Category Archives: Obituaries

SSDT Stalwart Alex Smith passes

It is with regret that Trials Guru has to announce the passing of Edinburgh & District, Dunfermline & District, Scottish Six Days and Pre’65 Scottish stalwart, Alex Smith after a long and brave battle with cancer.

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Alex Smith aboard the ex-Tiger Payne 350 AJS at the White Heather Trial in 1965 – Photo Grant Collection, Rogart

Alex Smith was a personal friend of Trials Guru’s John Moffat who said:

“Alex was known to me from an early age as he was a ‘Bathgate Bairn’ raised in Bathgate, West Lothian and was also a keen trials rider who lived in Colinshiel Street and rode a variety of machines from around 1961 to 1975. I used to take hand written messages to his mother’s house from SSDT Clerk of the Course, Geoff Smith in Edinburgh, relayed through my Father’s telephone as the Smiths didn’t have a phone in their house up until around 1970.”

John Graham; Willie Pitblado; Tommy Ritchie; Eric MacNamara & Alex Smith on route marking duties at the SSDT in 1972

Alex Smith was an Assistant Clerk of Course of the SSDT and Clerk of Course for the Pre’65 Scottish Trial and, at one time, a member of the SACU Trials committee in the 1990s.

He once owned the ex-Brian ‘Tiger’ Payne 350 AJS (YNC526) on which he rode the 1963 SSDT. The machine was later owned by Rogart man John MacDonald, the local postman. In his riding days, Smith rode Triumph Tiger Cub, AJS, Cotton, Bultaco, Montesa and Ossa machinery. He also maintained many of the machines that were used to route mark the SSDT.

Alex served his time with the National Coal Board and later worked life with Wimpey Construction as a Quantity Surveyor/Engineer and was meticulous about records and recording data, a skill that would come in useful when assisting at the SSDT and as clerk of course of the Pre’65 Scottish at which he excelled.

Fifty years ago, Alex was one of the SSDT team, led by Clerk of Course Johnny Graham, who constructed the famous ‘catch net’ up the Blackwater (Ciaran Path) high above Kinlochleven in 1969, which over the years has saved many a wayward trials and mountain bike from falling 100 feet into the river below.

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The Blackwater (or Ciaran Path) ‘catch-net’, constructed by members of the Scottish Six Days Trial committee in the late 1960s. – Photo Jock McComisky

He was accompanied by Willie Pitblado, Tommy Ritchie, and Eric MacNamara to construct the catch net with scaffold poles, cement and plastic safety netting and it is still there to this day.

Building the famous Blackwater Path (Ciaran Path) ‘catch-net’ in 1969 are from left: Alex Smith (Bathgate); Eric MacNamara (Edinburgh); Willie Pitblado (Dunfermline) & Tommy Ritchie (Edinburgh) – Photo: Johnny Graham, Bonnyrigg (Johnny Graham was a former clerks of course SSDT)

In the 1960s, Alex and his friends Willie Pitblado and John Davies set up a bike breaking business in Fife which eventually became Willie Pitblado’s Motorcycle Spares Scotland business in Golf Drum Street in Dunfermline.

Alex Smith was also great friends with Jock McComisky and took delight in telling people that he (Alex) was the ‘brains’ and Jock was the ‘brawn’! Of course it was all in friendly terms and good banter.

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Jock McComisky (left) and Alex Smith were good friends for many years. Seen here during an early Pre’65 Scottish on the Dam Road above Kinlochleven.

Alex Smith was an true enthusiast of the sport and enjoyed many trips up to his beloved Rogart to meet up with the Grant twins and Willie Pitblado for runs over the hills and not only plotting but attempting sections, as well as participating in the White Heather trials that were run in Sutherland in the 1960s and 1970s. His wife Bett (Hopkins) died a few years ago.

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Alex Smith on his 247cc Montesa on ‘Kerrow’ section at Rogart in a White Heather Trial organised by the Sutherland Car & Motor Cycle Club in the late 1960s.

Moffat added: “From a personal perspective, I always enjoyed thoroughly my conversations with Alex over the years as he had a great knowledge of the sport and the SSDT in particular.

He will be sorely missed by those who knew him in Scotland and further afield in the sport.”

Alex Smith’s funeral has been arranged for Thursday, 25th July 2019 at Mortonhall Crematorium, 30B Howden Hall Road, Edinburgh EH16 6TX at 14.30.


Scott Trial supporter dies

Councillor John Blackie, the official starter of the Scott Trial for many years has died today, Saturday 13th July 2019.

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He had battled with cancer for some years and passed away in the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton. His family were at his bedside when he died.

He was a well-known figure on the start field on the Saturday morning and undertook his duties of flagging away every single rider with great gusto and enthusiasm.

His presence will be missed at the annual time and observation event, organised by the Richmond Motor Club (Yorkshire) Ltd on behalf of the Yorkshire Centre ACU.

Whilst not a direct organiser of the Scott Trial, John was nonetheless part of the valuable support the event received locally. Councillor Blackie saw the benefits of having such a prestigeous trial in the Dales each year and within the Yorkshire Dales National Park and he was instrumental in assisting the Richmond club gain the necessary planning consent to run it.

Trials Guru’s John Moffat said: “Councillor Blackie was a great guy. I always took time to interview him when I was start field commentator up until 2018 at the Scott Trial. He was a champion of all things Yorkshire and was a campaigner for trade and tourism in the Yorkshire Dales, the Scott Trial was part of that thinking. His presence at the Scott Trial I’m sure will be sorely missed as he was a great supporter and strong ally of the event”.

Trials Guru conveys sincere condolences to Councillor Blackie’s family at this difficult time.



Bob Gollner

6th July 2019

It is with regret that we announce the passing of Bob Gollner after a long illness on 23rd May, 2019.

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Bob Gollner (500 Matchless) at the Hants Grand National in 1960 – Photo: Ron Custard (courtesy of Francis Custard)

Gollner was a well-known trials and scrambles competitor and motorcycle dealer who had his shop, Bob Gollner Ltd at Denmead, Portsmouth, Hampshire. He was a member of the Waterlooville Motorcycle Club.

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Frame builder, Mick Whitlock (left) discusses the lightweight 100cc Gollner Yamaha in 1971 with Bob Gollner (right)

Gollner was behind the 1966 Cheetah which used 37A Villiers and Triumph Cub motors until supplies ceased in 1968. He then created the 1968 Gollner BSA Bantam, the 1971 Gollner Yamaha and subsequently Gollner Kawasaki trials machines based on the KT250 model.

He was a close friend of Comerford’s Reg May.

Talmag Trial left to right: Reg May (Norton 500T); John May (350 AJS) & Bob Gollner on WJJ580 – Photo courtesy of John May

In 1988, being a Honda trials appointed dealer, Bob also converted TLR200 and TLR250 Honda trials models to monoshock specification, a machine that is now highly sought after because of it’s rarity.

Trials Guru extends sincere condolences to the Gollner family.


Death of Marland Whaley

Marland L. Whaley (3rd July 1958 – 27 June 2019)

It is with great sadness that we report the sudden passing of five time American trials champion, Marland Whaley, aged 60 years.

The former Honda and Montesa factory rider was 9th in the 1979 World Trials Championship, his highest placing in the series.

Born in San Diego, California on 3rd July 1958, he won the ‘Trial De Espania’ in the USA which eventually brought him to the attention of the mighty Honda concern for which he campaigned their experimental RTL series four-stroke machines.

Whaley was AMA national champion 1975-77 on Honda and 1979-80 on Montesa.

Marland Whaley (Honda) in the 1977 Scottish Six Days Trial – Photo: Iain Lawrie

After retiring from motorcycle trials, he took up cross country mountain bike riding, a sport in which he also excelled.

It is believed he suffered a cardiac arrest at his home in Montana.

1979 World Trials Champion, and fellow American, Bernie Schreiber told Trials Guru: “I was stunned when I heard the sad news about Marland Whaley. He was such a great competitor and talented trials rider. We rode and competed together all over the world and always held high the American flag. My deepest condolences to his family. Marland will be missed. R.I.P. Champ“.

Trials Guru extends sincere condolences to the Whaley family at this difficult time.

Mrs Dawn Whaley issued this statement on 7th July 2019: “I just wanted to give you an update and let you know we will be having a memorial service for Marland on August 24, 2019 at 10:30 a.m. We will have the service at Red Barn Bicycles, 399 McCarthy Loop, Hamilton MT. If you can attend, please message me through Facebook Messenger, as we need to get an idea of how many people will be in attendance as to make arrangements for food, chairs, etc. Guys, please wear shorts in honor of Marland, we want everyone to be comfortable. Thank you to everyone for your kind words of Marland and words of encouragement for me. I really appreciate your prayers as well, that is what is truly helping me to get through each day.


The power plant of the factory Honda ridden by Marland Whaley when he rode for Honda USA – Photo courtesy of Jean Caillou, France


John Brittain dies

 Johnny Brittain with Gordon Blakeway; Sammy Miller & Nick Jefferies at the Centenary Scott Trial in 2014. – Photo copyright & courtesy of: Barry Robinson, Ilkely.

John V. Brittain 1932 – 2019

It is with great sadness that Trials Guru has to announce the passing of one of the UK’s finest trials and ISDT riders, former Royal Enfield works rider John Brittain.

John Brittain, or ‘Johnny’ as he was affectionately known, was a regular national trials winner on the swinging arm framed Royal Enfield Bullet, when most riders were still preferring to compete on rigid framed machines. It was not until 1955 when Bob Manns won the West of England national on his AJS scrambler fitted with his trials motor, that the other factories strated using swinging arm frames on their trials machines. Brittain won the SSDT in 1952 & 1957 and the Scott Trial in 1955 & 1956 on the Redditch built machines. He was also a regular in the ISDT.

The SSDT committee made Brittian the ‘official starter’ of their centenary event in 2011 to honour his achievements in the sport.

Son of legendary Vic Brittain who was a pre-war factory rider and rode for Sunbeam, winning the Scott Trial in 1929 and 1931. John started riding on a DMW then a James, his first Scott Trial was 1949, but quickly secured factory support from Enfields in 1950.

In 1956, John won the ‘ACU Trials Star’, the equivalent of the British Championship.

Brittain competed in fifteen consecutive International Six Days Trials winning thirteen gold medals for his country.

Trials Guru extends sincere condolences to John’s younger brother Pat and the extended Brittain family.


Jimmy Ballantyne ISDT and SSDT regular

It is with sadness that we bring the news that James Lockhart ‘Jimmy’ Ballantyne, an Edinburgh born trials and enduro rider has died following a heart attack suffered in France while he was watching an international rugby match in Paris. He was 77 years of age. He suffered a more severe heart attack on 3rd March, 2019.

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1974 – Scottish ISDT team for Italy. Jimmy Ballantyne is third from the left. He rode a Monark in the event.

J.L. Ballantyne had ridden three ISDT events by 1964 and went on to ride many more after then.

In the 1969 ISDT at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, he had problems with his 250cc BSA Starfire, riding for the Scottish ACU Vase B Team. Unfortunately the forestry authorities assumed that all riders had cleared a forest area and sent in heavy equipment, Jimmy met one head-on while trying to make up time. The resultant collision saw Jimmy break both legs and the BSA was immediately rendered a total wreck.

Jimmy rode in several SSDT events on a variety of machines including a Polish built WSK and Austrian Puch 125. He was an all-round off-road motorcyclist, having competed in scrambles, trials and enduro.

Born in the Borders town of Moffat, Dumfries-shire, Ballantyne was an inspector with the Inland Revenue service when he resided in Newbridge near Edinburgh, he left the service and bought the Blue Bell Inn and Commercial public Houses in Annan which he ran successfully for many years before retiring to enjoy support work at various ISDE events across the globe for the British teams.

Jimmy was the Chairman of the SACU Enduro committee, a man who put more back into the sport after he stopped competing.

Trials Guru send sincere condolences to his widow, Linda at this very difficult time.


Funeral arrangements: Jimmy’s funeral service was held in the Crichton Church, Bankend Road, Dumfries at 12:00 noon on Thursday, 14th March 2019.

Campbell Chatham delivered a very fitting eulogy to a congregation of many competition motorcyclists.

The final tune played was a recording of ‘Highland Cathedral’ by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the coffin was taken away to a private cremation.

Afterwards Jimmy’s family and friends celebrated his life at the Crichton Golf Club just a short distance away.



Peter Gaunt a life in Trials


3rd August 1936 – 20 February 2019

It is with great sadness that Trials Guru website has to announce the passing of Peter Gaunt. He was 82 years of age.

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Bike builder of note, Peter Gaunt in 1972 when he rode Dalesman for Pete Edmondson, this is a Sachs 125cc engined version – Photo: Barry Robinson

Peter Gaunt was a renowned ‘special’s builder’, or so it was coined in the motorcycle press. However, Peter or ‘Top Gear’ as he was universally known in the trials community was much more than that. He was responsible for creating his own trials machines out of motorcycles that were not even designed for the purpose and was capable of winning on his creations, a feat he achieved many times.

Gaunt developed the James trials machine for the factory as well as creating the Gaunt Jawa; Gaunt Suzuki; Gaunt Ducati and the Otley based Dalesman concern made use of his skills to further develop their Sachs engine trials model for boss, Pete Edmondson. He also converted Honda’s production XL250 Motorsport trail model into the ‘Allan Jefferies Honda’ for the Bradford motorcycle dealer.

Peter Gaunt on Loch Eilde Burn on his own Royal Enfield 250 Crusader in 2007 – Photo: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

Peter Gaunt also rode for the Royal Enfield factory on their 250cc Crusader trials model along with fellow Yorkshire-man, Peter ‘Fearless Fred’ Fletcher.

Gaunt was a skilled mechanic and regarded as a great ‘fettler’ of machines, knowing how to set them up for peak performance, right through the rev range.

Few will remember that Peter rode in the International Six Days Trial for the AJS factory team on a 500 AJS in the Swedish event in 1966. He rode again a year later at Zakopane, Poland on a 250cc Suzuki twin.

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Classic Trial Magazine featured Peter Gaunt on his Ducati in December 2017

Gaunt suffered a stroke in December 2016, but had fought a brave battle against cancer to which he succumbed on Wednesday, 20th February.

Our sincere condolences go to the Gaunt family at this difficult time.

Peter’s funeral arrangements are: 12.20 on Thursday, 7th March 2019 at Stonefall Crematorium, Wetherby Road, Harrogate, HG3 1DE. Thereafter at The Mill Tavern, Lido Leisure Park , Wetherby Road , Knaresborough, HG5 8LR which is approx 2 miles distant from the crematorium. The family have not placed any restrictions on attendance, all friends and acquaintances will be made most welcome to attend.

Who better to write a tribute to Peter Gaunt than his friend Barry Robinson. Barry spoke to Trials Guru:

Very few people are aware that I was an expert ranked trialler, scrambler and grass track champion passenger and even fewer are aware that Peter Gaunt and I practiced together on Otley Chevin. The Chevin is the very large hill south of Otley. We met purely by chance one summer evening. I lived in Otley and Peter lived at Horsforth about four miles from the quarry in which we tried the impossible. Peter in those days, 1957, had an uncanny talent at making two strokes go at low revs and yet rev out at the top end.

He was finicky about footrest positions and handlebar heights. As it was my playground I set out sections. One section up a wall side defied all Peter’s efforts and I could ride up it with ease. Peter never ever forgot that section. It was brought up in a conversation with Rob Shepherd and Chris Bradley last year at Fellbeck. And, it was Peter that raised the subject. I always point out that when red and blue section flags have to be navigated Mr Gaunt was on another planet.

I know for a fact that he took a hacksaw to the top tube of a works machine, to alter the steering head angle so that the machine turned, as Peter wanted it to do. I do know that the competition manager penned Peter a letter pointing out that they knew better than their contracted teamster.

In the heady days of Rathmell, Hemingway and others I watched Peter ride his Gaunt Suzuki up a muddy section and clean it in the trial and after. The respected Ralph Venables exploded when the same machine climbed a hill in his parish clean. All the other competitors were in second or third gears from the adjoining field.

Who else would have created the Gaunt Suzuki or Gaunt Jawa and made a success of it. None other than Yrjo Vesterinen has his leg over a Gaunt Jawa last year and but for detached brake shoes from their carriers would have ridden the machine. Peter also competed in the Isle of Man on a Bill Bancroft machine, so he could motor on tarmac as well.

I have told Peter Gaunt many times that he was brilliant at setting up trials machines but not commercial enough to profit from his unlimited talents.

Rest in Peace Peter.” – Barry Robinson, Ilkley, Yorkshire

Photo credits: Barry Robinson, (Ilkley); Iain Lawrie (Kinlochleven)

Credit: Classic Trial Magazine UK for the use of their cover design.

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Neil Crosswaite dies

It is with sadness that we have to report the death of Neil Crosswaite, former Scorpa importer and entrepreneur. Mr. Crosswaite sustained a brain haemorrhage from which he did not recover and passed away on Friday, 1st February 2019 at seventy years of age. 


A lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, his passion for trials riding would see him travel all over the world where he would meet so many people who all had respect for his honest and open opinion. His world was his family. 

For many years Neil was in partnership with the late Martin Lampkin as joint promoters of the annual Sheffield Arena Trial held in January. 

The funeral arrangements will be held at Nab Wood Crematorium, Bingley Road, Shipley, Bradford, BD18 4BG on Thursday, 14 February at 13.20, and afterwards at the Busfield Arms, Keighley where everyone is welcome. 

Martin Crosswaite said: “The Crosswaite family would like to thank everyone for all your messages of support; it really means the world to us as a family that my Dad was held in such high regard by so many people”. 

John Hulme, Editor in Chief of Trial Magazine commented: “Neil Crosswaite was an inspiration when we started the magazine with his enthusiasm for anything motorcycle trials. His constructive criticism was always welcome as were his new ideas. His handshake was his word and I for one am going to miss his phone calls to find out was going on in the world of trials. All our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time”.

Trials Guru conveys it’s condolences to the Crosswaite family at this time.


SACU stalwart Adam Brownlie passes

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Adam & Mary Brownlie (centre) at an SACU awards function in 1990 – Photo: Alastair Henderson

Adam Moore Brownlie, a stalwart of the Scottish ACU passed away peacefully on Thursday 3rd January, 2019.

A. M. Brownie was a Life Member of the SACU and was active in Motorcycle Sport since the mid 1950s. Adam was a former Chairman of the SACU and took over from T. Arnott Moffat as SACU Secretary in 1987. Brownlie became the first salaried official of the SACU when it became a limited company by guarantee in December 1989 as Company Secretary. For many years, Adam ran the office function at Bathgate, Whiteside, then Uphall and was a director of SACU Ltd until 1998.

His main occupation before retirement in 1990 was with the Rolls Royce aero engines plant at East Kilbride and was an avionics engineer.

Brownlie was for many years an SACU steward at many rioad race meetings and the Scottish Six Days Trial, he was a long standing member of the Avon Valley MCC.

Adam was also the ACU Benevolent Fund Officer for Scotland and spent a lot of his time fund raising at motorcycle events.

Details of Adam Brownlie’s funeral are: Saturday, 19th January 2019 at 11:45 am at South Lanarkshire Crematorium – 31 Sydes Brae, Blantyre, Glasgow G72 0TL.

Our sincere condolences go to his widow Mary and son Gordon.


Mr PJ1 passes away

Richard Thorpe (left) with Rob Shepherd and Craig Holmes at the Off-Road show at Telford.


Richard Thorpe from Batley, better known in the world of trials as ‘Mr. PJ1’ has died aged 72.

Richard was a keen trials rider and in later life was an enthusiastic supporter of the Pre’65 movement and a very well-known face in paddocks across the country and beyond. Yorkshire-man John Reynolds was a long time supported rider of the UK PJ1 concern, in fact he rode Richard’s Suzuki in a Kia championship round this year and won his class on the machine.

For many years the UK representative of the USA based chemical manufacturer PJ1, Richard was in effect the ‘face’ of the brand for dealers and customers alike within the United Kingdom.

Richard Thorpe lost his battle with cancer on the morning of 21st December 2018, his wife Christine was with him at the end. He was in Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield when he died.

Trials Guru wish to record sincere condolences to Richard’s family at this difficult time.


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Richard Thorpe on his Montesa Cota 4RT – Photo: Barry Robinson