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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lions TT Motorcycle Festival at Kyogle looking to 2015 despite setback

By Roderick Eime in Kyogle

A new tourism initiative for the Kyogle Council is looking for a bigger and brighter Lions TT Motorcycle Festival despite a premature end to 2014's feature event.

Anyone who has ever been to an Australian Motorcycle GrandPrix at Phillip Island or one of the now defunct Easter weekends at Bathurst, will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Australians love motorcycles and the freedom that goes with it. And Australia is perfectly set up to cater to recreational motorcyclists with a vast, largely well-maintained network of roads spanning desert, ocean, rainforest and intercity highways.

Even though the fairy tale has been blotted with confusion over outlaw ‘bikie’ gangs, especially in Queensland, taking motorcycle tours and vacations is at an all time high in Australia. This is typified by social clubs such as the 30-year-old Ulysses Club, whose legendary motto is ‘grow old disgracefully’: minimum age of entry, 40. Members come from all walks of life and it is just as likely you’ll see them with tea and scones as neat double bourbons.

Seizing on this proven popularity, and still smarting after the loss of the World Rally Championship to rival council, Coffs Harbour, after 2009, Kyogle Council has put their support behind the this new event aimed at amateur motorcycle enthusiasts.

“Without tourism, Kyogle is like so many rural centres in Australia and faces an uncertain future without tourism,” Councillor Michael Reardon told me at the Lions Club breakfast bar at Tent City in the showgrounds. “It hurt when we lost the World Rally Championship (in 2009) and an event like the Lions TT is just what we need to rebuild our tourism profile.”

Just as with the WRC in 2009, activists pulled every trick in the book to get the event cancelled but Reardon had the numbers on council and the event went ahead.

Councillor Michael Reardon gets into the Lions TT spirit (Roderick Eime)
“Some people forget that timber and dairy are no longer the lifeblood of Kyogle,” Reardon, a fourth generation farmer, continued, “we need something like the Lions TT to keep the town alive and considering this is the first event, we’re very pleased.”

Hundreds of enthusiastic motorcyclists descended on Kyogle for three days over the October long weekend, eating both pubs out of food by Sunday night and filling every bed for miles. Sure there was plenty of chrome, leather, denim and tattoos but not a sign of unrest. Most were in bed by midnight after a rowdy, but good-natured night at either of the two pubs, ready for an early start in the morning.

Next to me in the campground is a row of gleaming Triumph cafĂ© racers. Three Thruxton 900s and a sole Bonneville are perfect examples of the type of machine (and owner) this event attracts. My tent neighbour, Paul Davies, a travel agent from Tempe, introduces me to the gang. Young business entrepreneurs all and I’m invited to join them for a beer.

Paul Davies (centre) with his team of Triumph riders
capture the classic 'cafe racer' spirit (Roderick Eime)
We chat about our mutual love for travel, scuba diving and motorcycles. Before long we’re on foot to the pub for dinner and more lively conversation. It’s the sort of camaraderie enjoyed by motorcycle enthusiasts the world over and here it is in Kyogle.

Organiser, Mark Luxford, brings with him years of experience in motorcycle marketing and is quick to build a vision for the event.

“I see the Lions TT growing into a festival along the lines of Sturgis with a competition element drawn from the legendary Isle of Man.”

Main street of Sturgis South Dakota (David Reeves - Ride the World)
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, by comparison, turns the otherwise sleepy South Dakota town of 6,000 residents into a metropolis as around 500,000 enthusiasts descend on the town for one of the biggest such events anywhere in the world. Organisers estimate that the rally brings almost $1 billion into the state, but Sturgis launched in 1938.

The Isle of Man TT pits riders against the rough country roads and village streets.
The event was first run in 1907 and has attracted such stars as Mike Hailwood,
Giacomo Agostini and John Surtees.

The Lions TT began more modestly however and Malcolm Wallis, Tourism and Economic Development Officer for Kyogle Council, reckons around $70,000 was injected into the local economy.

The Kyogle event consisted of a drag event, albeit at the former Casino airport, a show-and-shine display of classic bikes, a street market exhibiting motorcycle and local businesses, a Saturday night concert and the signature event, a closed-road quick (but legal) squirt along the famous Lions Road.

A couple of  'enthusiasts' watch the action from Ripples on the Creek Cafe
Built in 1970, largely by public subscription, the Lions Road is a wonderfully scenic shortcut through the Border Ranges National Park linking Rathdowney (QLD) and Kyogle (NSW) and cutting 30kms off the official route. It is a challenging road by any measure, full of tight twists and turns, narrow rattly wooden bridges, potholes and wandering livestock.

While pretty much every other aspect of the festival organised itself, it is the Lions Road section that presents Luxford and his team with the greatest challenge.

Riders wait patiently at Rathdowny Pub for a chance to ride the Lions Road
(Roderick Eime)

While Luxford managed to convince a circumspect NSW Police to allow a temporary closure of that state’s section, the Queensland Police wouldn’t have a bar of it and even organised a licence check and breathalyser send-off for competitors on their way to the border.

QLD Police send riders away with a 'blow off' (Roderick Eime)
Even though the road was closed to oncoming traffic, no timing was permitted and all participants had to maintain legal speeds. Belting along at 100kmh on the sections of the Lions Road that allowed such excitement would have been enough for most, but alas, there is always that element who believe speed limits are for sissies.

Predictably there were some ‘offs’. Two on the Saturday which resulted in bent bikes and dented egos, caused Inspector Mat Johnson from Lismore-based Richmond Area Command to consult earnestly with Luxford and his team. Then came the third on the Sunday morning. An Aprilia superbike overshot one of the tight corners and speared through a fence and dissembled itself across a paddock while the rider sustained sufficient injury to warrant an ambulance evacuation. Johnson called the council and organisers again, only this time it was final.

Speaking to the young Inspector as a small crowd gathered to survey the twisted machine, Johnson reminded me of his obligation to public safety.

“As much as I wanted to see this event run successfully,” Johnson said in a calm and measured tone, “it has to be safe and lawful. Unfortunately it would appear some riders were not observing a safe speed and here is the result.”

Organiser Mark Luxford (r) presents Show-n-Shine prizes (Roderick Eime)
Luxford was down but not out and already laying plans for 2015. Kyogle Council too, had put their stamp of approval on the event, so we can expect a revision of the Lions Road section to conform to Johnson’s recommendations. Stay tuned.

For further information on the event,
see www.lionstt.com

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