Thursday, July 10, 2008

Australia's First Vinduro

The first time my dad took me to see an enduro, the thing that immediately struck me was that there wasn’t much to see. Unlike the motocross (or scrambles as my dad called them) and road racing events I’d already seen, there was no hotly contested wheel to wheel action being played out in a noisy, colourful spectacle.

Instead, the mostly bearded men on trail and enduro bikes disappeared at high speed into the bush. Racing against the clock. They emerged later; dirty, dishevelled. Engines ticking and hissing; as water from mudguards, and sweat from tired faces dripped onto hot engines.

The idea of man and machine against the clock was something I found compelling then, and still do. As a teenager I would complete in a handful of enduros myself before moving away to university, and onto road bikes.

A few years ago I began rediscovering the dirt bikes of my youth. This was mostly via the VMX scene, which has been well established here for some time now. Unlike our European and American counterparts though, we Aussies have been a bit slower to get on the Vintage Enduro (Vinduro) bandwagon. That all changed in September 2007, and when I heard about the first ever Aussie Vinduro event, I just had to be there...

The organisers had done a magnificent job in putting together this first event. Around 70 riders made their way to a property northeast of Melbourne. When I arrived light drizzle was falling, and continued periodically throughout the day, keeping the dust down on the trail, and the grass slippery in the paddock sections.

The Parc Ferme was alive with the sound of crackling exhausts, creaking suspension and groaning joints. From the immaculately restored, to slightly worn out versions with an authentic patina of dirt and oil - and that was just the owners. It was great to see so many pre-1985 trail and enduro bikes in one place.

Enthusiasts from as far away as Adelaide had turned up with rare marques like SWM, Matchless and BSA alongside the more prosaic Japanese models. My IT250 looked right at home, instead of being the odd bike out when riding with modern counterparts.

Instead of “bling” and modern, water-cooled four strokes; there were Belstaffs and open face helmets. There were no race-faces either, but a lot of smiles and bonhomie.

It wasn’t a race meeting after all, and there were no prizes for first place. (Mind you, that didn’t stop some of these middle aged guys riding very fast. Or maybe it just seemed that way because I’m so slow).

In a juxtaposition of old and new technology, I was able to meet people face to face whom I’d previously talked with via the internet about our 20+ year old bikes!

Before we could ride there was the usual paperwork to complete. Then, after the rider's briefing, the first bikes were away at 10am.The riding was organised in a realistic enduro style, with riders released at one minute intervals.

As my minute approached I was a little jittery, I don’t ride much these days, and had no idea of what to expect. Getting lost trying to find the property and almost running the car out of fuel hadn’t done anything for my nerves either.

I was on the same minute as a guy on a DR600. He blasted off down the track while I was still fumbling around with my timecard. Not the most auspicious of starts, lucky it was a non-competitive event.

Setting off from the starting gate, there was a short blast through a paddock and then into some gently undulating single track. A hard right turn and I was onto the first of several hills. I caught the Suzuki rider and passed him in a series of sandy corners at the top of the hill.

This was followed by some fairly technical single track, and then into an open paddock with the course marked out with tape before it snaked its way back into the bush for more tight single track. A few logs to get over, and some sharp corners to keep you on your toes. Man, some of those trees are close together too. No barkbusters for me, but I still counted ten fingers at the end of the day.

The country was quite hilly, but I didn't find any of the hills too hard, despite the fact that none of the climbs seem to have any run-up at all! For me, some of the hardest parts were along the sides of these slopes, where my dodgy rear tyre wanted to slip sideways and send me into the trees.

At one stage I did become a little complacent, and in one of the few open sections excessive speed mixed with over-confidence saw me spearing off into the scrub. I narrowly missed several nasty looking trees. “Take it easy, it’s not a race,” I reminded myself as I extricate the Yamaha and continued.

The course breaks back into open country for some time with a series of corners set on the side of the hill. On a subsequent lap I manage a low speed face-plant on an off camber corner, getting a helmet full of dust as a reward for my carelessness.

Back into the bush and a long downhill had me certain that I was going to see some water. At the bottom the ground was a little moist, but no real mud or slop to be seen (that’s the drought for you). The relative dryness didn’t stop me falling off here on one lap though!

Some more single track, a little more paddock time, then a short ride through the bush to get to the finish gate.

Overall I found the loop to be challenging without being overly difficult, though some entrants struggled a bit. Some parts left me panting for breath, but overall the feeling was one of tired elation. A tricky, ‘expert’ section added a bit more spice too.

An impromptu prize draw was held in the early afternoon, with prizes donated by local motorcycle businesses. Following the presentation, a few diehards (myself included) beg to be allowed out for one more lap, and the organisers acquiesce…

For this enthusiast it’s the perfect day. When’s the next one?