THE LOADING RAMP
Words Scott Bishop
Recently, in a moment of weakness and sheer stupidity, I decided to clean out my garage. Yes, yes, I know, it was a wild and crazy thing to do and I spent more time thinking “I always wondered where that got to” than actually cleaning anything.
But, after I went through about a million pieces of junk I’d collected over the years, I came across an old loading ramp. I might be biased here, but it’s a work of art built from the finest woods, hand crafted with passion and years of dedication. And it no doubt stood the test of time. It lasted me over 15 years and was abused each and every day of its life. It was wheeled up and wheeled down and launched into the back of a van; it travelled the country several times; it was stood on, roosted, got some dodgy-looking stickers; it was painted, copped the overspray off something else I was painting and was generally neglected for over a decade — but still it performed without question, day in, day out. Name me another product that can do that?
The reality was I found a hunk of wood from the bush out the back of the Stanmore MX Club just south of Brisbane in about 1992. I nailed a little cross-section on the top to stop it sliding when I mounted and dismounted at speed — and that was my loading ramp for the best part of my career.
Looking back, I probably should have even mentioned it in a few podium speeches over that time. You can’t win a race with your bike stranded in the van or ute, can you?
Anyway, this led me to thinking: “The Evolution of the Loading Ramp.”
CLEAN AND JERK
Back when I first started, loading ramps weren’t invented. Nope, they were years away. You simply wheeled your bike down to the end of the tailgate of your ute — vans weren’t invented then either — grabbed it at the bottom of the fork leg and skull-dragged the front of the bike up to the tailgate while groaning like a female tennis player. Once you regained balance and the front was safely in the ute tray, it was time to get the rear on board.
My method was to stand to the left of the bike and grab the swingarm with your right hand, drive your shoulder into the seat and sideplate area and lift the bike using the swingarm with some leverage from your shoulder. And again, grunting like a caveman. Once the rear wheel was on the tailgate, you then pushed the bike into the corner of the ute, hoping the front would stick and it would give you time to climb in and secure your load. Now you’re safely on board and ready to rope your steel horse down. Yep, tie-downs weren’t invented then either.
Now, smart people or lazy people, depending on what side of the fence you stood, soon realised it would be far easier if you didn’t have to lift the bike so high. So, some brainiac decided to back the ute into the gutter of the street and therefore lower the lift height by a good 300mm — about 12 inches in those days. Pure genius, my friends, but the problem then became what happened when you got to the track? No gutters at the track.
Then someone unearthed a fence paling that had some reinforcement to reduce flex and stopping cracking. This was the first-ever loading ramp and the invention that caught my eye. The human race was just leaping ahead in those times. So, the lump of wood long enough to reach the tailgate from the ground was the choice of champions and the king of ramps for years. The best thing was you could design your own ramp. A short kicker, a long balance beam, some funky anti-skid devices, some extra width for the boys with the 120 rear tyres — it was open season on ramps. But then, as they got bigger, they got heavier and soon riders were on the lookout for new Space Age ramps.
Enter the Day-Glo yellow-and-black road construction barriers. The long, bright, lightweight aluminium ramps spread like wildfire and could be found at any road construction site in Australia. They were practically giving them away and there were always some in your area. But they failed the test of time and, over the journey, they sagged in the middle like a hammock and eventually broke. You don’t see many nowadays.
The latest version of the loading ramp is now some wide, high-tech, reinforced, super-light alloy construction thing with grip treads that can be bought in supermarkets and hardwares around the globe. This type of over-commercialism has killed the sport and ruined the father-and-son rite of passage to find, steal or permanently borrow a ramp, usually from another rider, in those crucial formative years.
Going to the MX Nationals with all the race-team trucks has taken loading bikes to a new level. There’s no challenge in pushing a bike onto a tailgate lifter and going up four at a time. The only time things go wrong is when a rider decides he’s qualified to drive the tailgate lifter and after three minutes the bike are usually piled up at the bottom of the vertical lifter like chips in a chip basket. You just ride the bike, pal, and leave the real jobs to the big boys.
Everyone talks about the grassroots of motocross. Well, bring back wooden planks for ramps and milk crates for bike stands. Until then, the sport will be in wrack and ruin.