The Classic Motorcycle Rally

1992 Rhino - Comasec DJ Rally

The D-J or How I nearly didn’t get to Jo’burg
By Bill Rosenberg

Margaret, Matthew and I are sitting in our car in the early morning traffic in Durban on Friday 27th March. My bike is on the trailer, and we're on our way to the start of the D-J which, due to traffic problems, has been moved fifteen kilometres out of town to Botha's Hill.

The traffic is barely moving, but the time is racing by and, as usual, I've cut things very fine. The lights change to green, the driver in front of us dawdles, and we miss another light change. Minutes go by and our progress is agonising.

A few blocks on the traffic thins out, we speed up, and are soon on the freeway. The turn-off to Botha's Hill finally comes into view, and after a few more frantic kilometres we arrive at Kearsney College gates. We turn in and drive onto a field where we have been given permission to offload. I have fifteen minutes before I start, and after taking my bike off the trailer, setting my stopwatch, and putting on my helmet and gloves, I just make the start half a kilometre further on.

The Durban-Johannesburg motorcycle rally commemorates the race held between these two centres up until 1936, and so this date is used as the cut-off date for machines taking part in the rally. This year there are 150 bikes starting, and for a vintage bike nut this is about as close to Mecca as he can get.

Suddenly I'm rallying. It's a cool, crisp morning, and the road through the Valley of a Thousand Hills was designed and built especially for vintage motorcyclists. Lesser mortals also use our road, however, and some of the bigger ones show a cavalier disregard for us smaller, but much more important road users. Before the end of the rally I have to take evasive action three or four times. Philistines!

After re-fuelling both the bike and the inner man in Pietermaritzburg the road winds out of town, climbing 1000 feet in about fifteen miles. Narrow, winding roads overhung with trees, and sudden vistas across the undulating Natal midlands await us riders. The air is cool, and you can smell the damp earth. Wonderful stuff! Motorcycling allows one to sense one's surroundings so much more acutely than car travel does, and one really feels part of the countryside. Dreaming, I go into a bend too fast, and nearly do become part of the countryside. Was that the five or the six kilometre stone since the start of regularity? Is it important? I'm thoroughly enjoying myself.

Midmar Dam, Howick, Balgowan the name-boards fly past. Nottingham Road, Mooi River, Griffins Hill Lodge...Griffins Hill Lodge? That was the lunch stop! A quick U-turn resolves a minor oversight, and an hour later we're heading towards Newcastle, where we will spend the night.

There are long sections of regularity on the D-J - up to an hour - with no navigational clues other than speed changes on the route schedule.

I feel confident with my rallying, and I'm more than a little surprised to find that I am about 30 seconds out at the end of one of the afternoon sections. I ponder this point, but it is two weeks before the accumulative error penny drops.

At Newcastle I had the privilege of talking to Harold Hall, who was on the rally, and who rode in three original events - 1934, 1935 and 1936. Almost all the route was dirt in those far-off days, and our chat conjures up a picture of intrepid motorcyclists slithering up muddy hills and splashing through streams.

The second day finds us climbing Laing's Nek Pass. Once again, this is real motorcycle country. The bike in front is using Castrol-R, and its perfume wafts over the top of my headlamp. My thoughts drift, and I'm about six years old, and my Dad and I are standing at Quarry Curve on the old Roy Hesketh circuit. I get a lump in my throat, and I miss the next two kilometre stones.

Approaching Greylingstad, in a regularity section, I detect a new rattling sound. One becomes attuned to these sounds. I lean out and look down at my motor, and am horrified to see the top of the float chamber bouncing around in a gap between the crankcase and the frame. I ' stop frantically, and start my stop-watch. Ninety seconds and three singed fingers later I'm on my way.

We refuel at Greylingstad, and on my way out to start the final section of regularity my clutch cable parts. Valuable time is lost while I try to effect a repair - unsuccessfully - and I elect to ride this final section without a clutch. Four controls in the next forty minutes push me way down in the final results, but I reach Johannesburg, register as a finisher, and I don't care. I've had fun.
Bev Sloman, winner of the Charles Preddy Award for the best performance by a lady rider, arrives at the Finish on a 1930 BSA 500 cc. Photo Melanie Yap
Peter Spiers on his 1925 350 cc Douglas, with fellow competitor, Rick Lewis
Denis Mamet, Chairman of VMC, on his 1936 Velocette 500 cc, with marshal, Dawn McLaren
Bill van Dongen who rode the oldest machine in the event, a 1911 600 cc Precision, speaks to his brother, Peter, overall winner of the event, and Clerk of the Course, Dave Sansom