When you want to race around a track, there are plenty of good, modern, high-performance bikes out there. Of course, we don’t all have €20,000 to put towards a brand new sports bike. But don’t worry, you can always buy a bike which is 5 or 10 years old, and do it up as good as new. Despite that, some guys just prefer riding old bangers which leak oil and whose brakes are knackered! For the ordinary biker, Iron Biker is a bit of an odd event. Although track riding is already dangerous enough, some guys like to up the risk even more by racing around the circuit on old bikes! On its first year, back in 2011, it attracted 120 riders. Now, there are about 350 nutters who come to scrape their knee-pads riding a Yamaha 350 RDLC, Honda NSR 400, or even some old British bikes for the really brave riders. In terms of the range of bikes, there’s a mix of souped-up bikes and machines dating back to before the 1980s, but it all comes down to a very simple concept: riding bikes with character! Although we struggle to see why you would want to race with fossils on 2 wheels . rather than on modern machines. So we went to speak to Nicolas Sonina, the man in charge of getting these oldies racing on their old bikes! “Performance is not the priority. It’s about the enjoyment of riding a motorbike, sometimes a vintage bike, we don’t have any this year but in the past we’ve had Harley WLs from the 1940s transformed into racing bikes, bikes with hardly any brakes. There’s Franck Chatokhine who is here with a bike from 1956, a Triumph 500 SuperTwin, he can go past everyone on his machine because he takes it flat out. His bike doesn’t brake, it hardly stays on the track but he has a great time! It’s not purely and simply about performance. I think everyone here is getting on a bit, well into middle age, except for a few youngsters. They’ve experienced high performance bikes and riding flat out. We’ve all been through that and in the end you’re left thinking, what is it that really matters? Having a good laugh with friends, racing on a 500 XT, a 350 RDLC, Having a good laugh with friends, racing on a 500 XT, a 350 RDLC, a Norton or other bikes which are a bit outdated. So what?” For those who don’t know, this is Franck Chatokhine. He’s a very well-renowned expert when it comes to old bikes, especially British bikes, and he’s a pretty handy rider too. And it doesn’t matter about the surface, because he’s the UK Dirt Track Champion in the Vintage category. Franck is a special case because ever since he was a kid he has had vintage bikes in his blood. So we decided to take to the track with these vintage bike fans to get a closer look at them and find some more guinea pigs for our investigation. As for our bike, no oldie for us, but a neo-retro model. It’s a Yamaha XSR 900 customised by our partners at SW Motech. And you will see why it was a good idea to use a bike fitted out with plenty of protections. So, after a few sessions riding among the participants of Iron Biker, we noticed a few things. Firstly, that the difference in performance between modern and old bikes is simply incredible, both in terms of acceleration and braking. And also, that this event is more of a demonstration than a race. Most of the guys come here to give their old girls a run around rather than try to beat the lap record. Why do you risk your necks on these bikes when there are reliable modern ones you can race with? Because sometimes it’s good to hurt yourself and get out of your comfort zone. And these ones have more character and are more interesting. You get more of a feel with them. Yeah, it’s 100% enjoyment. I’ve tried modern bikes, but they’re just not the same. It’s just not the same for a guy who rides a modern 4-cylinder bike. When you talk about bikes, you’re talking about different things. We don’t go as fast, we’re not trying to set quick laps but simply to enjoy ourselves. Even though we go slower, I think we really enjoy the ride Do you find that you have a different approach to track riding with more modern bikes? -Yes, it’s different because modern bikes have a lot of rider assistance devices, not to mention ABS. Here you’ve got drum brakes, if you don’t brake in time you end up going straight on That forces you to stay humble and adapt yourself to your bike. I think that’s better. This isn’t a competition, it’s about enjoyment. And to really enjoy yourself, you need a bike like this. -It’s about enjoyment, but for some you wouldn’t know it. – Yeah, some of them go really fast. Talking of guys who give it some welly, take a look at Fabio manhandling his 1977 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans. A lot of effort has gone into this bike’s set up, fitted with a 1000cc engine, 40mm carburettors and high compressions pistons. Why do you ride an old bike on the track rather than a more modern one? Because I’m old! I think you get a different feel, and you take less risks because older bikes always have a more limited performance compared to a modern bike with 200bhp. Compared to a modern bike, I brake at the same place but with 100 km/h less speed. So you get the same feel but with less risk What these fans are saying makes a lot of sense. For me, someone who is certainly not an aficionado of retro bikes, it was hard not to be seduced by these true gems of motorcycling history. Like these legendary Tritons from the 1950s and 1960s These Café Racers with a racing set-up and a Triumph engine under a Norton frame These pretty little Honda CB 125 S which were ridden in challenge races in the mid-1970s. These big CB 1100 Rs, queens of production racing and endurance events in the early 1980s. Or this Ducati 750 F1 whose twin-cylinder engine with single camshaft and two-valves per cylinder got up to around 70bhp. A special mention for the strangest bike on show, a Houzé-Offenstadt, owned by our friend Gérald. A 100% French racing bike from the end of the 1970s, fitted with an aluminium shell frame and a front suspension which operates with a shock absorber attached to the swingarm. It must be said that from trackside, it all looks pretty dangerous… And then, in an act of pure karma, after questioning these old riders about their machines, it was me who ended up on my backside after braking too hard trying to warm up the front tyre. So, as you can see during these little interviews, track riding on classic bikes is above all about enjoyment. Even though there are a few guys who do go flat out. With a modern bike, riding fast is much easier, but you need to be careful, because a modern bike also has much harder brakes. And you need to warm the tyres up well or you’ll fall off. Now, we’re going to really go for it on classic bikes, which have been well set-up and are nice and powerful, and we’ll see how they compare to modern bikes. OK let’s go! So I need to “borrow” a bike from another rider! So, no need to go into details. Our BMW Nine Ts, Harley Davidson Low Riders and Triumph Thruxton Rs got a thrashing by the bikes from the Sultans Of Sprint championship! Without wanting to make excuses, I was up against the best. Indeed, Tommy Vomhinterof is a double winner of the Glemseck 101. His bike, weighing around 150kg, is built around an old Yamaha TR1 engine souped-up to the max, reaching 95bhp. And that’s without the Nitrous kit, because the twin-cylinder engine can reach up to 150bhp! Not to mention the extended swingarm, the squared-off rear tyre, the gear shifter… basically everything you need to turn it into a missile and give me a good thrashing. What with this humiliation and my fall earlier, one thing is for sure, it’s the last time I take the mick out of old bikes! Never again!