celebrating 40+ years of motorcycling

“The Gallon Gallop.”

As well as putting the Macarthur Park “circuit” to use as a race track for the 5 big meetings we ran there, CRRC also used it for a restricted “C” Grade meeting and for other less official events.

We had to be very careful what we did with the subdivision as it was, after all, still public roads, and we nearly lost the use of it at the outset through circumstances that were completely beyond our control.

Noting that we had been able to run our first meeting there successfully, one of the local car clubs applied for permission to use the circuit to shoot some promotional film for an upcoming event. And it went horribly wrong. Amongst the vehicles they had there on the day were some Superkarts, go-karts with a 250cc motorcycle engine in them. These things run on normal race circuits and are capable of ferocious speeds.

Anyway, somehow, some way, while the crew was there, one of the kart drivers decided to drive in the opposite direction to the normal direction of racing and, flying up over the hill, he had a head-on collision with a kart coming the other way. One of the drivers was killed and the other seriously injured.

The ramifications of this spread throughout the whole Canberra motorsporting community. And it took a good deal of talking before we were able to convince the authorities that we had nothing to do with it and that we had taken great pains to comply wth all of their requirements. The perception had rapidly grown up, you see, that Macarthur Park was OUR circuit. And this was guilt by association. The incident cast a big, black pall over the car racing community in particular and lawsuits and enquiries continued on for years afterwards.

The car clubs were able to satisfy the authorities eventually that they were capable of running meetings safely at Macarthur and, for the following few years, a part of the track was used as a tar-sealed “Special Stage” in the ESANDA Rally, which later became the Rally of Canberra.

But our currency with the local authorites was good and there grew up this tacit agreement that, as long as we kept quiet and didn’t do anything stupid, we could pretty much use the subdivision as we liked. Consequently, it became reasonably common to see unregistered, pure racing bike belting around there as owners frantically tried to sort out jetting and tuning issues. It was a common sight (ask me one day how I know this is so) to see the police motorcyclists hustling around Macarthur Park, ostensibly there to ensure no-one was speeding, but actually just enjoying the opportunity to hang it out a bit on a police bike.

And it was a Saturday in the dead of winter one year when CRRC stage the infamous “Gallon Gallop”. I’m sure you’ve seen the concept before. A similar thing was done on “Top Gear” recently and an episode of “Scrapheap Challenge” explored the concept as well.

The idea simply was that, you turned up in the morning on your bike and had your petrol tank drained completely. Then a measured gallon of petrol (4.4 litres) was put into the tank and your job was to set out around the track and make that gallon last as long as you could. And the prize for the winner, Ian Martin proudly announced, was a tank of fuel.

Well, as I’ve said before, I was young and naive back then and I just assumed that everyone would enter into the spirit of the thing and we’d have a nice, quiet cruise around the track until everyone sputtered to a stop. About two laps in and I was being buzzed by Dave on his Laverda 1000, going at warp speed up Jackie Howe Crescent, obviously making no attempt whatsoever to conserve fuel. Soon others joined in and then the penny dropped.

These guys weren’t here to compete in the mileage marathon; they were just out there to get their rocks off blasting around the “Park” as fast as they dared!!!

Oh well, they stopped soon afterwards anyway, out of petrol. But then they re-appeared and commenced to do the same thing again! Herm.

In the mean time, the many of us who had actually turned up to compete, ground on. And when I say “ground” I mean GROUND……

Mark Fisher brought along a little Yamaha 125cc trail bike, confident that its miserly thirst would win the day. But he hadn’t counted on my firecely competitive spirt. One of the teachers at the school where I taught owned a Honda Express. One of these.

And I arranged to borrow it for the day. The look on Mark’s face when I rolled into the pits on it was worth its weight in gold. It had a 50cc engine and a fuel tank that wouldn’t even HOLD a gallon, so a measured HALF a gallon was metered into the tank and I set off.

Now I was not quite as advantaged as you might have thought (I hadn’t considered this either until I started riding the thing). You see, even though it was bound to be economical, it had an automatic clutch, which meant that the engine was engaged all the time and so, unlike all the other riders, I couldn’t pull in the clutch and coast down the many hills that made up Macarthur Park.

I did have one, unexpected advantage, though. After about 5 laps and familiarising myself with the bike, I found that I could simply ride it, wide-open all the time. I didn’t need to brake for any of the corners so it was just, “keep it pinned and go for it”. “Going for it” sounds almost like there was some performance there, but, of course, there wasn’t. Flat out, even downhill, it was capable of 63km/h!!

It took 2 1/2 hours for me to exhaust my half a gallon of fuel. I was exhausted long before that, and bored out of my brain into the bargain. And frozen stiff just to add insult to injury. But I had had the satisfaction of seeing Mark’s DT125 grind to a halt and I knew that I was the winner. And, when the figures were all totted up and my distance covered was multiplied by 2 because of my half-gallon tank, the mighty Express had achieved an amazing 113 mile per gallon.

And my prize of a tank of fuel?  Well, it really was worth waiting for. I received a Dinky toy MODEL of a Shell petrol tanker.

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