Yellow Bell Moto-3: REVIVED!

3 years ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Super Sal Aloisio, Andy Wigan

If you’ve been around the traps for a while, and/or flicked through some old Australasian Dirt Bike mags, you’re probably familiar with a certain canary-yellow Bell Moto 3 helmet; a lid made famous by ADB’s founder, Geoff Eldridge, who wore it for countless photographs during the industry’s formative years in the back half of the 1970s.

Sure, it wasn’t the prettiest-looking helmet on the planet, but in many ways it became synonymous with the birth of dirt bike media in this country. And, thanks to a bizarre series of circumstances over the course of a decade, this prized piece of Aussie off-road memorabilia found its way to Transmoto HQ back in 2010. We like to think there’s a poetic justice and destiny in the story behind its journey; a story that was captured in a memorable Ripping Yarn, originally published in Transmoto’s printed magazine in April, 2013 (Issue #30).

So when iconic helmet brand, Bell, revived their original Moto 3 design late last year, reworked “with new-fangled fibreglass composite construction, maximising protection without upsetting the retro feel of the timeless lid”, we just had to have one … a yellow one, of course! These days, it takes pride of place in the Transmoto office, right next to the old relic that’s still mounted on a trophy base.

So do yourself a favour a read the back-story to this yellow Bell helmet. It might sound fanciful, but it’s no word of a lie!

Back in 1998, I attended a fundraising auction for Australia’s ISDE team. The do was held in one of those soul-less function rooms at Penrith Panthers Leagues Club, and a huge array of memorabilia was set to go under the auctioneer’s hammer. You know, signed jerseys, framed photographs, health retreat coupons, V8 hotlaps – that sort of stuff.

One item that immediately grabbed my attention was a helmet made famous by Australasian Dirt Bike Magazine’s founder, Geoff Eldridge. By modern standards, it was a shitty old canary-yellow relic, but to me, that helmet was synonymous with the birth of dirt bike media in this country because GE had worn it in countless photographs during the mag’s formative years in the 1970s. Sadly, I wasn’t the only person to appreciate the helmet’s importance, and bids on the thing rocketed past the $350 ceiling I’d set myself. On a neighbouring table, a bloke called Ben Bunda topped the bidding at $750. With his gymnasium-honed physique and clean-cut good looks, Bunda was a pin-up boy for ADB at the time, and he appeared a little too smug about this purchase for my liking. I sucked it up and wandered over to introduce myself, before solemnly insisting he cherish such an important piece of Australia’s off-road motorcycling heritage. I touched the helmet for posterity, and disappeared.

A few years later, after I’d become Editor at ADB, I got a call from the Hawkesbury District Motorcycle Club. They planned to stage the inaugural “Geoff Eldridge Memorial” enduro race, and asked if I’d like to donate something for the perpetual trophy. I knew just the ticket: that yellow Bell helmet! By this time (mid-2003), Bunda had notched up three Australian Enduro titles and launched one of Sydney’s most exclusive jewellery boutiques. We’d become good mates, so I suggested he lend the yellow lid to the Hawkesbury Club for the event’s perpetual trophy. Which he did, in a heartbeat. All good, everyone’s happy.

Another couple of years down the track, I suddenly pondered the whereabouts of that trophy. I knew the Hawkesbury Club had shut its doors and that the Geoff Eldridge Memorial was only staged in 2003. But where had the trophy gone? Shit! Where the hell was Bunda’s helmet?

I started making some calls but kept running into dead-ends. Months later, I finally tracked down a phone number for Aidan Chamberlain – the winner of the one and only GE Memorial – but his number was disconnected and the trail went cold. Another six months of PI work and I unearthed a number for Aidan’s mother, Lindy. Despite her prolonged run-in with the media during the “dingo took my baby” saga, she took my call and facetiously joked with me that an overseas trip had taken her Aidan, and that she hadn’t spoken with him for months. By which time, I’m starting to feel really guilty about suggesting Bunda lend the helmet to the club in the first place. So guilty that every six months for the next five years, I do the rounds of calls again, trying to hunt down Aidan, the trophy or anyone from the Club who might offer a lead. Any lead. Five years of dead-ends!

Then, in 2010, a breakthrough. I get a fresh number for Aidan and he answers. He’s back from overseas and working in the mines in Port Headland. I ask him about the missing trophy, but the line falls silent. Then, finally, he says, “Jesus, Andy, long time ago, mate. I remember the helmet and trophy, but I have no idea where it is.” My heart sank, and I almost hung up in Aidan’s ear on the spot. But then he started saying something else: “Well, I was living up around Cessnock back in 2003. It’s a long shot, but you could tryyyyy Cessnock Motorcycles?”

He made the suggestion without much conviction, so I was tempted to throw in the towel there and then. But seeing as I was about to head up to Cessnock the following week to interview the 4-Day’s founding father, John Hall, I figured I had nothing to lose. So I called Cessnock Motorcycles’ owner, Malcolm Hall. Yep, John’s son. “Nope, no idea, Andy,” was Mal’s first response. “I remember Aidan, but we’ve only been here in the shop for five years. I wish I could help, but … wait, did you say yellow? Just a minute…”

With that, Mal put the phone in his top pocket and for three agonising minutes, all I could hear was the clanging sound of an alloy ladder. He finally came back on the line: “Andy, you’re not going to believe this. Here, up above the toilet block, out the back of the workshop, in among a pile of parts, is an old yellow Bell helmet on a wooden plaque … I’m just dusting it off …umm, a 2SM sticker?”

“No way!” I could hardly believe my ears. “That’s it!”
Before I headed up to Cessnock to interview John and meet Mal, I couldn’t get the convoluted story out of my mind; of how all these little twists of fate had connected so many people. John Hall was the inaugural recipient of the Geoff Eldridge Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2007 ADB Awards. Malcolm Hall had bought Cessnock Motorcycles where the helmet trophy just happened to be stashed. Cessnock was the home of Australia’s first A4DE and IDSE. Aidan Chamberlain had begun talking about getting back into riding. And Ben Bunda had become a shareholder in Transmoto. So, in one of the most circuitous routes you could ever imagine, this prized piece of Aussie off-road memorabilia had finally found its way to me at Transmoto. And the really amusing thing – something we only noticed more recently – is that the bastardised logo on the visor actually reads “BIRT DIKE”! Another example of GE’s eccentric humour, no doubt.

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