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I'd been really looking forward to this trip to Maskes in the Netherlands since booking it in February. I had arranged to go with Matt, a vespa friend from Weymouth in Dorset, having met him at last year's Veteran Vespa Club event in nearby Swanage.
I first noticed Maskes Vespa Klassiekers about three years ago and was struck by the quality of their presentation and attention to detail, in everything they do from their website, Facebook page and also packaging and flyers, having used their online store. Being into photography, design and of course classic vespas, Maskes to me had got everything right; the images of multiple original paint vespas on display in their very cool looking showroom & workshop in Rijen, Holland appeared to be vespa heaven. I contacted Maskes about my Retrospective Scooters book in the hope they would agree to sell it at their showroom and online store. After sending them a copy, I was stoked when they agreed to stock it, having felt my own philosophy and approach to photography & presentation was closely aligned with Maskes'.
Maskes was established by Peter Maas some twenty years ago, born out of his passion for classic vespas and have been at their current location for the last ten years. Housed in a former leather factory and going by the website photos, the main building and assorted outbuildings are a sight to behold in their own right. As soon as I heard at the start of the year that Maskes were to host their first ever classic vespa rally, I was desperate to go. It seemed a great excuse for a road trip and a perfect opportunity to visit this great space and see if it was as good as it looked...
The rally was set for Saturday 19th September; I had arranged with Peter's partner, Hilde, to get there a day early on the Friday so I could photograph the site in relative peace before everyone arrived the following day. Back in February, in my wisdom and no doubt to riding companion Matt's delight, I booked the 2am sailing from Dover to Dunkerque on Friday 18th September with our return booked on the 4pm return sailing on Sunday 20th. The thinking being we could have a scenic ride away from motorways & major roads up the coast of Belgium and Holland, along a couple of dikes before heading inland towards Breda and on to nearby Rijen. I would ride my '71 Motovespa GT160 fitted with standard P200 engine, from home in west Hertfordshire to work in London on the Thursday, before meeting Matt in Hastings that evening.
My appetite for the fast approaching trip had been severely tempered by the onset of autumn and heavy rain in the UK; I had had visions of riding with the sun on our backs, enjoying an 'Indian summer'. On Wednesday, the day before we were due to set off, south-east England was plagued by the tail end of ex-tropical storm 'Henri' with a biblical deluge of rain falling all day. The forecast predicted the storm would pass by Thursday morning, so there was some hope! Thankfully this was the case and I had an easy ride into London on wet roads under grey but dry skies. I got away from work early at 5pm and after negotiating London's rush hour headed off to Hastings via Lewisham and the A21. Matt had taken Thursday off work allowing him to complete the lengthy ride from Weymouth on his DR177 kitted Vespa TS125 at his own pace, setting off around 10.30am & arriving in Hastings at around 6.30pm. I got there an hour later, shivering with the now descending cold and darkness. Hastings resident and friend, Dave Hardy - Lambrettista, graphic designer on my book and creator of Enjoy The Ride had recommended Cafe Maroc as a good place to eat, located in old Hastings. We took his advice and were pleased we did as they serve the most amazing tagines - cheers Dave! After absorbing as much of the bijou cafe's warmth as we could, we were politely asked to leave around 10.30pm as the staff had homes to go to! We got back on the scoots and headed to Dover along the back roads. This was excellent riding under perfectly clear skies, particularly between Hastings & Folkestone. Matt was in the lead, so I was able to relax following the red glow of his rear light while looking up at the stars. We pulled up in Folkestone to check our route on my map book (old skool all the way) and was rudely interrupted by a friendly local throwing a crushed beer can at us from a passing car - nice! We arrived at Dover's port in good time around 12.30am and didn't have to wait too long before boarding. Once on board, we grabbed a coffee and dozed for a short while and before too long were nearing Dunkerque's port, arriving at 5am local time.
I was determined to avoid motorways; they're no way to travel by vintage vespa in my opinion; I would rather take in the views on quieter roads without HGVs ploughing past me. Upon disembarking it was still dark and with a bit of searching we found the local coast road. I love riding abroad and was great to be riding on the right side of the road again; we passed through Dunkerque, Nieuwpoort and Oostende before arriving in the centre of Brugge around 9am, after stopping once for fuel and consulting the map book with one drunken French local making his way home after a long night out. The weather was overcast with the sun making an occasional appearance but no sign of rain. After warming up over coffee and continental breakfast we carried on along local roads, once I'd got a couple of fotos in Brugge. We made for the Westerscheldetunnel that connects Terneuzen to Middelburg, via some lovely tree lined roads and along canals through Damme, Sluis and Schoondijke. The tunnel was 6km long and we pulled up once through for a break as the wind was getting up by the coast and we were beginning to feel the effects of lack of sleep and the early start. After a short while we passed through Middelburg and on to the pretty village of Veere where we stopped for lunch. After a relaxing lunch sat outside in the sun we saddled up again, joining the N57 taking us over the dikes past Mattenhaven and Betonhaven and stopping for an obligatory photo of these incredible feats of engineering. We carried on along the N59 to the scenic town of Zierikzee before eventually coming off at Willemstad. From there we took some very nice small roads through villages, threading our way to the city of Breda, where we eventually found the N282 which took to us to our destination, Rijen, arriving at Maskes at about 5pm. It was a relief to get off the scoots and take off our helmets.
We introduced ourselves to Peter Maas and Rob who were busy preparing for the rally and had a look around with a welcome cup of coffee. Maskes occupies an amazing old red brick building just off Hoofdstraat, with a tall chimney stack that presumably let out the effluents from the old leather tannery. Set over three floors, the main building has what looks like original wooden floorboards connected by slatted wooden stairs with a set of large doors at the top edge of the building with a winch for loading and unloading. Peter occasionally still uses this for bringing vespas up to the first floor showroom. The many arched, crittal windows let in light with the now low sun, casting shadows and golden rays across the dusty floorboards and illuminating the many beautiful, original paint vespas that were on display. The ground floor is divided between a reception area and small, well ordered workshop. Antique wood framed glass display cases and old plan chests abound, full of everything from vintage rally penants and banners to old enamel signs and vespa parts. In the centre of the reception area stood a row of four 1950s vespas. The top floor of the building houses a sea of original vespa parts, including panels, headsets, engines and everything else you can imagine. Across an alleyway that runs the length of the building is what once was a warehouse I guess, now rammed full of yet more old vespas and parts. I've been very fortunate in the past to visit places like SIP Scootershop and Vesbar as well as peer into the dusty garages and basements of a few vespa collectors and peruse their impressive collections. I can honestly say though, without a doubt Maskes Vespa Klassiekers is the best and most complete presentation of its kind; there is so much to see and take in and is just so well done and laid out. Matt had headed off shortly after arriving to the nearby campsite where we were staying for the next two nights, to pitch his tent and grab a brief sleep. I was in my element and was content to explore Maskes with camera in hand for the next two hours or so. After getting through a couple rolls of film I too headed to the campsite to pitch my own tent before it was dark. Afterwards Matt & I ate at a fast food place in Rijen; not quite the tagines we had the previous night but it did the job before returning to the campsite for an early night and some much needed sleep.
I had one of the best night's sleep I'd ever had camping, coming off the back of the long day's ride. The small campsite was in a lovely, quiet green location and after a quick shower I headed back to Maskes to take some more fotos, leaving Matt to follow on when everybody else was due to arrive. I've done my fair share of small rallies, rideouts and a couple of Eurovespas; these days I'm searching for something different, more intimate and a bit of an adventure. Maskes had promised their first classic vespa rally would be just that and they more than delivered it! There were 48 entrants plus the Maskes guys, making us 55 in total, so it was certainly intimate. Of the 48 riders, there were us two Brits, four Germans with the rest being Dutch and Belgians. The day officially began at 9.30am and Maskes had laid on coffee and biscotti served from the back of their beautiful grey Ape. The riders mingled and chatted before Hilde gathered everyone to explain the day's schedule. This basically consisted of a morning ride (approx 45km) following a map around local roads. Black arrows occasionally marked the route on the laminated A4 map we were all given, with us having to 'join the dots' which involved a fair bit of guesswork. Riders would leave Maskes at intervals of one minute, with the winner being the rider with the best average speed. Lunch back at Maskes followed the morning ride, before the afternoon's ride. This ride had a similar theme, staged along local, small roads following the map provided over a slightly longer route of approx 60km, the winner this time would be the rider with the quickest time. We were told there was a 'trick' in the middle of the afternoon ride, which if fortunate could work to your advantage, or not! A BBQ and beers would follow the second ride to close the rally.
Riders began setting off shortly after the briefing at 1 minute intervals. Some came prepared with clipboards secured to headsets with plastic ties while most like me taped the map over their speedo and hoped for the best. I was the last to leave even though I had the No.1 entry/number on my rally registration and Maskes legshield banner. I had no plan, other than to give it full throttle when I could and make the rest up as I went along. Within not even 2km I got myself horribly lost; we knew there were some farm tracks and riding on mud to be done but before I knew it I was riding in woodland skirting the edge of a golf course and going past startled walkers with no idea of where I was! I was looking down on the grass and mud surfaces looking at what I thought were vespa wheel tracks that were more likely mountain bike tyre tracks. After twenty minutes or so, I managed to get back on track and at least managed to pick up the route again. Hilde told us before leaving we should be able to complete the ride in 1hr20mins I think it was; that was already looking unlikely! For the next two hours I rode the vespa flat out along anything resembling smooth tarmac with my taped map flapping and threatening to take off. Elsewhere I went as fast as I dared along cobbled roads, bridleways, woodland and farm tracks thick with sticky mud and water from recent rains and others that were hard, rutted and covered in loose gravel! I finally rolled back into Maskes' entrance with the second longest time; guess who had the longest, although Matt unlike me had collected all three stamps at the checkpoints along the route. A good result for Team GB then; timekeeper Walter joked that the English had given up and decided to go the pub! Whatever, the ride had been a complete blast and although it took us forever we completed it. I went & filled my tank ready for the afternoon's ride and returned to Maskes for lunch of various filled baguettes and orchard picked apples. No sooner had I got back, the first riders were departing for the second ride, again at 1 minute intervals. After a quick lunch I made my way to the start to photograph riders leaving; there were some lovely classics in attendance, including SS180s, Rallys, GS160s, Sprint Veloce, 50 Specials, an SS90 and a few 1950s vespas. After a while I grabbed my helmet and set off myself with my new map more securely taped this time. I got on marginally better this time around having become accustomed to the event and frantic map-reading. We travelled along similar roads as before, maybe only slightly less muddy - just! The 'trick' turned out to be the canal we all had to cross via two drive on ferries! If you were lucky, you would ride up to the ferry just as it was leaving; if not, you could arrive and see it just leaving for the other side and then wait for it to come back, adding minutes on to your final time. Once across the canal, most rode at full speed like lunatics along a small road running parallel to the canal for 2-3km, before taking another ferry that was further along the canal back across the water! I got across initially, after rolling up to two waiting Belgian guys with the ferry approaching as I pulled in. On the other side I was straight on the gas and then made for the return crossing only to then wait as the ferry was at the opposite bank. The two grinning Belgians pulled in beside me as I waited; I'd had visions of waving at them from the back of the deck as the ferry pulled away! I got back to Maskes in a reasonable time of 1hr48mins, when I checked, times varied between a very quick 1hr18mins and 2hrs15mins. Either way, you wanted to do well and post a quick time but the rides were such a great thing to do and everyone, despite the competitive nature of it had a fantastic time; most coming back with stories of nearly losing the back end in the mud, disappearing down deep potholes or just getting hopelessly lost! As the last riders returned, the lovely Maskes guys were firing up the BBQ as we all helped ourselves to the large supply of bottled Jupiler beers! The spread of food was very generous, including various salads and fresh bread as you helped yourself and picked from the choice of raw, marinated meats before barbecuing it yourself on the grill. It was a perfect end to what had been an awesome day. At this point I should thank everyone at Maskes for this excellent event, so grazie mille to Peter & Hilde, Rob & Steffie, Floris, Walter, Kas & Kayleigh - great job everyone!!
Matt & I finished up around 10.30pm and were among the last to leave, riding the 3km to our campsite just outside Rijen. I'd noticed on the ride back my rear wheel felt slightly vague and maybe even wobbly? At the campsite I felt the rear wheel which was most definitely moving more than it should! I called Hilde in the hope they were still at Maskes, which they were and Peter said to come back and he would look at it. I got back there at 11pm and to my relief the very accommodating Peter tightened up the main rear hub nut, definitely going above and beyond the call of duty. Peter reckoned the loose nut was a result of treating the vespa more like a motocross bike - thanks for that Maskes! Anyway I was very grateful to him as I couldn't have ridden home to the UK on it like that. After one final Jupiler with Peter, Hilde & Chris (winner of the Maskes 2015 classic vespa rally), I finally got in to my tent at just gone midnight.
I didn't sleep that well due it to being pretty cold under the clear sky and my mind was buzzing with the day's events. Matt and I woke early and packed away our tents before loading up for the return home. Jorma & Mike who had attended the rally had also camped over in their van; Jorma rode on his red Sprint Veloce, while Mike came to watch, eat BBQ and drink! Just as we were ready to set off Jorma made us both a welcome espresso, while Mike nursed his hangover! After saying our goodbyes we set off around 8.30am. The ride back to Dunkerque was more direct this time but again we steered clear of major roads and motorways, cruising along minor country roads under a warm sun via Breda, Rijsbergen and Zundert, before stopping in Antwerp for a return continental breakfast. Refuelled, we headed to Gent along the N70 passing through Sint-Niklaas. Gent was slightly difficult as the city centre was virtually closed down with roadworks, making for an interesting journey from east to west across the city via a few one-way streets and cycle paths! Once clear of Gent we headed on to Dunkerque via Deinze, Tielt, Kortemark, Diksmuide and Veurne before arriving at the car ferry 5 minutes before it was due to leave at 4.00pm, needless to say we had missed it! This was partly due to the prolonged breakfast stop in Antwerp; still the increasingly mad dash and filtering through traffic in villages northwest of Gent was great riding! However, I was pretty annoyed as the next ferry wouldn't reach Dover until 7pm at dusk, meaning a long ride home in the darkness, anyway at least it wasn't raining. The ferry crossing back passed quickly and it was time for Matt and me to part ways; Matt was riding on to Hastings where his good lady had booked a hotel for him to stay, before riding on to Weymouth on the Monday. I left Dover at 7.30pm riding the length of the A2 up to London and then hooking up with the North Circular road, before taking the deserted M1 out to the A41 and home on to Tring in west Hertfordshire, walking in the door just after 11.00pm.
It had been an amazing weekend, the ride there and back was a real pleasure made infinitely better by the complete absence of any rain! Maskes' first rallly was an outstanding success; I was blown away by the level of commitment they put in and the warmth and hospitality they showed us all, not to mention it being such a cool event with real passion and romance. Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming and appreciative of the journey we'd made. So once again, thanks to all at Maskes Vespa Klassiekers and everyone who attended, hope to see you again next time!!
Full album of my 35mm film shots taken during the weekend - here Prints scanned from original 35mm film negatives available to buy, contact: email@example.com See Maskes' rally page to view some of Vincent Knoops' great shots (including some riding fotos) - here
Published again in the world's best scooter mag! One of my finer photography moments getting these 35mm film shots of this feature scoot Vespa VBB in October's Scootering magazine - virtually all feature scoots are shot on digital these days, there is still a place for analogue film ; )
Taken at the end of a brilliant day at Maskes Vespa Klassiekers classic vespa rally... I got back home late Sunday night to west Herts after setting off for Holland on Thursday afternoon. My report for vespamore blog along with full album of 35mm photos to follow soon. In the meantime here is a 'taster' of film shots I took on Maskes' rally page on their website along with some of photographer, Vincent Knoops' excellent digital shots - here www.maskesvespaklassiekers.nl www.vespamore.com