At about 1am in a quiet industrial part of East London, Jonny and I were poised at a traffic light – elbows up, head down and with eyes firmly set on the lights – the green flash, throttle down, the front of the bikes lift off as we tear down the street towards a makeshift finish line. Short sprint racing on a motorcycles is really fun – you can tell within the the first 100 yards who’s winning/won.
So we came up with the idea for a gentlemanly motorcycle race – a ‘sporting’ race for those who just want to ride and care slightly less about the actual winning part. The inaugural Mile was not technically a mile – it was an 1/8th of mile grass track sprint. Initially we were looking for disused air-strips, far-off beaches or de-commissioned sections of road to host The Mile – then a chance encounter with Jonathan lead the story in an entirely new direction. Jonathan was in the final stages of restoring his family home, Kefington Hall and over a couple of G&T’s we decided to host the race there on the 4th of July. Since Kefington Hall is actually in Zone 6 of London, we cheekily gave the race the moniker of ‘The First Gentlemanly Motorcycle Race in London’ – it sounded even better.
Jonny and I have been racing bikes and each other since we were children and more recently we’ve gotten involved in ice races, beach races, Formula 1, Speedway (Flat Track) and drag racing. All were and are great – but we wanted to create something a little different – a race for anyone who’s willing to give it a go, bring your pride and joy and give it a run on The Mile.
One month before the event – we did many tracks tests (before and after hay-making) and found the right course and distance – and the perfect combination of race track Vs breaking distance (the track ends quite abruptly in a fence, followed by a primary school playground). If the track was in fact a full mile, the bikes would be doing close to 200mph by the finish line! We invited a few friends from The Bike Shed, Bolt London, the Classic Car Club and deBolex to help us share the idea – and convinced a few friends to bring their bikes.
We then set about making all of the race essentials – a starting grid banner, a finish line, some race flags and a couple of hand made race suits – what more do you need? Bolt London kindly let us take over their yard to paint all of the signs, and kept us well fueled in the middle of a British summer heatwave.
The night before we managed to round up as many friends and family as possible to help us furiously mow, paint, hammer, pin, bunt, hoist and decorate the pristine grounds of Kefington Hall – the thought or racing hundreds of bikes down the middle of the lawn did worry me slightly – what would it look like the following evening. Then we were treated to a torrential summer storm at about midnight – so we dashed around taking all of the signs down, to stop the paint running and hoped dawn would bring better weather.
At 8am of race day we were extremely surprised when out of nowhere suddenly trucks started appearing, then a line was forming – 3 hours before the 11am racers meeting. We were still on ladders bunting the bands tents… Wonderful Indians, Nortons, Triumphs and an array of custom bikes and vintage cars started to fill the grounds – unexpected but so very welcome.
Over the next 12 hours, over 400 people and friends arrived at the Hall – 52 motorcycles raced, there was 100 years between the oldest and the youngest bike, 60 were in the official exhibition and a variety of sports cars joined the unofficial exhibition on the lawn too. When I asked one gentleman, who was installing his bike in the exhibition, if he’d be keen on racing, he looked shocked “my boy, do you know how valuable and rare this motorcycle is?” – 2 hours later after the racing had begun, the same gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said “actually a little run on the mile wouldn’t hurt – any race numbers left?” – perfect.
The weather was spectacular, the three classes of races – The Classics, The Classes and The Derby got more competitive and more fun with every heat. The day raced by, too soon the sun was setting and the bikes were being loaded back onto trailers – the last race meeting was a great final moment, where the trophies were awarded; Man of the Mile, Gentleman of the Mile, best dressed, ‘most dedicated rider’ and well earned cocktails were served. Finally we were ushered into the depths of Keffington Hall and the after-party unfolded in the ‘Enchanted Forest’, with dancing until sunrise.
We want to thank all of our family, friends, sponsors, helpers, racers, spectators and the weather for all of the help and enthusiasm and creating a great first Mile. We’ve got some exciting ideas currently being hatched for The Mile 2016, we hope to see you there!