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HomeZA BikersBiking Features2024 iTOO DJ Rally – Vintage Magic

2024 iTOO DJ Rally – Vintage Magic

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

I mentioned in my DJ article last year that the ‘DJ’, as the legendary Vintage motorcycle event that takes place annually between Durban and Johannesburg is known, was originally a flat-out race. Some dudes with bikes back in 1913 decided to race to Johannesburg from Durban. Motorcycles were still in their relative infancy back in 1913, a very far cry from what we ride today. 1936 was the last time that the event was staged as a race. It was then deemed to be getting too dangerous and the idea was birthed to continue with the DJ as a Regularity, or TSD Rally. ‘TSD’ being Time-Speed-Distance. In this form of rallying, the route is divided into segments (the DJ has 34 control points) that competitors need to complete in a specified time. Competitors need to calculate the average speed which they must maintain to arrive on time. Being early or late incurs penalties. Simplistically, the rider with the least penalties wins the event. There are neutral zones where riders fuel the bikes and themselves, whereafter they ride to a designated point to start another timed section.

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

Bikes are equipped with various instruments which will assist the rider in his calculations. Odometers, speedometers, stopwatches, and in many cases typical motorcycle rally ‘road books’. These are route maps which can be scrolled as you go to follow instructions concerning the route to be followed. The route is only revealed to the competitors shortly before setting off. Blimey! As if simply riding these old bangers is not difficult enough!

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

The 76 bikes scheduled to start averaged 92 years old, taking us back to bikes built in 1932. The oldest bike at this year’s event was the immaculate old 1922 Harley-Davidson of Hans Coertse. I chatted with Hans at the stopover in Newcastle. He was dressed in period ‘Cannonball Run’ clothing, complimenting his magnificent old machine. He shared that the bike has been extremely reliable and a joy to ride. The one interesting modification that he has made in the interest of safety is a front disc brake, ingeniously attached to the spokes of the front wheel. The bike originally came from the factory with only a back brake, which made for some adrenalin rush moments when trying to slow down.

As if that is not enough to contend with, the old Harley, as well as several other old bikes have what has come to be known as ‘suicide’ clutches. This foot clutch is at such a strange angle that contorting your booted foot to pull away smoothly is nigh on impossible, resulting in a 1922 version of whisky throttle. A hand-operated lever grafted into the clutch linkage helps, however it is located on the left side of the bike under your left thigh.

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

How the rider engages the clutch, operates the tank-mounted gear lever and opens the throttle to get off the line smoothly is a mystery to me. Not to mention advancing or retarding the spark with the equivalent of a left-hand ‘throttle’. On some bikes, the rider pumps an extra squirt of oil on long hills too. Hans says that once on the open road, things get a lot easier and the old Harley lopes along just fine. I got ahead of myself. Let me explain what I was doing there.

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

Ryan van de Coolwijk, the Business Unit head for Cyber, Art and Tech, (which includes Classic cars and bikes) at iTOO, the Special Risks division of insurance giant Hollard, suggested that we go down and spectate at the DJ, given that iTOO has been the prime sponsor of the DJ for the last two years. Ryan is a petrolhead of note, having owned a Triumph 1050 Speed Triple and Triumph Bonneville amongst others. This got me thinking. I chatted to Bruce Allen, the affable head of Triumph SA and he had no hesitation in hooking us up with two modern classics for the trip. We at least wanted to look the part as we shadowed the DJ riders. So it was that we rode out of Jo’Burg on two Bonnevilles, T120 Black and a Scrambler 900, planning to meet up with the DJ competitors between Ladysmith and Newcastle. The tale of two Triumphs is a story of its own, so let’s get back to the DJ.

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

We got to Newcastle on the Thursday evening and rode out to Fort Mistake on the Friday to wait for the first old bikes to roll by. It was apt I thought, to await the bikes in a setting that has seen so much historic activity, dating back to the days when the Zulu nation ruled Natal even prior to the first Anglo-Boer war of 1880/1. The old fort, dubbed ‘Fort Mistake’, still stands as a silent sentinel, having witnessed every DJ to date. Enjoying a coffee at the Fort Mistake farm stall, we heard a big single reverberating off the hillsides. The first of the DJ bikes thudded into view. We saddled up and rode up and down taking some photos, all the while marvelling at the magnificent old machines. Back in Newcastle, we watched the bikes roll into their overnight digs. It is hard to explain what a thrill it is to see these men, and a few ladies too, engage with these special old machines, coaxing them along and honouring them in the best way possible, by riding them.

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

Saturday saw the field up early and on the road. The bikes leave individually at specific intervals and day two held the spectre of negotiating the Amajuba Mountain to Volksrust and then on to Standerton, lunch in Balfour, and then the final run into the finish at Benoni Northern Sport Club. Riding the route with the old bikes gives one a whole new respect for the competitors who engage with the old bikes constantly, eking the best out of them, whilst trying to keep to their individual schedules. Respect! The weather was warm out of Newcastle but got progressively colder as the elevation changed. Out of Volksrust, there was mist which further contributed to the chill. Rolling to Balfour it got properly hot and remained so, all the way to the finish. The heat took its toll on man and machine.

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

It boggles my mind, having ridden a significant part of the course that the winning margins are so small. Gavin Walton clinched his sixth DJ win out of twenty DJs aboard his 1936 AJS 500, a mere 19 seconds ahead of second man Martin Kaiser on his 1934 Sunbeam 500. Hounding these two all the way, was last year’s winner Mike Ward, 11 seconds adrift in third, on his 1935 Velocette 500. Of the 76 starters, 56 bikes made it to the finish. The oldest entrant was Cliff Le Roux who unfortunately had to retire his 1936 AJS 500 on day two. Finishing as the youngest entrant was Sasha Corlett, 28 years old, on her 1936 BSA 500. Her mom Valerie finished four places behind her in 43rd spot. Sasha’s dad George, a previous DJ winner, popped the motor on his 1928 CSI Norton 500 International after forgetting to open the oil tap. Ouch!

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

The weather was favourable for the event, albeit rather hot at times. The rain and accompanying cold which descended on Ryan and me when we rode into Newcastle on Thursday afternoon late had abated by mid-morning on Friday, with DJ Competitors arriving in splendid weather. The road conditions were also generally good, a big issue when you are riding a rigid-frame bike! The consensus amongst competitors was that the 52nd running of the DJ was well organised and run. Only two riders came to grief, with neither suffering serious injury. Chairman of the Vintage and Veteran Club, Brian Noik, was also encouraged to note that 2024 saw 15 new entrants to the event.

Photo credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

I got some unique insight into this epic event when I was chatting with Jason Anderson on his 1929 AJS 350 on which he finished a creditable 9th overall. Jason shared that his bike had been in the family since new, with him being the third generation of Anderson men to own the bike. How amazing is that? Bears thinking about how many of the bikes we ride today will see three generations of the same family ride it. The other huge shout-out needs to go to event sponsors iTOO. Without the involvement of corporate sponsors, events like this may well not be able to continue. I would seriously encourage owners of these magnificent, virtually irreplaceable bikes, to contact them and get a quote to insure your pride and joy. You will be surprised at how inexpensive it can be to insure your bike. Put the word out guys, iTOO deserves your support.

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RESULTS:

1st Gavin Walton (1936 AJS 500), 453 seconds error
2nd Martin Kaiser (1934 Sunbeam 500), 472
3rd Mike Ward (1935 Velocette 500), 483
4th Mike Venables (1933 BSA Blue Star 500), 636
5th Neville Nicolau (1935 BMW 750), 745
6th Kevin Kohler (1933 Sunbeam 500), 746
7th Martin Davis (1929 Ariel 500), 787
8th JC van Rooyen (1936 Ariel Red Hunter 350), 889
9th Jason Anderson (1929 AJS 350), 958
10th Ryan Duncan (1934 Norton 500), 996.

For more information visit – www.djrally.co.za

Dave Cilliers
Dave Cilliers
My name is Dave Cilliers, from as far back as I can remember I have loved travel. Africa provides salve for the gypsy in my soul. My best trips are done travelling to unlikely places with unlikely vehicles, keeping it as simple and basic as possible.
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