Team Vespa Story
The Testicle Run is perhaps Britain’s most insane scooter charity event. The first was held in 2014 with a team of scooterists riding in relay from Kent to Land’s End, then to John O’Groats and back again to Kent. In February.
The objective was to do it in under 48-hours. They finished but it took a little longer.
For 2016 the stakes were raised. This time it would pit a Vespa Team against a Lambretta Team travelling opposite ways around the country.
Could it be done in under 48 hours and which team would win?
Dougie (John Hanson) P200E standard
Dave Sawicki PX200 standard
Peter Millard PX200-210 Malossi
Martin McGowan Rally 200 (Standard P200E engine)
Back up van drivers, Barney Hubble, Gary and Wayne Dell.
Story by Martin McGowan
In the planning of our ride, we were sure the reliability and steady 60/65mph top speed of our standard P200 engines, except Pete, with his Malossi 210, would defeat the Lambretta boys on their highly-tuned scooters. We were counting on them having a couple of serious breakdowns, and the real possibility of Gary getting lost for a few hours, once or twice. We had great intentions of slick changeovers and the riders riding for two hours, then sleeping for six hours, and riding for two hours again. We would get a good momentum going, and the tortoise would defeat the hare.
The first Testicle Run (back in 2014) had been the same Lambretta team; Dougie and I had been back up van drivers. We had both been chomping at the bit to ride it for a Vespa team and knew we could beat their original time of 57 hours and, were pretty confident we could just about do it within 48 hours.
Our plans started going tits up when the day before the race was due to start, one of our support van drivers had to pull out, due to the death of a family member. Of course we all understood, and sent our condolences to Martyn Field, who was very disappointed that he couldn’t make it. This was totally out of his control. We were all frantically searching for a new driver, but with it being so close we couldn’t replace Martyn. In a moment of bravado, myself and Dougie put ourselves up for driving the vans, as well as riding. A couple of people said this was madness, but I just thought it would make our victory all the more impressive. This turned out to be a really bad decision!
“felt like a chump”
The leaving time from The Rainham Mark in Kent was 2am which meant we were all tired from the off. That said, things went well on our way down to Cornwall, with the only real cock-up being me going the wrong direction up the A30 after leaving Penhale Services.
We had made good time with clockwork changeovers and some good ride times, especially from Pete on his 210. Luckily, I was alerted to my mistake quickly when I saw the girls on The Breasticle Run coming towards me, and we had only passed them ten minutes before Penhale. So after a bit of 80s scooter boy style riding (i.e. the wrong way up the hard shoulder) I managed a bit of damage limitation, By the time I’d reached Lands End I had only cost us about 20 minutes (still felt like a chump, but I’d feel worse later on!).
We were feeling really good, as we were still two hours ahead of our original ETA to Lands End, arriving at our first landmark in eight hours. Dave then started heading North and he took off at a great rate of knots; it took us half an hour to catch him in the van. Then some really bad weather came over, and Dave got the first really good soaking of the trip, with a good 20 minutes of hailstones; good job he’s double hard! Our good momentum continued, with only a little blip of confusion getting onto The Severn Crossing. The eight changeovers we’d had were still pretty quick, and the next 250 odd miles into Scotland went well, with us still making good time.
There was a bit of a sweepstake taking place on SLUK about what time we would pass Team Lambretta coming down out of Scotland. It was just before Stirling that I gave Jim and the Lambretta back up van the one fingered salute, and I promptly missed the slip road for Stirling! Dougie and Barney caught up with me and gave me a good talking to. It’s not my fault; I was born on a Wednesday. We were met at Stirling Services by Geoff Goodman of Maidstone and District SC (now relocated to Scotland) who gave us the heads-up on the state of the roads ahead.
After this, progress slowed a bit, with treacherous nighttime weather and poor visibility, but we were still ahead of our original estimates, so all seemed well. The next part of the journey is a blank for me, as I had to sleep for a couple of hours after doing a fair bit of driving as well as riding. Our van driver, Barney, had held up well but tiredness can come on dangerously suddenly when you have just completely ignored your natural body clock. Now, the reality of Dougie and I driving as well as riding would start to take its toll. I was woken with a start as Barney shouted obscenities at a crazy truck driver who was doing some suicide overtaking. As Barney is an HGV driving instructor, shit truck driving is his pet hate.
I took over for the last leg through The Cairngorms, which Dave and Dougie had ridden, in turn, in the dark and the snow, in conditions you really should not be riding Italian ladies shopping mopeds in!
Daylight had dawned for the last couple of hours up through the beautiful national park, and when we arrived at Wick, I was still super-tired but decided, with no help, or discussion, to get my scooter out of the van and do the final ascent to JOG alongside Dougie.
If anyone had filmed my next stunt, it would be appearing on one of those epic fail videos on YouTube. It resulted in me and my Rally falling out of the van and the scooter landing on its arse end, denting the back of the frame in and unbeknown to me at the time, damaging my CDI unit. I was filming the final ride up to JOG and the film comes to a pitiful end as my scooter cuts out, just in sight of the JOG landmark. I now discovered my HT lead hanging out of the CDI, but it would be a few breakdowns more before I found the actual damage to the CDI.
We had made it to John O’Groats in 22 hours and so took the obligatory photos, one of which I sent to my wife, Toni, and it appeared on ScooterLab in double quick time! The van drivers were all so knackered by now; we had to stop for a coffee and a bacon roll. After 30 hours of riding we were all still quite happy with our times and still confident.
Pete had a great run back down on the coastal road, really riding like he stole it! We were all in awe of the scenery. Must be a great ride in the summer. On my next ride, back through The Cairngorms, the problems with my CDI came to light with the scooter cutting out several times before I gave in and we loaded it onto the van; I used Dougie’s P200 for the rest of that run. The other lads had been waiting some time for us when we reached Pitlochry, and we knew by now we had started to lose ground.
Dave still managed a good time to Stirling, but the next changeover was too slow. Traffic on Dougie’s next run approaching Glasgow, in the Friday evening rush hour, was really bad and we lost him. Our next problem was a mix up with the next fuel stop, and we ended up waiting an hour for Dougie at Abington when he had gone on to Gretna. Just as we were starting to really worry about him, he phoned me back, so we raced down to Gretna to catch him.
Pete’s ride along the A66 to Scotch Corner was another good one, but now we reached the really low part of the whole trip, finding the A1/M closed. Looking at the trackers, and reading the banter on Facebook, we knew team Lambretta were nearly home, but it didn’t stop me putting some daft posts on about fat ladies having not sung yet, and such like. The diversion had obviously been thought up by a drunk person. It was time for me to ride again now, on Dougie’s scooter, but his exhaust bolt came loose and meant we had a bit of sodding about to do, tightening it up, before the un-magical mystery tour.
We followed the daft diversion round and round, through little villages where everyone was tucked up in bed. Riding those slow roads late on a winter’s night makes you really tired, and want to be indoors with the heating on full. The diversion got us about 15 miles further on in our journey, even though we had followed it for nearly two hours, round and round. At one point, when we were stopped, scratching our heads, an ambulance pulled alongside us and the driver asked us if we knew how to get to some unknown place. She said she’d driven round the diversion five times. Every road junction we came to seemed to be closed, and the diversions sent us off in different directions. In the end we ignored the signs, and got on to the deserted A1M and we couldn’t see any reason why it was closed. It seemed like a military exercise to separate North and South. We continued on to the M18, picking up the M1, which Dave was riding amid crazy hallucinations!
As we pulled into Woodall Services, we could all hear the fat lady singing, and she was singing about Lambrettas! We had known for hours that we had blown it. All we could do now was try and knock a few hours off their 2014 time, and we planned to all ride home from South Mimms together. Dougie burnt rubber all the way to South Mimms in well under an hour, while I fixed my scooter in the back of the following van, replacing the CDI, spark plug, cap and lead, and cleaning out my jets as well, just in case.
There was no way we were arriving home with a broken Vespa! The only other mechanical troubles we’d had was a bit of rain ingress into Dave’s CDI unit, which WD40 sorted; a bit of a leaky SIP petrol tap on my scooter; a lost exhaust nut from Pete’s scooter, also easily sorted. It felt good starting my scooter up in the back of the van, and the two-stroke smoke gave Barney the buzz he needed.
The ride from South Mimms into Kent and over The Dartford Crossing was a good grin. Overtaking each other with smiles of relief on our faces; our mission was almost complete and we hadn’t heeded anyone’s advice to give up.
Even when we were staring at the reality of being trounced by Team Lambretta, and with hundreds of cold miles to go, not one of the team, riders or drivers, ever mentioned giving up. We had a lot of sponsorship, and our pride was at stake, so we were determined to finish.
A2 and then M2, by-passing The Medway towns, we rode, smiling, down into Rainham. The sight of about twenty clapping, cheering people outside The Rainham Mark at seven a.m. was exactly what we needed, and it actually put a big lump in my throat. We had done it, and the welcoming crowd all telling us how proud they were of us made it really worth the effort. All along we had been spurred on and entertained by the encouragement and banter on Facebook from people following the blue dots on the Real-Time trackers. The trackers had been a last minute idea that obviously made a huge difference to the whole event, and brought in bundles more sponsorship money.
I haven’t mentioned Gary and Wayne much, because they were driving the other back up van. I know they were driving until sleep got the better of them and swapping over for power naps so they could keep going. I just want to reiterate our gratitude to them, and Barney, as I think the driving, for that long, with hardly any sleep is the hardest part, and all scooterists would rather be riding. So thanks fellas.
As proud as I am of our achievement, the margin of defeat does bother me and I can’t help thinking we can do better. Team Lambretta had completed the ride in an amazing 44 hours, and it had taken us 53. This being four hours quicker than their 2014 time was a small consolation. I’m not taking anything away from The Lambretta boys; they rode well-built, fast scooters, quickly, over long distances. They did great rider changeovers and didn’t waste any time. Without them breaking down or getting lost we couldn’t beat them, and I did both of those things; bragging rights are definitely theirs.
We were unlucky heading down the country first, catching all the traffic coming back down from Scotland, and the road closures, but never mind. Now such a good time has been set, maybe we will try and race the clock going in the same direction they did, and maybe we can narrow the margin by a few hours. Maybe, if we are mental enough to do it again. Maybe!
Martin McGowan, on behalf of Team Vespa.
If you were impressed with the achievements of Team Vespa as part of the Testicle Run – and you should be – then it is still possible to donate. The money goes to various cancer charities. You can donate here via Paypal.
Team Vespa we only one part of three scooter events running that week to raise money for the same causes. Hopefully we can follow up with more stupid endurance adventures by fellow scooterists on SLUK in the near future…