Mud & Mayhem at the 2019 Malle Mile
The glorious surrounds of the grand Georgian Kelvedon Hall is perhaps better known to a few for hosting the occasional lavish wedding or summertime arts festival, but for one weekend every year it opens its gates to a much rowdier crowd.
Dubbed the Malle Mile, this two-day festival sees hundreds of motorcycle fanatics travel from all over the UK (and sometimes the world) to revel in a weekend of raucous off-road racing, muddy mischief and a hefty dose of two-wheel camaraderie.
Founded by British designers Robert Nightingale and Jonny Cazzola, Malle is a motorcycle brand that deals solely in extremely high-end luggage and clothing for the biking connoisseur.
However, its Malle Mile weekend of racing and festivities has taken on a life of its own, with over 500 motorcycles attending this year’s event (the fifth in its history), competing in several classes over three distinct races in a refreshingly relaxed “run what you brung” set-up. It is little wonder some have labelled the event ‘the most inappropriate garden party in the world’.
It is an early start on Friday, with plenty of work to be done loading up the Volkswagen Amarok pick-up truck with a vintage Honda CB175 motorcycle (the ageing bike that will be thrashed throughout the weekend) and what seems like several tonnes of camping accoutrements, tools and spare parts required for a ferocious weekend of racing.
Kelvedon Hall is handily situated in Orpington, just outside of London, so makes for a very simple drive for many. Most city dwellers pack light and simply ride over on their chosen steeds, but for those living further afield, it is a long drive.
We arrive and rapidly set up camp with hundreds of other like-minded individuals. Classic American pick-up trucks share pitches with battered Transit vans and all those in attendance wheel their eclectic mix of motorcycles out for everyone to have a good look.
The array of machinery in the makeshift parc fermé is staggering, with everything from highly modified modern street bikes to old speedway machines and the occasional Harley-Davidson chopper. Basically, if it has two wheels and it’s interesting, it can race.
Malle’s Robert and Jonny oversee the entire event, dressed in their branded white overalls, they can be found running all over the site, checking in on everyone and making sure spirits remain high.
Work on my little Honda goes on until the night. With head torches donned, a small crack team of friendly mechanics chums set about rectifying a rectifier issue. Naturally, passers-by offer to muck in, only accepting a chilled beer from the cool box as payment.
People chat bikes, adventures and swap tales of breakdowns over a drink at the large outdoor bar, with the banter and relentless mickey taking getting more furious as the night passes. It’s all so refreshingly un-serious and laid back, despite the threat of thunderstorms and rain.
Malle Mile festivalgoers are awoken early by the sound of torrential precipitation beating down on the flimsy plastic of tent flysheets. The ground is absolutely sodden and the clouds refuse to let up throughout most of Saturday.
But as the invite says, ‘if it rains, we make mud’ and mud is exactly what is made. The first race is an all-out sprint and comprises of a 1/8-mile grass track that sees two machines go head-to-head in a simple knockout format.
The novice class is up first and racers must adopt a “1950s rules” start: left hand on the helmet, kicking down into first and dumping the clutch only when the start flag is waved.
It only takes a few machines tearing along the surface to turn it into a quagmire. By the time the lightweights, scramblers and custom bikes have a go, the track looks like the Somme.
But this doesn’t stop the fun and the grins plastered across muddy faces can be seen from space. Even the spectators have consigned themselves to a weekend of soaked skin and the cheers grow louder with every crash, tumble and breakdown.
There are absolutely no prizes at stake here, meaning every race is approached with a friendly spirit and it doesn’t matter the skill of the rider or the state of the machine.
Two comperes sat in the rear of a heavily modified Land Rover commentate throughout the day and not a single rider escapes a good old-fashioned ribbing over the loud speakers.
One rider is dubbed “Yoga Pants” due to his very fitting blue motocross trousers, while another is a victim of at least ten minutes of jokes and jibes due to his selection of a tank top, which the commentators claim show off his muscular arms. The crowd is in stitches.
The day continues with a 1/8-mile slalom hill climb, Moto Polo (it does exactly what it says on the tin) and the Malle 100 – by far my favourite race of the day and scene of several hilarious tumbles, shameless showboating and some very skilled riding.
The Malle 100 is a one-mile dirt track circuit race with a Le Mans-style running start. Ten riders face off over ten heats and the winners from each heat meet in the final.
Racing is furious and the standing start hilarious, like “a bunch of middle-aged men running for the bus”, according to our commentators. The little Honda I’m riding has bravely soldiered on with several mechanical gremlins all day but decides to perform at its peak during this race.
I cross the finish line in fourth, after avoiding two crashes but not the inevitable thrashing from three powerful dirt bikes with more committed riders behind the bars.
Work hard, play hard
Racing continues well into the Saturday night, with electric motorcycles invited to silently dash up the hill climb route, which has been lined with blue lights to add to the ambience.
Music blares from one of the tents, which has been hosting talks by famous motorcycle adventurers all day, while most congregate in the bar area to debrief on the day and enjoy a well-earned beer.
There’s a cinema area for those that would rather chill out with a hot chocolate, food stalls and a nightclub set in the basement of Kelvedon Hall for those carousers living under the mantra of “I’m here for a good time, not a long time”.
Sore heads and another night of intermittent rainfall doesn’t halt proceedings on the Sunday, with everyone gathering at the foot of the hill climb for yet more mayhem. There are very few places in the world where you can nonchalantly race fellow enthusiasts in such a carefree arena and all attendees are making the most of it.
Jonny and Robert continue to oversee all of the activities and the comedic comperes carry on with their unwavering repartee, accepting bribes of black coffee for an elusive red sticker – typically only handed to those winning machines and allows entry into a grand finale derby that crowns an overall winning legend.
However, there is very little in it but pride and a big slap on the back from fellow enthusiasts. The creaky little Honda wins a red sticker on its very last hill climb and it rapidly becomes one of my prized possessions.
In today’s atmosphere of crushing health and safety regulations and marketing twaddle, the Malle Mile is so perfectly eccentric and brilliantly British. It’s our Woodstock for two wheels and you can be sure that red sticker won’t be coming off the bike. Well, not until next year, anyway.&