I’ve always like ridin on the dirt – it’s just something you get an affinity for I suppose. You’ve already seen me first dirt bike – the little Bantam on page 1. I did save up and get knobblies for it later – they cost me £1.9s.11d each tho (that’s £1.49 in new money), which was a tidy sum when you could buy half a gallon of two-stroke for 2/11d – it was half a crown for the half gallon of gas and 5d for the shot of two-stroke oil, it came in a dispenser on the forecourt. I used to ride over to the Riviera Service Station (what a name for the little garage in the village) on me pushbike with me ex-army gallon jerry can, and you always put the oil in first, turn the big alloy knob to 25:1 (you could select what fuel/oil ratio you wanted), stick the nozzle in your can, then press the big plunger to dispense the oil – one squirt for half a gallon, two squirts if I was rich and had five bob to spare for a full can), then the assistant put your fuel in (that way the oil got all mixed in). Anyway, enough of the history lesson (did you know our chippy did ‘tanner splits’? That was chips and peas for sixpence (2.5p) and you could get bars of chocolate for a penny?).
So, eventually I bought a more trials-orientated Bantam off Old Critchley, the dude who had the village bike shop. It was just an old ramshackle place down a side street stuffed with ratty old bikes. All the spares were upstairs, but it was dodgy goin up cos you could see the floor bulging downwards so when you went up there you were scared you’d come crashing down through the ceiling onto the bikes below. The Bantam was a bit ramshackle too, tho it had proper wheels – 21” front and 18” rear, and heavyweight Triumph forks and ground clearance and everythin. I give a tenner for it an it was running when I bought it, but I don’t know how Old Critchley got it runnin cos it wouldn’t bloody run after I’d pushed it home. Eventually I discovered the tank was full of TVO (tractor fuel) so I had to cycle to Riviera and spend another 2/11d to get it goin properly. Luckily behind me old man’s house was a field and stream, so’s I could pretend I was Sammy Miller ridin up and down the banks. Then I worked all summer and saved up enough to buy a genuine trials bike, a 250 Cotton. It looked like this one here (*cadges photo off internet*) except scruffier.
Weighed a ton and didn’t steer worth a damn. I did enter a trial on it, a centre trial an Hapton Valley Colliery. Shit it were rough goin, I fell off about twenty times getting to first section, then fell off in first section, then fell into a river. The bike was on its side and there was just the throttle and front brake lever stickin up out the water. It took me an hour to drag it out and get it goin again (stand it upside down with plug out and kick it over a million times). I just rode it back to van and retired for the day. I also had a Villiers engine in a Cub frame, which was lighter but it was rubbish. Whoever built it had used soft alloy engine plates and cabin bolts to fit the motor, so it worked loose in the frame and you had to stop and tighten it every lap.
Eventually I progressed to a Greeves Anglian. This had an alloy square barrel and proper Ceriani forks and everythin. It even steered nearly properly. But then I got into the foreign bikes – Bultaco’s etc. Me and me mate used to ride with the likes of Jim Sandiford and the Smith brothers. You’d follow them over the moors, and at the bogs they’d go Zip Zip Zip and be at the other side, and you’d go in their tyre tracks at the same speed and go Zip Zip Sink. If you were flat out in third and the bike sank quickly it would stop dead and you’d catch your knees on the handlebars as you flew over them. That hurt like hell, plus it would make you do a somersault before you landed. Sometimes the bike would sink to the height of the tank and seat, and you’d have to wiggle it free of the bog and drag it out on it’s side, which took every ounce of strength, then the wheels were full of bog so you had to poke it out from between all the spokes with your fingers so they’d turn again. Usually it was raining too. And the bog was smelly. So that was obviously easier on modern trials bikes (this would be early 70’s I guess) than on what was quickly becoming out-dated Brit stuff.
But I did build this – a Triumph Cub engine in a Puch Dalesman chassis. It were quite pokey really, but that was the undoing of me and the bike. I was messin about in the field behind the house, and there was these local kids from the village up on the bridge over the stream watchin me, so I’m showin off pullin wheelies. It was a nice light bike and if you got it rippin in second and hoiked the front over a grass tussock or summat you could go a fair way on the back wheel. So I’m doin this, then suddenly I can’t see the front wheel anymore – until it bounces past behind me. Bugger, the bottom of the forks have dropped off. So already I know I’m in for a crash… Sure enough, the front end has to come down eventually, the tubes dig in the ground I get pitched right over the top (but cos there was no wheel I did miss the handlebars with me knees). Bodily I’m okay but pride has suffered (what does it go before…?), an the little kids are all rollin about on the ground wetting themselves. Plus I have the added indignity of havin to carry me front wheel home then come back for the bike.
The Bulto’s were okay, but I always liked four strokes really, so we got into TL125 Hondas. Me and our kid both had one, but they were gutless and underpowered and weighed about the same as the Forth Bridge – they made a Bantam seem powerful, so they stopped a lot and then fell on you.
So eventually I built this. It were a Bultaco chassis, cos I liked the way they steered, but with a Honda XL185 motor in it. It was about the time there were Seeley Hondas, which were a similar deal but brand new an cost a bloody fortune. I modified the engine with lower compression, heavier flywheels and modified gearbox, then hacked the frame about to make it fit, knocked up an exhaust etc.
It went quite well for a bitsa – and in those days no-one much built their own trials bike, so people were always askin about it. Pity I was always such a rubbish rider – no bloody concentration…
Here’s me havin a proper big ‘works dab’. Can you tell I’d got into red by this time…?
Lotsa modern trials bikes followed, but then the Pre-65 movement got goin, and I got this dead original little Bantam (back to me roots I guess), which were a real sweet little thing.
I tried to keep it as original lookin as possible, I made the seat out an old A10 seat cover, so it still had patina. I even kept the lights on it.
But I wanted another four-stroke, so I found a 500 Matchless. What a bloody handful. It was a bit rubbish at trials, it was right brute of a thing and went any which way but where you were pointing it. But I entered a local enduro on it, just changed the trials tyres to proper knobblies.
It was one of those were there’s a five or six mile lap, all real rough cross country going, and you all set off and just do as many laps as you can in the three hours. Everyone else was on proper modern enduro and trail bikes, all dayglo an massive suspension and light weight and a million gears – I don’t think there was another bike more than three or four years old.
I hammered the big old Matchy round like there as no tomorrow, fell off a lot, got stuck where it was so low down it bottomed out in the ruts, fell down a big bank and lost me seat and had to tie it on with red an white track marker tape, then me back tyre went flat, but I carried on but then it started spinning in the rim – like the wheel was going round but the tyre wasn’t. So I had to push it to finish. I must have been a hard determined fucker in those days though cos I still come third in Trail Bike class – got a trophy and everything.
I decided I needed a better classic trials bike – an I wanted it to be oddball. Which in a sport where everyone’s a bit out to lunch takes some doing. So I built one out of a 1950’s BSA C11G – a low powered, low slung, heavyweight pre-unit BSA 250 that was even crap in its day. 300 hours later it was finished.
The Yorkshire Classic Club Machine Examiner thought it was ‘a reet good bike, lad’, an I had great fun on it until I started beatin their expensive Ariels, then they suddenly decided they’d got this rule they’d forgotten about where Pre-Unit class bikes had to be over 348cc. Draw your own conclusions… They wanted me to ride with the ultra-competitive Cubs and James. But lots of their members were well pissed off about it, so int he end they had to start a new class, for Pre-Units Up To 348cc. Which was pretty cool cos there was only me in it, so I won every time and they had to give me a trophy at the end of the year.
I’d had good fun enduroing, but it kicked the crap outta me trials bikes – I tried it on the C11G but it snapped the frame – so I built a B40. That went great, and I’d sussed that the trick to enduroin was to pace yourself. If you went flat out you fell off a lot and got passed and knackered. I could see these young lads set off hell for leather, then be havin a breather after an hour or two.
So I used to ride at only 95%, but for the whole time. You didn’t crash out as much, and if you gritted your teeth and kept your stamina rippin, you could pass loadsa people in the last hour. I finally won an enduro on the B40, even tho the bike was 40 years older than everyone else’s. I guess they were a bit freaked when I picked up me champagne and first place trophy at the end. I was a bit freaked when I got home, cos next day I thought I’d best check bike over as it had been smoking a bit towards the end.
I got into classic scrambling, which was cool for a coupla years. First with the B40, I converted it to run on methanol and tuned the shite outta it – built up the piston crown with weld and filed it back to get 13:1 compression, an 26.5bhp at rear wheel.
But anyway it weren’t fast enough – more power Igor – so I got a 650 Tribsa. That ran on dope too, went like shit. But a big heavy motorcycle, a rough muddy field, old bones, and a competitive nature aren’t a good combination.
I was racin in Scotland, and had won me first two races, but in last one I was leadin but could hear this racey two-stroke Greeves getting behind me every lap where we went through this muddy bit. So I figured, if that was me, last lap I’d have a big lunge up the inside and either get the lead or fall off (second place is first loser – right?). So last lap I come to inside to cover me line an stop him. Only the muddy slot was deeper there, and as I powers through it the mud pulls me right leg off footrest, twists it a lot, then it all gets stretched as the bike carries on without it. Bloody hell it hurt, you know when it all goes black and you think you’re gonna pass out? But I was still in front cos I’d blocked his line, so I jammed me leg against kickstart and raced to finish keeping him behind me. Yay! for winning, but back in pits I couldn’t even climb off bike. It was total agony – me knee was already like a football – turns out (after physio and operations an stuff) that I’d snapped me cruciate ligament. I was on crutches a while, but another operation finally fixed it. Ain’t ridden scrambles again tho… (2015 Update: Turned 60 last year,. built two new sc ramblers, racing in the Over 60 Class. Ha!)
(this was when l was tryin to get sponsored – nobody wanted their name on me van for the cost of diesel tho…)
(just as well – them’s mostly me sister’s swimmin trophies…)
(or maybe they’re not…)
While I was on crutches I sold the C11 and built the Sunbeam – a 250cc twin scooter engine in a BSA Bantam frame. Well, I had a coupla of years where I couldn’t ride so I had to do something. Again about 300 hours went into the build – lowering and narrowing frame, altering fork angles, makin me own hubs, blah blah blah. I’ve ridden it a coupla years now, an I’m still developin it yet – eventually I might even make a half decent bike out of it…
This is me ridin at Yorkshire Classic (cheers Barry for pictures), but I can’t call it a Twin there cos its two cylinders aren’t big enough for the Yorkshire Rules. Them rocks was as slippy as they look, an I’m not even havin a dab, it’s just body lean (and no, I’m not about to crash, I cleaned it…)
And the Anthill Mob Trials Team from about 15 years ago, in corporate Anthill Green (I went off red). Our lass’s Bantam, our kid’s C15, and the infamous C11G.