On Yer Bike: D-J Rally on the FMM’s 1936 Jarman AJS

FMM Curator Wayne Harley tells the story of his ride on this year’s classic D-J Rally on the museum’s 1936 D-J-winning ex-Jarman AJS…


It has long been a goal of FMM to enter South Africa’s oldest motorcycle race, or more precisely regularity run as it is staged today. The Durban-Johannesburg Rally – the D-J – ranks with the world’s best motorcycle events. First staged in 1913, the route was on dirt roads for over 400 miles from Durban on the Natal coast to Johannesburg on the Highveld. It took place only two years after the first Isle of Man TT event and pre-dates such motor racing greats as Le Mans and the Mille Miglia by more than 15 years. Many riders became legends over the years, but it has always been the David versus Goliath story of Cranley Jarman on his 10-year-old 350cc AJS that has always captured my imagination. So when an invitation to present this remarkable motorcycle on the 2022 D-J – the 51st regularity rally – was received, I simply could not refuse.

I knew this was not going to be an easy task as the last time the motorcycle had been on the D-J was over 20 years ago after it had been loving restored by my good friend and mentor, Hew Hollard. The little AJS has been a show queen ever since Hew last entered it in 2001. So, late in January, the bike was brought into the museum’s workshop to prepare it for the 700 km run that lay ahead. It was rather a daunting prospect preparing this historic motorcycle. For one, we realised that the tyres on the bike must have been over 30 years old and no replacements could be acquired in the time available, so we took the best we had off other exhibits in the museum. Then every inch of the AJS was checked, oiled and greased, wheels were removed, bearings repacked, chains cleaned and tensioned. Then followed hours of test riding, tuning and getting to grips with the total loss oiling system. Every day that passed, one issue after another was sorted until with just days left to go, a basic lighting system and rally box was fitted to the little hero machine.

My team-mate on this epic journey was to be colleague Wentsley Wicomb and this was going to be his first D-J. The van was packed and Wentsley and I hit the road to Hillcrest, just outside Durban, where we arrived rather late on Thursday 10 March due to a massive detour because of a road closure on the N3. Nevertheless, arriving in Hillcrest the day before the start left us no time to waste, so the AJS was off-loaded and went through scrutineering followed by all the pre-event documentation and riders briefing. There was no time for test running the bike: that would have to wait for the next morning – the day of the rally!

After not much sleep due to nerves and a quick coffee and light breakfast, it was off to the start as my starting time was 07h20. We arrived with 15 minutes to spare and Wentsley helped me quickly get the bike out of parc fermé. The little AJS didn’t have to be asked twice… Like a true thoroughbred ready to go, she fired up at the first pop. Then it was off to the first marshalling point bang on time…. Then, with only minutes to go, it suddenly hit me. I was sitting on the bike that had won the last-ever D-J race in 1936 ridden by Jarman, and a bike that had last been on the starting line 21 years earlier ridden by Hollard.  It was a massive moment, and a fear of not finishing suddenly rushed through me. Next thing I was being counted down – 5…4…3…2 …1 …GO!

Off into the early morning traffic, dodging cars, taxis and trucks, all the time reading the route schedule. Before long I was out of town and careering through the Valley of a 1000 Hills on the way to Pietermaritzburg. Dodging vehicles soon made way to dodging potholes, livestock and speed bumps. Arriving in Pietermaritzburg, I made a mistake and took a wrong turn, getting so lost it took me 30 minutes to find my way again. By the time I reached the first fuel stop I was at the back of the field. So I only had time to top up the tank and get back on the road ASAP and hope to make up time. I was so far behind I was even behind Wentsley in the back-up van.

Thankfully, the little AJS was a champion and I could open her up a little and no longer have to maintain the 60 km/h pace set for my speed group.  This in a way was perfect for the AJS, which was built as a racer with gearing more suited to going quickly. So she just came alive and was happy to run around 80 to 90 km/h, making up the lost time as we sped along the Nottingham Road. By the time I reached the Mooi River fuel stop, I had caught up with the back of the field.  No time to waste, just a splash of fuel and then head down and on to Estcourt and the lunch stop. The roads were still a nightmare: I could only imagine those brave riders of the ’20s and ’30s riding flat out on dirt, but I was concerned that the bike would come apart, never mind bursting a 30-year-old tyre! Then just before Estcourt it happened: the entire rally box came off, hitting me smack bang in the face. Thank goodness for my helmet! I managed to stop and had to perform roadside repairs, once again losing valuable time. By the time I got to the lunch stop I was one of the last to arrive.

After lunch it was on to Ladysmith. Again, the roads were a challenge but I started noticing something, I was passing more and more bikes next to the road or being loaded on to recovery trailers. The D-J was taking its toll and about 10 km before Ladysmith I started seeing other riders again as I rejoined the tail end of the field. The next town was Newcastle and with 90 km to go at the end of Day 1, I no longer worried about not finishing but was more concerned about not finishing in my number 80 road position. The Jarman AJS had also decided that second gear was no longer an option, so I had to make do with only first and third, making big hills something of a problem for the little 350cc engine. However, once past Fort Mistake the route flattened out, making the ride into Newcastle a simple run to the line by comparison with the rest of the day. Arriving at the overnight stop at Majuba Lodge along with midfield riders was a huge relief. Having completed the first day with all its challenges boosted my confidence for Day 2.

After a welcome cool beer, Wenstley and I had a few repairs and prep to do before the next morning only then we could relax. Top of the list was the defiant rally box that needed attention and a lot of duct tape. The gearbox was repacked with a mixture of oil and grease and the linkages were cleaned and adjusted, which made selecting second gear possible again.

Day 2 and we were up early and off to the start at 07h20, the same as the day before. I couldn’t help but notice the number of motorcycles on trailers and clearly out of the rally. Johannesburg was still quite a way off and the likely dreaded streets of Standerton still lay ahead. Then 5…4…3…2…1…GO!  Off I went determined to rally as the book said and not get lost and stay in position.  The route took us over the Majuba Pass, a route I had driven and ridden many times over the years. I have always enjoyed the pass’ many twists and turns. The route took us through Volksrust and Perdekop then on into Standerton for lunch. The roads in Standerton are a mess with massive potholes, no lines and oncoming traffic on your side of the road.  It was hard avoiding these hazards, so by the time I was clear of Standerton my nerves were shot as were the palms of my hands. My backside felt like I had taken a MotoGP bike on the Dakar Rally, but the little AJS managed it all with ease.

Soon we were on the Highveld and the roads became flat and rather monotonous. I could see other riders way off in the distance, and the white van with Wentsley driving was a comforting sight in my mirror should something go wrong at this late stage. Our final stop was in the town of Heidelberg, which would be the first time since 2004 that the AJS was back in Heidelberg where FMM’s founding Heidelberg Motor Museum once operated. It was only appropriate that we performed a small drive by the old premises, which gave Wentsley his first chance to see the old building.

Then with less than a 100 km to the Benoni Northern Club for the finish, we set out on the home stretch. As I approached Benoni I was overcome with emotion at reaching the end of the rally on the 1936-winning motorcycle. Thinking of Cranley Jarman and Hew Hollard and their achievements humbles a person, and only puts into perspective how privileged I’ve been to be able to do this year’s Durban to Johannesburg on this remarkable 1926 350 AJS. Crossing the line I was ecstatic at having achieved my third D-J finish, and this on my first flat-tank bike it is something I will always treasure.

The 2022 rally took its usual toll on the old machinery with only 58 of the 84 starters being classified as official finishers of the two-day event. Well done to the VVC for keeping this remarkable event alive.


The 1936 Jarman AJS ridden by Wayne is now on view in Hall A.




1 Gavin Walton                     1936 500cc AJS                   228 penalty points

2 Mike Ward                         1935 500cc Velocette         258 penalty points

3 Martin Kaiser                     1935 500cc Sunbeam         271 penalty points


Other awards:

Best performance by a pre-1926 motorcycle                             

Bill Lance                               1925 600cc Indian

Best performance by pre-1930 motorcycles up to 350cc        

Samantha Anderson           350cc AJS

Best performance by pre-1930 motorcycles 350-500cc

Tony Lyons-Lewis                1928 500cc Norton

Best performance by pre-1930 motorcycles over 501cc

Howard Marks                      Ariel

Best performance by pre-1930 motorcycles – Sidecar             

Brian Lange                          1928 1000cc AJS

Best performance by pre-1936 motorcycles up to 350cc        

Ryan van Heerden               1936 350cc Velocette

Best performance by pre-1936 motorcycles 350-500cc          

Kevin Walton                        1931 500cc BSA

Best performance by pre-1936 motorcycles over 501cc          

Gawie Nienaber                   1935 750cc BMW

Best performance by pre-1936 motorcycles – Sidecar

Adrian Hollis                          1936 600cc Sunbeam

Best performance by a lady rider 

Samantha Anderson           350cc AJS

Best performance by a first-time rider     

Achim Bergmann                 200 cc DKW

Best Ariel

Grant Vacy-Lyall                  1931 500cc

Best Norton

Ralph Pitchford                     1934 500cc

Best Velocette

Mike Ward                            1935 500cc

Best Triumph

Kevin Kohler                         1934 350cc

Best BMW

Gawie Nienaber                   1935 750cc

Best Sunbeam

Martin Kaiser                        1935 500cc

Oldest motorcycle to complete the course         

Hans Coertse                       1924 1000cc Harley-Davidson

Oldest rider to complete the course                     

Rod Thomas (82 years old) 1928 350cc OK Supreme

Youngest rider to compete the course                

Darryn Binder (24 years old) 1936 500cc Ariel

Most D-Js completed                                             

Tony Lyons-Lewis                38 D-Js.

Club team

Vintage Motorcycle Club (Mike Ward, Ralph Pitchford, Ryan Duncan)