Thirty-five seconds of adrenalin faces the rider on the brute of a Honda CR500 he has shoe-horned into a CR250 alloy frame.
If you haven’t heard a CR500 being revved at close range, you haven’t heard one of the most spine-tingling racing exhaust notes. ‘Angry’ doesn’t do it justice. Then there’s the whole issue of making two extreme elements designed for the dirt fit together to work on the tarmac.
The rider looks to be in full attack mode. But don’t worry. Brett Metcalf is no stranger to Collingrove’s 750m torture track.
He knows the blind first corner is off-camber; that the front wheel will lift over the following dipper before hitting the spooky, gravity-defying Speedbowl. A few super-tight esses later, the journey will be over.
This must be the loneliest half minute of your life. Just your bike, a thin ribbon of tar and your fears.
In a howl of revs, Metcalf disappears off the startline. The hoarse, crisp exhaust note echoes across the dusty ridge as he scales the heights.
A few years back, with the CR500 in its original frame, he recorded 36.91sec, and then followed that up with 37.61sec on his Yamaha RD250LC racer. Later that day he took an early 1970s BSA single up in 39.38sec, ahead of a Ducati 748SP at 39.39sec. So he’s got form.
This year the Honda CR500 special records 35.82sec. Pretty good, but not good enough to beat the meeting’s young gun, Ty Lynch. Seventeen-year-old Ty makes his Collingrove debut on a converted Yamaha YZ450 motocrosser he uses to race around Australia in motocross and dirt track.
He slays the circuit, with a stunning 33.17sec. The sport of hillclimbing has another convert.
(Someone, please sign up Ty for tarmac racing full-time. This kid is on the way up.)
Each autumn South Australia’s Atujara Motorcycle Club, formed in 1930, runs the Collingrove Hillclimb for motorcycles and sidecars of all eras. The track, opened in 1952, is on the edge of the wine-producing Barossa Valley.
The event honours Atujara club legends Hec Henderson and Laurie Boulter. One of Australia’s top riders in the 1950s, Boulter lost his life training on the Isle of Man in 1954.
Hillclimbing has always revolved around “run what you brung”. This year a couple of examples stick out.
Fletcher Bolton rocks up on a Yamaha MT-01. “This bike wears more bling than my wife,” he jokes in regards to the BST carbon-fibre wheels and Superbike-spec suspension. A bit further along pit lane, Mark Hicks is doing final race prep on his Polini pocket bike. He’s got his race face on and is perhaps best left undisturbed.
There may be a touch of madness here but earlier in the day, in damp conditions, Hicks looked one of the fastest off the line. His best time is a creditable 43.01sec, faster than some of the classics.
Hillclimbing brings together a cross section of age groups as well as eccentricities. Father-and-son team Paul and Reece Cawthorne are sharing a Kawasaki KX250F and Paul is also running his 1976 Stone-themed Z900.
“Robin Oster [a well-known Z1 collector] came into my shop and handed me a bare Z900 frame with the instruction ‘this is your new bike’,” explains Paul. “That frame sat by my desk for a few years while we got the parts.”
Along with the orange paint, the finishing touch was a rare Stone fairing, as used in that seminal 1974 Aussie biker film. “The first year I ran the Z1 at Collingrove I won the historic class but it sure is a handful at the top of the hill,” Cawthorne confesses. Son Reece, 21, asks his father if he can try the Z1.
“No,” is the answer. Reece takes revenge later by beating Paul’s times on their shared KX250 motard.
Some great old bikes have come out of the woodwork over the weekend.
Eleven-time Australian off-road sidecar champion Murray Williams is quietly wrenching away on two very special machines. This is the 1962 ESO-Jawa-Norton sidecar’s first outing since the rebuild.
Father-and-son team Chris and Tom Lang are ready to power the lusty single-lunger up this daunting hill. The speedway-engined special with Norton featherbed frame won the Australian sidecar championships several times, the last in 1971. It runs a BSA scrambles-ratio gearbox, Norton clutch, BSA rear wheel and BMW front. The plan is to race it in tarmac, dirt track and vintage motocross.
Chris Lang is also racing a Williams’ BSA 535cc single-cylinder special he calls the ‘Black Star’. A 1955 BSA swinging arm frame is fitted with Norton forks and twin-leading-shoe front brake. A BSA gearbox and Norton clutch complete the basics but the 1950 iron engine is a work of art. Internals have been modified to achieve an 88 x 88mm bore and stroke to produce 535cc running on methanol, with 14.0:1 compression, and an ESO piston, conrod and flywheels. “I’m always working on things,” says a modest Murray of his efforts.
ALMOST A MANX
Nearby Dan Gleeson is ready to fire up his 1947 Norton Inter 600. “The man who built it told me, ‘It’s almost a Manx’,” says Gleeson of his big-bore Norton. That builder was South Australian speedway tuner and racer the late Len Dyson. Famous for his specials, including fitting four-valve Jawa heads to a Vincent and taking a BSA A65 twin out to 1000cc, he sure worked his magic on Gleeson’s Norton.
A 350cc bottom end is topped with a 600cc barrel intended for sidecar racing. A pre-war ‘dolls head’ gearbox is mated to a modern belt-drive primary. The Inter engine runs a Manx camshaft but a Jawa conrod and piston from a 1200cc Harley-Davidson. The cocktail of components demonstrates the resourcefulness of Dyson, building a classic contender on the other side of the world from the factory.
“Methanol and a 14:1 compression means you can forget push-starts,” says Gleeson of the machine he has owned for 15 years.
A big sidecar crowd has come out to play. Among them are Geoff Grant and new passenger Peri Kowai on their 1972 ‘Wallaby’ Kawasaki H2 750. How do you bring a newbie sidecar passenger up to speed? If you’re Grant you take your daughter-in-law for a spin around local village streets.
“The worst part of this is the waiting at the startline,” says a cheerful Peri after her first run.
She is in capable hands. Grant has had this outfit for 15 years and won a dozen state titles, come second five times at national events and third overall in New Zealand.
The old warhorse was built by Lindsay Urquhart. “The engine mounts tell the story,” says Grant. He explains how it started life with a Triumph twin engine, then a Honda four. The current 1972 750cc H2 Kawasaki powerplant is a methanol-burning monster that delivers two miles to the gallon. “Notice the fat expansion chambers?” Grant says. “That’s critical for torque. You couldn’t fit those on a road bike and get cornering clearance.”
Those of us who love vintage motocross iron know all about Yamaha’s IT250. Scott Elliott is running a 1982 J model, decked out in supermotard style.
The original supermotard riders were America’s ABC Wide World of Sport Superbikers, racing converted two-stroke motocross or enduro bikes.
“I was certainly inspired by those early-’80s Superbikers,” says Scott, who loves that period. He also races a Graeme Crosby/Wes Cooley-inspired Suzuki GS1000 in classic events. His tow car? A souped-up 1976 Scout International 4WD.
His street-registered IT has been developed over the past three years. As well as the odd hillclimb, Elliott races it in vinduro. He also chases his supermotard mates on the road.
“It’s the best all-round bike I’ve ever owned, but I’ve only ridden old bikes,” he laughs. For tarmac work the IT is fitted with a set of 17-inch wheels running Maxxis wet-weather tyres.
A wet weight of 95kg means it’s got performance potential but the cantilever rear shock can induce a case of ‘kangaroo-hop’ if not set up correctly.
Meanwhile, back from his run on the Honda CR special, Brett Metcalf is ready to jump on Morvan Green’s 1971 BSA B50 MX 560 for another gallop. He’s also piloting a sidecar up the hill. Talk about extremes.
“It’s not the performance difference as much as the fact that the gear changes are back-to-front and on the other side,” he says.
The BSA is a genuine factory motocrosser that Morvan Green has owned for 25 years. “I took the head to the UK many years back and got [the late] Fred Barlow to port it to factory specs,” he says.
The bored-out BSA may have a chrome frame but the rest of it is understated elegance, from the cute alloy tank to its conical hubs. His MX has period trickery, including upgraded engine breathing and oil circulation.
The two bikes make an interesting comparison. Back in the late 1960s the B50 was the ultimate British factory MX weapon. A couple of decades later Honda’s CR500 was the ultimate Japanese two-stroke MX dominator.
Now there is a worldwide subculture devoted to adapting Honda’s CR250 alloy frame to fit the big old engine without breaking the budget. Extreme, eh? Yes. But two extremes that fit perfectly into the world of hillclimbing. Try it yourself.
Hillclimbing is one of the world’s oldest forms of motorsport, with possibly the first event being held in France in the late 1890s. England’s Shelsley Walsh is claimed to be
the world’s longest continuously running event held on its original course, dating back to 1905.
Victoria’s Rob Roy Hillclimb is Australia’s oldest venue for the sport.
The first event was held on its 695m course in 1937 and the track was sealed in 1939, when even most main roads were not covered in bitumen.
Check out what’s happening in your state through your local branch of MA and you might very well find a hillclimb has been organised. For example, the Historic Motorcycle
Racing of Victoria regularly hosts a club-members-only hillclimb at Mt Tarrengower, Maldon.
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