The World’s Worst Pillion Passenger

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

MY LIGHTS had failed once more on my AJS single (it was in the dark days when I was still trying to make a six-volt Lucas DC generator actually generate electricity, and if that rare event ever occurred, I’d hope beyond hope that the Lucas voltage regulator would actually regulate the voltage). Hah! I say—they didn’t call Joseph Lucas the Prince of Darkness for nothing, and you know, and the reason Pommies drink warm beer was because Lucas made refrigerators, too. 

I think the fact that Lucas magnetos kept working, supplying sparks to the engine long after the lights went out, was the main reason owners of Pommy bikes just put up with the crap lighting systems. This was before I rigged up a satisfactory alternator charging system grafted from a Bridgestone 350.

So anyway, I was down the local pub one night, after riding the Ajay home before dark. I’d hoofed it down to the Brookie Rex and was partaking in a few quite ales with the usual suspects prior to a big night on the booze. I knew it was going to be a big night, because, well, I was a teenager and had money in the pocket and it was Saturday night.

It was decided we’d head north one suburb to the Time and Tide Hotel in Dee Why West. Much discussion went on as to who was going to take me as pillion. Crusty refused to take me on his Black Motor Kwakka as he reckoned I was a shit-house pillion passenger; Skraps wouldn’t take me on his Triumph 750 as he reckoned I was a shit-house pillion passenger; and Rumbowl of the Bailey’s wouldn’t take me as his Ducati 750 Super Sport only had a single racing seat… and I was a shit-house passenger. I don’t know what was up their noses, but I reckoned I was a very skilful pillion passenger.

In those days, I had a camera with me at all times, and managed to clamber all over the back of a moving motorcycle, standing on the seat and even spinning around to sit facing backwards if it helped getting the right shot—without once falling off. What were they ever on about?

Anyway, our new friend Bob was there, and he had a Honda Four and hadn’t heard of skilful pillioning so he didn’t mind taking me on the back. Like most of us, I had a helmet exemption, but Bob didn’t like the idea of an acrobatic, photographic, helmetless pillion, so he insisted I wear the spare helmet he had strapped to his bike, before we hit the Time-O.

“Oh, you didn’t leave an upside helmet on the side of your bike outside the Brookvale Rex Hotel, did you, Bob?” we all chorused.

“Umm, yeah, why?” he answered, innocently.

Sure enough, someone had upheld the time-honoured tradition of pissing in an upside down helmet left strapped to a bike out the back of the pub.

“Give me a minute,” I said as I emptied out a bladder’s worth of someone else’s stinking urine into the already-dead rock garden. I rinsed that mongrel out with enough water to put Warragamba Dam on alert, and Bob was okay with me just holding the still-damp bash hat and not wearing it.

We all hit the Time-O until closing time, which meant heading back south down to Manly’s beachfront and the Steyne Hotel. With a whole heap of chicks, including The Very Lovely Alice Brown and a few other top-shelf blondes following us in a car, we set off in search of adventure. It was just a normal night; me sitting backwards and helmetless on a Honda Four, taking photos of some crazy chicks doing funny stuff in a car, somehow holding a damp helmet, camera and a schooner glass of Tooheys Old, but on arrival at the Steyne, Bob had me declared an unreliable pillion, and refused to take me further.

At some stage at the Steyne, Bob had intimated that his Honda Four, with its 4-into-1 exhaust, the Yoshimura camshaft and the removed centrestand was more than enough to whip Skraps’ Triumph 750 rat-bike. Skraps wasn’t about to be drawn into a race, as it looked like he’d have to convey the world’s worst pillion passenger to wherever we were heading next, possible a party at Avalon, or one at Palm Beach, or both. “Yeah, we’ll see,” was the only response.

Leaving the Steyne Hotel, I jumped on the back of Skraps’ Trump, still with Bob’s wet helmet under my arm. The brief was to quickly whip it on the bonce if we saw any cop cars, but if none were spotted, that smelly helmet was going nowhere near my smelly head.

The pace along the beachfront was fairly sedate—up over the Queenscliff Bridge and past the treacherous sandstone walls, we kept it cool. Going north along Oliver Street, Harbord, there’s a long, downhill run to a super-fast, on-camber, right-handed bend. If you’ve ever raced at Phillip Island, or at least watched it on telly, the long, downhill straight and swooping Turn One would be a good match for this Northern Beaches bend and Bob gunned his hot rod Honda Four ahead of the black rat Skraps-mobile. Naturally the Trump hounded off after the revving Honda and Skraps, who was a naturally talented rider, and a handy road racer, literally flew into the right-hander, with the world’s worst pillion ably assisting, hanging off the bike and almost touching down the knee-scraper I wasn’t wearing.

It was about midway through the bend, glancing over at Bob, travelling about 10 miles per hour slower than us, that I caught sight of the fantastic trail of sparks Skraps’ bike was leaving. I made an executive decision and quickly threw the wet helmet on my dry head and fastened the strap—even before trail of sparks ceased its brilliant light-show. If ever Helmet Fastening was an Olympic sport, I would’ve won Gold, Gold, Gold for Australia!

Leaving a demoralised Bob and his pathetic Honda in the mighty Triumph’s wake, Skraps gunned it down the next bend, a super-super-super-fast left hander that turns the road north again to run alongside South Curl Curl Beach. I knew that half way through this bend is a big dip, but I was ready for it, even to the point of wearing a wet helmet, just in case…

We hit the dip at a rapid rate of knots and an almighty crack and bang told us something was amiss, but we didn’t crash and the wild shimmy was only temporary. Skraps powered through South Curly, North Curly, Dee Why, Collaroy, and on to Avalon Beach where pulled up at the party and waited until Bob finally arrived.

“What was that that fell off your bike back at South Curly?” Bob asked, as Skraps was fishing around for the centrestand, absent-mindedly trying to park the Triumph Rat.

“I’m not sure,” Skraps replied, “but I’m starting to suspect it was my centrestand.”

A closer inspection showed the touchdown on the South Curly bend had snapped the entire left leg of the Triumph’s centrestand clean off, and had somehow missed the following Bob.

Skrap’s broken centre-stand.

We went down the next morning to look for it, with no luck. God knows why anyone except Skraps would pick up one half of a Triumph centrestand off the side of the road at South Curl Curl, but someone must’ve thought it was worth something.

I can tell you something else I learned that night: No matter how well you wash a urine soaked helmet in fresh water, no matter how regularly you shampoo your hair over the next couple of weeks, your brain will tell you that you can still smell someone else’s piss hanging around your nostril area.

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

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