Chesterfield is a large market town in Derbyshire, England, and was home to trials and motocross rider Chris Milner, born on 1st January 1952, a quiet, extremely modest man who let his performances on a motorcycle speak for him. Chris passed away after a long battle with cancer on 25th September 2017, but before he succumbed to the disease he made some notes to enable his story in motorcycle sport to be told and recorded for the benefit of his family. This showed the courage of the individual and his desire to record his life as a sporting motorcycle rider for his children and grandchildren. His widow Ann Milner agreed to have his notes released to a wider audience, those who are motorcycle enthusiasts and the friends he made when competing in trials and motocross events over the years.
Words: John Moffat and the late Chris Milner
Photos: Colin Bullock; Malcolm Carling; Alan Vines at the Yoomee Archive (Some images are watermarked for copyright purposes).
Publication: This article first appeared in Issue 36 of Classic Trial Magazine.
In the beginning
“My interest in motorcycles started by my Dad taking me to scrambles almost every weekend since I was ten years old; I really wanted to be a scrambler. When I was 12 years old he bought me a 197 DOT to ride in our local wood. The DOT made way for an almost new Triumph Tiger Cub which we bought for £98. I started riding in trials from the age of 14 and managed to get a Saturday job with the then Ossa importer Eric Housley at his Clay Cross workshop. I sold the Triumph to buy a new Cotton 32A, and started getting results in the local club and centre trials. Mick Andrews worked at Eric Housley’s and started to take me practising, and my results really improved. When the Ossas arrived I was given the use of a demonstrator model and really enjoyed the extra power. In 1969 I started to do a few nationals, and Eric entered me in to the Scottish Six Days Trial and the Hurst Cup Trial in Northern Ireland. Dave Thorpe left Triumph and started riding an Ossa for Housley; he lived locally and offered to take me to Scotland. This was to be a very interesting trip – two motorcycles in the back of Hillman Imp van with the back doors open all the way to Edinburgh!”
Chris met his wife Ann by chance the same year, when he was 17 and Ann was 16 years old. Accompanied by a friend, Ann went to the Chesterfield supporting riders’ meetings to socialise. After a few meetings Chris eventually asked Ann out on a date but trials riding was still the main priority.
“In 1969 Dave Thorpe had a much earlier number than I did for the SSDT, so he arranged for me to go to the start at Gorgie Market with John Hemingway. Unfortunately my riding gear was in Stephanie Wood’s van and she had left to follow Dave over the Forth Bridge so I was left at the start with no riding gear or tools. Luckily, other riders came to my rescue with their spare gear although some did not fit me very well. I somehow managed to finish the first day in second place behind Don Smith. The next job was to find my riding gear! I managed to track it down to the Station Hotel where a lot of the Yorkshire lads were staying. They bought me a few pints to celebrate my first day’s result, but I was not used to drinking. I was a bit rough the next day and my results slumped down to around 13th place, I ended up finishing the week in 50th position. I rode the Ossa again the next year in Scotland, finishing in 48th position. Around this time I also got to ride in my first scramble on an Ossa; unfortunately it ended badly, with me waking up in Darley Dale Hospital. When I eventually managed to persuade my dad to let me have another go, we bought a new 250 Greeves while still riding the Ossa in trials. Then Eric Housley lost the Ossa importership to Peter Fletcher and Alan Kimber, who had set up OSSA MOTO UK. I had to sell the Greeves as I had decided to concentrate on trials and so bought a new 250 Bultaco.”
“I began to get some good results in the nationals, which was when Comerfords got in touch and gave me a 325 Bultaco with sponsorship through Barrie Rodgers’ Derby motorcycle dealership.”
“In 1975 I was lying in fourth place in the Scottish on the Friday when, going up the very steep ‘Caillich’, I fell and broke a bone in my left hand. Somehow, I managed to get the Bultaco down the hill and onto the Mamore road to ride back to Fort William. Jock Wilson took me to the hospital in Fort William, and they confirmed it was broken and put a pot on it. I took the pot off in the morning and managed to ride the machine back to the finish in Edinburgh but unfortunately dropped down to sixth place.”
“The next year I was offered a Kawasaki. I was promised a machine the same as Don Smith but I only received the standard KT250 machine. I soon realised it was a big mistake, so I contacted Comerfords a week before the ‘Scottish’ and they agreed to give me a 250 Sherpa for the SSDT and I came home in 15th place. They followed that up with another 325 Sherpa after Scotland. Comerfords were incredibly good to me and gave me a new machine every six months; I also got a bonus payment for good results, funded by Shell, and I had my entry fee paid along with some expenses.”
Chris and Ann married in 1976 after a two-year engagement.
“I started racing again and bought a new 250 Bultaco Pursang from Comerfords, and gained expert status in the East Midlands centre. In those days there was a meeting within a 60-mile radius of home every weekend, and the prize money was rather good too. I decided I need something a bit quicker and so I bought a 400 Maico. I was still riding for Comerfords in trials and they noticed I was winning a few centre meetings and so they sent me an ex-Vaughan Semmens 360 Pursang. It was a quick motorcycle but not as good as the Maico, but it was almost new with free spares thrown in.”
“In 1978 I decided to have a go at the East Midlands Championship in both trials and scrambles – luckily the meetings did not clash – and I won both that year. I managed a 15th position in the Scottish also the same year. I really enjoyed the Scott Trial, finishing 12th one year. I won four Scott spoons and was immensely proud to have finished both the Scottish and Scott Trials every time I entered.”
Patter of tiny feet
Ann gave birth to their first child, Karen, in 1978, followed by Debbie in 1980 and then Alison in 1987. “By 1978, Comerfords was importing KTM motocross and enduro machines and they arranged a sponsorship deal for me through P&S Motorcycles. I rode the KTMs for about four years, still with a deal through P&S. I rode Bultacos for about seven years for Comerfords then gave up scrambling to concentrate on trials.”
Chris was now receiving support through a local dealer on Fantics in 1982 and he rode the SSDT on the 200 model in 1982, coming home in 35th place, and then the new 240 Fantic.
“I then bought a Tiger Cub with the Pre-65 Scottish in mind. The first time I competed was in 1990 and I finished third, with Mick Andrews and Dave Thorpe on zero marks; I lost one dab on Pipeline. I entered most years from 1990 but unfortunately I did not have much luck in the dreaded ballot! I rode my last in 2016 and finished in 50th position, as I was not very fit after being in hospital for a month with Sepsis prior to the trial.”
Chris and Ann were blessed with seven grandchildren, four girls and three boys. Their grandson, Jack, showed a keen interest in motorcycles from a young age. For Jack’s third birthday Chris bought him an electric OSET, which he loved. As Jack got older he often went cycling and attended the trials events with Chris. None of the girls really took an interest in motorcycles but they did enjoy supporting him whenever he rode. The couple’s last grandson was born in May 2017 and Chris was fortunate enough to have seen him for a few months before he died at the age of 65.
Results Do the Talking
In a riding career that spanned almost five decades, Chris Milner won five Nationals trials including best performance and tied with Martin Lampkin at the ACU Inter Centre Team Trial. He competed 12 times in the Scottish Six Days Trial; twice on an Ossa, seven times on a Bultaco, twice on a Fantic and lastly on a mono-shock Yamaha TY250R. He came sixth overall in the British round of the World Championship at Congresbury, Bristol, in 1978. Chris is the only rider ever to have won the East Midlands Champion Trials and Scrambles in the same year – 1978.
Adrian Clarke 1979 British Trials Sidecar Champion and four-time British Experts sidecar winner 1977–80: “Chris was already a competitor in trials when I started road-based trials in 1969 on an Ossa Pennine. Ralph Venables dubbed him the next Sammy Miller. He had some very strong early results and he was also an incredibly good scrambler, and was the only person to win East Midlands trials and scrambles championships in the same year. Chris was a sheet metal worker and an excellent car body repairer. He was self-employed most of his working life. He used his fabrication and engineering skills to build some extremely competitive motorcycles over the years. He just seemed to be always around, riding locally when he stopped doing the big national events. A true enthusiast, a very nice guy, and it was a pleasure to have known him.”
Dave Thorpe on Chris Milner: “He was an exceptionally talented trials and motocross rider and I had to be on my game to try and beat him. We travelled to events quite a few times together, one particular time we travelled to the Scottish Six Days, when it started in Edinburgh. We stayed in a bed and breakfast where the landlady came across as being very prim and proper, but she took a shine to young Chris. The next morning at breakfast, which was a cooked ‘full English’, Chris had been given a rather runny egg. He said, “I cannot eat this”. I said “well, you’ll have to, or she will be offended!” Chris then opened a drawer and tipped the egg inside it! Another time we travelled to Ireland for the Hurst Cup, leaving our van at Liverpool. On the way to the boat I lost him but got on the boat with all the other riders, assuming Chris must have got on as well. During the journey I was called to the radio room; it was Chris. He had managed to get on the wrong boat and was on his way to Heysham!”
Steve Wilson on Chris Milner: “Everything Chris did, he did well; everyone he met, he treated well; simply one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet.”
We are left with fond memories of a quiet, unassuming man from Chesterfield that excelled at his chosen sports in off-road motorcycling, his results certainly spoke for him.
As stated, this article was written for Classic Trial Magazine by John Moffat in 2021. Back copies are available from the publisher HERE