VINTAGE (adjective): produced in the past, and typical of the period in which it was made.
ENDURO (noun): a long-distance race for motor vehicles or bicycles, typically over rough terrain, designed to test endurance.
AFTER DRAGGING MY my 36-year-old bike over another slippery log, my exhausted 50-year-old body not only felt like it hadn’t raced in 20 years … it felt like I hadn’t ridden a bike in 20 years! And (continuing with the ‘20’ theme), by my calculations, I still had another 20 kilometres to go!
I’ve always loved motorbikes. As a kid, I dreamed (naively, it turns out) of the day my parents would get me one for an upcoming birthday or Christmas present. The idea of ripping around the neighbourhood on a dirtbike sounded like the perfect way to spend my afternoons – although I’m not sure the neighbours would’ve felt the same! Unfortunately, my dream got slowly crushed as, year after year, my parents failed to deliver. Instead, I had to be happy with a second-hand pushbike that my father rescued from the dump …
Luckily for me, regular stints on my uncle Roy’s dairy farm riding his Ag100 – gave me enough of a motorbike-fix to keep the spark alive. But it wasn’t until I left school and worked on my mate’s sheep and beef station that I really fulfilled the dream. He was a keen enduro rider, and with about two thousand acres of Taumarunui backcountry to work, hunt and ride in, it was a young dreamer’s paradise!
Over the following years, I bought and sold a few bikes, rode some trail rides, competed in a handful of motocross and cross-country races, and generally had a great time riding with friends. Then, along came mortgages, kids, jobs in a city … and, well, you know the drill!
Thankfully, my kids soon grew up and also caught the dirtbike dream … and you can probably imagine what happened next. But if not, here’s a clue: it didn’t involve second-hand push bikes!
So … what is Vinduro?
In case you haven’t quite figured it out yet, VINDURO means ‘Vintage Enduro’ and just so happens to be one of the fastest-growing classic motorcycle sports in the world. Not to be confused with VMX (Vintage Motocross – more on that another day), Vinduro is a long course event, run offroad over unknown and challenging terrain. In the New Zealand competition, riders compete in two grades (Silver and Gold) using a handicap system that allows for the technology of the bike and age of the rider. The older the bike or the rider, the greater the handicap received. For once, being old is an advantage!
The course is divided into several sections, each given an allocated time – the Silver course is around 40-60km and the Gold, 60-80km (and usually more challenging). Three riders leave together at one-minute intervals – and if you’re late to your start (based on the number you’re given), it’ll cost you a heap of penalty points! In addition, there are special ‘Terrain Tests’ throughout the course (usually four or five), which are timed to the second and added to the score. These are meant to be ridden as fast as possible without crashing and usually take five to 10 minutes. The rider with the least points is the winner.
Finally, Vinduro is ‘recreational’ and not intended as serious competition … yeah right!
The bike classes:
A wide range of bikes can participate, from the pre-1976 Classic class to the Y2K class for pre-2001 trail and enduro bikes. Classes are separated not just according to age but also by types of brakes, suspension, engine cooling etc. It’s a great way to revive some of those old bikes – and if you love tinkering in your shed, even better!
My foray into Vinduro started after talking to my mate Roger about an old Honda XR200 he had sitting in the back of a barn. It’d had a rough life (stolen, blown up, stripped for parts, and recovered) and had been sitting in his shed for nearly a decade, un-ridden and unloved. My boys had recently rekindled their love of motorbikes, with my oldest son Trae having just bought a new motocross bike. So, after a bit of wheeling and dealing, I ended up taking the XR home with me – with the idea of rebuilding it and racing it in the first round of the New Zealand Vinduro Series.
That gave me a month to get it ready …
As with all restorations … it took longer, and cost more than I’d expected. In fact, the day before the first race of the season, I still hadn’t kicked it over to see if it would start! Luckily, a quick jab with the kickstart lever had it running – and a loop around the yard was all the time I had before loading it and my son’s bike on the ute. No time for tuning: we had an eight-hour drive ahead of us for the first event in Wellington.
The Moonshine Enduro just out of the Hutt Valley was home to the first round – and it was here that I discovered what a great crew of people were involved in the sport … for two reasons. Discovery #1: in our mad rush to leave, I’d left my motorbike pants at home. But a quick SOS call to the Vinduro Facebook page while on the road, and I soon had a bunch of people offering their spare set. Discovery #2: not long before racing was to begin, I thought I’d start the bike and get it warmed up. Which was a great idea … except it didn’t start.
Within minutes, half-a-dozen people descended on my bike: the tank came off, the carburettor was pulled apart, electrics were checked, sparkplug changed … and after a couple of adjustments to the float-level in the carb, it was running again. The guys were absolute legends!
So, I made it to the start line – late and with a bunch of penalty points. But I didn’t care. We were off!
The Moonshine was a challenging course – featuring steep hill climbs, riding through river beds, and slippery log crossings. It was great fun – although the first couple of kilometres were incredibly sketchy! Struggling to keep up with Trae (who was riding in a non-competitive trail class), my bike was sliding around like it was on ice … until I remembered the tyre pressures. Like a complete amateur, I’d fitted new tyres a couple of days earlier, pumped them up to 60psi to seat the bead on the rim … and completely forgot to drop them down to 10psi. Once I’d dumped the air from both tyres, it was like a different machine!
The Gold course was two laps of a 35km loop – plus a couple of ‘terrain tests’ each lap. I lost Trae on a steep hill climb where a bunch of bikes were stuck in some deep ruts and didn’t see him again until the end of the race. The XR was like a tractor – and just powered up the hills, passing a handful of bikes struggling in the slippery conditions.
The last half of the final lap was a bit of a struggle … fatigue, a lack of training, and the fact that my bike had to be push-started every time I stalled (which was often!) meant I wasn’t in great shape. But our combined 86 years crossed the finish line on time – absolutely knackered but stoked that both the bike and I survived. A fifth overall and second in my class was the icing on the cake!
Round two of the series was held a month later – Vintage North – up in Whangaruru on a beautiful coastal property called ‘The Farm’. We arrived the night before racing, just in time for the rain … and boy, did it rain! All night and through to the next day, it poured down, with some estimates of around 100mm! Needless to say, it was wet … and with a kilometre or so left of the first 25km lap, I rode into a swollen muddy creek that swallowed my bike, sucking a lung-full of water into the engine, and finishing my race.
So it was a DNF for me. Luckily, my bike was recovered … although last I heard, there were still three or four bikes stuck in some muddy bog-hole, unable to be rescued until it dried out. But that’s racing for you – and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Roll-on round three!