He might be in his 70s, but Te Puke’s John Feaver says when it comes to striving for speed, he isn’t finished.
John recently received confirmation of a speed record set at South Australia’s Lake Gairdner salt flats earlier this year on a motorcycle he built himself.
He set the record despite a debilitating condition that was undiagnosed at the time, and without the ability to make adjustments to his bike which, he is convinced, would have seen him go faster.
Astride his 500cc Triumph-powered bike, he set a record of 180.2km/h (112.006mph) in the APS VF class at the Dry Lakes Racers Australia (DLRA) Speedweek.
The class is for special construction (home-made) motorcycles with partial streamlining that are alcohol-fuelled.
It isn’t his only record at Lake Gairdner and he has been faster – clocking 198.2km/h (123.174mph) on a 500cc Kawasaki Ninja to set a class record in 2013.
John, though, had to overcome plenty of challenges to set the latest mark. He prepped the bike prior to Christmas. “I got it all finished and then I started to seize up and [my body] just wouldn’t work,” he says. Nevertheless, he sent his bike and van on its sea voyage to Melbourne. “I was getting worse and worse – but I said to the doctor, ‘I’m going to Australia regardless’.” Flying to Melbourne with his mate Wally Rookes, they went to the port to collect the van and bike ahead of the two-day drive to Lake Gairdner, only to find Australian biosecurity staff had found grass clippings in the footwell. With the Victorian capital hosting a round of the V8 Supercar Championship, John and Wally had “a hell of a job finding somewhere to stay”. After two nights, the van was cleared and, buying racing fuel on the way, they finally got to Lake Gairdner.
When they arrived at the salt flats, they discovered most of the tools in the van had been stolen. “I’m not sure if it was in New Zealand, on the ship, or in Australia before collected the van,” says John. “You can’t lock things up because customs and biosecurity need to have access.” Fortunately, they fell lucky in where they were on the salt flats, with neighbour Gordon Munn helping out. Because John’s health was still not great, it wasn’t easy for him to make his speed record attempt. “I couldn’t get on the bike – they had to help me onto a toolbox with the bike on rollers to start it and then lift me onto the bike. “And I said to them, ‘when I come back, you’ve got to be there to catch me because the only way to get off is to fall off it.” With up to 14.5km (9 miles) to ride, John was flat out for 4.8km (3 miles) when he set his record. “The bike wouldn’t pull more than 6000 rpm. It was over-geared, but I had left my sprockets at home,” he says. In third gear the bike did 7000 revs, but only managed 173km/h (107.5mph).
John’s condition deteriorated after he returned home and at its worst he was taking up to two hours just to get dressed. He was diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica, but says that won’t stop him returning to Lake Gairdner. “They don’t know the cause and there’s no cure.”
With the right gearing he has calculated he can get another 16km/h (10mph) out of the bike. “I want to put that to bed,” he says.
Brought up in Taranaki, John first rode a motorcycle when he was 14. At first he rode his brother’s TriumphSpeed Twin then, when he was 15, bought his own Matchless 350. He clocked 131.6km/h (81.82mph) at his first speed event. He started building and tuning his own bikes with some success on the various speed events around Taranaki and when he was in his mid-50s he started making his own frames. He is now part of a cottage industry manufacturing parts for classic bikes.
He has been going to Lake Gairdner since 2012, but on the first two visits rain prevented any riding. In 2014 he didn’t have a bike ready but went anyway “just to have a look”. “It’s infectious and I want to keep going ’til I’m 80. It’s just a great place to be as far as I’m concerned.”