But on to the motorcycles. “Bike racing ran strong in both sides of the family – my father and my uncle both raced bikes in Ireland, usually on dangerous road circuits,” says Roger. “I always wanted to race as well. The first bike I rode was a Royal Enfield side-valve and the first one that I owned was a Triumph Cub that I raced for the first time at Killarney in 1955, using a borrowed helmet. I won two handicap races and then went to race at Eerste Rivier soon after and won again. I thought, ‘this bike racing stuff is easy’ but things changed after that! We eventually bought another very trick Cub that had been built by a guy called Wilkie Wilkins in Cape Town. That had a Norton big-end, Triumph Bonneville brakes, a 1¼-inch carb, Earles forks, and swing-arm rear suspension. It used to rev and go like hell, reaching about 100 miles per hour (160km/h) and the brakes were incredible. There was nothing to touch it.” Until Mike Hailwood arrived in SA as a callow teenager in 1957, that is, and won every race he entered. “He came out with the ex-John Surtees NSU Sportmax 250 and gave me a ride on it after one meeting. As I came down the straight two guys were packing up a loudspeaker cable running across the track and it just went over the top of my head.” That little race-winning NSU sold on auction in 2014 for more than R1.1 million.
Roger persevered with the little Triumph for a while before turning to the Japanese. “I used to schlepp it around the country but it was difficult to get leave in those days – I worked for Caltex in the transport department.” That unhappy state of affairs changed though, with the arrival of a few very quick Honda racebikes in the early ʼ60s. Anglo-Rhodesian six-time world champion Jim Redman had come back from Europe with a Honda 250 4-cylinder race bike and suddenly everybody wanted one of the Japanese bikes.” There was no production Honda Four then, but the factory produced a 250 twin racer for privateers. The guys used to rev them to 14000 and they’d throw conrods but if you kept them down to 12500rpm they lasted forever and were faster accelerating than the Fours.” Roger went on to win multiple Western Province championships on the Japanese machines. “I also won the Border 100, and the Natal 200 twice,” he remembers. “I won twice at Westmead in Pinetown, and the first time I spent my winnings on an engagement ring while the second paid for our wedding.” In ten years of racing Roger never once fell off in a race, although he crashed out a few times in practice without injury.