The name Sunter in the world of motorcycle trials covers five decades of competition, which started with Richard and carries on into the present era with his two sons Mark, John and daughter Katy. Residing from what many term the home of trials, North Yorkshire, the farm at Healaugh is situated close to Reeth and is in the heart of Scott Trial country. It was this event back in 1968 that we first witnessed Richard’s name in the awards of this world famous event. Married to the sister of former Scott Trial winner, Philip Alderson and with daughter Katy married to Dan Thorpe, it’s certainly created a Yorkshire trials dynasty.
Words: John Moffat – Trials Guru; Richard J. Sunter
Pictures: Reiner Heise; Barry Robinson; Malcolm Carling
(This article was written for Classic Trial Magazine issue 21 of 2017)
Born in 1951 into a farming family which had no real interest in the sport, Richard J. Sunter, later to be known to all as either ‘Ritchie’ or ‘Sunt’ was to break the family mould at aged twelve when his Dad bought him a 150cc James three-speeder for four pounds and a replacement tyre which cost eight pounds, double the price of the motorcycle.
Richard was the first of his family to have a trials machine and has lived his whole life in the North Yorkshire Village of Healaugh, moving only a few hundred yards, “from one end to the other”.
Living on the back-door step of the Scott Trial, the event grabbed his attention as a young boy and he had to have a trials machine.
His first real trials motorcycle was in 1968, the Otley built Dalesman with the Austrian Puch 125cc four-speed motor, supplied by The Kart House at Darlington.
Richard Sunter: “I didn’t really like it that much, my Dalesman had those spindly front forks from a Puch moped and to be honest Ray Sayer had a six speeder and it went much better than my model. I eventually bought the 250cc Cotton with the Villiers motor and got on much better with that, riding my first Scott in 1968”.
The Cotton was replaced by the 170cc Minarelli powered model, which was developed for the factory by Rob Edwards.
With Montesa making in-roads into the UK trials market in the late 1960s, it was inevitable that Sunter would sample the 247 Cota and really liked it. Rider/dealer, Norman Crooks at Northallerton supplied such a model and Richard was happy to remain on the marque for two years before obtaining support from Len Thwaites of TT Leathers on an Ossa MAR in 1972.
Richard rode the 1972 Scottish on the Ossa and finished in a very creditable fifteenth position and best newcomer, losing 115 marks and took home the Albert Memorial Trophy for his efforts.
Sunter: “That was when the Scottish started and finished in Edinburgh, it was a long haul on the road back then on the first and last days”.
Sunt became friends with Michael Alderson from Woodhall, near Askrigg. “Michael was a handy trials rider and keen to do nationals and we were good friends. I got to know his younger sister Angela, we started courting in 1976 and we got married in 1978. We all knew each other through trials, farming and the Aldersons being agricultural engineers”.
Richard and Angela Sunter have three children, John Richard who was born in 1980; Mark born the year later, and Katy who arrived in 1984. All three followed in their father’s footsteps by becoming trials riders in their own right. Katy of course married Dan Thorpe in 2015. This effectively created a trials dynasty in North Yorkshire with Angela’s younger brother, Philip Alderson part of the extended family of well-known trials riders.
Richard Sunter hasn’t changed much over the years and still sports an all year round tanned face due to his continued working on the farm, out in all weathers. He is a very modest individual who points out that he never won a national trial. However, the reader needs to appreciate that Ritchie rode against the very best riders in the world, at the top of their game and any number of twenty riders were capable of winning a national trial week in, week out.
Sunter: “I was approached by Team Kawasaki Trials manager, the late Don Smith who was also their development rider. The first machine I had off Kawasaki was the 450 model, which was quite honestly a beast of a thing to ride. When I signed for Kawasaki, they had no motorcycles available for me to ride, so I rode my Ossa in the meantime and my expenses were paid by Kawasaki. I was never paid a salary, I was still earning a living from farming and they covered my travel expenses to nationals and European Championship rounds”.
The lime green coloured Kawasaki KT prototypes arrived three days before the 1973 Scottish Six Days and like most experimental machines, they required careful preparation for what was the toughest trial in the world. The team were still fettling them at the Gorgie Market on the Sunday weigh-in in Edinburgh on the cobbled roadways that intersected the market. His team mates were Mark Kemp and paratrooper, Jack Galloway.
Sunt posted a twentieth place overall in the 1973 Scottish, losing 137 marks and took home the best over 350cc award for his efforts, wrestling with the big bore machine and was the best performer of the Kawasaki team that year.
With production planned of the KT ‘Kawasaki Trials’ model, Richard received his pre-production 250cc machine from the factory in August 1973. Two months later, on October 2nd, he came home in second place in the Scott Trial, this was to be his best Scott result finishing second behind Bultaco’s Malcolm Rathmell.
Richard enjoyed riding the Montesa Ulf Karlson Replica 247 model which appeared in 1975 after the he left the Kawasaki factory team having enjoyed two seasons on the ‘green-meanie’. The Montesa was provided by Jim Sandiford, the Montesa importer and this relationship lasted up until 1977, by then Richard was riding the 348 model for Sandifords. This was the year of the inaugural World Trials Championship and Sunter took part.
At the early season Hurst Cup, he posted a seventeenth place and in that years’ Scottish a nineteenth place.
Richard Sunter is listed for posterity as winning fifteen Scott Silver spoons and is classified as a top spoon winner with other famous names in the trials world.
With farming being an all-consuming occupation, time came at a premium for the Sunters and trials riding had to take a back seat from 1977 onwards, such were the pressures of being self-employed.
Sunter: “I didn’t give up completely, back in 1971 I did a bit of scrambling on a 1969 side-pipe CZ that I traded for a trials machine for a bit of the fast stuff, which I enjoyed when time allowed. I still have the CZ and Mark has ridden it a few times in classic scrambling. I recall racing it at Pickering and one of the North East events near Doddington, but trials were my true love really, I still like to do my bit as it were”.
Richard has indeed maintained a strong interest in the sport by helping the Richmond Motor Club and in particular their Scott and Reeth Three Days events. His favourite piece of ground for marking out is beyond By-Pass and for many years was in charge of route-marking the Scott onto the moors there.
Sunter: “I usually inherit Katy’s cast off Gas Gas machines which allowed me to get some bike-time in which I still enjoy”.
Richard Sunter was one of those riders who competed with the very best of that era, which included the Lampkins, Rathmell, Hemingway, Edwards, Andrews, Shepherd and just about anyone else who made up the who’s who of trials in the days when British riders were the force to be reckoned with in European and then World class events. His place in the history of trials is assured.
This article first appeared in Issue 21 of Classic Trial magazine in 2017, copies are still available HERE