National, raced his Cub

My Hero
The inimitable Dick Miles showed up Sunday and pitted next to me.  Here he is working on the Norton Manx of John Lawless with his own Manx (44) in the background.

Scott Dell took the rider's school, then raced his '51 Vincent Comet

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


After back to back weekend of racing in early June, I had back to back weekends of Tiddler Tours.  First was the second annual Oak Hill Classic in Durham, N.Y.  Actually, this isn't strictly a Tiddler event as bikes are not limited by displacement, only age.  Unlike last year, we had great weather this year which boosted participation to about 20.  I rode my '68 Suzuki TC200.
The oldest and biggest bike was an Indian Chief.  The smallest bike was probably Gabrielle Isenbrand's 125 Kawasaki B8?
125 Kawasaki, 180 Yamaha, 250 BMW and note the B-25 BSA in the background
 Her partner Carter rode an R27 BMW and their friend a Yamaha CS-1.  There were two CA 160 Hondas, a CL 77, and my sister-in-law Amy rode her CL350.

 Brother Doug rode his '66 Norton Electra.
 There were two Ossa Wildfires and an Ossa powered Greeves (Grossa).
Jake standing in front of his Grossa with a Wildfire on the right.
The route started out with a lot of relatively high speed state roads.  Rich Hosley soon caught up to me on his Ossa Wildfire and we rode together through the middle part of the ride.  We stopped when my mirror  came loose.  After tightening it up, I was apparently not too careful about repacking my tool pouch and it was partially blocking the inlet to the air filter.  Shortly after we got going again, I missed a turn and soon noticed that Rich wasn't behind me.  I figured it out and turned back to get on the route which became more interesting, narrower, twister, and with steep grades.  I was trying to catch back up to Rich, but now the Suzuki wasn't running well because of the blocked intake.  About 8 miles from the finish, the bike went onto reserve and I had some concern that I might run out of fuel, thinking it might be getting even worse mileage than it's normal mid 30's to the gallon when I'm hammering it.  But, I did make it to the finish with only Doug Boughton on his 350cc CL 77 and Rich  already back.  We had a great feed at the firehouse before going our separate ways.
The Matchless and BSA were just on display, but the 380 Suzuki triple participated
George Ellis made a faux Excelsior with a Briggs and Stratton motor from the '20's
Rick Snyder standing in front of his restored LS-2 Yamaha
The next weekend, 4th of July weekend, was the social event of the season: the Roper Tiddler Tour put on by my brother Doug and his wife Amy.  Again, great weather brought out maybe the biggest turnout ever.
Rick Sawyer's RD 200
One of three R-27 BMWs at the TT
Scott Raker's 250 Jawa--always well ridden and reliable
Rick Bell's 250 Sprint--another well ridden bike

Bob Bendix brought a scooter this time with an XS400 Yamaha behind
a 250 Ducati Monza
a headless Al Anderson if front of his R-27 with John Harris' MZ behind
A beautifully restored YDS-3 Yamaha
It had what has to be an ultra rare factory windscreen.
A unmolested '74 RD350 Yamaha
Cool bike transporter: a Citroen Ami wagon.
Rich Hosley's quick and well ridden Ossa Wildfire
Phil Turkington's immaculate Bultaco Metralla, 'Camilla'
Stretching the definition of a Tiddler perhaps, but a cool bike nevertheless, Rich Barger's Cheney T100 Triumph
A nicely done CB 450 Honda 
Scuderia Frazier, with Jean's 125 Honda in the foreground and Mitch's Jawa in the back
A Triumph T-25 brought down from New Hampshire
A Yamaha CS-1
Steve Rossi' Moto Guzzi 110 Zigolo, which he let me take for a spin.  If only they had a 4 speed gearbox.
Gabrielle Isenbrand's 125 Kawasaki had fueling issues.
Brother Doug continues to impress with his ability to come up with new, great roads in a somewhat limited area.  Then there's the great after party that attracts most of the neighborhood in addition to the Tiddlers.
The next day, Gordon, Doug and I finally located the leak in my Horex Resident fuel tank and Doug did a expert job of silver soldering it.  Then the three of us escorted Eli and Seana in their sidecar outfit to Beacon Falls, Ct. on their way back to NYC.
Using baby powder to find the leak in the fuel tank.