NZ BEAR's Racing (British, European, American Racing)
The International BEAR's racing scene kicked off in sleepy little New Zealand. Started by a group of enthusiastic Christchurch motorcycle riders who did not fit the social or race classes available at the time on their Triumphs, Norton’s & BSA's. These guys had tried racing with the local Jap scene & the Classic scene without support or encouragement by these clubs.
George Begg, Classic bike racer & legendary NZ race car builder, has been credited with starting Bear's racing after a small group of British bike riders had turned up at Ruapuna Raceway at the invitation of Ray Tolhurst, to race with the local Classic Register, the Classic Register was very much a 'Boy's Club clic' at the time.
George was not a man to mince words & told this group "Why don't you Fuck-off and start your own Club". This started the ball rolling, the word spread, meetings were held at theOcean View Hotel in Governors Bay and the Corsair Motorcycle Clubrooms in Christchurch. The Corsair Motorcycle Club Steward, Ray Sherman had become involved, membership fees were paid and the BEAR's movement kicked off. The 1st BEAR's race meeting was held in early 1983 at Ruapuna Raceway on the outskirts of Christchurch. A hat was passed around to the spectators to help raise funds to pay for the hire of the track. There are too many people involved in making this happen to mention. Two Motorcycle shops in Christchurch got in behind the BEAR's (British, European & American Racers) idea. Christchurch Motorcycles (Lyndsay Williamson) and Classic Lines (Stuart Whyte) became pivotal in marketing the BEAR's movement locally and nationally.
The BEAR's moment grew rapidly, appealing to the Non-Japanese riders throughout New Zealand. In short time there were 2 additional national clubs formed, with Auckland (Northern BEAR's) & Palmerston North (Central BEAR's) created. The New Zealand BEAR's series developed with a 'Northern Sound of Thunder' (Pukekoe, Auckland) and a 'Central Sound of Thunder' (Mansfield, Fielding) held, creating a 3 Round 'Thunder Series' tying in with Christchurch's 'Sound of Thunder' meeting at Ruapuna held annually on the last weekend of February.
This was an amazing time to be involved with BEAR's. There was an amazing amount of 'positive energy' and friendliness amongst riders from all walks of life. The Christchurch Bears developed a Winter Series, racing Ruapuna, Levels (Timaru) & Teretonga (Invercargill) in a 5 round series, topped off with the 3 national Thunder series meetings. Riders were building specials with various and wonderful bikes being developed (Ducati TT2's, Norrish's, Weslakes, Denco's, interesting BMW's...) including the Britten. John started racing an evil handling 1948 cast-iron Triumph T100, and then started on the path to developing the Britten V1000.
John Britten was one of our foundation members, motivated by his BEAR's friends and these surroundings, developing and testing the stunning Britten V1000 at Ruapuna, racing the NZ Bears Series, NZ National Points Series and International Battle of the Twins in the US & Europe
We had riders and journalists turning up for the BEAR's Thunder Series from around the world (Australia, UK & USA), starting the International BEAR's movement and joining our Bear's celebration over the past 30 years, many lifelong friendships being made and BEAR's clubs starting up in Australia & the UK.
BEAR's Sound of Thunder. Ruapuna Raceway
The Christchurch Bear's Club is renowned for their friendly relaxed attitude to racing, until they get onto the track. Riders willing help other riders out to make sure they can race against them in the next race. No 'Bragging Rights' unless you beat them on the track.
Held annually, over the last weekend of February since 1983 at Ruapuna Park raceway, near Christchurch NZ. Within excess of 130 riders and 300 cross class entries, the meeting is always a lot of fun. Fridays unofficial practice starts at 10.00am and continues all day, many taking this opportunity to familiarise themselves with Ruapuna's track again. With Sign-in & Race bike Tech-checks (scrutineering) commencing at 3pm, to officially kick off the weekends racing. Free BBQ & the track Clubrooms opening for refreshments at 5.30pm
Saturday 8am start at the track sees the pits filling up, people everywhere, bikes being given the once over, motors being revved and warmed up. Riders brief at 9.30am, official practice due to start 10am, with the 1st round of racing scheduled for 1pm. Free BBQ & the track Clubrooms opening for refreshments at 5.30pm
Sunday racing starts with the Riders Brief, a short Tyre Scrub session, then into the race programme, with 23 races to get through before the socialising can begin again, followed by a meal put on by the Chch Bears Club, prize giving and more socialising too late. Although 'Camping is strictly forbidden , most racers & teams have set up their camp in the Pit area and reside here for the whole weekend, dragging themselves out of bed Monday morning for a pack-up & drive home. Their week-ends security duty completed.
The Bears 'Sound of Thunder' meeting runs a mix of Classes: Formula (1 & 2), Superstock (Open & Ltd.), Origin (MotoEuro, Best of British, Milwaukee Iron), and Lightweights (>400's, > 600's), & Heritage classes. Catering for the new state of the art BMW's, Aprilia, Ducati, Triumph, KTM, Buell's, to the old school Norton’s, Indian's Matchless, AJS, Triumph's, BSA, Aermacchi, Ducati, BMW, Husqvarna...... with some of the riders reflecting the age of their machines. It is surprising how fast some of these pre 1978 post classic machine can go, with the sound of old singles, twins & triples making it well worth the weekend spent with a bunch of well-timed travelled friends (bikes & people).
The annual Bear's Winter Series starts with Round 1 kicking-off in May on Ruapuna's Full track, the series running through to November. This is a 6 round Winter series including Pre 1982 Post Classics (all makes) and Bucket racing (up to 150cc), running 2 meetings on the Full circuit & 4 meetings on the Western-end short circuit, finishing off the day with a free BBQ & refreshments at the Ruapuna Clubrooms.
For the Bear's Club Organisers, the Track Marshals & Race Officials it is a full-on job operating and keeping these annual meetings running smooth and encouraging new riders. It is a huge undertaking from a bunch of volunteers who continue to support BEAR's racing.
(Bear's racer & supporter 1984 to current)