Burping in rider's repertoire

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

IT'S A sport that demands riders change a sprocket, jet and ignition on their mechanical beasts in the space of five minutes if they want to hack it at the top level.

No sweat, Jason Bunyan can accomplish that quite comfortably on his 500cc Italian baby, GM, at the height of the testosterone-filled laps of solo bike racing.

But when the overall-clad English professional is in his workshop, he can do something not all fellow competitors can boast about - that is, drop his spanner and sprocket in a heartbeat to respond to another baby in the blink of an eye.

"I'm a good father, so I take my baby daughter to the workshop," says the 33-year-old from a "little place" called Leighton Buzzard, near Northampton, with a population of about 15,000.

He became a father after his partner, Zoe Irons, gave birth to Maiya, now 9 weeks.

"Everywhere the bikes go, they go," Bunyan says before the "International Solos" speedway meeting at Meeanee, Napier, from 7pm today - which has enticed an international field from England and Europe.

"I love her to bits," he says, having no qualms about feeding, burping and changing baby Maiya's nappies from day dot to enable Irons to have some downtime from the demands of motherhood.

An eight-time solo bike champion in New Zealand, Bunyan won his last title in Auckland on January 6.

Tackling the broad sliding corners in a shade above a minute from the second the starting gate is released, the Englishman is in his element on his bike against the predominantly Czech-manufactured Jawa engine rivals in the four-lap, four-rider races.

"It has a standing start from zero to 61 miles per hour within three seconds," he says of the GM, which has captured about 80 per cent of the European market.

Bunyan believes the Italian breed is harder to find in New Zealand because they are more expensive.

One clutch, no brakes and a gaping throttle intensity make motorcycle speedway a compelling spectacle over 180m to 450m tracks.

The length of the bike can also be altered.

Bunyan arrives in New Zealand after the lucrative European league goes into recess in October after seven months of action.

"You get away from the cold and come away to great people here who look after you in a lovely country.

"You leave behind a place where every day brings everyone who want everything done now."

He fell in love with the speedway race when he went to watch a race with his father, Michael Bunyan, as a 6-year-old.

His father is his mechanic in the European circuit today, but what the older Bunyan didn't bargain for was for his son to collect 16 broken bones during his career.

The four-month stints in the New Zealand summer began when he broke his legs and, while recovering, a friend from Auckland, John McCallum, invited him over.

Effectively, the annual trips became a mecca for fun-and-fitness for Bunyan, away from the hustle and bustle of the cut-throat European tracks.

"At one point in the 1950s and 60s [motorcycle speedway] was bigger than football [soccer] in England," he reveals, adding Wembley Stadium was sold out every week.

Nowadays there's more to do for people there, but the sport is still healthy and enables riders such as him to earn a living in the "premier league" with the odd entry into the "elite league".

Carting two bikes from meeting to meeting can cost £15,000 ($28,000), but in New Zealand his budget was $2000 because he brings some of his bikes over and leaves them behind.

"There was a point when I broke a leg, wrist and nose and thought this is getting a bit too much."

The alternative was to get a haircut and a real job, but the drudgery of a "normal 40-hour" week didn't excite Bunyan.

While world title-winning Ivan Mauger put New Zealand on the map in the 1970s, Bunyan says this country has a lot to catch up on, considering Australia is thriving.

The trick is to nurture youngsters, as world leaders Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Australia and Poland have shown.

"Just over the water, Australia have riders coming off conveyor belts."

While the current world champion in the code is 41 years old, Bunyan has no aspirations of becoming one.

"You have to be the right type of European to win," he says. Efficient federations in the elite countries had established structures for the young and restless to prosper.

"I pretty much had to do it on my own so I like to think I'm a late developer," Bunyan says with a laugh, taking pride in never having to put his hand out to his parents to develop his career.

He adheres to the mentality of valuing life more if one earns a living, "especially nowadays".

He brings a contingent of a dozen riders including compatriots Richie Worrall, 20, and Ashley Birks, 21, with the former recovering from a leg injury while the latter is only in his third year of racing.

"It only takes one or two meetings to get your confidence back."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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