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Dirt-track racer turned big and small bike builder

Pride of place in the Canberra home of Wayne and Kathy Bryant is a model of a 1953 NSU Rennmax 250 racer.

Wayne, 77, is a former dirt-track racer, RAAF instrument fitter, motorcycle dealer and builder of specials for dirt and tarmac racing. These days, he helps maintain classic racing dirt and tarmac engines, and is building an NSU Max 175 special from parts that are “laying around”.

Kathy threw him the challenge of creating a scale model. It took eight months and 350-360 hand-made parts, working from a photo in a calendar. It has working rear suspension. Wayne has a road-going NSU too, a machine elder brother Doug bought at a swap meet and never found time to restore.

Motorcycling for the Bryant boys began in the bush in 1953, with a mate’s 1937 BSA 250. Their father was the railway station master in Narrabri. Later they built machines from boxes of parts and flood-damaged wrecks. At 14, Wayne worked after school in a motorcycle shop. His forte was assembling Victa mowers.

A transfer to Narrandera station when Wayne was in his intermediate school year put the boys in prime dirt-track racing country, with the local club circuit plus Cootamundra, Griffith, Junee, West Wyalong and Young. Wayne was soon drawn into the 125-class tradition of creating specials. “I started racing within days of being eligible for my competition licence,” he said.

Help was soon forthcoming from the Oehm family, which had the Ringwood circuit on one of their properties. Wollongong engineer Clem Daniels did a lot of work on Peter and Geoff Oehm’s bikes “and some of his cylinders finished up on my racing BSA Bantam”.

Wayne Bryant ended up staying on in Narrandera with Don Wicks, secretary of the local club.

“I started making modifications to the frames, as Doug had done on his very successful Bantam, creating a swinging-arm frame with LE Velocette shocks. I also had a Velocette MAC I rode for Don Wicks and my own NSU Max in a Royal Enfield Bullet frame, with Sportmax camshaft and a piston made by the famous Art Senior. The engine came from a bike one of our Narrabri friends wrote off.

“By this time Doug had joined the Air Force and I followed at 19 years old. We both were instrument technicians for six years, working at Williamtown on the Sabre jet fighters. I owned and raced (unknown to the RAAF) such bikes as our friend Kevin Cass’s Jawa-framed national-title winning BSA Bantam.


“The last three years of my service I was at Point Cook, Victoria. Through my friend Max Wells I discovered the Sandringham Motorcycle Club, finding good company in Graeme Laing, Peter Jones, Bob Rosenthal and Jack Harby.

“Another good contact was Darryl Wilkinson, who lived close to Bert Flood in Ringwood when Bert was working out of his garage, so that was more knowledge gained. At that time there was a Yamaha YA6 125 rotary valve single, for which there was a genuine (GYT) tuning kit, so I purchased one of those. Bill Morris had the only other one I knew of.

“The Barlow brothers (Universal Sidecars) modified the frame and Malcolm Bennett did all the fibreglass. It had 19-inch wheels and an Adler front brake. I enjoyed many a race on it. Milledge Bros were most helpful, through Stuart Strickland. These contacts proved very helpful later on.

“Just before I left the RAAF, Doug established a watchmaking and instrument repair business in Canberra, and motorcycle friends encouraged him to start a bike business. I joined him and thanks to our contacts we sold a lot of Bultacos, Ducatis and Hodakas.

“Bert Flood supplied our first Bultacos and, once we sorted out the ACT sales status, Norm Fraser supplied them. We soon outsold the local Yamaha agent with our minor brands, so we were granted a Yamaha franchise. We had the shop in Phillip and then Curtain in the ACT for 22 years, 14 of those with Doug.”

If that wasn’t enough to keep Bryant busy, he started building specials in his home shed, beginning with 125 Yamaha twins that Kevin Paton and Ian Williams raced.

“There were other specials ridden successfully by (the late) Terry McDonald, Murray Ogilvie, Lee Roebuck and Rob Donnelly. I also must mention our very potent creation the 350 ‘Twingle’ Yamaha, which Kevin Cass won championships on.”

In the second half of 1976, Wayne built a Rotax 125-powered road-racer for Goulburn’s Lee Roebuck.

“I still have the sash Lee gave me for winning the Victorian GP at Phillip Island on New Year’s Day 1977, ahead of Geoff Sim on Clem Daniels’ special and Clive Knight on the Morbidelli.”

Roebuck went on to win the 1977 Australian title, riding the Rotax in the early rounds and then a Honda. Don Cox