I remember thinking to myself at work one afternoon, as I watched the lads fawn over their various motorbikes.. ‘Hmmm… motorbiking… seems uncomfortable, how do you listen to your tunes? Do you have to concentrate the whole time? Seems like a lot of hard work…’
It turns out you can listen to tunes…. As I found out when I stumbled into my mate, Scruff’s warehouse, which is literally loaded to the top rafters with motorbikes. Vintage dirt bikes to be more specific. You see Scruff is one of those illustrious types who hangs out in a motorbike gang. Not just any gang… He’s a bona fide Jerkyl.
He’s not alone in this ‘gang’, Andy, the Head Jerkyl and fellow warehouse resident , runs the whole show, and what a show it is. I’d heard stories and seen countless photos of these weekends they spent out at the speedway, spraying dirt and chasing each other. Of afternoons & evenings spent with a ragamuffin lot laughing and telling tales.
I was more than curious… I needed to see this in person. Being a self confessed groupie of all those experiences in life that leave you with the rest of the world dropping away, and running short on firsts in life, I knew I needed to try this.
Luckily for me their annual open day, deftly named The Sunday Slide, was looming large in the calendar. Scruff helped me pick out one of his many bikes that I ‘d ride.. and no matter how many times I asked Andy if I could wear a dress whilst riding, the answer was always ‘No’.
As the date neared I started to get nervous… I’d NEVER ridden a bike before… was I really brave/stupid enough to have my very first ride at a speedway? Maegy, Scruff’s daughter, who understandably has been riding bikes since near birth, assured me I’d be ok.. and helped me pick out a suitable pair of jeans for the day… Rainbow flares, coupled with Scruff’s vintage yellow leather postie jacket, now I felt confident!
The day was upon us, I met Scruff at the Warey, where he had managed to pack at least 7 vintage dirt bikes into his vintage truck and we made the journey out to the Nepean Speedway. We set up camp and got all the bikes out. Scruff’s daughters Maegy and Amra both showed up with friends Corey and Ellie. We spent the night preparing for the day ahead, drinking a few bevvies and having a good many laughs, with the rest of the crew.
I crawled into my swag that night and told myself I was brave enough to face the day ahead… but somewhere inside I was still having trouble believing it.
I awoke to sounds of bird calls and nerves in my tummy… it was here, there was no backing out now. We got the essential two coffees in and huddled with the rest for the riders briefing. This was all getting a bit real now… heart was beating…. Tummy still not great….
Scruff seemed to be supplying bikes for a good many people, He’s super generous like that. So as the first bikes got into the starting area Scruff was madly running around getting bikes ready for everyone.. I waited patiently. To be honest, at this stage I was half hoping he’d forget I was there and somehow I’d be able to avoid this whole great idea, my sweaty palms and furiously beating heart would have really liked that.
Amra, Maegy and Corey headed out for the first round. Seeing them do so well boosted my resolve. Scruff now had a bike ready for me, Damn! Sorry I mean, yay?
I’m in the starting pit with him now, back protector on, jacket gloves and helmet too. I’m yelling at him…’But you still haven’t told me what to do!!’ “It’s easy” he yells back.. over the roar of all those engines…
‘Here’s the clutch, this is how you change gears, this is how you accelerate, this is how you brake…’
Right… easy… no worries… why do I have full waves of fear running through my body…?
I’m now in the line up. Maegy is next to me, Amra and Corey are behind me. The waves of fear are not subsiding in the slightest. My saucer like eyes lock with Scruffs.. he yells over the bikes…’The only thing to fear, is fear itself! I’ll give you a push in!’ My eyes then lock with Maegy’s, she offers me a thumbs up… Waves of fear now just crashing wildly… knocking any sense away… I look at Andy… he’s waving me in…
Right… accelerate… let clutch out…lurch forward a bit… keep lurching… clutch.. 2nd gear…yes! I got it into 2nd!! Big lurch then…. Keep accelerating… ok ok coming up to dog leg… yes turn… turn the bike… turn the bike… only just made it…phew! Now I’m on a straight stretch… do I dare? Yes! Ok here goes 3rd gear!! Yes!!! Big lurch again… I’m in 3rd woooohoooo!! I’ve done a whole lap!!! Doing another one!!! Did 5 whole laps!!! Never felt more alive in my life!!! YES!!! I WANT MORE!!!!
And more I did have… many more laps, and yes I even made it to 4th gear…
By the end of the day I was even leaning into those bends … getting lapped twice by everyone never felt so great! I was there! I was doing it!!
Having been a photographer for a good many years and having been involved in many gear centric activities in my time, I often find there can be a certain level ego measuring, which to be honest I find incredibly boring. It was so refreshing to be out with a great bunch of people who were just so passionate about their old beasts of bikes. I didn’t come across anyone who was there to do otherwise. As a first timer to this sport no one cared that how fast I went, they just cared that I gave it a go.
At one stage I helped parade a bike around for the ‘Bike N Grime’ comp, later the owner of the bike thanked me for taking the bike around. I said to him ‘I’m just glad I didn’t drop it’. ‘Wouldn’t matter if you did love’ he replied, summing up perfectly the atmosphere of the day .. That and seeing the entire back end of a bike snap off while someone was riding it..
You know, they talk about it being a big day of dirt and grime, but I found real beauty out there at The Sunday Slide, the bush surrounding the speedway, the bikes that so much love and time had gone into, and not least the people, so passionate, real and welcoming…
As I watched the dirt slide away in the shower that night, the question arose in me..’Would I do it again?” It would be bloody stupid not to!