Australian Motocross Jumper War

Australian Motocross Jumper War

From Scrambling to Motocross

history of australian motocross - chapter 4: the great australian jumper war
Motocross racing gear through the ages

Photos: How motocross gear evolved throughout  the years [L-R] Gordon Renfree (1950-’60s), Tim Gibbes (’60s), Neville Cutts (’60s-’70s), & Jeff Leisk (’80s-’90s)

The Great Australian Motocross Jumper War of the 1960s

For more than five years in the early 1960s, there was a raging war between Victorian motocross riders and the ACU of Victoria.

At its peak in 1964, things became very heated and the ACUV actually banned John Burrows, Keith Stacker, Mark Green and John Stanley for three months for “conduct prejudicial to the sport”.  The issue was caused with riders opting to wear rugby style jerseys (jumpers), instead of leather jackets.

As far back as 1951, motocross competitors on the continent started wearing jumpers, often in the colour of their country, particularly in the annual Motocross des Nations.

But amazingly, it took Australia, as a whole country, more 14 years to follow suit.

Racing in leather
As motocross (or ‘scrambling’ as it was called in the early days)is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world, racing has always been hard and sweaty work.

For safety reasons, under FIM rules, pre and post World War II, the regulations stated that scramble riders were required to wear leather jackets and leather britches, regardless of the weather or season.

But you can imagine how hot and hard it was for our pioneers of the sport, who were racing street machinery weighing 300 pounds (about 136 kilograms) in the dirt wearing full leather gear, just like the road racers wore.

So due to the heat, riders throughout Australia started defying this rule and began wearing lighter clothing, such as rugby tops, woolen farmer shirts and even ex-army gear.

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The Australian Motocross Jumper War begins

Due to this situation, all states relaxed the leather jackets rule, except for Victoria. But things came to a head at the 1960 Australian Scrambles Championships, held at Arthur’s Creek in Victoria.

Being a National title, the overall control of the event was in the hands of the Auto Cycle Council of Australia (ACCA), rather than the ACU of Victoria (ACUV), the interstate riders turned up wearing tops made of products like cotton and nylon, which the officials argued was a fire hazard.

Not surprisingly there was a standoff between the riders and men in white dust coats. 

But in the end, the riders won this battle with the visitors allowed to race and no one was injured or burnt to death – particularly that day, as the paddock was waterlogged.

Things came to a head when the Preston Motor Cycle Club tabled a petition at the March 1963 meeting of the ACUV, moving that “Victorian riders be given the option of using jerseys or leathers as in other states”.

But in a rowdy discussion, all other delegates voted against the motion.

The war between the riders and ACUV continued until the beginning of the 1964 season when, at the opening of a new circuit at Etham, near Melbourne, a delegation of 50 riders confronted officials from the organising Harley Motor Cycle Club.

Australian Motorcycle News Signed petition

Following this meeting, the editor of the fortnightly Australian Motor Cycle Newspaper, George Lynn, had collected in excess of 100 signatures from riders wanting jumpers to be permitted.

To try and bring the issue to a head, the ACU of New South Wales planned to table this motion at the annual ACCA conference, which was to be held in Perth (WA) in August 1964.

In the meantime, Victorian motocross legend John Burrows, who became a spokesperson for the riders continued lobbying the ACU of Victoria, even after they banned him and three other riders for “conduct prejudicial to the sport”.

The ACCU finally upheld the appeal, changed the racing regulations, and overturned the ban on the four Victorian riders.  And so, with the stoke of a pen, so ended the Great Australian Jumper War.

Ken Rumble - Seven-times Australian Motocross Champion
1963 John Burrows

Photos: [Top]  Champion Ken Rumble (B.S.A.)  wearing leather at the 1960 Australian Motocross titles at Arthur’s Creek in Victoria; and [Bottom] John Burrows became a spokesperson for the riders on the Jumper issue, being banned  for his stance.

The evolution of Motocross gear

So, the start of the 1965 motocross season was a colourful change with riders proudly wearing their new jumpers instead of leather jackets.

Almost immediately, leather jackets became extinct at motocross circuits across Australia, but leather pants were still won up to the end of the 1970s.

The introduction of body armor and shoulder pads enabled riders to wear even lighter racing tops over this gear, and the leather pants were also gradually replaced by lighter nylon pants.

Along with the new purpose-built lightweight motocross bikes and lighter, ventilated racing gear, racing conditions completely changed for riders.

With motocross events across the world attracting thousands of spectators, motocross gear (and bikes) have become a huge advertising billboard for sponsors wanting to display their brands at events and in publications.

Today’s top motocross teams and competitors have tailored motocross racing gear, from boots up to their helmets. It’s a new world in a multi-million dollar industry, particularly in the United States and World Grand Prix circuit across Europe.

1965 Christmas Hills Motocross - Geoff Taylor, Bob Mitchell, Ken Rumble, John Mapperson and John Burrows
Jeff Leisk wins a Supercross

Photo:  [Left] After the jumper war was over – Victorian riders proudly wearing their new motocross jumpers at the 1966 Australian titles at Christmas Hills [L-R] Bob Mitchell (88), Ken Rumble (99),  Geoff Taylor (14), John Mapperson  (32) and John Burrows (96); [right] Runner-up 1990 World 500cc Motocross Champion wearing custom made nylon motocross gear, in Europe.

From Scrambles to Motocross

Click ON IMAGES below to view other chapters

Chapter 1
The British invention
down under

Chapter 2
Australian Motocross Championships

Chapter 3
Australian Championship format

Chapter 4
The Great Australian Jumper War

Chapter 5
Australian motocross on the world stage

Chapter 6
Australian International Pioneers

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