Motorbike nostalgia

By Laurel Wilson


Photo L Wilson: An Indian ‘Chief’ motorbike, 1940, but much fancier than a dispatch rider’s bike- from the GOMA Exhibition, Motorcycle Design, Art and Desire

Dad didn’t talk much about his war experiences, but he did mention that he had been a dispatch rider at one stage – roaring through the English countryside at night on an Indian motorbike without lights. Fortunately for him (and us, his unborn children), he soon decided that riding dispatch was not a healthy occupation.

Perhaps his tales of riding that big thumping motorbike sounded exciting. Perhaps it was because several of my friends during my university days had taken up the then new fad of riding ‘dirt’ bikes. At any rate, as soon as I could scratch up the money, I bought a 125cc motorbike, later trading it in for a 185cc Suzuki trail bike.

Being the cautious type (despite buying a motorbike) I invested in a full face helmet and a later a set of ‘leathers’ – black, but with red hearts on the knee pads and a rather fetching red leather jacket.

I can recall one memorable ride when we set off from Toowong to ride over the top of Mt Coot-tha and through various forestry trails until we reached Esk and promptly went to the pub. The barkeeper’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head when I  took off my helmet – a ‘sheila’ amongst half a dozen or so male motorbike riders.

For some reason, I thought getting into competitive motocross or ‘scrambling’ was a good idea. There used to  be a track during the Redland Bay Strawberry Festival, but the main one was at Tivoli raceway, outside of Ipswich, which is apparently still in operation. The big dirt track had several humps, which you’d become air-borne over, if you were  going fast enough. There were often muddy patches too, if it happened to have rained recently.

Some generous, but possibly foolhardy chap once lent me his ‘flat track’ bike to race at the track designed for this type of racing. This was a specialised 4-stroke BSA with gears, but no brakes as such. Instead, you have to rely on engine braking. Well, it was exhilarating and I managed to get around the track and stop in one piece, but my career as a flat track racer was pretty short..

At that time, there were only two or three women who were competing. Sometimes they’d give us our own race, but often we’d just race with the men. I still have a cheque for $1, which was my prize for coming second in one of the women’s races.

I’d ride to the  meet, strip the bike of lights and put on my racing plate. After the meet, reverse the process and ride home again. Eventually I bought an EK Holden Ute (for $300) and would drive to meets with the bike strapped on to the tray.

Of course riding also involves falling off, sometimes at fairly impressive speeds. Somehow I managed to avoid breaking any bones, but after one particularly painful spill which required a week off work, I reluctantly sold my two wheel machine and have stuck to four wheels ever since.

It seems I haven’t completely forgotten my love affair with motorbikes though, as I was quite excited to read about the exhibition currently showing at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (Stanley Place, South Brisbane), titled ‘The Motorcycle Design, Art and Desire’. It’s a ticketed exhibition ($25 adults, $20 concession); well worth the price if you have any interest in motorbikes. Great bit of nostalgia too.


Image: The aptly named ‘Majestic’ circa 1929, photo by L Wilson

There’s even a Vincent Black Lightning, if you know that famous Richard Thompson song about Molly, the red-headed girl. (live video – song starts at 0.30)

(that’s not the bike in the photo!)

Bob’s postscript

You might have gathered I sat this week out, given we had a ready-made topic (and photos). While I wait two weeks (or it could be three) for the town’s only cardiac holter monitor to become available, I’m a bit spooked about palpitations. I fear anything might set them off – sitting, typing, farting. But I did some research on Laurel’s topic, of course I did.

She is right, a female trail bike rider in the early 1970s would have been a sight, especially a beautiful one with hair down to her waist.

I might also observe that her investment in a full-face helmet was also a rare thing; helmets were not made compulsory until 1972.

Women now represent about 20% of Australia’s 2.2 million people with motorcycle licences. But there’s no way of knowing which of our 870,000 registered motorcycles are ridden by women.

Our devotion to motorbikes is miniscule compared to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia or the Phillipines. Those who have tried to cross a city road in South East Asia will not be surprised to learn than more than 80% of households in those countries have a scooter or a motorbike.

We’ve written a few pieces in this blog about motorbikes and the various adventures people get up to on two wheels. While true bikers might not describe a postie’s bike as a motorcyle, ex-postie bikes have been pressed into service to raise money for charity. And of course there’s the Black Dog Ride, which raises awareness about depression and suicide.

And there\s the 70th birthday confessions about motorbike dreams, in which I posted a photo of She Who Sometimes Writes, circa 1970 (left). Some artist genius should colourise it – we’d like that.

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One Comment

  1. Great Article. Brings back memories of my own time riding Bikes, both on the road, the Trail and Motocross at Tivoli and many other Tracks around S E Q at the same time as Laurel. Lots of fun.

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