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The 24 Hour. Then and Now. | Road | Sport

The original “24-Hour Motorcycle Endurance Contest” held in South Australia was exactly that. A single 24-hour lap of every not so navigable track in the State. With a DNF rate of over 70% it was the rudimentary mechanicals that would expire long before the iron men in the saddle surrendered to the mid winter elements. In fact, one year the trial finished in 11 hours with Peter Millstead declared the victor as he was the only competitor still running. Just a few years later Ruth Franklin, the first woman to finish the Open Solo course completed the 24 Hours on a CZ125 and the event was deemed ‘too easy’. So, with the introduction of a few impossibly muddy bogholes and improbably hilly sand drifts the 24-Hour reliability trial became the predecessor of the modern day ‘cross-country enduro’.

Todd Barry hopes to take his hat-trick in 2016 CREDIT: SHANNON ROGERS

Todd Barry hopes to take his hat-trick in 2016
CREDIT: SHANNON ROGERS

Now based in the Barossa Valley, with the start and finish alternating between the hamlets of Eudunda and Kapunda each year, the Swann 24 Hour is only possible due to the enthusiasts from the 24 active motorcycle clubs in the region. Clubs such as Levis MCC, Gawler MCC and Juventis MCC run the sectional start and finish points around the 220 kilometre course; which is largely on private property. Fortunately, the clubbies can rotate their efforts over the 24-hour period unlike the competitors who complete the full four laps of the circuit at five hours per lap, comfort stops included. As Australia’s longest running motorcycle race it also attracts riders from interstate and overseas, and despite the conditions the event remains a staple on local dirtshifters’ calendars.

Originally intended as a test of reliability, the use of high spec machinery has turned this into a different kind of test than that envisaged by the Motorcycle Club of South Australia over 90 years ago. The bikes, now equipped with stators capable of powering aircraft landing lights, tyres that will claw through the sloppiest cowpats, impenetrable mousse tubes and indefatigable suspenders, are all but unstoppable. It may sound a bit soft when compared to the tough old days until you consider that contemporary competitors now hit speeds that can induce frostbite in less than 5 minutes – an affliction that once took all night.

Throw in the sleet and patches of fog that temporarily blind riders when a gazillion lumens bounce back into their bloodshot eyes and the Swann 24 Hour remains Australia’s toughest single day of stamina and perseverance. For more info go to www.24hrtrial.com .

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Shane Schiller and Steve Doecke – 20 year veterans and 2015 winners. CREDIT: SHANNON ROGERS

Ron Ophel Len Bowes pass 1954 24hr

Ron Ophel won the only 36 hour trial in 1957 and won again in 1954 with Len Bowes in the chair. CREDIT: BOLTON ARCHIVES

By Peter Whitaker