Harley Open House

Les Channing

1st October 2005

This inaugural pre-book event threw open the doors of the Harley-Davidson Europe headquarters in Oxford to H.O.G. members from all over the UK. Chelsea & Fulham and Meridian were of course represented, but at two levels; firstly about 20 of us went as visitors, and secondly Chapter Safety Officer Peter ‘Scottie’ Scott stepped into the breach to organise the ride-out, except rather than the usual 20-50 it was a scheduled 750 Harleys!

Organising the ride-out started in earnest only about a week before the event, when the draft route was ‘Scottified’ to meet with police and H-D approval, being a manageable length and anti-clockwise. Unfortunately the route could not go through the centre of Oxford itself, as it is largely pedestrianised but who knows for next year! Much of the draft route included a terrific country lane extravaganza and we were able to keep to that part of the plan.

Scottie and I recced the route, the car parking and dispersal areas on Wednesday. I didn’t actually know I was doing it until the phone rang at 10.30am, but I have an understanding employer so at 1pm Scottie and I were sitting down to a sandwich and a bowl of chips with Marjorie Ragg from H.O.G. UK. She was understandably very focussed on making the event a success, and seemed reassured that Scottie and I (and the rest of the Chelsea & Fulham and Meridian Chapters) were on side. After lunch we set off into the Oxford countryside (which varied from a bit wet to extremely wet; OK for the recce but we had scheduled the usual Chelsea and Fulham sunshine for event day) and drove the whole route prior to meeting with the local police traffic inspector who was supplying the resources for the ‘real thing’ on Saturday. Due to a very serious motorcycle accident near the unfortunately named Golden Balls roundabout causing extensive local congestion we could not estimate the timing with any accuracy as those who did the route on Saturday will testify - we were an hour over! Inspector Bridges (after checking on the investigation of the accident, a tragic ‘own-goal’ by a college student) professed himself well satisfied with the proposals so off home we went, down a soaked and windy A34. 207 unexpected miles, but courtesy of the Road King no aches and pains and on the equivalent of one tank of petrol.

I was also volunteered to lead the Chapter run up to Oxford on Saturday morning but it was far too late by this point to get any route approved other than the most direct - A4, M4, M25, M40, A40. Oh, and could I please carry the flag!

So, Friday evening I am in my sideway spraying an old mop handle glossy black - well it’s got to match the bike - and borrowing my wife’s hair dryer to get the paint to set. Copiously tie-wrapped and jubilee clipped to pannier supports and rear rack, we are all set for the off. Thanks to John Towns for the gift of some more tie-wraps and some tape on Saturday morning to make assurance doubly sure that this thing is not going to come off leaving the Chelsea & Fulham flag bereft in some Oxonian gutter.

Saturday the rendezvous is at Warr’s. John Warr himself volunteered to be last man, so after a briefing we are off. Out into King’s Road and turning right (rather than the usual left for the A3) felt strange and the traffic all the way to the A4 via Gunther Grove and Earls’ Court was heavy. Soon enough we were on to a sunny A4. Little to relate about the journey up - it was a steady speed-limit cruise for everybody with the occasional overtake to get past lorries and caravans. There were no incidents just a reassuring line of headlamps in my mirrors. I kept to the middle lane quite a lot to avoid lane changing caused by on and off slips, also the nearside lane is quite rutted on the M40, causing the Road King to gently sway if you get in one of the ruts. I think the profile’s going off the rear tyre as well; hardly surprising after 3000 miles and the way I drive.

We had arranged a regroup point just outside Oxford - time to unfurl the Chapter flag. From there it was necessary to keep the group together for the final run to the event car park. Trying to leave drop-offs with that many Harleys about would have caused huge confusion. On arrival we parked up and made our way over the Harley-Davidson HQ to partake of the Open Day, collecting our pins and wrist-bands on the way in. There was a hog-roast, live band, various competitions to enter, a display of historical Harleys (thanks again to Warr’s), some military vehicles (also courtesy of John and Rob Warr) and seating areas for catching up with old friends. I met lots of people with whom I had been on H.O.G. UK European tours, so caught up with a lot of gossip and made some tentative plans for 2006 trips.

John Warr & Peter Scott

Soon enough it was time for the Marshals briefing for the ride-out. Because of the size of the run we needed about 70 Marshals, fortunately ten Chapters were contacted and all offered to provide Marshals. Thanks you to (in alphabetical order) Birmingham H.O.G., Essex H.O.G., Invicta H.O.G., Nene Valley H.O.G., New Forest H.O.G., Oxford H.O.G., Rutland H.O.G., 1066 H.O.G., III Rivers H.O.G. and Wey Valley Advanced Motorcyclists (IAM) Surrey Police BikeSafe unit. Thanks also to the four members of Surrey Chapter who assisted the Car Park Team all day. The briefing was delivered by Scottie to an attentive audience all now sporting fluorescent over-jackets. The plan was simple, if potentially exciting; the ride was to be escorted by 6 police motorcyclists, who would enter each junction and stop crossing traffic; the police motorcyclist would then be replaced by a marshal who would hold the traffic until the ‘last man’ - in this case a marked patrol car - went through. The marshal would then, when safe to do so, move back to the head of the ride, awaiting a further deployment. This meant that for those of us in the body of the ride rear observation became even more important than usually. The approaching marshal was often heralded by the ‘burst of dirty thunder’ but the police motorcyclists just whistled by like bullets from a gun. It’s a shame they all wear full-face helmets, as it means you can’t see the ear to ear grin. Oh, by the way, Scottie had been issued with a police spec Road King complete with flashing blue lights and VERY loud siren. Fresh from being used to escort Mr Blair, it was put to some proper use. Scotties open face helmet made the ear to ear grin most apparent!


So off we went, Chelsea & Fulham flag proudly fluttering from its mop handle, the ride-out being led off by Nigel Villiers from HOG Europe and Marjorie Ragg UK H.O.G. Manager and the bekilted (yes, really) Dunedin Chapter. Then me (with borrowed pillion). Then hundreds and hundreds more, streaming along the Oxford ring road to the Headington roundabout. Left onto the A40 past the top of Oxford. Left again down the back-roads to pass the Oxford Harley dealer - hundreds more there waving and cheering. Through Abingdon village, with the traffic competently managed by community support officers. Left again to the Golden Balls roundabout with its quiet reminder of the consequences of making mistakes on two wheels. Straight on down more fabulous country lanes before another left brought us back to Oxford. Dispersal was from a nearby ‘park and ride’ car park, where farewells were genuine in the hope of a return next year.


Michael Howers

Then the ride home - supper awaited, so M40, M25, A3 and home by 7.45pm. A shorter day, only 187 miles, but again all on one tank of fuel. I love my Road King!

Not a Chelsea & Fulham do as such but good representation from both chapters with keen marshalling evident (V2 AXE?). The ‘without-which’ column is headed by Scottie and the Thames Valley Police roads policing department, but the others really are too numerous to mention. I hope Harley-Davidson Europe does it again next year. A truly awesome day.

Yours truly

Michael Howers - C&F Road Captain