BOTH RIDERS were well tucked in; the pace was brisk. The rider on the short-stroke Manx Norton was ahead, but only just. He knew his lead wouldn’t last once the road opened up for the long, uphill straight ahead. The other rider knew his Rob North Rocket III had the legs on the little 350 Manx. Both bikes swept either side of a slower bike, a Beeza twin, whose rider nearly jumped out of his skin in fright.
A glorious drone yawned from the Manx’s reverse cone megaphone as the rider pegged the throttle to the stop; the needle of the chronometric tacho ticked around to the ‘seven-two’ redline. With the Manx flat in top gear, the Rocket III began to pull ahead with ease, the three-into-one pipe emitting a blood-curdling howl.
Up ahead, the lights changed to red and both riders throttled back and braked heavily, pulling up side-by-side in the centre lane. The still-surprised Beeza twin rider pulled up on the inside lane, while a vacant taxi pulled to a halt in the outside lane. The taxi driver couldn’t believe his eyes: the restored A10 BSA didn’t look out of place on suburban streets on a Sunday morning, but a Rob North Rocket III and a Manx Norton, fresh off the racetrack and unadorned with anything as civilised as lights, mirrors or mufflers must have been a very anti-social sight indeed.
It was an interesting run; my racing buddy Clayton and I both had official “Permit to Move” stickers attached to the screens of our race bikes; we were heading south from Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Destination: Darling Harbour, right in heart of the city of Sydney. Reason: A massed ride of classic, vintage and veteran road and racing motorbikes was to leave Darling Harbour, flagged off by none other than former world champion John Surtees. It was the first event of a week of motorcycle related festivities to celebrate the first Aussie Grand Prix race to be held at the recently opened Eastern Creek circuit.
The ride was to head north over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, up the Pacific Highway to the northernmost limits of Sydney before turning southwest for the run down into Parramatta in Sydney’s west.
A huge number of bikes turned out with everything from ‘Oh-something’ belt drives to early ’70s superbikes, and included a fair smattering of race bikes.
Although my Manx was legally registered to ride on New South Wales’ roads for that one day, I had a mate, Tilty, follow me in the Ford ute, carrying a few rudimentary tools, some spare hot plugs and a full drum of methanol. (Ten laps of Eastern Creek Raceway is as much as the short-circuit tank is good for, and the distance I was travelling that day was more like about 30 laps).
Another mate, Dave, was on his racing Triumph outfit; he was taking no chances, with three, 20-litre drums of methanol tied down as ballast where his good lady wife passenger would normally be. Both Dave and I ended up being amazed at how little methanol our respective mounts used. You get great fuel economy when the throttle isn’t on the stop the whole time.
I was also surprised at how obnoxiously loud an open mega Manx is when it’s away from the heady atmosphere of the track. Nobody wanted to sit next to the Manx at traffic lights—not even the blokes on other race bikes! Families in cars across the other side of the six-lane highway were frantically winding up car windows, covering the young’ns ears and firing withering stares in my direction. A 350 Manx, labouring under the double penalty of an original close four-speed box and unfeasibly tall gearing is not the easiest thing to get off the line, and naturally almost every set of lights were red, so it wasn’t the most enjoyable ride I’ve ever been on, but once on the move, it was magic. It must have been a hilarious sight: a group of highly irresponsible adults on noisy race bikes, staging their own mini grand prix races in between red lights on public roads while a volunteer marshall on a mint condition 1970 Triumph TR6P ex-cop bike—complete with blue lights and siren—was unsuccessfully trying to keep us in check.
The organisers had thoughtfully provided the pack with an escort in the form of two 4 X 4 Jeeps driven by dolly birds from the local rock radio station. Luckily, all the race bikes, with their cantankerous motors and high first gears had already gotten jack of the 40 km/h pace and roared off ahead. Straight off the end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, at the very start of the Pacific Highway, the race bikes overtook the pace cars. I didn’t do it on purpose, honest, I was just giving the clutch a rest, getting the lever fully home for the first time in three km of slipping. It wasn’t my fault that everyone else took that as a signal to join in!
The breakaway pack arrived at the destination a long time before the mob, because—and I kid you not—the pace cars took a wrong turn off the highway! At the ride’s destination, the racers were just finishing off their coffees as the mob started trickling in, most of them well ahead of the pace cars. We were regaled with stories of how two 4 X 4s and a massive pack of bikes, including clutchless flat-tankers, were forced to do an unscheduled U-turn over the median strip to get back on the highway.
The mate driving my ute was the machinist responsible for oodles of minor and major machining jobs needed to transform a pile of parts into the Manx Norton. He completed all projects as foreign orders at his work, and every time I attempted to pay him, he’d always brush me off, muttering, “Just let me have a bit of a ride on a Manx when it’s finished.” On the way home, two minutes after we cleared the congestion of the Parramatta business district, I signalled him to pull the ute to the side of the road and put a helmet on. His ‘ride on a Manx’ wasn’t just a quite toddle around the pits on race day, but an epic, 20 mile jaunt across Australia’s largest city on a sunny Sunday, accompanied by the stares of thousands of gawking onlookers who barely believed the audacious and raucous event. As we neared home, he handed the bike back and took up his position as chase car driver.
My ride home was punctuated by three events, all of which left a lasting impression. The first was when I encountered a gaggle of traffic building up at a traffic-light controlled pedestrian crossing. As I filtered through the lanes, heading for the front row of the grid, I noticed a cop on a police bike sitting on about the third grid row in the opposite direction. He freaked, standing up and craning his neck to see just what the bloody hell I thought I was doing. He frantically wove through the stationary cars to the front row, staring like he was a Pit Bull Terrier and I was a postman. I think he was getting ready to jump the traffic island and crash tackle me from the moving cop bike, but I simply pointed to the ‘Permit to Move’ sticker on the flyscreen fairing.
“Oh, you’re okay, then…” he seemed to nod, as he powered away from the green light with a friendly wave. I fed 7000 revs into the protesting clutch and pressed on.
“Let’s stop at the pub on the way home,” Tilty yelled over the din.
“Good idea,” I yelled back, and speared into the right turn bay off the Wakehurst Parkway. It was then that the second of the ‘lasting impression’ events occurred. Parked in the next lane, waiting for the green light to go straight ahead, was the most beautiful black Porsche Cabriolet Turbo, gleaming the gleam that only obscenely expensive cars can gleam. The top was down, and in passenger seat was a bored-looking Accessory Blonde, probably between modelling engagements in London and Paris. The Porsche driver was a tall, fit-looking young man, probably a stockbroker or Adman who knows what he wants and how to get it. All he could do was sit there gob-smacked, staring at a very noisy Manx Norton, its rider clad in black leathers, the Cromwell helmet and Stadium Mark IX goggles completing the nostalgic picture. As the lights went green, he gave a big grin and a thumbs-up. At that stage, though, I could read his thoughts. I just know he was thinking: “Damn and blast!—I’ve been pushed into second place in the World Posing Championships!”
The third event happened at the local pub. It wasn’t that good, but it still made a lasting impression. With the Manx leaning jauntily against the fence next to the public bar, way too many people walked past without so much as giving it a second glance. Bloody heathens!
Road Tales by Kelly Ashton