Trials Guru is always looking for something of interest in the world of motorcycle trials and we think this article will be just that.
Photos: John Hulme/Trial Magazine UK; Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven; Kim Ferguson/Kimages; Gary Macdonald personal collection; Barry Robinson, Ilkley; Iain Ferguson/The Write Image, Fort William.
Words: Trials Guru
For many years Gary Macdonald, from Kinlochleven, Argyll, Scotland dominated the Scottish Trials scene, winning eleven Scottish Premier Trials titles, this in itself makes him the most successful Scottish-born trials rider of all time.
But he had gone that one step further, by winning the British Expert A Trials championship in 2010 riding a 300 Gas Gas, this made Macdonald the first Scotsman to take a British trials title.
Born on the fifteenth day of November 1983, son of a trials riding joinery contractor, Arthur H. Macdonald a local to Kinlochleven. Younger brother of David Macdonald who also rode trials in his younger years.
Gary began riding at nine years of age on a TY80 Yamaha, many noticed that he had a natural ability. He had other interests such as shinty, in which he played for the Kinlochleven High School team, taking the Highland cup.
The TY80 Yamaha was his first trials motorcycle, but it was given as a ‘shared’ Christmas present by his parents, Arthur and Sandra to both Gary and his older brother, David.
The Scottish ACU Trials Championship began officially in 1955; the first winner of the ‘Trials Trophy’ was the late A.M. ‘Laurie’ MacLean from Haddington, East Lothian who won it three times on the trot. Macdonald would lift this trophy eleven times, the first occassion being 2001 followed by ten times in succession, 2006 – 2015.
Other multi-winners include Leslie Winthrop from Humbie, Midlothian (nine times) and Gavin Johnston, Inverness (eight times), Macdonald aspired to win and he did so, rarely surrendering even a round to his rivals, such was his dominance of the Scottish scene.
Inspired by his Dad and his Uncle James, a motor engineer from nearby Ballachulish, both trials riders in the Lochaber & District club, young Macdonald used to stick a coke can between the frame and rear tyre to make his push-bike sound like a motorised trials bike.
When Gary left Kinlochleven High School, he started work at his Uncle James’s Lochside Garage at Ballachulish as a mechanic, he attended college at Kilmarnock for two years. However during this time it occured to him that he was unable to hone his trials riding skills, so he quit and went to work for his father as a joiner which he does to this day. This gave Macdonald the opportunity to ride more often and practise his skills. He was also able to take a month off and travelled with Graham Jarvis, minding for him at the World Trials Championships.
Macdonald: “Graham actually carried out minding duties for me at a European round in 2002.”
As a young boy, Gary used to watch many trials videos before and during when he first started out competing; his favourite being Steve Colley’s training videos. Later he studied Steve Saunders, ten times British Champion and Wayne Braybrook’s trials videos. Macdonald was also studying world round and Scottish Six Days videos to see how the professional and experts riders cleaned the hazards.
Gary had the ability to then go out and imagine himself riding like the superstars of the day and that is how he learned his craft, almost self-taught. He effectively emulated his heroes and copied them.
Gary: “I watched the SSDT and Pre’65 trials when their routes were around my home in Kinlochleven, I would be about six or seven years old and that most definately inspired me to take up the sport. My favourite riders back then were Steve Colley and Rob Crawford at that time. I broke my leg when I fell off my TY80 near my house and Rob signed the cast, which I still have.”
Young Macdonald, tried hard and with it came the pain of the broken leg which was put in plaster, but he was also very fortunate to have areas of ground where he could legally practise within walking distance of his home.
Gary’s first ever event was an overnight success, he completed the event with a clean sheet on the Youth C-class route to take the win.
Macdonald: “It was a Dunfermline Trial, I was ten years old, it is my most treasured win of all!” said Gary who has never lost his schoolboy enthusiasm for the sport.
Being brought up in Kinlochleven, it was many miles to travel to compete in the Scottish national events and to this day Gary is eternally grateful for the time, effort, encouragement and financial help given by his parents, Arthur and Sandra.
Gary continued: “Many people provided help and support over the years, Malcolm and Rhoda Rathmell at Malcolm Rathmell Sport from 1999; John Lampkin of Beta UK, who signed me for the BETA GP team in 1999. John Shirt of GasGas UK supported me in the 2010-2011 seasons. It was an amazing time which saw me become ACU British Expert champion.”
He continued: “I had an enormous boost when Adrian and Mandy Lewis who ran the local trials business ‘Lewisport’ at Strontian. They supported me as a youth on a Gas Gas 125 and a Beta 125, they’ve since moved to the USA where they still run Lewisport to this day.”
Gary also obtained support from local tree-surgeon Ken Oliver. “Ken has been brilliant, he is a true gentleman and has been a massive help to me over a period of years. He did nice things like getting my helmets customised, one of which was the tiger skin Shoei. Also Mark McComisky helped me, he is the funny-man of trials, who also supported my efforts in the last few years”.
Macdonald was also fortunate to have the services of local men, Ally Morrice and Peter Davidson to call upon as minder at British Championship and World rounds.
Gary also commented: “One man who is sadly no longer with us, John Davies from Dunfermline, himself a former Scottish Scrambles Champion, he believed in me and was a fan from day one and did the best for me and guided me whenever he could. John was chairman of the Scottish ACU trials committee and made sure that I went to Rugby to be trained at the ACU. This allowed me to coach riders for a few years. The SACU covered my travelling and accommodation costs for the course, but it was John that made it all happen.”
Gary hasn’t stopped trials riding completely, but his main sport now is cross country cycling at which he excels. Macdonald has applied his experience gained in trials sport to that of the push-bike. He trains physically even harder than he did when riding motorcycles.
In 2017 Gary decided to enter the Pre’65 Scottish Trial, he won at his first attempt and is the very first Scotsman ever to have won the Pre’65 event.
Gary: “I am indebted to Martin Murphy of Leven Homes Ltd in Kinlochleven for his support during the 2017 and 2018 seasons by supplying me with a BSA Bantam on which I won the Pre’65 Scottish and the Drayton Triumph twin, both specially built by Drayton’s Jim Pickering. He also lent me a Honda TLR200 on which I won my class at the Highland Classic Two-Day at Alvie Estate”.
There is one piece of unfinished business that is always at the back of Macdonald’s mind, that of the Scottish Six Days Trial.
The last Scotsman to win the SSDT was Bob MacGregor of Killin who won it twice, first in 1932 when the event became a one winner event and then again in 1935, Rudge mounted both times.
Macdonald’s aim was of course to take the win and he came very, very close to achieving his goal, not just once but three times. A third place in 2003, when Joan Pons took the win, another third place in 2013 with Dougie Lampkin in first position and a runner-up spot in 2015, again Lampkin taking the win. This in itself makes Gary Macdonald the highest placed Scotsman ever in the history of the event, other than MacGregor’s two wins of course. The only Scotsman to be on the podium of the Scottish Six Days Trial other than Bob MacGregor is some achievement.
Gary: “The Scottish Six Days is worth more to me than the world championships, it’s the one thing I wanted to have and I was so close in getting what I wanted, that North British Rubber Company trophy in my hands. The first time I lost my grip on it was in 2003 on Pipers Burn, that will haunt me for life.”
Macdonald has competed against the best riders of his time, but who did he admire?
Macdonald: “Thinking about it I was really impressed by the achievements of a Scots rider, the late David Page from Edinburgh, although I never met him, I did hear about his achievements. David Page was the best we had in Scotland back in the late 1980s, he was an amazing rider who mixed it with the best of his time. He dominated the youth scene in Scotland and was unbeatable. The sad thing was he died of leukaemia at aged 18 and never got to realise his true potential. I am sure he could have been a British champion or even higher than that”.
And what does Gary Macdonald do now, after all he has achieved more than any other Scottish born trials rider?
Gary has more recently taken up cycle sport, particularly Cyclocross, like a steeplechase with road push bikes.
But the story doesn’t end there – to be continued … !