The Day My Knee Exploded

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

LIKE MOST lifetime bikers, I’ve had my fair share of prangs; hit four cars: the first one a minor ouch, next two were mere glancing blows with no damage to me or bike, but the fourth one was a huge ouch (“Oh, the pain; it’s getting dark, last rites… where’s the bike?) That big one was a head-on with a Torana. Then, let’s see… head on with another bike, fell off countless times on oil/sand/unlit roadworks; often just tripping up on my own stupidity, sometimes sober and other times alcohol-assisted. There’s not the room here to list the racetrack crashes over a 30-year road racing career, but suffice to say, I love both Phillip Island and Lakeside because, of all the racetracks I’ve ridden, those are the two I haven’t crashed on.

But the reason I limp, the incident, which rooted my right knee like an elephant roots a poodle, happened when I wasn’t even riding a bike, just kickstarting the brothel-bred prick of thing.

Let me set the scene: back in the early- to mid-1980s, when the Aussie dollar was kicking the Yankee dollar’s arse and bikes were cheap as chips in the USA, a number of very clever entrepreneurs were making a motza from importing Yank and Pommy bikes into Australia.

Out of the lot of them, only one was good looking with great tits—Melinda—who worked with my Big Bro in the film business and decided to try her hand at importing bikes. She borrowed a slab of cash from the bank, then sent some young Kiwi dude Stateside to buy as many British bikes he could find and fit into a 40-foot container heading for Sydney, Australia.

The Kiwi dude did some fine buying; some of the bikes he bought were dead-set beauties, others not so great but oh-so-cheap. Trouble was, Enzed Boy enjoyed the flying, the wheeling and dealing and all-expenses paid trip to America, but was less than enthusiastic once he got back home and the container landed. Melinda had done a few sums, divided the money spent by the number of bikes landed and put a break-even price on each bike. I forget the ‘Dollar One’ price but it was something ridiculously cheap, like $418.27 for each bike would’ve covered her costs.

The Kiwi managed to sell a few for Mel (all way over the $418 minimum) but soon faded from the scene leaving a lot of unsold bikes. They weren’t unsellable, but all had some level of defectiveness that might rip a grand or two from the possible sale price.

Big Bro had already snavelled what I thought was the pick of the bunch. It was a low mileage 1968 Triumph Trophy that for some strange reason was missing the seat and front mudguard. Big Bro only paid Melinda $1800, and for the era, that was good buying as a tidy, late ’60s US Bonnie or Trophy would pull around 4 or 5 grand no probs.

I helped him get his bike ready for rego, and aside from fitting the seat and front guard, it only needed the rear view mirror swapped to the right handlebar and the freeing up of a completely stuck clutch plate and it was on the road and looking fine (that Trophy is still his bike and still looks fine).

1968 Triumph Trophy
Brother Mick and his bargain 1968 Trophy.

Of course, he roped me in and suggested I could help Mel get the unsaleable bikes sold. Yeah, great, thanks, like I’ve got nothing else to do.

A shitload of broken or lonesome British bikes made their way to my shed and Mel and I got a bit of a production line going; fix one up, register it, advertise it and flog the bastard for whatever she could get.

The Yanks are funny people when it comes to motorbikes; it must have something to do with most of the country having ‘riding season’ and winter. Buy a cheap bike in Oz and you’ll know exactly why it was so cheap (it’s usually rooted). But buying cheap bikes from the States and it’s always thought-provoking why you managed to buy a low-mileage bike, often from the original owner for a seemingly unbelievable bargain. Go figure, as the Yanks would say.

One bike in particular was a ’73 Bonneville. It had two things wrong with it: one was a suss gearbox; the other was a stupid, 16-inch Harley rim fitted to the back. Way too fat for the skinny swingarm but there you go. The good points were the brand new parts fitted. Like the NOS (New Old Stock) seat, petrol tank, speedo, tacho, front end and front mudguard. The gearbox fix was easy, needed only a new top gear and its mate on the layshaft and it was a runner. A hundred bucks for gears, 12 months rego and I think it went for over five grand.

In between rego day and sale day, was a week or so where Mel and I just went cruising on the Bonnie; late night runs into the pool room above Taylor Square or out to the West Head lookout. The Bonnie ran like a new bike, because, with the minimal miles it had run in its miserable life before the gearbox died, it was almost new anyway. In fact, it was while we were sitting beside the Bonnie under a full moon at the West Head lookout that Mel stated, “Listen, until all these bikes are all sold, it’s strictly a business arrangement between you and me, okay?”

“Of course,” I replied. “I’m a gentleman! This is strictly business.”

Fair dinkum, what’s up with sheilas? Just because a bloke leers, drools and fondles his slug through the jeans pocket, it doesn’t mean he’s trying to crack on. I sure missed those long rides once the Bonnie was sold, but it was definitely a good earn for Mel, considering the Kiwi had only paid $US150 for it.

With most of the other bikes cleared in much the same style, it came down to just four bikes that I was already starting to lose interest in. One was a ’72 Bonneville 650 with 7000 original miles on it; one a 441 BSA Victor Scrambler; another was a psychedelic ’69 Bonnie Chopper with a bolt-on hardtail, coffin tank, murals and a seriously long and twisted springer front-end; and last but not least, a 1967 Triumph T100C Competition model, a hairy-chested scrambler with no lights or niceties like mufflers, just high-level straight-through pipes. It was this bastard that killed me knee.

Mel phoned me up one night, all excited, saying she had a prospective buyer for the last four bikes as is, as a job lot, and could I bring them over?

Shit yeah! I thought, loading the trailer with four semi-sad but nonetheless fine machines.

When I got there, I’d already had the ’72 Bonnie stocker, the ’69 Bonnie chopper and the 441 Beeza running and rideable. The Triumph T100C was another matter.

“Please, could you just try to get it running?” Mel pleaded.

I had about 17 good reasons why this bastard of a bike would not be running.

“Mel, there’s no petrol taps, no lines, many things aren’t even connected,” I pleaded straight back at her, even more pleadingly than she sounded. “Besides,” I added authoritatively. “This T100C has the horrible old energy transfer ignition system, a poor man’s version of a magneto. They were never brilliant when the bikes were new, so I doubt this one’s got any better with age.”

“Please?” she asked, and while I didn’t detect any fluttering of eyelashes, I was positive she pouted, and fairly certain her tits winked at me.

“Okay,” I agreed, taking my hands out of the pockets and knowing right then, in some way or another, God was going to get me and get me good. I ran through a few cursory checks on the bike. Compression on both cylinders, check! Big fat spark at the right time on both pots, check!

I started to get enthusiastic and rigged up a petrol can to gravity feed the carby bowl from somewhere other than the incomplete petrol tank, and a tentative prod on the kickstart brought surprising results. BARACK-A-BLATTERBY –BLAT erupted from the straight-through pipes as the cantankerous old coot with lumpy cams gave a bloody good impersonation of a running Trumpy.

I was all excited and hurriedly rigged up the petrol taps using scavenged parts and hose from anywhere I could find. Tyres were pumped up, twist-grips tightened and juice was thrown into the tank.

I folded the kickstarter out again and gave it an almighty, superhero-style leap onto the pedal.

The bike didn’t start this time, No sir! The kickstart lever snapped in two and I kickstarted the ground at about 800 mph. Think jumping off a barstool and landing heel first on one straight leg. Think Rugby League injury. Think pain.

As a motorcyclist and a smart-arse, I know pain, but this, I mean this…

Look, I’ll never go through childbirth, but I have had kidney stones, and as any bloke who’s had ’em will tell ya, childbirth is probably a walk in the park compared to kidney stones. But even the kidney boulders that I endured had nothing on the pain of my knee exploding.

Dead set! This unfeasibly excruciating pain raced up my right leg, twice around the waist, down the left leg then across the floor making a bolt for the roller-door and freedom.

As much as I hate that filthy Triumph now, at the time, I still had some respect for it. As a race-bike, it had no stand, neither side nor centre, and I was hopping one-legged, screaming in agony and trying not to drop the bike or let Melinda see me cry like girly sook.

“GRAB THE FA-HA-HA,” I yelled at her.

“Grab the what?” she asked.

“GRAB THE FA-HA-HA,” I shouted again. “GRAB THE FA-HA-HA… GRAB THE FARKING BLOODY BIKE!” I finally managed to get out before she took hold of the devil machine and wheeled it away while I collapsed to the greasy floor.

She hovered over me, not really knowing what to do until I told her to fuck off and let me cry or die alone.

I lay there wallowing in self-pity, and with the skill of the world’s best psychic, predicted this injured knee would dog my very existence for at least the next two and a half decades. Don’t you hate it when you’re really on the ball with bad predictions about your own future?

After a while Melinda helped me to my feet and using her slender body for support, made my way to the truck and managed to drive home through a red haze of agony.

The next day at Manly Hospital, the quack drained off 1537millilitres of fluid from my stuffed right knee. That’s right, more than one and a half litres of fluid!

“Gotta operate right now,” the doc said. “That’s your only chance of this thing ever being useful again.”

“But Doc,” I explained, “I’m racing this weekend and I flying to the USA in less than two weeks.”

His words, “Your call,” still ring in my ears.

I’m still putting up with the pain, but a few years ago I was at a bloke’s place checking out some of his bikes. I cold shiver ran down my spine when I discovered, tucked away in a dark recess of his shed, a 1967 Triumph T100C with no kickstarter.

“Did you buy this in a job lot of four bikes from a girl named Melinda,” I asked.

“Yeah, I did,” he replied.” Do you know the bike?”

“Yeah, I know it,” was all I could say as I resisted the urge to pour petrol over it and give it the send-off it deserves.

I still have the broken kick start lever in my shed.

1968 Triumph Trophy

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

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