The Drakeford Files

# 2

Modern ride, old bike and body.

How do you explain to 500 modern trail riders staring at you when are about to ride 150ks; standing in front of a Can Am 1980 model which is older than most of them and you are about to do the event on an even older bike? As I looked over the crowd I realised it wasn’t the usual captive audience I’m used to at rider briefings at Vinduros. Silent incomprehension greeted me like a wall. I was at the Kenda Rally, organised by the Alexandria MCC and a group of old enduro riders from back in my day.

The club was a hotbed of talent in the 1980s and they have stayed on organising and riding. I was up there at the invitation of Jon Martyn as the club wanted to get some vintage bikes on the start line. Why? Dunno, maybe a bit of nostalgia but it was certainly lost on the other entrants. The most common question I got pushing my SWM RS250GSL 1979 (that’s a mouthful at the best of times) was "What the f---s that?!” The next most common comment was the one above "It’s older than me!” Next they’d just drift off into conversation amongst themselves about their Dad’s old bikes, stuff they’d started riding on, last week’s ride/crash/drinking session etc.

I was there with a Canadian guy I organised a ride with in Simcoe County, Ontario Canada last year; Brian (Nacktel) Knechtel surprised me with an email saying he was coming over for a holiday and would like to do some riding. Funny how you say "Hey, if you’re over look me up….” and they actually do it! But it was a great excuse to take a few days off to ride the trails I’m linking up around Blackwood and the ride the Kenda Rally in the Eildon/Rubicon back end of the Vic High Country. That should keep him happy. Well, he wasn’t that enthusiastic when I told him he had to do a lap of the Kenda on the Can Am Qualifier 250 1980. What’s with a Canadian who’s never ridden his country’s signature bike?

Anyway, we set out from Blackwood Mansion on the Friday before the Kenda, me on the CA, him on my 2001 Husky 250 WR with a new Rekluse clutch. I was dawdling a bit with occasional bursts and had to wait a bit for him.

When I was in Canada he was the fastest of the bunch and I had trouble keeping up with him but our dirt had him perplexed. The shiny yellow clay was slippery as and the leaf litter at the sides had no traction either. He noted "No wonder you Aussies are so fast when you ride this s—t all the time, man, there’s no traction anywhere” He was referring to ex TM rider Jake Stapleton blitzing them and some Aussie kid who just wandered up there and smoked them all. Brian stuck to the Husky even tho I was trying to get him used to the CA but he was a bit hesitant on the hills. Stuff I normally just blasted up was more rutted this time out and the CA coughed in second and stalled when I most needed a boost over those damned root ledges. Anyway, I rode/pushed them both up and then a vibration in the CA needed attention. The swing arm nut came loose and of course I didn’t have the tool to tighten it so a rock and a tyre lever snugged it up. Limping back the vibration got so bad I couldn’t keep my right foot on the peg and it felt like the engine was trying to jump out of the frame.

Long story short, scratch the CA with a broken frame much to Brian’s relief.

OK, back to the Kenda. After the questioners fell to talking amongst themselves in the scrutineering line I noticed the DSE was pulling guys with suss mufflers off for a sound test. I was showing some interest and with a bit of banter with Roger Pitt of the DSE (we have met before) he suggested testing the SWM to which I agreed.

Well, the current standard id 94db and guess what, the SWM got under at 93.8 @ 5000 rpm. Not bad for an old dunger. While I don’t mind standing out in a crowd ("See the guy in the large furry hat, he’s organising”) I usually pick my audience.

I was feeling a bit exposed riding the SWM so I didn’t wear all the period gear and went with a new full face helmet and gear bought recently in fetching black and white. OK, guys, I look just like you so give me a break.

Rider Briefing was the usual warnings including ‘take it easy on the roads you dickheads the DSE is here’ as the start area I noticed was a specific trail riding camping spot so it must be popular. I got up and spruiked Vinduro stuff to a silent audience (see opening paragraph) and Brian explained how the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders works and the riding they do in their ‘hero dirt’ which, believe me is just that – ultimate traction so you can drag the bars in the corners if you want, just watch the stumps! Anyhoo, onto the ride. Luckily the SWM fired up fine and we motored out cautiously, up the road, across the creek and then onto the course which it transpired was mostly fairly open 4WD tracks (well, the Kenda is DSE authorised) but jeez, were they rough.

Ruts, mud and buried rocks were the go all day and really tested the SWM suspension. Luckily I had Stacker drill out the front damper rods and with lighter oil had them working well; well for 1979 Marzocchi’s. After I went on my head at Denman and reinjured my foot and wrenched my throttle hand I swore I’d get that front end right and so the mods done to improved them worked. Slipping the forks up through the clamps helped the nervous front end too. With the rebuilt Ohlins shocks the package worked and I felt more confidant riding it. As for my impulsive attacking the rotary disc valve on the engine, well give a man a pair of tinsnips and what can you expect? (Mum always handed Dad the secateurs to ‘trim’ the garden with trepidation). I have to say that the power was more like I’ve sampled other SWMs but the 5 speed lagged a bit between gears. So most of the time I was below the band chugging along except for when I got a bit excited on the uphills.

Look, I wasn’t embarrassed at all on the trails and dudes who passed me on the open stuff I caught easily on the tighter stuff. The bike really worked well and all I felt after the day was hands slightly sore from the clutch and front brake heavy pull. Bonus, I didn’t crash and the wife was pleased to see me home in one piece. I was beginning to think I was taking over Dave Hammond’s role as the ‘bin it or win it’ rider. Well, actually friggin’ Dave is so many levels above me I don’t really dare a comparison as riding at his home track the prick is so polite about my lack of talent that it’s excruciating at times. You know how the fat chick at the pick up joint always takes a good looking friend so she can at least get the leftovers, well, Dave has Geoff. Um, is that the reverse?

Now that I’ve swung the topic so far off course I don’t know how many glasses of wine I’ve had……. Where was I? Oh yeah. Look, I had a ball. Did 158 ks, lost a bolt from my seat and the front ‘guard which made it flap like a mad thing, distract me no end and make me think it was going to break anytime soon but the bike worked. A guy was trying to get me on a modern Husky on the switch back return trails and I could see him coming but I just held my pace and at the finish he was surprised he couldn’t catch me. Score.

And score I did too. I got the ‘oldest bike and rider’ award of a new Kenda tyre and two heavy duty tubes. That was worth the entry fee. A surprising amount of free stuff was given away by Ron Angel Imports; I counted 24 tyres, the same in tubes, lots of oil packs and heaps of other stuff. Amazing. Everybody was at the ‘prizegiving’ and even Brendan who persevered on his little DT and deserves a pat on the back for his effort, scored. I saw Alex Vercion PE 400, Tex and Steve Young on their moderns and all the Bus Boys and tribe were there on their Xrs.

Funnily enough tho, as soon as the last prize was given away the crowd disappeared in a second. I was looking around for a chat and it was just me and Brian and organiser Jon. Hmm, we have it beat on the social scale. I went home happy, not limping, Brian was stoked, just missed a wombat, saw kangaroos in the bush for him and flocks of cockatoos worth $700 apiece in the Canadian pet shops. Will I do one again? I think so, you get a lot of riding for your dollar, the shock value is good with the other riders and the ‘hard route’ isn’t hard at all, just interesting. The team with the most riders got $500 for 22 members and if we Vinduro guys couldn’t get a larger number I’ll ‘go he’. Think about it.

Cheers all, D.

And for Brians 'real' version check him out here....



Bultaco sounds like a stomping animal, Montesa a caress and then a whiplash but Ossa sounds like a breeze through the trees.

OK, I'm a little biased with my best years on them in the mid 1970s but I truly relied on them to get me through and out of some pretty extreme for the day riding terrain. If we are honest, we are really just playing around with our old iron now and bathing them in the glow of nostalgia; but in their heyday we used them and took them seriously.

With the Ossas Ross and I garnered from a collector who was supposedly restoring them (read: masking tape on the spokes while he sprayed the hubs, crud and all) we got a range of models and our aim is to do a few up to mint condition and keep, some to restore to riding condition and sell and one to replicate the mods I did to mine to make it useable today. I want a bike that I can trust to get me into and out of any stupid situation I throw it.

What this means is that I'm putting my BMW G450X on the backburner and seriously going to be using my Club Permit Rego'd 1977 Ossa 250 Super Pioneer as my everyday riding tool.

Now time is the enemy here: I'm not getting younger and going back to your favourite ride of the 70s is akin to dating your old love from that time and realising she really was ugly and your passion was just in your pants. Time also is a harsh reminder that we haven't gotten any younger or faster and I need to use what's left when I can. But in the cold harsh light of today I realise I'll never be able to use what the BMW can do as my skill set has never moved beyond the 70s. (Thanks to Dave Hammond and Steve Walker for getting on the BMW and doing things with it I would never be able to!) Time is also being chewed up with Blackwood house/workshop rebuilding and the need to balance the financial books and get a few Ossas up for sale. If it wasn't for bricklayer mate Kristen forcing me out for a ride when he's over and reminding me that the move to Blackwood was all about the bush being just 100m away; I'd still be muddling along consumed with the job at MA and the bike/house fix.

I really want to spend some time getting my 'mojo' back with an Ossa. The 350 Super Pioneer you've seen me on was to be for sale but having owned it once (before I sold it to Juz and then he to the collector; I'm the second and fifth owner) and realising it was a rare and special bike (Juz claimed it was a great trailbike) I negotiated with Ross to keep it. Thank the lord for a sympathetic business partner with a similar obsession. As soon as I got it started the exhaust note took me back and riding it around Blackwood it just felt like home. With a few little tweaks and some setup it was off to the bush tracks that had just been cleared of fallen trees and as the dozer had left the dirt loose and the corners bermed slightly it gave a ride so fine I knew I had made a decision.

However, the 350 will be an infrequent ride as I want to get a 250 as my everyday user. The frame has been up to GMC for bracket reinforcement and has been powdercoated. However, that's as far as it's gotten lately. With the HBBB over and just paperwork and receipts to reconcile I'm free to get bikes/house work underway. I really do want to get to the stage where I can rely on this bike to rollup on ride with the locals on their modern bikes and show them that really, technology has just refined the basic concept and not revolutionised it. I will need to re learn how to rebuild the engine, what its limits are, how to make the suspension the best I can and so on. Getting back with your first love requires a clear head, firm goals and a lot of hard work. Let's hope it's worth it.

Cheers, D.