2015 Sound of Thunder, NZ

Date 15.4.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader



2015 Sound of Thunder
BEARS/Britten at Ruapuna, NZ

Britten legend Andrew Stroud jammed on the front brake of the girder-forked V1000, brought the engine revs up to just under redline and dumped the clutch. With a screech from the back tyre, he slowly disappeared into a cloud of rubber smoke.

A minute later, the pink and blue Kiwi creation that won a world title and created a legend in 1995 was launched out of the fog of burnt rubber.

The bike cut out and a ragged cheer rang out from the crowd assembled in pit lane. Stroudy had done what he always does when most affected by the emotion of demonstrating the Britten to true believers. He had enscribed the letter ‘B’ into the tarmac. He’d done this before over the past 20 years, but this one was the most significant. 

This was Ruapuna and those true believers were the original BEARS racers of the 1980s who’d encouraged local dreamer John Britten to turn his thoughts into reality. Sadly, John departed early, at the age of just 45, in 1995 and just months after Stroudy and team mate Stephen Briggs delivered a one-two result in the first FIM World BEARS championship. His design genius lives on through the owners of the two Britten V1000s.

The spirit that drove John Britten and his talented team is reflected in the huge field of BEARS racers who come to Ruapuna each year with their own backyard creations.


As always, the weather helped. Saturday was a glorious 23 degrees with just a light breeze to ruffle the flags during practice in the morning and the start of the race program in the afternoon. It drizzled on Sunday morning but cleared up by the afternoon when some of the weekend’s best racing took place.

Spectators packed the pit-lane wall and filled the best vantage positions around the flat-but-technically challenging circuit.

The queue for a battered dog on a stick was often 20-deep and most of the on-ground merchants enjoyed a roaring trade. The Britten display attracted the biggest crowds and with most of John’s family present it was an intimate look into the life of an extraordinary talent.

Anniversary 20 was substantially bigger than anniversary 10 so there’s no telling where, and if, it will stop. Having a number of the Brittens running and being demonstrated on the circuit was particularly impressive and the commitment of owners like Kevin Grant (get well soon) and Bob Robbins who both want to keep their bikes in perfect working order augers well for a bright future.


With 32 races across 10 classes and multiple races for each class, it’s difficult for spectators to get their heads around what’s actually happening. BEARS (British, European, American Racing) kicked off in New Zealand in 1983 and eventually turned into a world championship, but it’s at Ruapuna where you see how alive the movement still is.

Typical were the hard-chargers from the Victoria Motorcycle Club. The organisation is Wellington’s first-choice racing club and between 15 and 20 members attended the Sound of Thunder meet (it was difficult to count them – they kept moving around).

Gerard Dobson dragged MT into its inner circle to reveal substantial family roots. Dillon Telford’s Aprilia would have slaughtered the opposition normally but, for the first time, NZ Superbike champ Dennis Charlett was racing.

Telford has raced at the meeting for seven years in a variety of classes and would love to win the BEARS Formula One John Britten Tribute Cup as his father has won it four times.

Fellow club member James Galway had to compete against his father and brother but managed to come away with a trophy.

Younger riders are coming through in the Vic club. Robbie Groves was a rookie last year but picked up a second this year in the Best of British on his Triumph 675.

Other stars shone during the two days. Andrew Stroud on the Ken McIntosh Manx Norton had a pitched battle all weekend with Hayden Fitzgerald on a Matchless 500. Stroud gave the slightest hint that the McIntosh Manx may have had a little in reserve but told MT he wouldn’t have wanted Fitzgerald to have been going any faster.

“There’s no such thing as a free win anymore. Every time I race there’s always someone pressing. This time it was Hayden.”


The crowd was full of BEARS regulars but also a substantial number of newcomers. This was Tony Baxter’s second meeting but his first on his own bike, a Ducati Monster 1200 S. At 62, he’s back on bikes after a seven-year gap and BEARS racing is his medicine.

Hailing from Taylors Mistake, Tony wants to be on the circuit next year and loves the fact that he can wander around the pit area and the advice is plentiful and free.

Spectator areas were full of families, patch clubs, former racers and plenty of non-riders who just love the speed, smell and sound. See you all there next year.