I am not really keen on such comments as “put it on your bucket list” (grrrr!!) and find that saying quite irritable. We do things because we want to and when we can afford it. But one thing that I did have on ‘a list’ for the last few years was to attend the Burt Munro Challenge in Invercargill, and finally the opportunity presented itself last month.
Held over the last weekend of November the Challenge is a series of different motorcycle events over 4 days. This year had an added attraction with the opening of Motorcycle Mecca, the newly acquired motorcycle museum that was originally based in Nelson. Purchased by the Richardson family it has been set up in a period building in the middle of Invercargill, and was officially opened on Wednesday 23rd November by the popular world superbike champion Guy Martin.
Organising my time to take in the Munro events, or most of them, as well as seeing the newly opened Motorcycle Mecca motorcycle museum, Richardsons Transport World museum (or known by most as Richardsons Truck museum), and to catch up with a 87 year old motorcycle rider who first raced at Long Beach in Dunedin in 1948 on his brand new BSA C11 would definitely make for a busy time.
It started with a flight on Wednesday into some rather unsettling weather, rain and hail that evening, and no surprise – more rain and a drop in temperature for Thursday. And me with no raincoat.
Having picked up my rental car from Rent A Dent (budget didn’t extend to a limousine) I checked into some pre booked accommodation. If you hadn’t booked accommodation by the end of August then you would be camping in a tent at the Burt Munro Rally site out towards Teretonga. And I hate sleeping in tents and on cold hard ground. My days of Cold Kiwi and Brass Monkey rallies are long gone. Air B&B seems to be catching on, or if you are prepared to travel in to the events there was accommodation about 45 minutes drive away.
Driving around and getting to grips on the layout of Invercargill, it being 25 years since my last visit, the one thing that was quite evident was that the whole of Southland had entered into the spirit of the Munro Challenge. Banners hung from lamp posts, every food outlet was busy, and motorcycles everywhere. They were parked on footpaths, down alleys, on broken yellow lines, and behind bushes. If this was Auckland the parking wardens would have been in ticket heaven, not to mention the towies. Well done to the Invercargill Authorities and their tolerance. It would have been greatly appreciated.
There were bikes on utes, bikes in vans, bikes on trailers, bike, bikes, bikes! Only a blind man could fail to see that there was something important on that involved motorcycles. It reminded me of my visit to the TT on the Isle of Man many years ago. One could not move for motorcycles.
Thursdays main event was the hill climb held out at Bluff hill. I didn’t attend, opting for a bit of local sight seeing through the beating blades of the wipers on the rental. However I did catch up with a spectator who did go, and he said that it was bleak, and extremely cold with a good southerly wind blowing the rain in. People were trying to hide from that cold under every bush and behind every rock.
I had time to see through E Hayes Motorworks Collection and Richardson Motorcycle Mecca museum and was greatly impressed. There will be a more complete article on these two attractions later on with lots more photographs of some interesting early girder fork motorcycles.
Hayes Engineering. The family were a great supporter of Burt, and a visit to their shop would not disappoint. Allow about one hour for a good look around.
Motorcycle Mecca. A peek at the sort of motorcycles that are on display at Motorcycle Mecca.
Except for Sunday there were interesting articles everyday in the local papers covering the events, competitors and motorcycles of interest.
And amusingly a favourite delicacy and perhaps a specialty of Southland would have to be the Pork Belly Burger. Not sure what was in it but there were signs at every event advertising the tasty delight. Not my preferred meal though.
Oreti Beach Racing
Friday 25th November. Sponsored by Indian Motorcycles NZ.
I have always found beach racing to be entertaining so was looking forward to the event at Oreti. Favourite scenes of Burt racing up and down the beach on his Indian in that famous movie was an endicement for me to go out and see how special this piece of sand actually was. I was not disappointed and upon arrival was greeted with sunshine, a nice warming north westerly wind, hard packed sand and race entrants setting up. I had been warned that the weather conditions could change at the drop of a hat (as they say) and cancellations were not uncommon. Racers are at the mercy of both the wind and rain and should either or both of these climatic conditions prove too menacing then the racing won’t happen.
Racing offered a class for girder fork, classic pre ’63 and pre ’72, with other classes for up to 250, up to 500, quad bikes, and open class. Encouragement was also given to junior riders with a smaller lap for 50 to 80cc machines and riders that appeared to range from about 7 years to 10 years. It couldn’t be any better.
Special mention from me would have to be Rhys Wilson (not that I am saying he is special) and his Rudge. Yup Team Wilson had a Rudge entered and although not a outright winner he succeeded in showing everybody that a girder fork machine can still do it in the sand. Burt would have been proud!
The ultimate race would be for the Burt Munro Trophy, a 50 mile race, and was the last event. A varied selection of machinery raced ranging from the usual off road moto cross bikes like CRF450s, KTM 450s, to a KTM SE900, a Honda dual purpose Africa Twin 1000 (at a whopping 242 kgs) and a Honda CBR1100XX road bike. Full cred to the riders of the Africa Twin and the CBR. These bikes would have been the heaviest entered, but provided excellent entertainment for the public as they bucked and weaved their way up the ½ mile straight, with their riders appearing to hang on for dear life, only to have to turn around at the far marker cone and repeat the same on the return seaward side of the track. As the lap numbers wound over the tiredness could be seen creeping into the riders with more mistakes happening, made even more difficult with the sand becoming softer and the corners chopping out with deep ruts making turning more difficult, especially for the road bikes. This was proven so when on lap 43 the rider of the Honda Africa Twin Donald McConochie dropped his machine coming out of a corner (actually right in front of us). You could just about hear him say “oh f@#k it”! as he stood there looking at the motorcycle trying to decide whether or not he really wanted to pick it up. After numerous failed attempts he succeeded, and was greeted with a supportive roar from the crowd. The rider of the KTM SE900, Greg Ngeru, was not so lucky. After blasting his way around the circuit with the big loud rumbling V twin holding a consistent 3rd place he came to a halt on lap 47. Big motors like lots of gas, and unfortunately for Greg he had none left in his tank. And no matter how many times he looked down the filler it wasn’t going to magically fill up! The winner of that event was Josh Coppins on a YZ450. Full credit to him as he ran a superb race and it was a spectacular sight to see the big rooster tail of sand powering off the rear wheel as he roared down the straights. With the chequered flag dropping signalling the end of the race so was the end of the racing and everybody slowly headed of to their cars. A enjoyable time despite the 30 minute queue to actually leave the beach area. Probably one of the few times that Invercargill experiences a traffic jam.
I didn’t get any good photographs (still need a better camera) but here are a couple of shots. If you squint you can just see a couple of motorcycles.
Race day at Teretonga
Sponsored by E Hayes & Sons of Invercargill Saturday 26th November
The visit to Teretonga Raceway was a first for me and what a great track. I have raced motorcycles on the North Island circuits but have never ventured south. This is one track that I would like to try. It is nice and wide with good visibility for both competitor and spectators. Situated on the west side of Invercargill out towards Oreti it is a little exposed to the coastal weather condition but Saturday was mainly fine, coldish, with an occasional light shower.
As seems to be with Souflanders I was greeted with happy chatty people who were quite keen to talk about their motorcycles. This made it so much easier to watch, listen, and gather stories. As for the racing, well that was great, with a few offs but nothing major that I saw, and the race announcer was excellent. He was informative and did a good job keeping the spectators entertained. Guy Martin was a major attraction and if you saw a crowd gathering Guy would be in the middle of it.
I enjoy watching a good tussle with the sidecar racing, these guys are mad, but at Teretonga there were only 5 entrants. Yes they did provide some good racing and it was just as enjoyable to watch had there been 20 sidecars. Interestingly ALL the sidecar entries were from the North Island, not a Mainlander to be seen. Wonder what happened there?
Team Wilson of Invercargill supported the Rudge marque quite well with 3 solo machines (and a nice looking sidecar for Sundays street racing). The father and son team, both racing Rudge Ulsters, provided some excellent racing with both fighting for 1st and 2nd places.
Piaggio Scooter. A special mention would have to go to this entrant. Matthew Brookes is from Wellington and decided that yes he would like to be part of the Munro experience so rode his 1967 Piaggio Vespa 175 from Wellington, down the West Coast to Invercargill. A few tuning mods and out he went to compete. His aim was to try and wind the needle on the speedo off the end of the dial, this being 120kph! He carn’t have been too far from his goal as his average speed around the track was 92kph. Probably didn’t have to change gear much but what a blast. And to prove that he was made of sturdy stuff he removed the seat foam as it made him sit too high, Matthew was doing ‘a Burt’ and trying to get more streamlined by getting lower. That’s what it is all about, isn’t it?
Always room for something different – a nicely prepared Yamaha XS650 powered sidecar.
A 1930s Royal Enfield V Twin. A hardy workhorse that sounded great on the track and gave the rider a lot of fun.
Some more photographs that interested me –
They were even lurking in the car park. A pair of interesting Ariels.
Street Racing Sunday
Sunday 17th November. Sponsored by Honda Invercargill
The day dawned on Sunday to wet, cold, windy and sometimes hale for the street racing. A small tight newly established track in Invercargill, being used for the second time only, the event previously been held at Winton. The racing was due to start at 11.00am so I arrived at 10.00 just to have a look around. Spectator numbers were down, most probably due to the cold. And it was really cold. Between the wind, the rain showers and the hail there were very small bursts of sunshine, about 2 minutes each time. The practice did provide some interesting racing as the riders became familiar with the track, but the bikes (and riders) struggled with the cold and traction, or lack of it resulting in a few crashes under braking. Tyre warmers were working hard but as soon as the tyre touched the cold tarmac it would chill down. Safety became an issue so after the first round of racing finished the event was cancelled. Shame really but safety first and the conditions were not that great. At least we had 2 great days at Oreti and Teretonga.
I didn’t get very many photos of the street racing because every time I pulled my camera out it started to rain. But here is one that I was very impressed with.
Matchless Metisse 650. A beautiful looking motorcycle that epitomises the Munro spirit. Besides being beautifully presented it was entered in the beach racing, the owner staying up until 1.30am the next day to clean off the sand, change tyres and prepare it for the racing at Teretonga. Then, with a little more effort it was entered into the street racing on the Sunday.
As for next years event there isn’t one. The whispers are that the organisers would like better weather for the event so have moved the dates to the 8th to 11th of February 2018. Hopefully it will rain more sunshine for them and if the NZ Classic Motorcycle Racing Register has their annual festival the week before at Pukekohe then it is going to be a jolly busy old time. Stay tuned.
And so the weekend ended. Did I enjoy myself? Most definitely. And would I go again? Yes, but it would be a lot better if I took a motorcycle and competed. So who knows! I just might have to scribble something down on ‘my list’ And after all it is just down the road.