The Bike That Dad Built

My latest post to the Home Thoughts from Abroad is rather self-indulgent, but I hope you’ll bear with me and that it will in fact trigger a few memories of your experiences learning to ride a motorcycle. Please post a comment to let us know what it was like for you.

The Bike That Dad Built

 

When I was but a boy of 11 years old, my father decided it was time that I was introduced to the pleasures of motorcycling, first hand. At this tender age I had already spectated at several scrambles meetings and had experienced the altogether different experience of watching a few trials. The first trial I remember spectating at was the 1970 East Anglian Trial, organised by the Sudbury MCC and won by Derek Adsett, and I was hooked from that day on.

I soon became an avid spectator at Eastern Centre trials. Dad and I would make for the start of a trial and discover where the groups of sections were situated – in those days trials generally still included some ‘road work’ –  then jump in the car and head off there as quickly as possible in order to catch as much of the action as we could.

I loved the sense of anticipation as dad skilfully negotiated the twisting country lanes of Essex and Suffolk in his Triumph 2000. During this era the top local riders were Eddie Cordle, who was riding a Montesa at the time, John Kendall on a Bultaco and a young emerging talent, Allen Collier, who competed on a very neat 175 BSA Bantam special and enjoyed support from Jack Hubbard Motors of Braintree and I was desperate to see them in action.

Other riders would occasionally turn out, much to our delight, including John Pease, a Greeves rider and employee and top all-rounder – I remember dad pointing out the ISDT badge on his Barbour suit at the East Anglian, BSA’s star motocross ridr, John Banks, former European trials champion, Don Smith and, of course, the great Dave Bickers, who it seemed always had the time of day to stop and have a quick chat with members of his captive audience.

There were also the sidecar boys and I vividly recall seeing then in action at Purls Hill Woods near Sible Hedingham, where they had some decent hills to take a run at. Blasting through the trees on full-bore came, Eric Miller, with brother Reg in the chair, Ian Preedy a larger than life character and the Vince brothers, Roy and Les, who had an outfit apiece.

Now one autumn evening, dad and I ventured out to a farm at Stisted near Braintree. I don’t recall whether dad had told me where we were going; he liked to surprise me from time to time. When I was a boy of no more than 5 years-old, he was away from home for a year whilst he did his teacher training course. Just before he left, and unbeknown to me, he managed to acquire a large box of Dinky toys and when he returned home every Friday the first question he asked me was, “Have you been a good boy this week?”, to which, I’m sure, I always replied in the affirmative. On checking with my mother that this was indeed the case, he would then disappear into their bedroom where much to my delight he would ‘Magic’ a Dinky toy. Well, returning to that farm in Stisted, it just happened to be Coven Brook Farm where the Vince family lived and worked the land.

It’s funny the things you remember. Speaking about this recently with my father he recalled, “They had a three-legged deer on the farm.” I had completely forgotten about this. “It was a beautiful animal and really tame and it came right up to us.” With some help from Malcolm Taylor, of the Pre-65 Motocross Club, I was able to talk to Les Vince, who confirmed this. “Yes, that’s right. My dad was cutting clover one evening, and the parents had left the fawn hid up in the field. Dad never saw it and it jumped up and cut its leg. A few days later they were turning hay in the fields and they saw it running about with the one leg dangling. One of the young lads ran and caught it and we soon saw the leg had gone all rotten. So dad took it to a vet who amputated it and we had it with us until dad had to give up the farm. Then my wife put an ad in the local paper and somebody from Marks Tey took it away to a farm.”

My father, who worked as a lecturer in the Motor Vehicle department of the North East Essex Technical College in Colchester, had a student, Dick Challis, who had mentioned he had an old motorbike he wanted to sell. Well, as we were about to discover it wasn’t a motorcycle per se, but a veritable ‘box of bits’! I cannot remember how much money dad parted with – it wouldn’t have been much as he has always been very good at haggling – but we left the farm that evening with a BSA Bantam D3 rolling chassis and a 197cc Villiers engine and gearbox. I always believed it was a 9E, which is what we were told it was, but have since discovered it was probably an 8E. This formed the basis of dad’s winter project and over the course of the next three or four months he busied himself in the garage, with yours truly helping out wherever and whenever I could.

The main jobs I remember dad having to deal with were making up engine plates to accommodate the Villiers unit, welding a sump plate in place of the engine cradle, which he told me, “took many hours of afterhours work at the college”, fabricating and repositioning the footrests and making a seat from scratch, using an aluminium base and the cover and foam from an old Morris Minor seat. The wheels I recall had 18” rims, probably from the Bantam, and the front tyre was a well-worn road number, but dad did manage, after plenty of sweating and cursing, to fit a 3.50 trials tyre on the rear and shoe-horn it into the rear swinging arm.

My father, obviously contemplating just what he has to do to finish off the bike.

My father, obviously contemplating just what he has to do to finish off the bike.

The frame, forks and wheel rims were all painted with silver Hammerite enamel, purchased through the Exchange and Mart, which, just as it said in the advertisement, provided a tough easy to clean finish. At the time I loved the B50 BSAs as campaigned by John Banks, Keith Hickman and the BSA ‘new boys’ Vic Allan and Andy Roberton. I’d got a good look at the bikes in the paddock at Wakes Colne and had admired the finish on the tank of Roberton’s machine; a dark red, with a bold black stripe. Inspired by this the Bantam tank was finished in a rich red and black with a white pinstripe and BSA decals to boot. Other finishing touches were alloy mudguards front and rear, the front one mounted high – motocross-style – which involved dad fabricating the aluminium mount, an alloy chain guard and a front, trials type, number plate all of which were dad’s handy work.

This view shows the petrol tank high-level exhaust and bash-plate too good effect.

This view shows the petrol tank high-level exhaust and bash-plate too good effect.

My father paid a lot of attention to detail - note how the bash-plate curves under the magneto cover!

My father paid a lot of attention to detail – note how the bash-plate curves under the magneto cover!

And so to my first ride. Dad was on good terms with a local farmer, whose farm contained a collection of ramshackle out buildings and in one of these we stored the bike. I remember dad rather sold his soul to the devil, as in return for this he promised to take a look at the farmer’s Eastern bloc built tractor from time to time. At least that’s how it started out, but as the tractor was very unreliable dad had to take a look more frequently than he would have liked, hence the ‘selling of a soul’.

So, one Saturday afternoon, needless to say when there was no motocross on the telly, we ventured off to the Bates farm for a little motorcycle riding instruction. I proudly wheeled my gleaming mount out of its lodgings, across the road and through the gate into the adjacent field. The gate was firmly closed behind us, as farmer Frank probably had a few cows grazing down near the river and dad set about getting the beast started. After several failed attempts, it eventually burst into life and dad gave it a quick blast down the hill turned and rode back up. Now it was the moment of truth as it was finally my turn to learn to ride the thing!

Once astride the bike, dad showed me what each of the controls did and showed me how to select first gear. With ‘first’ engaged he told me to slowly let the clutch out whilst accelerating and low and behold the bike came to a resounding halt as I stalled it! Dad patiently restarted the bike and I tried again, and again, until after two or three more attempts I was eventually away off down the hill. Now, I confess I was a bit of an ace on a pushbike at that time, so the balancing and steering side of things didn’t cause me too many problems, but throttle and clutch control was another matter entirely!

Having reached the bottom of the hill, I’m calling it a ‘hill’ but truth be told it was nothing more than a ‘gentle slope’, dad instructed me to turn and ride back up. So I entered a very tentative, very wide turn, eventually returning to the track and riding back up. “More throttle!” encouraged my dad as the Bantam threatened to stall again. This was good advice, but the five bar gate was now looming large, “Use the clutch!” was the next instruction, with a little edge creeping into my instructor’s voice. “Turn back down!” was the last thing I heard before I made contact firstly with the gate and secondly with mother earth.

So endeth the first lesson!

As I was talking to my father recently, I recounted this episode. He professed not to recall it, but after listening patiently, he told me, “That sounds like my introduction to the pleasures of motorcycling.”

Apparently at a similar age to me, his uncle, Reg Berry, brought along a 1927 300 cc New Imperial for dad to try. It was parked up on the ‘drive’ between my grandparent’s house and my grandfather’s workshop and Uncle Reg proceeded to give my dad some basic instruction. With the engine running and first gear engaged dad intrepidly set off towards the back garden where he should have taken a right turn before circling the house. But, alas he didn’t and soon found himself climbing a manure heap on the edge of his mother’s vegetable patch. The New Imp ran up the heap until its crankcase grounded, unceremoniously pitching its young pilot into the muck!

Dad recalls, “It tipped over and lay there with its hot engine steaming in the manure heap. My mother was not pleased.” It was, I guess, a case of what happens when the ‘shit hits the man!’

Luckily, for both my father and myself, our motorcycling exploits did not end there. Dad rode bikes for many years and became a good Expert level trials rider competing in the South Eastern Centre with the Lewes Unity MCC. As for me, I was soon back on the little bike he put together for me steadily learning the art of off road riding.

After a few rides on the farm in various fields, we ventured slightly farther afield. In the village at the time there were one or two young lads who scrambled and one of them, Frank Ellesley, used his father’s Bedford Dormobile van to transport his bikes. Now after a fairly big get-off in a race, he managed to bend the forks on his Husqvarna. At the technical college they had an industrial style press, on which dad had managed to gently persuade the forks to move back into line. As a way of saying thank you, Frank Ellesley Snr loaned us his van to transport the Bantam to Raydon sand pits, a regular practice area for many off roaders at the time. There I got used to riding in sand, which took some time, and there were plenty of ups and downs for me to get the hang of negotiating.

On one such visit I remember dropping the bike on the far side of the pits coming up a slight rise and having the bike with a very hot exhaust pipe laying on top of me. I remember wailing to my father, who arrived some time later and pulled the bike upright. He attended to the bike, straightening a clutch lever here, pulling undergrowth from the brake lever there, whilst I checked myself out. I was still in one piece, a grazed elbow to show for my fall, but my left wellington boot had not fared so well; the exhaust had neatly sliced its way through the boot leaving a great gapping hole! This time, it was my mother who was none too pleased!

Me - up on the rests and looking surprisingly confident - perhaps before my fall, as this was taken at Raydon sandpits sometime in 1971.

Me – up on the rests and looking surprisingly confident – perhaps before my fall, as this was taken at Raydon sandpits sometime in 1971.

These were happy days spent in the company of my father and fortunately a few photos of the bike remain, taken, probably on my very basic Kodak Instamatic, including a rare photo of me in action on the bike.

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A Trick of the Mind

A recent post I made to the Facebook group ‘Riders Who Raced MX When It Was Called Scrambling’ of a Brian Holder portrait of Richard ‘Tubby’ Hughes prompted quite a lot of comments. One, from my ‘unofficial publicity agent’, Roger Chaplin – President of the Sudbury MCC – stated that, “Tubby Hughes was not very quick in mud.” Roger intimated that Hughes had struggled on the Essex and Suffolk Border Club’s track at Bentley near Ipswich, which certainly featured some extremely boggy sections.

This got me thinking about a set of photos that Brian had sent me when I was working on my first book Out Front! British Motocross Champions 1960-1974. In my head I clearly remembered some photos of Richard and fellow local star, Jim Aim, ploughing through a mud hole at Wakes Colne, Essex.

It’s funny how the old grey matter plays tricks on us. I soon found the said photos, but although there was a muddy patch on the circuit, close inspection of the other photos revealed that it was largely dry and dusty. This was not so surprising, given that it took place on Sunday 30th June 1968 and when I unearthed Gavin Trippe’s race report from the Motor Cycle News it stated that it was in fact, the hottest day of the year.  

A good day for watching motocross!

A good day for watching motocross!

The event in question was the fourth round of the 1968 500cc British Championship and at the start of the day’s racing John Banks and his BSA teammate, Dave Nicoll, were tied on 28 points apiece, an advance of four points over former BSA factory rider Vic Eastwood who at that time was campaigning a 420 Husqvarna. With one round to come at the Kidstone Scramble at Builth Wells, the title battle was nicely balanced.

1960s art work - the programme cover for the Player's Nº6 sponsored series

1960s art work – the programme cover for the Player’s Nº6 sponsored series

The day’s support races were closely contested, with local riders to the fore. Randy Owen, up from Hereford, set the early pace in the opening 250 race on his Husqvarna, but it was the battle between the factory Greeves riders John Pease and Tubby Hughes that really caught the eye. The style of these two Essex racers was vastly contrasting. Pease, an excellent trials rider, was always neat, tidy and very fast. Hughes was wild and spectacular, but equally rapid. If the photos are anything to go by, Pease had the upper hand, just managing to hold on to a slender advantage over his teenaged teammate for the win.

John Pease ...

John Pease …

... and Richard Hughes.

… and Richard Hughes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Future British Speedway champion, John Louis, who at the time was working for Dave Bickers, took the second 250 race ahead of Pease and Owen, with Hughes side-lined with mechanical problems. This gave Pease the overall victory in the Moto Cross style event.

In the 500 Moto Cross Hughes was again in the thick of things, this time in a ferocious battle with Halstead Club favourite, local farmer Jim Aim. Hughes pitted his 360 twin-port Greeves against Aim’s 500 Matchless Métisse and the racing was electrifying. The two riders finished level on points with a win and a second place apiece, but the vastly more experienced Aim took the overall prize by virtue of a better aggregate time.

On the edge, Hughes leads Jim Aim

On the edge, Hughes leads Jim Aim through the mud.

In a profile in the Motor Cycle News August 27th 1969, journalist Mike Nicks addressed the issue of Hughes performance in muddy going.

‘Richard’s lack of height – he’s only 5ft 5ins tall and 9st 7lb in weight – was a major reason for buying a Husqvarna. It was one of a few machines which allowed both his feet to touch the ground when he was in the saddle.

The same lack of inches puts him at a handicap in the wet when you constantly need a precautionary foot on the ground. In an attempt to overcome this disadvantage he struggles to master an ancient heavy 500 Matchless single during wet weather practice sessions on a gravel pit near his home.’

Whether these exacting training sessions paid off or not I cannot really judge, as sadly I only saw Hughes race a handful of times, as by the early 1970s he had disappeared of the scene. However, I am pleased to report that I met up with him at the celebration of Dave Bicker’s life back in September and he is in good health and enjoyed meeting up with some of his old rivals for a good chat.

And so to the main event, with all eyes on local favourite John Banks from Bury St Edmunds, who after failing to score at the opening round at Chard was in top form with a double victory at the previous round at the Maybug Scramble at Farleigh Castle. Eastwood was also going very well and was keen to take control, but from the start of the first race Banks threw down the gauntlet storming into the lead and looking comfortable until he caught a foot under his footrest and went to ground. This allowed Alan Clough (360 Husqvarna) and Nicoll to steam past only to have a coming together when Clough missed a gear handing the lead to Eastwood, with Jeff Smith moving into second place. In the closing laps Banks, who always had tremendous stamina for such a big man, came storming back to pass Clough, Nicoll and Smith, but he ultimately ran out of time and the victory went to Eastwood.

First race victor, Vic Eastwood, flying the Husky.

First race victor, Vic Eastwood, flying the Husky.

The conditions on the day, with stifling heat and clouds of dust, were very tough as journalist Trippe noted.

‘Whoever scored points on this hottest day of the year deserved a medal. Even the hardened Grand Prix men like Banks and Jeff Smith were shattered after two half hour races around this very fast circuit.’

Having iced his foot and had it heavily strapped up between races, Banks again stormed the start of the second race, though this time he had a different rival for supremacy in the shape of 32-year-old Don Rickman on his 440 Victor Métisse. Rickman, who was enjoying a rare outing in the championship, closed Banks down and even passed him for the lead when the BSA man came unstuck in the mud hole. But racing in front of his legions of East Anglian fans, Banks was not to be denied and he powered on to win his third race of the series from Rickman, Keith Hickman (BSA), Eastwood, Alan Lampkin (BSA) and Smith. Nicoll went out with blistered hands, which meant that Banks was the outright leader of the championship seven points clear of Eastwood and eleven in front of teammate Nicoll.

Overall winner John Banks leads Don Rickman.

Overall winner John Banks leads Don Rickman.

This meeting was also noteworthy for being host to not one, not two but three Lampkin brothers!  Arthur, who by 1968 was being far more picky about where and when he raced, was joined by brothers Alan, by that time a Scottish Six Day Trial and Scott Trial winner (both 1966) and future World trials champion Martin, who might well have been making his national debut.  Martin, who raced a 440 BSA, didn’t feature in the results and was one of many victims in the mud hole, but Arthur made the long trip south from Silsden worthwhile with a narrow win over Jim Aim in the Four-stroke only race, ahead of Eastern Centre stalwarts Adrian Yallop (Triumph), Ken Dodd (not from Knotty Ash but Danbury on a 440 BSA) similarly mounted Bob Harvey and Chris Ginn (Matchless Métisse).

Arthur Lampkin leading Vic Eastwood

One Lampkin: Arthur leading Vic Eastwood

Alan Lampkin pushing on

Two Lampkins: Alan pushing on

Martin Lampkin dropping in on Wakes Colne

Three Lampkins: Martin dropping in on Wakes Colne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is quite interesting to compare the fortunes of John Banks and Richard Hughes. The Suffolk man went on to claim the first of his four British championships at Builth Wells and established himself as Britain’s outstanding rider for several seasons, twice finishing runner-up in the gruelling World championship. In contrast Hughes, from Great Totham, near Maldon, who had so much potential but always seemed to court controversy, found himself out of contract with Greeves before he really got going.

Hughes was taken on by Greeves at 16 years old and certainly experienced his fair share of pressure as Britain’s youngest factory rider. In the press of the day he was constantly being compared with his idol Dave Bickers, which was a heavy burden for any young rider during that period. So I was pleased to hear that he still owns a motocross bike, a 350 BSA, that he takes out for a quick blast from time to time and that he still ventures out to spectate at the occasional Pre-65 Motocross meeting. I think it’s great that although motocross success may have passed Richard Hughes over, it hasn’t dampened his interest in the sport.  Once bitten …

 

All photos by Brian Holder – click on photos to see larger image.

Remembering Robbie Allan

The Programme for the Robbie Allan Memorial Meeting

As we arrived at Tinto Park on Friday afternoon for the Robbie Allan Memorial weekend, we were welcomed by a threateningly dark sky and the ominous prospect of rain. Things didn’t look too promising, but fortunately we were also welcomed by the event organisers; Margaret Allan (Robbie’s widow) and family, son Robbie (from here on to be referred to as ‘Young Robbie’ ) and daughters Jennifer and Olive, along with Robbie’s brother Vic, John McCrink and Willie Wallace (apologies to any I have failed to mention).  I’m pleased to report that our little group of ‘invaders’ from south of the border were made to feel very at home.

After leaving home at 6am to catch a flight from Lisbon, I was met at Manchester airport by my companions for the weekend, former Dot and Greeves factory rider John Griffiths and his lovely wife, Sheila. We were all eagerly anticipating the weekend, though this was tinged with sadness as only the day before John had been present at the funeral of his good friend and onetime travelling companion, Dave Bickers. We were feeling especially sad as we had all been looking forward to seeing Dave and his wife Sylvia and their close friends Chris and Patsy Ginn, who had booked into the same hotel as us.

Naturally enough, on the three-hour drive north the conversation focused on David, and John regaled Sheila and I with stories of long gone trips to the continent and further afield beyond the iron curtain, in the ‘Ice Cream Van’ – an old truck that David had converted to a transporter specially for their forays. John recalled that the first time he had seen it, the van had been lying abandoned in a field at the Bickers’ family home in Coddenham and had grass sprouting through its floor! But more of that another time maybe!

John, Sheila and myself had made the trip to Tinto Hill near Rigside, Lanarkshire, along with about 2,000 others, to honour the memory of Robbie Allan, motorcyclist extraordinaire, who passed away on 14 August 2013. Soon after Robbie’s death, family and friends took the decision to organise a memorial event and to donate the proceeds to Macmillan Cancer Support, a very worthy cause.

Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet Robbie in person, though in research for my books I did have occasion to call him a couple of times and found him to be very helpful, knowledgeable and especially proud of the accomplishments of his younger bother, Vic. Over the weekend, however, I came to form a more complete picture of the man.

Robbie, who was born on June 21, 1941, was the third of four children; older brother Jim, also a keen motorcyclist, sister Anne, and kid brother, Vic. Vic recalls how Robbie got hooked on bikes after seeing a local motorcycle dealer road testing bikes outside the family home in Garlogie, Aberdeenshire. Motorcycles would go on to shape and define Robbie throughout his adult life; as Vic concluded in his foreword to the meeting’s programme he was ‘a man who gave his all to motorcycle sport.’

‘A man who gave his all to motorcycle sport.’ The photo says it all!

On the bike Robbie was proficient as a trials and scrambles rider, but from an early age it was evident that he was a talented instructor too, teaching future British Champion Vic everything he knew. In 1962 he moved south to work in the Greeves factory at Thundersley Essex. Within a year, racked with homesickness, he’d returned to his native Scotland. However, when Vic had won his first Scottish titles, Robbie was the first to suggest that he head south in search of better competition.

Robbie was also a keen promoter of the sport he so loved. In 1960 he was responsible for organising the first Scottish Championship meeting to be held north of Perth, though the pinnacle of his time as an event organiser must surely have been when he acted as clerk of the course for Scotland’s first, and sadly until now only, motocross GP – the 250 event at Kilmartin, Argyllshire in 1978. Former world champion Neil Hudson, who finished third overall in the GP was at Tinto Park and recalls that it was a ‘fearsome track’ – not for the faint-hearted!

Robbie also put his organisational skills to the test when he became involved in promoting motorcycle shows, putting the Scottish Motorcycle Show on the map back in 1977 and building what was without question one of the best shows in Britain.

In latter years Robbie turned to road racing, where despite his advancing years he proved to be a formidable competitor, lapping the TT circuit in the Isle of man at 106mph as a member of the aptly named ‘Team Twilight’. But it was in 2006, at the age of 65, when many are standing in line to collect their bus passes, that he accepted arguably the toughest challenge of his riding career when he entered the Dakar Rally, which started from my adopted home town of Lisbon. Not only was Robbie the oldest competitor in the field, but he was also effectively alone, as he didn’t have the luxury of a back up crew, or even a mechanic for the toughest motorcycle challenge of all. Sadly, a mechanical problem prevented him from completing the rally just three days short of the finish after a typically gritty performance from the wee Scotsman.

Far from home - Robbie out in the desert on the 2006 Dakar Rally

Far from home – Robbie out in the desert on the 2006 Dakar Rally

Returning to the event itself, the organisers, with the help of the Bon Accord Club (Robbie was a lifelong member) and all the members of the Kingston and District Motorcycle Club who made the long trip north,worked tirelessly to ensure that the weekend would be a success and what a great job they did. Over the weekend no less than three world motocross champions were in attendance at Tinto Park; Graham Noyce (500 champion in 1979), Neil Hudson (250 champion in 1981) and three-time 500 champion, Dave Thorpe (1985, 1986 and 1989). In addition there were at least five British motocross champions there; Arthur Lampkin, Bryan Goss, Freddie and Geoff Mayes and of course, Vic Allan, plus a veritable ‘Who’s Who of British offroad motorcycling’ including the likes of  John Giles, Gordon Blakeway, Ray Sayer, Maurice Tate, Mike Jackson, John Griffiths, Bill Gwynne, Jim Aim, Bill and Mick Wilkinson, Tony Davis, Terry Challinor, Alan Lampkin, Mick Andrews, Keith Hickman, Arthur Browning, Jimmy Aird, Roger Harvey and Bob Wright.

Freddie Mayes, Bryan 'Badger' Goss, John Griffiths and Keith Hickman at trackside

Old pals – Freddie Mayes, Bryan ‘Badger’ Goss, John                    Griffiths and Keith Hickman at trackside                 (Photo Ian Berry)

It was also nice to see such a good turn out of Scottish riders, with Vic and Jimmy active on the track, the legendary George Hodge spectating, Willie Wallace being put to good use trackside as one of the marshalls and ‘youngsters’ Paul Chiappa, Walter Bickmore and Tom Grant animating the Twinshock races – to name but a few.

But it wasn’t just the stars of yesteryear that made the weekend such a success, it was also all the other riders, family members, support crews who came along and lent their support. A special word of thanks must also go out to all the sponsors of the event, as without their help, it could not possibly have happened.

The meeting was kick started into action on Saturday morning with the enduro event which had classes for twinshock and monoshock machines, with the track extending across the road from  Tinto Park and into the forest opposite. Russell Watson from Saltburn-by-the Sea, who’s name would crop up throughout the weekend, won the Twinshock class on a 480 Honda,  whilst the best Monoshocker was Paul White (sorry I have no further details on Paul or his machine).

The enduro was followed in the afternoon by the trial, which unfortunately caught the worst of the weather. The trial had three classes; Rigid, Pre-65 and twinshock, with the best performance being put up by Andy Roberton, on a 1951 150 James, James Morton, riding a 1964 230 Triumph and Jim Tennant (again no further info on Jim) respectively.

Organiser John McCrink's 1964 Greeves Challenger (Photo Ian Berry)

Organiser John McCrink’s 1964 Greeves Challenger (Photo Ian Berry)

On Saturday evening about 250 people gathered in the beer tent, for obvious reasons, but also for an auction of a great variety of motorcycling memorabilia, including riding gear, vintage and new, trophies donated by some of the elite riders present, several signed copies of books, two superb paintings – one of Robbie, the other of Dave Bickers – from the brushes of organiser John McCrink – and many other items including a brand new Triumph motorcycle .

Before the auction started Young Robbie and Vic both gave heart-felt eulogies to their father and brother respectively and Vic also said a few words in memory of Dave Bickers. After a rather slow start, bidding started to take off in the auction, with some notable sales, such as a 1970’s Stadium crash helmet as worn by Graham Noyce and donated by his one-time mechanic, Roy Read, which raised £600.

My evening ended on a somewhat surreal note, when in company with Tony and Edna Davis and John and Sheila Griffiths, I visited the ‘Taj Mahal’ restaurant in Biggar, on the recommendation of one of the bar staff in the beer tent. I use the word surreal, as at the end of a long day we were served with a ‘Bigger Biggar Nan’  – an enormous oval nan bread over 1m long – by the most exuberant front of house man you are ever likely to encounter. I must say though, that both food and service were of the highest quality and if any of you ever find yourself in the vicinity and fancy a curry, I highly recommend popping in.

When I opened the curtains to my hotel room in Abington on Sunday morning, a light mist was covering the neighbouring hills, though by the time we’d put our breakfast away it had all but cleared and there was the promise of some decent weather for the day. On arrival at Tinto Park, the paddock was noticeably fuller and machines were soon fired up as riders put in their first practice laps for the afternoon’s full programme of races for no less than four different classes.

The crowd of spectators was also swelling with some very famous faces amongst its ranks. Indeed, as I stood trackside with John Griffiths, former BSA factory rider Keith Hickman, Freddie Mayes and Bryan Goss, we spotted the Lampkin brothers, Arthur and Alan arriving.  In their day, the Lampkins had a reputation for being  hard-riding, no nonsense, Yorkshiremen. As riders they were so often peerless, but at Tinto Park it would seem they met their match, when the ladies on the gate relieved them of £10 each towards  Macmillan Cancer Support!

Arthur Lampkin catches up with John Griffiths. In the background are Keith Hickman and Tony Davis, whilst Alan (AKA Sid) Lampkin is just to the lsft of his big brother.

Arthur Lampkin catches up with John Griffiths, Keith Hickman and Tony Davis, whilst Alan (AKA Sid) Lampkin is just to the left of his brother (Photo Ian Berry)

And so to the racing, which got underway promptly at  mid-day, just as I’m led to believe Robbie would have wanted it to; time keeping and efficiency being qualities he rated highly.  There were races  for Pre-65 and Leading link up to 250cc, Pre-60 Non Unit up to 650cc and Pre-65 over 250cc, Twinshock over 40s and Over 50s, and Pre-75 and Twinshock Over 60s and the races were keenly contested in each of these.

Notable performances came from Greg Radley of Steeple, Essex, who raced his 1967 250 Greeves Challenger to four straight wins, local hero Jimmy Aird on his 1979 580 CCM, who notched a hat-trick, and Russell Watson, from Easington, County Durham, who raced a 1983 CR480 Honda to overall victory in the fiercely contested Twinshock over 40s and Over 50s  class, pushed to the limit by Walter Bickmore, Paul Chiappa and local man Tom Grant, on a very swift 250 Honda.

Greg Radley leads the charge in a Pre-65 leading-link up to 250cc race.

Greg Radley leads the charge in a Pre-65 leading-link up to 250cc race (Photo Ian Berry)

Russell, who won the  Twinshock class in the Enduro and finished 4th in the Pre-65 class in the trial, was crowned man of the meeting, but I’m sure he wouldn’t begrudge me saying that for many, the combination of Andy Roberton and the Adrian Moss owned Matchless G50-engined Métisse  in full motion was the most powerful and evocative sight on the day and something to be cherished.

Despite some stiff opposition from Peter Hollinshead from Nantwich on a beautifully prepared BSA 650 twin and Roger Dunford on a 1964 Gold Star BSA, Andy soon hit the front in all of his races and showed a turn of speed that belied his 66 years. The 1972 250cc  British champion has lost little of his speed, style and aggression on a bike and remains a true racer.

One interested spectator at Tinto Park was Andy’s former mechanic and close friend, Tony Worthington. Nowadays Tony is restricted to a wheelchair, but that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for this magnificent sport we follow. In company with his good friend Alan Keane, Tony made the long trip north from Newbury, Berkshire, but I have no doubt that seeing Andy in such fine form on such a classic machine made it all worthwhile.

‘He flies through the air with the greatest of ease’ – Andy Roberton on the G50 Matchless-powered Métisse (Photo Ian Berry)

When the dust settled on Tinto Park – to be honest there wasn’t  a lot as the track was in such fine fettle – folks made their way home tired, a little bruised and battered in some cases – Geoff Mayes broke an ankle in an innocuous looking fall – but above all else, contented, after such a wonderful weekend spent in such good company.  The atmosphere at a memorial meeting is always somewhat laden with sadness and this feeling was exacerbated at Tinto Park following the recent death of Dave Bickers. But a fantastic £28,000 was raised for Macmillan Cancer Support and I for one left the track with a feeling of happiness and hope. Happy to have been part of the celebration of the life of one of Scotland’s motorcycling legends and full of hope that the Robbie Allan Offroad Experience will continue to be a huge success in the future, guiding some of  Scotland’s young off-road riders towards a brighter future.

But it wasn’t just the youngsters that Robbie guided. As his widow, Margaret, told me,  “He loved being here at Tinto Park, and it wasn’t just the kids he helped. One guy said to me, one day. Where’s the old man, he always told us we looked like a sack of tatties going round and told us to stand up!” It seems that right up until the end Robbie wanted to share his knowledge with anybody who was willing to listen.

I said earlier that I had come to form a better picture of  just who Robbie Allan really was after listening to others talking about the man they loved and respected. The overriding impression I now have, is of a loving family man, who was as equally dedicated to his wife and family as he was to his other great passion – motorcycling, and it is evident that the whole family shares this passion for the sport and long may it remain so.

Dave Bickers on Greeves

Having posted some photos of David on his CZ I felt duty-bound to add some of him in action on the Greeves. For his older fans and followers, David will always be linked with the Thundersley, Essex, built two-strokes. To kick-off here are a couple of Gordon Francis shots from the very first BBC Grandstand meeting at Naish Hill, Wiltshire in October 1962. Of course David won the Grandstand Trophy, which was presented to him by none other than Mike Hailwood.

Determination was one of Bickers’ greatest qualities. (Note the upside down rear shocks)

Add to that concentration – look how focused he is here.

Below are two more great photos. The image on the left is again from the camera of Gordon Francis and again the subject is a TV scramble. The venue this time is Beaulieu Old Park, on Lord Montagu’s estate in January 1963. On the right is a photo from a very famous race. The venue was Canada Heights, Kent, the date February 27th 1965, and the BBC Outside Broadcast Unit caught the action and Murray Walker provided his own, inimitable brand of commentary. Brian Holder was also on hand to catch David looking quite serene.

He was intrepid too! Here he braves the ‘Great Freeze’ of 1963.

Looks can deceive. Bickers looks calm and collected here, but he’s just a few yards clear of Jeff Smith who is reeling him in on his 440 BSA.

I hope these photos please the Greeves fans. They certainly help to illustrate some of David’s many qualities.

Till the next post!

Dave Bickers on the 400 CZ in the summer of 1967

These photos all come from the lens of Brian Holder who has kindly given me permission to post them on this blog.

In my previous post I mentioned how David himself had told me that he was past his best by 1967. However, here he is racing the blue riband 500cc GPs where he finished the season third behind East German CZ teammate Paul Friedrichs and Jeff Smith.

The first set of photos are from the Austrian GP at Sittendorf in April, where he finished 6th overall.

Bickers leaps at Sittendorf April 1967  Bickers Sittendorf April 1967  Bickers at Sittendorf April 1967

This second set was taken 47 years ago this month at the West German GP at Beuern.

     Bickers - Beuern July 1967
        Bickers rounds a tight corner - Beuern July 1967                                  Bickers at Beuern- July 1967

And to end with, here’s possibly the weirdest photo of Dave Bickers you might ever see. In the paddock at Sittendorf, even the Buck Rogers-like BP publicity men clamoured for the two-time European champion’s autograph!

Even Buck Rogers-like BP publicity men calmour for Dave Bickers autograoph - Sittendorf April 1967

To see any of these images full-size just click on the photo.

David Bickers – Not a bad old boy

Like so many others, I’m sure, I feel angry, I feel cheated and I feel sad that I have been deprived the company of this wonderful man. David was so many things to so many people. A husband, a father, a grandfather, a motocross ace, a hero, a stunt man, a businessman, a neighbour and so the list goes on. But wherever he travelled, be it racing, working or just travelling, he made friends and all those friends are hurting and missing him right now.

In the words on this page, I would like to share with you the Dave Bickers that I came to know.

Like so many of my generation, I first saw him racing on TV in the Grandstand Moto-Cross races, where he always, without fail, entertained. I was in good company, of course, as millions of TV viewers watched these broadcasts. I’m sure that when David’s death was announced, all around the British Isles memories of watching David, Jeff Smith, Arthur Lampkin and co, came flooding back to thousands of people.

The first time I actually witnessed David riding was in August 1967, at Hintlesham Park near Ipswich. I was eight years old, still in short trousers and enthralled. He was magnificent and majestic on his bright red, twin-port CZ. My lasting memory from that day is of David ‘mono-wheeling’ some 50 yards or more across the slick stubble field to take the chequered flag and win the coveted Shrubland Trophy. Such style, such panache.

Showing typical determination Dave Bickers heads for victory at Hintlesham Park, 28th August 1967 (phot Brian A Holder)

Showing typical determination Dave Bickers heads for victory at Hintlesham Park, 28th August 1967 (phot Brian A Holder)

The first time I could say I was in David’s company was at a trial in Suffolk in the early 1970s. My father would have been riding and as I was still too young to drive, I was stationed in a group of sections in one of the many sand pits that were proliferate in Eastern Centre trials at that time. On that day I learnt, just how considerate and giving David was. I also witnessed first-hand, how confident, some might say fearless, he was on his bike. Having cleaned one of the sections with consummate ease, he stopped to say hello to one or two people in the small crowd which had suddenly assembled. I discreetly listened in, as he had a quick chat and a laugh with some of the bystanders. I was impressed that this giant of motocross would spare the time to talk to us mere mortals, but it was what happened next that I remember best. Sandpits being what they are, most of the sections consisted of short, sharp climbs and drops, and having finished the section he had come up onto a kind of plateau. When he decided it was time to move on, he simply started the bike, put it into gear and rode clean off the side without bothering to inspect the drop first. At this, to a man, we all ran over to the edge to see what fate had become him. David, who had dropped about 15 yards into the pit, looked back and with a cheery wave, rode off down the road.

However, I would have to wait until August 1998 to actually get to shake the hand of one of my first sporting heroes. At the time I was starting research for a book and on a visit ‘home’ to my native Suffolk, I naturally wanted to talk to David. By this time he was a busy man running the hugely successful Bickers Action TV and film stunt business, so a meeting was arranged with him through his then secretary, Elaine. As I was driving through the narrow Suffolk lanes approaching the village of Coddenham, where David lived his entire life, the peace and tranquillity were shattered by the approach of a huge and very loud fire tender. I pulled over and let the brigade pass on its way unabated and expected that to be the end of it. However, when I pulled into the yard at Bickers Action I was greeted by David’s wife, Sylvia, who told me, in a matter of fact way, “Oh, hello. He’ll be with you in a minute he’s just putting out a fire.” Apparently a neighbouring farmer’s baler had caught fire and the flames were blowing across the road dangerously close to the Bickers’ residence, a period farmhouse that lies just outside the village. True to the company’s name Mr Bickers had sprung into action!

On that first meeting I was struck by how humble David was. Here was a man who had been double European motocross champion in 1960 and 1961, the highest honour at that time, but he was so modest about his achievements and seemed almost reticent to talk about them. However, I persevered and the more I probed him with questions the more came back to him. When I told him that it had been 1967 before I saw him race, he looked at me and said, “I was past my best by then boy!” That is debatable of course, as on the CZs in the mid-60s many believe he was at his best; he was good enough to win the 500cc British Championship in 1966 and he took a 250 – 750cc double in the Grandstand series over the winter of 1966-67.

Over a cup of tea in one of the outbuildings, David proudly told me how his grandfather had established a coach business in the village at the turn of the last century, initially taking people from Coddenham and its surrounding villages to Ipswich. He showed me an inspection pit and told me, “Dad told me, You’ll never want a bigger pit than that in your lifetime.” David grinned and added, “You’d need another 10ft for a truck now, let alone a coach.” Something else he did that day, which in time I would become accustomed to, was to show me around and pick out some of the projects he was working on. He was a brilliant and ingenious engineer who always found a way to make things work and there was a selection of off-road bikes, but the bike he really wanted to show me was a three-wheeled ‘sprint’ bike he’d built up, “Just for a bit of fun.” On subsequent visits, he would take great pride in showing me the Model T Ford bus that he had rebuilt, his veteran Belgian FN motorcycle with sidecar and the replica of his 1961 European championship winning Greeves to name but a few.

David with my son Thomas in the chair of the FN Outfit (photo Ian Berry)

David with my son Thomas in the chair of the FN Outfit (photo Ian Berry)

One of the riders we discussed on that first visit was multi-world champion Joel Robert. I asked David what he had made of him, to which he replied, “He was a bit hectic to be around, you never knew what would happen next. But on the bike he was just fantastic, the best rider I’ve ever seen. He could do things the rest of us only dreamt of. We’d try to do it, but he’d do it every time.” Dave reflected for a moment before adding, “Not a bad old boy.”

David was very good with people. In August last year, I had arranged to go over to Coddenham to talk to him and Jeff Smith, who was making a pit-stop before the Bickers and Smiths set off for Ireland on their annual sidecar pilgrimage in the Irish National Rally . As it happened Jeff’s flight was delayed, so I didn’t get to see him, but visited David and Sylvia as planned. I took my 85-year-old father with me that day and I’m especially pleased that I did. My father is a life-long motoring fan, having lived around and worked on cars and motorcycles all his life and on that afternoon we got a VIP tour of the Bickers ‘emporium’. David showed us all his motorcycles, some were new to me this time and some had moved on, as he is always buying and selling things, and he also showed us a very interesting project he was involved in.

Bickers Action had been asked to film a World War 2 Sherman Tank for a scene in an upcoming film and rather than film it on one of their special trucks, Paul (David’s son who now runs the day to day business) and David decided that they should go the whole hog and build a platform on a caterpillar to film from. This involved buying a Shielder (a mine-laying tank – don’t ask how!) and then cutting away the armoured section of the tank. As you can imagine that was no easy task, and David had to buy, at great expense, a special laser cutting tool to do the job. However, he was quite philosophical about the outlay, calculating that he would get a decent return on the scrap metal he had accrued.

At the end of our visit having said goodbye to David and Sylvia, as we were getting into the car, my father turned to me and said, “What an amazing man.” My father saw the ingenuity David had, in coming up with such a bold idea to solve his tank-filming problem. He also experienced first-hand the consideration and hospitality he afforded others and I was so pleased that he had got to see another side of Dave Bickers the motocross ace.

David meets my  father, Roy, at the Telford Show in February 2011 (Photo Penny Berry)

David meets my father, Roy, at the Telford Show in February 2011 (Photo Penny Berry)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another occasion, at the Telford Show in 2011, David, his long-standing friend Chris Ginn and I were having a quiet walkabout when we were stopped in our tracks by an ageing Bickers fan brandishing a programme from a meeting in the 1960s signed by the man himself. Although this must have happened every two minutes for David at such events ,he patiently stopped and chatted for a while, but when the man started to ask his hero questions, David turned to me and with a devilish glint in his steel blue eyes responded, “This is the chap you need to talk to. He knows more about me than I know about myself!” Of course it was far from the truth, but a wonderful compliment anyway.

The last time I saw David was over dinner at the Stafford Show last October. After a long day, David, Jeff Smith and his daughter Christine, my wife Xana, daughter Lauryn, son Thomas and myself sat down together and passed a wonderful evening being regaled by Jeff and David. David could appear quite shy, but in the right company he would open up and stories of wrestling Arthur Lampkin in the paddock of a European GP meeting and how he’d lost out on receiving a Mercedes Benz that Jeff had bequeathed him had us all in stitches. On the drive home that evening, Xana commented on how energetic and young at heart David seemed.

Me sandwiched between a couple of 'Good Old Boys' (Photo Christine Smith)

Me sandwiched between a couple of ‘Good Old Boys’ (Photo Christine Smith)

I had been looking forward to meeting up with David at the Robbie Allan Memorial Meeting in Scotland later this month but sadly that is not to be. Robbie was taken from us in August last year, a victim of cancer and David and Sylvia were happy to travel up and support a very worthy cause, Macmillan Cancer Support.

In writing down my thoughts and memories, it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that rather than feel angry, cheated and sad, I should feel grateful. Grateful for having watched David race, grateful for having met him, grateful for being lucky enough to spend time in his company and grateful, above all, for being given the opportunity to get to know him. You could never wish to meet a lovelier more humble man. He was, quite simply, one in a million.

Pastures new and a rising star

As I have chosen the words of a Browning, Robert, for the title of my blog – Home Thoughts from Abroad – I thought it would be fitting to make the topic of my first post another Browning; Arthur, from Great Barr, Birmingham.

When my family relocated from its home in East Sussex, to a small picturesque Suffolk village my interest in ‘scrambling’, as it was still more commonly referred to at that time, really began to take off. To be honest until then my experience of the sport had been restricted to stolen moments watching BBC Grandstand’s Saturday afternoon transmissions and one or perhaps two meetings at Cross-in-Hand near Heathfield, just five miles away from our home.

Unbeknown to me, I was just 6 years old at the time, the move to East Anglia was highly fortuitous.  Not only did some of the country’s leading riders reside there, Dave Bickers, John Banks, Dave Nicoll and Freddie Mayes, to name but four, but also there were some great tracks for me to visit in the years that lay ahead. Unfortunately, the magnificent Shrubland Park was not one of them, the last meeting being held there in August 1965, when Dave Bickers won all four of the day’s finals – a fitting cessation to racing on that famous Suffolk circuit. However, there were Wakes Colne (6 miles from home), Hadleigh, near Southend, Hintlesham Park, which briefly substituted  Shrubalnd Park, West Stow Heath, near Bury St Edmunds and Lyng in Norfolk. But the first meeting I visited in my adopted county was at Tye Farm, Gt. Cornard, a grassy track set in rolling farmland, near Sudbury.

The event in question was the Suffolk Point-to-Point Scramble on Sunday 26th March, 1967 with the entry of 160 riders competing for the splendidly named Adams Hot Dog & Hamburger Trophies. As I would soon discover, the Adams Family, no relation to its more famous American TV counterparts, were the caterers providing wholesome, nourishing hot dogs and hamburgers and cups of piping hot tea – so no surprises there!

 Tye Farm Suffolk P-t-P Prog002

However, it was the racing and not the refreshments that captivated the 7 year-old me. On the day, what I now know to be a veritable line-up of local experts, such as Jim Aim (still riding today), Dennis Howard, Peter ‘Tumba’ Smith, Adrian Yallop, Chris Ginn and plain John Louis (before he picked up the ‘Tiger’ tag) was supplemented by a handful of ‘outsiders’ such as Welsh champion, Bill Gwynne, former factory Dot and Greeves rider, John Done, Brian Nadin, Geoff King and Greeves factory star, Arthur Browning. 

At this time Arthur, who started out in the AMCA ranks – winning their Experts Trial in 1962 before graduating to grass track and then scrambles – was one of the few racers who could challenge Dave Bickers’ supremacy on the Czechoslovakian built CZs. Indeed in January that year he had beaten Bickers in the BBC 750 Grandstand Trophy race at Cuerden Park near Preston and the week before he came to Suffolk, he’d been racing in the final round of the Grandstand series  at Builth Wells, where he cemented second place in the 250 series and finished third overall in the 750 class, beaten only by Bickers and BSA ace Vic Eastwood. Though I may have been disappointed that local hero Bickers, who had just become the first rider to win both the 250 and 750 Grandstand trophies in one series, was not present, that was soon forgotten once the racing got underway.

John Done from Pickmere, Cheshire on his ex-Alan Clough 360 Greeves and local man Jim Aim racing his Tom Kirby sponsored Matchless Métisse both impressed, but head and shoulders above them on the day was Browning, who was so fast and stylish on his 360 Greeves. Arthur won his heats and the finals in the Experts up to 1000cc, the Suffolk Point-to-Point and the Allcomers 300cc – 1000cc. I was so impressed with the scramble and by Arthur’s performance in particular that I wrote my first race report in my school diary the following day.

My first race report complete with my teacher's corrections!

My first race report complete with my teacher’s corrections!

Almost 50 years on, the memory of that first meeting in East Anglia remains very vivid. Arthur Browning, a strapping six-footer who was one of the great characters of the sport, went on to become one of Britain’s best all-rounders, mixing trials, scrambles, speedway, grass track, hill climbing and even road racing and he is still active to this day. For my part I like to think that the write-up in my primary school diary planted a seed that set me on the road to becoming an author on this great sport of ours.

Arthur Browning as I remember him. Fast, stylish and spectacular. (Photo Copyright Brian Holder)

Arthur Browning as I remember him. Fast, stylish and always entertaining. (Photo Copyright Brian. A.  Holder)

I hope you enjoyed this, I’ll look forward to reading your comments. Till the next post – IB