Skip to content

He did what? – Riding Hazardous waste | Columns | Gassit Garage

The first lap of Australia powered by used cooking oil

When Paul Carter let slip his next project would be to ride a motorcycle around Australia, his wife Clare was quick to point out that while Paul may be a successful author, he was no movie star and his old Harley hardly screamed adventure.

Paul’s mates working in video production were enthusiastic, but cooking, renovating and motorcycling were mutually exclusive. And a ride around the continent couldn’t be cheaply produced in an inner-city studio.

Then came Betty; a 1998 Cagiva W16 Enduro into which an Italian-built Yanmar 6kW single-cylinder diesel irrigation pump had been shoehorned. Drive was by means of a Comet Series 500 CVT connected to the drive sprocket through a custom-made idler shaft. A conventional chain completed the drive line. An Italian beauty this was not. At peak revs, Betty was louder than a full squadron of flatulent Fat Boys. And at 160kg, she was no lightweight either, exacerbating the diabolical handling caused by the heavy impeller rotating at the centre of gravity.

Yet any and all of Betty’s shortcomings had been overlooked when the University of Adelaide’s mechanical engineering team won their division in the 2007 Solar Challenge between Darwin and Adelaide. She had achieved a fuel consumption of 2.9 litres per 100 kilometres while emitting only 71 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. All while being powered on environmentally friendly fuel; used cooking oil.

Three years later, Betty was offered to Paul Carter to ride around Australia, on what he described as “a cringe-making, loud, smelly and smoky experience; the combination of her rank, green colour, noise and exhaust fumes was as repellent as you could imagine.” It wasn’t love at first sight but, with new brakes and a respray, Black Betty was ready to roll.

Sponsors were signed on, an ex-Council four-tonne truck was acquired to haul 800 litres of used cooking oil, as well as a spare Cagiva which could be cannibalised as required. Ben Stevenson joined as cameraman together with a relay team of intercity back-up truck drivers.

And so, after shaking the Lord Mayor of Adelaide’s hand and waving to the excited and proud engineering students, Carter rode east.

At 70km/h thumping out 3000rpm, every one of which could be felt through the handlebars, Carter was being severely buffeted by passing trucks and, as the sun set, the temperature plummeted and rain set in. Then the CVT belt flew apart. The following day, with a long downhill run and a stiff tailwind, Betty was coaxed to almost 140km/h before the replacement CVT belt also disintegrated.

By the time they reached Kiama a few days later they had run out of CVT spares, but that was immaterial when the entire transmission linkage blew apart taking the housing and final drive chain with it.

Fortunately, the good folk at Deus Ex Machina were backing this crazy venture and, while totally rebuilding Betty, managed to locate replacement CVT belts to suit – in Mexico. They also managed to reconfigure some local product; which was just as well – the last of the original belts surrendered in Kempsey, 600km further north.

But he soldiered on, as well as boredom, the 140km/h road trains caused him the most concern. But it was the simple act of stopping to relieve himself which brought Carter undone. Betty dug in on the soft shoulder and he hit the ground, hard.

Released from hospital four days later, he was in the truck on his way to Darwin where he could undergo physio while Betty could be (again) comprehensively rebuilt. After another two weeks of long, hot and seemingly interminable days, Carter was delighted to be greeted by a group of riders in Port Augusta, who’d ride the final leg with him to the Adelaide-based press conference. However, they were all severely disappointed to find the press had instead bolted off to hear the State Premier deny allegations
that he’d shagged his secretary in his office.

Paul Carter and Black Betty raised $12,000 for charity using only 600 litres of used cooking oil, four tyres and sixteen CVT belts.

Betty now sits in the National Motorcycle Museum at Nabiac while Carter plans his next stunt.

By  Peter Whitaker