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May Oxley rides the winning Classic TT 500 Kay MV bike
An Article by Mat Oxley for Classic Bike Nov 2015. Photos by Stephen Davison
It is easier for the rider. You leave the noise behind, and the faster you go the quieter it gets. Aggravating my tinnitus is not my main concern before the lap. Having seen the Kay’s price list , I’m terrified of missing a gear and lunching the valves, even though Mark reassures me “Don’t worry, she’s solid, just enjoy the ride”. So I do enjoy the ride and I only miss a couple of gears (hope Mark isn’t reading this) when my brain mistakenly reverts to race mode and into a one-up/five-down shift pattern, instead of the MV’s one-down/five-up arrangement. I can only apologise to spectators at Union Mills and Glen Helen for the hellish racket, as I searched brain and gearbox for the correct ratio.
When Dean Harrison rode to victory in the 500cc Classic TT, he gave MV its first 500 cc win on the TT Mountain course since Ago won the 1972 Senior. Mat Oxley took Harrison’s magnificent-sounding 500 triple for a lap of the course.
It was a nasty trick: wait for the euphoria and Okells ale to take hold of Mark Kay before asking to borrow his stunning MV Agusta 500 triple for a lap of the TT course. But strategy is everything in racing and all’s fair in love and war. So I sidle up to Mark in the beer tent behind the pits, just as his crew are making merry after taking first and third places in the 500cc Classic TT, with Dean Harrison and Lee Johnson. The man has never even met me, but to my astonishment he agrees. And he’s gentleman enough not to change his mind in the cold light of the next day. Kay’s Walsall-based engineering company builds exact replicas of the Italian stallions that dominated Grand Prix racing from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. Their 500 triple retails at £135,000, which explains why most of the bikes they sell live gentle, cosseted lives, the exact opposite of four flat-out laps of the TT course, a workout notorious for its destruction of the most carefully-fettled engines and chassis.
To get two bikes on the podium after Patons, Manx Nortons and Matchelss G50s fell by the wayside says plenty about the abilities of the three generational Kay operation: Mark, father David and son Mitchell. They produce all kinds of MVs, but it’s possible there’s never been a better-sounding bike thrashed around the island than the MV triple, the original of which took Giacomo Agostini to victory in five consecutive Senior TTs from 1968-72 The engine’s 120 firing intervals create an explosive cacophony that goes unbated, thanks to straight-through pipes. My main aim throughout the ride - during the Classic TT’s Bank Holiday lap of honour for old gits - is to make sure the engine is properly wound up exiting every corner, so the spectators lining the course get a proper earful of a proper motorbike. Some clap hands in appreciation while others clap their hands over ears as the MV thunder echoes off the walls and shakes the ground beneath their feet.
Looking at he Kay MV Agusta engine - Great Engines in Bits
Mick Duckworth reports on the Kay MV Agusta engine - Great Engines in Bits
Harrison revs the bike past the 12,000 rpm redline wen he’s racing and, thank ye gods, there’s a rev limiter at 12,500. i had promised the Kays I would stick to eleven grand most of the time and after those mistakes I resolve to be extra-nice and stay below eleven when I can. I shouldn’t have bothered, the engine really is rock solid. Carburation is spot on, too, without a single hiccup of hesitancy throughout the rev range. And this from a family who cast their own carburretors!
Power gets interesting from 8000 and the close ratios make it easy to keep the triple spinning between eight and eleven. Kay says the engine makes 76bhp at 12,000 which took Harrison through Sulby at 144 mph, slightly down on the 146mph of the fastest bike, Ian Lougher’s Paton twin, which split the MVs on the podium. At Chimay in Belgium a Kay 500 tripped the timing lights at 156 mph. It takes me until Ballagarey to feel confident with the bike, at which point I decide I should get down to it properly by screwing myself under the bubble. But my head doesn’t fit. .
After a gentle wheelie over the Crosby rise and the headlong rush past what used to be the Highlander pub I shift my backside rearwards, but that doesn’t work either , so I try sitting on the seat hump, which is stupid. In the end, I just sit there, eyes bobbing up and down an inch or two above the screen, which works fine; at no point do I feel like my head would be wrenched off my shoulders, which is a typical problem when rattling round the course.
So the MV is tiny; narrow, short and low, more like a Moto3 bike than a modern MotoGP machine, of which the MV is an important ancestor. Strangely, the MV’s 1360mm wheelbase is only 40 mm shorter than the Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha YZR-M1.
The bike rides much better than it should for a motorcycle design that is half a century old. Steering is beautifully neutral and the bike changes line without a protest as I thread my way along the banks of the river Neb, over Ballig Bridge, through Doran’s Bend and Laurel Bank. I keep religiously to my TT adage: late entry for a tight exit. Most TT corners are blind, with the apex well out of sight, so you force yourself to wait before diving in, looking for the apex. The alternative is an early entry, which means a wide exit, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Ready to race
Mat Oxley reports for Classic Bike on the Kays' 2015 Classic TT 500 winner
A short bike is invariably a nervous bike, but the MV is about as easygoing as it gets, even with the steering damper on minimum setting, as recommended by Kay mechanic Pat Sefton who says the bike has a tendency to weave on stiffer settings. This suits me just fine, because it’s better to hold on tight through the fast, bunpy stuff than get caught out by over-stiff steering when negotiating Ramsey Hairpin or Governor’s Bridge.
The bike steers effortlessly at speed and is stable as can be expected through the only part of the course I hate - the hellishly bumpy run from Ginger Hall to Ramsey. I don’t even have to hang on too tight (unlike a couple of years ago when I did a lap on a very un-classic Yamaha R1 which shook its head worryingly through Glen Duff, where some years ago, John McGuinness has his all-time scariest moment when his R6 let loose and smashed the lock stops).
The sun shines brightly throughout the lap, creating strong contrasts of light and dark through the trees towards Ramsey, and a few slightly scary moments as my ageing eyes struggle to separate hedge from kerb from racetrack. Reaching Ramsey is always a relief. A bit of clutch slip out of the hairpin, gingerly through the heavily-shaded - and thus often damp - run up the hill to Waterworks and finally we are into the open, rushing through Tower Bends, the Gooseneck and out onto the Manx moorland.
The engine howls up on the Mountain Mile, the six-speed gearbox engaging every ratio with a precision that says a lot about Kay’s engineering skills.
The MV feels like a production bike, in the best sense of the term, with no idiosyncrasies or nasty surprises hiding away.
Everything works exactly as it should - so no compensation is required for things that don’t work as they should, which is what’s needed on most classic bikes.
The Mountain’s wide open spaces are where you can get a decent wriggle on, because you can actually see where you are going most of the time. With the throttle wound on tight and full power driven through the rear Avon, the bike starts to load up and move around as the 21st century tyres deliver too much grip for the mid-20th century frame.
At the Bungalow it’s slow in and fast out, just to make sure we deafen as many spectators as possible, pulling a little over 11,000 in every gear. It’s the same on the downhill rush into Creg-ny-Baa, which I exit unnecessarily wide, only to tickle the toes (and ears) of the spectators dangling their legs over the grass bank.
In the distance I see another bike, and as we yowl our way through the final few miles of the lap it gets closer and closer. Accelerating out of Schoolhouse and Bedstead I realise who’s ahead of me: it’s legendary classic racer Dave Roper (Rave Doper to his friends), riding Rob Iannucci’s 1954 AJS Porcupine twin.
We round Governor’s Bridge line astern and ride down the Glencrutchery Road side by side, ‘60’s horsepower finally prevailing over ’50’s horsepower as we roar towards the finish line, creating the kind of apocalyptic din you’ll never hear at the modern TT.
It’s a suitably cacophonous end to a lap on a bike that’s more than sound enough to handle the rigours of the TT course
The Kay MV Agusta engines revealed - Great Engines in Bits
May Oxley rides the winning Classic TT 500 Kay MV bike
Memorial Service for Geoff Duke in St Ninian's Church
Remembering the Gilera heyday
500cc Classic TT 2015 - the best yet!
Daily Star's account of the Classic TT win 2015
Built to be thrashed
Harrison victorious in 500cc race
Mat Oxley rides the winning MV 500 in 2015
Where Eagles Dare (pdf)
Roland Brown tests the Kay Magni (pdf)
Kay Magni - MV 750 America - Chris Pearson (pdf)
Chris Pearson reviews the Kay MV Agusta (pdf)
Brian Chrichton reviews the Gilera 4 (pdf)
Here we look at Kay MV Agusta engines - Great Engines in Bits