The International West Kent Run

It does what it says on the tin…

The IWKR is an annual event held in Kent by the West Kent branch of the VMCC and always attracts huge support from across the channel, making a truly International event.

This year I took the recently-completed BSA L28 and, after the farce of Banbury when it was running too weak and kept trying to tighten up, I am delighted to report it ran faultlessly despite taking a bit of a hammering chasing after bikes considerably its junior. This event is a joy for a bike like the BSA; little lanes where you can make the most of a light, perky bike that’s easy to flip round tight bends. A few years ago we went two up on the Norvin but it was too big and heavy for the lanes and I felt sorry for the rider of a big GSX Suzuki. No, trust me, a vintage bike is a much better bet. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say “trust me” because once again, just as at Banbury earlier this summer, I was accosted with the accusation, “This is all your fault!”…


This time it was Ian Smart, seen here on his 1931 500cc Sunbeam Model 9. After many miles on ‘fifties and ‘sixties British (and Italian) bikes, Ian claims that my enthusiasm for even more ancient junk during a conversation on the Isle of Man a couple of years ago convinced him to take the plunge and buy this old ‘beam last year.

Ian went on to explain that the allegedly ‘well sorted’ bike pitched him in at the deep-end, head first but he found salvation in the Marston Sunbeam Club who were hugely helpful with parts, advice and actual help. Now the bike is well on the way and it completed the run happily. Ian confirmed that if you do go for something this far off the radar, you have to get involved with the people on the inside. These are waters largely uncharted by the Internet and it can be scary all the while you expect ownership to be the same as with any more modern classic. Occasionally I am asked, ‘So who are the Sunbeam spares dealers?” or some similarly innocent question; the fact is there usually aren’t any dealers that specialise in pre-war makes, even well-known ones like Sunbeam but if you make the effort to find the relevant club or owners group you will find that nothing is impossible. Fortunately there are a lot of older enthusiasts out there who want to see these machines preserved, so they are keen to help a younger generation.

The 100-mile run on Saturday was blessed with unexpectedly fine weather; predicted showers stayed in their clouds and this wonderful summer prevailed again. The West Kent Run itself is a fantastic day out, hundreds of bikes winding their way through hedge and tree-lined lanes, through pretty villages, past cottages and farmyards. Surprisingly there are still parts of the Garden of England that remain close enough to how they were when these bikes were new for riders to lose themselves in dreams of times past. But keep an eye open for hard-nosed 4WDs as they follow their Sat-Nav at breakneck (yours!) speed… Probably the best thing about today’s crowded Kent as a venue, though, is that there are so many little lanes, criss-crossing the countryside. I’ve often found that in The Great Outdoors – the Lakes, the Dales, the Highlands – the problem is that huge areas are covered by very few roads, making it difficult to vary your route. The West Kent Run covers roads I used to potter around endlessly in my feckless teens, yet every year it takes me somewhere I have never been. The run is a full day’s entertainment with a tea stop and a lunch break before journey’s end so there are plenty of opportunities for a rest from the saddle while you nose round the other entries and compare notes with their owners.This year we stopped at the Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, outside Sevenoaks and lunch was a ploughman’s at Groombridge Place near Tunbridge Wells after swinging through the Ashdown Forest. Super…

On Sunday the event base, The Friars at Aylesford just off the M20 outside Maidstone, is open to the public for the show and autojumble.


For me, few things beat a good rummage through rusty old bits like these, although the display of bikes was good enough to entice me away from time to time…DSCF1012

This unusual late ‘fifties Watsonian sidecar, hitched to a BSA A10 caught my eye, not seen one like it before.


As did this well-used looking 1930s Triumph from abroad…


Cuppla’ tasty Speed Twins with a well deserved rosette…


Another rosette, this time on Dennis Grech’s 1914 Edmund, second oldest machine on the run…

In the afternoon the fun continues with a good old gymkhana. Last time I did this here was a few years ago, on a similarly hot summer’s day, I tanked round at great speed on my Sunbeam and managed to drop it, the hot end of the downpipe making a right mess of my bare calf. Pride comes before a fall, I guess but such horrors didn’t put Nick Cleaver off tearing around on his Triumph NSD, although as he nervously admitted sitting on the line for his final run, “It’s getting VERY hot…”


After all that excitement it was time to head back to the autojumble for another look round. Quite liked this unusual c1927 Husqvarna vee twin… Time was when foreign bikes like this didn’t fetch very good money but I guess the £8000 asking price is about what you’d have to expect for a vintage vee twin today, from wherever and in any condition. Somebody obviously thought so because it said ‘sold’ on the ticket.

DSCF1017So that’s another blissfully sunny weekend under the belt. The only sad point was the reminder that this event was really the baby of my friend Alan Abrahams, who passed away earlier this year and is remembered in a previous post. But it was good to see his widow Alison and son James were there riding, keeping up the family tradition.

If you fancy entering the run, keep an eye on the IWKR website, entries usually open sometime early in the New Year I think but it is often over-subscribed so get your name down early. For those from far afield it actually starts on Thursday and finishes on Monday with a run every day except Sunday so there’s plenty to do. Camping is available on site and this year (for the first time), the Friars allowed dogs on leads onto the show field on Sunday, so Finbar came along…and spent the day avoiding the sun by snoozing under Alison’s van.

Maybe see you there next year

Cheers Rick

Comments (3)

  1. Nick

    Nervous!!! Ha Ha Too right though not of the Gymnkana I’m an old hand at making a ruddy fool of myself and cocking it all up. But poor old Nellie the NSD was feeling a bit warm after a few runs and I’m very much a ride it not fiddle too much with it chap and I was worrying I’d have to end the day fiddling!

    Rick’s right this is one of the best VMCC events in the calender and a fitting legacy to Alan who we all miss.

    Great to see you again Rick Judy and of course Finbar. See you around at the next big bash I’m sure.

  2. Keith Gibbins

    Hi Rick,

    Good write-up, would you mind if I put a link from the IWKR website to your page?

    Cheers – Keith

  3. Vic Youel

    I am glad you converted Ian to his Sunbeam; I got a real kick seeing this write up after working on Ian’s old Sunbeam.


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