Good boots help with braking

18:27, Feb 19 2014
Ashley Blair
Trip of a lifetime: Ashley Blair who rode from Waipori, Otago, to Nelson on a 100-year-old motorbike, says riding old bikes is 50 per cent exhilaration and 50 per cent fear

Riding a 100-year-old motorbike is not for the faint hearted, says a Wellington man recreating the journey his grandfather made up the South Island a century ago.

Ashley Blair left Waipori. Otago, on Friday on his 1914 Humber motorbike and arrived in Blenheim on Tuesday. His top speed was 55.5kmh, and average speed was 31.2kmh.

The trip was part of an 870km motorbike ride from Waipori to Nelson, the same trip his grandfather, Eric Knight, made 100 years ago.

Eric Knight
Grandfather: Ashley Blair's grandfather Eric Knight

Mr Knight was 19 when he made the trip on his 1912 Humber.

He arrived in Nelson in January 1914. He had turned 20 that day and wrote in a postcard to his mother back in Waipori: ". . . a good trip except for two days when we were coming from Waiau to Kaikoura and we had about six or seven miles of riverbed to get through."

Mr Blair, 68, of Pukerua Bay, near Wellington, decided on the ride about 10 years ago when he saw a photo of his grandfather on the motorbike.


"I had a lot of time for my grandfather. I really got on with him. He had a workshop and, you know, he was someone I looked up to. Doing this is a tribute to him."

He wasn't sure why Mr Knight made the trip but assumed it was for a bit of excitement.

"For young guys in those days, the only way to get some adventure in before the war was to hop on your bike and go," he said. "I just wish I'd asked him more."

It took a lot of concentration to ride an old bike, he said.

His grandfather had to cope with inaccurate maps, no signposts, no bridges over the Waiau, Hapuka, Clarence and Conway rivers, and roads full of horseshoe nails from the usual transport.

It was also a full-time job adjusting the petrol and air mix with levers, hand-pumping oil into the engine, operating a foot clutch and staring into the distance trying to spot if he might need to brake.

The Humber's wooden block brakes help slow the bike but it took his big, heavy boots dragging on the ground to complete the stop.

"Riding old motorcycles is not for the faint hearted," Mr Blair said.

"These old bikes hate traffic lights. They're not made to stop suddenly."

But it was reliable, he said.

The only thing that had failed on the journey was batteries for his GPS on the first day. He was joined on his journey by a support crew and his wife, Margaret, who towed a trailer with a sign that read "100-year-old Motor Cycle ahead. Be Gentle!"

The team stayed in Havelock on Tuesday night and did the last leg of their trip to Nelson yesterday.

The Marlborough Express