Old & Rooted Motor Cycle Club

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

OKAY, OKAY I’ll admit it. The older I get, the better I was. I don’t do the really stupid stuff any more, and damn it — I even harrumphed indignantly this morning when I saw a young prick on a trail bike do something I don’t think even I would’ve done as a young lad. There I was, sitting in a truck going nowhere in morning peak hour. I’d already passed the same old prick on the mobility scooter four times but I knew the codger would still be in front at the next set of traffic lights as he whizzed along the footpath. Probably inspired by Mobility Man, a young dickhead on the blue traillie, a big, four-stroke single, jumped the gutter and made good use of the clear, fourth lane known as a footpath — and then he gunned it. The psycho popped a gigantic wheelie and jammed it up through most of the gears. The dufus was doing an insane speed, on the back wheel, on the footpath, when he disappeared from view about 400 meters down the road.

I thought, ‘This young prick is doing more harm to the bikies’ image than I could ever do.’

I was a good mono, but…

It sure made me think. I just don’t do the idiot stuff anymore. As a family man with kids to feed, the propensity to do stupid, fun stuff is just not there as much; nor is the desire. If anything good or funny happens it’s usually a happy coincidence. And that’s why I really look forward to going to Sofala, NSW, every Easter because that’s where you can let loose (a little bit).

I travel to Sofala to be with my mates from the Old & Rooted Motor Cycle Club and we park our motorbikes down by the river, pitch our tents and drink the correct amount of bourbon and beer, getting sorta dribbly about various things at various times. It’s UNREAL.

I’ve even written stories about the times I’ve been to Sofala because it’s always cool, free and easy, without too much involvement from the cops. Sort of like, “Righto, youse blokes — don’t do anything really dumb and we’ll leave youse alone…”

From Kelso, near Bathurst, the road out to Sofala is one of those beautiful bits of bitumen which just screams out for a well-ridden British or Italian twin to teach the road the meaning of the word ‘Respect’. Not at dangerous speeds, mind you, just enough above the limit to make you feel alive. And in all the years I’ve travelled that road, the closest thing to a cop car you’ll see is a dust covered Cop Land Cruiser parked in town.

There was one run I remember, on a crisp night from Mt Panorama to the little old gold rush town of Sofala; it was simply motorcycling magnificence. Mason was on his 750 Sport Ducati, Howard was riding his Ducati Drama Desmo, I was powering along on my Mighty Norton Commando Fastback, and the Good Lady Wife Jane was bringing up the rear on her ex-cop Triumph Trophy. I can only imagine how brilliant it must have sounded from the roadside as four twins droned past, but being in loose formation, you could hear the crescendo as one bike, then another and two more would rap open the throttle and blast over rises and crests, then around high speed bends. I suppose we didn’t exceed the speed limit by that much (in the general scheme of things) but I knew we were never under it. It was just one of those magic moments a group of friends can only have on two wheels.

And then there’s the slower stuff you can do around Sofala on two wheels that actually does look illegal, although it’s not really dangerous. I think it’s called ‘Carrying more than one passenger on a motorcycle’ or something like that. There’s an unofficial ferry service from the campsite to the pub. I mean, not everyone rides their bike into town, some get lifts to the pub, and don’t always want to head back as the same time as their designated rider/s. Suffice to say, you don’t have to wait long for the two-wheeled taxi service to take you safely between campsite and township.

Being long-term bikers, at any given time over the Easter weekend, most of the Old and Rooted will fire up the cycle and go for a ride somewhere, just for the hell of it. My favourite run is up to Hill End and back. There’s something quite Australian about riding out to Hill End, having a few beers in the pub and riding back; man — what a road!

From the town of Sofala to the town of Hill End is about, oh, I don’t know, 30 or 40 klikks. The road varies from beautiful, big sweeping corners, ups and downs and off-and on-camber rippers to treacherous, blind bends, rutted dirt switchbacks as the track sneaks around the steep side of a mountain range. There’s the odd old bridge to rattle across, but the funniest part is the aforementioned dangerous dirt section carved into the side of the hill. The riders you’re with seem to make it compulsory to race headlong into hairpins, juddering over the corrugations in a mad, late braking dash before hanging the tail out in a big, speedway slide exit. Ahh — love it!

There was one blast out to Hill End where I followed Mason on his nicely restored 1952 Triumph Thunderbird. I was on the ’03 FXD Super Glide and I don’t mind admitting that I was embarrassed to discover that me and the Hog had a great deal of trouble showing Mason and his Trumpy just who was boss over that wildly rutted and totally dangerous mountainside goat track.

Contemplate this: a reasonably modern cycle like the FXD with its fancy disc brakes front and back, plus uprated Progressive front springs and super expensive H-D two-inch longer Sports shocks should — should — be more than a match for a 61-year-old cast-iron Triumph 650 with a notoriously feeble eight-inch single-leading shoe front brake and a rigid frame. It gets worse. Mason’s bike is fitted with the feared ‘sprung hub’ which should make it even more suited to getting thrashed by 1450 cc’s of Milwaukee marvel.

The truth was, I’m sure there were one or two opportunities to pass, but, umm… maybe I’m getting too sensible. Once past the dirt, it was a given the H-D could stride away, but what was the point? I’d just been given a riding lesson by a very accomplished road racer riding a very wrong dirt bike.

The beer was cold and Hill End and was most enjoyable.

A few Hahn Premium Lights had convinced me that the Harley would lead the Triumph back to Sofala but Mason had the same idea with a slightly different outcome. Just outside Hill End, something gave me the edge. We were just about to ‘gun’ it past a stupid big four-wheel-drive with a stupider, bigger caravan, which was slowly rolling along like a senator on budget night.

My ‘dickhead driver radar’ said, “Whoa! WATCH THIS PRICK!” I backed off but Mason cranked it on, which became hilarious when the lumbering ensemble lurched into a ripper of a right turn into the street featuring a tiny little sign reading ‘Caravan Park’.

If you’ve never witnessed first-hand an expert rider attempting to get the best out of a eight-inch Triumph front drum brake, while the only slightly less feeble rear brake chirps the back tyre on a vintage Triumph that appears to be almost kissing the rear of a Jayco Pop Top Caravan, you should try to organise it — it’s a hoot!

That was all that me and the Hog needed; we took off like a rocket and I yelled, “Sayonara Sucker”, to Mason, screwed the throttle to the stop and aimed at Sofala. I kept it to a reasonable speed, just enough for the Thunderbird to hang in behind and still be within striking distance when we hit the dirt section.

Perhaps it was Chuck Hahn’s wonderful-tasting potion that tuned my senses, or maybe Mason was a tad ‘detuned’ by his close inspection of a Pop-Top caravan’s number plate, but that pesky Triumph never even ‘showed a wheel’ in any of the corrugated hairpins over the mountain.

It was a ride I’ll always remember.

The next year at Sofala at Easter time featured another run out to Hill End, this time with the 10-year-old daughter on pillion, the six-year-old son and the missus following in a friend’s car with a bunch of her kids. It was a pretty special thing, taking the daughter for a ride on the Harley on a good country road. Sure, she’d been on the Harley a zillion times, but only for school and shop runs, but this was a good fang on a great country road and she loved it.

Naturally, the menfolk had a slight tipple in the pub while the womenfolk and kiddies checked out the markets, then it was time to do the compulsory ‘tip trip.’ That’s the really sad bit about the mentality of members of the Old and Rooted Motorcycle Club; every town visited includes a rummage through the local rubbish tip. In general, dumps are smaller in country towns, but usually host a better class of junk than in the city. With the young fella just six-years-old, he was too small to ride pillion, so for the run down the rutted dirt road to Hill End tip, he got to sit on the Super Glide’s tank and hold onto the handlebars; the little bugger was twisting the throttle to the stop while Daddy was trying to keep it real; a firm wrist on the twist grip helped keep the speed down to a mildly dangerous level on that rutted stretch of dirt.

The tip visit to Hill End tip was largely uneventful; there were no Manx Norton engines or complete Triumph Bonnevilles in the metal pile; the closest thing to cool wheels was a sad 1971 Chrysler Valiant. And I should’ve listened to the missus when she proclaimed the valuable railway clock face I’d spotted at the bottom of a very deep trench was in fact a tawdry copy. Still, in the interest of doing something exciting, I had to check it. That involved a difficult descent with the aid of an old tennis net down the sheer sides. Finding a photo of railway clock face glued down on some craftwood was a letdown; at least it was easier climbing up out of that fetid trench than it was going down. Sorta like mountain climbing with the order reversed.

One of those golden comedy moments occurred on the drive back up the tip road to town again; the young fella was once again perched on the tank of the Super Glide and was once more trying to twist the throttle out of my control.

Now, I’m pretty certain carrying a young fella on the tank is not strictly legal, but he was wearing his full-face helmet so it was half-sorta okay and it was a real bonding, father/son moment that could override any trivial legal requirements under any Motor Traffic Act.

Of all the lousy, dirt roads in the lousy Central West region of New South Wales, a copper in a HiLux bullwagon had to choose this one to patrol. We were travelling up and the cop car was travelling down.

“Get your hand off the throttle,” I yelled at the young fella, figuring it maybe wouldn’t look so bad if the kid wasn’t in any sort of control of the suspect vehicle. With that, his hand came off the throttle and he shot his right arm skyward, as if to say, “Look, Dad, nowhere near it!”

Then the most amazing thing happened. The cop, figuring the little tacker was just being friendly, gave a big smile and waved back! Hot dang — I love country cops!

I reckon I might keep on with this motorcyclin’ caper. The pace may be it bit slower these days but the fun is still there.

POSTSCRIPT: 

IT’S a sad way to end a mainly upbeat and happy story, but the thing is, not long after I’d finished writing this yarn, David Mason, one of the main characters, died after a short but serious illness. He will be sadly missed by his family and friends, especially fellow members of the Old and Rooted Motor Cycle Club with whom he’d partied every Easter for many decades.

To me, Mason was more than a good mate — he was one of my heroes just because he was such a good motorcycle racer. He was a biker to the end — in the year before he died, he raced on the Isle of Man, impressing many people with his form. He spectated at Isle of Man TT races the following year, and was en-route to the USA to race at the famous Pike’s Peak Hill Climb when he collapsed at the airport with an aggressive brain tumour.

The hard hits keep coming and the Old and Rooted Motor Cycle Club lost another long-time member when we lost Gary Cox (better known as Head.)

A life-long biker and true gentleman in every sense of the word, Head was a bloke who’d stand by his principles but never had a harsh word for anyone. He was one of those lucky people who always seemed to be happy. He was in the process of picking up and delivering a motorcycle for his daughter when he collapsed and died beside his ute.

RIP Head, the world was made a better place for everybody by your presence.

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