The Classic Motorcycle Rally

Mike Milner-Smyth reports on the NedCredit
Durban-Johannesburg Commemorative Rally
Ric Lewis won the NedCredit "DJ" Rally on his 1929 500cc Sunbeam on 6 and 7 March to score a record-equalling third win in this event.

He beat another three-time winner, Kevin Robertson on a 1936 250cc Velocette, by four seconds.

The DJ Rally, organised by the Veteran and Vintage Club, commemorates the famous motorcycle races held between Durban and Johannesburg from 1913 to 1936. This was the 28th DJ Rally.

The modern event is a reliability trial, the riders have pre-calculated route schedules (in various speed groups) and sealed instruments. Bikes up to 1936 are eligible, and the SAVVA dating system is applied strictly.

With 150 starters and a course distance of 580 km, this is indeed a major event. Entries were again oversubscribed, but eight lucky riders on the reserve list managed to get in due to some late withdrawals.

An event of this size warrants special safety measures and the riders all wore the highly-visible NedCredit bibs. The Criticare mobile rescue outfit was again in attendance, and Bill van Dongen was the course medical officer. Fortunately the medics were called upon only for eyedrops and a single case of a bee sting.

There were 8 lady entrants this year, the highest ever, and seven of them qualified as finishers. Two are daughters of Trevor Williams from Pretoria, and this must surely be the first ever father-and-daughters team.

The only belt-drive machine was the 1918 single-speed Norton of Jeff Frost, a regular DJ competitor since 1970.

Ric's reward... DJ Rally winner Ric Lewis with the magnificent Schlesinger Vase.
Picture: Liz Addison
Weatherwise, it was undoubtedly the hottest DJ Rally ever. The Friday run saw an unusually high casualty rate, with the heat taking its toll of fuel mixtures, spark plugs and 70-year-old magnetos.

The rallying of the leading pack was extremely accurate and they were averaging only about six seconds error per control.

The event was also a triumph for the team of ladies who carried out most of the organisation. They were ably led by Betty Richmond, who was also Clerk of the Course, and is herself a veteran of 15 DJs and countless other vintage rallies.

Cliff McArthur's squad of four Excelsior Manxman machines finished the rally intact. The 1935 DJ-winning 250 was ridden by John Lefevre into 46th place. Cliff rode the 1936 recordholder 350 and received the award for the oldest rider to finish.

Bruce Wharton of the United States Embassy in Pretoria was delighted with his run on a recently acquired Triumph Model P, coming in 35th and winning the First Time Rider's trophy. In all, 119 finishers' medallions
were awarded.

Peter Elliott, chairman of the Rand Motoring Club, was on hand to present the magnificent Schlesinger Vase to the winner. The Rand Motoring Club, of course, organised the original DJ races. Because of its great historic value, the trophy spends its life in a bank vault and only comes out for the annual DJ awards ceremony.

Also on hand was the Twist Grip television team. Tommy Doig had a digital video camera mounted on his solo BMW, and his fine action shots were included in the programme screened just two days after the event.

Hew Hollard - who has just completed refurbishing the Cranley Jarman AJS, winner of the last DJ race in 1936, for the Heidelberg Transport Museum - finished 17th on his 1929 Ariel.

Third DJ win for Ric Lewis
George Corlett (1931 BSA 493cc) arrives at the James Hall Transport Museum in Wemmer Pan.
Picture: Basil Chassoulas

Peter Posniak prepares to set off from Pinetown on his 1915 Indian, the oldest motorcycle on the run.
Picture: Liz Addison
Journey's end... Peter and Charmaine Smith (Matchless) arrive at the finish in Wemmer Pan.
Picture: Basil Chassoulas
Ric Lewis loves the Antarctic. He also loves the DJ Commemorative Rally. This year he combined both loves by coming straight from his fifth sojourn in Antarctica to win the DJ Rally for a third time, equalling the record number of wins in this event held by Kevin Robertson and the late Ralph Lange.

"I almost didn't make the DJ, never mind win it," said Ric. A technician in the Department of Palaeontology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Ric had to jump ship to be in time to line up for the start in Pinetown on 6 March.

"I had planned to return to South Africa on the SA Agulhas, but had to change my plans when I realised the Agulhas would not reach South Africa in time. A navy vessel kindly took me on board and I arrived back with two days to spare."

Ric had prepared his faithful 1929 Model 5 5OOcc side valve Sunbeam in November, before leaving for the icy continent. It was the combination's 14th DJ Rally together.

The rally went beautifully, with speed groups being fair and conservative. The fact that the Sunbeam also went beautifully helped considerably, the 'Beam climbing Town Hill in second for the first time instead of having to go down to first gear.

In fact, the only problem Ric encountered in beautiful conditions was that the long-legged Sunbeam went so well (he has reached 110 kph on it) that the carb float vibrated itself off between Volksrust and Standerton and he lost three minutes. However, he had recovered time by the next marshal.

By contrast, his previous wins, in 1985 and 1991, did not go quite so smoothly. His progress in 1985 was halted temporarily at Nottingham Road by cattle in the road. He weaved his way through them, losing 20 seconds. Then, on the Ladysmith section, a pantechnicon that had stopped in the road appeared likely to stop him again until he took to the veld.

His second win was notable for the fact that it rained all the way from Durban to Johannesburg. That maiden win came only two years after his first DJ rally, in 1983, in which he was a last-minute replacement for an injured rider on Peter Blackwell's BSA.

The Sunbeam, "a beautiful little bike" says Ric, was found in Pretoria in the 1960s and ridden subsequently by Chris van Rensburg and Bill Pennington. It had been crashed, although not badly, by the latter and Ric resprayed it and removed the dents in the rims.

The bike features a blind head, meaning that the head and barrel are cast in one, and has a compression ratio of 5:1. Ric has also fitted a wide-ratio gearbox, giving the bike its long legs and respectable top speed.
In from the Cold

By Ken Macleod
Winning ways... Ric Lewis and his 1929 500cc Sunbeam. It was the combination's 14th DJ Rally together and third victory. Picture: Liz Addison.