A speed­way pi­o­neer

Old Bike Australasia - - OUT’N’ABOUT -

Alan Whitfield Roper, also known as Alan Black­burn, was a na­tive of the New­cas­tle sub­urb of Hex­ham and one of the orig­i­nal rid­ers in what was to be­come known as ‘Speed­way’ at Mait­land Show­ground, where the pro­moter was the leg­endary John­nie Hoskins. In his di­ary which is now in the keep­ing of his grand­son Luke Roper he says, “There was a bike race on New­cas­tle Show­ground and I had my first race there. There were three of us from Hex­ham: Alan Chafer, Tommy Sharp and my­self, and we used to have road races on Ray­mond Ter­race Road. I later bought a 3 ½ Dou­glas in 1922 or 23 and I got a side­car chas­sis and built a body for it out of alu­minium, a tor­pedo shape all riv­eted to­gether. I was still sick (fol­low­ing an ac­ci­dent) when they opened Mait­land Speed­way. The track was grass and cin­der, only post and rail fence. Pud Kirk­wood lost a leg when he hit a post so the track was boarded to the out­side fence and sur­faced with a slight bank. They used to be good crowds, from all the farm ar­eas. My Dou­glas was never much good af­ter its smash so I bought a 2 ¾ Chater Lea with a Black­burne en­gine, so I changed my name to Black­burn so they would not know at home. I had a fall at Mait­land, I had a bad foot for a long time and I de­cided I would not race solo any more and race side­cars. In 1924 they had a mile track at Penrith, to keep the dust down they tried spray­ing with some kind of oil but it was hard on your eyes. I now had my 8hp Zenith, a lovely bike. We used to go down (from New­cas­tle) on the boat Fri­day night and then off the boat about 4 o’clock and ride out to Penrith. We did the same thing go­ing to Maroubra. Some­times we would get a tow be­hind a util­ity truck from City Road.” Alan raced at the new con­crete saucer at Maroubra, al­though af­ter a spate of ac­ci­dents pas­sen­gers were banned and side­cars had to carry ballast weights in­stead. He says he lost only one race at Penrith, and that was to star rider Tommy Ben­stead on a 10hp Har­ley.

Alan on his Dou­glas, which was badly dam­aged in a race on Ray­mond Ter­race Road. LEFT De­tail from the menu from the New­cas­tle Mo­tor Cy­cle Club An­nual Din­ner in 1925... makes amus­ing read­ing. BE­LOW Won­der­ful stu­dio por­trait of Al­lan Roper aboard his Zenith. BE­LOW LEFT An­other shot of Alan on his Zenith twin.

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