Derek Cranfield – “My Sixty Years in Trials”

Derek Cranfield
Derek Cranfield

Trials Guru talked with Derek Cranfield, a trials rider who recently rode his sixtieth anniversary trial with the Witley MCC and who began his life in motor cycling when called up to do two-years national service. Here is his story:

On the 197 OEC, Derek's first trials bike
On the 197 OEC, Derek’s first trials bike

“I was called up for my National Service, I went eight miles from home to learn to drive lorries and tanks, when I passed I was sent to Germany and when I got there, usual army thinking, no position, but would I like to ride a motor cycle?”

“I had never been on one, so I became a police rider and then company dispatch rider, doing thousands of miles throughout Germany. When I was demobbed, I bought a little James 125 and joined the local motorcycle club, the famous Witley MCC which I have now been a member for the last sixty-four years. After a couple of years observing, I decided I could ride better than some of the riders, so I sold the James and bought a trials 197 OEC”.

Scrambling a very special Francis Barnett with Norton forks.
Scrambling a very special Francis Barnett with Norton forks and other special modifications. Photo taken at Trafalgar Farm, Portsdown Hill, Portsmouth (Gosport Club)

“One of my first events being a complete novice going down a steep slippery slope, both brakes full on I tried to turn left the front wheel wanted to go straight on, off I came, when up-right the handle bars where straight the front wheel forty-five degrees to the right.

The stanchions were still bent when I exchanged the bike for a James Commando, rigid rear end. I used this machine for a few years in trials and scrambles, my next bike was a 250 BSA with the outside distributor. This was a terrible starter when hot until I put a separate earth-wire from distributor to the frame.

Derek bought this DOT in 1961
Derek bought this DOT in 1961

“Next came the DOT 250, I bought this in December 1961 and in January probably had one of best wins when I won the 3 Musketeers trial near Reading. It was then a regional restricted trial and in the entry list were people like Peter Stirland; Mick Dismore; Gordon Farley; Bill Faulkner and the great Johnnie Giles. The following week I won the 250 cup in the Dunlop Trophy trial in Kent followed by a group trial win”.

Culross, Fife in the 1965 Scottish Six Days
Culross, Fife in the 1965 Scottish Six Days

“These wins got me a bit of support from DOTs for the Scottish Six Days. I rode the Scottish eight times, getting a Special first and seven First class awards. Not too bad for a south-east sand and ‘mud-plugger’!

I then started working for Comerfords, the biggest sporting dealer in the world. At one time, we had twenty-two of the staff all riding trials, scrambles, road racing or speedway. On the staff we had people like Bert Thorn; Don Howlett; Jock Wilson; Dave Thorpe snr and of course my great traveling friend Reg May. We traveled together all over the country to all the nationals”.

Foyers, South Loch Ness in the 1965 SSDT on the Greeves.
Foyers, South Loch Ness in the 1965 SSDT on the Greeves.

“At Comerfords, I had my Bultaco and Greeves machines and it was at Comerfords that I met some wonderful people from all over the world like Bud Ekins and Steve McQueen, when the USA ISDT team came down to part prepare their machines.

I left Comerfords to join Len Savage motorcycles in Farnborough as a director, the first day Len had a heart attack and so the firm became my sole responsibility. The bikes I had there were Fantic, Yamaha, SWM and Gas Gas, or what was in the shop. After I sold the firm I have had Yamahas, Gas Gas and now Beta. My current machine is a Beta 200, a little beauty. My favourite trial was the Scottish Six Days, when I stopped riding it in 1978, I have been up to spectate every year since until three years ago”.

Creag an Eillen, on the Rothiemurchus Estate near Aviemore in 1965 on the Greeves in the Scottish Six days.
‘Creag an Eillen’  A section used up until 1967 on the Rothiemurchus Estate near Aviemore this photo was taken in 1965 with Derek Cranfield on the Greeves in the Scottish Six days.

“Another great trial down here is the ‘Greybeards Trial’ started by the great Ralph ‘Rafe’ Venables. I started when I was about forty-seven I have won this trial five times, the last being in 2001. This trial is on a Sunday and the Bognor club started up the ‘Bluebeards Trial’ on the Saturday to make a weekend of it. I won this trial, five or six times and up to about 2001, I was the only person to have won both on the same weekend”.

Derek on his TY250R Yamaha.
Derek on his TY250R Yamaha.
Thames Vallety Trials Combine Trial 2015 - Sixty Years and still riding! - Derek Cranfield. Photo: Dave Renham, Bultaco UK/ In Motion
Thames Valley Trials Combine Trial 2015 – Sixty Years on and still riding! – Derek Cranfield. Photo: Dave Renham, Bultaco UK/ In Motion


© 2015

Text: Trials Guru/ Moffat Racing, John Moffat 2015

Photos: Supplied by the Derek Cranfield Archive.

Photo: Dave Renham, Bultaco UK/InMotion 2015

One thought on “Derek Cranfield – “My Sixty Years in Trials””

  1. I had the pleasure of working with Derek for approx 5 years at Len Savage Motorcycles. I joined him as mechanic not long after Len had his heart attack. The shop then consisted of nothing more than what was the front and back rooms of the house that origionaly Len and his family had occupied. The “workshop” area was roughly 4 foot by 7 foot and had no facilities, to do an oil change ment lying on the floor and hopeing no one trod on you. The toilets were the public ones over the road!
    One year when Derek was at the Scottish I managed to sell every bike we had. Thinking I was in for a bonus you can imagine how I felt when he tore into me on his return as he would now have to spend his first day back finding more stock!
    Eventualy the shop moved into the premises everyone mainly remembers. What luxury: Proper workshop, store room and best of all toilets on site!
    Derek’s Comerfords connections saw us appointed Bultaco agents and the tricks of the ledgendary Reg May were soon passed on. Derek provided me a bike and many of the secrets were applied . Its thanks to Derek that I was able to ride many of the Nationals including some British Chanpionship rounds. I remember riding from my place on my Bultaco when still dark to meet Derek in Guildford to go to a National in Wales. At that time he still had a Beetle……………..Derek is the only person I know who can corner a Beetle on two wheels towing a trailer!
    Len Savage M/C became quite a meeting point and many of the later “stars” came through the doors after their school days and at weekends. One, a certain Steve Moore was for a time my appentice. A certain Clive Dobson, Len Hutty (RIP) , Dave Renham and so many more.
    Without a doubt my time with Derek was the best I will always remember it fondly and for me he is and will remain : The Boss.

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