Riding the Great Race 2012: Sam Opie Cutdown

Riding the Great Race 2012: Sam Opie Cutdown

It is 6.00am on a late summer morning in Jindabyne. Temperature is ten degrees still dark with mist off the lake casting its shadow around the lamp posts at The Station Resort, starting point for the 2012 Great Race. Because of my low race number I have an early start 7.30am. It takes a full 80 minutes for the field to get away at two bikes per minute. Time to get a good breakfast washed down with plenty of black coffee. I am riding a 1928 Harley Two Cam. Note the wording Two Cam and not Twin Cam that refers to Harley’s current offering of that engine architecture. My bike was purchased new by Sam Oppie a member of the famed Seattle Cossacks a stunt and drill riding team. Sam was known for modifying Two Cams cutting down the frame to give a lower seat height and shortening the gas tanks to suit. In all there was about a dozen Oppie cutdowns 3 of which are still known to exist. My bike has been maintained but still is essentially as Sam would have rode it 1931. I don’t believe anyone has done a better job of setting up a Harley Two Cam.

As the clock counts down we start to ready ourselves for the adventure ahead. Dawn is making an appearance as I give the bike 3 hearty primer kicks after which it usually starts first kick but of course this morning it wants to play hard ball but after 20 lunges on the kick pedal it burst into life. Now I can put my knee socket back together. Sam’s camshafts make anything under 2000rpm wishful thinking so the warm up provides a static blast from the open pipe into the surrounding valley. 7.30 has arrived and we have 1 minute to be on our way. Thoughts race through ones head mixed with that wonder fuel adrenalin. Will I make the first fuel stop? Will my 84 year old engine fly apart at any given moment? Will the charging system keep working? Ripping around the Lake Jindabyne a lone photographer plies his trade shoots snaps of us as we burst out of the mist. The fog is keeping the visibility to 200 metres watch out for those kangaroos. There is the signpost to Adaminaby so far so good. The sun is making a welcome appearance. Its only 9.00am and we are fuelling up at Adaminaby. No checkpoint so we press on. 20 kilometres later sweeping around a left hander and there is our checkpoint the first of the day. They check that our horns are working and down the Snowy Mountain Highway it is then left towards our lunch stop of Tooma. To get there we have a steep descent which tests the 1928 braking system to the max, so much so that smoke is bellowing from my rear brake close to bursting into flames. Now we are climbing again and brakes cool down as quickly as they heated up. We hear later that down the same hill riding a 1916 Indian Power Plus John Straw wore the soles of his boots out! No it wasn’t from stomping on the brake pedal!

We make Tooma with plenty of time to spare. We must checkout 6.00 hours after our departure time at Jindabyne so we have time to clean the bikes replenish the oil tank (we have a total loss oiling system) and top up with fuel. The Tooma Hotels kitchen does an excellent job of catering for 210 people when it would normally serving a dozen locals.

For our afternoon stint the bike starts according to the prescription and we are off on a timed leg where we must average 52 kph to an undefined checkpoint. Stop for fuel at Khancoban and then it’s up the mountain towards Thredbo. The Two Cam is in its element on the tight twisting climb with its light weight of 155 kgs good ground clearance and a beefy 1200cc V Twin engine so we make great progress. Of some concern is a competing Harley coming towards us obviously going in the wrong direction! Suddenly we are at Thredbo and yes there is a checkpoint sign one many are to miss. Our average speed should be pretty close. We don’t have the luxury of a speedo which was an option in 1928.

Now it is a 25 mile ride back to Jindabyne which we make without incident and then the bikes get prepped ready for the following morning. We have covered 354 kms for the first day and my bike has performed faultlessly! At the evenings dinner the rumor circulates that Harley is narrowly ahead. Now for sweet dreams indeed.

The following morning has gentler start time of 9.00am Weather promises to be kind as we head into a region that only last week was threatened by devastating floods. My Two Cammer starts on cue today and we head through Jindabyne and out towards the Eucumbene Dam. Todays’ navigating is more complex as we negotiate a series of back roads. Finally a checkpoint appears and it is another tick in the box. Road damage from the recent rains is apparent as I continue to navigate my 84 year old steed across the Cooma Plains. Next there is a stutter and silence as I run out of fuel. A speedy top up from a jerry can, another checkpoint, another tick and finally after 130 kilometres a fuel station. After filling to our 2 gallon tanks brim it is a straight run to Dalgety for lunch. (apart from being catapulted airbourne by a bridge onramp that was 12 inches lower that it should be)

Another sumptuous lunch of local produce fuels us for the last section of the event. Reports drift in of several terminal break downs in the course of this morning’s run. A terminal breakdown heavily impacts on a team’s score. We checkout from the Dalgety Hotel and not far down the road, at the top of a hill another checkpoint. This is to be the start of the rolling race where you turn your engine off and roll down the hill as far as you can. It is an exhilarating feeling coasting at speeds up to 100 kph. It is said that the heavier your bike and the higher your tyre pressure the further you will travel. Counts us out. Dugal James and John Straw on their later model Indian Chiefs have proven to be the past masters of this section of the event. This year line line honours go to Straw. Back to the task at hand which is to complete the 2012 Great Race. The Two Cam engine continues to run strong. After a loop through Cooma it is back to Dalgety a checkpoint and then a big climb back to The Station Resort.

The mission is completed. One exhaust nut to tighten and the Oppie Special can go back in the trailer for a well earned rest ready to fight another day. 654 Kilometres have been travelled over Australia’s best mountain roads in two days. And which team won? By the narrowest of margins the honours went to Indian Team. I suppose there is always next year. To the Sam Oppie Special I have nothing but the greatest of respect.

Epilogue. This was about as much fun as there gets!

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