2008 Banbury Run

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Photo by Kyoichi Nakamura

I’ve lived my entire motorcycling life within a stone’s throw of Banbury, nestled in the heart of rural England about 90 miles northwest of London. Yet until this year, I’d done so without ever attending one of the world’s largest feasts of two-wheeled nostalgia, the Banbury Run.

Held since 1949, the Banbury Run is claimed to be the world’s largest competitive event for Veteran motorcycles (pre-World War I) and Vintage motorcycles (post-World War II) by its organizers, the 15,000-strong Vintage Motor Cycle Club (VMCC)., which stages more than 1,000 old bike events each year up and down the British Isles. Not owning a period bike built before 1931, the cutoff date for eligible bikes, I had not only never ridden in “The Run,” I’d never even joined the crowds of onlookers lining the 60-mile course, watching an array of historic two-wheelers potter on by, providing the sights, sounds and smells of all our motorcycling yesterdays.

For this year’s 60th staging of the Banbury Run, I joined 599 other “vintagents” (vintage-motorcycle-mounted-gentlemen — get it?) for a ride in the country aboard a 500cc overhead-valve, pushrod Sunbeam Model 9. Belonging to Banbury Run organizer Dick Hodge and built in 1930, this was actually one of the most modern bikes taking part in the event, so at least I wouldn’t have to provide “light pedal assistance” as I grappled with climbing the daunting Sunrising Hill. I had the luxury of a 3-speed hand-change gearbox to do so, rather than a single-speed like some of the earliest devices. Ah, progress. MC

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