His bike always drew a lot of attention at enduros in the late ’70s and early ’80s due to the set up on the handlebar. Garry De Wildt must have been the fastest one-armed enduro rider in Australia.
Garry De Wildt
You were a late starter in dirtbikes compared to some weren’t you?
I was, but that was because funds were tight when I was a kid. I was 15 going on 16 when I bought a Suzuki TC120 farm bike with a three-speed, dual-range gearbox. I worked a paper round and saved the money. I paid half and Mum paid half.
It was not long after that that you lost your right arm?
I lost my arm just above the elbow in a car accident and the bike was in bits in a box at the time for new bearings, piston and rings so it stayed that way for about a year as I was riding push bikes and horses. It sat in the shed until Gary Benn and his dad Charlie decided to put it back together for me. It still sat in the shed for a bit longer after that and one day I was looking at it with a mate and he said “let’s get it going” so we swapped the front brake and throttle to the left side as best we could and gave it a go.
When you discovered you could still ride you persevered and ended up riding enduros on proper bikes. What were they?
I moved on to various other bikes like a Honda MT250, an XL175, PE250, PE175, PE200 and a few others. They all had to be converted to “left hand drive” though.
So how do you make the throttle work on the left, does it turn backwards?
It turns the same way which is “backwards”. I tried reversing it so it turned the correct way when on the left but it made it too hard to release the clutch as your hand is turning away from it. This way makes it easy to control the throttle, feather the clutch and operate the front brake. I also have a jet ski and that’s a bit easier to swap as it has an electronic throttle set up. I have the normal throttle plus my left-hand set up, so other people can ride it if needed.
So your ride of choice these days is what?
I have a Husaberg FE501 and a KTM 690 Enduro for adventure riding. The good thing is I can leave the keys in them as no one else can ride them with the controls all on the left. Because the KTM has tapered bars I have another short bar mounted in front to carry all the switchgear. When I get a new bike it takes a while to convert everything over before I can ride it. I do all the mods myself and I actually enjoy the challenge of modifying everything and making it fit and look neat.
So the KTM gets used for the longer rides then? What trips have you done?
I’ve done a few big ones, like the APC Rally in 2012. We did that in 11 days, a bit of an unofficial fastest time Brisbane to Birdsville, then down to Hawker and through the Little Desert. A few APC four-day rallies and also I’ve done trail rides from Newcastle to Coffs Harbour in nine days, and another from Broken Hill out to the Finke Desert Race. I crossed the Simpson Desert on the 690.
Has all of your riding been off road?
Mostly, some trail riding, and some club MX, it was a bit hard to hang on riding MX though. It’s a lot easier riding these days with the new artificial arms. I also did club enduros, some open enduros, a couple of Four Days and a little bit of road riding, but not too much. I got rid of the road bike before I got hurt. I won a silver medal and plenty of bronzes at enduros but never quite made it for gold. It was a bit out of my league to get one of those.
Your bikes all need extensive modification before you can ride them, does one of them stand out as a favourite?
The PE175 was about the best available in the days when I was riding enduros but I also have a soft spot for the IT175 that took me to the finish in the Orange Qantastic Two Day in 1977. It rained on day one that year and out of 320 starters only 40 finished day two. I was one of them.
I actually finished day two with a two-inch split in my rear tyre which was patched up with duct tape wrapped around the tyre to keep the tube in. By the end of day two I was the town hero.
Every control was urging me to finish. It was amazing. Jack Penton was there that year and gave me an award and couldn’t believe that I finished. Nor could I.
Who was your most respected rival?
Nobody (laughing). I didn’t have any rivals, I was the fastest one-armed dirt rider in the world. The nearest rival would have to be Porky Eldridge because he rode enduros with one leg. I always thought that must be hard.
Has anyone been a big influence to you?
Gary Benn was always a good mate and still is, he helped me a lot and we used to go riding quite often. It was him that put that old TC Suzuki back together for me and subsequently got me back onto a dirt bike.
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