A return to classic OB tales...
Help - by Kym Liebig
I grew up as a working kid on an orchard, where my Dad grew mostly avocados. Evenings after school myself and my two brothers worked on the orchard. Saturdays we worked. Sunday mornings we went to church, Sunday afternoons we did what we liked. Ah, those precious Sunday afternoon hours. We never wasted so much as a second.
Dirty riding was king when I was a teenager, and the king of dirt riding was crowned Australia's Mister Motocross each year. Supercross (is it any coincidence my iPad automatically corrects it to 'super toss?') was yet to be invented, with its indoor events, tight tracks and rock star riders. In my high school years motocross riders weren't the mega-sponsored poster boys that supercross riders are today. The best comparison I can make is to hold up 1980's Australian cricketers alongside today's players. Cricketers back then were beer-swilling he-men wearing open necked shirts that exposed plenty of chest hair and at least one gold chain. They were all at least six feet five inches tall, swore like troopers, sported moustaches big enough to shame a walrus, and women fainted at the very sight of them. And possibly at the smell, too. There was a hell of a lot of Brut 33 being sprayed around back then, after all.
Cricketers back then made today's funny little squad of guys look pretty tame, and motocross riders were no different. Well, possibly no different except that very few people knew who they were. Supercross isn't exactly a high profile sport in Australia even today, and way back in the Mister Motocross days, MX was well and truly under the radar of the average person on the street. But to the dirt riding faithful, motocrossers were ironclad heroes. Tracks were outdoors, rough as a brickie's handshake and utterly daunting to ride. And the bikes? None of these effeminate four bangers, thank you very much. Mister Motocross was 'open class' and by that I mean 500cc two strokes. Monster power that was put to use all the way up through the gears along 'straights' that would shake your teeth out. Big, big power wrapped up in a package devised at least ten years before handling or brakes had been invented. Double leading shoes? Isn't that some sort of tap dance troupe? And you could only get upside down forks by crashing in a truly spectacular manner.
Stephen Gall. Jeff Leisk. Anthony Gunter. Larger than life riders to me. I had posters of them in full flight plastered all over my bedroom walls, although locked as I was into my work/school/work routine, seeing any of these heroes in action up close and live seemed about as likely as bumping into Elle MacPherson filming the latest Tab Cola TV ad down at the river front near the ferry crossing. But a guy's gotta dream, right?
My sixteenth year rolled around and the South Australian Mister Motocross round was announced for the autumn of that year. The round was to be held just a couple of hours' drive from where I lived, but I wrote off the date as soon as it came up...it was a Saturday, and Saturdays were always work days. I knew I needn't even ask for the day off, so I didn't bother. I had a brand new Honda XR250, so life was pretty good anyhow. Maybe Mister Motocross wasn't such a big deal. I'd get there one day, perhaps after I'd left home.
Or perhaps sooner.
My Dad is a pilot, and when I was in my teens, any time Dad wasn't working, he was building aircraft. Yep, that's it, Dad is from the 'don't buy it, build it' school. The first aircraft he built (and a plane he's still flying today) was a Rutan Long Ez, a strangely named, weird-but-beautiful craft built from fibreglass. Fibreglass is a tough taskmaster. Once you start work on a major component, you can't stop until the component is complete. Any delays mean the part could cure before it is in final shape. So once the epoxy is mixed, the clock is ticking. Placing the glass cloth over a foam core, stippling in the epoxy and squeegeeing off the excess is known as 'laying up'. As it happened, on Mister Motocross Saturday, my Dad planned to lay up a full wing, and lay ups don't get much bigger than that.
You might think that a lay up day would mean all hands in deck, but no. As it happened, my younger brother had proved to be something of a fibreglass prodigy. Me? Let's just say I was pretty much useless. I timidly enquired at the dinner table one evening what my role might be on the day. My Dad replied gruffly;
"Dunno. Do whatever you want I s'pose."
A day off? I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. So I pushed my luck and asked if I could go to Mister Motocross that day.
"Mister bloody what? That race thing? Buggered if I know. Look, if you can pay for your own ticket and it's okay with your Mum, then yeah. Just don't do anything stupid or get into any strife, alright?"
This would be my first solo bike trip away from my hometown since I'd picked up my licence. My Mum was worried how I'd fare out on the highway, but always the softie, she reluctantly gave the nod. I almost had a nosebleed. For me this was Disneyland, space travel, several Christmases and possibly loss of virginity all rolled into one and sprinkled liberally with chilli sauce.
I planned the trip as though I was going around the world. Fuel range to empty and range on reserve. Which tools to take. Backpack or no backpack? Food. Weather. I possibly even considered the phases of the moon. One thing was for sure, the planets had aligned in my favour. This was going to be the adventure of a lifetime. Well, from my humble perspective, anyhow.
The big day dawned. I awoke, pinched myself and found I wasn't dreaming. A good start. The XR awaited, everything adjusted perfectly, the tank brimming with fuel. Geared up and with a decent country breakfast on board, I swung twice on the kickstart of the bike and it barked into life, the Super Trapp muffler burbling away nicely. I stared at the sky. Cool. Overcast. Very unusual...the forecast had said fine and warm. I rolled around to the garage where work on the plane was already underway, the roller doors wound open to keep the fibreglass fumes to a minimum. Mum waved and smiled. No-one else looked up. I rode down the dirt orchard driveway, turned onto the Sturt Highway and wound the XR up through the gears.
Scarcely fifteen minutes later and with my hometown already well behind me, a few stark facts that might impact on my progress had already made themselves apparent. It had seemed cool back at home, but out on the road it was plain old cold. A towering, lanky geek perched atop a tall dirt bike riding into a stiff headwind, I may as well have been a skinny spinnaker. The tiny speedo on the XR, needle waving wildly, indicated that we were barely able to maintain 90 kilometres an hour. I dared not cane the bike any harder, not just out of mechanical sympathy but also through fear that fuel economy would fall away dramatically enough to prevent me making my first stop. And I was already looking forward to that first stop, because my choice of riding gear had proven to be pretty dismal. I was outfitted in a t-shirt, vented MX helmet, goggles, jersey and gloves, jeans and MX boots. I'd only gone with jeans because I'd decided that I'd need the pockets my MX pants lacked. I was dressed for an average, warm day of dirt riding, not a slab of cold hours on the highway. I shivered. Light rain fell now and then, stinging my neck and piercing my jersey like handfuls of icy needles. I kept the throttle wound open - who'd have thought you could get a sore wrist from that? - and kept riding, wishing I'd packed a spray jacket in my backpack.
I made the first fuel stop, filled up, drank hot tea and wolfed lollies - fuel that I reckoned my skinny bod would need to help keep itself warm. Half way. Leaving the service station, I chose to ride the rest of the way on back roads and dirt tracks, anything to keep me moving around on the bike, and to get away from the semis that came up behind at 120 kays an hour, closing in fast and blasting past without missing a beat in a storm of diesel fumes, noise and gravel spray. I was tired of watching my mirrors for them and retreating to the verge at the sound of their air horns. So at the risk of taking a bit longer to get to the race, I chose the web of back roads over the highway. It immediately felt good to be back on the dirt.
It didn't feel so good to be lost, and I got lost twice, wasting precious time and fuel back tracking. In fact the XR ran onto reserve as I rolled into the parking area. I'd have to take the highway all the way home to be sure of my fuel stops, but for the time being I just congratulated myself in having made it, and having planned well enough to be carrying a little square of plywood to put under my side stand to stop it sinking into the damp soil of the parking area. It was time to see some racing.
I sought out some hot food, and felt pretty good again munching on a meat pie and slurping hot tea as the support races were run. The sun came out for long enough to dry my damp clothes and I stopped shivering. There was nowhere to sit, but for now that didn't seem to matter. I was up close to the colour, noise and smell of real racing.
Lunch time. Another pie seemed like a good idea, not because they were good pies (are there good pies?) but more because they were hot. The sun had gone away but left the biting wind, whipping across the open track, whistling in my ears as I turned my head to watch the holeshot crush crowd past. Thin plastic tape and star droppers we all that separated me from the action. Star droppers. How safe can that be?
Race after race rolled by. My ears rang with the noise. Time for the feature race. Deep, menacing sounds from the 500cc stickies. I stood frozen in place - a bit too frozen - staring up the hill as the contenders pushed at the gate, blue smoke rising, helmet peaks pointed at front mudguards. At the gun the sound of the bikes rattled through my chest. WARRP! WARRP! WARRP! A grin stretched the skin on my wind burned face. I automatically reached my arm towards the tape barrier as the pack roared past, and what seemed like several seconds after they'd flashed by, it rained clods of thick, heavy earth. They fell like big, soft golf balls. I remember picking one off my shoulder where it had stuck, holding it in my hand and marvelling at this little chunk of real estate, complete with clay on the bottom and grass on top. A chunk of earthy cake torn from the ground by a fresh, sharp knobby tyre and launched by one of the finest dirt bikes in the country at that time. It was a marvellous moment, but as I looked around, grinning, it almost surprised me that I had no one to share the moment with. I'd come here alone, and until this day, every significant biking moment I'd enjoyed I'd always shared with a brother or a mate. Going it alone seemed a bit hollow by comparison.
The race was tight and hard fought to the very end. By the last lap there were no colours anymore but brown. Every single bike and rider, even the leaders, were covered in mud. Mister Motocross was dirty work, and up so close it was petty obvious it was also hard work. These guys were athletes. I felt like I was witnessing something very important, and in the years following I'd come to realise that I'd been lucky enough to be there as real, outdoor motocross was played out on open class two strokes for one of the final times. It probably passed without many other people even noticing, but it meant a lot to me.
As though on cue, light but steady rain started falling as the final race ended. The crowd had already thinned out quite a bit, no doubt plenty of spectators failing to see the funny side of the constant chilling wind. I made my way to the XR, eager to start the trip home, but worried I might not make it to the first servo. There's something very grim about starting a journey unsure of the distance to your first stop, but already on reserve and realising there's nothing to spare if you've got it wrong. The way I saw it, I probably had about 30 kays of juice left, and I was banking on the first BP being no more than 20 kays down the road.
I made it. I fuelled up, wet and freezing, and walked in to the store to pay, forming my own personal puddle as I fished damp notes from my pockets with hands already numb and blue. The dear old lady behind the register looked genuinely worried.
"You got far to go, love?"
"I reckon a couple of hours, maybe a bit less."
"You got anything to wear on top of that?"
With that, she rummaged around in a drawer under the counter and dragged out a big, green plastic garbage bag. "Take off your jersey, cut a head hole and two arm holes in the sealed end of this, put it on, tuck it into your jeans and put your jersey back on. It'll help keep the wind from slicing through you so badly."
Current: '06 Daytona 675 ('08 BEARS winning bike - Chris Panayi) White with Pitty's Custom Vinyls TTC decals STM Slipper Clutch Braking wave rotors with folding/adjustable levers GB engine covers Valter Moto Rearsets Race kit detent wheel & idle adjuster 1050 throttle tube Captive Wheel Spacers MotoGems bling Vortex clip-ons, Stomp grip 520 conversion Puig screen Madaz slip-on Intake flapper & Ex-up removed Swing-arm pivot mod. Thinner head gasket Custom tune