18 February 2008

The Yamaha Waltz, or sidecar pirouettes

My first sidecar bike was a 1966 Yamaha YDS3 with a 1946 Dusting sidecar (see picture at right).
One morning in 1968 at about 05:30 or perhaps 06:00 (it was just getting daylight), I was riding through the very flat Western suburbs of Ballarat. Overnight a water main had burst flooding a crossroads type intersection and its four approach roads to a depth of maybe 1 or 2 cm in the centre of the road and deeper at the edges. The temperature had fallen to about -2 or -3ºC (US = 26.6 to 28.4ºF) and the water on the road had frozen solid to form invisible black ice.
I came along riding at about 50 or 60 km/h (US = 31 or 37 mph) when I noticed a policeman at the next intersection frantically waving his arms and obviously wanting me to stop as quickly as I could. By the time I noticed him, I was almost on the ice. I pulled both brakes and locked the front and rear wheels just a split second before I was on the ice. My bike and sidecar instantly went into a very rapid spin and seemed to be going along the road faster than ever. It just spun round and round and round.
At one point I noticed during one of my spins that the policeman was lying on his back on the road. "My goodness!" I thought, "I'm in trouble now; I've knocked over a policeman!"
But there was no way I could stop. The bike just kept right on spinning round and round and round. Eventually, I reached the end of the ice and three tyres all gripped the road. I
n a split second the sidecar was high in the air and the handlebar was almost touching the road: I was rolling over! Somehow, I pulled the outfit out of its rollover before it had gone too far and came to a total stop, parked neatly beside a police car, and facing back the way I had come. I was so dizzy I could not get off the bike, and just sort of slumped there over the handlebars.
A policeman asked me, "Are you okay mate?"
I responded that I was extremely dizzy but otherwise I thought I was okay.
The policeman then said, "Do you reckon you could go back and do that again? We didn't have our cameras ready!"
They helped me to get off the bike and sat me in the police car where they gave me a cup of coffee. When the policeman who had fallen on the road came over, I was most apologetic about knocking him over. He replied, "You didn't knock me over, mate, I was laughing so hard at your bike waltzing down the road that I lost my footing on the ice and fell over before you got to me! Then I rolled out of the way so you couldn't hit me."
The police then asked me how many times the bike had spun and I had no idea. Some of the police present were sure it was seven and a half rotations while another said it was eight and a half. To this day, almost forty years later, I still have no idea which was right.
A council truck arrived and all four roads leading to the intersection were closed off.
After I had finished my coffee, I felt a lot less dizzy and got back on the bike with a two-car police escort all the way to college, just to make sure I was okay.

11 February 2008

A Long Strange Trail ... - Part 3

The long forty-first year on the trail:
In the previous post, my wife had pretty well confirmed that it was God's will for me to get back into motorcycling.
The month of revelation:
I returned to Hong Kong to teach Summer school in July 2004 and found the pastor of our church was away on holidays and a visiting speaker named Jackie Pullinger was preaching for the four weeks I was in town. On two of those Sundays, she pointed to me and called me out to the front of the church as one of the young Chinese men on her team had a "word from the Lord" for me. The words were given in Chinese but translated into English for me. The first word was, "I see a vision of a bell, but the focus is not on the whole bell but on the moving part that strikes against the main body of the bell so that it makes the ringing sound." Although nobody in that church had any possible way of knowing about it, in the late sixties I had used the noms de plume "Clanger" and "Dinger" both based on my never-used middle name of "Bell" when writing articles about motorbikes and sidecars for papers and magazines. Both names had become my nicknames in the motorcycling community, especially during my years at Ballarat Rovers Motor Cycle Club where I had performed as a stunt rider during the late sixties. So the word from the Lord seemed to be pointing me back towards those early motorcycling days.
A week later, I was called to the front of the church again, and a different young Chinese guy spoke the words, "I see a white rippled board like the ones ladies used long ago while washing their clothes; it has a frame around it and the rippled board is made of pine wood instead of the usual metal and it is much larger than a normal one. But nobody is washing with it; it is just being held up high in the air." Again there is no feasible way anyone in that church could have known about it, but back in the late sixties a white, pine-wood, oversized washing-board had been one of the props used by me in one of the acts performed by our motorcycle stunt team. Talk about goose bumps! I had not sought out these words from God; they were just given to me out of the blue as it were. I was very clearly being called back into motorcycling. And writing about motorcycling. At my age, I doubt that I shall go back into stunt riding!
It was now exactly forty years since I first had that dream of getting the side-valve boxer-twin motorbike.
The months of researching:
The salary from teaching the Summer school was sufficient to purchase a newly restored Chang Jiang motorcycle and sidecar.
At the end of July I traveled to Australia again to visit my family. Upon returning to Hong Kong in August, I started serious research about how to purchase my CJ. I used e-mail to contact all of the vendors then listed as sponsors on the CJU web site. I also contacted several other vendors that I had located by Googling the Internet. Only four or five vendors actually responded, so that narrowed the field. I recalled that Simon had given me the mobile phone number of the vendor from which he had purchased his black bike, Long River Motorworks in Beijing. I rang Gerald a few times and had some long talks and asked a lot of questions which he answered expertly and well. Above all, the impression I had of Gerald was that he was very honest. After a lot of e-mail exchanges to sort out the nitty gritty details, I transferred about half the cost of the bike into his bank account as a deposit, and ordered the bike. Gerald's quotation had been almost US$1,000 higher than the cheapest quote I had received, but I wanted a quality job from someone who knew what they were doing. I had also rung the vendor whose quote had been the cheapest, but very quickly worked out that he knew almost nothing about mechanical matters in general or motorbikes in particular. He also seemed not to know or care about learning the requirements for shipping a sidecar outfit to Australia.
Restoration and building begins:
Gerald started on my bike in November 2004. I delayed its production considerably when I demanded that the sidecar body and other sheet metalwork should be heavyweight military grade rather than the lighter weight sheet metal usually used for replica vintage parts. The factory would not fabricate the heavyweight sidecar body until it had twenty confirmed orders, so the building of my bike made slow progress. In January 2005 I went to Beijing to have a look at my bike - see earlier posts in this blog. Other delays were caused by me deciding what spare parts I wanted to order with the bike, and then waiting for the Australian Government to issue the Vehicle Import Certificate which MUST be issued before the bike could be shipped. I transferred the remainder of the purchase price, the cost of extra spares, and the shipping charges to my vendor's account.
The bike's long journey to Australia:
About June or July 2005, the bike was collected from the LRM factory by the shipping company.
The shipping company had delays while waiting for a complete load to send to Australia and for ships with enough spare cargo room to make it all the way to Australia. When the ship arrived in Sydney it was held up there by an industrial strike for more than a month.
"All good things come to he who waits" says the old proverb, but it seemed to take forever. I had to return to work in Hong Kong in mid-August after waiting in Brisbane for my bike to arrive since June. It was September before my customs agent had actually cleared the bike and delivered it to my house in Brisbane. So the bike sat in the shed untouched until I arrived home for an unscheduled visit in October and November. Picture above right shows me meeting my bike in Australia for the first time.
The bike was finally registered on 13th November 2005.
What a long strange trail it had been!

10 February 2008

A Long Strange Trail ... - Part 2

A couple of very eventful months:
In my last post I had just swapped e-mail addresses with Simon Vallance who owned a Chang Jiang 750 motorcycle and sidecar which I had seen outside a pub in Sai Kung. It was a while before I was to use that e-mail address.
My family moved to Brisbane Australia in December 2003 and I returned to Hong Kong to continue working there for a further 2½ years.

Now it is my habit to start each day in prayer. But upon returning to HK, every time I would begin to try to pray, I would keep seeing pictures in my mind of a Chang Jiang motorcycle and sidecar with me riding it. I would try hard to focus on the list of things I wanted to pray about (the list did not include motorbikes and sidecars - Wendy and I had agreed that I wouldn't ride a motorbike in HK traffic), but these mind pictures kept interrupting my prayer time. I went to see my pastor about the trouble I was having praying: is this an attack from the devil, or what? He prayed with me and then said, "Do you suppose God might be asking you to buy the kind of motorbike you keep seeing in your prayer times?" So I added the potential purchase of a motorbike and sidecar to my prayer list. Since I was now committed to praying daily for it, my prayer times became much less disrupted.

A few days after my talk with the pastor, I e-mailed Simon Vallance and received back the web-site address for "Chang Jiang Unlimited." I logged in and spent hours looking at photographs of these beautiful sidecar outfits, knowing that I would sooner or later own one.

Almost forty years down the trail:
In May 2004, I telephoned Simon Vallance and caught the bus around to his place where he allowed me to go for a ride on one of his two Chang Jiang outfits. The black one in the photo at top right is the bike I rode that day. I took it on all the rough back tracks around the village in which simon lives. I loved it! He said my grin was so wide my ears were nearly falling in! Now I knew that I knew that I knew that I really wanted one. But was it really God's will? Wendy was against me owning another motorbike. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating" says the old proverb, so I decided that if God really wanted me to buy it, he would cause Wendy to change her mind. I guess I was treating it kind of like the fleece that was laid out by Gideon in the Bible when he was seeking to know God's will.

I went down to Australia for the school holidays in June and asked Wendy about buying the bike. Her response was, "I shall really have to pray about that!"
The next day she came to me and said, "You know that motorbike and sidecar you asked about? ... I really believe God wants you to buy it!"

Wow! . . . In a few short weeks, the trail was really hotting up!

08 February 2008

A Long Strange Trail ... - Part 1

The trail begins:
Soon after beginning riding motorbikes on the road in 1964 I came across an article in a magazine. The article included a picture of a pre-war side-valve BMW motorbike and sidecar quite like the one pictured at right. I decided I wanted one! The article went on to say that the BMW production line upon which the bikes were built had been sent to Russia in a technology exchange before Russia joined the war, and that after the war, it had been moved to Communist China. It was presumed that perhaps such bikes might still be rolling off that line, although nobody knew much about China then.
Two years down the trail:
In 1966 I was in the shed behind Alwyn Sobey's home in Ballarat looking at his BMW and sidecar. I mentioned that one day I would love to own a side-valve BMW with sidecar, and was immediately told dozens of reasons why such a bike was totally unsuitable for the roads today: not enough power, too slow, poor brakes, telescopic forks (Earles forks were then in vogue), impossible to get parts, etc., etc., etc., the list of disadvantages seemed to go on and on and on. But strangely, I still wanted one.
Four to twenty-four years down the trail:
I bought my first sidecar, a 1946 Dusting, in 1968 and fitted it to a 1966 Yamaha YDS3. It was great, but I still looked forward to the side-valve BMW one day.
Many bikes and sidecars came and went in my life over many years and I enjoyed them all, but every so often I would dream about my side-valve boxer.
Twenty-five years down the trail:
In 1989, just after Tiananmen Square, I was on board a train in China near Shen Zhen, when the train was stopped and boarded by PLA troops armed with machine guns. And there, right beside the train, I saw side-valve boxer-twin motorbikes with sidecars! Each had 3 to 4 soldiers on board and they were obviously in good condition and performing well. An old impossible dream of mine suddenly became much more possible!
In Guang Zhou, that same weekend, I observed both police and soldiers riding similar bikes. A policeman pulled up right beside me and switched off his ignition so I was able to inspect the bike quite closely. I said to my wife Wendy, "One day I shall own one of those bikes." She responded, "Not likely!" I said, "If God wants me to have it, I will."
Thirty-nine years down the trail:
In 2003, I was eating fish and chips in Sai Kung, a Hong Kong fishing village, when I heard what sounded like a side-valve BMW approaching. I saw it go past, a shiny black outfit with the sidecar on the right. I heard it pull up half a block away, so I followed on foot and found it parked in front of the pub. I gave it a very thorough inspection looking at every part in minute detail. The owner came out of the pub, introduced himself as Simon Vallance, and we chatted for a while and swapped e-mail addresses.
A long strange trail was getting warmer . . . but it was about to become very much stranger!
More to be posted soon. . . .

06 February 2008

Beijing January 2005 - Part 2

Continuing from the previous post . . .
We pulled off the freeway onto regular city streets and I was able to have my head out from under the tonneau cover for a higher percentage of the time. I enjoyed seeing many exciting sights, some reminding me of Hong Kong, some totally different.
We stopped at a PLA (People's Liberation Army) Disposals store and looked around for a while. I was wishing my brain hadn't felt so frozen as it was hard to think about what I might buy. I picked up a steel replica WW2 German helmet which seemed to weigh half a tonne! How did the soldiers manage to fight wearing these things? Should I buy it so I could look like a German soldier while riding my CJ? Hmmmmm! That might not go over too well back in Australia! There were machine guns - I don't know if they worked or not and was not game enough to ask - but no - if I fitted one of those to my sidecar, it would never pass through Australian Customs! It might engender some respect while riding on the road, though! I thought seriously about purchasing various kinds of hats and helmets and army coats which were all almost unbelievably cheap. But in the end I bought nothing - what a tightwad I am.
Back on board Alpha, we rode around to Long River Motorworks - the factory where my CJ was being built.
The photo at top right shows my bike with engine and drive train in place and the wiring partly completed. Gerald hastened to assure me that the oil patch visible on the floor was not from my bike. My bike was a 1962 model which was utterly stripped to every nut and bolt and almost all parts replaced by brand new old stock parts. All original Chinese bearings were replaced by new German or Japanese bearings.
I was shown several other bikes at various stages of completion and saw huge stocks of spare parts.
Clay showed me his Dong Hai bike and spares in an adjoining part of the factory building. A dong Hai motorcycle is very like a Chinese-built Triumph: overhead valve parallel-twin engine and chain drive.
After a few hours sniffing around the factory I was taken out to dinner quite nearby. The restaurant was just like hundreds of Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong. I got a shock when I realised that although I could read the menu without difficulty, I was unable to order, because I speak Cantonese whereas in Beijing they all speak Mandarin, or "Putongwah" as we call it in Cantonese. The written characters are different being "Simplified Chinese" but they are derived from and sufficiently like the "Traditional Chinese" I had learned to read and write in HK, that reading was not a problem. It is amazing that all parts of China use basically the same written language, but there are over 200 different dialects of spoken Chinese. So even native-born Chinese often can't talk to each other when they travel far from home.
After dinner I caught a taxi to my hotel.
The rest of that trip to Beijing involved no more motorbikes or riding. Someday I must pull out the photos I took and write about some of the strange bikes I saw while doing regular "tourist" type things before returning home to Hong Kong.

04 February 2008

Beijing January 2005 - Part 1

Have you ever faced a Texas Blue Norther? Has your face ever been instantly freeze-dried?

The doors from the terminal to the car-park at Beijing's International Airport opened and I instantly knew the antithesis of the opening of a blast furnace!

I had been met by Clay and Gerald, who guided me to where Alpha was parked in the car-park. No, that's not a typo; it was not an Alfa; it was "Alpha."

Alpha (fine-weather photo at top right) is a 1959 Chang Jiang motorbike and sidecar which had been meticulously restored by Gerald, not as a museum piece (although it is well worthy of display as one), but as his everyday ride-to-work vehicle. Flat army green in colour, the bike represents one of the very first made-in-China sidecar outfits built after the production line had been moved from Russia in a 1957 Technology Exchange. In fact, Alpha has several Russian parts left over from the train-loads of parts that had been shipped as part of that exchange. The tank badges on Alpha are genuine Russian "IMZ" badges, for example.

I hopped into the sidecar, Gerald mounted the bike and Clay perched himself on the pillion. Alpha started with the first kick, as any well-prepared motorbike ought to. We paid the Shroff and accelerated out onto the Airport Motorway.

Now I was well rugged up clothing wise, but had no helmet, only a white cotton cricket hat. It was -2ºC (US = 28.4ºF) in Beijing and I saw Alpha's speedo sitting on 80 km/h (US = 50 mph) so the wind chill factor made it seem very much colder: -13ºC (US = 9ºF). The trouble was, I didn't want to miss any of the sights, so I alternately held the sidecar's canvas tonneau cover over my face, and then kept peeping above it to enjoy the scenery. I kept also scrutineering every part of the bike as we sped along; I had ridden this model bike before, but this was my first experience riding in a CJ sidecar. What a freezing introduction! But soon we would be at the warm hotel I had booked through Zuji Travel - a really great and easy to use online booking system that finds incredibly cheap flights and hotels. CLICK HERE for Zuji Travel
We shall post more on this ride later . . .

02 February 2008

My 2008 1962 Model Sidecar

This week (January 2008) I rode my current sidecar machine:
Designed in Germany in 1938 as the BMW R71, this example was assembled in China in 1962 for the People's Liberation Army. It was re-built in 2004 from brand new parts and shipped to Australia in 2005.
For such an old-timer, this motorcycle is surprisingly reliable, but she likes a lot of tender loving care to keep her running sweetly.
My two girls love to ride along with Dad on "the outfit." In the picture at right, we are just about to pull away from New Farm Park near the Brisbane River. I must tell you soon how I came to own this unusual historical vehicle.