John Rock and the 1957 ISDT

Tim Gibbes from Palmerston NZ has shared his memories

I've just been on Google fishing about & found your site & even better found a profile about John Rock.  We met first I think in 1957 when we formed the first Australian Team for the ISDT which was in Czechoslovakia, which John has related to very well on the profile. Couldn't remember how we came across the Jawa & CZ bikes, but this story tells it all, thankyou. Later in 1958, the same group of Aussies went to the Isle of Man for John & Maureen's wedding, & of course we drove around the TT circuit while there. A couple of team photos attached & another of John carrying his front guard, what a hero. Probably met a few times since then but ones I recall were >
I can not remember how, but 2 Jawa 250s & one CZ 125 bikes had been made available to us for the event, with factory support. The bikes were made in Czechoslavakia so it was good propaganda for the regime.

 The Australian team comprised of John Rock from Western Australia & Tim Gibbes from South Australia riding the 250 Jawas, Les Fisher (NSW) on the CZ, while Roy East (NSW) was the Team Manager.

 The event was held in the North of Czech near the Polish Border, based in the mountain town of Spindleruv Mlyn.

 That year the British had decided not to support the event, as they sold no bikes behind the Iron Curtain, but the Brits really did  not like me being there, as I was already on of their ISDT team riders.

 I had been riding Jawas for the South Australian importer a few years before, so had a bit of an idea what the bikes were like, & with the local support as more than just helpers, it all looked good. The bikes were really just standard production street bikes with upturned exhaust pipes, cross bar on the handlebar, & knobbly tyres. The tyres were locally made Barum, which were not of high quality, as most Iron Curtain goods were in thos days, almost like cardboard, they wore so quickly.

 Certainly the bikes were nothing like the factory units the Czech & other friendly Communist State riders had, which were very impressive.

 Before we arrived at the event, we had slight transport problems. All 4 of us travelled all the way from England in my 1949 Austin A40 pickup, a distance of nearly 2,000 Kms. As the front seat was really only wide enough to fit 2 people, the 4 across was a bit of a squeeze, necessitating a revised driving format, driver #1 pushing the accelerator & foot brake, plus some of the time steering, driver # 2 the clutch operation & shared steering duties, driver #3 or #4 who sat on #3s knees, the gear change & general observation

Eventually we got to the ISDT HQ of the event at Spindleruv Mlyn, put the A40 up on blocks, so we could strip it as we got time. We will get back to that story 6 days later after the ISDT.

 The ISDT itself was very, very wet, stormy & plenty of fog, possibly one of the toughest of all ISDT events. Spindleruv Mlyn, in the Krkonose (Giant) Mountains, is in the north of what is now the Czech Republic, almost on the Polish border, and well known as a winter snow ski resort & recreational area. In those days the chalets were all Trade Union¯ run, so people from each area of an industrial town would holiday together, also an ideal way of having Big Brotherā€¯ keep watch!

We were told by some friendly locals, that the normal population of the then Czechoslavakia was 16 million Czechs & Slovakians, & 48 million Russian soldiers, KGB police etc. Thats 3 Big Brothers to every local not very comforting when Big Brother¯ keeps order with an AK47 machine gun slung over his shoulder.

 We hardly saw any views as the cloud & rain blotted out any chance of that for the whole 6 days. Many of the marquees & tents had been blown down by the wind & rain, so conditions were unpleasant.

 Our local Czech support group, Mr. Plachta, Stan Cerney & Dr. Zimmer, were particularly helpful to us. Any problem they would talk us through the repair routine, as well as set-up pickup points¯ out in the bush, when our bikes needed more than just maintenance. In those days all parts of the bikes were marked so officially it was not permitted to change any thing, even though illegal running repairs had been going for years, & in fact is still very rife in the ISDE.

 They also taught us how to shake hands frequently, so we could be passed so called illegal¯ unmarked parts from hand to hand during the handshake. We realised quickly why so many Europeans shake hands frequently, especially during a major sporting event!

 John Rock was a trials rider mainly, but relished the muddy conditions. The metal these bikes were made of was very low quality. His front mudguard brackets broke off, but as it was a marked part, had to carry it over his shoulder for 3 days, see the photo with this story getting all the mud & slush spat off the front wheel in his eyes & face. A tribute to the tenacity of the man, & he was rewarded with a well earned Bronze Medal.

 Les Fishers CZ was not to get too far. The rear chain adjuster on the rear sprocket side broke, allowing the rear wheel to pull forward on that side, throwing off the chain. Regrettably a rare DNF for Les.

 My 250 Jawa also suffered electrical problems & metal fatigue. But we sorted our way through those, the electrics with good advice from our support crew.The ignition switch & main wiring loom were housed in a nacelle type compartment screwed into the top of the petrol tank, so some of the replaced wires from the generator & ignition system ran up the outside of the petrol tank.

 As well, the battery & tool box bolted to the rear left side of the bikes frame, broke off from metal fatigue, another case of very poor metal quality. Another marked part, as also was the battery. The battery was a very necessary piece of equipment, as the bike was coil ignition.

So I wrapped the battery in a plastic bag, put it down the front of my jacket, took leads from there to the aforementioned switch & wiring loom on the petrol tank, & carried on, with varying degrees of pain from a big bust & an occasional acid burn from the battery, till I was able to repair the box with help from behind the bushes¯!

 Thanks to my very clever support crew & their helpers I got to the end & achieved a Bronze Medal, which possibly should have been more of a bravery award for the crew!

Our first ever Australian Club Team at least finished the event with 2 out of 3 riders winning Bronze Medals, & under the conditions, with distinction

1957 ISDT John Rock 250 Jawa Bronze & earned it, Les Fisher 175 CZ

1957 ISDT Aussie Club Team Jawa-CZ. Tim, Dr. Zimmer, Mr. Plachta, John Rock, Roy East, Les Fisher 


 1957 ISDT John Rock 250 Jawa Bronze & earned it, Les Fisher 175 CZ

john rock
John Rock ISDT 57

john rock
Roy East, John Rock, Les Fisher & the photographer Tim Gibbes arrive at the Austrian - Czechoslavakian, ready to enter the Iron Curtain.

1949 Austin A40 pickup, one of many race transporters of the famous old days!
Try fitting 4 big guys into one of these & driving 2,000 kms each way!

The weather was not exactly the best! The crates of bikes in the middle were ours ready for us to assemble & prepare for 6 days!

Tim Gibbes & his 250 Jawa used in the 1957 ISDT which had a few problems described in this story.
But a bronze medal was the reward. One of the several rubber bands to hold the battery box in place can be seen above the 181 riding numer!
The flowers were possibly a fitting memorial to a long suffering bike that had much attention!

All content remains the Copyright of the Vintage Motorcycle Club of Western Australia Inc.