The National Road Rally is scheduled to be held over two days-July 1 and July 2, 2017. The rally has a glorious history dating back to between the Great Wars. The first rally was held in 1933. It was held every year after that. The events were well documented even then as all competitors received their own “Official Handbook and Programme of Events”. The rally can also be construed as a memento to the once thriving British motorcycle manufacturing industry.
During the 1939 National Road Rally, a total of 891 riders took part. Almost all riders rode British motorcycles except a few who rode German-made BMWs. The Japanese, according to present day observers, were noticeable by their absence. This was expected as Japanese imperial forces were trying to conquer other parts of Asia like China and other parts of the world and not the motorcycle markets. The list of motorcycles being ridden at that time included Triumphs, Velocettes, Nortons’ and BSAs. A few lesser known marquees were also seen, like Montgomery, O.E.C, OK Supreme, and Calthorpe. The advertisements at those days extolled the excellence of British products. The Model G Royal Enfield Bullet with a 350cc engine was being sold for 60 pounds. As per lore, the bike gave a superb performance in tandem with its handsome looks. Ownership of the Norton bikes was a matter of pride.
Other than civilians, many police and service personnel competed in the National Road rally. Among contestants, Corporals, Sergeants, Bombardiers and Lance Sergeants competed in the rallies. Commissioned officers were also seen racing their bikes. The event was stopped for a few years after 1939 with the start of the Second World War.
World War and its aftermath
Amazingly, those who competed served in their army with bikes. Many worked as motorcycle dispatch rider with Royal Regiment of Signals. Many of their exploits, especially in North Africa, was published in magazines, like the Motor Cycling magazine brought out a few days prior to Christmas in 1951. The British riders during the Second World War won a number of bikes from the Germans. These include BMW bikes and multiple Puch 2 bikes. They also captured a number of Italian bikes like Moto Guzzi and Benelli. They also got one Harley-Davidson. How it got there from far away the United States remained a matter of mystery.
The National Road Rally survived the Second World War. It is now regarded as one of oldest motorcycle events in the UK and even European bike history. The irony is that although the number of contestants nowadays are more than earlier days, they are now much more ignorant of the inner workings of the bikes compared to the earlier years. The final leg of the rally in 2017 will be held at Bletchley Park, This is a historic site as the analysts working at Bletchley Park crafted the world’s maiden electronic digital calculator to help in their decrypting work. You can get the feel of those heady days by joining the rally.