2008 Colombres Rally

Classic touring, Spanish style

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Participants ride through one of the many picturesque villages aboard a Sanglas single, just one of the many bikes from small Spanish manufacturers at the rally.

Ian Kerr

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For the 2008 Colombres Rally, nearly a third of the 500 registered participants came from England, rolling onto a ferry in Plymouth for a 20-hour cruise to Spain’s northern province of Cantabria and the port of Santander. From there, they rode 80 miles down the coast to the small village of Colombres for four days of sun-kissed classic bike activity in mid-October — a welcome break from the appalling wet U.K. weather.

Twenty-one years and rolling
Now in its 21st year, the event is more than just a romp across northern Spain, with several thousand other bikers from all over Spain and Europe converging to enjoy the combined bike show and swap meet, along with the twisty hill climb on the road into the hill-top village.

The Colombres Rally is essentially four events in one: a gathering of classic enthusiasts, an eight- hour road trail over 300 miles, a hill climb and, finally, a combined show and swap meet. The show runs the last two days of the meeting, and is free to everyone enrolled in the road rally.

Each year the show adopts a theme, and for 2008 it was the Spanish manufacturer Bultaco. As a result there were some superb bikes on display representing just some of the incredible dirt bikes the firm produced, plus a sampling of road bikes to remind us Bultaco built more than just dirt bikes.

It’s easy to forget Bultaco’s road racing successes and ordinary road models, and there were quite a few taking part in the event. In addition, there were numerous road versions from other Spanish manufacturers like Montessa and Ossa, also better known outside their home country for their off-road competition machines.

As Bultaco was the featured marque for the rally this year, it was fitting that Paul Smart was in attendance. Though Paul is best known, of course, for his historic win at Imola on a Ducati as well as being a works rider for Suzuki, he was also a Bultaco rider back in the day, which resulted in him spending many a day at the Bulto house with the family. Paul is married to Maggie Sheene, whose father, Frank, was the first importer of Bultaco to the U.K. and quickly ended up with a reputation as a tuner and fettler of Bultaco race bikes. It was on a 125cc machine owned by Frank that his son Barry started racing at Brands Hatch, winning his third-ever race on one!

Although Paul opened the hill climb on the Saturday by powering up the mile climb on a modern Paul Smart replica Ducati, he spent the rest of the time on a Royal Enfield supplied by local resident and classic bike touring operator Phil Butler, thoroughly enjoying the laid-back atmosphere.

The main event
Eligible bikes are limited to those at least 25 years old, which allow you to take part in daily road runs and evening banquets, as well as the show. The hill climb is a separate entry, but many riders take an additional machine to compete on a one-day international license or use the same bike for everything.

Although many riders from the national Spanish Hill Climb Championship participate, they are in a separate class from the “holiday” racers who compete just for fun, with rules and regulations being mercifully few!

The number of foreign visitors seems to grow each year thanks to an almost underground telegraph system, and given the increasing participation every year the gathering may eventually outgrow its location. More and more visitors making the annual pilgrimage are forced to find hotels miles from the rally.

It’s interesting to note that Colombres is just 50 miles along the coast from the ferry port at Santander, and a little farther from the Bilbao ferry, making it easier for Brits and the French to get there than Spaniards, some of whom have to travel over 1,000 miles to reach the northern Spanish coast!

Classic fever
The passion and enthusiasm at Colombres really take your breath away, no matter how many times you attend. There is a vast range and diversity of bikes on hand — some ridden all the way and some trailered, but once there, ridden on real motorcycle roads in company with like-minded individuals.

The Spaniards tend to turn out on gorgeous examples of the home brands, which although relatively small in capacity tend to be ridden at a rate that shows that small does not mean slow! But it is the very eclectic mix of machines that make this event stand out. Modern sports bikes mingle with classic bikes and scooters. All levels and ages of two wheels are represented.

As far as the road rider is concerned, Friday is the main day. There is a choice of activities, including the Ruta de Cinco Mil Curvas (or the Route of 5,000 Curves), a route consisting of, yes, 5,000 bends that participants try to complete in eight hours, with a trophy going to the rider with the best time. Riders can also opt for a self-paced 200km route that takes them through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery outside the Alps.

The rides are fully marshaled, so there is no chance of getting lost (a route card is also issued) and there’s always a support vehicle to help the occasional recalcitrant machine get back to base, where help is at hand to get it running again!

Friday evening marks the first of two sit-down meals that come as part of the deal. The organizers keep you well fed and watered every day, and these evening events push the boat out — and bring new meaning to the term “fire-water.” Queimada, a locally produced drink, is kept alight before being ladled out to those brave enough to sample it — many a sore head on the following days reminds of any excesses!

Saturday sees a brief run west to the port town of Llanes, returning for a giant paella, a native dish of rice, meat, seafood and vegetables, before settling down to watch the hill climb. In the afternoon with the sun beating down, the area’s rugged backdrop enhances the enjoyment of watching classic bikes or Spanish “strokers” on full chat up the twisty mile into town.

With Saturday’s banquet ending the day, Sunday is all that remains to remind people why they came. A morning ride takes riders through hills bathed in glorious sunshine, before returning to the main square in Colombres by early afternoon for a lunch of fabada, a Spanish bean stew, and a last look around before saying goodbyes.

And the goodbyes are always many, as the Colombres Rally is one of those events where even if you turn up knowing nobody, you will end up knowing everybody by the time you leave.

This year proved once again that the Colombres Rally should be on every motorcyclists’ (especially classic fans’) list of 100 events to make before passing under the checkered flag for the last time. There are plenty of people who speak the language — including the organizational team — and Spain’s well-earned reputation for hospitality and incredible scenery break down any barriers to attending. Classic bikes, classic Spain, real roads and real people: Now that’s a formula for the ages.

Though 2009 dates haven’t been announced yet, visit the Motorbike Piston Club website at www.mcpiston.com/ingles/iinicio.htm for upcoming dates, information and announcements. MC

Bike-Astur Motorcycle Tours

If you want to tour Spain but can’t make the Colombres Rally in mid-October, Phil Butler could be the answer.

An expatriate Brit, Phil (at right in red with Paul Smart) founded Bike-Astur seven years ago as a motorcycle travel firm, guiding vacationers on their own bikes around Spain’s stunning Picos de Europa Mountains and along the Asturian and Cantabrian coastline. A few years into it, he realized some clients weren’t getting the best out of their trips, riding heavy touring bikes along narrow country and mountain roads. Likewise, sport bike riders were uncomfortable at the lower speeds required by the many tight, gravel strewn roads.

Phil saw that classic bikes are better suited for the slower paced roads he was taking riders on. Enter a fleet of six new Royal Enfields, complete with electric start. This also meant he could offer fly-ride trips, a feature that’s proved very popular with his clients, many preferring the Enfields to their more modern mounts.

Not content to rest on his laurels, this year Phil has introduced Bring Your Own Classic Tours (BYO Classic). Just like his modern guided events, you can supply your own classic bike, safe in the knowledge that even after a good fettling at home, if it breaks down, you’ll still be able to get home again! Bike-Astur has a fully equipped workshop — at no extra cost — should you need to make running repairs to your own pride and joy. In the event your bike can’t be fixed, Phil will transport it to the ferry port at the end of your tour.

For more info visit www.bike-astur.com and also click here for a feature article on Bike-Astur.