Clas­sic Mo­tor­bikes

A full re­port from the 39th An­nual Clas­sic Mo­tor­cy­cle Fes­ti­val

The Shed - - Contents - By Bob Hulme Pho­tographs: Bob Hulme

My first im­pres­sion was — wow! So many clas­sic and rare motorcycle­s with their riders ready to tackle the Pukekohe Park race track. The or­ga­nizer of the 39th An­nual Clas­sic Mo­tor­cy­cle Fes­ti­val — the New Zealand Clas­sic Mo­tor­cy­cle Rac­ing Reg­is­ter (NZCMRR) — had done its ut­most to make sure this would be a top event with a line-up of celebrity riders. The whole event was ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of Ge­off Perry.

Ge­off was an amaz­ing New Zealand racer who com­peted suc­cess­fully in the early 1970s be­fore los­ing his life when the Pan Am flight he was on crashed shortly af­ter take-off from Tahiti in 1973. Ge­off was just 23 years old. I grew up in the Auck­land sub­urb of Green­lane not far from his fa­ther Len Perry’s motorbike shop and of­ten saw Ge­off blat­ting around the lo­cal streets but I did not know him well per­son­ally. I saw him race on the Levin cir­cuit once and his tal­ent was clearly re­mark­able. Had he not been on that plane, I am cer­tain he would have be­come a mul­ti­ple world cham­pion and a house­hold name around the world.

The weather, again

De­spite the ef­forts by the NZCMRR to or­ga­nize a cracker event, the weather did its best to put a span­ner in the works. Satur­day saw just enough time to run a few prac­tice ses­sions be­fore the rain pelted down, forc­ing the track to be closed. You would think it would be safe to plan a race meet­ing over the week­end of Fe­bru­ary 3–4, with our weather usu­ally be­ing the most set­tled at that time of year.

The up­side to this was that I was able

to talk with sev­eral riders who had in­ter­est­ing sto­ries to tell about their bikes while they waited in the pits for the rain to clear. The or­ga­niz­ers took the op­por­tu­nity to broad­cast in­ter­views and in­cluded a chat with Ge­off Perry’s sis­ter, Dale.

Most of the thrill of watch­ing is see­ing the brav­ery of the riders and swingers

Help­ful mods

In my wan­der­ings around the pits, I was fas­ci­nated by the va­ri­ety of de­vices for start­ing up these clas­sic bikes. (It brings out the en­gi­neer in me.) We’re talk­ing clas­sic rac­ing motorcycle­s here, which were usu­ally started by the rider push­ing the bike un­til it was go­ing quickly enough to drop the clutch and start while swing­ing their leg over. As time has gone by, some of these bikes have got more can­tan­ker­ous and dif­fi­cult to start. At the same time many of the riders who own them have got a bit less youth­ful.

The so­lu­tion is to use an ex­ter­nal starter that spins up the rear wheel. Ge­nius! It’s prob­a­bly pos­si­ble to buy such a thing, but the ones I saw all looked home-made and none was the same as an­other. Most

were elec­tric-mo­tor driven. I saw one with a small petrol mo­tor and even one us­ing an an­gle grinder to power it. I guess that would be taken off and used as an an­gle grinder again af­ter the week­end’s rac­ing.

Brave bug­gers

Side­car rac­ing has al­ways been a favourite of mine. Not ac­tu­ally do­ing it you un­der­stand, just watch­ing. Most of the thrill of watch­ing is see­ing the brav­ery of the riders and swingers do­ing some­thing that I def­i­nitely would not risk do­ing my­self.

Most forms of mo­tor sport to­day are made safe by reg­u­la­tions that have been tight­ened pro­gres­sively ev­ery year to the point at which risk of in­jury is far less than for any­one trav­el­ling on pub­lic roads. Side­car rac­ing and mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing can only be made safer by hel­met and cloth­ing im­prove­ments, which have pro­gressed greatly, but it still hurts if you fall off.

For the swinger on a side­car, it boils down to how good your grip is to counter the G-force try­ing to fling you off. I ap­pre­ci­ate the skill it takes to do that job well and the team­work it takes to get the best from the side­car out­fit. There were plenty of side­cars rac­ing at the clas­sic fes­ti­val week­end.

Side­car out­fits are of­ten home-made spe­cials too, so there is a lot of in­ge­nu­ity to be seen. Of the more than a dozen en­tries very few had the same power unit and they all looked dif­fer­ent in con­struc­tion. One even had a Coven­try Cli­max en­gine. These were the mo­tors that pow­ered the Cooper F1 race cars in the days when Bruce McLaren was rac­ing for that team.

The sto­ries

It seemed fit­ting that I came across a Nor­ton rac­ing bike that was the one Len Perry rode at the Isle of Man in 1951. Back then, a team of New Zealand’s best riders were sent over to Europe to take part in the Isle of Man Tourist Tro­phy (TT), among other top events. Len cap­tained the team of Rod Cole­man, Ken Mud­ford, and him­self. They were given two new Nor­ton Featherbed race bikes to run at the Isle of Man by the Nor­ton fac­tory. The re­sults were good, with sec­ond place in the team’s cat­e­gory, and Len came ninth in the se­nior TT, and col­lected the tro­phy for Best Colo­nial.

The owner of this Nor­ton, Ar­tie Laven from Great Bar­rier Is­land, told me that this was the ac­tual bike that Len rode at the Isle of Man in 1951. He de­tailed the

his­tory to me. Af­ter be­ing raced by Len in Europe, both Nor­tons were shipped to the New Zealand Nor­ton agent, Whites. Whites sold both bikes be­fore Len Perry re­turned from Europe and there was quite an ar­gu­ment when he even­tu­ally made it back home. Len thought that the bikes were his, so was very un­happy that they’d been sold. It’s not clear how things were re­solved, but the bikes didn’t re­turn to Len.

En­gine swaps

Jim Swar­brick, also known as ‘The Fly­ing Milk­man’, bought the 500cc Nor­ton Featherbed that Len had raced as well as an­other 350cc ma­chine. Swar­brick then sold the bikes to fel­low Christchur­ch racer Sel­wyn Burt, who, to­gether with Mick Hol­land, short stroked the en­gine. Nor­ton it­self did this to its race bikes in 1953. Sel­wyn sold to Ron Tag­gart in 1959, who, af­ter a year, swapped the mo­tor over with a Tri­umph en­gine. The his­tory is a lit­tle hazy for a few years af­ter that, and it was ru­moured that it was used as a road bike and at one time had a Vin­cent V-twin en­gine.

Af­ter Ar­tie ac­quired the bike, he set about track­ing down the orig­i­nal en­gine. He man­aged to buy it in 2009 and af­ter many hours of work got it all back to­gether and in the bike just two weeks be­fore this clas­sic race meet­ing. Ar­tie en­tered in the reg­u­lar­ity laps runs, which com­prise four laps of the track with the ob­jec­tive be­ing to main­tain con­sis­tent lap times. The win­ner is not nec­es­sar­ily the fastest but the rider whose lap times have the least vari­a­tion. A per­fect event for hav­ing some fun with­out push­ing the bike to its lim­its.

Rare as BSA

Barry Deane has a lovely 1940 BSA B29. They only made 125 of these so you can imag­ine how rare they are. This one was not all that in­tact when Barry bought it. In fact, all he got for his money was the frame, gear­box, and front forks. Over time he has cob­bled the rest of the bike to­gether with found parts but has had to make some replica parts when he couldn’t track down orig­i­nals.

The B29 model is the ba­sis of the post­war B31 model. Barry has been rac­ing this bike for around five years. Like Ar­tie, Barry was run­ning the BSA in the reg­u­lar­ity laps, but he also had a 1930 Rudge Ul­ster 500cc bike that he was run­ning in the pre-war races. This was a trend I no­ticed — more than 40 of the riders had more than one bike that they were com­pet­ing on, so this clas­sic bike rac­ing bug must be se­ri­ous.

All mates

The ca­ma­raderie among these guys is strong. I over­heard a con­ver­sa­tion on the Satur­day be­tween Ginger Mal­loy and a rider who had a prob­lem with the gear­box on his Bul­taco. Now, Ginger is a bit of an ex­pert on Bul­ta­cos as well as be­ing a renowned rider. He of­fered to fix it that night as long as the rider could get it out of the bike and pop it around to his home work­shop in Huntly. The rider was stunned, as it seemed he hardly knew Ginger, but out came the span­ners and I am sure that he was all sorted for Sun­day’s rac­ing.

Here’s hop­ing for some de­cent weather for next year. I reckon I will be there to take in the sights, sounds, and the smells for sure.

Over time he has cob­bled the rest of the bike to­gether with found parts

Im­mac­u­late BSA Metisse

A trio of Tri­umphs

Melissa Tate shows that all riders weren’t grey­haired men

A bit more than a tune up!

Don’t you love sum­mer

The two Brit­tens were pop­u­lar with fans

Side­cars head out of pit lane for their prac­tice ses­sion

Ar­tie Laven and his Nor­ton rac­ing bike

More-elab­o­rate start­ing set-up

Dou­glas flat-twin. Note the ex­posed cams

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