Riding four motorcycles – two Velocettes and two Morinis – around Cadwell Park isn’t a bad way to spend a day!
Words: JAMES ROBINSON Photographs: GARY CHAPMAN
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The Morini Riders’ Club track day at Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire has been running for 35 years and for whatever reason, has always attracted good support from the Velocette Owners’ Club. Basically, there’s a nice synergy and correlation between the Velos and the Morinis – not only are they fairly evenly matched speed-wise but it seems that many Velo owners are also Morini keepers, while even more Morini men have had Velos in the past.
One such chap is Pete Morgan, now an uber-Morini-ista, but formerly the keeper of Velocettes. When I’d suggested the genesis of this feature to Paul Emmerson (Morini Riders’ Club track day co-ordinator and also credit manager for Mortons, publisher of The Classic MotorCycle) he came up, right away, with the name of Pete.
So Pete and I swapped a few emails and formulated a plan of sorts; basically, we’d ride our own bikes in the morning then swap machines after lunch. Pete had never ridden a KTT (his Velos were later, swinging arm pushrod jobs) while I’d never had the pleasure of riding a Morini, either. Pete explained he had two bikes which would be there – his blue 31/2 Strada, which is more ‘touring’ of the Morinis, though Pete’s has been significantly hopped up, including having a 500cc engine installed. Pete’s second Morini is a ‘racer’ built up in Italy and brought to the UK by Pete.
So, on July 12, I tootled up to Cadwell, with the family Velocette (1929 Mark I KTT) in the van. I’ve always struggled with getting it quiet enough to pass the strict noise regulations at Cadwell, and this year had yet another silencer in place, this one with lots of wadding in it, and was reasonably confident we’d get through noise – we did, just! I always try to arrive nice and early, so was there in good time, and had the Velo fired up and down to noise before 9am. The testing takes place at quite high revs (for a nearly 90-year-old motorcycle!) and I really don’t like having to rev the cold engine to the required revs and so wanted to get it warm first – it also quietens down as it warms up, too. So we sat in the queue, keeping it revved and waited for our slot. We were given a sticker saying it had passed and so we were good to go, then it was safely through scrutineering (and another sticker).
There’s a riders briefing next, and with that attended (and wristband secured) track sessions started. I went out on the Velo and with its new silencer, it was really reluctant to rev – in fact, it just basically wouldn’t pull itself beyond 4000rpm. The clutch was slipping a bit too, so I abandoned the session and came in. Out came my clutch peg, and assisted by my friend John, we soon had it back on form. Though it wasn’t going to help with the running out of steam issue.
Next time out and with no clutch slip, it was almost fun, but I was conscious of how strangled it felt. Though the edge had clearly gone off the noise, it’d gone off the performance too. I felt rather guilty as I was going to have to let Pete ride a bike which wasn’t really doing itself justice, while I’m ever more aware of ‘thrashing’ the Velo too. With the silencer in place, it was all starting to feel rather like cruelty.
Pete and I had arranged to meet up at lunch time (we’d had an early morning chat) and happily he was only parked just down the road from me, so I walked the Velo down and we had a discussion about each other’s bikes. I couldn’t help but think I was getting the better part of the deal – he was going to let me out on his two Morinis, while I was giving him a rather strangled Velo.
By lunch, I’d already decided that this would be my last Morini Day with the Velocette, we’ve had a good innings, but I don’t want to have to start rejetting and things to allow it to run silenced. If I take it to events abroad, then running on the open pipe is allowed (in fact, encouraged!) so that basically is the end of its UK track career.
Pete had his two Morinis with him – the first a blue Strada, fitted with the big engine, so a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it was this one he let me go out on first. He’d explained that basically there was nothing to worry about, it was all as one would expect, and so it proved. I had a lovely time, revelling in the handling, braking and rev-ability of the nimble and precise machine. Wonderful. My only problem was that the rear light lens fell off at the Mountain, unbeknown to me, and I was stopped by a marshal on my way back to the pits and given
it – though I managed to stall the bike, which had taken to being a bit reluctant to start, so had to push it back to the pits, which is all uphill!
Pete was already back with the Velo and had enjoyed himself, though I still had the feeling I’d let him down a bit, with the KTT not really at its best. Still, he was pleased to have ridden it, and a box ticked for him I’m sure.
After the Morini, my friend John had kindly offered me a go on his ‘big’ Mark I cammy Velo, which he still uses competitively for hill climbs and such. It’s of increased capacity (above the standard 350cc) and possessed of quite a lot of ‘go’ so I was flattered to be invited and took to the Cadwell track to have some fun with a Mark I that was going properly. Great stuff.
Next session and Pete had said I should take his Morini ‘racer’ out. I’d offered him another go on the KTT (same pal John whose big cammy I’d ridden had been ‘playing with it’ and reckoned it was going a bit better now; John passed me on it while I was riding his much faster bike…) but Pete declined, saying he’d quite like to watch his own bike on track. No pressure then.
Pete explained to me a little about the racer, saying he’d bought it off eBay from Italy, in one of those ‘if someone else doesn’t buy it I will’ moments. Consisting of a 250cc V-twin frame, with a 400cc motor installed, it is a tiny, compact machine, with beautiful attention to detail, clearly put together by someone with a real eye for detail. Everything on it is exquisitely finished, which Pete is a quick to point out wasn’t his doing, but how he acquired it.
Pete set me off on it with the encouraging words ‘Enjoy!’ and I trundled into the holding area, then I promptly managed to stall, and having been pushed off by Pete, now had to bump start it myself (no kick-start fitted), which happily I did without drama. I set off onto the track and immediately realised that the attention to detail wasn’t just ‘skin deep’ but actually the Morini had clearly been built by someone who knew what they were doing. It was wonderful and quite soon, I was absolutely enjoying myself.
It’s a tiny motorcycle, and while I’m no giant, I was at the far end of size that’d be able to fit on it – in fact, it actually felt a bit cramped to me and I couldn’t get back far enough on the seat, which meant I couldn’t get my head low enough to be under the screen comfortably. But that aside, the little bike was brilliant, I actually loved it, while I was pleased that I’d taken up Pete’s invitation – I’d really only intended to ride the ‘roadster’ but he was insistent I give the racer a try. Thanks Pete.
So after six sessions, on four different bikes, I’d managed to have a diverse and interesting day. And what did I think of the Morinis? Actually, I thought they were great, the roadster being as I expected, while the racer really impressed me, so beautifully agile and willing.
About a week later, and having swapped various emails with Stuart at North Leicester Motorcycles, I was heading over to his premises to view some likely suspects with a view to acquiring my own Morini. Though when I arrived Stuart had just the one bike outside – there were three potentials (my main criteria was it had to be a 1978 bike, the year I was born) but he said: “This is the one for you,” and that was that! There’ll be more about it in a future issue (my love of symmetry means it fascinates me that it’s a 1978 and 350cc, standing alongside my Rex-Acme, a 1928 350cc) and I’ve various plans with what I hope to do with it next year. So the start of a new adventure with Morinis, hopefully.
Read more in the November issue of The Classic MotorCycle – on sale now!