Thursday, June 11

JIM WALSH: WE'RE ALL GOING ON A BEAR HUNT


When New Zealand's fastest woman on two wheels, Vicki Streifler, has an idea people tend to listen. In the past few years she's gone from fast street rider to taking third overall (including a race win) at the BEARS meeting in February 2009 held at Powerbuilt Ruapuna Park Raceway, and capturing the women's motorcycle speed record for New Zealand in November of 2008.

After Vicki's Ruapuna success the idea began to percolate that the North Island needs BEARS too. Rather than tread on the toes of the established South Island based BEARS community, Vicki decided to take the social approach, with an eye to networking the disparate group of people who typically make up BEARS owners and fans. Vicki has already attracted current racers, PR specialists, race organisers and at least one motorcycle dealer, so the often overlooked organisational aspects of starting a race series appear to have addressed up front. See what I mean? Vicki quietly suggests and a large chunk of the lower North Island throw themselves into the fray. Not only that, The Parrot and Jigger Bar & Bistro volunteered their premises for the first informal meeting, and looks set to become the launchpad for the scene.

Just to prove the point about Vicki's quiet, nonthreatening determination, the first ride was booked for June 7th, a mere four days after the initial meeting, and one week after the idea of a BEARS social group based in Wellington was mooted. Lots of people were allowed to talk at the meeting, and Vicki made a terrific show of appearing the inclusive hostess, but somehow we all ended up going in the same direction with daunting rapidity.

Organising a social ride in the middle of Winter is fraught with obvious pitfalls, and a brief but chilly Southerly storm overnight on Saturday had left lowered temperatures and the odd light shower in its wake. Not wanting to ruin the tone of the day, despite Vicki's insistence that the BEARS social group welcomed riders of all brands, not just the traditional British, European, and American marques, I borrowed a Harley-Davidson Rocker for the weekend from Wellington Motorcycles. I was fed some line about it needing more kilometers prior to its sale. I think this particular "dealer" has me "hooked".

More than 20 bikes turned up at the Parrot and Jigger, despite an ambient temperature in single figures coupled with light showers, and included the latest in sporty streetbikes from Buell, Ducati, KTM and Triumph, BMWs of the GS and R1200 variety, race replicas from the usual suspects, Aprilia and Ducati, a brace of Harleys, and even a trio of Hondas. One of the Hondas was put to excellent use a little later, providing a distraction for the constabulary.

I nominated myself for the role of tail-end Charlie, figuring that I was riding a chopper with a 240 section rear tyre and that the group of people who'd turned up for the ride were clearly enthusiasts in every sense of the word, so why fight a foregone conclusion? I wasn't entirely on my own though, as Julz and her very tidy 883 Sportster volunteered to keep me company. The Rocker is the mobile definition of "chillaxed" and I so didn't care when the car park emptied before I had my gloves on. I caught up at the next set of lights anyway.

First stop was Featherston, and whilst we waited for the Honda rider who took one for the team to reappear I chatted to the group of BEARS fans who had assembled a rather special array of machinery for the day's outing. BMW GS1200 riding Murray also had a 1940 Indian at home that he'd owned for more than four decades. He was a touch testy when someone tried to say he'd owned it from new. The main thing that struck me though was the exceptionally good vibe following the group around. The range in rider ages probably spanned four decades and the variety of bikes was both enlightening and heartening. Best of all, those there on Japanese bikes were included without any of the good natured jesting you could assume would take place.

That again is a testament to Vicki. The oddest bunch of people and bikes dragged along to a BEARS Social club ride by simple good natured force of will. That race series can't be too far away, and if our Mainland brethren are OK with the idea, some inter-island rivalry might extend across the whole country. Knowing Vicki, sooner rather than later.