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They did what? Regular motorcycles set remarkable records! | News

Before adventure bikes existed, regular motorcycles were used to tackle Australia’s extreme conditions and set remarkable records

Ever since the first De Dion turned a wheel on Port Melbourne Pier, Australian vehicle importers have sought unusual ways to promote their floorplan, with intercity speed records being one of the favourites. Above the tropics the first recorded ‘speed record’ by a motorised vehicle was by the adventurous Sargeant W E Peverill, whose original intention was to ride his 2½hp Peerless from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Sydney in March 1912. The monsoon season proved insurmountable so Peverill started in Brisbane and, six days later, arrived in Melbourne after completing the longest motorcycle trip in Australia – he then immediately returned to Brisbane to set a record for the longest motorcycle trip in the world. It wasn’t until the following year that a motor car managed to complete the journey from Brisbane to Sydney.

The grandaddy of all the early record attempts was from Sydney to Perth, a distance of 2050 miles (3300km). The route between Sydney and Adelaide was little more than a cart track in many places, but at least it existed in some form. From Adelaide to Perth – apart from the Transcontinental railway line – it was largely uncharted territory. In 1924, Gil Ford and Charlie Watson left Sydney for their home city of Perth aboard their 7hp Indian outfit, completing the journey in seven days, nine hours and 28 minutes. To allow them to ride virtually around the clock, three spotlights were fitted. And though they suffered uncountable broken wheels and punctures along the way, they never wavered in their aim.

Of course records are made to be broken and, in December 1927, another Perth duo, Norm Cunningham and Ted Cracknell left that city aboard a 10/12 Harley outfit. Somewhere on the Nullarbor they became hopelessly lost and despite having to repair a smashed chaincase and dig the outfit out of deep sand many times, they arrived in Adelaide 19 hours inside the previous record. Melbourne was the next goal, which they reached 120 hours and 50 minutes after leaving Perth – 22 hours quicker than anyone had achieved before. By comparison, the run from Melbourne to Sydney was a doddle and witnessed by a substantial crowd they arrived with a total elapsed time of six days, two hours and 26 minutes, having covered 3144 miles (5060km); including the extra distance after being lost. After a few days relaxing in Sydney they rode back to Perth!

To the public these outback feats remained incomprehensible; there was far more interest in the machines they encountered daily on George Street, Flinders Street, Queen Street and Rundle Mall. Conversations were more likely to cover the rising costs of petrol and taxes than the rising power output of the latest model V-twins. Under the regulations, the tax on British vehicles was two shillings and threepence per half hundredweight plus one pound for registration – proof that metrification came to Australia four decades too late.

Back then ‘marketing’ was still a term used when fondling the best fruit and veg at the corner store, but motorcycle importers employed all sorts of stunts to promote their wares. Shown here is ace motorcycle racer turned showman George Stapleton arriving in Adelaide from Sydney on a Royal Enfield 1170cc V-Twin. Publicity pics complete, the sealed unit was refuelled and sent on its way back to Sydney via Mount Gambier and Albury ridden by a series of relay riders.

For those interested, the gross weight of the outfit was 12cwt with rego and tax costing six pounds and two shillings. Far less cost, better fuel economy and indubitably much more fun than a one-tonne truck.

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By PETER WHITAKER