Bryan Hindle: One quick chemist

Rider Profile

Last lap. Bryan in his final race – the 1976 Castrol Six Hour.

Story: Jim Scaysbrook • Photos: Merv Whitelaw, John Hiscock, Rob Lewis, Dick Darby, Greg Heath, Ken Duperouzel.

Is there a stereotype motorcycle racer? If so, Bryan Hindle probably would not have fitted the bill; teetotal, strongly religious, slight of build, baby faced, but possessed of a fierce desire to succeed. While on honeymoon following his marriage to Berna in December 1961, he visited the annual New Years Day meeting at Phillip Island in January 1962, where newly-crowned World Champion Tom Phillis and his 4-cylinder Honda 250 were the star attraction. Bryan was impressed, but admitted thinking that he could hold his own with the rest of the fields. Food for thought.

As a single bloke, Bryan had owned a Velocette MSS, but that was disposed of prior to the nuptials. However he needed transport to get to and from work, so he purchased a 125cc Honda Benly twin. It was a quick little gadget, even in road trim, and Bryan decided to have a crack at racing it as well, mindful of the fact that it was a vital tool in his daily life as well. The Benly was fitted with a home-made full “dustbin” fairing, which were still legal in these parts although outlawed in Europe. It was no thing of beauty (“the ugliest fairing ever made” he said) but at Bathurst at Easter 1963 he finished a creditable twelfth in the Ultra Lightweight TT, which was won by Allan Osborne on a much more highly tuned Benly. The result was sufficient to ignite the flame, and from then on the Honda became increasingly more slanted towards performance than economy. 

Early days on the 125 Honda at Oran Park in May, 1964.

He persevered with the Honda for three more years, but the 125cc class was becoming the domain of the two-stroke Bultacos, and the 4-speed Honda struggled to keep up. Nevertheless, Bryan’s race craft was becoming more finely honed. He decided that if he were ever to reach A grade he needed to step up to the highly competitive graded races where the tackle was usually 350cc or 500cc former road bikes, or a well-used Manx Norton if you could afford one, which he could not. He settled on another Velocette; not a thoroughbred racer, but a jumble of parts assembled around a 1932 KSS overhead cam engine that had been enlarged from 350cc to 500cc. It was housed in a mid-fifties swinging arm frame and looked fairly evil (“the greatest beast of all time”, Bryan quipped), but it took him to his first win – a Senior C Grade race at Oran Park.  When the Velo was running it was quick and handled reasonably well, but it was chronically unreliable. After enduring the frustrations for two seasons, Bryan sold the Velo and began looking for a more competitive – and reliable – replacement.

Left: Bryan and Clive Knight; 1971 Castrol Six Hour winners. Right: On his converted ride-to-work Honda Benly at Bathurst in 1967.

By this stage he had switched clubs from Blacktown MCC which was mainly focussed on the rough and tumble world of dirt track Short Circuit, and joined the Motor Cycle Racing Club of NSW, which boasted lots of the big names of the road racing set. Parramatta dealer Barry Ryan was a staunch supporter of just about every facet of motorcycle sport and always had a good stock of used racing bikes on his showroom floor. He happened to have a 250cc Yamaha TD1B which was a bit battle scarred but otherwise healthy, and he loaned it to Bryan for a practice day at Oran Park. After the big, heavy Velo the little Yamaha was a revelation and Bryan decided to buy it. In his first race on the TD1B – a 250cc C Grade event at Oran Park – he finished third, and there was better to come. Soon he was a consistent winner in not just C Grade but B Grade as well, and after cleaning up the C Grade races in 1969, again at Oran Park, he was upgraded to B Grade just in time for Bathurst. 1969 was the year when Victorian Peter Jones, who was graded B in NSW, swept all before him, including the B Grade Junior, but in that race Bryan grabbed second spot after an entertaining battle with Graham Gates on the Bultaco Bandito scrambler. Unfortunately later in the day the Yamaha engine let go in a big way, but NSW distributors McCulloch stepped in with a sizeable discount on the replacement parts which included later model TD1C barrels and pistons. His talent had also been spotted by Bridgestone dealer Alan Honey, who had built up a surprisingly fast 125cc class racer from a disc valve Bridgestone 100 which became known as the Honey Special. With Bryan in the saddle the little special scored several successes.

Aboard Allan Honey’s Bridgestone special at Oran Park in 1968.

Of course success breeds hunger for more success, and what had really impressed Bryan at Bathurst was the pair of new ‘Daytona’ Yamahas – a TD2 250 and a TR2 350 – ridden by the ‘maestro’ Ron Toombs. Bryan decided he simply had to have one – a 350 which would allow him starts in the Junior, Senior and Unlimited classes – and apart from his occupation as an industrial chemist specialising in printers’ inks, he worked a second job to raise the purchase price. The TR2 was supplied by Parramatta Yamaha dealer Brian Collins in August 1969; marking the beginning of a long and very successful relationship. After a few outings at Oran Park, Bryan headed to Bathurst at Easter, 1970, freshly promoted to A Grade status. It would be his first true clash with Toombs on the circuit where Ron was the absolute master. By the time the Junior Grand Prix gridded up, Toombs had already won the Ultra Lightweight (with Bryan second on the Honey Special) and Lightweight races, but the hot favourite was into the pits after just one lap to change plugs and Hindle led from the beginning, with Kevin Cass snapping at his heels. Behind trailed big names like Eric Hinton, Bill Horsman and motocross star Graham Smith on Bert Flood’s 350 Bultaco, but Bryan repeatedly pummelled the lap record – leaving it at 2.39.0 – and ran out a narrow winner from Cass. From that moment, the Hindle and Toombs rivalry was a feature of almost every meeting in New South Wales and frequently interstate. 

Heading for victory in the 1970 Castrol Six Hour, riding Barry Ryan’s Bonneville with Len Atlee.

Although his focus was on the pukka racing classes, Bryan could see the value in becoming involved in the Castrol Six Hour Production Race (or the Castrol 1000 as it was officially known), which was to be held for the first time in October 1970 at Amaroo Park. With $1,400 prize money for the outright winner, plus a further $1,700 for class awards, most of the big names were only too happy to step down to road bikes for the occasion. Teamed with his mate Len Atlee on a Triumph Bonneville entered by Barry Ryan, Bryan came out on top in a race marred by crashes and break-downs.

His growing stature led to Brian Collins providing a brand new TD2 for the 1971 season, as well as continuing sponsorship for the 350. At Bathurst he once again had to play second fiddle to Toombs in the Ultra Lightweight (where he rode Clem Daniel’s CSD Special) and in the Lightweight as well. In the Junior GP, he made a slow start but rocketed through the field as Toombs, Atlee and Hinton all struck trouble, equalling the outright lap record of 2.35.0 along the way. He won easing up from Horsman and Queenslander Barry Rattray, and later in the day added the Unlimited GP to his tally, bringing his prize money for the meeting to $1,200. 

Left: Bryan Hindle in the pits at Oran Park. Top left: Happy group at Oran Park; Bill Burnett, Bryan, Ginger Molloy and Ago. Bottom left: The winning team in the 1970 Castrol 100; Bryan, entrant Barry Ryan, and Len Atlee.

It was back to production bikes in October for the second running of the Castrol 1000, this time teamed with Clive Knight on a Honda CB750 entered by Parramatta Motorcycles (run by Brian Collins’ son Dennis). It was a professional operation, clocking up hundreds of kilometres around Amaroo in the lead up to the event, as well as practicing rear wheel changes should that prove necessary. Hindle took the opening stint and kept to his pre-determined lap time strategy to conserve tyres and fuel while running close to the leaders. As the usual prangs and mechanical woes reduced the runners, Hindle had stretched the advantage to two full laps by half distance, and 22-year old Knight managed to maintain the gap during his stint. For the run to the flag, the rear tyre was in tatters, but Hindle masterfully stroked it home to win by three laps from the Yamaha XS2 ridden by Paul Spooner and Tony Hatton.

Most of Sydney’s Italian population was at Oran Park in December 1971 to see super star Giacomo Agostini and the howling MV Agustas in what was expected to be a cakewalk, but they had reckoned without the determination of Hindle. The opening encounter was the 350 A Grade race, where Agostini made a casual start – too casual as it transpired. Hindle was away like a shot, setting a new outright lap record of 50.3 seconds to become only the third person (after Phil Read and John Cooper) to lower the Italian’s colours in 1971. “I don’t care if I never win another ace, “ Bryan beamed. “This is my most exciting moment.” The win made headlines around the world, but it didn’t tempt Bryan to try his hand in Europe. With a young son and a mortgage on the family home at Merrylands in Sydney’s west, he reckoned he had enough on his plate. 

At Bathurst in 1972, Bryan heads for second place on the 125cc Yamaha.

Even with Toombs opting to miss the Australian TT at Bathurst in 1972 in order to contest the Singapore GP, Easter failed to produce a win for Hindle, although he was runner up in the 250cc and 350cc classes and third in the Unlimited. There was no third time lucky at the Castrol Six Hour Race either; Hindle on Yamaha’s unloved TX750 twin was an early exit when co-rider Clive Knight crashed early in the race. The year concluded on a higher note however. Although he did not contest all three rounds of the inaugural Pan Pacific International Series, Hindle thrashed the visiting international riders Ron Grant and Cliff Carr to win the opening round at Oran Park, setting a new outright lap record of 48.4 seconds. 

In February 1973, Hindle journeyed to Lake Lefroy in Western Australian as part of Brian Collins’ troupe to attempt the Australian Motorcycle Land Speed Records. While Collins rode a 47cc Yamaha to set 24 new marks, Hindle narrowly set up a new outright record of 241.89 km/h (150.30 mph) riding his trusty 350 Yamaha. He fractionally beat the 16-year-old time of 149.07 set by Jack Forrest’s 500cc BMW at Coonabarabran NSW. The record stood until 1976 when Bert Flood pushed it to 243.90 km/h on a stretch of the Northern Highway near Rochester, Victoria.

Like most of the NSW A Grade riders, Hindle boycotted Bathurst in 1973 because of a dispute over entry fees. Instead, he achieved a personal milestone by competing in his first overseas event, the Singapore Grand Prix, run at Easter over the notoriously dangerous 4.8 km Upper Thomson Road Circuit. The public roads track had hosted car and motorcycle racing from 1961, but 1973 was to be the final year after another fatal accident to a car competitor.  Bryan, described in the Straits Times newspaper as an “unknown Australian”, stunned everyone by taking pole position over Kiwi Trevor Discombe. In Friday’s 50 lap Motorcycle Grand Prix, held in front of 150,000 spectators, Hindle and his 350 Yamaha controlled the race for 14 laps until he tangled with a back marker and fell, letting Ginger Molloy through to win from Japanese riders Abeshi Motohashi and Hideo Kanaya, with Ron Toombs fourth. The following day he made amends by easily winning both the 250cc and 350cc races, leading home Toombs in the latter by more than a minute. 

In his second overseas race, Bryan grids up for the 1973 Indonesia Grand Prix, with ultimate winner Masahiro Wada’s works H2R Kawasaki on pole position.

1973 also marked the year the Australian Road Racing Championship was contested over a multi-round series instead of the single race Australian TT. The series concluded in Perth on September 30, where Hindle wrapped up the 350cc title – his only national championship win – and finished runner up in both 125cc and 250cc championships. 

In September 1973 Bryan was part of a large ANZAC contingent that included Len Atlee, Rob Hinton, John Maher, Ron Toombs, Bill Horsman and Kiwis Dale Wylie and Ginger Molloy. They were up against a stack of Japanese works bikes, and factory Kawasaki rider Masahiro Wada duly took pole position and won the 160km Indonesian Grand Prix, with Rob Hinton being the first non-works rider home in 5th place. The previous day, Australia won a 50-mile Teams event with Hindle second, Toombs fifth and Hinton 6th. 

The arrival of the Yamaha TZ750 in early 1974 gave Hindle his most powerful mount to date, and he nearly paid for it with his life.  After flying to Japan in late 1973 to test the bike, he gave the new Yamaha its first Australian victory in February when he won the Victorian Unlimited TT at Calder after Bob Rosenthal and Ken Blake had both crashed out while disputing the lead. A dozen of the new projectiles were entered for the biggest-yet Bathurst meeting – with racing over two days and prize money doubled to $20,000. The public’s first chance to see the new 750s in action on a dry track (practice sessions were all held in the wet) was the Formula Unlimited on Saturday morning. Gregg Hansford held the lead for the first eight laps, with the lap record being repeatedly demolished, while Hindle clung to his rear wheel. Then on the final run across the mountain, Bryan tried an ambitious pass around the outside at McPhillamy Park. He hit the deck at more than 160 km/h and suffered a broken left arm, ribs and pelvis, and five broken vertebrae. The worst injury was the arm; it was not discovered for several weeks that the broken bone had been incorrectly set and required additional operations.

On a blistering hot day at Hume Weir in 1974, Bryan takes the coveted King of the Weir trophy.

 At 34 years of age, many thought Hindle would decide to pack in racing, but he surprised everyone by announcing he would again team up with Clive Knight for the Castrol Six Hour race in October, where they would ride a BMW R90/6. That race will ever be mired in controversy after Hindle and Knight crossed the line first, only to be disqualified one week after the event for “illegal modifications” inside the front forks. Officials declared that a locating sleeve, designed to stop the forks springs rattling, had been reversed so as to act as a spacer and give increased pre-loading on the springs. Hindle was shattered by the decision which he said “left him completely disillusioned with the sport”, but there was worse to come. A few weeks later, during practice for the second round of the Pan Pacific Cup at Oran Park, he crashed the rebuilt TZ750 and fractured his left arm again. 

He maintained that it was not the injury that caused him to make up his mind to call time on his career, which he announced in November 1974, but the fact that he was “not happy with the way the sport is progressing. There is a lot of talk about professionalism but when professionalism means fewer events for the top riders for more prizemoney, well, that’s not my concept of motorcycle racing. I would want to race as often as possible and be competitive.” Surprisingly, he listed his victory over Ron Grant’s works Suzuki TR750 in 1972 as his most memorable win. “I got more satisfaction out of that win than beating Agostini. With Ago, I led into the first corner and stayed out in front to the finish. But the clash with Grant was different. We duelled for five laps before I got past him, and at the end of the race Agostini’s outright lap record had been trimmed from 51.2 to 48.4 seconds.”

Giving the new Yamaha TZ750 its first Australian win at Calder in February 1974.

Hindle stayed away from the sport for two years, but in 1976 he was tempted back to the Castrol Six Hour by Metzeler importer John Galvin, who convinced him to team up with the vastly experienced German Helmut Dahne on a BMW R90S. In the first official practice session, one week out from the race, Hindle crashed heavily when the engine locked up. The BMW was a write-off and a replacement was hurriedly race-prepared. In the race the pair circulated steadily, fast enough for fifth place but two laps behind the winning Kawasaki Z1B ridden by Jim Budd and Roger Heyes.

Thereafter, Bryan drifted completely away from the sport, and instead became interested in small fixed-wing aircraft. At his home, he assembled a Skycraft Scout, a tiny aircraft powered by a Victa lawnmower engine. Designed by Australian Ron Wheeler, the Scout was the first ultra-light aircraft in the world to be granted an airworthiness certificate, and weighing under 180kg, could be operated by unlicensed pilots under certain restricted conditions. On February 26th, 1978, Bryan was at Dubbo in western NSW to take part in an air show. Reports said that he was carrying out a series of manoeuvres and was thought to be making a landing approach when the aircraft suddenly nose-dived into the ground from a height of around 15 metres. Rescuers were on the scene within seconds but Hindle, just 38 years old, was beyond help. 

Today, the Hindle name and his famous racing number 50 live on with son Glenn a consistent winner across many classes in Historic Racing.

This article first appeared in Old Bike Australasia Issue 56.