The Classic Motorcycle Rally

Second place in the 1913 race was C. Fenwick who rode a Rudge Multi 500cc.
A. W. McKeag on his 544cc Bradbury.
Proud winner of the 1913 Johannesburg - Durban Motor Cycle Race.
The report below is from a small publication by Ken Macleod entitled Through the Dust Barrier, Part One, 1903-1923 - The history of S.A. Motorcycle Sport. (Part Two, the final issue, covered the years 1924-1927)

The 420 mile journey between Johannesburg and Durban varied from "moderately good" going to "shocking". It began with roads deeply cut by wagons and occasionally comprised mere furrows. There were numerous gates on the first section, some hidden by drifts, which had to be opened and shut by the riders themselves, failure to do which would render them liable to prosecution. The track across the Biggarsberg in Northern Natal sometimes lost itself in grass seven foot tall while most of the roads across the mountains were the old oxwagon trails twisting and turning across the ranges.

The winner received a Silver Trophy valued at R210 and donated by the Hutchinson Tyre Company. The first ten men to finish received Club gold medals, the second ten silver medals and those finishing within 12 hours of the winner, bronze medals.

Clothing worn by riders varied from ordinary clothes, jerseys, riding breeches and leggings to a beautifully pressed white duck suit worn by "Tick" Brown of Durban. The fragile nature of the bikes necessitated the carrying of spares, Woodville carrying a set of forks while others carried belts, chains, plugs and tyres. Large puncture repair outfits and butt-ended tubes were also required while the experts fitted security bolts to prevent the tyres leaving the rims under sudden deflation.

The first four starters, Hatton, Lamprecht, Gibbon and Woodville, all on 265 cm3 F.N.s left the start at 9,00 a.m. on May 10, 1913 while the last of the 63 riders left almost four hours later.

There was half a mile of macadamised road from the start, a tricky corner in a dip, followed by a bad section of road from a plantation. C. Morris crashed and broke his collarbone but remounted and continued.

A. Webster riding a 300cc Hobart lost several places when he took the wrong turning at Heidelberg.

C. H. Holder on a 350cc Douglas had his cap removed by a piece of wire stretched across the top of a gate hidden in a dip, Gould, 350cc Douglas,  was flung from his machine and J. Dove dislocated his jaw and lost several teeth. He stood warning the other riders of possible instant decapitation.

Fred Brokensha crashed heavily and when he recovered consciousness discovered he had broken a leg when he tried to get up and remount his machine. A friendly farmer pushed his bike while Brokensha returned to Greylingstad on a hired horse!

W. Arnott (292 cm3 Hazlewood) led at the first overnight stop at Standerton with Holder (350 cm3 Douglas) second and Billy Reckenberg (340 cm3 Douglas) third.

Holder encountered mist in the low lying regions of the Biggarsberg and his carburettor froze. Thompson crashed but continued with a badly damaged bike, Gay crashed and was seriously injured and George Weddell fell heavily when he rode into a hole hidden in the grass near Elandslaagte. He strapped his broken forks with a pair of reins and retired at Ladysmith, the second overnight stop.

But despite his problems, Holder led at Ladysmith with the Rand Sidecar champion McKeag third behind Arnott.

McKeag made up 16 minutes on the leaders between Ladysmith and Estcourt and took the lead from Holder who was repairing his bike at the side of the road eight miles from Pietermaritzburg. He fell heavily at Bothas Hill, the bike going over a bank and landing on top of him, filling the petrol tank with sand.

It was on a much slower machine that he struggled on to the finish amid great excitement. Fenwick finished in second place shortly afterwards and rode straight on past the judges to the City Hall.

Reg Witherspoon was the first Natal rider to finish, in fifth place, but he had encountered problems with two horses which "diced" him near Mooi River in spite of several attempts to chase them away. He made such good progress after this delay that he broke the Pietermaritzburg-Durban record in one hour 40 minutes. G. Usher stopped, unbeknown to him, only a few miles from the finish to repair a broken carrier and was passed by Witherspoon.


1. A. W. McKeag (Johannesburg, 544cc Bradbury) 14 hrs. 46 minutes, average speed 29,00 m/h.
2. C. Fenwick (East Rand, 500cc Rudge)
3. H. Thompson (Boksburg, 500cc Rudge)

Advertisement for the Bradbury Motorcycle

The story appeared in S.A. Motorcyclist, January, 1970.

When men are asked why they climb mountains like Everest, they usually reply "because it is there". Probably that was the same answer given by the men of the Rand Motor Cycle Club in 1913 when asked why they intended to hold a road race for motor-cycles from Johannesburg to Durban. At least Johannesburg and Durban were there. But the existence of "a road" was questionable!

Before that, a few intrepid pioneer motorists and cyclists had done the 420 mile trip, and, though the time taken would hardly earn the travellers the title of speed kings, the fact that they had done the journey, which in itself was something to brag of in those days.

Hutchinson Trophy

The Hutchinson Tyre Co. decided to put up a R210 Silver Trophy, 2 ft. 6 in. high and weighing 106 ozs. to be held by the winner for a year. Second prize was R21, and third R10-50. To the first 10, Club Gold Medals would be awarded, silver to the following 10, and bronze for the lucky men finishing within 12 hours of the winner. In addition, the Rudge, Douglas and Matchless Companies offered trophies to the winner, if mounted on one of their machines.

Petrol and oil were supplied free by the Texas and Vacuum Oil Companies.

Motor-cycle clubmen and other sporting types who had never competed in an event were excited when the decision to hold the new race, to be held over three days, with intermediate stops at Standerton and Ladysmith, was taken.

While putting up 200 directional signs to assist the competitors, two officials of the Rand Club did a reconnaissance run and pronounced the rout suitable. Their notes gave the following information for would be entrants Jo'burg to Balfour (52 miles) "moderately good". (Present day riders must remember that in those days the best were nothing but dirt roads.) The next 10 miles to Greylingstad was "bad" (so you know what that must have meant) though an average of 20-25 m.p.h. over this section was expected.


From there to Standerton (104 miles), for the first overnight stop, was quoted as "shocking", cut up by wagons, and in many places mere furrows meandering across the veld. The last 10 miles, however, were reported to be good, and speeds of around 50-55 m.p.h. were possible. A warning note, however, was added about the many gates which had to be opened and shut by the riders themselves. Failure to shut them rendered them liable to prosecution.

For the first five miles of the second leg, the surface was good, then it deteriorated, and was appalling. All the way to Volksrust (159 miles) where the riders left the 5,000 ft. Transvaal Highveld Plateau, and dropped down over the mountains into Natal.


The Newcastle (189 miles) to Ladysmith (247 miles) section across the Biggarberg Mountains was always notorious, and in 1913 it was extra hard going, in many places just a track which at times lost itself in grass up to seven feet high!

After the second overnight stop at the famous siege town, was the final day's 173 mile run to Durban. Eighteen miles out was Colenso Heights, another teeth-shattering ride, and then the mountains in quick succession, up and down from Estcourt, up through Mooi River, down through dreaded Curries Post and Karkloof and then dropping another couple of thousand feet to Pietermaritzburg.

Natal mountain roads were never good, even at the best of times, being the old oxwagon trail which fought its laborious way across the ranges. There were steep climbs, crazy descents, sudden dips into drifts and sluits, always badly cut up in good weather, and in the rainy season, veritable quagmires, where the mud was so thick, deep and glutinous that the bikes stood up by themselves, when the riders dismounted.

“The Road"

A handful of them decided to take a look at it before the race day. Reckenberg, one of the Rand's top racing men and his room-mate, McKeag, a Canadian mining engineer, who had just won the Rand Club Sidecar Championship, came down, as did the two Weddell brothers from Durban. The latter couldn't find words bad enough to describe "the road" and swore that if many of those who had entered saw what they were in for, they would never start.

"Luck", said Harry, would play the biggest part in the race, and by the law of averages a Transvaaler would win - for the simple reason that most entries came from there!

Big Field

There were 63 starters lined up on that morning of May 10, 1913, on the Natal Road just beyond the last cottage on the City Deep property, and a more varied collection of speedmen's clothing never appeared in a race. Some wore their ordinary clothes, others had jerseys, riding breeches and leggings, the seasoned riders sported tight - fitting leather skull-caps, many wore ordinary cloth caps, the most dashing of course with the peaks at the back. Prominent among them (and no wonder) was "Tick" Ellis Brown of the well-known Durban family, who was resplendent in a beautifully pressed white duck suit. The elegant Mr. Brown's Triumph was exactly as he used it to ride around Durban, only he had taken the added precaution (when he brought it up by train) of carrying an extra belt in case the old one broke. Most of the competitors carried loads of spare parts, belts, chains, plugs, tubes. Woodville, from the Cape (now a hale and hearty in Durban) had a spare pair of forks tied to his carrier!

By modern standards the race machines were an odd assortment, bearing, in some cases, more resemblance to their push cycle ancestors than to to-day's sophisticated engineering jobs.

Forks were spidery and fragile; tyres of the narrow beaded-edge type which had a bad habit of leaving the rim if suddenly deflated (the experts, of course, took the precaution of fitting security bolts to retain them in position). Because of the bad roads, punctures and concussion bursts were frequent, so puncture repair outfits of large dimensions and capacity were always carried, as well as spare tubes of the butt-ended type.


Lubrication was by handpump which was located on the petrol tank and was operated every five miles, if the rider was courageous enough to remove one hand from the handlebars, assuming, of course, that he did not forget.

Brakes were of the block variety operating on a dummy rim on the back wheel, and the front stopper (!) was the old push cycle stirrup-type. As the machines often ran out of brakes, the riders must have also been great believers in the power of prayer!

Drive was by belt, beautifully smooth when all was well, but a confounded nuisance when it slipped in wet weather, or stretched in ordinary going when stops had to be made to repair them with the tools carried specially for the job.

It looked as if half of Johannesburg was there to see the Mayor, Mr. W. R. Boustred, and L. T. White, chairman of the Rand M.C.C. despatch the field. The honour of being the first off at 9.00 a.m. on that occasion, falling to Messrs. Hatton, Lamprecht, Gibbons and Woodville, all on 265 c.c. F.N's. and in receipt of a 3 hr. 52 min. start from scratch.


Among the favourites were two 350 Douglas riders, W. Reckenberg, with a 3 hr. 26 min. start, and Durban's Arthur Christian, starting six minutes behind.

There too, was that other famous Natal speedman, Charlie Woodward, also Douglas mounted. No. 30 was Cyril Simons, an all-round sportsman, on a 490 Triumph. (Cyril was later to become a colleague of mine on the Daily News, being a press photographer and the story of this race as recorded by me here, is largely as he told it to me a couple of years before he died).

The 500 Triumphs went off at the 2 hrs. 29 mins. mark. Among the 12 Rudges entered were Thompson, Adams and Fenwick, all well fancied on the Rand and W. P. Bawden who later became a Natal Provincial Councillor and a Senator.

Singer of Durban looked the likeliest prospect among the seven Triumphs, but the biggest roar went up when J. Hodgson, the local star went away on his 544 Bradbury. He was one of nine mounted on the popular make, among them J. McKeag, on a machine he had bought from Reckenberg who had tuned it for this race, and Clarrie Scott. The latter was making his first of many appearances in this classic race. Clarrie was the eldest of four brothers to make their mark in South African racing and carve their names with pride in the records of this race in particular. The Bradburys conceded 14 minutes start to the 500's.

Last to go was George Weddell on a big twin B.A.T. of 987 c.cs., on which he had previously set a record of 78.24 m.p.h. for three miles, from a standing start, beating Britain's record over that distance.

First Crash

Some went off like competitors in a speed burst, others as leisurely as if they were going on a picnic. To C. Morris of Durban went the doubtful honours of crashing his Rudge on the first corner, and it speaks volumes for his courage, despite breaking his collarbone he remounted and continued the race.

At Greylingstad, 30 of the riders got lost, some doing so twice in 100 yards, and it is amusing, if not amazing, to note that all those who had practiced on the road were among them.

Reports came through that Durban's Dove had been the victim of sabotage when he was knocked off his Premier by a wire stretched across the road. There had been an outbreak of rindepest among the cattle in the Transvaal and travel by car and trap had been banned. It was thought that some irate farmer had, in a fit of pique, stretched the wire in the path of the racers to show his disapproval of the whole thing.

Simons told me this was not so.


Dove had ridden full tilt into an old gate hidden by a dip in the road, and was lucky to escape with a dislocated jaw, though his machine was written off. Some of the following riders had their caps taken off by the wire, and owed their necks to the fact that they were using drop handlebars, unlike the sit-up-and-beg type on Dove's Premier.

McKeag, who went through later, commended Dove for waving down approaching riders to warn them of the danger. F. Brokensha crashed badly, and when he tried to restart, found he had broken his leg, but a passing farmer lent him his horse and then proceeded to push the bike to his farmhouse where first aid was rendered.

First Control

No. 5, Arnott, the rider of a 292 Hazlewood, was first into the control, having taken 3 hrs. 54 mins, for the 100-mile trip. Holder (Douglas) was second, and third, another flat-twin enthusiast, the popular Reckenberg, who reported loads of trouble en route, but for all that he had only dropped four minutes on the leader. Five seconds behind came Woodward. Fenwick (Rudge) startled the big crowd that lined the street by clocking a very quick 3 hrs. 18 mins. Hodgson, McKeag and Scott (Bradburys) and Adams (Rudge) were also well up here.

Standerton had not expected such a crowd as had come to see the race and on that Saturday there was no food for many, as supplies in all the hotels and eating places were exhausted.

Next day, being Sunday, there was a drop in the attendance at the start, when 53 riders pushed off on the second stage of 143 miles to Ladysmith. To everyone's surprise and amazement, "Tick" Brown once more appeared in a nice clean, white suit that would have made any dhobey proud, and cheerfully departed with the others, though he must have been very cold in the early morning mists which delayed a few of the machines when the carburettors iced-up.

Holder (Douglas) caught Arnott and together they raced on. Before Paardekop, Adams rushed past, but a tyre burst when a rim broke, and at Volksrust the order was Holder, Arnott, and Clinch (Rudge) who had been doing some really hectic motoring to clock in third there. McKeag was fifth.

As expected, the rough mountain roads through Langs Nek, round Majuba and down Ingogo, took a toll of the fragile machines and tosses were frequent, but, for all that, it was still Holder's little Douggie that led into the siege town to complete his second day's run.

Ladysmith, like the other towns en route, was packed to see the racers arrive.


The whole place was en fete and tables and foodstuffs and liquid refreshment had been laid out for the weary riders. A good job too, for soon all the food in the hotels here was finished and there were more empty stomachs that night, too.

The order here was Holder, Arnott, McKeag, Clinch, Thompson, Reckenberg, and, barring accidents (Thompson's bike was badly bent), the winner could be looked for among this lot.

Holder had averaged 25 m.p.h. to this point (he boasted of having done 46 m.p.h. in one place) and was 36 minutes ahead of McKeag, who had been delayed after crashing on the Biggersberg. Clinch, too, had dropped back.


McKeag cut down Holder's lead by 16 minutes to Estcourt and hereabouts the riders were troubled by horses which galloped beside them for miles before turning off into the veld.

The dashing Clinch surprised McKeag by rushing past on the Durban side of Mooi River, but the Canadian pressed on in hot pursuit, caught him after a few miles, and never saw him again. Here the order was Holder, seven minutes ahead of McKeag, with Fenwick's Rudge only five minutes behind the Bradbury.

Lead Changes

At Merrivale, McKeag went into the lead for the first time when he passed Holder at the roadside mending a broken belt. Fenwick was getting closer too as they rushed down through thick choking dust clouds to Howick.

Then at the top of Maritzburg Town Hill the Bradbury stopped. No petrol! Luck was with McKeag for he was able to coast all the way downhill to the control and fill up, but Fenwick caught him as he refuelled.

You can imagine the excitement as these two hurried to nil up and start the final 56 miles to the finish. It appeared to be all over bar the shouting when McKeag pushed off. He was in a hurry and his machine was going well. Then, near Botha's Hill, 30 miles from Durban, he overdid things and ran out of road on a corner, climbing the bank and crashing heavily with the machine on top of him. The bike looked a sorry mess for this was his third crash. There were several dents in the back wheel and the tyre looked about to leave the rim, the handlebars were bent, the lamp and generator broken, mag control and exhaust lifter hanging loose, the two-speed N.S.U. gear broken, footrests twisted upright, and oil pump handle bent.

McKeag's Crash

This was bad enough, but even worse was the fact that sand had got into the oil tank. McKeag wondered if he would be able to start the Brad., but miraculously it coughed into life and he was then faced with the prospect of a seizure at any minute. Durban was so near- yet so far. As he neared the port, the engine showed signs of tightening, and McKeag's heart strings must have done the same as it began to labour up the last hills. Then the owner of the Mayville Hotel sighted him and hoisted a flag to signal the officials at the finish at Tollgate, where excitement among the crowd was intense.

All turned to watch as he came up from Mayville. The bike was getting slower and slower. Then 200 yards from the finish it stopped and the rider was seen to dismount, take the drive belt off, and then push to the finish, jumping on just before he got there, and falling off once over the line!

What a finish, and what a reception he got from the hundreds who gathered round to pound him on the back and shake his raw hands.

Weddell's prediction about the Rand riding having all the luck being the winner had certainly come true.

The elated but weary McKeag offered R200 to anyone who could start his Bradbury again but such was its dilapidated condition there was no rush to take his money.

Winning Average

His time for the race was 14 hours 46 minutes and he had averaged 29 m.p.h. Second man home was Fenwick (Rudge) with a time of 15 hrs. 26 mins. and Adams, also on a Rudge, was a minute behind him. Then came the little Hazlewood which, unlike the first three finishers, was in excellent mechanical condition.

Reg Witherspoon was fifth with a fastest time of 1 hr. 40 mins, for the 56 mile run from Maritzburg to Durban.

Eighth was Simons who had lost 18 pounds in weight during the race, and was raw from the thighs down.

Tick Brown in a suit which was no longer white, collected 17th place and the spare belt he carried was still coiled up unused. Brown was very pleased with his Triumph, saying he had only had to get off twice to push up the hills!

And what about this? Morris who had broken his collarbone on the first day was 19th. How was that for guts?

There were 26 finishers; the last man timed in before the control closed being Gwilliam (Douglas) who had taken 21 hrs. 3 mins. for the run.
The Motorcycle June 19th 1913

The Johannesburg-Durban Motor Cycle Race

Sixty-two Competitors in South African T.T.

This important race, for the Hutchinson Trophy, was run off in three stages on May 10th, 11th and 12th, the first day's run being to Standerton, and the second to Ladysmith. There were sixty-six entries, and of these sixty-two started. The machines were handicapped according to capacity. The first arrivals at Standerton (104 miles) were as follows:

1, W. Arnott (2¾ Hazlewood);
2, C. H. Holder (2¾ Douglas);
3, W. Reckenburg (2¾ Douglas);
4, B. C. Woodward (2 ¾ Douglas);
5, M. Knight (3½ Norton);
6, H. W. Gould (2¾ Douglas).

It was only natural that the lightweights should lead at this point on account of their handicaps. Gould was thrown from his machine by a wire which, stretched across the road, caught him under the chin. In consequence of this he retired at Ladysmith. The order of the leaders at Ladysmith (263 miles) was as follows:

1, Holder;
2, Arnott;
3, A. W. McKeag (3½ Bradbury);
4, H. J. Thompson (3½ Rudge);
5, R. D. Clinch (3½ Rudge);
6, C. Fenwick (3½ Rudge).

Holder was seen in difficulties sixteen miles from Ladysmith. During the race the previous record - Maritzburg to Durban - which stood at 2 hours, was reduced by 15 minutes. Of the first 20 competitors to finish 7 rode Rudges, 4 Triumphs, 2 Bradburys, and 2 Douglases.


Rider and machine. Time of arrival. Handicap.

1. W. McKeag (Bradbury) 12h. 45m. 54s. 2h. 14m.
2. C. Fenwick (Rudge) 1h. 9m. 30s. 2h. 29.
3. H. J. Thompson (Rudge) 1h. 11m. 38s. 2h. 29.
4. W. Arnott (2f Hazlewood 1h. 45m. 46s. 3h. 48.
5. W. Witherspoon (Premier) 1h. 49m. 33s. 2h. 29.
6. G. B. Usher (B.S.A.) 1h. 54m. 13s. 2h. 29.

As was to be expected, there were many spills. C. Morris (Rudge) is reported to have ridden from Estcourt to Durban with a dislocated shoulder. Arnott's machine caught fire, but this was soon extinguished with sand.
Scene at the start
Clare (Elswick) and W. Arnott (Hazlewood) waiting the signal to start.

Riders sign on the dotted line prior to contesting the 1913 Johannesburg to Durban race.