Really old bikes brave Western Australia’s picturesque south west

The 2021 National Veteran Motorcycle Rally of Australia was scheduled to be held in WA this year. But COVID put a spanner in the works, so WA’s Indian Harley Club hosted a State rally instead. DAN TALBOT was there and compiled this report.

Words and pics by DAN TALBOT

The year 2021 has been a big one for the Indian Harley Club (IHC) of Bunbury, Western Australia.  This year the IHC celebrates 50 years since its inauguration.  Aside from all the signature events that classic motorcyclists in Western Australia have come to know and love, the IHC was also entrusted to host the 2021 National Veteran Motorcycle Rally of Australia in October.  

The rally was scheduled to take place at Manjimup, 300km south of Perth.  Originally it had in excess of 100 entrants, however it had to be scaled back to a State-based one due to travel restrictions placed upon some 60% of participants.  Nevertheless, the event was a huge success with almost 40 entrants, many of whom brought more than one machine.  

In the hierarchy of old, veteran is the oldest.  To participate in the WA Veteran Motorcycle Rally, machines had to be manufactured prior to 1919.  Most bikes built so long ago have been consigned to the dustbins of time and disposed of in scrapyards and landfill.  Fortunately, some have been kept for posterity and it is to the credit of the hardy souls who restore and ride these ancient contraptions that we should all enjoy their continued presence.  In 1971 when the IHC was formed, veteran motorcycles were around 50 years of age.  Now they are all over 100 years old.  Think about that — these machines have been on the planet for longer than most human beings.

Yes, they really do look like over-sized pushbikes with thumping great engines. And they are.

Added to the mix of veteran motorcycles was another 20 marshals riding classic and modern machines, including your correspondent who wore the Clerk of Course tabard, which was quite an honour for me. In general terms, veteran motorcycles start at about 500cc and go up to 1000, or, in one case, 1240 cc.  Take Bob Wittingstall’s Sears Dreadnought for example.  A 1150cc, single speed, V-twin, behemoth that could be ordered from the 1913 North American Sears and Roebuck catalogue.  The Sears is pedal-started in gear with the rear wheel off the ground.  With the engine running, the rider moves the gear lever to neutral and pushes the machine off the rear stand.  The gear lever is pulled back and off you go.  Braking is taken care of by the back pedal method: just like mid-twentieth century bicycles.  In fact, many of the veteran machines at the rally bore a striking resemblance to bicycles or the era, from which they were created.

With the exception of perhaps half a dozen machines, most of the veteran motorcycles at the rally were push-started.  An energetic rider must get up to a decent pace, running alongside his machine (there were no female entrants this year, but they are out there!) then launch himself onto the saddle as the bike fires once, twice, maybe three times.  Stop signs, traffic and other inconveniences are negotiated with care, lest the rider must dismount and do it all over again, which was frequently the case.

Roadside repairs were very much the order of the day. Here Steve and Chris Merralls work on their 1913 Triumph at the Northcliffe lunch stop. Nice old Falcon too, just quietly.

The rally ran from Sunday through Friday through some of the most picturesque countryside regional WA can offer.  Manjimup people, shire and shopkeepers can take a bow.  They were the perfect hosts for a quirky bunch of folks riding an even quirkier bunch of motorcycles.  Patience was quite often called for as motorcycles and side-cars chugged along at 30 or 40 kilometres an hour.  

We travelled as far afield as Northcliffe, Pemberton and Nannup.  Technically, Nannup was cancelled due to foul weather however a few participants ignored the forecast and set out against the advice of the weather gods, including your correspondent, who made the trek to Nannup via Donnelly River.  It bucketed down on us and the water found its way into a few of the vintage magnetos but, aside from that it was a wonderful day, typical of the entire week.

It might rain, they said. They were right.

The Indian Harley Club, Manjimup Tigers Football Club (who catered for the event) and people of Manjimup are to be congratulated.

Kelvin Mears’ 1914 1240cc Thor.
Rob Giles 1914 Australian-made Lewis. Or, more accurately “The Lewis.”

Marshals’ bikes; Dan’s Vincent and Kevin Badby’s Norton Model 18. Neither of them are ‘veteran’ machines because they’re too modern.
John Keenan with his 1916 Indian Power Plus.
Hamish Cowan’s 1913 Indian 1000 twin.

Geoff and Darlene Burkin of Albany dressed for the occasion with their outfit which takes the award for best name: Abingdon King Dick.
Dave Alderson prepares his 1913 Triumph for a wet day with a new leather belt, hoping to avoid slippage.
Paul Armstrong’s 1918 Harley-Davidson.
Fail to keep pumping oil and you’ll seize your engine!
Just in time for Christmas! Order yours now.
Dan Talbot