UPDATE: The Napier-Railton will be off-site from 8th December at The Peninsula London Hotel and will return to be on-site from 9th January 2024.

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Behind the Scenes with the Motorcycle Team

18 April 2021

In our latest blog series, we're going behind the scenes at the Museum with our staff and volunteers. This week Gareth Pemberton has written about a year in the life of the Brooklands Motorcycle Team.

A year in the life of the Brooklands Motorcycle Team

For everyone, the past twelve months has been very different to what we had expected and looked forward to, and it was certainly the case for the Brooklands Motorcycle Team. As spring approaches our group of volunteers would normally be doing routine maintenance checks on the motorcycles and focussing on the Team Workplan that lists our tasks, which could be anything from a gearbox rebuild to a leaking petrol tank.

During the year we would normally take the bikes out for several events. 2020 was going to be the GP Retro du Puy Notre Dame, the Festival of 100 bikes at Mallory and a demonstration at Brands Hatch. However, even before our test days at Dunsfold, we had all entered lockdown and the museum then closed its doors.

For the Motorcycle Team, Brooklands is virtually unique in that as well as being entrusted with the care of the collection we also get the chance to ride these special motorcycles. This always draws an enthusiastic reaction from visitors to the museum and the many enthusiasts we meet at events. The cancellation of these outings and the museum closure was sad for us but pale in comparison with many personal tragedies that occurred. A few of us came into Brooklands during the lockdown in carefully controlled workgroups but after the initial excitement of being back were assigned tasks such as “weeding” the Finishing Straight and the first part of the banking. It is probably a good way to examine the track surface and we can at least be sure that if we skid off on the loose gravel we won’t get green stains on our white overalls. The museum exhibits and halls benefitted from a spring clean and tidy up and the Campbell Shed looked better than ever. The best news was that the management was proposing running vehicles on the finish straight as a regular feature.

The museum re‐opened with genuine enthusiasm, and our Motorcycle Team put on a great season of demonstration runs for visitors. We made it through by the skin of our teeth, putting a show on nearly every day with only bad weather getting in the way.

As suspected, several of the bikes had mechanical problems arise resulting from the increased frequency of use. The ever‐faithful BSA Empire Star lost an increasing amount of oil, the OK Supreme’s JAP engine became a lot noisier and the Rudge’s clutch and gearbox gremlins resurfaced. It was interesting that frequent short duration low-speed runs of a few “laps” caused almost as many issues as track events. I don’t think any of the bikes ran faultlessly, and the workplan certainly didn’t get any shorter.

Team leader Chris organised a roster to ensure that we had enough volunteers and riders to start the bikes and give put on a spectacle for the crowd with half a dozen laps of the extended circuit, up and down the Finishing Straight. We had a few new additions to the list of machines with the Douglas EW 600 finally sorted and a new rider with Mark Fielder who even managed a wave to the crowd – this on a bike featuring a hand change gearbox. The visitors were engaged and even excited in the twice‐daily spectacle and were keen to learn more about our very special machines.

There was a tinge of sadness on the last public opening day, as the demos came to an end, and we seem to be heading back into lockdown, but a collective spirit that we would be back up and running as soon as possible

We also stepped up to the plate with the filming of several of our team members at work for a Yesterday channel TV series, “Secrets of a Transport Museum”. The Doug Earle Cotton JAP is the subject of one episode, subjected to a noise test of its wonderful Brooklands Can silencer, with some interesting results. In other episodes Ted and Ryan demonstrate the unique Martynside Newman, Ian uses his expertise to sort out the Zenith Jap motorcycle starting issues and Perry takes his Triumph T80 Freddie Clarke replica to the banked track at the Millbrook Proving Ground.

Who knows what will happen over the next few months, but the Brooklands Museum Motorcycle Team is certainly up for the challenge.

Dunsfold back 2019. With Perry Barwick’s Freddie Clark T80 in the foreground.

Brooklands demo bikes getting a well-earned rest due a break in proceedings, the 1938 OK Supreme, Gareth’s newly built 1931 BSA B31-2 and the ever-faithful 1936 Rudge “Brooklands” Special

Finishing Straight demonstration run on the 1938 OK Supreme