The Classic Motorcycle Rally

Down goes the flag in the hand of Mayor Dixey Adams, in goes the clutch and Fred Aulfes eases his 55-year-old Matchless sidecar off the line at the start of the fifth commemorative "DJ" run. Mr. Aulfes of Greytown and his passenger Peter Hall were the first of the 104 competitors that left Durban yesterday morning to follow the route of the famous pre-war racers.
how did i feel riding in the d-j


Bike SA May 1975

Although it is a far cry from the blood-and-guts motorcycle races that made the Durban-Johannesburg the toughest motorcycle event in the world, riding in the D-J Commemorative Run on a vintage or classic machine still has the atmosphere of the romantic past.

I do not know yet quite what makes it so thrilling to be a competitor in the commemorative runs, I have taken part in three, but in spite of the sedate speeds set for the various sections and the strict time-trial rules that apply to competitors, one still manages to feel that you are taking part in something memorable.

It may be the collection of pre-superbike machines with all their vitals showing, it may be the smell of petrol and the smoking fumes from exhausts as machines line up for their turn to start, and it might be the twisting roads with sharp bends through the Valley of a Thousand Hills that combine to give the event an aura of past glories.

I believe, however, that some of the glamour which one finds in the commemorative runs comes from riding machines - either restored by oneself or nursed for two days along the old Durban-Johannesburg road - which by modern standards, are thought never to be able to complete the course.

Added to this is the sense of belonging to a group of people considered mad to attempt finishing the event in any case and the camaraderie which is engendered, when competitors start meeting in Durban before the race at Olympic Motors for "pre-race" scrutiny.

It is while competitors are working on their machines with feverish last-minute adjustments - borrowing tools from each other and exchanging advice freely - that you not only get the feeling that something important is afoot, but also discover that you are taking part in a notable event.

Among the crowds that visit the showrooms where the bikes are parked and displayed, are a majority of older people who were old enough between the years of 1913 and 1936 to have seen some of the races and followed the fortunes of riders like Percy Flook, Chick Harris, Baby Scott, Joe Sarkis and others who were the heroes of these great races. It is their interest in the machines and the riders and their recalling some of the more dramatic moments in those annual marathons that help to recapture something of the past.

To the public the spectacle starts becoming almost as exciting as it was in former years and they make riders feel a bit like the heroes that burned up the road between Johannesburg and Durban at breakneck speeds.
One of the lady entrants in this year's D-J was Mrs A. L. Nettleton on a 1934 Triumph.
Soon after the riders have left Durban and get onto the old national road, the event grows in character and importance. Each town and hamlet has its group of supporters waving on competitors and traffic along the road flick lights and make way for riders with a kind of admiring courtesy.

For long hours you feel that you and your machine are completely isolated from the rest of the field but at each refuelling, tea and lunch stop you become part of the whole again, pleased to see faces that are now becoming familiar and fellow riders who are still a going concern.

I do not think that any rider can break down without at some stage a fellow competitor stopping to assist him, regardless of whether such stops may mean arriving late at check points and controls and losing valuable points and any chances of being among the top finishers.

Excepting for a few dedicated rallyists, most of the riders try their best to ride to time but are more interested in just riding and finishing in the event than winning.

After the night stop at Newcastle, many of the competitors already are aware that they do not stand a dog's chance of doing very well, but the ride goes on and the gay spirit of companionship increases with every kilometre.

Even if riders know that they have done badly, secretly they hope that somehow they would have managed to do well and, above all, they become determined to finish at all costs.

It is this spirit of endurance and perseverance that leads to mechanical miracles along the side of the road, and examples of selflessness on the part of competitors who help each other, which can only be admired.

Some of these miracles occur at Newcastle where competitors will work until the early hours of the morning, stripping engines down completely and rebuilding them, to get back onto the road the next day.

The ride may not be fast but all day in the saddle with rigid frames and saddles which are far from comfortable, make it a rough and tiring ride.

Tired as they are, the competitors wear a permanent grin on their faces and every multiple stop becomes a social occasion at which riders amusingly exchange details of mishaps, wrong turnings and mechanical failures.

The inquiries of "How are you doing?" among competitors become a form of greeting.

You do not expect anyone you ask this question to, to say anything else in reply but "Fine", unless of, course, they tell you they are out of the running and then their disappointment is shared by all.

It finally boils down to this: it is considered bad luck not to finish the D-J, a feather in your cap if you finish, and something bordering on surprise if you have done well enough to win a prize or get a mention at the prize-giving dinner.

To do well in the D-J for most riders is just to cross the finish line and hear the applause of the crowds waiting at City Deep.

Winning the event is something that is left to the experts and the fortunate.


The Natal Mercury Correspondent


Geoff Palmer of Johannesburg emulated the famed Percy Flook and Baby Scott, only dual winners of the historic Durban-Johannesburg motor-cycle races, by winning the fifth Rand Daily Mail DJ Commemorative Run for pre-1937 bikes at the weekend.

He also won the first Commemorative run in 1970, when the D-J was revived as a regularity trial for machines of the era before the all-out races had to be stopped because of increasing traffic on the roads. He has been a formidable contender in all the D-J runs since.

On Saturday, he brought his 1936 Royal Enfield across the finish line at City Deep 121 seconds ahead on penalty points, of the 1930 BSA of S.P. Lange. Third was B. Broady on a 1935 Velocette, 31 seconds behind Mr. Lange and fourth was O. J. Barrett Junior on a 1927 Scott with 554 seconds penalty.

Mrs. Betty Nettleton shook the men by bringing a 1934 Triumph into sixth place overall and winning her class. Mrs. S. van Rensburg, 1935 Norton, and Miss B. Wenman, 1934 Triumph, finished 17th and 35th. Special awards were made to the three successful women riders.

Mike Milner-Smyth of Durban made a strong challenge to Palmer on the, first day's run from Durban, and at the overnight stop at Newcastle his 1925 AJS was only 18 seconds behind the leader.

His hopes crashed near the start of the climb to Laings Nek on Saturday morning when he swerved to avoid a pothole and fell, with the machine on top of him.

He was badly bruised and the bike's fuel tank was twisted on the frame, interfering with the gear selector so that it kept jumping out of top. He battled on, holding the lever in place with one hand, to finish 52nd.

Ronnie le Roux from Witbank went over the handlebars of his 1927 Scott in Charlestown, apparently from the brake locking, and broke his collarbone.

Of the 105 bikes that left Durban on Friday, 89 completed the run to City Deep under their own power and in time to qualify for medals.

The DJ must not die


THE D-J must not die. This was the recurring theme of appreciative comments by competitors after the finish of the fifth Rand Daily Mail Durban-Johannesburg commemorative run last Saturday.

It will not die if the enthusiasm of those who take part, of the Rand Motoring Club and Vintage and Veteran Club members who organise it, officials, marshals, and all who have any part in it count for anything.

That enthusiasm has sparked the phenomenal growth in the popularity of the present day D-J. When it was first run in 1970, to revive and commemorate the famed races in the form of a regularity trial for pre-1937 motorcycles, there were 58 entries. Every D-J since has seen the entry list grow.

A break in the series last year, because of the fuel crisis, heightened enthusiasm for this year's event. There were 109 entries, 105 starters, and 89 finishers. There will be more in future runs.

To be eligible for the D-J, a motorcycle must have been built before 1937. Finding and restoring suitable machines is becoming steadily more difficult - and making more and more people determined to do it. Somehow they succeed.


Colin Oakhill's 1911 Rudge is the only surviving prototype of the famous Rudge Multi model. It is a museum piece, but his philosophy is that a machine should be used for as long as that is possible.

Previous failure to finish a D-J on the Rudge only made him more determined to do it. This year he made it, but had to overcome a succession of problems.

The driving belt broke soon after the start from Durban. The new one he fitted stretched and slipped, as new belts always do. So he had to make several stops to remove links and tighten it. Up Town Hill, going out of Maritzburg, he had to walk beside the Rudge to help it along.

The pushrod operating a valve broke. Fortunately he had, on a whim, made himself a spare, so he fitted it. By the time he reached Newcastle for the overnight stop a valve cotter was giving trouble.

"I have never felt so much like giving up", he said. Instead he worked into the night to make and fit a new cotter. Within sight of the finish he had to stop the engine and could not re-start - so he pushed the Rudge to the finish.


Julius Civin, on a 1930 OK Supreme, was another who had to trot up Town Hill beside his machine. Peter Blackwell's 1931 Ariel ran like a bird, but became steadily more reluctant to re-start after every stop for fuel. Eventually he was changing the plug at every stop.

Bill Averre and his 1935 Velocette were competing for the first time. The clutch was giving trouble, and his first attempt to climb the steep hill out of Escourt failed. He turned back to the town, worked on the clutch, tried again - and failed again.

The third attempt was successful, but the clutch continued to slip and his heart sank as he faced the string of traffic lights through Alberton.

A patrolling traffic officer apparently sensed that he was in trouble and used his 'own bike to clear a way through the traffic for the Velocette, which was the first bike to cross the finishing line.

The credit for overcoming such difficulties belongs to the riders, but they give it to the bikes. "So you made it", was the greeting a friend gave to J. E. McReath as he turned his 1931 Royal Enfield into the finishers' enclosure.

'What do you mean, I made it - the bike made it. All I did was sit on it and get a sore bum", was the instant reply.

Cyril Richmond had two bikes in the run - a 1929 Harley-Davidson which he rode and a 1934 Triumph ridden by Mrs Betty Nettleton. Serious mechanical trouble put both bikes out of the International Veteran and Vintage Rally, a bare month before the D-J, but he was determined that both would be repaired and running in time for it.


They were. Mrs Nettleton rode the Triumph to a class win and sixth place overall, but the Harley was another matter. Shortly before the startA during a trial run in Durban, a valve and seat blew out of one cylinder.

He had it welded, but a bare kilometre from the start it blew out again. He wedged it back in place with pieces of wood and struggled on, but by Westville it was clear that the Harley could not make it and he was forced to retire, Only Mrs Nettleton's performance consoled him.


Trying to win, or at least to do well, is important - but not nearly as important as finishing for most of those who take part in the run.

Jimmy Mahaffey was delighted, and slightly incredulous, when he heard that his 1928 AJS was provisionally placed seventh at the overnight stop.

On the final day's run he missed an instruction to change speed and dropped to 12th place, but the fact that he had finished four times in five D-J runs meant a lot more than that he might have finished among the leaders.

He had no need to say that he would rather have scored five finishes in five runs than have won one.
J. S. Gosling's 1932 BSA, No 32, overtakes the oldest bike in the Rand Daily Mail D-J run, Colin Oakhill's 1911 Rudge No 8, as it overtakes Bob Maddern's 1925 Royal Enfield near Standerton.
The smile on the face of the tiger. At the finish of the Rand Daily Mail D-J run Geoff Palmer knew he had done well, and had high hopes that he had pulled off his second win. He had.

LOOKING BACK with "Enthusio"

On two recent occasions readers have remarked about a decline in the standard of preparation of D-J motorcycles. This may be fair comment, but the thought takes me back to the state of play in the 1970s

We were all beginners at the rally game and the general condition of a D-J bike in those days was quite poor by today's standards. My AJS, I recall, usually started the D-J in a shiny new coat of paint. After the event it always looked very sad with bits having fallen off, the mudguards all cracked, and the whole thing would be drenched in oil.

Accordingly the rallies were invariably something of an adventure, as this story I wrote in 1975 for "Veterantics" illustrates.


The story began when the Commemorative D-J was held again after a two-year Arab oil-break. It attracted an entry of 105 bikes and the usual rush to get our machines ready in time. The surprise was that my 1925 AJS was ready a WHOLE WEEK before the event and I was able to give it a try-out in the Club's run to Mandini in Zululand. Apart from blowing out cobwebs, a "shakedown" run can shake the rust and scale down from the petrol tank into the carburetor.

It can also show that your clutch can fail, as mine did on the starting line. With no clutch, and an already fluffy engine, I thought it best to potter back to base and fix things properly. The strip/clean/assemble/adjust routine got it all working well again, but it took two hours and I set off for Zululand just as the others were arriving for lunch at the Mandini Country Club.

Winding the Ajay into a strong headwind usually means that you run out of fuel in two hours five minutes. Since the trip would take two hours fifteen, I naturally ran out of juice a few miles short of Mandini. I parked the bike in the sugar cane and hitched a lift to the Club where I got the four things I urgently needed a beer, some lunch, a gallon of petrol and a lift back to the bike in Brian Smith's MG TC. The cruise back to Durban was problem-free but we had to get the bike into a more satisfactory state of tune.

The replacement ordered for the worn piston did not arrive in time, and I was also worried by a vibration that set in at 60kmh. Chief Mechanic Pirie said "It's just a little too advanced, and it will go away at higher altitude" Deep down he was thinking "Poor beggar won't get to Jo’burg. That piston is so worn it does a somersault at TDC".

The big day arrived and it was great to see our D-J friends and their bikes gathered together again. The first day's run to Newcastle was surprisingly uneventful. The weather was fine and the ride was thoroughly enjoyable. Newcastle's Mayor was away so the usual Civic Cocktail Party was not held, but our sponsor, Mobil, stepped in and gave us a drinks party. During the course of the evening I nearly passed out when the results were pinned up and I was shown to be lying SECOND, just 18 seconds behind the great Geoff Palmer!

It was all too good to be true, but Harold Hall and I got prepared for the home stretch and took things a bit more seriously. Harold made up a "milestone/speed" chart, stuck it to my tank and taught me how to use it Armed with Harold's stopwatch, I started off on the second day in high spirits at not being in my usual place among the tailenders.

This was all to no avail. I clicked the watch at the first visible milestone, then looked up to see one of those cavernous potholes we had been warned about. Avoiding action took me straight at a part of the road that had crumbled away from storm water. We suddenly flew through the air and landed with a crunch in the veld. The engine spluttered and died and, as the dust began to settle, I was relieved to find I could still move all my limbs. My biggest problem was to get out from under the bike.

Eventually this was done but the bike was looking pretty sad. The petrol tank was split, the clutch lever pointing the wrong way and a stream of petrol was weeing from the carb. I struggled to get it all working again while the valuable minutes ticked away, and the numbness gave way to aches and pains in all sorts of places. Happily she eventually started, but unhappily a Control was just round the second corner, and bang went 798 points!

The power was still there but there was no hope of catching up before the lunch stop, and I continued to ring up big penalties at each control. The leaking petrol was stinging my legs, and the things in between, but the biggest problem was that the gear quadrant had been deranged so I had to forcibly hold it in top with my left hand.

So the rest of the long day's ride was uncomfortable in the extreme. However, arriving at City Deep at the end of a D-J is always a thrill, and having got there after a long hard battle is somehow quite satisfying. Various cousins were there to meet me with lots of beer, and their willing hands got the wreck loaded onto Ken's trailer. Only when I later stripped down for a welcome bath did I see the extent of the bruises and the skinned knees.

The next day I hobbled up to the Standby Counter at Jan Smuts airport, where the SAA lady said "What did you come off?" I told her that I had come off my motorbike. After some confusion we established that if I had come off an International Flight, I would have gone to the head of the standby queue instead of waiting three hours for a flight to Durban.

There was no time to waste when we got back because the remains of my 225cc Royal Enfield were found to be of 1917 birth, and the Castrol Veteran Run was just around the corner. Jimmy and I worked flat out on the project and the next weekend saw partial success. At the second pull of the back wheel, the little twostroke spluttered into life for the first time in 50 years. We quickly strapped a crash hat on Jimmy's head and pushed him and the bike out of the gate. This was too exciting a time to worry about things like mudguards and licence discs. Fifteen minutes later he was back laughing his head off. He had been passed by only one cyclist and had found the gear lever on the tank had just two positions. They were "noisy" and "not so noisy", and neither seemed to have any bearing on the bike's speed.

In doing the finishing touches I took the pan saddle to the leatherworks and told the man I had two problems. One was that a matching saddle cover had to be made, and two was that it had to be ready in 48 hours. The man suddenly reeled back against the wall and fell on the floor clutching his sides. The staff picked him up and, after he had wiped his eyes and stopped laughing, he said that some of last year's jobs were still not finished but that he would do his best.

He did and the new saddle was ready in time. After much assistance from the Pinetown Licencing Office and their principals in Maritzburg (Bless them!), the machine was fitted with its new number "NPN 1917" the day before the Veteran Run. This cute little bike was simply laid down on a blanket in the back of my station wagon and driven to Ladysmith for the rally.

In the cold light of the next morning I wheeled her out of the Showroom and had my very first ride on her down the main street to the Start. The Castrol Veteran Runs are always well reported in this magazine and elsewhere. Suffice to say that the event is one of the best on the calendar, the weather and the company were wonderful and the little Enfield never missed a beat. They said that the Enfield wouldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding, but she did, and she's enjoying her new lease of life immensely.

Oh yes, the skin peeled off my nose as well.