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Where are they now – Steve Chapman | COLUMNS | GASSIT GARAGE

Steve Chapman – still a serial long distance trials rider.

Considering the great amounts of bugger all that exist in outback Australia, it’s depressing we can no longer support a cross-country rally; let alone a round of the FIM World Championship as we once did. And doubly disappointing when, back in 1985, the inaugural Sydney to Darwin Safari managed to attract over 500 enthusiasts; only a very very few of which had any idea of what they were in for.

Two of those that did were the then current Dakar Champion Gaston Rahier and his ‘water boy’, cross-country veteran Eddie Hau. For support they had a pair of rally experienced BMW technicians chauffeured by former F1 World Champion Denny Hulme and Australian Rally Champion George Fury in a pair of race prepared Nissan Patrols; chock full of BMW R80G/S spares.

Aussie favourite was three time Finke Desert Race winner Phil Lovett with few pundits thinking twice about the chances of Victorian Trials Champion Steve Chapman. Despite Chapman’s preference for trials riding – he competed in the World Championships and the notoriously challenging Scottish Six Day Trial – ‘Chappie’ trained and practiced regularly with his brother Mark, the Australian Enduro Champion.

“I started trials riding in my early twenties” recalls Chappie “and that culminated with victory in the 1986 Australian Championship on a Honda RL250. But the previous year Honda offered the chance to ride in the Safari, and the appeal of seeing the outback in such a short period of time captured my imagination. Peter ‘Duck’ MacDonald prepared two Honda XR600s, however that first Safari was a baptism of fire; with no idea what to expect we were bound to be underprepared, poorly equipped and ill informed. Sydney to Darwin! It was certainly a formative life experience where providence played a part; but so did suffering and determination.”

Honda 1985 2 at start

Honda 1985 2 at start

Chappie took the win with Duck in third then, to round out this outback adventure, Chappie rode across the continent to Perth before riding home to the family orchard in Silvan Victoria. Then, over the next decade, he built a formidable Safari CV, retiring in 1994 with three wins and two seconds from six starts. “Duck played a significant role in every one of my Safaris. I’d probably have never made the startline, let alone the finish if it wasn’t for his help in preparations plus his physical and mental support during the rally.”

Between Safaris and work in the orchard tending the cherries and raspberries, Chappie had spent some time trekking in Nepal which led to an increasing interest in the world of carabiners, slings and belay devices. “Rock climbing was my next foray into adrenalin sports. The vertical world is certainly a different perspective, one with a very sharp edge; however technically and physically the challenge is similar to trials riding. Finding the focus and determination to control the looming fear is a key to enjoyment and success. I still climb, but age is hampering recovery and enthusiasm.”

“In recent years mountain bikes have become my preferred escape from reality. New trails and technology have opened up another world of access to the remote mountains and deserts. Adventure rides in the Victorian Alps, the Mt Buller Epic and the New Zealand mountains are the new frontiers. Last year I rode the Mawson Trail from Blinman in the Finders Ranges to Adelaide, almost 1000k in five days. It was a journey that took my mind back to the first Safari that started it all over 30 years ago. Out there in the wilderness, just the landscape, the bike, sand, sun, rocks, sweat, the stars at night and the anticipation of the trail ahead.”


Chapman today