“Adventure Biking” in the Old Days

I have known Bruce Humphrey for many years, meeting up some time ago in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. If I remember correctly it was something to do with photography, Bruce at that time owning a commercial photography business… Alas, a while back, Bruce moved down to the Eastern Cape; to a little town called Bathurst. He is still riding and, as a result of us having a chat about biking in the old days, sent me this ride down memory lane:

I did my first long Adventure Ride in 1969/1970. Long before they even invented the term “Adventure Ride”. I was on my 1959 BSA B33 500 single and rode from Durban, where I was at Varsity, home to Fort Victoria for Xmas, and then rode all round Rhodesia visiting friends and family and all the way up to Kitwe in Zambia to visit my girlfriend Sue Brett. And finally back to Durban.

Hear I'm on my rather ratty BSA in Durban, wearing the best and latest motorcycling protective gear.
Hear I’m on my rather ratty BSA in Durban, wearing the best and latest motorcycling protective gear.

I have always ridden alone, not even liking one other person or bike. I had one bit of real luck on that trip. In those days the cables on the bikes often stripped the nipple off the end and you regularly had to replace throttle, brake and clutch cables. Knowing this, I had a spare set of cables, each spare taped to the original for ease of fixing. On returning to Fort Vic from Zambia I pulled into my parents driveway just as my Dad was coming out to go back to work after lunch. I pulled up to him and blipped the throttle one final time before switching off, and the throttle cable broke.

“No problem” I thought, until I discovered that the spare throttle cable I had bought in Durban was the wrong one.  Fortunately I found a guy in Fort Vic who was able to fix the old one by removing the nipple from the ‘spare’ one and soldering it on.  But the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as it could have left me stranded way in the boondocks.

My 1959 BSA B33 500 single at the Birchenough Bridge in the Sabi valley in Rhodesia (very near Nanyadzi where I was born and brought up).
My 1959 BSA B33 500 single at the Birchenough Bridge in the Sabi valley in Rhodesia (very near Nanyadzi where I was born and brought up).

I guess motorcycling and photography sort of run in the family. 

My father on his Frances-Barnett ‘Seagull’ 250cc two stroke bike in 1946. All these photos were taken on a Rollieflex Twin Lens reflex camera (that I still have).
My father on his Frances-Barnett ‘Seagull’ 250cc two stroke bike in 1946. All these photos were taken on a Rollieflex Twin Lens reflex camera (that I still have).

I always wished that I had excellent mechanical hands-on skills as I would have loved to have had or restored and maintained a vintage or classic bike. But I have always been rather ham fisted in that area.  I try, but it usually ends up a mess and always with blood being spilt – mine. A year ago I had a good long look at a complete, reasonable condition 1975 BMW R650 in Port Alfred that was going for R10,000. But once again the idea of restoring it and working on it was just too much for me, with no proper workshop and less mechanical skills.

But I did have a bike a couple of years ago that you would have absolutely loved. I walked into the big bike shop in Port Elizabeth, saw it and had to have it. Unfortunately, as a road bike, it really didn’t cope with the roads, and being Italian the chrome started rusting within a year and the drive shaft was taking a pounding on the dirt roads even with synthetic gear oil changed every 1000km, so I sold it after having it for about 18 months. But it was an absolute joy to ride and with an engine that made the BMW engines feel rough and vibratory – and of course the wonderful sound of a 90° V-Twin.

It was a Moto Guzzi 750 “Classic”, built to look as similar as possible (apart from the disc brakes) to the 1967 Moto Guzzi. I had always wanted a Guzzi as to me they were even more iconic than Ducati, being the oldest European motorcycle manufacturer, and globally only beaten by Harley Davidson by a few years. They also won 31 World Grand Prix titles and built, in 1957, the most ambitious 500cc GP motorcycle ever – wait for it, a 500cc V8. It showed huge promise in its first year of racing but unfortunately the following year Moto Guzzi pulled out of GP racing and never returned.

My Moto Guzzi 750 “Classic” that I owned and loved. It was built to look like (apart from the disc brakes) the 1967 Moto Guzzi.
My Moto Guzzi 750 “Classic” that I owned and loved. It was built to look like (apart from the disc brakes) the 1967 Moto Guzzi.

Many thanks Bruce – some wonderful memories there…

Roger de la Harpe

 

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