Tools of the trade
Few Australians tried to make a living racing motocross in Europe in the 1960s – and even fewer succeeded. Among those who plied the tracks of England, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland and the Iron Curtain countries were Ray Fisher from Victoria, WA’s Charlie West, Tim Gibbes from Adelaide, Jack Pringle from Newcastle and Sydney’s Roy East. East first went to Europe in 1957, hoping to gain a start in the International Six Day Trial in Northern Bohemia. Jawa/CZ were to supply the bikes to the first-ever Australian team, but only three turned up for the four riders, and after drawing straws, Roy ended up as team manager while Les Fisher, John Rock and Gibbes did the riding. Three years later he was back, this time with his own 500cc BSA Gold Star, ready for a season on the Continent.
Roy was one of Australia’s most versatile riders, beginning racing in the early 1950s on short circuit dirt tracks. He soon moved to road racing, riding his own BSA and various Velocettes tuned by Ron Kessing. Aboard Clem Daniels’ 125 MV Agusta, he won the 1958 Bathurst Ultra Lightweight TT from a strong field, but despite his skill on the tar, motocross was always Roy’s first love.
When he made the decision to go back to Europe in 1960, he was under no illusions about the realities of earning a living out of racing. He used the BSA not just in moto cross, but in the big Grass Track meetings which were popular at the time, particularly in Germany. With Ray Fisher and South Australian Kelvin Franks, Roy made an annual assault on the huge two-mile Grass Track at Teterov in East Germany. The crowd loved the antics of the Australians as they raced their motocross bikes wheel to wheel with the continental stars on their speedway style JAP-engined machines, and the organisers obliged with good appearance money, albeit in eastern currency.
By 1962 the BSA was becoming increasingly uncompetitive against the new Metisse, built by the Rickman brothers. Although the Metisse’s dimensions were closely based on the Gold Star, the package was considerably lighter, with better suspension. Roy sold the BSA to Ron Kivovitch for $600 and shipped it back to Sydney. East, Pringle and Fisher all put their money down for a Metisse frame kit, to which they added a 500cc Matchless G85CS engine, AMC gearbox, Ceriani front forks and various wheels. Roy ended up with two bikes, one fitted with a 600cc long-stroke Matchless, with magnesium hubs and brakes sourced from an AJS 7R. The two East Metisses were never the most handsome in the pits, but were reliable and served him well from almost a decade.
In 1969 Roy made the decision to return to Australia, bringing the two Metisses and a 350cc AJS Trails bike with him. He was now 42 and troubled with severe arthritis in his legs and feet, but he immediately made an impact on the local moto cross scene after settling again in Sydney. The standard tackle by this time was all two stroke, but Roy’s big booming four stroke singles still held their own in his capable hands. He also raced a 125 Bultaco, TM400 Suzuki and eventually a 400 Husqvarna. The 400 Husky came his career a temporary extension, and he eventually formed a company with Hans Applegren to import the marque to Australia.
As his health deteriorated he tried warmer climates; first Queensland, then Port Stephens, until he finally settled back in Penrith.
With Roy’s passing in April 2002, we lost one of the last links to the era when big four strokes ruled the roost; when the one bike would suffice for everything from road racing to dirt track and scrambles. Roy East was also one of the few riders who excelled in all three. Fortunately both his Metisses survive, and the 500cc model has been acquired by Motorcycling Australia. When the restoration is completed, the Metisse will be on display in the new MA Museum, and will also be demonstrated at vintage moto cross meetings.