Classic Endurance Racing Building Speed in Europe

Some kind of heaven

| January/February 2011

In the 1970s, motorcycle endurance racing was huge in Europe, drawing crowds of 100,000 for classics like the Bol d’Or. So it should come as no surprise that Europeans don’t just remember classic endurance racing fondly, they’re actively reliving the races.

This must be heaven. Not everyone’s idea of heaven, granted, but based on the popular notion that heaven will resemble the place we were happiest, then this, for me, must be it. It’s all here. The serpentine race track that follows the contours of the hills through the woods, enshrouded in clouds. And a pit lane and track packed with the incredible machines that played such a memorable soundtrack to my learning years.

Sounds that were once so familiar then lost for decades come back to me. The flat bark that never echoes that can only be that of an unsilenced BMW, the shrill tremolo of a Laverda on full throttle, the all-out wail of Japanese fours and that tearing, most frenzied scream of a two-stroke. And it is a two-stroke, just the one.

We’re not in heaven though; we’re still very much earthbound. And it’s 2010, not 1975. It looks like 1975, smells like 1975 and sounds like 1975, but then the riders arrive in the pit lane and remove their helmets. These guys aren’t 25, they’re 55 — if a day. This is the Four Hours of Spa Classic race for what we call “post-classics” (bikes built roughly from 1970 to 1980) held at the famous Spa-Francorchamps race track in Belgium.

Much like endurance racing in its entirety, this is very much a European phenomenon. There have been eight Classic Bol d’Ors, this is the third such Spa event, and there’s another classic endurance held each year at Cartagena in Spain. These are only the three high profile ones — there are probably more.

The revival

The race is homage to the Coupe d’Endurance race series from the 1970s, which has become today’s World Endurance Championship. But the Seventies were its heyday, when BMWs raced alongside Kawasakis, Guzzis, Laverdas, Nortons, Hondas and Triumphs.

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