D-J Run: Century of biking on show

2012-01-27 10:55

Every year, in early March, anything up to 150 intrepid motorcycle enthusiasts prepare for a two-day event that harks back to a race first run in 1913 and known as the Johannesburg-Durban Motorcycle Race. Today the race is run as a regularity trial and in the other direction but it still remains an extremely tough event that attracts overseas entries from as far away as Europe, Australia and America.

The names of riders who have competed and won the event may have faded down the years but their mounts live on and carry illustrious names such as Bradbury, Douglas, Sunbeam, Chater Lea, Rudge, Excelsior, Norton, AJS, Triumph, BSA, Harley-Davidson and Moto Guzzi - among many, many others.


For the record it was A. W. McKeag who won the first race nearly 100 years ago on a Bradbury single-cylinder machine. His time was 14 hours, 46 minutes  — quite a remarkable feat because there were no Macadam roads back then — just dusty tracks every inch of the way and what must have seemed like a million farmer’s gates to open and shut on his way to Durban and victory.

Champion rider Roy Hesketh, a KZN man (indeed, a motorcycle race circuit was built in his memory in Pietermaritzburg after the second world war), another was Joe Sarkis, but arguably the greatest sportsman ever to compete in the race was a Cape Town rider, Percy Flook, who managed to win the race on three separate occasions.


An extract for the programme for 1927 makes interesting reading: “The romance of half a hundred speed men pounding hot engines over the rugged 400 miles separating the coast from South Africa’s greatest metropolis has gripped the imagination of sportsmen all the world over. The D-J Motorcycle Race has come to rank as one of the Empire’s classic events; local enthusiasts go mad over it, the race is ‘splashed’ in the South African press, and the English periodicals wax mildly enthusiastic.”

Flook, an electrical engineer, was an extremely versatile sort of bloke. He was a provincial gymnast, a pedal cycling champion before the Boer War and a first-class cricketer, and one who took up motorcycling seriously in 1911 by winning his first major race, the Cape Town-Pretoria race astride a Douglas machine.

In 19 starts he won 18 races at circuits long forgotten such as Muldersdrift Hill, Mountain View Hill (now Sylvia Pass in Cyrildene, Joh’burg), Observatory Hill and Black Reef Hill (Alberton). These successes led to his club, the RMCC (Rand Motorcycle Club) sponsoring him in the 1913 Isle of Man TT finishing in 18th spot out of a field of 110 riders — again on a Douglas machine.


Back in South Africa the event that everyone wanted to win was the DJ — alas, the winning times were simply incredible: in 1935 riders were managing times of six hours, 51 minutes (Roy Hesketh) for the race, as against nearly 15 hours for the 1913 event … a halt had to called to proceedings in the name of safety.

Revived once again in 1970 and run each year since then (with the exception of 1974 due to national petrol shortages), the race is certainly almost as tough because it is run at what seems the hottest time of the year. It's more of a regularity trial than a race these days so, if you happen to be in the Pinetown area for the start or the finish at the James Hall Transport Museum, on March 10 be sure to cheer them on - they’ll need the encouragement!