Riding a Moto Legende

Moto_Legende_02By Kevin Ash

Pictures: Kevin Ash, Rick Kemp

There are ten minutes to go and I’m not even changed yet. But what to wear is not the issue, this is the famously relaxed Coupes Moto Legende, where scrutineering amounts to a Gallic shrug, a smile and a nod. The only concession to safety we’ve had to make is to remove the ladder from my bike. Seriously.

No, I’m nervous because I have never even seen a 1929 Terrot HSSE before, let alone ridden one, and there are so many sticks and levers to pull, twist, slide or push I feel like I’m about to wrestle with Edward Scissorhands. “But I sink you ’af experionce wizz zese?” says the bike’s handler, Arnaud Farizon. Dave Selby, Moto Legende’s UK press representative and organiser of my ride, is staring at the floor and shuffling uncomfortably: “Well, you wanted to ride something interesting, and you do have a lot of experience of motorcycles.” Yes Dave, post-war ones. New ones, for goodness’ sake.“I got you the ride didn’t I?”

Moto_Legende_04Click on image for gallerySeven minutes to go and I’m trying to change into some vaguely suitable clothing as Arnaud discovers he doesn’t know the English for anything that any of these levers do. But the odds improve slightly when he tells me that whatever happens, I mustn’t touch that one. Or was it that one? Five minutes, and we’re shouting now, if only to confirm we can’t understand each other even when we can hear the words properly, as the paddock is filling with about 80 ancient and obscenely noisy motorcycles, queuing eagerly to ease those aching pistons around the Circuit Dijon-Prenois.

There’ll be no losing me in the hoarde though. My bike is no ordinary 1929 Terrot HSSE – H for 350cc, SS for Super Sport (how times have changed) and the E for enclosed valves. This is a famous one, the tool of legendary stunt team Raymond Vermot-Desroches, Georges Vial and Maurice Boulard in the 1930s – hence the ladder – and for the act the entire machine had been nickel plated. Whichever, I couldn’t have stood out more in the crowd of old black motorcycles if I’d circulated on the electric blue GSX-R1000 I rode to Dijon on.

Moto_Legende_09Raymond Vermot-Desroches and Maurice Boulard in 1932Vermot-Desroches and Vial started their Acrobates Motocycliste stunt riding show in France in November 1929, but in the summer of 1930 Georges fell and broke a collar bone, an injury which kept him out of action for some time. M. Degy, their manager and apparently a hard man, accused him of not honouring his contract and took on rugby-playing acrobat Maurice Boulard, who with Vermot-Desroches went on to tour across France and Belgium, the two becoming nationally famous for their act.

Appropriately, both were based in Dijon, which was also home of Terrot motorcycles, and the company soon saw a marketing opportunity and supported them, including nickel plating their entire machine.

Three minutes, and the famous Terrot fires up. Okay, that lever might be the throttle, pulling it persuades the metronomic adagio idle to give way to an allegro beat. It’ll be hitting the red line then. This one on the left, that’s the clutch, I saw Arnaud use that. Aha, and that’s the front brake, just where it should be too. Just as well, as the rear is behind the left footrest and I can’t bend my leg far enough to move it. The good news is, neutral is between first and second and the change is up for up, like a modern bike. The bad news is, you do it by hand.

One minute to go, I’ve chugged up the pitlane once with all the tonk-tonk urgency of a Norwegian fishing boat, and everyone’s lining up for their first 20 minute session.

Moto_Legende_08Anyone can do this, and at prices which should make British track day organisers hang their heads in shame. Really old bikes are 45 euros, owners of more modern ones, up to about 30 years old, pay 135 euros for three 20 minute sessions over the weekend, two entry tickets and car parking. The only problem is getting an entry among the 1000 machines that go out over the two days: book in the summer for the following year, but bear in mind they also choose entrants to ensure an eclectic mix so the grid doesn’t become packed with Gold Stars or Bonnevilles. Having a 1920s circus bike is a good start, and you won’t be the only Brit as a quarter of the entrants are foreign and half of those from the UK. The VMCC (Vintage Motor Cycle Club) comes as a large group and puts on a great display, as well as loaning spanners and wisdom to cure misfiring 1929 Terrot HSSEs. Thank you Jim for discovering why my old mount survived only one very slow lap – oil in the magneto – and almost didn’t make the steep hill.

It’s a cracking circuit with big elevation changes, a great mix of corners and a long straight (very, very long when you’re lapping in 3m 25s). As the successor to Montlhéry, previous home of the Coupes Moto Legende, Dijon is near ideal, especially as the town once was home to France’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, Terrot. There’s a huge amount of space, enough for the many who camp and 30,000 or so visitors plus all their vehicles, the displays and large autojumble, and good facilities too.

Moto_Legende_02Second time out with a cleaned magneto and newer plug (only 50 years old, this one) and my very shiny little Terrot was running sweetly. Turn one, a long fast right hander littered with bits of mudguard and it’s third (top) gear, winding the power on to drive out to the left-right turns two and three. Take these in, um, third, leave the throttle stick where it is and take a line to the left of a piece of crankcase laying on the track. Turn four, that’ll be third gear then, and mind the detached footrest sitting at the apex. Turn five, you take that in third and the debris there increases every lap. Wiggle the throttle stick a bit too. Turn six is a tight right hander, best gear for this is third… but, there’s a steep hill on the exit, and you need... second! to get up it. This is tough, the shift to second with a hand change takes me so long, by the time I’ve done it I really need first. I make it to the top though, unlike a Thirties Magnat-Debon retired against the Armco after failing to make the gradient (Rossi never has this problem), then it’s back to third for the rest of the long track.

Participating or not, this is a fabulous event, refreshingly free of the bureaucratic safety disease which stifles so much that’s fun this side of the Channel. And don’t forget the food and wine…

* A huge thanks to Arnoud Farizon and the Arbracam Motorcycle Club for letting me loose on their precious, charming machine.

Contact: +33 1 60 71 55 15 www.coupes-moto-legende.fr

* MSL Tours: I travelled to Dijon with MSL Tours, although this was much more hands-off than most of their tours. They provided a hotel, a recommended route, ferry crossings and on one day, a hospitality suite with lunch at the circuit, otherwise for most riders the trip there and back was down to them. So why bother? In fact as several pointed out, they did try to book things independently but it worked out more expensive, there was no hospitality and they’d have missed the like-minded company. MSL Tours has a range of long and short tours around Europe, some aimed at novices to foreign riding and most with a guide. And they do it well.

Contact: 01732 367441 www.msltours.co.uk

shuggiemac's picture
Joined: 23/11/2008

As we head into 2009, it makes you realise what a difference 80 years makes. The 1929 Terrot with, what sounds like, a similar amount of controls to your average steam engine and now we have the Aprilia Mana, Honda DN-01 etc trying to make motorcycles have as few controls as possible. I guess even a choke lever and a fuel tap are rapidly becoming things of the past. I wonder what will be next to a) go and b) arrive?

P.S. - Sorry am not visiting as much right now as I am back home in the UK visiting family for Christmas and it is a tad anti-social to spend too much time on my Dad's computer!

kevash's picture
Joined: 05/10/2008

It was a great experience riding that lovely old bike but it wasn't easy! Wouldn't surprise me if we lost a brake lever/pedal at some point, probably on a touring bike first. Honda's new brake-by-wire ABS doesn't really need a brake lever and a pedal too, but I think ditching one of them would have been just a bit too radical. Interesting thought though!
Anyway, have a fine Christmas and New Year, and for your info, the site seems to be growing pretty quickly in terms of the number of people visiting. I'm not sure whether numbers will increase or drop over Christmas but the general trend is definitely up. And I have some interesting stuff planned too for the next few months!

alanp's picture
Joined: 22/03/2010

Kev, I remember that trip that year with MSL. A few of us were riding along expecting cops with cameras to pop out at any minute, I was on the Multi, and you on a GSXR and I think Rex came past us like we were standing still. We upped our speed and overshot you two supping at a roadside cafe. We turned around and sat with you both for a while. This was our first real stop on the trip to flavour the country, rather than petrol stops.
The classic bikes, many of which you never ever see in this country, were brilliant.
The hospitality lunch was great compared to the mere mortals queuing for expensive whatever it was. I notice that MSL have not included the hospitality recently so I haven't been back. It rained on the Sunday so moved off to Switzerland to visit my grand kids.

kevash's picture
Joined: 05/10/2008

Ah yes, my GSX-R1000 with its controversial panniers, haha. Suzuki GB wasn't entirely happy I'd done that... but I was, it turned it into a cracking touring bike! I do remember you and the Multi and being stopped for a coffee somewhere.

It was a good trip, just a shame about Sunday's weather. I can't even remember for certain now but I'm pretty sure I headed back on the Sunday too. Riding that lovely old Terrot was fantastic - shame they had to take the ladder off though.

boulard joelle
Joined: 05/02/2012

c'est mon oncle qui faisait des élucubrations sur moto TERROT avec Vermot et Vial, son prénom était Hyppolite et non pas Maurice,
merci d'avance