Recently, we created a Trials Guru ‘section’ on Colin Bullock who has been taking trials photos for many years and we were proud to feature some of his most excellent images. It was when we were studying one of Colin’s photos from the 1985 Scottish Six Days of Steve Saunders on his Honda Britain supported RTL250 Honda. In the photo was a man well-known to Trials Guru’s John Moffat, that man was Bob Paterson, former Scotland and Northern Ireland Sales Executive with Honda motorcycles and power equipment.
Bob Paterson, known as ‘Big Bob’ to the Scottish trials community of the period was a keen trials rider of the old school. He was a stalwart of the Lanarkshire Motor Cycle & Car Club which is based in west-central Scotland and had a history as being a scrambles and trials club which could trace it’s roots back to the 1930s. In the early days it was a joint club, for motorcycles and light cars.
The Lanarkshire MCC was the first Scottish motorcycle club to organise ‘scrambles’ events.
Back in 1998, John Moffat was writing some articles on Scottish motorcycle personalities for a magazine and visited quite a few former riders to get their story. These riders included Ian Bell, John Davies, Jackie Williamson and Bob Paterson. They were all people that knew John well, through his father T. Arnott Moffat, secretary of the Scottish ACU.
Bob Paterson had by this time unfortunately passed away, but Moffat went to visit his widow, May Paterson at her home at Luggiebank, near Cumbernauld. Moffat had also by this time started collecting material for his first book which was to be called Scotland’s Rich Mixture, Memories of Motorcycle Sport 1945-1975. May Paterson has since passed away.
Bob Paterson was brought up in Glenmavis, a village in North Lanarkshire two miles north-west of the town of Airdrie. He took up employment at Watson Brothers in Airdrie and was a faithful employee for thirty-eight years before moving to Honda of which Watson’s had a dealership in their Cumbernauld branch.
It is believed that Bob became frustrated with Watsons when a promise of a directorship in the family run business failed to materialise. Paterson resigned, moved on and became the Scotland and Northern Ireland Sales executive for the Japanese car and motorcycle giant. Bob was a well-known face amongst the motorcycle trade, he was a valued sales-person with years of experience gained in a busy motorcycle then a large Vauxhall-Opel multi branch dealership.
Bob and May had a daughter, Shona and son Robert Junior, but they also adopted May’s younger brother, Kenneth who had been orphaned when May’s parents died suddenly. A very difficult decision to make for a couple, but ‘Big Bob’ and May just took it in their stride.
Paterson rode in both scrambles and trials, he had a particular liking for ‘colonial’ type trials which would form the basis of time-trials and latterly enduros. His favourite was the Edinburgh St. George Colonial Trial at Gifford, East Lothian. He rode several Scottish Six Days trials and rode in the 1952 Scott Trial on his 350 Matchless (HSG211).
Paterson was a great supporter of the Scottish Six Days, he had ridden the event, his first being 1950 course marked it in the 1960s and was an SACU steward in the 1970s. He sat on the International stewards jury when the event was at it’s pinnacle and was over-subscribed and all the factory riders had it written into their contracts that they rode the Highland classic.
Bob for many years assisted in the course marking from Stirlingshire up over Fersit to Fort William, a run he thoroughly enjoyed either on his own Matchless G3C or a machine supplied by the Edinburgh & District club.
Paterson enjoyed setting the course for the Lanarkshire MCC’s annual Valente Trial held at Kilsyth, he used his Matchless to set the moor and road work for the event which had a lap of approximately 15 miles.
Bob was elected President of the Scottish Auto Cycle Union upon the retiral of the haulage firm owner from Markinch, Fife the late Jim Birrell, Bob held the post until 1983.
He was asked by the SSDT Secretary, Jim McColm in 1983 to write an article for the official programme when he was president of the Scottish ACU, in it he wrote a fascinating account:
“I feel priviledged to be asked to write this article for this years’ Scottish Six Days programme and probably like many contributors before, find it difficult to begin. As a layman at this kind of task, I feel hopelessly inadequate to try and put into words the feeling one gets in attending the SSDT. Be that as it may, there is no doubt if one rides or even attends the Scottish, forever after come hell or high water, the first week of May will be reserved for the Sporting Holiday in the Highlands or as the late Allan Jefferies once described it ‘A religion or an incurable disease.
It was 1950 before I had the good fortune to enter the SSDT and as over the previous few years I had listened awestruck to older hands talking and reminisce regarding this great event, the big day rushed nearer with all the attendant forms, what with signing up for oil and petrol etc and then obtaining my international licence. I was beginning to feel taller than my then 6′ 1 1/2 ” frame. Finally being allocated riding number 53 only one place behind the great man himself, High Viney at 52.
This was to prove a great benefit, for B.H.M.V actually came over and spoke to me at the weigh-in and from then on throughout the week I felt quite at home. The fact that I was to lose 100’s of points to his tens or was it single figures? Didn’t matter.
When the great man took the time to advise and follow him, like getting up onto the pegs and into top and blasting over the Mamore Road it made it feel like a main road compared to my 1st and 2nd gear slitherings, prior to his advice.
Sometimes the lessons learned from the big boys were well driven home certainly I never forgot one occasion when after leaving Altnafeadh and heading down the main road for about 46 miles to Camushurich on South Tayside past Killin, I found myself at the front of a long line of the big names and feeling quite proud to be heading a procession of about a dozen machines in close company, that was until I spluttered to a near stop and had to go on reserve with the string passing and waving their thanks for the tow, probably getting them to a lonely pump somewhat short of Lix Toll
Those were the days of course when the petrol and oil tankers followed the route of the trial and one drew alongside when suction pumps emptied the 4 stroke oil tanks, replenished with fresh oil and tanks were topped up with petrol. The International flavour created by the properly sited tankers and trade barons in those days were much better than many varied vehicles we see today, spread all over the countryside to give the necessary support to their riders. it is a great pity that the petrol barons have withdrawn from our sport and of course new legislations also prevent some of this assistance.
Within days of the trial the newcomers are seen in close contact with the stars and while today I’m sure some of the big names are easy to converse with and obtain some guidance, there can be no doubt the stars have more pressures, with all the backing, sponsorship and manufacturers to contend with than in earlier times.
As trials are no longer a British sport but International, we can now gauge the strengths and expertise of our overseas visitors by their performance over the pas few years and one never ceases to be amazed by the severity of sections we now see in national and World rounds of our trials sport.
The Edinburgh & District Club have managed to accommodate this welcome involvement from our overseas and home top runners and yet provide possible sections which continue to ensure a fully subscribed entry, made up in the main from club riders and most importantly newcomers.
It may be that a special section per day to fully test the top runners will soon be required and the rest of the sections something less than the crankcase breakers we are now seeing in World rounds, whatever is decided I’m sure the E&D will live up to the test, requirements and pleasures the Scottish has provided over the years.
One could not exclude from this article the efforts, work and hours the organising committee put into the running of this event, from the many long, hard, wet, snow covered and just occasionally dry weekends covered by the scouts who are out and about in the area of the trial on motor-cycles, visiting landowners, looking at new hills etc. and during the trial out marking the hills, to the hard pressed office staff in getting the results out as soon as possible. All their efforts must of course be assisted by the voluntary observers and other officials during the week, ready and willing numbers of people to fill those duties are always available and speak volumes for the popularity of the event, Having experience on most of those duties, i.e. to route marking and back marking, I can recall, as this years assistants will, the pleasure of getting back to the Hotel, having a bath, catching a meal (sometimes) and as in the past, off to the bar for a small talk of the day.
Having had previous experience as a steward of the trial, I wish this years’ jury a good trial with not too many nights on duty into the ‘wee sma hours’ and above all trust that our secretary of the trial, Jim McColm keeps his cool as usual and has yet another successful trial under his belt.
I look forward to being with you all this year in Fort William and trust that our Scottish greeting of haste ye back will be remembered as the first week in May keeps coming around“.
In the 1980s he was a spectator, but also a Honda representative and took an close interest on the Honda factory riders of the day, especially Eddy Lejeune and Steve Saunders. Bob would be found standing silently wearing his deer-stalker style hat at the side of many of the sections eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Honda mounted riders. He would continue to watch the riders walk the sections and then ride them. Bob enjoyed a small cigar called a cigarillo and would smoke one while waiting for the riders to arrive.
On quite a few occassions in later life, Bob would take his specially imported 1976 Honda TL250 up with him to the SSDT to observe and used the machine as transport instead of his car. Often he rode around to follow the trial for a number of years with fellow SACU man, Adam Brownlie, but never off-road.
There was a rider called Fransisco ‘Paco’ Nistal who came over to compete in the SSDT in 1986 from Guatemala who stayed with the Macgillivray family at Muirhearlich just outside Fort William. He was having trouble coming to terms with the machine he had entered for the event and wanted to buy a Honda RTL which was a machine in short supply. Alastair Macgillivray mentioned this to Bob Paterson, who knew Tom Robinson of Robinsons of Rochdale, a main Honda dealer and one of a select few chosen by Honda UK to handle sales of the specialist machine. Robinson’s happened to have a brand new RTL250S in stock. The RTL was sent up to Scotland for the Guatemalan to ride, all due to Bob’s interaction.
Bob Paterson Trophy:
The Pre’65 Scottish Trial accepted a trophy from his son Robert and widow, May to remember Bob and his significant contribution to Scottish motorcycle sport. Called ‘The Bob Paterson Trophy’, it is awarded annually for the best performance of a competitor riding a machine up to 500cc.
Article Text Copyright: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing – John Moffat 1997-2016
- Paterson Family, Cumbernauld.
- Birrell Family, Fife.
- Ray Biddle, Birmingham.
- Colin Bullock/CJB Photographic.