My Life on Two (or Three) Wheels: My Motorbikes (and sidecars) from 1964 to the present. ... "from Beezer to CJ"
This incomplete page will remain here for the time being, but it is now being completely re-written into separate chapter pages which will be based at http://www.drdisk.com.hk/motorbikes/ and will, in time replace this page altogether.
Please note that some advertising links are now included further down in this page.
Before I get so old that I forget all about them, I want to record my motorcycling history. From riding my first BSA in 1964 to horsing around on a Chang Jiang just the other day, riding motorbikes has always been a very enjoyable part of my life.
This page will probably take many weeks or months or years to complete, and may not be done in Chronological order. So come back again later and see whether it has grown. It is currently in a kind of "scratch pad" state and I shall work on bits and pieces as I have time to recall all my memories. Some of the facts and figures may be a bit out until I can unearth some of my old diaries from years gone by. More photos will have to wait until I can get them from storage and scan them.
I am quite sure that several of the motorbikes listed below are listed in the wrong order. I am pretty sure that every incident described is listed with the correct bike, it's just that I cannot now remember which one came first. I shall have to put them into better order when I can get some more information.
If anyone has copies of the Australian "Two Wheels" magazine dating back to the 1972-1974 period and can look up the articles therein written by Phil Smith, please contact me at smithp AT ics DOT edu DOT hk so that I can get some of these facts and figures more correct. I particularly need a copy of the article titled "Diary of an Enthusiast" written by me towards the end of 1972 or in the first half of 1973. (My memory is not as good as it was!)
A special "Thank you!" to my mother, Mrs Wenche Smith of Geelong, who dug around amongst the family photos and found the black and white prints and ancient polaroid photos which have been scanned and reproduced on this page. On all photographs in this page, click on the small Thumbnail print to get a larger photo. Some of the colour slides which she also found are now included after having been diditised.
Firstly, Important information for all motorcyclists:
Presentation by CMA Qld: Where the Rubber Hits the Road
When I was "kneehigh to a grasshopper" and the handlebars of the average motorbike were still way above my head, I can remember being enthralled at the sight of motorbikes, nearly always with sidecars fitted, that used to park in the streets of Chilwell near where I lived. I can remember lots of Harley-Davidson V-twins with their exposed pushrods which operated overhead inlet valves; I used to love to watch the rider start his machine and loved to see those pushrods jumping up and down and those rockers pushing down on the valves. Of course, at that age, I had no clue at all of what the various moving parts were called, I just loved to watch them. I can also remember that one nearby industry had a few old hand-shift BMW Boxer-twin machines which hauled huge box sidecars. The BMW R75 had two gear levers beside the tank on the right hand side. One selected the four forward speeds of the front gearbox; and one selected reverse gear. Another lever down on the right changed between high and low ratios in the gearbox back at the differential. This machine had eight forward and two reverse gears. I only learned the intricate details many years later ... to me as a little guy it was amazing enough that the bike had three gear-shift levers! This model of bike also had an enormous dome on top of the fuel tank. I learned much later in life that this item was the air cleaner for the motor.
My uncle Ottar was forever tinkering with his motorbikes in the back yard and patiently explaining such things as, "This is the piston ... this is the cylinder ... this black stuff is carbon ... etc.," even though I didn't really have much of a clue about what he was talking about. But most importantly, a love for motorbikes began to grow inside. In the picture at right Ottar Abrahmsen on the left is showing Kevin Tomasini his Calthorpe of unknown vintage and unknown engine capacity. From the photo I can see it is a side-valve with the magneto fitted out in front of the frame down tube. The bike was fitted with the then-standard girder forks ... telescopic forks were still exceptionally rare. I remember watching Ottar working on this bike over and over again. This picture was taken in the back yard at 9 Bloomsbury Street Chilwell, Geelong. On all photographs on this page, click on the thumbnail to see a larger photo with greater detail.
As I continued to grow, my dad rode motorbikes and I fondly remember peering around him to watch as he stripped and re-built motors and generally kept his bikes well serviced. Many times I got to ride behind him on the pillion seat; my dad was never into sidecars. I especially loved the run from Geelong to Bacchus Marsh and back.
In about 1960, Dad's Triumph Speed Twin (500cc OHV Parallel Twin) motorbike caught fire as he started it outside Auntie Annice's place in Chilwell and was quite badly burnt before the fire brigade put it out. He had it brought home to Belmont where we then lived and bought a second-hand Norton 600cc OHV Single to ride to work on while he re-built the Triumph. Many, many nights we worked in the shed through to the wee small hours of the morning as that Triumph was gradually repaired, repainted and reassembled. I think the most amazing thing to me while rebuilding that bike, was to see the inner workings of the sprung hub. The photo at right is not my Dad's Speed Twin but it is exactly identical in every way including the colour scheme. My love for all things mechanical was continuing to grow. And during this time I gained an excellent understanding of the innards of a motorbike engine.
My dad bought all of his new motorbike spare parts from Pratt & Osborne Motors at the corner of Moorabool and Myers streets in Geelong. When I was just a little kid, he introduced me to Norm Osborne. Little did I guess then that I was going to be dealing with Norm and his son Allan long after my own dad was dead and gone. And if I had occasion to go back to Geelong with a motorbike today, more than fifty years later, I would still ride up to that corner to see whether any of the people I once knew at Pratt & Osborne are still there. I should imagine Norm would have passed away years ago and Allan has probably well and truly retired by now.
I think Dad knew for sure he had a motorcycling son when he looked out his office window one day and saw me going past helmetless as pillion passenger on a BSA 500cc single which had picked me up while I was hitch-hiking. I was about 16 years old at that time. When he got home that night, Dad tried to tell me off for riding on a motorbike without a helmet. At the same time I could see in his face that he knew that if he were me he would have done the same thing.
When my age eventually reached 17 years and 9 months, my dad took me in to the Police Station and I walked out with my motorbike Learner's Permit. Dad then took me to Sale in the ute and we bought a BSA C10 250cc sidevalve single, registration number DA-690, if I remember correctly, for £40 - my first motorbike! I also bought my first army-surplus flying suit to keep out the rain and wind. A "pudding basin" style helmet and a pair of leather gloves were also necessities. The old BSA (pronounced "beezer" for those of you too young to remember) was very reliable, but we did have a few breakdowns.
The most memorable breakdown was the day she caught fire. We lived on George Baillie's farm at River Road, Tyers at that time. I was all set to ride to work at the LVWSB in Traralgon. It was a dull Friday morning, but the sun was trying hard to break through the fog. I straddled the bike, tickled the carby (splashing copious amounts of petrol everywhere as usual), and gave her a kick. She coughed, but didn't start, so I prepared to give her a second kick. Suddenly my Mum and Dad were yelling at me at the top of their lungs, "Get off the bike ... get off that bloody bike ..." My legs were warming rapidly. I glanced down and bright yellow flames were leaping up all around my legs. I very rapidly leapt off and laid the bike on its side on the lawn. Dad ran out the garden hose in order to wash all the burning petrol down the sloping yard away from the bike.
That weekend I had to strip down the whole bike, paint it, re-wire it, and put it back together so I could ride her to work on Monday. The BSA never had a speedo, so I don't know how far I rode her altogether, but there were several rather slow trips across the state, so somewhere around 5,000 miles would be a good guess.
I do not possess a photograph of my Beezer. In those days, if one could afford an
8-shot black and white roll of 620 film for the Brownie, one used it very sparingly, only
birthdays and Christmas, and then, even when the roll was eventually finished, one often
had to wait before one could afford to have it developed.
During the time I owned the Beezer, my Dad taught me all the steps necessary for greasing and lubrication and how to keep a chain adjusted correctly. He also showed me how to remove the head, decarbonise it and grind in the valves, etc. Mechanic Joe Brown taught me how to "feel" the right tension when tightening up the head bolts and the correct pattern for tightening them so that I would never ever have a leaking head gasket. These early lessons geared me up for a lifetime of knowing how to correctly look after and maintain motorcycles, although I have to confess that I was not always perfect with my maintenance, and at times some of my bikes let me down because I had failed to correctly apply what I had learned in these early lessons.
In December 1964, my Dad could see that I was thoroughly hooked on riding motorbikes so he agreed to help me trade in my faithful old BSA on a brand spanking new shiny blue Yamaha YA6 125cc Rotary Valve single. For those who don't remember rotary valves, these engines were two-cycle (two stroke) and the transfer ports and exhaust ports were opened and closed by the piston as in a normal two-stroke. The difference was that the carburettor was mounted inside the crankcase cover where it fed through a rotary disc valve mounted on the end of the crankshaft. This allowed very precise and adjustable intake timing of the fuel-air mixture into the crankcase ... something that was just not possible with a "normal" two-stroke where the inlet port was uncovered by the lower skirt of the piston as it went upward on each stroke. This arrangement meant that a great deal more power could be wrung out of a small engine and that it had better fuel consumption than a regular two-stroke. The registration number was DC-895.
Here's the whole picture from which the one above was cropped. The YA6 is parked just near the bridge of Bridge Street Ballarat and one of Ballarat's historic old trams is lumbering towards us. Those were the days when the trams were our public transport running every few minutes, all day long, on about seven or eight different routes, instead of being confined to a short strip along the edge of Lake Wendouree on Sundays only. This shot was taken on 8th January 1966.
The Yamaha YA6 was the first model to feature Yamaha's dramatic new "Autolube" system. Two-stroke oil was kept in a separate oil tank from which a pump caused a steady but miniscule amount to kind of "ooze" into the bike's intake chamber (where the rotary valve was located). From the valve chamber it was carried into the crankase with the charge of fuel-air mixture where it lubricated the innards more by luck than management, just like any other two-stroke engine. The Autolube system meant that you never had to mix oil with the petrol and since the pump was controlled both by the speed of the engine as well as the throttle cable, it theoretically pumped in exactly the right amount to keep the engine well lubricated without the haze of blue smoke that followed the typical two-stroke in those days. In the picture at the right (click on thumbnail for a good view) you can see the layout of how the system worked. As the oil pump was critical to this system, the manual called for frequent checking and I soon became adept at tuning it very precisely, so that the engine was always well-lubricated but so that I never saw any blue smoke unless I pulled on the oil-pump cable with my hand to make it out-of-synch with the throttle cable.
Spark plugs and melted pistons:
The spark plug installed in the bike when it was new was made by NGK, a brand which nobody anywhere had ever heard of in Australia in those days. Every once in a while the plug would get bridged by a tiny bit of grit and when it did so, the bike would roll to a stop. Each time it only took a moment or two to pull out the plug, clean it and put it back and we were soon away again. However, I decided that it would be wise to carry a spare plug in my toolkit. I checked in the rider's manual and the only advice it gave was to fit an NGK plug. It showed pretty pictures of wet plugs, oily plugs, dried and blistered plugs and nice tan clean plugs and suggested which NGK plug should be fitted depending upon the condition of your original plug. I stopped at motor garages and most had never heard of a Yamaha. They could tell me what plugs to put in every model of BSA, Triumph, Norton, Indian or Harley, but a Yamaha was an absolutely unknown quantity. Eventually, in January 1965, I found a plug dealer somewhere who actually had the name "Yamaha" in his plug catalogue. The only models listed were "Twin" and "Single" and since mine was a single, I bought the recommended Champion brand plug. The next day, on Port Arlington Road near Point Henry, the original plug fouled, so I pulled it out and inserted the new one from my toolkit. As I crossed on a back road towards the Queenscliffe Road, I noticed that my motor was making a kind of "tinny" noise. A few minutes later, on the back road between Drysdale and St Leonards, the engine suddenly stopped firing but the normal engine braking effect was completely absent ... the bike just rolled on and on down the hill with the engine turning over but no sign of exhaust noise. I phoned my dad who was at Indented Head that day and he advised me to take the head off and look at the piston. When I did so, I found an enormous hole straight through the middle of the top of the piston. It turned out that the Champion plug was of the wrong heat range and that the "tinny" noise I had heard was called "detonation" and that the whole time that noise was present the aluminium of the piston had been melting away and getting blown out through the exhaust port and into the exhaust pipe which was now neatly lined with shiny aluminium. The bike was fitted with a new piston and I bought half a dozen shiny new NGK plugs of the correct heat range from Pratt & Osborne Motors in Geelong. I had learned an expensive lesson about two-stroke engines: they were extremely fussy about what kind of spark plugs you put into them.
About two-stroke oils:
The manual for the YA6 told me that I must never use any oil other than "Genuine Yamaha Autolube Oil" in my bike. Now I have a tendency to be a bit of a pedantic perfectionist when it comes to obeying manuals. However I soon learned it was impossible to purchase "Genuine Yamaha Autolube Oil" anywhere around the places I was likely to ride. Occasionally I was able to find "Two Stroke Oil" or "Outboard Oil" both of which tended to be outrageously expensive. My Dad told me that in his day, everyone with a two-stroke just added plain cheap old run-of-the-mill, ordinary, everyday SAE 30 oil to their petrol tanks and hoped they were adding the correct amounts. I decided that since Dad often knew what he was talking about, that I would try running the Yamaha on SAE 30 oil. It never missed a beat. I kept accurate records in a Shell Driver's Log Book of all the oil and petrol I bought and after a while I was able to calculate that the Autolube pump was doling out the oil at an average petrol to oil ratio of around 50 to 1, so it was certainly far more economical than mixing the oil with the petrol in the fuel tank. In retrospect, I realise that it was also very much more environmentally friendly than two-strokes running on premix, although nobody really thought about such matters back in those days.
Polishing the cylinder fins!
In those early motorcycling days, I always seemed to have a lot more time on my hands than I do today. A lot of this excess time was spent cleaning and polishing the little motorbike. The whole bike looked gleaming and shiny, but the fins on the cylinder looked kind of dull. Therefore I decided to polish up the outside of the cylinder. A television advertisement back in those days showed a bloke polishing his car (a street Hot Rod) engine with Johnsons Duraglo floor polish. I figured if it would polish the engine of a car, it could also polish the engine of a motorbike. Thus it happened that one day I "borrowed" my mum's can of Duraglo and took it out to the motorbike shed. For a couple of weeks, I did the same trick and you could see your face in each one of the fins of that engine. One day I had the bike at the local motorbike shop for some reason when the chief mechanic told me, "This engine is running too hot." He got down and took a squiz and exclaimed, "What the hell has happened to your cylinder fins?" I told him I had polished them to make them nice and shiny. He told me that the cast iron fins would radiate the heat into the atmosphere much more efficiently if they were not polished. I knew from the manual that the cylinder consisted of an iron sleeve pressed in to an aluminium barrel, but what he told me made sense when I thought back to my high school Physics classes. So then it was back to work using lots of elbow-grease to remove the Duraglo from the outside of that cylinder. Somehow it did seem to run consistently cooler after that. Another lesson learned.
Memories from the YA6 era:
This bike was the first one I was able to go longer distances on. Only half of
the capacity of the BSA but much faster and more reliable. The memories thinking of
this bike brings back are:
The YA6 was used to commute between my parent's home in Ballarat and my work in Traralgon and made frequent visits to Geelong and Melbourne as well as turning up in various parts of country Victoria on all sorts of odd occasions, so it ran up well over a thousand miles each month. And I started to get sick of a bike that ran so slowly. So it came about one day that we went to Pratt & Osborne Motors in Geelong where, after I had borrowed the money from my Grandpa, I purchased a shiny red and white Yamaha YDS3, registration number DH-528, if I recall it correctly.
In the photo at far right my sister Karen is seated on the 1963 Yamaha MJ2, registered number DG-495, which we bought in 1966. The red and white marks on the power pole indicate that this was the tram stop so she appears to be waiting for a tram! The hedge behind her was in the front of our home at 166 Victoria Street Ballarat. The second photo, taken in Scott Street Buninyong about a year later, shows Karen riding my YDS3 Yamaha past her MJ2, indicating that the MJ2 had limited days ... it was shortly afterwards traded in on a Honda Dream ... see below.
The day the gearbox broke: one Friday afternoon, while Karen was
riding home from work, the gearbox of the little MJ2 jammed tight. Fortunately it
was only 50 metres from the front gate so it was wheeled home and put in the shed.
Before leaving the MJ2, I simply must relate one hilarious incident that occurred in
Victoria Street, Ballarat. I was riding the Yamaha MJ2 homeward in drizzling rain
when a little old lady in a black coat carrying an umbrella started crossing the road. I
hit the horn and the brakes and instead of getting out of the way she started running
along the road right in front of my front wheel the same way as I was going. I came to a
full stop about a foot away from her, apologised for frightening her and tried to drive
1966: 1966 Yamaha YDS3 "Catalina" 250cc Two-stroke parallel twin [see Road Test]
The photograph on the right shows me, with the pudding-basin helmet of those days, riding out of the back yard in about 1966. This photo was taken at our home at 166 Victoria Street, Ballarat, shortly after the bike was purchased. The colour shot, taken at the rear of The Vicarage, Warrenheip Street, Buninyong, in 1967, shows that our family cat found the YDS3 to be an ideal mount.
The YDS3 was faster, stronger, stouter; it was somehow a much more satisfying motorcycle. But there was something missing. At every motorcycle rally I would see a few, a very few, riders with sidecars. Now whenever I went out for a ride I would take with me whatever I could. I learned to fill the pockets of my flying suit with everything I just might need on the way. I would do this until my pockets were absolutely full. If I strapped a pack onto the carrying rack at the back, I could bring more stuff. This was duly done until there was no room to attach anything else to the carrying rack! Panniers were fitted. I soon discovered that panniers could hold a lot of stuff. I filled 'em up until they were full! I began to look enviously at sidecars.
I shall divert here slightly from discussing the YDS3 to discussing the various sidecars which ran alongside it.
The 1946 Dusting sidecar.
During a trip to Pratt & Osborne in Geelong in 1968 I asked about fitting a sidecar and I was told that the Dusting was the best sidecar ever made and if I brought my bike back next Saturday I could have a 1946 Dusting sidecar chassis fitted to it. They only had a chassis and I would have to arrange a body for myself. The week dragged by very slowly and next Saturday finally arrived and I hurried down to Geelong. The mountings were fabricated and the sidecar was fitted and aligned and I was taught the importance of always keeping any sidecar correctly aligned and how to go about that science. The guy who fitted it was named "Mac" or "Macca" I think, but I am not sure after all these years. We shall call him "Mac" for now until somebody with a better memory than mine corrects me. Anyway he very wisely drove me down to the Eastern Gardens where "there's nothing to run into if you don't get the hang of it."
You see, when you are driving a sidecar outfit, the process of steering it is a totally different matter to the process of steering a regular solo motorbike. On the solo machine, you just lean it into the corner and around you go. But scientifically speaking, how exactly do you lean it into the corner? Well, believe it or not, if you are going to take a corner to the right, you actually begin that corner by steering to the left. As you turn the front wheel to the left, the bike begins to fall over to the right ... after all, there is nothing to hold it up. As it begins to fall, the forward motion is causing it to want to stand up again. These two forces balance each other out and the bike kind of "falls around in a curve". Now look what happens if you add a sidecar to the same bike. All of the controls are the same. The motor gearbox and clutch are all the same. But the steering ... Sheesh!!! Let me describe briefly my first attempt to ride in the Eastern Gardens. I let the clutch out and the bike started moving. The path turned gently to the right. Now with some 60,000 miles or thereabouts of riding experience I reckoned I knew pretty well how to turn a motorbike around a very gentle right hand curve. But suddenly I discovered that this outfit seemed to have a mind of its own! I crossed the lawn on the left and then through the flower beds and then had the sense to pull the clutch in and hit the brakes just in time to avoid mowing down a row of standard roses. By this time Mac was killing himself laughing at the expression on my face. I felt more like Mulga Bill! We pushed the outfit back onto the path. Then Mac explained to me the difference between riding a solo and a sidecar. The sidecar outfit is so obedient that it goes exactly where you point it. When I had wanted to turn right, I had naturally begun the turn by turning the handlebar slightly to the left. The outfit, obeyed me by going exactly where I had pointed it straight across the lawn and the flower beds! Mac explained to me that I had to overcome my natural inclination to turn the other way and to very deliberately turn the handlebars towards where I wanted the outfit to go. Somehow it made sense to me and I took all the turns correctly from then on. After a bit more practice we went back to Pratt & Osborne and dropped off Mac while I headed back to Buninyong. Norm and Allan Osborne both came out to see me off. Norm advised me that if I learned to ride on the road with just the chassis for a while before I fitted a body to it, then I should have no real problems after I fitted the body. He also recommended that I get out into a paddock and practise lifting the sidecar up into the air by turning sharply left and then to control the machine as a strangely unbalanced solo so that I would know what it felt like when the sidecar was approaching lifting point.
Chair in the air ... and over she goes!
The trip to Buninyong was relatively uneventful. A couple of times I momentarily forgot I had a sidecar and felt most uncomfortable for a second or two as I started to drift in the wrong direction. Then I would remember the sidecar and simply turn where I wanted to go and, surprise, surprise! it went exactly where I pointed it. However, as I deliberately kept my speed down low, I had no disasters. In fact as I arrived in Buninyong, I felt pretty pleased with myself that I had so quickly mastered this business of riding a sidecar. At that time I lived in Scott Street Buninyong which was a gravel road. The left turn into Scott Street had a steep adverse camber. I arrived at that corner without incident and turned left. Suddenly I felt decidedly uncomfortable and then suddenly lost it. Next moment I discovered myself lyng in the ditch with the motorbike on its side and the sidecar sticking uselessly up in the air, its wheel still spinning freely! I suddenly realised that perhaps I had not yet really mastered this skill at all. I pushed it back up onto the road and slowly and carefully rode the final 50 metres home.
That weekend I took the sidecar out several times and got more used to riding it. By Monday when it was time to ride it to Ballarat Teachers' College where I was then a student, I strapped my backpack onto the sidecar chassis and had no problem at all getting there.
The following weekend was the scheduled Stunt Team practice day out at the old airport. So I went out there on my sidecar and out in the paddock I followed Norm Osborne's advice and practiced lifting the sidecar. Before long I found I was able to do tight figure-eights on two wheels with the sidecar in the air all the way. I think a few weekends of practice like that really helped me to become a far more proficient sidecar rider.
The "Yellow Coffin"
The first body I had on the Yamaha outfit was a long yellow steel and particle-board "coffin" which was over two metres long so that it could be slept in (which I never did) and it was about 60 cm high and 60 cm wide. It was built by my dad and was so incredibly heavy that the "sidecar drove the bike" in that acceleration caused the bike to want to drive around the sidecar while deceleration caused the sidecar to want to continue on and circle around the bike. There must have been some bright yellow paint left over from some other project as it was painted a bright yellow all over. It had the cushions from a bucket seat that had originally been in some car. It took various members of the family around a few times and once took a well-known television personality on a tour of the Strzelecki Ranges. I didn't like it much as it caused excessive fuel consumption and slowed me down too much. I used it for a couple of camping trips, but otherwise I preferred to lift the body off and drive around with just the chassis.
Somewhere in my travels, very soon after deciding that the yellow coffin was too heavy, I found an abandoned wooden fish box. It was about 20 cm deep by about 45 cm wide by about 1.1 metres long and was made of good, strong, solid but light weight, pine wood. It cost me nothing except the price of four coach bolts from the nearest hardware store which I used to mount it on the Dusting chassis. That box hung around for years. It was a requirement in those days that all motorbikes needed to display a front number plate. In the photo at the right it was still on the front mudguard. However, to allow for better cooling I eventually moved my number plate from the front mudguard to the front of the Fish Box. It had many different number plates screwed onto that box over many years as it became the workhorse sidecar body that was fitted to a succession of Dusting, Harley, Watsonian, DJP and Tilbrook sidecar chassis.
That old fish box was great for camping; great for lugging almost anything anywhere. At some stage over the years, someone was painting their front fence white and I hopped in to lend a hand. When we had finished painting the fence, my friend said, "Why don't we paint your sidecar; its looked drab and dirty for Donkey's years." So we undid the four coach bolts and the number plate screws and went ahead and painted it a brilliant white. When the paint had dried, we mounted it back on the chassis, and that white fish box became well known around Gippsland for many years. Fairly early on in the fish box era, my father commented that if it had a lockable toolbox, I could keep extra tools in it. My brother Mick was a carpenter and joiner so in no time he had knocked up a solid wooden tool box and we used steel shelf brackets to mount it to the front of the fish box. A hasp and staple meant that a padlock could be used to lock it and, over a great many years, any time I carried anything I didn't want stolen, it was thrown in that toolbox. The bike's front number plate was then usually screwed to the front of the toolbox.
Now a sidecar is a very useful item for carting things around in, but the law requires that if the things you cart around happen to be people, then you are required to provide a proper seat for them. The first seat for the fish box was an abandoned shiny red-upholstered chrome-plated kitchen chair that had a bent leg. It only took a few moments with a hacksaw to remove all four legs and the fish box had a seat. The kitchen chair can be plainly seen in the photograph with the aeroplane above.
Eventually the kitchen chair seat was rusting and the upholstery was starting to go, so we found an abandoned Toyota Commuter folding auxilliary bus seat which we screwed to the floor of the fish box and which folded down to almost nothing when it was not in use. My passengers all reported that the Toyota seat also was a very comfortable way to travel in the sidecar. I wouldn't mind finding one of those Toyota seats today, as it would fit very nicely screwed to the inside of the boot lid of my Chang Jiang sidecar.
Now if that old fish box could talk it could tell of all sorts of crazy people who rode around on its chrome and red seat and some of the even stranger loads that it carried over the years. Many a time I picked up hitch-hikers and people whose motorbike or car had broken down and needed a lift to a town to purchase spares or petrol. I remember one fellow whose truck had broken down on a remote mountain road. I stopped to offer him a ride and he asked me whether it was safe to ride in such a small sidecar. As he had been waiting two or three hours and I was the first vehicle, I asked him whether he wanted to wait for the next car. He decided to come along in the fish box and after a somewhat apprehensive first 100 metres, I noticed he had a huge smile on his face. After 50 miles or so, when we reached a settlement where there was a motor garage, he told me he hadn't had so much fun since he was a kid and he badly wanted to own a sidecar for himself!
And if that old fish box could talk it would talk of this silly young owner who had dragged it alongside of a multitude of miscellaneous motorcycles. It ran along proudly beside Yamaha twins and singles of various vintages, a Triumph, several Harleys dating from 1925 to 1936, a Suzuki or two, A Moto Guzzi and a plethora of Hondas all the way up to a Gold Wing. It could talk of Kangaroo Rallies, Southern Cross Rallies, Alpine Rallies, and other motorbike rallies from the Warrumbungle Ranges to the Flinders Ranges. It could talk of lots of broken down motorbikes that were carted home in it (the seats were instantly removable). It could talk of bringing home a number of other sidecars that were gathered from all parts of the state in various different years. One of these was a Dusting Vauxhall Deluxe body which was in fairly delapidated condition but last time I heard about it, it had been fully restored and was going to rallies fitted to an Indian.
A "brand new" 1946 Dusting body to match the sidecar
The photograph at the right shows the "new" 1946 Dusting sidecar shortly after it was fitted to my Yamaha YDS3. There are three motorcycles in the picture: The Yamaha-Dusting outfit is in the foreground, the next bike with the leather panniers is my brother Mick's BMW, and next to that is my sister's 305cc Honda Dream over against the wall. A second Dusting sidecar chassis can just be seen beside the shed in the background on the right. Picture was taken in the back yard of our family home at 256 Commercial Road, Morwell.
The colour photographs at right show the same Dusting body after it was repainted to match my Triumph Trophy, but at the time the photos were taken, the Triumph was away having the engine repaired. The little step-through was not really attached to it although the photo makes it look like the most underpowered sidecar outfit you ever saw. My sister Karen is seated on the step-through; my brother David is looking out through the back door.
One day an old sidecar rider from yesteryear approached me in the main street of Morwell and said, "That's a Dusting sidecar you have there, isn't it?" When I agreed he continued, "Well back in 1946, I bought a brand new Dusting Tourer and lifted the body off it and fitted a fish box in its place so I could do my deliveries. I sold the outfit after the war, but the original Dusting body is still up in the loft in my shed. Would you like to buy it for fifteen quid?" Immediately all other things planned for that day were cancelled and I followed him to his home where I duly purchased the sidecar body. The body was in excellent condition: excellent upholstery, excellent woodwork, excellent steel body. It was black with white pin-striping. Like the fish box, it needed only four new coach bolts to mount it to the chassis. Also like the fish box, it was used with a multitude of motorcycles. I eventually sold it in about 1974 or '75 attached to a fully restored 1936 1300 cc side-valve Harley. During the years I owned the Dusting body it alternated with the Fish Box: The Dusting was used when I wanted a "real" sidecar and the Fish box was used when I wasn't expecting to carry people but was likely to be lugging around all manner of other items or where the sidecar stood a chance of being knocked around.
1966: 1966 Yamaha YDS3 250cc Two-stroke parallel twin (Continued)
Now, after the sidecar diversion, ... back to discussing the Yammy!
The first word that comes to mind is "Reliability". Its one Achilles heel was its rear drive chain. Especially after the sidecar was fitted, the sprockets and chain seemed to last no time at all. This was at least in part due to the fact that I would much rather ride it than maintain it. Still I used to cook the chain on Mum's stove in a mixture of lard and Molybdenum Disulphide on a regular basis. While I was cooking the chain regularly, it lasted longer; when I overlooked it, it would very rapidly wear away.
An early modification to the YDS3 was to add a full fairing. I had watched these gradually coming into use at road racing meetings, and decided to find out what one would cost. I contacted Pratt & Osborne and they made a replica of the one on Allan Osborne's works Yamaha racing bike. Then they cut a hole in the front and put a perspex disc in there for the headlight to shine through. Some mountings were made up and it was fitted and away I went. I like to imagine that it actually went faster. It felt like it was going faster, but that impression was probably largely due to the huge increase in engine noise that was reflected up at me. My Dad did not approve of the fairing ... after all, in his day everyone rode what we now refer to as "naked bikes". But I rode around with it for a year or two anyway.
The First Bingle... One day, the Ballarat Rovers' Motorcycle Club, of which I was a member, went out on a ride to Korweinguboora. Korweinguboora was the site of our annual "Scramble championships". The word "Scramble" in those days stood for what is now called "Motocross" ... the word "motocross" had then not yet been invented. We were travelling out towards the track to do some work on it to prepare for an upcoming Scramble meeting. At a left-handed corner on the road through the bush on the way, there was just a nice scatter of round gravel stones over the surface of the bitumen. I had somebody on the back as pillion passenger, perhaps my sister, Karen, or perhaps another club member, I can't recall now, and upon hitting the gravel with the bike leaning beautifully into the corner, those little gravel stones started rolling away from under the tyres and I "lost it" and ended up dropping my bike on its side in the bush. I ended up being taken to Ballarat Hospital in Ballarat to have my top lip stitched back on, and Alwyn Sobey and others picked up my bike and took it home. While I re-built the bike it lived right beside my bed in the front bedroom at Victoria Street ... see picture at right. The bike suffered cracks to the fairing which I tried to patch up myself, but it kind of never looked quite the same again. Hovever, I had learned something very positive about a fairing ... they save your bike from lots of damage in a bingle. As far as I can remember, I think that this was my first real accident on a motorbike ... it wasn't to be my last ... The photo at right shows the fairing which I had repaired by hand after the bingle. My brother Mick is on his Triumph-AJS 500cc single scrambler beside it.
The "hand stand" stunt... Now in the early days of this bike, while it was still solo, it had a good pair of leather panniers at the rear. They were in excellent condition until ... about a week after the above bingle. One of the casualties from the bingle had been my handlebars. I immediately ordered a new set, but in the mean-time I borrowed a set of straight and very narrow handlebars from George Langley. Now previously I had this bike pretty well figured out ... if the handlebars would fit through the hole, then so would the rest of the bike including the panniers. I went out for a ride to try out my temporary bars and when I got back home, Dad's Holden Station Sedan was parked in the driveway, it's rear being exactly level with a gatepost attached to a kind of dividing fence down towards the rear of the drive. Now my thinking was, if the handlebars went through, then the rest would follow, right? Wrong! I'm not sure how fast I was going, but those panniers were pretty full of stuff and were a good five or six cm wider than the bars. Now if there was no reason to slow down, why should I? Suddenly, most unexpectedly, I found myself doing a perfect handstand on the handlebars. According to my sister Julie, who was watching this stunt unfold, I seemed to hang there for what seemed an age doing this perfect hand stand and then, ever so slowly, I toppled over and landed in a heap on the ground in front of the front wheel. When I picked myself up wondering what the heck had happened, there stood my Yamaha, undamaged, engine stalled, and tightly wedged upright between the rear of Dad's Holden and the gatepost. Er, ... I then had to go up to Delima's sadlery and leathergoods shop and get the seams of my pannier bags re-stitched.
The Yamaha Wine Maker... Talking about those panniers reminds me of the day I learned not to carry grapes on motorbikes. I stopped for a rest in Horsham and bought some fruit to eat. The grapes were beautiful, so I decided to buy an extra few pounds and take them home to Mum and the kids. In my left pannier already were my tool roll full of heavy tools, a spare set of new spark plugs, a spare tube and tyre-changing kit, a heavy "Hunter" lantern (big six-volt torch), and a myriad of other odds and ends that usually lived there. I put the brown paper bag full of grapes in on top of the rest of the stuff and headed off towards Ballarat. I stopped for petrol somewhere and the bloke who was filling my tank said, "looks like you have a bit of a leak back there, mate!" and pointed at my left pannier where there was a steady drip, drip, drip, of some evil-looking black liquid which was making a pool on the service station driveway. I quickly opened the pannier and there, on top of everything else, was a ripped and soggy brown paper bag with absolutely nothing in it. Under the remains of the bag and on top of all my tools and stuff were a couple of those stripped bare "trees" of grapevine twigs that are normally left over after you have had a really good feed of grapes. As I lifted out my tool roll, torch, tyre levers and stuff, there were a few more of these little bare trees amongst the stuff. I realised I couldn't do a thing about it then and there and continued home to Ballarat. There I removed the left pannier and emptied it out. Every tool and every item in that pannier had become saturated with grape juice. I put the pannier in the kitchen sink and scrubbed it out and hung it out on the clothes-line to dry. Every single tool had then to be cleaned of this sticky mess, dried off and returned to the tool rolls and things which themselves had to be all thoroughly scrubbed and hung out to dry. I think it took me several days before my pannier and its tool kits were back to normal. And never again have I bought any fruit that was softer than an apple and carried it any distance in my panniers. All the Rovers knew I was a teetotaler, but they had great fun calling me names lile "Winemaker", "Alky" and "Plonky" after they found out why my pannier was missing that week
While it has very little to do with my motorbikes, this might be a good place to explain how I became a teetotaler. As a kid my dad would often drink beer, sometimes too much of it, and I always reckoned he looked pretty silly when he got drunk. As a kid I therefore refused any alcoholic drink I was offered, but in my later teenage years, on a New Year's Eve, my brother convinced me that I ought to try some "Sparkling Rhinegold", after all, I could stop drinking whenever I liked and didn't have to get drunk. Wrong! That night I learned that I was an alcoholic. It made me feel so good I just wanted to drink more and more. "One glass was too many and a thousand glasses was not enough." From the haze of a hangover the next morning, I promised myself I wouldn't drink alcohol again. But somehow I didn't keep the promise. After that moment when I started at the New Year's Eve party, I just couldn't stop. Someone handed me an Alcoholics Anonymous publication that included the Twelve Steps. I read it and thought about it but did not immediately act upon it. In the first week of August 1967, on the Thursday night, my fellow Teachers' College students got me very drunk. Sometime that night or maybe early on the Friday morning was the last glass of alcoholic drink that I ever drank. I started work on the Twelve Steps and so it was that at my 21st birthday party on 10th September 1967, I was able to pour out the champagne for everyone else, but in my own glass there was non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice.
For a couple of years I lived in Buninyong, a few miles from Ballarat on the way to Geelong. Now Buninyong had a Volunteer Fire Brigade. This means that whenever the town's fire siren went off that all the local guys in the Fire Brigade would drop what they were doing and race down to the Fire Station to grab the fire engine and go out to fight the fire. Now my Yamaha YDS3 had a very distinctive induction roar. A contemporary magazine's Road Test described it as a "YOWL". It had good and effective mufflers so that it made no noticeable exhaust noise, but when the throttle was wide open the air intakes screamed like a tortured Banshee. The air was inducted to the engine via a paper air filter, through the twin carbies, and into the crankcase via the inlet ports which were uncovered at the critical moment by the bottom of the skirt of the rising piston. Now I don't know exactly how that noise was produced ... perhaps there was such a vacuum created in the crankcase as the piston rose that when the port opened, the fuel-air-oil mixture kind of exploded into the crank case. At any rate, the carbies and air filter didn't do much to stop this tremendous noise. Now after the sidecar was fitted, I had to open the throttle much wider to accelerate up the hill out of Buninyong towards Ballarat. The road had a 35 mph speed limit all the way along the main drag and then a speed derestriction sign at the base of the steep hill climb. It was my habit to always obey speed limits. But the derestriction sign meant that you could drive as fast as you liked provided that if you were doing more than 50 mph you had to be able to prove you were driving safely if the police pulled you up. So I developed the habit of quietly tootling along through town, but then kicking her down a gear and opening the throttle to the absolute maximum as I passed the derestriction sign. Now I mentioned above about this incredible induction roar that occurred at wide throttle openings. On the way to the de-restriction sign I passed the Fire Station. So the first morning with the sidecar fitted as I rode in to Ballarat Teachers' College, I kicked her down and wrapped it on. Therefore the induction roar from the motor started very loud with a low pitch and then gradually wound up until the engine was almost redlining by the time I reached the top of the hill at Mount Helen. Unknown to me this sudden crescendo of noise that nicely filled the whole valley was exactly the same pitch as the local fire siren. And many of the volunteer firemen dropped what they were doing and jumped in their utes and raced to the Fire Station. By the time they got there, I was over the summit of Mount Helen and there was no more fire siren. The following morning at exactly the same time, the fire siren was heard again and some of the volunteers raced to the station again. They talked among themselves wondering at what could possibly be causing these false alarms. The third morning, one of the firemen drove down and sat in his ute outside the Fire Station before the expected false alarm. We exchanged waves as I rode past and as we did so neither of us realised that my outfit was the cause for the false alarms. But as soon as I kicked her down and wrapped it on, the fireman nearly killed himself laughing when he realised that the fire sirens heard each morning were my motorbike accelerating up the hill. A couple of days later I happened to drop into his shop and he told me the full story about the false alarms. We had a good laugh over it. And a memo went out to all the Volunteer Fire Fighters explaining that at exactly 7:33 every morning, when they heard the fire siren, they had to wait and listen for me to change gear at the top of the hill before racing down to the station.
La-Yamaha Waltz: One night while everyone was asleep a water main burst under a street intersection out in the very flat Western part of Ballarat. That same night the temperature dropped to a few degrees below zero. The result was an acre or so of perfect mirror-surfaced ice all over and surrounding that intersection. At around 05:30 or 06:00 along comes Phil Smith, half-asleep, riding his Yamaha-Dusting sidecar outfit to an early pre-breakfast meeting at the College. I might have been speeding a little; I don't know. The headlight being on low-beam and the rider being in somewhat of a day-dream, the ice was not noticed until it was almost under the front wheel and apparently already under the sidecar wheel. About that same moment I noticed a policeman standing in the intersection ahead of me waving frantically. Well, when you see a policeman ahead of you waving frantically, you hit both brakes don't you? Well, I did so, and in the blink of an eye, the world appeared to be flashing before my eyes! Round and round and round and round and round! At one stage I see a policeman falling on his bum on the ice. Now I'm in trouble! Nothing I can do. Round and round and round! Suddenly the ice came to an end, the tyres gripped and the outfit commenced to roll over, sidecar over the bike. My years of Stunt Riding training (see below) somehow caused some sort of an instant reaction that allowed me to bring it under control at an angle of about 60 degrees, execute a neat figure-eight with the sidecar up in the air all the way, and then finally flopping back onto its wheels facing the opposite way to the way I had come from and parked neatly beside a police car. The policeman's first comment: "Beautiful! If only we had a movie camera on that! It could be set to music and would sell for millions!" The other officer, the one who had fallen on the ice, came up and said, "I didn't have my camera ready ... do you reckon you could do that again?" I hopped off the bike, suddenly realised I was so dizzy I had almost no sense of balance, and staggered everywhere before falling against the police car. They offered jokingly to get out the breathalyser, but got out a thermos of coffee instead. I drank coffee sitting in the police car while barricades were set up on all four streets and a big yellow workman's truck with flashing lights all over it was parked on the ice in the centre of the intersection. By the time I had finished my cuppa, there were about half a dozen policemen all crowding around and suggesting I should do it again! One policeman said the outfit had rotated seven and a half complete turns on the ice, while another insisted it was eight and a half. They asked me what I thought and I didn't have a clue. I didn't have time to count the rotations! I apologised to the policeman who had fallen on the road and he responded, "Wasn't your fault mate! I was laughing so hard when I saw your motorbike doing the waltz, that I started jumping up and down and lost my footing!" Some of the police escorted me to college just in case I might have had any after-effects from my spin, but I got there in one piece, thanked them and then tried to settle down to an ordinary day at college.
The day I learned about rubber boots: At one
stage while I had this bike, I was silly enough to listen to somebody who told me that
ordinary rubber boots from a hardware store (like the ones the dunny cleaners wear) were
the best way to keep your feet really dry while riding in the wet.
That Yamaha just kept on keeping on. I would lift the heads to give her a decoke now and then, but it virtually never needed it as the engine ran so cleanly. I would just replace spark plugs at appropriate intervals and keep on riding. I would replace the gearbox oil at regular intervals and just keep on riding. At something more than 60,000 miles (and a lot of that hauling sidecars) I decided to rebore the cylinders and fit new oversized pistons, not because it was rattling but because everybody else told me that's what you ought to do when your bike has done more than 60,000 miles (that's around 100,000 kilometres in today's terminology). Once the rebore had been completed, the engine ran amazingly quieter. Those pistons must have been slapping around a bit in those bores and I had never really noticed because it had worn so gradually. I have forgotten how many miles it had finally done when I traded it in on a Triumph TR6 at Pratt & Osborne.
The one major failure it had over the years, was the total instantaneous destruction of the clutch, which had a lot more to do with the stupidity of the owner than the design of the clutch. It happened like this: my 1936 Harley and sidecar had broken down not far from home. I walked home and picked up my YDS3 sidecar outfit, a tow rope, and my mate. We hooked the two outfits together with my mate on the Harley and me on the Yamaha. With a downhill start, the towing went okay until the same corner on Scott Street where I had lost the Yamaha on my first day of sidecar riding many months earlier. There my mate hit the brakes as he thought the Harley would flip on the adverse camber corner. This of course instantly stalled the little 250 and I kick started it, put it into gear and let the clutch out. Now this part of Scott Street was a steep uphill slope. As I let out the clutch the Yamaha never moved; there was a brief shrieking sound from the bottom end of the engine and with the clutch fully let out I was going nowhere. I looked down and noticed smoke pouring from the point where the clutch cable entered the engine casing. We pushed both outfits home that day ...
Another minor failure resulting in a major rebuild occurred when the swing arm bushes wore out resulting in some somewhat erratic handling while cornering solo. This occurred mainly, I think, because I had never greased the bushes. Photo at right shows the bike stripped down on the verandah at Buninyong in September 1967 while we were awaiting new bushes from the dealer.
Memories from the YDS3 era:
Here are a few notes of memories that come flooding back when I think of the YDS3:
1966: Mick's Scrambler: An AJS 500cc single OHV engine fitted into a Triumph frame and running gear of unknown vintage.
While our family was located in Ballarat and we were active in the Ballarat Rovers Motor Cycle Club, my brother Mick bought an elderly Triumph bike that had been fitted with a 500cc single AJS motor. Both items were of unknown vintage, but the package ran well. The frame had a rigid rear end (which sounds dreadful as I type this page in 2005, but such bikes were still very common in those days), but a well-sprung solo saddle and telescopic forks in the front. I went for a few rides on this bike myself. It was very reliable and Mick raced it at a number of scramble meetings, including at least one that I can recall at Korwienguboora. I cannot remember whether or not he won any races or titles. I haven't seen Mick now since about 1991, but I really want to get in contact with him again. Apart from riding it in scrambles, Mick also practised some stunt riding on it and I seem to recall that he was really the best member of the team at performing the Backwards Ride.
The photo at the right was taken the day my sister Karen brought home her 305cc Honda
Dream CA77 to our home in Warrenheip Street, Buninyong in 1967.
If any current member of BRMCC reads this page, please contact me by e-mailing smithp AT ics DOT edu DOT hk , as I want to try to clear up some of my hazy memories about the club, especially if someone like George Langley or Alwyn Sobey is still about.
When I moved from Gippsland to Ballarat in about 1965-1966, someone introduced me to the Ballarat Rovers Motor Cycle Club. I had never been a member of a motorcycle club before, but I soon found that I fitted right in. The first clubrooms were located near an intersection overlooking Skipton Street. Later on we moved to premises shared with a Carpet Bowling Club above shops in either Doveton or Dawson Street. After I had left Ballarat, the club moved to its present clubrooms in Hut 25 out at the Ballarat Airport. I only attended one or two meetings out at the airport.
It was really good to hang out with other guys who loved motorbikes. After our club meetings every Thursday night we would all ride around to a shop in Mair Street near Lydiard Street where we would all have milk shakes, Pizzas, or whatever. Some of the guys sometimes liked to drink something stronger than milk shakes, and more than once somebody needed to be carted home in my sidecar ...
Events conducted by BRMCC in those days included the annual Kangaroo Rally, which was conducted in the showgrounds at Learmonth. Apart from the sheer joy of all camping out there together and listening to all the motorbike stories which got taller and taller, and the movie shows which were put on and the gymkhana type events that were conducted there, the biggest highlight was when we would get a police escort and ride along Learmonth Road all the way into Ballarat City, right down and up Sturt Street and around Lake Wendouree and back out to Learmonth. To be part of more than 800 road bikes travelling together in one procession was always an incredible and unforgettable experience. I am not sure of this, but I think the Kangaroo Rally was actually the first major camping rally organised for motorcyclists in Australia. At that time, the Elephant Rally in Europe was a famous meeting place, and someone at BRMCC caught the vision to organise a similar event.
Another annual event was the motorcycle Scramble Championships held out at Korweinguboora. I still recall an incident when organizing this when "Bozo" (The late Brian Bowes) was heard to state in a meeting that if it rained before the Scrambles were held, then he would personally jump into the Korweinguboora Creek. This was duly noted in the club minutes, and as his weather forecasting ability was not of high accuracy that year, and the rain came pouring down turning parts of the track into a quagmire, many members joined together to throw him into the creek after the Scramble meeting. It was at Korweinguboora that I first enjoyed the thrill of riding various Scrambles bikes.
The BRMCC Stunt Team will be covered under its own heading further down the page.
Other events were regular weekend rides. Sometimes we would go to Road Races or Scramble Racing somewhere, and other times we would just go out for a ride for a picnic or just for the sheer joy of riding somewhere together. As lots of our members could not afford to purchase new bikes and some of the bikes that members used for riding around on the roads were considered "geriatric" even way back in those days, it was almost inevitable that somebody's bike would break down along the way. I can remember one member (although I have forgotten his name) who put together his AJS just in time for a weekend run somewhere. This was after I had fitted the sidecar to my YDS3 yamaha and when the sidecar body was the famous white "Fish Box" (see above). We all soon started to wonder about this member's toolkit and his mechanical ability or lack thereof. If I recall correctly, the first portion of the AJS to be added to my sidecar was its centre stand. Some miles further along one of its mirrors fell off and was added to my sidecar. The headlight came adrift. Then the muffler fell off and was placed in the sidecar. The front mudguard fell off next and was added to the sidecar. The taillight fell off. Then I think it was the back mudguard shortly after that. Then the pillion saddle. The toolbox fell off. The horn fell off. Then the front exhaust pipe. By the time we arrived home in Ballarat that night, there was more of that AJS in my sidecar than there was still on the road! He was by then riding a bare frame with fuel-tank, engine, gearbox and two wheels: long blue flames spurted directly from the exhaust port on the cyclinder head!. The rest of the bike was in my sidecar!
Many weekends we had official or unofficial "meetings" in Alwyn Sobey's back shed at 611 Ligar Street. Sometimes these were organised so that club members could perform regular maintenance on the Stunt Team bikes which were kept garaged there. Other times members just ended up congregating in Sobey's shed because there was nothing else planned for that weekend and nothing much else to do. I remember one incident which occurred when Sobe had an old motorbike magneto on his workbench and some new member had arrived for the first time that day. Now to put things into perspective, one of the things we used to do to show that we were tough was to kill the engine of somebody's pride and joy by short circuiting the spark plugs by simply placing the fingers of one hand on the spark plug and the other hand on a metal part of the bike. We were all used to letting that 15,000 volts go surging through our bodies and were pretty good at staying perfectly still as we did so. Now on this particular day, a bunch of us formed a human chain by holding hands and somebody at the end of the chain was idly turning the magneto over and letting the charge go surging through all of us. Then somebody on the chain shook hands with this new guy and he nearly jumped out of skin from the electric shock. Someone else shook his hand and the same thing happened after four or five shocks from shaking hands with blokes who somehow managed to remain poker-faced without letting on that anything unusual was happening, this poor bloke panicked and crashed out through the back of Sobe's shed straight through between the sheets of corrugated iron in which the shed was clad. The sheets had to be nailed back on later. By then everyone was rolling around on the floor laughing. Looking back it seems to have been a mean thing to have done to that poor bloke, but it sure seemed funny at the time.
Many years later, I made use of this "skill" when a bloke who owned an A-Model Ford which had recently been restored had the bonnet open and was really going to town crowing about how wonderful the motor was and the fuel system was so good and the ignition system was so good that the motor, once it was started was absolutely unstoppable. I listened to him blowing his bags like this for a while and then without saying a word, I leaned forward with two hands and placed two thumbs and two index fingers firmly on the top of his four spark plugs and just held them there. the "unstoppable" motor died instantly and someone said, "well, Phil sure stopped it didn't he!" as everyone went rolling on the ground laughing.
I guess somebody ought to write a book one day about the BRMCC. Those were some of the best years of my life.
I cannot leave my time with BRMCC without discussing the Stunt Team. I am not sure exactly when the BRMCC Stunt Team began, but it was certainly in full swing before I joined the club in about January 1966. Elsewhere in the 1960s there were a couple of Army troupes which used to put on precision riding and stunt riding displays at, for example, the Edinburgh Tattoo. These were filmed and shown on the Movietone News as well as on television. The films were also borrowed and shown at motorcycle rallies. No doubt someone in the club looked at these and caught the vision to do likewise.
The Stunt bikes... The club had come to own the following bikes which were used for the Stunt Team by the time I joined: Three Harley Davidson 1942 WLA model 750cc Side-valve V-twins, One BSA OHV parallel twin (used for ramp-jumping), One Norton OHV single (also used for ramp work), and a couple of Matchless or AJS bikes used for general stunts. The club also owned a trailer built specifically for carrying the bikes carrying three bikes in channels parallel to the direction of travel (usually three Harleys), one bike in a crosswise channel in front of the three Harleys, and one in a crosswise channel at the rear of the trailer. If other bikes were needed for specific shows, they were either towed to the venue or carried in a ute. I should mention that there were other Harleys used for parts to keep the main three going and that the other bikes were taken out of service for maintenance or put back into the pool again when they had been reconditioned and were running well.
The Stunt Team were hired by the organisers of other events such as the annual Agricultural Shows which were put on by the Agricultuaral Societies of most country towns and many regional cities in those days. We performed as a drawcard event on the centre of the main oval in the showgrounds.
Disclaimer: Don't try this at home: The members of the Ballarat Rovers Motor Cycle Club Stunt Team spent countless hours in preparation and practice. All of the stunts were very well choreographed, planned and thought out so that they would be spectacular and yet safe. The riders wore special safety equipment, often out of sight underneath their outer clothing. The team always had qualified first-aid officers standing by. Every new stunt that was designed had to be passed by the leaders at practice sessions as being absolutely safe before it was permitted to be incorporated into a show.
Some of the stunts we performed were as follows:
The Wall of Fire: A pinewood wall about 6mm thick and 2 metres wide by
2 metres high was set up, splashed with kerosene or diesel and set on fire. Someone
riding a bike would then go crashing through it.
There were probably many other stunts apart from these, but I am writing this more than 35 years after the event. If any of the old Stunt Team actually get to read this page and can remember some of the other stunts, please drop me an e-mail to remind me so that this record will be more accurate and complete. Team members whose names come to mind are: Alwyn Sobey, Ken Wright, (the late) Frank Wright (deceased New Zealand, March 2005), Henry Becker, George Langley, John Palmer, Russell Czynski, Brian Bowes, (the late) Jim Colligan (deceased in road racing sidecar mishap at Bathurst several years ago), John Delima, Clarry Jones, ?? Hudson, ?? Kennedy, Ron Thomas, and a lot of other faces in my mind. Perhaps I might recall the names later. If anyone from BRMCC reads this and you happen to have a list of the old Stunt Team members, I would love to get hold of a copy. Photographs of the stunts would also be most welcome. I am also not entirely sure of the correct names for some of the above stunts, so if anyone can correct me I would be most grateful.
The stunt that never made it: I do recall one stunt that was designed and practised, but as far as I know, never made it to a public performance. If I remember correctly, the leaders of the club thought that it was so scary to watch that a member of the viewing public might have a heart attack and there were questions about whether the club might then be liable. I don't know if we even developed a name for it, but here's how it went:. Two Harleys would start at extreme opposite ends of the showgrounds and accelerate absolutely flat out towards each other. From the grandstand it would appear that a terrible head-on collision was imminent as these bikes reached 60 mph (about 100 km/h) tearing towards each other. What the crowd could not see was that the bikes were aiming to actually pass each other with about 3cm gap between their handlebar tips. The instant the handlebars had passed, each rider would lock the back wheel and drop the bike violently down onto its side and slide to a halt in a tremendous cloud of dust. We even discussed (but never practised with) using pyrotechnics such as smoke bombs to make the apparent collision look even more realistic. The idea was that the riders would then lie there unmoving while the commentator was saying something like, "Do you think it is just possible that one of these riders might have survived?" Then after a suitably long pause they would both jump up, place the bikes on their side-stands, and take a bow. When we tried it out at the Ballarat Airport practice ground it really did look incredibly exciting.
Teamwork and Training: The key thing about the Stunt Team was that it really was a team. Several members mainly worked on setting up all the props for other members to use. Another member was always the commentator - an important role to keep the crowd excited. Although I rode some of the stunts some of the time, I spent more time out on the arena assisting with set up. It was important that if you wanted the role of being a performer that you also went regularly to practises and assisted with the upkeep and maintenance of the team's bikes. I haven't really covered the training anywhere else, but when one aspired to join the Stunt Team one was required to attend quite a few training sessions before one was "in". The first part of the training was probably the most important ... it was called "How to Fall Off," and was probably the most important lesson I ever learned in my whole motorcycling career. Veteran stunt riders showed us stunts called the "Commando's Roll" for one. We watched other riders do it from a run and then from a bike. At first you just ran along in your leathers and helmet and fell on the ground while running. We had to hit the ground rolling and kind of roll over our own shoulders. Then we had to squat on the back luggage rack of a moving Harley and deliberately fall off. Later we were taught how to drop a bike or "lay it down." This meant that while riding the bike, you suddenly hit the back brake to cause a skid and slewed the bike around so that it fell down on its side sliding wheels first in the general direction in which you had just been travelling. This action placed the bike between you and whatever you might have been going to hit and as it placed the wheels first, if you hit anything really solid, the wheels would collapse and absorb some of the shock of the collision. As all bikes had crash bars, these held the bike up off the ground and if you stayed with the bike you were pretty well out of harm's way. If you became separated from the bike you were supposed to do the rolls that I mentioned above. We were taught a lot of other things as well, but these two actions were the real life-savers that meant that injuries among the Stunt Team were exceptionally rare when you stop to consider what we did. They were real life-savers during the following years on race-tracks, roads and trails. I am eternally indebted to the Rovers Stunt Team for training me to know how to stay alive in the face of some pretty horrific things over the decades.
When Serendipity changed the Stunt: At one performance I was to be the last passenger to board the Harley "bus" and the grass on the oval where I was to do so was very wet and slippery and my running shoes had very little tread on them. As the Harley went by I leapt for the back luggage rack, but completely lost my footing and fell on the ground. This was entirely by accident, not by design, but the crowd loved it and the commentator really rose to the occasion as well. So I picked myself up and ran after the Harley and this time I deliberately missed and went rolling along on the ground again. The crowd was yelling for more, so I did it again. I lost count of how many times I fell off that Harley both in that performance and in several performances thereafter. Something completely unplanned, that was an accident on the day, became a regular part of several performances. Actually, this caused some interesting discussion among the stunt team members. The debate was over whether we should appear to be putting on a very professional and highly planned show (in which case the falling would look out of place), or whether we were supposed to be giving the crowd the best possible entertainment (in which case a bit of clowning was okay). Some days I was asked to mount the bike correctly, others I was told to have a few good falls. It basically depended on the commentator, who sometimes even called the shots during the actual stunt, after having sensed what the crowd on the day would like best. To do this, he would say something like, "Now last week at Bendigo, Dinger missed the Harley and fell off .... I just wonder whether he can make it today ..." Such a comment over the loudspeakers was a sign that I ought to take a tumble or two before doing it correctly.
Stunt Team Fellowship: An unforgettable part of being in the stunt team was the fellowship we shared as we camped together - frequently camping under the grandstands of the showgrounds at which we performed. Then there was the ride to the venue and the ride home again afterwards. Oh the stories that were told around campfires those evenings! Sometimes they seemed to get slightly taller with each re-telling. I have no idea whether it was a true story or an apocryphal one, however, I was gullible enough to believe it for a while, but one claim made a few times at different campfires was that Henry Becker had done the stunt riding for Steve McQueen during the filming of the Great Escape. There is no credit given in the actual credits of that film for who stood in as Stunt Man. Henry certainly had been in Europe following the road racing circuit at the time of the filming. [A recent Internet search turns up the story that the stunt was done by Bud Ekins, which seems far more likely. But it was a good story at the time, anyway.]
For a while we kept at our place an unregistered and incomplete DKW two-stroke
belt-drive machine of unknown cc and unknown year. It had neither clutch nor gears nor
kickstarter, but it did (if I recall correctly) have a compression release in its cylinder
head. It had been donated to the BRMCC and we were going to see whether it would go or
not. I checked the magneto and saw that, as I cranked the engine by turning the back wheel
while the bike was up on blocks, it was creating a good spark, although I had no idea
whether the timing would be correct or not. I cleaned out the carby and put some petroil
mixture in the tank. We stripped off everything that was not essential to the bikes
running in order to make it lighter to push, even replacing the seat with a push-bike
leather saddle loosely inserted into a convenient frame tube. Then we opened the
compression release and ran like mad around the yard every so often closing the
compression release and jumping on the bike. Suddenly, without warning she fired. That was
the moment we discovered that the throttle was stuck wide open! The front wheel came up in
the air and I slid off the back of the precarious seat, fell on my belly on the ground,
but refused to let go of the handlebars, so I just got dragged along as the Deek
accelerated. With the engine screaming like a banshee, we went carreering around and
around the garden straight through several flower beds and then straight into the middle
of the very large and very dense rhododendron tree. The bending branches of the
rhododendron softened the blow and the front wheel came to rest against the trunk where
the engine finally stalled. I, having been half staggering and half belly-flopping along
beside this wild machine much faster than I was capable of running, fell and slithered on
my belly straight though the rhododendron and emerged from the other side with leaves and
twigs sticking out all over me. I kept sliding along across the lawn and eventually came
to rest up against the side fence of our property, from whence I was unable to get up
because I was hopelessly disabled by my uncontrollable laughter. Two of my brothers who
had witnessed the same incident had also collapsed on the lawn shreiking with laughter.
Both of my grandfathers had been Harley riders. While my mother was pregnant and carrying me she rode pillion on a Harley until she became too big to do so any more. The love of Harleys was therefore definitely imparted to me while I was still in the womb ... you can't get it much earlier than that! As a kid I had loved to watch the Harleys which thundered up and down every street on occasion. As I grew up, the Harleys always had a special place for me. I would pull up anywhere to oggle one. Somehow, while I was still in the Rovers, I heard about an 11-13 Harley (That meant 11 horsepower and 1300cc for those not familiar with Harley terminology) with a box sidecar that was for sale at £40. Its owner told me that it had been painted red when he originally got it,but that it had all sorts of profanities and rude words painted all over it with white house paint. He said it had been labelled in several places with the number "666" - the Mark of the Beast (refer to The Bible, Revelation, Chapter 13, to find out what this referred to) so that he had brush painted it all over with black house paint to cover up all the bad words. The picture at the right, scanned out of a magazine, shows a restored 1937 model which was almost the same as mine. The engine was a 45 degree V-twin with a capacity of 80 cubic inches or 1340cc. I asked my friend Cec Scott to look at it and he agreed that the price was about right. As I didn't have the forty quid, I borrowed it from Cec, and we kept the Harley in his shed until I had saved the money to pay him back. Then we towed the Harley out to Buninyong where I then lived. Gradually, between gaps in a very busy life, I worked on it little by little to bring it towards a state where I might be able to register it for use on the road. I mainly bought little things one at a time such as a stop light switch and a taillight that could have a stop light fitted inside it and so on. I would take it out for a ride on the back bush tracks every now and then to make sure the engine stayed in good nick, but due to money constraints and time priority constraints, that bike never actually ended up registered during the years I owned it. At the end of 1968, I received a posting to become the Headmaster of the Dumbalk North Primary School located in the Leongatha Inspectorate in South Gippsland, so when I moved to Morwell to live with my folks, the Harley was placed on a trailer and taken down there with me. Other Harleys joined the collection later on; see below.
1969: Triumph Trophy TR6 650cc OHV parallel twin
While the Harley was being transported to Morwell, I rode my Yamaha YDS3 and Dusting
sidecar outfit down there as well. But it was not to stay there for long. ...
Pinstriping the Dusting Sidecar. One week, shortly after the new paint job was completed, I rode to Melbourne where I met the then elderly Vic Bogner who originally used to pinstripe the new Dusting sidecars for Harry Dusting. I asked him to teach me how to do it and he painstakingly did so. To see my metallic red and silver Dusting with its beautiful gold pinstriping, just as I had planned it following the original Dusting pattern, was an unforgettable sight. I soon got the job of pinstriping other Dustings and a few other vintage vehicles ended up with Dusting style pinstriping during the ensuing years. The last Dusting I pinstriped was more than thirty years ago, but I would love to get my hands on one today just to check that I haven't lost any of that skill ... and maybe to teach some much younger person how Vic used to do it before I in turn get too old!
During the year I served as the Headmaster at Dumbalk North, the Triumph-Dusting outfit was my "principal" mode of transport (pun was not originally intended, but it's a good one so I'll leave it there and add quotation marks!). During the times of re-boring, re-sleeving and other work that it needed during its early days, I rode a plethora of borrowed bikes, sometimes for a fortnight or three weeks at a time. Some of these are long since forgotten, but some rate a special mention below.
The Triumph was purring along contentedly at about 80 or 90 km/h along a flat, long, straight stretch of the back road to Boolara at about 04:00 or 04:30 early on a Monday morning in June 1969. I glanced over to the left at the sidecar mudguard light which was keeping me company. As I turned my attention back to the road ahead of me which was very well illuminated by the high beam of the Lucas headlight, there suddenly appeared to be a hump in the road ahead. There was certainly no hump there yesterday! Suddenly the hump was much closer than I had thought it had been. Next second I felt the outfit rise and fall, rise and fall. There had been two humps. On a previously flat road! And why had the humps apparently been moving from South to North at some considerable speed? I wondered about these strange "moving humps" as I left the flat and wound up through the mountains. An Earthquake had been felt in that area late on Saturday night. Could those humps have been some sort of wave caused by the eartquake? But why would they be seen and felt thirty hours later? My scientific mind was working overtime. Just as well I knew every inch of this road like the back of my hand. I rounded a sharp curve to the right and straightened up again to the sight of there being no road visible in my headlight! Before I could even think of braking, the outfit was airborne. Then crunch! The suspension bottommed out as she landed on a steeply sloping patch of the road. Then airborne again this time flying through the darkness with my headlight pointing up into the tops of the gum trees. Then crunch again as the suspension bottommed out a second time as the outfit landed heavily upon the road which now looked roughly like it should have looked. I braked the Triumph to an emergency stop, turned it 180 degrees and started to slowly proceed back towards my recent breathtaking roller-coaster ride. There I saw that a section of road had fallen below the level of the rest of the road and formed quite a steep ramp sloping upwards towards the South. As I looked at it I realised that the Lord had been looking after me: had I been riding in the opposite direction, towards the North, I would have written off the outfit as the front wheel and forks would have collapsed and the nose of the sidecar would have buried itself into the broken remains of the road on the north side of the slab of road which had fallen. I still couldn't figure out how a road that had been perfectly okay yesterday could have been so badly damaged by this morning. As I stood there wondering about this, there was a very deep and dreadful roaring sound which came from beneath my feet and the ground started to rock and shiver just as it had during Saturday night's earthquake. This was accompanied by flashes like lightning from the broken ground where the road had collapsed. To this day I am still not sure about this ... was my mind playing some sort of tricks on me to get me out of there, or did these flashes really happen? As rocks and stones started to tumble down the mountainside and land all around me, I leapt back on the Triumph, spun it around, and headed off flat-out down the hill to get clear of the mountain. Later that day, when scientists arrived to invesigate the earthquakes, I learned that there had indeed been two periods of aftershock activity recorded that morning and the first of these must have caused my "moving humps" which I saw near Boolara and the landslide which had taken the foundations out from underneath the road where I had had my roller coaster ride, and the second had caused the dreadful noise and rockfall which occurred while I was standing looking at the damage caused by the first one. I think this earthquake incident was probably the scariest thing that ever occurred to me in all my years of riding motorbikes and sidecars.
The enormous Double-Adult sidecar.
Some time after my year at Dumbalk North, I was teaching at Yallourn Primary School and the Triumph was still my main transport. Now I had from time to time read in British magazines about the existence of double-adult sidecars although I had never actually seen one. But I read a classified ad which told me that a Double-Adult sidecar was for sale in Glenroy, a Northern suburb of Melbourne. On the phone I learned that it was a body with no chassis and I would need my own chassis. So I decided it wouldn't do any harm to go and have a look and there it was, red and huge. I have forgotten what it was built from, whether it was particle-board or just a heavy wooden frame covered with plywood. Its shape was roughly a cuboid, about 2.5 metres long, about 70 or 80 centimetres wide and about 50 or 60 centimetres deep. Its nose was rounded in a semicircular shape and was sloped backwards slightly. The mudguard was a standard Dusting item but was mounted directly on the side of the body, since the body was much wider than a standard Dusting body. Underneath the floor, to mount it between the springs on the dusting chassis, it had raised platforms (actually just great big blocks of timber) about 40 cm by 15 cm by 10 cm and needed very long coach bolts to mount it to the chassis bars. I decided to purchase it and came back with my Triumph and just the chassis of the Dusting chair. It had one seat behind the other; both seats were enormous in size, and the back of the forward seat could be removed in case one wanted to sleep in the sidecar. We fitted the enormous sidecar and I rode back to Morwell. By the time I reached Dandenong I pulled out my screwdrivers and removed the large sidecar windscreen just to cut down on the wind resistance a bit. You would think I had learned my lesson with my "Yellow Coffin" a few years earlier, but my reasoning went something like: "this motor is much bigger and more powerful than the Yamaha YDS3, so it ought to be able to handle it." But by the time I arrived home in Morwell, I think I already knew that it was just too big and heavy. For the first week I owned it, I rode it about without once taking a passenger in it anywhere at all.
Six kids in the sidecar! ... Next weekend someone suggested that I take the kids for a ride around town since I had such an enormous sidecar. Thus it was that we lifted the front seat divider a little and moved the seat cushion rearwards halfway into the rear compartment. Then we rounded up most of my siblings. two kids were seated side by side on the front half of the front seat leaning against the front of the backrest, two kids were seated side by side normally in the back seat, and two more kids were seated facing backwards on the back half of the front seat leaning against the back of the front backrest. My sister got on the pillion seat behind me. Thus it was that I drove for a couple of laps of the main street of Morwell with a total of eight people on board my motorbike and sidecar and everyone of them correctly and legally seated, which was verified by the local constabulary who decided that this contraption was well worth having a close look at. We actually ended up with about four carloads of police and a couple of police motorcyclists checking us out that afternoon. They were all of the opinion that, although it was a perfectly legal transport for eight people, that I was likely to have a very short clutch life. One policeman's estimation was that the total outfit with eight people on board weighed somewhere between a half and three-quarters of a ton. I have done the mental calculation myself a few times since and I reckon he was right. You should have seen how many heads turned that day as we lapped the main drag!
The queen-size bed on the sidecar! ... Now it just so happened
that about a week or two before I bought the D/A sidecar, Mum and Dad had purchased a new
bed. The old bed was in the passage blocking up the house and we thought, "How
will we ever get a Queen Sized bed to the rubbish dump?" It wouldn't fit in the
car; it would cost money to rent a truck; what could we do with it? Dad and I looked
at the bed, then looked at the sidecar, then looked at each other ... could we do it?
Let's see how it looks if we just put it across the bike. The mattress was nice and
soft ... it wouldn't hurt the bike or the sidecar, would it? If it could carry eight
people around the town yesterday, surely it could carry a Queen-size bed today!
If I remember correctly that double-adult sidecar was eventually sold or given to someone who was going to put it on either a Harley or an Indian.
The Tornado at Tom's Bridge. Click the link to read about storm chasing on the Triumph outfit.
The Best Prepared Motorcycle and Sidecar at the Southern Cross Rally. Since 1966, I had developed the habit of getting to every motorbike rally that I could possibly get to. I cannot remember for certain which year it was, but one year I decided it was time to attempt to win the trophy for "The Best Prepared Motor Cycle and Sidecar" which was awarded every year at the Southern Cross Rally near Adeliade. I removed the "Fish Box" and fitted the beautifully painted Dusting body onto the chassis. I polished the Triumph and the Dusting before leaving home and put plenty of polishing and cleaning gear in the sidecar with my camping gear. On the way to the rally, at one point in Western Victoria, I noticed that the next three vehicles in front of me were sidecars and that the first two vehicles in my rear-view mirror were also sidecars. I think that was the only time I ever saw six motorbikes and sidecars in a row on the road without any of them having planned to ride together. From the time I arrived at the Mount Barker Showgrounds in the Adelaide Hills, I got busy cleaning and polishing until every part of that outfit shone better than if it had just left the factory. At the judging, my hard work was repaid when I was able to take home the trophy.
Six sidecars in a row: After leaving Horsham on the way to the Southern Cross Rally, just as I was approaching Pimpinio, I noticed another motorcycle and sidecar way off in the distance ahead of me. Not wishing to over-stress the Triumph I did not change speed, but rather hoped that I might meet the rider further along the road. By the time I reached Wail, he was out of sight so I more or less forgot about him. While approaching Dimboola, however, I saw him way off in the distance again. Unfortunately I had to stop for fuel at Dimboola, but was soon back out on the road again. Between Gerang Gerung and Kiata, I again came within sight of not one, but two sidecar outfits up in front! I couldn't resist! I opened the throttle just a tad higher, hoping to catch them up. By the time we passed through Nhill, I could see not two, but three sidecar outfits up front! Then I glanced in the rear-view mirror and there was another sidecar outfit behind me. Well before reaching Kaniva, I could see two outfits behind me and I had caught up with the three outfits in front. That made six sidecar outfits all in a straight line following each other along the same portion of road; my Triumph was number four. Now there were at that time, if I recall correctly, fewer than 600 sidecars registered in the entire State of Victoria. What the odds would be against six of those outfits becoming the six consecutive vehicles travelling along a lonely country road, when not one of us had planned to be travelling together, I cannot even hazard a guess. We all pulled up and stopped near Kaniva and had a bit of a chin-wag. All riders were headed to the Southern Cross Rally, and all decided that it was almost spooky to find six sidecars all travelling together in a line like that. After a short chin-wag, we all mounted our outfits again and headed off towards the South Australian border. As we were all choosing to travel at our own most comfortable pace, we never met again like that until we were all at the rally. I saw different members of the group again at various points along the way, but we never again formed up into a six-in-line formation. A strange incident to be remembering in such detail after all these years, but it was certainly an unforgettable incident of my motorcycling carrer.
Piston broke at Horsham! On the way home from the Southern Cross Rally, somewhere near Horsham, there was an explosive Bang from the engine and the bike went into an instant skid with the back wheel locked up. I pulled the clutch and rolled to a silent halt. Who should be coming along the road at that very moment but Alwyn Sobey my friend of many years from my Ballarat Rovers Motor Cycle Club days who, although we were not riding together, nor had we planned to be in the same part of the country at the same time, just happened to be right behind me on his BMW Steib outfit. He pulled up and got out a tow rope and towed me all the way to Ballarat. There we put the bike in for repairs while I stayed at Sobe's place. It turned out that the cap had broken off the left piston at the top ring land and that as the piston went down in the cylinder, the broken top flipped onto its side, so that as the piston rose on its next revolution it hit the piston cap and stopped dead, bending the connecting rod and the crankshaft. If I remember correctly, I borrowed somebody else's bike for a week and came back to Ballarat a week later to pick up my outfit with its newly-rebuilt engine. I seem to remember that it was only a short time after that, that the Triumph developed further engine trouble. I had to admit that my dad was right ... that the Trumpy was keeping me poor because it just wasn't a good enough bike to pull a sidecar all the time. I started to think I wanted a trouble-free Japanese bike again.
Negotiating for the Suzuki-Watsonian outfit ... Now at the Southern Cross Rally I had seen a very impressive 196cc Suzuki two-stroke twin fitted with a Watsonian Bambini sidecar. It was a demonstration model owned by one of the motorbike shops in downtown Adelaide. It seemed to be beautifully balanced, definitely looked appealing, and being a simple two-stroke, it should be a much more reliable sidecar bike than the Triumph. I commenced negotiations by letter and phone with the shop in Adelaide. Yes, the bike was for sale. Yes, I could get a good discount because it had been used as a demo model. No, they definitely would not accept a Triumph outfit or solo as a trade in. They would accept any Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, or Yamaha solo bike as a trade in. I didn't have one of those... But the Triumph was going to have to go. The Dusting was removed and fitted to a Harley.
Now I promised above, to talk about the most memorable of the temporary borrowed bikes that I used while the Triumph was in being repaired. On one of these occasions Noel Einsiedel loaned me a 250cc Yamaha twin of mid fifties vintage. Its engine number commenced with "D1-" which means it was manufactured in 1957. It had leading link front forks with some sort of Harley-like undamped springing system hidden behind pressed steel shrouds. On Yamaha bikes of that era, the change to telescopic forks had not yet arrived. It had a 1930's-style pressed steel chassis to which everything else was bolted. The gearbox was cast in one piece with the crankcase, so it was "modern" in some aspects, but very "vintage" in others. Noel warned me that the bike had a dicey gear change and if the gears broke, don't worry about it "You'll figure out how to ride it anyway!" Well, the gear selectors did fail, and the gear-change shaft broke right off at the engine casing, so I threw the gear lever and broken piece of shaft into the pannier bag, pulled off the side of the gearbox and manipulated the gears into Third Gear, and put it all back together again. Either just before or just after the gear change failure, the kick starter also broke and was also placed in the pannier so it could be taken back to Noel. Thus it was that I found myself the rider of a single-speed bump-start Yamaha. The badge on the tank read "Yamaha ... since 1887" wrapped around a symbol of three crossed tuning forks. As I bump started it, it felt more like riding an 1880's model than a 1950's model! This bike had a quadrant-mounted ignition advance-retard lever mounted on the left handlebar. That lever was essential during the following weeks as I travelled the steep and winding mountain roads with only a single-speed gearbox. There was nowhere I couldn't take that bike even though I only had third gear. By correctly adjusting the ignition timing on the fly I was able to operate that two-stroke at what must have been the lowest engine speed I think I ever heard a two-stroke engine operating at. As its compression ratio would have been only about 5:1, it was a very flexible if not very powerful engine.
Now as the owner of a Harley that was gradually getting worked on occasionally, it became generally known around the district that I was interested in Harley motorbikes. One day somebody told me that there were rumours that somewhere up around Thorpdale-Gormandale area, a Harley had been hidden in a farmer's shed so that it would not be commandeered for use by the army during the Second World War. I tracked down those rumours over the months until I had figured out what farm the bike was supposed to be on. The bloke who owned the farm at that time had been told about the bike when he had bought the farm, but since the blokes that hid the bike had both been killed in the War, nobody now knew where they had hidden the bike. I asked for and received his permission to look around and my practiced surveyor's eye noticed what nobody else had seen ... there was a wall in between two sheds that faced in opposite directions and both sides of the wall had the planks nailed on that side ... that is, there was no "front" and "back" side to this wall, both sides were the "front" side. As I looked at the sheds on both sides I realised that the wall must have been about 50 to 60 centimetres thick. I asked permission to remove the planking from the wall, and voila! there stood the Harley, all nicely greased and oiled and with the handlebars removed so that the hiding space could be much narrower. I paid the farmer for it, fixed the handlebars in the correct position, cleaned it up, pumped oil into the crankcase using the tank-mounted hand-operated oil pump, pumped up the tyres and put my trail-bike 6-volt battery in place of the huge Harley battery. Checked the spark plugs ... good spark! Put a cupful or two of petrol in the tank and cranked the motor to draw in petrol. Turned on the ignition switch and kicked the motor slowly over to get everything lined up right for the good kick. It never needed the second kick! The motor sprang to life on the first preparatory kick.
I rode it from Gormandale directly to the police station where it passed inspection and was registered that very same day. The registration number was GG-008. I rode it to Bairnsdale to visit my folks. Not a problem. It was an almost brand-new bike even though it was more than three decades old. I fitted the Dusting sidecar to it and it gave me many, many trouble-free miles. It was my second bike for many years.
Now 1936 Harleys were blessed with two twist-grip controls. The one on the right hand handlebar worked the throttle just like any other bike. The one on the left hand handlebar worked the ignition advance and retard system. If you got the engine revved up and rolling along pretty well, closed the throttle and immediately retarded the ignition, the result was an incredible string of backfires through the exhaust system. I don't know how good it was for the engine, but I sure loved the noise it made! The Coach Road hill above the town of Yallourn was on the short-cut between Newborough and Yallourn. It was a steep hill and just seemed to be begging me to do the closed throttle and retarded ignition trick. One night I did it and the police were called by worried residents to investigate a supposed shooting match going on between gangs somewhere in the bush up the Coach Road Hill. I read in the paper that the police couldn't find a trace of these supposed gang members. Next week, while riding back from Newborough, I just couldn't resist the temptation, so I did it again. Again the police were called out. As I realised that policemen no longer seemed to be as forgiving as they had been in "the old days", I decided not to push my luck by doing it any more.
The Gippsland Historical Automobile Club was founded in 1968 and was open to membership for any people owning or interested in Veteran, Vintage, or Classic motor vehicles. A Veteran vehicle was any motor vehicle manufactured prior to 1919, a Vintage vehicle was any motor vehicle manufactured from 1919 to 1930, and a Classic vehicle was any motor vehicle manufactured from 1931 until 25 years before the current date. There was much discussion about whether there ought to be a cut-off date for Classic vehicles at the end of 1942. The GHAC was a very new organisation only a few months old when I joined it in the 1960's although I was not a foundation member. My 1936 Harley-Davidson motorcycles qualified me to be a member, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship and camaraderie as we all helped each other with our elderly vehicles.
The Morwell Motorcycle Club was primarily interested in racing: scrambles (motocrosse), flat-track, speedway, grass-track, road racing. I joined in about 1969 and took part in various events until about 1973. More below to be added later.
I rode my Triumph in solo trim (that is, without a sidecar) to Geelong and traded it in
on a second-hand single cylinder Japanese bike. I think it was a Kawasaki, Suzuki or
Honda of about 125cc. I can't remember: it's sole purpose was to transport me to
Adelaide where it was to be traded in on the Suzuki-Watsonian outfit which I mentioned
above. I remember the long slow ride to Adelaide the most memorable part of which
was looking in my rear-view mirror and seeing that there was a comet behind me. I
stopped the bike and stood there by the roadside in the pre-dawn early morning and stared
at the beautiful sight of a bright comet in the Eastern sky standing on its head which
pointed towards the sun which was still well below the horizon.
Re-wiring the sidecar: The wiring of the sidecar looked kind of ugly when I got it home: wires were kind of festooned everywhere and fixed in some places with a motley assortment of metal and plastic clips, in other places with yellow plastic tape. My inventor's mind became very active. I looked over the design of the sidecar and decided that I could design the perfect wiring loom. After a few careful measurements I went to Coles and purchased an ordinary household three pin 240 volts AC extension cord and promptly cut it in half. I removed the sidecar from the bike, poked some fencing wire through the sidecar mounting chassis under the bike and then pulled half of the household extension cord through the chassis so that the female socket end was flush with where the sidecar would be mounted back on, but inside its main tube. I removed the body from the sidecar and pulled the other half of the extension lead all the way through the sidecar chassis until the end of the cord came out of the topmost tube of the sidecar's suspension mounting where it would be absolutely hidden from sight inside the sidecar mudguard. At this stage the male three-pin plug of the cord was flush with the mounting point where the sidecar would mount to the bike but completely inside its main tube. I stripped a lot of parts off the bike and ran the extension cord up the inside the frame fastening it in the same clamps as the original Suzuki wiring loom. Where it passed the battery case I made a tiny incision in the outer rubber covering of the cord and pulled out a loop of the green earth wire from inside the cord. I bared a little of the cable, soldered on a round terminal and fastened it to the main earth mounting point beside the battery. The rest of the cord was fastened totally out of sight following the clamps holding the Suzuki wiring loom to the tail-light mounting area where all of the existing wiring was joined with male and female brass connectors under the cover near the taillight. I soldered one male and one female connector to the end of each wire of the cord and inserted them between the connectors to the taillight and the left turning indicator of the bike. I left the left turning indicator disconnected. Thus the whole of the wiring on the bike was invisible. When I fitted the sidecar back to the bike I simply pushed the three-pin plug into the three-pin socket and both were immediately swallowed up inside the tubular mounting hardware. On the sidecar, I removed the upholstery and did a very neat wiring job from the front and rear turning indicators and the running light and the tail light all hidden from sight behind the upholstery and passing through a tiny hole in the body to the inside of the sidecar mudguard. Inside the mudguard, I soldered brass connectors so that the body could easily be removed from the sidecar if required at a later date. At rallies I was asked dozens of times, "How does your sidecar lighting work? ... there is no wiring for it!" I lost count of the number of times that I had to describe my invention. It was always so thrilling after I looked at all the other beautiful sidecar outfits at various bike rallies with their beauty marred by the legally required but very ugly wiring harness to then look back at the Suzuki which had not a wire in sight.
My first Sidecar Bingle: One day I was riding through one of
Melbourne's Eastern suburbs on the Suzuki-Watsonian with my sister Julie in the sidecar.
We were searching for a street which should have come up soon on the right hand
side. Street signs were often missing, or bent or rusty and were therefore often
difficult or impossible to read. What I should have done was pull over to the side
of the road, identify a side street, get the Melways directory from Julie and count the
number of streets to the one we were looking for. But it is always easy to be wise
after the event. While trying to make out a street name on a rusty sign, I was
distracted from watching the road ahead. I looked back at the road and there, right
in front of me, was a stationary car that had pulled into the centre of the road ready to
make a right hand turn. I applied both brakes hard, but a sidecar outfit has a much
longer stopping distance than a solo bike and I quickly realised that I wasn't going to
make it. In retrospect I realise that I should have not braked at all, but wrenched
the handlebars hard left and then hard right and I would probably have missed the car
altogether. But as it was, while I lost most of my speed, finally I hit the rear of
the car with sufficient speed to send me straight up over the handlebars and I landed on
the roadway beside the car. As I did the "Commando Roll" I had been taught
while training for the Ballarat Rovers Stunt Team years earlier, I was uninjured; not even
a scratch. My Sister, Julie was also almost uninjured, having slid right down into
the nose of the sidecar feet first. If I remember it correctly, she had been wearing open
sandals and received a small scratch on one toe. It was a small enough injury to be
"fixed" by wrapping her hanky around it. The sidecar had dived in under
the rear of the car and both the nose and the windscreen mounting were fractured.
The front fork tubes were okay but had twisted slightly in the triple clamps so that the
handlebars pointed one way while the front wheel of the bike pointed another.
The Speed Test: Near home, they were building a new freeway. The road was completed but not yet opened. It was a dead straight downhill run of several kilometres. There was a tail wind blowing. There was enough room to get a little motorbike and sidecar around the barricades and up onto the freeway. It was irresistable. Next day I had taped a stopwatch to the handlebars. After a careful look around for any sign of police cars, I sneaked around the barricades and up onto the freeway. I tucked my head down as low as it would go and lay down with my belly on the tank. I wrapped it on and got that little 196cc engine going like it had never gone before. I watched the speedo ... 80, 90, 100, ... it just kept going. Then I noticed that the rev counter was reading "Made in Japan" so I thought I ought to slow down a little! I cannot now remember the measured speed I did, but it was written up in Two Wheels magazine in late 1972 or early 1973, if anyone still has a copy.
I rode that little outfit a great many miles, but I had a tendency to thrash the guts out of it. It was never run without the sidecar and it would spin up to high speeds, so as I was riding long distances I tended to run it at high speeds. I used to ride the Harley outfit quite a lot during those years as well, but I kind of wanted to keep the Harley for later, so the poor little Suzuki was mercilessly thrashed. It was a very light bike and I was a very heavy man, so its suspension wasn't really good enough for the job - especially when I carried passengers in the sidecar. The bike was designed as a short trip around town commuter bike, not to do interstate trips hauling a sidecar. The seat was designed to just get you from home to work, and by the time I had been travelling for five or six hours at a stretch, my bottom was very sore. My father had taught me that it was always more interesting to get off the beaten track instead of sticking to the main highways. However the soft suspension on the little Suzuki would often bottom out while riding on rough gravel roads.
I developed more and more of an interest in trail riding, but I didn't have a trail bike. Lots of the fellows I met around town came back from their trail rides with glowing reports of all the wonderful scenery thay had travelled through. School teachers are not made of money and I really couldn't afford to keep three bikes registered and on the road, so if I wanted a trail bike then the Suzuki would have to go. I bought a second hand DT1 250cc 2-stroke single trail bike, registration number CT-519, and sold the Suzuki outfit for more than I had paid for it new, as it now had "rare bike" value being the only motorcycle of its type in Australia, as well as being fitted with the extremely rare Watsonian Bambini sidecar.
The photograph on the right shows a later model Yamaha 250cc single trail bike which was fairly similar to mine, but the one in the photograph belonged to somebody else. Mine had a right side hand gear change beside the fuel tank and had a wider and flatter luggage rack. My colour scheme was also quite different.
I took the Yamaha on a couple of trail rides, but it had something missing. I was certain that trail riding would be much more fun with a sidecar. A Tilbrook Tom Thumb was found and was fitted to the bike with the help of my friend Gary Dunn who had a whole workshop in his back shed at Churchill. The colour photo at right shows a front view of my outfit not long after someone had backed into it in a parking lot and put a ding in the nose of the sidecar.
The frosty bridge. One weekend on a very frosty morning about seven bikes were headed out from Moe to go for a trail ride. I had the sidecar on the DT1 so when I saw that the wooden-plank bridge had a thick coating of bright white frost I just kept right on going without even thinking of slowing down. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw all the solo bikes sliding in all directions. Not a one of them managed to stay upright! Fortunately, trail bikes are well-built and the riders wore thick protective clothing, so neither motorbikes nor riders were injured at all. This little incident reminded me again that the motorbike and sidecar is one of the safest vehicles on the road, especially when the road surface gets bad.
Mount Saint Gwinear. I'm not sure of the spelling of this mountain, but it was covered in snow during the winter when a group of us decided that we would try to reach the summit on our motorbikes. As we climbed the snow became deeper and deeper and I think all of the guys riding solo bikes fell off. I kept on plodding along with the sidecar until, quite suddenly, a massive snowball developed underneath the sidecar and lifted it. The outfit rolled over to the right and I fell off into a deep snowdrift. The throttle twistgrip was evidently jammed wide open as the motor was screaming. I turned off the ignition and the motor just kept screaming ... the spark plug and its coating of the products of combustion was so hot that it was acting as a glow plug - similar to those used in model aeroplane engines. I quickly threw the bike back onto its wheels and gripped the brakes to stall the engine. We made very slow progress as the snow became deeper and deeper. The vehicle furthest up the road was a four-wheel drive that had been abandoned totally bogged. The snow was up to its windows. I was able to get the Yamaha only two or three metres further than the four wheel drive before I decided it was no use going on. It was just too much work digging out mountains of snow. The biggest problem was the weight of the bike which caused the tyres to sink down deep into the snow. It was a day on which I wished the outfit had ultra-wide wheels. A year or two later I figured out how to solve this problem - see below. As the bike sank into the snow the floor of the sidecar would rest on the surface of the snow and the outfit would simply tip over. I think I rolled the outfit over more than a dozen times that morning before deciding that the only way to the summit would be to walk. A group of guys manhandled one of the solo bikes until it was a few metres further up the mountain than my sidecar just so I couldn't say that the sidecar could go where the solos couldn't. We all had a lot of fun sliding down the mountain on superphosphate bags for an hour or two; then we dug out our bikes and headed back down towards civilisation.
Crossing the billabong on a log. My family moved away from Morwell to Bairnsdale and I used to ride the outfit down there to visit them whenever there were no trail rides on. One day my brother Mick and I had the outfit down on the flats beside the Mitchell River doing some bush-bashing. We came across a grassy area bisected by a very long and narrow billabong. At one point there was a log across the billabong and it was obvious from the tracks through the grass that people were in the habit of using it as a bridge to cross the billabong and thus take a shortcut. I looked at it, walked back and forth across it and then announced to my brother that I was going to ride the motorbike and sidecar accross it. I pulled back a bit and built up a suitable amount of speed, swung sharply left to lift the sidecar high in the air and then, riding on two wheels at about a 45 degree angle I aimed the bike at the log. I drove across the billabong on the log in perfect safety. We decided this was worth recording, so Mick got the camera ready and I went back and did it again. When I was on the log about half-way across the billabong I lifted my left hand from the handlebar and gave a cheery wave. The resulting photo showed the outfit halfway across the billabong, sidecar high in the air, and me waving away as though I did this every day of the week. That photo eventually ended up in one of the motorcycle magazines of those days ... perhaps it was the "Green Horror" (Australian Motorcycle News) or maybe Two Wheels magazine. Unfortunately I do not have a copy of it any more.
I did not own this bike, but assisted its owner Gary Dunn in its restoration. I got to ride it a number of times while Gary was waiting to get his motorbike licence so that he could ride it. In the photo at right the Harley had been restored but its sidecar was not yet fitted. Other bikes in the picture are a red Honda 90cc and my Yamaha DT1 250cc single before its sidecar had been fitted. The blue Harley was certainly a head-turner wherever it went. While the engine was running, the pushrods would be reciprocating up and down beside the cylinders and you could watch the rockers rocking and see the valve springs compressing as the inlet valves were operating. It took me back to the dozens of similar Harleys that made virtually all household deliveries when I was a kid. The term "F-Head" means that the inlet valve for each cylinder was placed exactly above the exhaust valve and both valves were offset to the side of the cylinder. So the exhaust valve was a "side-valve" and the inlet valve was more or less an "overhead valve". The engine ran very efficiently and well, but maintenance was much more time-consuming than on the side-valve engines that later replaced them. Before riding the Harley, at least once a week, it was necessary to use a grease gun to grease the nipples on the valve rocker arms. In fact there were grease nipples all over the bike that had to be regularly attended to. The brakes on this bike were of special interest. There was no braking on the front wheel or the sidecar wheel at all. On the back wheel there was a narow drum about 25mm wide which had two brakes working on it. There were two brake pedals, one under the toe of your right boot near the front of the right footboard and a second one to be operated by your right heel at the rear of the right footboard. The front footbrake operated an external contracting brake band which was around the outside of the drum, while the other rear brake pedal operated an internally expanding set of brake shoes which were inside the drum. Actually, I cannot remember which pedal operated which brake, but one certainly worked on each. The clutch was operated by the left foot and the gear shift was operated by the left hand. Thus this bike had very clean looking handlebars with no levers on them at all. The right hand twist grip operated the throttle and was the only control on the right handlebar. The left hand twist grip operated the ignition timing which was advanced or retarded manually by twisting the twist-grip as required. The other control on the left handlebar was the horn button which operated a significantly loud and commanding horn which was fitted below the headlight on the front forks. If I recall correctly, I think we added a suitably aged looking headlamp dipper switch to the right handlebar and did the required re-wiring to fit a dual-filament bulb inside the original headlamp as I am pretty sure there was not any provision for dipping the headlamp when we bought the bike. The "tank" was actually three separate tanks with three separate filling caps. The left front cap filled the oil tank. Lubrication was a total loss affair with a gear-operated external oil pump fitted to the right hand side of the engine - it is clearly visible in the photo. The hand-operated oil pump on the top of the tank was for use under heavy going if the engine overheated, or when putting the engine back into service after a long period of inactivity. The second filler cap on the left side of the tank filled a small "reserve" petrol tank. The main petrol tank was filled through the filler on the right.
For many years, the fast wearing of the final drive chain had been a real nuisance for
me on all of the sidecar bikes I rode. I often longed for a shaft drive but BMWs
were too expensive for a bloke like me who kept spending his money on all sorts of
different motorbikes on a very regular basis. Several times I looked at the Russian
M-series bikes ... shaft drive boxer twins of varoius capacities which were advertised as
"One dollar per cc", thus a 500cc version was $500 and a 650cc version was $650
and so on. The trouble was that no matter who I asked, I always got the same
response: "They will break down all the time and you will never get parts for
them." So I didn't purchase one, although I rode several of them on test rides
at different times over the years.
I had every intention of fitting a sidecar to it, but I wanted the sidecar to be a new one. At that time there were two sidecar manufacturers that I was aware of: Baja Sidecars who were North of Albury if I recall correctly, and Twin-G Sidecars who were somewhere in a suburb East of Melbourne. I think Murphy sidecars were also being made in Sydney's Western Suburbs, but I didn't like the shape of them. I considered both the Baja and the Twin-G and decided on the Twin-G because of its better aerodynamic design. The Baja was a wedge shape with a tall cut-off vertical rear wall; I decided that its shape would create a great deal more drag than the more streamlined-looking Twin-G. There was a problem ... if I ordered a Twin-G, it would be several months before I worked my way gradually up the waiting list and eventually got my ordered machine. The guy hand made them one at a time and had a severe backlog of orders. For a while I decided to enjoy riding it solo and did not immediately order my Twin-G.
The Moto Guzzi was an ideal touring machine: very comfortable, plenty of power,
very wide power range, lots of room for luggage (especially with the Craven carrier and
panniers), and it just had the feeling that you could ride on it for ever and thoroughly
enjoy it. I went to a couple of Rallies and on a few other camping trips with
it. I remember going to a rally held in the Warrumbungle Ranges National Park where
the road in was an extremely rough clay road with boulders all over it and erosion ruts a
foot (30 cm) deep. I thought to myself that this road would really suit my Yamaha
trail bike better. But the big heavy Guzzi took it all in its stride and I never fell off,
even though I did not have a sidecar. Many other touring bikes were seen lying on
their sides on the road where their owners had been bucked off by the horrific road
The farm bike competition. One weekend there was an advertised
farm bike competition being held. I am not sure of the venue, but I think it might
have been at Gelantipy.
I rode up there for the day intending to be a spectator and enjoy the competition.
As I waited for things to start, it turned out that very few farm bikes had actually
arrived for the competition. One of the organisers approached me and asked me to
join the competition on my Moto Guzzi 850cc V-twin. Now Agricultural motor cycles
are light, small machines specifically designed for the kind of skills that were needed
for this competition. My Guzzi on the other hand was a heavyweight long-distance
touring bike with not much ground clearance, a huge pair of fibre-glass Craven Dolomite
panniers, an enormous handlebar-mounted touring fairing and windscreen, and so on ... a
far cry from a farm bike! I was encouraged to enter so I shrugged my shoulders and
thought it would be fun trying, but not thinking I had a chance of completing the
When one is a qualified teacher, it is necessary throughout your teaching career to
continually update your qualifications. To do this you attend courses of lectures
held after school hours at various venues around the district. In March 1973 I
happened to be attending a series of lectures held at the Grey Street Primary School in
Traralgon. On the 21st of March, at the end of the lecture, I placed my books in
the left pannier of my Moto Guzzi 850 and started to travel towards home along Church
Street. I stopped at Kay Street to look for traffic coming from the right; there
was nothing coming, so I crossed the first carriageway of Kay Street and glanced briefly
to the left before crossing the second carriageway; I noticed the lights of a car
approaching but it was still quite some distance away and was required by law to give way
to all traffic on its right, which included me. As I crossed the second carriageway,
still in first gear, I suddenly noticed that the car to my left was very much closer than
I had supposed and that it was in fact travelling at an extremely high speed ... and I was
already right in front of it!
Modifying Bikes to Ride While Crippled: During the months
that I was on crutches, in between my visits to hospital for more and more operations, I
regularly rode two bikes: my Yamaha 250cc DT1 with Tilbrook Sidecar and my 1936 Harley
Davidson with Dusting sidecar. The first of these to be modified was the
Yamaha. The DT1 was made with the gear shifter shaft extending through BOTH sides of
the gearbox with a kind of plastic cap pressed on over the right hand end of the
shaft. Normally, of course, the Yamaha, like any Japanese bike, had its gear change
lever on the left side end of this shaft and it was operated by the rider's left foot.
Now I found myself with my left leg encased in plaster and no possibility at all of
operating the gear change with my foot. I got a second-hand gear lever, cut the
pedal off it, and welded on a length of straight chrome-plated pipe. I neatly fitted
a rubber bicycle handlebar grip over the end of the pipe and fastened it to the right hand
end of the gear shifter shaft. People would really take a second look when they
would see me changing gears with a lever beside the right-hand side of my tank.
Meanwhile the Moto Guzzi on which I had been riding on the night that began to change my life was sitting in a corner of the workshop behind Noel Einsiedel's shop. It was apparently extremely difficult in those days to get spare parts for it. Month after month after month it just sat there. Eventually Noel bought it from me, so I don't know whether or not it was ever repaired.
One Sunday at evening service at St Luke's Methodist Church in Morwell a visiting
preacher spoke on Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for
ever." and made the claim that there was no miracle recorded in the Bible anywhere
between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:20 that God could not do again today if the occasion
called for it.
In the section above titled "The night that changed my life" I mentioned how,
while I was in the Hospital in Traralgon, that I had come to a full belief in the Lord
Jesus Christ. The nursing sister in charge of the Orthopædic ward for one shift of
most days was Sister Petrovich. She seemed to be the only one who really understood
why I was going around the ward madly trying to tell everybody about Jesus. A day or
so after my life changing experience, she asked me whether she could ask her husband and
his friends to come and visit me in hospital. Now hospital can be a pretty boring
place when your nearest relatives live eighty miles away, so I responded, "Sure, why
One of the really fun times we had with Christ's Crusaders, was the night we decided to
"raid" the Satan's Cavalry meeting which was being held at their "secret
hideout." It came about like this. Years earlier, my family had rented a
farmhouse on River Road at Tyers as our family home from one Mr George Baillie. Our
family had moved away from there in 1965. One day I met George Baillie while he was
delivering eggs and decided to stop for a talk. He mentioned that he was now renting
his house to "some of your mates." It turned out that he meant by this
that a motorcycle club had rented the house in order to hold their meetings there.
The club turned out to be Satan's Cavalry. Completely oblivious to the fact that the
club's meeting place was supposed to be a closely guarded secret, George went on to
explain exactly which days each week that they met there and at which times.
Now back to discussing my series of Yamaha trail bikes with sidecars:
I rode that DT1 outfit around for a while, but it was definitely slow on a long trip. Now the Yamaha RT1 used the same frame as the DT1, but had a 360cc motor instead of the 250cc of the DT1. I began to watch the papers for a second-hand RT1 to come up for sale. It turned up soon enough.
197?: The Yamaha RT1 360cc 2stroke single with Tilbrook Tom Thumb sidecar and sometimes with motocross sidecar.
I bought the RT1 near Warragul and moved the sidecar from the DT1 to the RT1 at the place where I bought it. I also swapped the tanks and the sidecovers since the sidecar had been painted a bright red to exactly match the DT1. I also swapped the hand gear change from the right side of the tank on the DT1 to the left side of the tank on the RT1. Thus it was that I became the owner of a machine that was labelled all over as having a 250cc motor whereas in reality, it had a 360cc motor. Now if someone had given me $100 for every time somebody asked me "How the hell do you get that 250 to pull a sidecar at that speed?" I would have been rich enough to have retired years ago! I once even had the speed verified by the police!
The speed test. One morning at approximately 04:00 am I was heading
out Dandenong Road on my way to Morwell. Now this part of Dandenong Road had three
or four lanes in each direction and fairly decent service roads on both sides. And
all of these acres of roadway were absolutely empty. I had been wondering for a
while what speed my new outfit could go. There was a tail wind. Now I knew
perfectly well that the speed limit on this freeway-style stretch of road was 35 miles per
hour. But there was absolutely nobody about, so what the heck ... wrap it on and
giver her a real fistfull! I noticed the speedometer passing 75mph and still
climbing. I was thoroughly enjoying it! Suddenly, I noticed two rubber cords
accross the road ... an amphometer! In those days the amphometer was the preferred
device used by the gentlemen of the constabulary to raise donations to the state
governments coffers from drivers who were not taking sufficient time to get to the places
to which they were going. Now one of these said gentlemen appeared like a mirage
from behind a clump of bushes and energetically signalled that he was extremely interested
in having a conversation with me at that very moment. So what could I do? I
closed the throttle, applied both brakes crossed about three lanes and pulled up right
beside him. He shone his torch all over my bike, and I was expecting him to start
telling me off for doing 75mph in a 35mph zone and start writing out a ticket.
Instead he just looked quite shocked. When he finally opened his mouth to speak, he
only uttered one word, "Sh*t!"
The first motor vehicle Crossing of the Alps from Seldom Seen to Dargo.
During school holidays, I would spend quite a lot of time at my parents' home in
Bairnsdale and I would hang out with members of the Bairnsdale Motorcycle Club. One
weekend somebody proposed attempting to ride an old pack-horse trail that had been used in
the mid-nineteenth-century gold rush days to bring gold out of Dargo, but had been
abandoned since the 1870's. We had a map upon which someone had marked the trail.
We decided to do it from the Seldom Seen end and emerge back into civilisation at
Dargo. Seldom Seen was the name of a small settlement in the Alps near Bullumwaal.
When I said that I was looking forward to the weekend, I was told by several that
such a trail would be impossible for a motorbike and sidecar ... that they did not even
know whether solo trail bikes could get through. The word "impossible" was
like a magnet to me. Now I had to go.
Setting up for scrambling.
Now, as I mentioned above, I was a member of the Morwell Motorcycle Club and I still had my ACU Competition Licence and the club was very much into Scramble racing (the present day term is "Motocross Racing" but the term "motocross" was not yet then in general use ... the "Motocrosse Championship" [not a typo ... it was then spelt with a final "e"] at that time referred to a specific group of scramble championships held at various countries in Europe, and the annual winner on aggregate points of this series of championships was referred to as the "Motocrosse Champion").
Before I owned my own DT1, I occasionally borrowed other bikes and raced them in scrambles at some of the club meetings. After I bought my DT1, I would take off the sidecar, remove the mirrors and lights, add competition number plates, and take part in scrambles racing. When I replaced the DT1 with the RT1, I continued this practice. Somebody, I think it might have been Noel Einsiedel, challenged me one day: "Why don't you go in the sidecar competitions ... there are not enough sidecars racing in Gippsland." I promptly searched around and found a lightweight scrambles sidecar for sale at a very cheap price. I fitted it to the RT1 with Gary Dunn's able assistance and was ready for the next race meeting. Just for fun I added a sidecar clearance lamp and tail-light which clamped onto one of the grab bars and rode the racing rig on the road as a highly unusual looking but perfectly legal road-going outfit. From then on, the Tilbrook and the scrambles chair would alternate on the side of my RT1. The children attending the school where I was a teacher were amazed at the procession of bikes I rode to school and when I arrived in full racing trim complete with competition number plates, they reckoned that was really cool! The picture at right shows the bike in scrambles trim jacked up on a lump of firewood during routine maintenance.
Now I can't go on and describe specific race meetings and incidents until I describe the competition that then rode sidecars in scramble races. For the 500cc races, there was an Ariel 500 single, and onother British 500cc single. The majority of bikes racing for Senior races were 1200cc and 1300cc Indian and Harley-Davidson machines. In addition to those there was at least one Honda 750cc four-cylinder machine, one Suzuki 750cc three-cylinder "Water Bottle" (so-called because it had a liquid-cooled engine when every bike except for a few Scotts and Velocettes was air-cooled) and one professionally=built WASP scrambles outfit with a Yamaha 650 four-stroke engine. Now this meant that in the Senior races (where engine size was unlimited) my little single-cylinder 360cc two-stroke bike had less than half the engine size of any of my competitors. This would mean that winning any of the races would be impossible, right? ... Wrong!
1972: The Gippsland Senior Sidecar Scramble Championship. In
the scramble season of 1972 I used two guys as my passenger: Gary Crookes and Paul
vanRossum. The last major scramble meeting of the season was the Gippsland Scramble
Championships that were to be held on a track that was not far from Morwell;
somewhere on the way to Mirboo North if my memory serves me correctly. I went out
and looked at the track and noted that at one point there were two quite high jumps in a
line straight after each other. My surveyor's mind got to work and I figured that if
I hit the first jump at exactly 73 mph, then I would land exactly on the top of the second
jump and that I would be almost 30 feet above the ground half-way between them. I
discussed the idea with Paul and he said, "Well, why not give it a try?"
Bike over Sidecar on the Flat Track. Every so often we would go and race in the Flat-track racing at Sale under the floodlights at the showgrounds. Flat-track racing was done on a flat and slippery green grass circuit which, unlike grass-track racing, had bends in both directions. At one of these evening meetings, my sidecar passenger was Gary Crookes. I was a little slow at the start of the sidecar race and had to go very fast to pass most of the field before arriving at a shap bend going just too fast to be able to get around it so we spun out. Left behind again, I had to make up for lost time and passed most of the field and then spun out on another bend. A third time I passed most of the field and the next bend was a right hander. Now I am not certain exactly what happened next, but I think Gary thought we were arriving at a left hander and threw his weight to the sidecar side instead of leaning over the back seat. Anyway, however it happened, in the twinkling of an eye, that outfit was upside down and I was catapaulted along the grass on the oval. I picked myself up completely uninjured, thanks to my training in how to fall received at the BRMCC Stunt Team years earlier, and ran back to the bike. I looked everywhere ... where was Gary? I suddenly realised that if he wasn't any place else, then he must be trapped underneath the outfit. The next thing that happened was one of the strangest things that ever happened to me. I am not normally that strong a person and a motorcycle and sidecar is not that light a vehicle, but with only my left hand I grabbed the rear tray rail of the sidecar and just lifted the entire vehicle as though it were a balsa wood model and threw it over upright onto its wheels. No one helped me do it and I only used one hand. A week later I tried to simulate this incident by a few of us deliberately tipping the vehicle upside down and then having me try to lift it with one hand. It was simply not possible. I was eventually able to turn the vehicle upright myself but only with an extreme amount of effort, using two hands and by using the extra leverage of lifting it by the outrigger grab rails on the outboard side of the sidecar mudguard. There was no way I could do it in the manner everybody watched me do it under the floodlights in the middle of the Sale Showgrounds. I can only assume that at that moment the Lord knew I needed to move the vehicle to save Gary and either gave me an incredible burst of supernatural strength or assisted me by sending invisible angels to help. I really don't know what happened, but anyhow Gary was very relieved to be released from where he had been trapped under the overturned vehicle. Fortunately, he was also totally uninjured. We started the engine and rode back to the pits ... there was no point in trying to win from so far behind and we were both quite shaken by our experience. This was the only time in my life that I had rolled an outfit bike over sidecar. It is quite a rare occurrence.
From Mount Saint Bernard to Mother Johnson's in twenty feet of snow on the
Yamaha-Tilbrook outfit In the section titled "Mount Saint Gwinear",
above, it was plain that a Yamaha sidecar outfit could not handle snow very well. I was
telling somebody about this and they recommended that I fit several rim clamp bolts to
each wheel and let the tyres almost completely down if I ever wanted to ride on top of
deep snow. I therefore drilled my rims and fitted clamps in case one day I should
find myself faced with deep snow.
Gearbox bearing replacement.
Because the RT1 had never been designed to haul a sidecar everywhere it went, and
because the gearbox had been designed for a 250cc engine but was handling a 360cc engine,
the bearing which held the mainshaft where the final drive sprocket was fitted just wasn't
strong enough to distribute all that load. This bearing was exactly the same
dimensions as a Holden generator bearing, so I regularly bought spare bearings several at
a time and always carried them with me in the sidecar. Usually, when the bearing
would fail, I would be close enough to home to ride slowly home and replace it in the
comfort of my own workshop. Another item which I always carried in the sidecar was a
plastic bottle of gearbox oil. I also owned a full set of genuine Yamaha workshop
tools, which contained all of the pullers and special tools necessary to dismantle every
part of the bike down to its individual components and reassemble it. This equipment
also usually lived in the sidecar.
While in Adelaide for one of the Southern Cross Motorcycle Rallies, I have forgotten which year, I was made aware of a 1300cc motorcycle and sidecar which was stored in a shed in a yard at Mount Barker. I went to have a look at it, and it was the same model as the two Harleys which I already owned. The owner only wanted $60 for it, if I recall correctly, so I paid him then and there on the spot and drove all the way back the following weekend with my brother Mick in his Falcon towing a fairly large trailer. We loaded the Harley and took it home to the Garage I was then renting in Yallourn. I dismantled it so that it would take up less room in the shed. At one stage I think I had a maximum of five motorbikes and seven sidecars stored in that single-car garage. My third Harley was kept only as a source of parts for the others and was never rebuilt. When I eventually sold my main Harley, I sold all the Harley parts with it.
Later in the year 1973, or perhaps it was in 1974 - my memory again! - I went to court where I was awarded damages resulting from my crash on the night that changed my life. Well my Moto Guzzi was still awaiting repairs and it became clear that it would probably never actually get repaired, so Noel Einsiedel offered to buy the wreck from me. I accepted his offer and had plenty of money to order a new Moto Guzzi 850 Californian and DJP sidecar. Apart from the Guzzi and the sidecar, some interesting extras that were fitted were a pair of white Craven Dolomite fibreglass panniers with the original Craven luggage rack, and a canvas lap rug. In the black and white photograph, you can see the chest flap of the lap rug in place covering the enormous single saddle of the bike. Behind the seat you can see the black horizontal bars of the enormous Craven luggage rack. For those who may not remember lap rugs, they were one of the best inventions for riding motorbikes in the wet. They covered the whole front of the rider right up to the neck. the rug was fastened around the bike between the fuel tank and the front of the seat. The side parts were fastened to the frame so that the lower portion was wrapped around the toes of your boots. Side flaps wrapped around your lower and upper legs and were tucked under your bottom while riding. The top half of the rug was held against your chest by wind pressure while riding. Thus, the only parts that could get wet were your arms and your neck and head. When you were not riding and the bike was parked, the chest flap covered the saddle to keep it dry.
The Californian was basically the same model as my previous Guzzi having the same frame, engine and running gear. Important differences were footboards similar to those used on Indians and Harleys, an enormous single saddle which was copied from the Harley's so-called "Buddy Seat", and a very large clear perspex windshield. With the windshield, the lap rug and the removable hood of the sidecar, the Californian was probably the best bike I ever had for riding with two people in heavy rain.
I enjoyed riding that bike for several years.
Now until the 8th February 1976, I had been a single man. But that status changed when Wendy Eades came into my life, we quickly got to know each other really well, I decided I couldn't think of anyone else that I had ever met that I would rather be married to (I am still of the same oppinion now in 2005), and to cut a long story short, Wendy Eades became Wendy Smith on that Sunday afternoon in February 1976. In planning for our honeymoon, we decided to go for a holiday using the sidecar outfit. Some friends from a different church offered us free use of a farmhouse at Briagolong for a week. A few days before the wedding, we hid the outfit in the garage of an elderly widow from yet another church, so none of our friends or enemies knew where it was to be able to "get at it" during the wedding. The wedding was quite an occasion with around 350 or 400 people at the reception. It was a very hot day. After the reception in the evening, somebody drove us around to where we had hidden the bike and we set off for Briagolong in the cool of the evening. For most of the week we hardly started the bike, after all the focus on a honeymoon is not supposed to be on the bike! However one day we left at first light and drove up through Dargo into the Alps via Mt Saint Bernard, Hotham, Mother Johnsons, Omeo, Swifts Creek and Bairnsdale, eventually getting back to the farmhouse well after dark. Our week away passed all too quickly, and then it was back to Morwell and then on to Melbourne where we began married life in the suburb of Kew.
The picture at right is not my bike but is identical in colour and details. In 1975, Honda produced their first flat-four shaft drive Gold Wing motorcycle. It looked and sounded beautiful and I wanted one. But my Guzzi Californian was only a couple of years old and I had looked on that as a bike I might use "for the rest of my life". So for a year or so I kept using the Guzzi. But it was amazing how soon little minor annoyances about imperfect details on the Guzzi began to magnify themselves in my mind so that I began to lie to myself: "You can't really fix such-and-such a problem on the Guzzi, you will just have to buy a Gold Wing to replace it." Its amazing how twisted your mind can become when you are lusting after the latest motorbike. Now as a Christian, I knew that lust was wrong. ... But then a Gold Wing isn't another woman. In retrospect, from thirty years later, with the perfect 20-20 vision that only wisdom and hindsight can bring, I can see how the Guzzi would indeed have served me a great many years and I could have saved a lot of money by not buying the Gold Wing. However there was some annoying little problem on the Guzzi which I exaggerated to convince Wendy that we needed to purchase a new bike. So we did. And the Gold Wing caried us around for years. I cannot remember why we eventually sold it, but I remember that I was employed as the Dean of Vision College in Sydney at the time, so it must have been 1981 or 1982.
After we were married and I was studying for my degree in Theology, we were hearing a
lot about two churches in America where God appeared to be doing some very interesting and
exciting things. Wendy and I were eligible as full-time students, to get very cheap
tickets for flying to America, so we got passports and tickets and arrived at Melodyland
Christian Centre at 10 Freedman Way, Anaheim in California on 3rd January 1977. We
had nearly two months of Summer holidays (Summer in Australia, NOT Summer in America - see
below) to look at this church and the Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopal church at 4411
Dallas Street, South Houston in Texas. In California we briefly got to know Dean and
Linda Davis who hosted us for a few days while we looked at the church and the Melodyland
School of Theology. We then used a Greyhound bus to get to Houston and found our way
to the church where we were soon put up in one of their "community houses".
We had planned to purchase a cheap secondhand motorbike for transport to enable us
to see that corner of the US and decided after reading the "Two Wheels" Road Test that the
cheapest and most reliable would be a Honda CB350. We went to a motorbike shop and
bought a nice secondhand model with sufficient surface rust to lower the price tag without
being dangerous. Wendy christened her "Hilda the Honda". I
have just found this old photo of the Church of the Redeemer with me sitting on
"Hilda the Honda" out in front. The patch I am wearing on my back is that
of "Christ's Crusaders Motor Cycle Club" which was based in Morwell, Victoria,
Back in Australia it was back to full-time study and a certain limited amount of travelling around on the Gold-Wing. But having seen Melodyland School of Theology, I wanted to attend it for a year. So I got permission to take a one year break for the whole of 1978 while I went there to study.
I arrived in Southern California on Christmas Day 1977. The first thing I did was
went to the local motorbike shop and bought a second-hand GS550 Suzuki that was only about
a year old. It was in truly excellent condition and I had a luggage rack and what
the Americans call a "Travel Trunk" fitted to the back. It served me well
for the year that I owned it. It had four cylinders in-line across the frame,
six-speed gearbox and a chain final drive. I lived in "Foxy Glen"
apartment complex on Haster Boulevard, Anaheim and studied at Melodyland School of
Theology. I also worked part time, about four hours per day, in a part of the church
known as the Endowment Department. I didn't need to ride to work as it was only a
ten or fifteen minute walk, but I usually rode anyway, since I always enjoy being on a
The Boeing factory
Ya got any spuds?
The big storm
Only 10,000 lakes?
Staying at the farm near Amherst
Meeting Laura in Carbondale
Blue grass looks pretty green doesn't it?
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts:
Long Island (New York):
New York City:
The hospitable South
A new definition for "moss"!
Billy Carter - no trains in Plains
Silverton to Durango.
The Steam Railway near Durango
"What if we roll out of the tent and into the Grand Canyon?"
1979: the crash at Euroa. In hospital at Shepparton.
1980:Back on the Gold Wing / DJP sidecar outfit.
1981 To Sydney
1982 Around Australia
1982 To England
[photos from web until my own photos are located]
[photos from web until my own photos are located]
1986 New Zealand
[photos from web until my own photos are located]
Having returned to Australia from New Zealand, transport was needed and one day an
advertisement for a secondhand 250cc Honda Scooter caught my eye. I am not sure now
of the year of manufacture of my Honda Spacey scooter, but it was probably about 1986.
Its previous owner had bought it brand new and had to sell it in a hurry as his
student days had ended and he was returning to Hong Kong. This meant that I bought a
hardly-used, as-new scooter for a very cheap price. Having ridden everything from
Honda monkey-bikes to Harleys, how did I find the Spacey? Well, it has to have been
about the easiest bike I ever owned to ride around town. It was a 250cc water-cooled
single driving through "V-Matic" V-belt automatic transmission. No clutch.
No gear changing. Just start it up with a press on the starter button and
drive it away. It was powerful enough that you almost imagined you could lift the
front wheel if you opened her up too quickly, although I cannot remember having actuall;y
done so. It accelerated magnificently through Sydney's dense traffic and was great
for making the extra lane through to the front of the pack at every set of lights.
Having reached the front, when those lights changed, I had no fear of being run over from
behind; that little Spacey could take off a lot faster than any four wheeler and a lot
faster than most two wheelers. With the infinitely-variable gearing meaning that
there were no gear changes at all, it just kept accelerating faster and faster.
1989: To Hong Kong ... and no motorbikes for more than 15 years
In August 1989, Wendy and I visited Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, China, and while we were there we saw three PLA troops on a CJ750 sidecar outfit. I decided that day that I wanted to own one of these things one day.
The picture at right is copied with permission from http://www.changjiangunlimited.com which is an excellent site for anyone interested in Chang Jiang motorcycles and sidecars. The black bike in the foreground is the one on which I took a test ride on Saturday 29th May 2004. It is a Chang Jiang M1 750cc Side Valve Boxer-twin with 6V electrics which was restored by Gerald Gardebled at Long River Motorworks in Beijing and was brought to Hong Kong a couple of years ago. Chang Jiang sidecar outfits are still manufactured in China right up until the present day. They were originally copied from the Russian Ural M72 which was itself copied from the 1938 German BMW R71.
The green bike in the background is a 1960 Chang Jiang M1 750cc Side Valve Boxer-twin with 6V electrical system. It was found in a junk yard and restored by Simon Vallance.
As I bounced over badly potholed and rutted tracks near Simon's place on the CJ750, my grin got so wide my ears nearly fell in! This rough track was exactly what the CJ was designed for. This was my first time on a motorbike of any sort since 1989! And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just have to get one of these bikes!
To subscribe to "The Chang Jiang Experience" and learn more about these bikes please use the above form.
My own Chang Jiang is now ordered!
Today, Wednesday 3rd November 2004, I have confirmed my order for my own Chang Jiang 750 cc motorbike and sidecar. It will be a model M1M which is a side-valve with a 12-volt electrical system and a reverse gear. I have ordered it to be painted in flat Army Green.
Here are some photos of a similar bike sent to me by Gerald of LRM:
On Saturday 22nd January 2005 I flew to Beijing to be met by Gerald Gardebled and Clay Jones on a motorbike named
"Alpha". As the
plane taxied towards the terminal the announcement was made that it was partly cloudy and
the temperature was minus two degrees Celsius (that's 28 degrees Fahrenheit for the
Americans). Out in the car park, Gerald pulled a huge warm fleecy-lined PLA great
coat from Alpha's sidecar and handed it to me. I thankfully donned it and climbed
awkwardly into the sidecar - my first time sitting in a sidecar for more than twenty-five
years! I was usually the pilot of these things, not the monkey!
Progress made on my bike: Gerald has sent me some more photographs of
my bike that were taken the week after I was in Beijing.
While waiting for the paperwork for my bike, I decided to
have a go at designing a tank badge based on the original BMW design. The result is
posted at right. Just click the thumbnail for the larger view. I really need
someone who is a graphic artist to clean it up a bit. It would also probably look
better if the two Chinese words were not in an italic font. The two words of course
are "Chang Jiang" in simplified Chinese.
I love this animated GIF of CJ riders having a ball. Does anyone know where this file originates? I would like to give full credit where credit is due and maybe write a little background about it.
Gerald at Long River Motorworks reports that my bike was crated and picked up by the shipper on 18th June 2005, so it ought to be on the way to Brisbane at the moment of writing. Before he crated it he took these photos of it:
It's arrived! . . . My CJ was delivered to my home in McDowall Brisbane in September 2005 after spending a long time held up on the docks by some sort of a strike.
I took my bike for its first ride, just around the back yard, since it wasn't yet
registered, in October:
In this series of photos, you just get several different views of my bike parked in the back yard at McDowall. These shots were "as delivered" when the bike had been taken out of the crate, but no mirrors or anything else fitted.
14th November 2006: I registered the bike today, so I shall be riding
it for several of my remaining five days in Brisbane.
The two pictures at right were taken at the BP station at Ferny Grove on the morning of 2nd January 2006. This was at the start of a ride organised by Brisbane Bikers. I did not go out with them on the ride, as I had to get ready to fly back to Hong Kong.
More later ...
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