Do the Ton “Requiem to A Burn Up”

Alan Masters

Today I don’t think to many riders know what the real burn was all about.

I’d like to say that the “burn up” started in England in the late 50’s and early 60’s, simply put, it would normally be a club ride or group of motorcycle enthusiast who decided to ride usually a pre-planned route from point A to point B as fast as they could. There were no speed limits on many of the main roads in England at that time. The route could be quite short or very long! The ride or “burn” wasn’t for the faint of heart and many who didn’t measure up or lacked the skills or the motorcycle didn’t join in or couldn’t finish for one reason or another!

In 1965 my local motorcycle club in southern England was very active in clubman road racing and local dirt racing with a good portion of our members participating in these events. Our closest road race track was the famous Brands Hatch in Fawkham, Kent and our rout usually took us on the A26 and then some back country roads through the town of Tunbridge Wells and the Kent countryside, some 70 miles in just over an hour!

The following is an actual personal account of such a club burn.

As a new young member of the club and inexperienced road rider I really didn’t know what to expect! Early one summer’s morning, on the day, club President Roger B gave members the usual safety caution spiel, prior to launch!

“ Now lads, we don’t want any mishaps, we will ride in two’s with no overtaking, stick to the limits”!

“Barry (Bas) S you’ll be sweeping up the rear with your mini van”, Take “Harpick” W with you since his Douglas Dragonfly has blown again (member chuckles)! “Terry K you’ll lead and set the pace, keep it around sixty”. There were approx 25 machines or so, polished and ready to go, with open pipes and megga’s rumbling in the parking lot, some with pillion passengers. Meanwhile we have three or four of our racing members who have been designated to ride in the rear of the pack on their clubman racers. Typically our racers carried their spare tires to the track around their shoulders, changing tires at the track and if we had transport, the tires and or bigger spare bits were tossed in the Mini.

These speed jocks were placed at the rear so as not to incite the rest of the club!

Everything started off quite orderly, it was a beautiful day, we were approx 15 miles down the road when racer Mike (smiley) S, riding a much souped up Norton Domi SS Racer, thought his engine was heating up due to the restricted airflow (riders) in front of him! He immediately blasted to the front of the pack followed by the rest of the racers in a swirl of wind and smoke leaving the whiff of Castrol R in the air. This sudden surge and smells incited the rest of the pack, who kicked the gears down a notch or two to give chase, then all hell broke loose and the burn was on! Speedo needles became buried, many well over the ton, even with pillion passengers on the back! Terry was trying to keep the racers in sight on his 650 Thunderbird, a quick one at that but to no avail. I was right behind him, slipstreaming when all of a sudden he hit a bump in the road, his passenger Roger C, left the pillion seat of the bike still in his sitting position but now approx three feet above his seat as the bike came down! You can imagine my horror riding directly behind him as I had no where to go, I had visions of Roger smacking into me at over 100 MPH, which would then have been followed by a screeching mass of motorcycle wheels, hot chrome and bodies as the pack piled into the wreckage! Everything now appeared to be happening in slow motion but in reality I had a split second to react, sit up and brake. Suddenly, Roger, realizing his predicament, threw his arms forward grabbing Terry around his neck, while at the same time managing to pull himself back on the bike but not before loosing some forward momentum, he had slid back a foot, landing his butt on the rear fender license plate light while still clambering to stay on! Meanwhile, Terry had struggled to stay in control of his machine being nearly pulled off backwards by Rogers’s desperate, last minute grab! Finally, Roger pulled himself back to his seating position, this all happened in milliseconds. When I finally pulled up alongside the pair their faces were ashen but still smiling, whew the invincibility of youth!

This incident didn’t slowdown the club one bit because the bit was now firmly between their teeth! We were all still goin “hell bent for leather” and soon would be approaching the infamous corners after Tunbridge Wells, enroute to Brands.

On Brands Hatch Motorcycle race days, members of the general public would post themselves on the corners of the country roads leading into Brands. They would arrive there early in the morning for the best viewing points of the most infamous corners, picnicking in a macabre sort of way in anticipation of the motorcycle spectacle and mayhem that would soon follow.

The local constabulary would be set up ahead of the most infamous corners waving at riders doing their best to slow them down, while at the same time the public was waving, cheering and egging them on! Our racers had already blasted through this gauntlet of people to a thunderous cheer! Now it was my turn! Time seamed to slow down in slow motion, nearly standing still, it felt like I was racing at The Isle of Mann, people waving and cheering at the roadside but in reality I was way over my head! Careful now, a 90 deg left hander, slightly off camber, I had geared down to second to scuff off speed (I could pull nearly 55MPH in second) with a great breath back bark from my open Siamese, two into one Burgess muffler, as I let out the clutch! I leaned the big Triumph over into the corner, my foot pegs leaving a shower of sparks as they dragged the road surface causing my unloaded rear tire to spin. Heart thumping, hanging onto my ace bars for dear life, I cracked the throttle open and somehow pulled my way out of the corner, exiting to another thunderous roar from the crowed. I made it!

I was now back to real time speed and as I looked behind me I caught a glimpse of a club members machine flying through the corner and disappearing into the bushes in a cloud of dust. I saw him jump up and wave, he was OK but learned later his bike wasn’t, the sweeper van stopped to assist him. Later we also learned a biker had lost his life on the same corner an hour or so after we had gone through! Carrying to much speed, he failed to make the corner and shot off into a tree! The group had now spread out and I found myself alone on a strait stretch of road with my head down behind my Speedo, which was now indicating approx 94 MPH! I remember thinking to myself, wow this is a hell of a fast pace and my engine was revving high but sounding strong, when all of a sudden I was startled by the loud rumble of a motorcycle which blew by me with a whoosh and what appeared to be an older Gentleman sitting bolt upright behind his handlebars. He was on a 1,000cc, Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle and to make matters worse he was wearing a large army trench coat, aviator helmet and goggles, compared to my slick leathers and Bell helmet! I later learned his 50’s machine was quite capable of 125 MPH right from the factory and I’m sure he had quite the chuckle to himself as he went by me! Other club members later shared similar experiences on this run but my experience is burned into my memory for ever!

Editors Note,

Alan was 17 when this event took place, in a different era, with few speed limits in England at the time. He says he was very lucky he wasn’t severely injured or killed on any of his club runs as some members were and doesn’t recommend this sort of riding in anyway shape or form, especially on today’s highways.

Alan suggests, don’t be fooled into “riding over your head” with friends, ride at your own comfortable pace. If you want to ride fast, join an accredited club, buy the right equipment, take training and have fun on a track under the guidance of an expert.



Alan 16

Alan age 16