The doyen of motorcycle trials sport photography, Eric Kitchen from Cumbria, North West England has reached 90 years of age, today 6th January 2023.
Trials Guru website salutes Eric who has over the years brought images to many people of both International and domestic trials events over a 60 year period. He came to the forefront of trials images when Trials & Motocross News appeared in late May 1977 and has been exciting us ever since with his sharp, focussed and innovative photography.
Not a professional photographer, Eric was for many years in the motor trade with Eric Kitchen Motors and latterly EK Brakes and EK Motor Factors Ltd. His son Anthony runs the family business nowadays, himself a former trials rider.
Trials Guru ran a bespoke article on Eric some years ago, here it is:
This article was written by the late Peter C. Valente in March 2020. It first appeared in the newsletter of the Lothians & Borders Classic Motor Cycle Club and is reproduced with the club’s permission and that of Peter’s younger brother, Simon C. Valente, himself also a trials rider from Edinburgh, Scotland. Trials Guru wish to publish Peter’s article to a much wider audience, as a tribute to his life as a trials rider for fifty years.
‘50 Years of Trying Not to Dab’ –
Words: the late Peter C. Valente – March 2020
Photos: Supplied by Simon C. Valente
Main Photo: Graham Smith; John Moffat; Peter Valente & Roy Kerr – Photo: Eric Kitchen.
I’ve been asked to write about my trials career, but where to start? A bit of context – I’ve always had road bikes, the first being, of course, an ex-GPO Bantam, but at age fourteen (don’t ask). This was followed by the Super Cub (Cub engine in Bantam cycle parts), then a CD 175. I was fortunate enough to get my first trials bike alongside the Cub; a four speed Bultaco bought from a classmate. Most of my friends started on some sort of Villiers- engined machine but I decided to skip that as they weren’t the most reliable with the self-extracting flywheel doing so on the way to a trial being typical. We used the bikes on the road as well; having collected the hard to find Motor Cycle News from the paper stall at the Waverley then hearing the Bultaco echo round the station when acceleratting up the ramp being a favourite. I’ll try not to let this be a list of personal achievements, such as they might have been, but instead try to relate to the changes in and history of the sport as I see them. I started competing in early 1971 so, if my arithmetic is correct, I am now in my forty-ninth consecutive season; I keep going in the hope that one day I’ll get the hang of it.
That first trial was the Campbell Trophy Trial run by the Dunfermline MCC in April 1971. A group of us set off from Edinburgh to cross the Forth with the old GTX can full of petroil hanging from the trials jacket belt. I’m not sure how the police would view that nowadays. The Bultaco had a u-bolt clamp arrangement for the handlebars and it didn’t work too well, the Spanish metal being prone to break if overtightened. The bars rotated forward on a sharp drop in to a burn and the concomitant opening of the throtlle shot me in to the opposite banking. It took a while for this novice mechanic and his pals to straighten out the twisted fork yokes and resume action; I rigged up a proper clamping arrangement for the next event.
Looking at the results again I see I don’t appear as a finisher and can only think that the time spent sorting the bike put me over the time limit, though I did do all the sections. Still, I wouldn’t be the only one not to have finished his first event. I count myself lucky that I started riding when I did; I’m sure history will recall the Seveties as being a golden age of trials (many of us see it as such). Not only did we have what we saw as proper trials bikes, as opposed to the preceding British stuff, but we stoll had real trials to ride with good sectoons connected by roadwork, other events with real moor crossings – a full day out on the bike unlike today’s run round a field events. Looking back with the benefit of experience those early Spanish bikes were, in comparison with today’s bikes, lightly modified road machines, but better was to come. As to the events themselves we still had everyone riding the same route (today’s events can have three sets of markers in each section to cater for varying abilities – in those days you just got on with it) and it was possible to ride events of different status. The north east of England was a favourite Centre of mine for riding but I also rode in Yorkshire and Cumbria. Anything in the southern half of England was ridden as part of a summer holiday trip with a couple of pals.
Lucky White Heather!
The trip up to Rogart for the White Heather run by the Sutherland and District club was a bit of an adventure in the days before the A9 was modernised and we took a day off work to travel on the Friday. That part of the country really did seem like a different world then. The terrain was majestic and we enjoyed what I recall was an eighty mile lap, each section done once but meeting the same observer at two different sections. The trial took place on the Saturday because the Kirk wouldn’t permit a Sunday event, something of a novelty for a big city guy like me. The Lochaber club ran an event the following day so there was always some “spirited driving” to get the trailer down to Fort William before the ten o’clock closing. Anyway, events being as they were, it was possible for someone with my level of abilities to ride in a National in England and I even recall riding a British Championship trial, probably the Allan Trophy or the Travers. Sure, it was a hard day out but we were riding the same sections alongside such names as Rathmell, Lampkin and Edwards. If I was that age now and at the same relative level of ability this just would not be possible. Sections are now so technical that unless you have the technique to be able to clean them then you won’t get very far in to them. Where we rode round rocks nowadays they ride over the points which makes dabbing a bit difficult. That’s not to mention the vertical faces used today. I moved on to one of the early slimline casing five speed Bultaco after a year or so for £200 according to the receipt I still have (I wonder if it’s still about in a shed somewhere, I hand painted it grey in Tekaloid with a white Dulux gloss frame). While I know where the four speeder went I sold the five speeder to my brother and can’t recall who subsequently got it. It was possible to know where bikes went in those days as they were all registered, but as few are these days they tend to disappear without trace. Sadly this also means there are few famous bikes about, unlike the works bikes of yore. Trials bikes had the front number plate across the forks for practical reasons but one day I got hauled over by a Panda car for having no lights. When the cop spotted the front plate as a second offence we came to an arrangement whereby if the reinforcements he called up agreed with me that lights were not required he’d let me off with the number plate offence. They did so I proceeded on my way unpunished. I tended to float about in the “finishers” part of the result sheet, which came below the top ten percent who received first class awards, but that Bultaco must have been the bike that eventually got me the necessary best novice award to rise to non-expert status. I never did reach expert status; that needed a certain number of first class awards or an outright win in a National. Back then most trials in Scotland had National status so there was plenty opportunity for promotion. After a couple of years my first new bike arrived (I think I’ve only ever had two new trials bikes) in the shape of an Ossa MAR MarkII, purchased from Quinn Scooters in Gateshead, at that time Peter Quinn sold a lot of these in Scotland. I debuted that in a Perth event in the September but it didn’t push me up the results any and I see that I was listed among the many retirals in the November at the Colonial Trial which the Edinburgh St George club ran on a time and observation basis. I’ve no idea why I was classed as a retiral but I see there were some prominent, and fast, riders so listed. On reflection that could have been the time I cut my hand when I rode through a barbed wire fence, brakes not really being a feature on the Ossa. Mention of the St George reminds me that we had a good number of trials run in the area by the three local clubs which, in addition to the St George were the Edinburgh Southern and the Melville Motor Club. None of these clubs currently are involved in organising trials as far as I am aware but the Melville is active in other fields. The Edinburgh and District “only” ran the Scottish Six Days. Somewhere along the line I found myself with the post of trials secretary for the Melville, a post I held for about three years from recollection. Laying out the Peebles trial which ran over the hills to the Douglas valley was good fun and I remember a couple of January the firsts spent laying out the following day’s fancy dress trial at Standburn brickworks where were allowed use of one of the emptied kilns as a nice warm office; I can’t see that happening nowadays, nor the free can of beer for each competitor. I always thought the Ossa to be my favourite bike of that early period of my career and I see it took me to a best non-expert award at the 1975 Fancy Dress trial (no fiddling, honest). I even occasionally managed to beat my brother Simon riding the Ossa and in so doing managed a first class award at the 1975 Evening News trial, which was for riders below expert status so the award did not count toward promotion to expert.
Here come the Japanese: Well, things have changed a bit since the first episode: by now I had hoped to be in my fitiieth consecutive season but the last trial I managed to do was in March this year so I’ve fallen short by a month. I can’t see us being allowed to travel and assemble in numbers this year, and quite likely not next year so maybe my trials career has come to a halt. One lives in hope so I will be taking the chance to spruce the Montesa up a bit. Last time I wrote I was riding the Ossa, which I kept a couple of years then, in mid-1976, my brother Simon and I both bought Suzukis from Heron Rossleigh (HR sponsored the UK works trials team) at Bathgate. As a sidenote the salesman there was John Wilson, who I knew from day release classes in a previous existence; he went on to run his own shop in Uphall as you will know. Though both bikes were ostensibly identical, Simon’s was softer than mine with a smoother power delivery. Strangely enough when we both had identical Ossas the same had been the case.
The first batch of Suzukis were from Japan direct but ours were equipped with the chromed Beamish frames made by Mick Whitlock, who went on to build the Whitehawk Yamahas (I’ve a tank/seat unit for one of those if anybody happens to be looking). Yamaha were the first Japanese company to produce a competitive trials bike for production I think and Suzuki followed. Honda, as I recall, beat them both to the punch with the TL 125 but, whilst quite popular, I wouldn’t have called it a serious contender though they’ve apparently been commanding big prices in recent years as a bike to be used rather than collected. Somewhere along the way, not sure when, I had a Kawasaki 250 but that was a very brief period of ownership as I could not get on with the lack of flywheel but the suspension was excellent.
On paper the Kawasaki was good but it was not the bike it should have been and did not sell well. Japanese trials bikes came as something of a revelation. Some found the suspension lacking but that was easily sorted with a set of gas Girlings once the originals had been bent anyway; the main novelty was that the brakes pretty much worked, even when wet, and electronic ignition obviated frequent adjustment of the timing, but the real boon was being able to start in gear with no fishing about for neutral. Though the results seem to have mysteriously disappeared from my files, I recall that the Suzuki gave me my best result to that point (and possibly ever) when, from memory, my team (Melville Motor Club) won the first SACU Inter Club Team Trial and I think I finished third.
Something definitely went wrong that day as I even beat the current Scottish Champion. I had my first go at the SSDT with the Suzuki but on the third day a rock dented the fork slider meaning I had no front suspension and, whilst I carried on, I retired later in the day as I couldn’t really go fast enough on the rough let alone ride the sections.
Just looking at results for that period it can be seen that trials generally in Scotland were much tougher than the average event now, indeed some sections routinely used then seem to be regarded as rather difficult by people at the same riding level now. The major trials use sections of much greater severity and technicality these days, way beyond what we did in the day, but in terms of what the average clubman riding is, I feel justified in saying what I do. It was not unusual for the bulk of finishers to have scores over 100 (even over 200 in some cases) then, whereas nowadays even I can finish in single figures occasionally. We often used to ride in the north east centre of England and most of the entry managed round in mid double figures there. I mention scoring systems as, somewhere about this time, there was a fundamental change which had large effects on the nature of the sport and I’ll probably expand on that next time. Traditionally the requirement was to ride a section without stopping, if you stopped then a five mark penalty was incurred. The change meant that you could come to a halt and, provided you remained feet up, then no penalty was incurred for that, in line with continental practice. Unfortunately for me the old system was too ingrained in my riding style and, as I never really went practicing, never got the hang of the new way; if I got in to trouble my instinct was to somehow keep going rather than pause, collect myself, then carry on. I tend to keep road bikes for ten to twenty years but in my twenties I seemed to change trials bikes fairly frequently. Good as the Suzuki was, things move on and in the autumn of 1977 I traded it in with Jack Gow for his personal 348 Montesa. This, the Malcolm Rathmell Replica, was a massive leap in both design and quality for a Spanish bike as it had folding alloy foot controls and pegs, a well-designed air filter and the chain ran in plastic tubes.
Mine was from the later production run which had the lower third gear and concomitant lower sixth which perhaps reduced the 80 mph capability on the road but at least it had the gusseted headstock so the frame did not part at that point, which fate even befell Rob Shepherd’s works bike in the middle of nowhere in the hills at the Scottish Six Days – I think the Army might have been involved in recovering that one.
The only tale of note I recollect with the 348 was when the front brake linings came off at Rogart and, for some reason, I refused the offer of the spare “works” set from Rob Edwards for the next day’s Lochaber event – a bad decision as I ended up retiring due to the cross-country work really needing a front brake. I mentioned last time the journey from Sutherland to Fort William could be “interesting” and I’m sure this was the same year that, descending to the sharp right hander at Spean Bridge, we were overtaken by Rogart’s John Moodie in his tweaked Fiat with a speed and sound resembling a low flying aircraft, three bikes flailing behind. Just before the right hander there was a sudden bright red glow of brake lights and the Fiat went left, John having decided the slightly less tight left turning was a safer bet, so we got past him again. But he might have beaten us to the bar nonetheless. The Montesa did, though, get me round the Lakes Two Day in January 1978; that was some trial, with a foot of snow on the moor in places and the rock sections having been salted to remove the ice. I’ll not go in to the tale and laughs of the absolutely freezing overnight farmhouse accommodation where six of us, me, Simon, Jock McComisky, Jimmy Morton, Ralph Bryans and Andy Alexander shared one room and three beds. Suffice to say it was cold enough for me to wear a woolly hat in bed. It was back to Suzuki in early 1978, the black engined model that pulled well but was rather flat. I see my first event on that, at Buckholm, Galashiels cost me 190 marks but I was far from last. Things perked up in April when I finished midfield at Lanarkshire MCC’s Valente Trophy trial, won by John Reynolds on the works Suzuki. Also in April, I bought a TL250 Honda, rather rare and sought after by some, being a fourstroke, but as a trials bike it made a good boat anchor so it was not in the garage for long. Neither was the Suzuki really as I sold it after a year and moved on to a Fantic 200. Now, this was an extremely popular machine with the clubman but was up to World Championship trials as well, being lighter than the bigger Spanish stuff with excellent power characteristics and was probably the first of what might be called the modern twinshocks. Three of us had a holiday at the Bath Two Day in both 1981 and 1982 but I couldn’t get the hang of the different going down there, but did, having seen the locals using the technique in the trial, manage to master the ‘stoppie’ in the carpark of the Clandown Rangers football club, where the trial was based, after a few samples of the local ale in the clubhouse. 1983 saw my second go at the SSDT, as a member of the Hawick team, and the Fantic survived taking me to a finish with no trouble except a gear lever bent against the casing at the final group in Glen Nevis but I managed to get back to the finish with a bit of jiggling. The results were issued in start number order so I don’t know exactly where I finished but it was toward the back of the field as I had lost quite a few marks on time. I’m not sure why I sold the 200, but it went to Richard Thomson whose son is the man responsible for filming the exploits of Danny Macaskill – trials is a small world. Fantic had dropped the 200 and I ended up buying a new 125 in early 1984 as the 240 which replaced the 200 did not appeal (a lot of folk couldn’t get on with it really). It was while I had the 125 that I also had a few seasons of enduro riding on an IT 250 Yamaha – nothing spectacular but I did get a second place in the Clubman class at an event in the north east of England. My first enduro was a multi-lap event in Nottinghamshire and I well recall one part of the lap where there was a jump, complete with photographer. I hadn’t had a chance to practice on the bike beforehand so was not aware of the tendency for the Monocross suspension to pitch the bike on to the front wheel. First time round I had a front wheel landing and decided I obviously had not gone hard enough to get the front up so corrected that on the second lap; this resulted not only in a worse front end landing but my whole body being kicked forward such that my knees were above the crossbar on the handlebars. I managed to recover and keep moving , but it’s funny what you notice at times like that, I don’t think the photographer got the shot as I remember seeing him with his mouth agape. Next time I slowed down for a look and saw there was a lip on the edge of the jump which is what had caused the problem by kicking the back end up. My period with the 125 was fairly uneventful but it was never the bike the 200 was. While the steering and suspension was better it did not have the flywheel weight of the 200. Anyway, I went back to college for a couple of years in the late Eighties so decided to sell the Fantic to avoid being distracted. This did not mean an end to trials as, due to the generosity of friends, I did get the loan of a bike from time to time. By now I had the Guzzi Monza for the road so still enjoyed frequent riding on that. As my return involved the monshock era this is probably a good point to bring this chapter to a close!
Peter C. Valente’s Obituary on Trials Guru in 2021 – HERE
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 Clarke1979 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 Thorpeon 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 Wilsonon 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
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
For a few years now I have been pestering a resident of Fort William to tell me about his trials riding days. Initially this fell on deaf ears – all the excuses were dragged out, such as “I have a terrible memory” and “nobody will remember me riding now”. I was undeterred, however; this man had been the Best Scottish Rider in the Scottish Six Days Trial in 1971, 1972 and 1974, I had to get his story. Finally, during a vacation at the luxury accommodation at his Fort William establishment, I wore him down over a perfect breakfast one morning. The proviso was that if he gave an interview, I had to be finished by eight o’clock at night as he is an early riser.Lochaber in North West Scotland has produced many fine trials riders over the years, and also several Scottish Trials Champions. This is possibly due to the Scottish Six Days Trial being run on their doorstep, where the terrain ensures a steady supply of ground to hone trials riding skills. One such man is Rodger Charles Mount.
Words: John Moffat (This article was written for Classic Trial Magazine and first appeared in Issue 38).
Pictures: John Moffat/Trials Guru; Alistair MacMillan Studio, Fort William (permission of Anthony MacMillan) – John MacDonald, Fort William – The Mount Family, Fort William – Alan Vines/Yoomee Archive – Eric Kitchen – Some images: Yoomee Archive.
Born in the March of 1951 in Inverness and raised in Fort William, Rodger was the oldest son of Charles and Elizabeth Mount. Rodger’s mother and Farquhar ‘Fachie’ MacGillivray were siblings, which makes Rodger Mount and Alastair MacGillivray, who was Scottish Trials Champion in 1974 and 1979, first cousins. Rodger was the oldest of three brothers, followed by Kenneth and the late Colin Mount.
Rodger’s father, Charlie Mount, and business partner to be Mike Beacham, arrived in Fort William as Royal Marines in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War. Charlie was brought up in Birchington, near Margate, Kent and was a time-served bricklayer, as was Mike Beacham. Originally deployed on the Orkney Islands, when the commanding officer realised both men had a trade they were directed to the engineering deployment and began laying the foundations for the Army Nissan huts and buildings at Achnacarry Castle, the home of the famous ‘Commandos’ from 1942, based in Lochaber, which was to be their training ground. Most of the big houses in Lochaber were commandeered by the British Army for Commando training, including the ‘secret’ base at Inverailort Castle, close to ‘Piper’s Burn’ and the home of Mrs Cameron-Head, a supporter and landowner of the Scottish Six Days in later years.
Charlie Mount struck up a friendship with Mrs Cameron-Head, doing building and renovation work on her property after the war years in exchange for shooting rights on her property. When the war had ended, both Beacham and Mount had met their intended spouses in Fort William so they returned to make their home and livelihoods in the Lochaber town. They formed their builder’s partnership, ‘B&M’ – Beacham & Mount, which lasted for several years until Charlie Mount decided to go on his own and formed ‘Modern Builders Limited’ who had their base in Fort William’s North Road.
Young Rodger was to be educated at Fort William Primary and Lochaber High schools.
Mount: “I couldn’t really be bothered with school, I wanted to leave as soon as I could; so at fifteen, I packed in school and began a bricklayer’s apprenticeship with my father’s firm, Beacham and Mount in Fort William.” Rodger worked hard at his apprenticeship and by the time he was ‘time-served’ he could lay up to one-thousand bricks or three-hundred blocks per day, and made a good living out of it.
First Taste of Off Road
When he was fourteen and still at school, Rodger and his good friend Alister ‘Queerie’ Weir were allowed to take turns riding around on Ali McDonald’s BSA C15T at the back of McDonald’s shop in Alma Road. McDonald was, along with his brother Hugh, an accomplished trials rider and had ridden the Scottish Six Days many times with their friend Ron Thompson. Rodger was quite taken with the little BSA and reckoned he could get good at this trials lark, so at the age of sixteen he bought a 250cc Greeves from local rider K.K. ‘Kimmy’ Cameron in 1967. He can’t remember exactly which Edinburgh-organised trial that he first entered, but he did pick up the ‘Best Novice’ award at his first attempt. At the next event he took the ‘Best Non-Expert’ award and soon rose to the ranks of a ‘Scottish Expert’. He learned his craft on the Greeves but soon needed something a bit more up to date.
Rodger was becoming a more forceful rider; being a bricklayer kept him physically fit and he was as strong as an ox. He was stockily built and was a rider who took charge of his machine. He favoured the state-of-the-art ‘knees bent outwards’ style of riding similar to Malcolm Rathmell. Mount was known to throw himself around on top of his machine to maintain both balance and forward motion, and refused to take a dab unless absolutely necessary!
Practice Makes Perfect
Rodger had joined the local Lochaber and District MCC, and his eye was firmly set on riding the big local trial, which of course is the Scottish Six Days. He entered the 1969 event, aged 18, on a new 247cc MK1 Montesa Cota and was issued with riding number 112. The Montesa was bought for Rodger by his father, who had taken a keen interest in his eldest son’s sport. The machine was supplied by Donald Buchan of Perth and registered LES711G.
Mount: “I had a new machine every year without fail; that way you had less effort to keep it running spot-on and I had a good wage packet from working for my father. I practised a lot back then, in fact I was never off the motorcycle, they were well used. Starting in 1968, for three years we had sixty council houses to renovate for Highland Council in Kinlochleven.”
“I would ride the trials machine from Fort William over the hills and Mamore Road to Kinloch, timing myself for the journey. Then at lunch time I would go practising on some sections near the village, then ride home again at dinner time, then go out for another hour on some sections near the house after dinner.” Rodger found the handling and power characteristics of the Montesa Cota much to his liking and far superior to his second-hand Greeves. His first SSDT was uneventful but disappointing, as he failed to finish.
At this time he was riding in all the Scottish national events along with Lochaber stalwarts Allie ‘Beag’ Cameron, Archie MacDonald, James McManus and his cousin Alastair MacGillivray, known locally as ‘Ali MacGill’. The following year, 1970, Rodger entered the SSDT on a MK2 Montesa Cota and was allocated number 118. He came home a very creditable 37th place, beaten only by fellow clubman Archie MacDonald who had his best ever placement in 32nd place. Best Scot that year was Allie Cameron, also on a Montesa, with Mount fifth-best Scotsman. This made Rodger even more determined to better his score and final position.
In 1971 Rodger’s photo appeared on the front cover of the SSDT official programme, but not feet up; he was captured in a position where the front wheel had connected with a large boulder and was set to go over the handlebars on the famous ‘Grey Mare’s Ridge’.
However, 1971 was to be Rodger’s year, on yet another Montesa Cota, but the model with the much smaller and lighter alloy hubs. He was to win the Allan Hay Memorial Trophy for the Best Scottish Rider, in 12th position, and that made RC Mount the highest ever Scottish-born finisher since 1935 when Bob MacGregor won the second of his SSDTs. This record he held until Les Winthrop finished in ninth position some 19 years later. The headquarters for the ‘Scottish’ at that time was the Highland Hotel in Alma Road, Fort William. The daily results were posted up manually each evening and Rodger was astonished to find he was lying in 12th position. A local man who frequented the hotel bar ‘acquired’ the leaderboard sheet that night, and it is one of Rodger’s prized possessions from 1971 to this day.
Rodger also claimed the Scottish ACU Trials Trophy, wrestling the crown from his rival, Kenny Fleming. This was Rodger’s first title, just five years after taking up the sport, and he went on to dominate the series, being Scottish Trials Champion in three successive years 1971 to 1973. He relinquished his crown to his ever-improving cousin and travelling companion, Ali MacGillivray.
Mount: “I literally handed the 1974 Scottish Championship title to my cousin Ali MacGill. I had met my wife Dora in 1973 and spent some time with her when she was a teacher at Gracemount Primary School down in Edinburgh and I couldn’t be bothered competing in the final two championship rounds, and that gave the title to Ali!”
1973 was to be a bitter-sweet season for Rodger. He had bought a new Montesa for the SSDT, but he failed to secure an entry in the dreaded ‘ballot’. This greatly frustrated the reigning Scottish Champion as he had a good chance for not only the Best ‘Scot’ award but perhaps an even higher finishing position, having finished in 20th place in 1972 as a member of a Montesa team, but still no ride! Rodger approached the Yorkshire-based Dalesman concern through Competitions Manager Bill Brooker, who agreed to let Mount ride in the official works Dalesman team. This was the first time a reigning Scottish Champion had not secured an entry in the Scottish Six Days, the Scottish trials community was rather surprised at the time and the tongues were wagging.
Mount: “I thought Jim Sandiford might have entered me in the official Montesa team as I had remained loyal to the brand, but his teams were by then full – Jim was a gentleman and couldn’t put someone out when he had already agreed a place. Bill Brooker came to my rescue and gave me a 125 Sachs-powered Dalesman that had been ridden by Peter Gaunt. It was quite a good machine really, but we couldn’t get it to respond correctly when we got it home to Fort William. I contacted my friend Ron Thompson who was a good engineer and mechanic, he played about with the carburetion until he got it running crisper.”
Rodger weighed the little Dalesman into the Gorgie Market sheep pens in Edinburgh on the Sunday and noticed that the rear wheel had only one security bolt. He spoke to Bill Brooker, who said it would be fine as it was only a 125 and wouldn’t be a problem. He started off the week with some good rides and was in front of his two team members. On the Friday, however, the security bolt sheared, and it is not an item that riders usually carry or an item that support crews carry in vans either! Rodger had three punctures as the wheel kept pulling the valve into the rim, and he became two hours over the allotted time and was excluded.
Mount: “When Bill Brooker heard what had happened, he was not only horrified but very apologetic, it had never happened before!”
With the bitterness behind him, Rodger switched back to his Montesa after the Scottish and bought another new Montesa Cota towards the end of the 1973 season, which was to become sweeter. The final round of the Scottish Championship was to end in a nail-biting finish at the Edinburgh St George Club’s Colonial Trial at the ‘Hungry Snout’ near Gifford in East Lothian, a four-hour drive from Fort William. Two riders had gathered enough points to win and were level-pegging going into the final round. They were Mount and rival Ernie Page, who had by then established himself as a British Trophy International Six Days Team rider. Page was the Ossa distributor for Scotland, Mount was on the Montesa. The Scottish ACU Championship was an 11-round series in those days and Rodger was keen to take his third Scottish title.
Mount: “It was a tension-filled day, I can tell you! Ernie wanted to be Scottish Champion as he had won a Scottish Scrambles Championship a few years before and this would have made him the only Scotsman to win both Scrambles and Trials titles, but I was riding well and wasn’t going to give in.” The final scores were tallied, RC Mount was proclaimed the trial winner on 33 marks lost, and the title went to the Fort William man once again. Ernie was runner-up on 46 marks. Rodger finished on the championship on 77 points, runner-up was Ernie page on 76, Alastair MacGillivray was third on 61 and Allan Poynton fourth on 53. MacGillivray was title winner the following year and Poynton became Scottish Champion in 1976. Rodger married his sweetheart Dora Black in 1976 after a short engagement and they had three children: daughter Laurie was born in the April of 1977; Roger, who became Scottish Youth Trials Champion and latterly Scottish Premier Trials Champion in 2004, was born in January 1982 and Steven, also an exceptionally good trials rider, was born in April 1983. Son Roger served an electrical apprenticeship with Archie MacDonald, another trials connection.
So why did Rodger Mount stop riding trials at the ripe old age of 25?
Mount: “The family came along and that took up a lot of time, I was still working for my father’s firm and, in 1978, he had bought the Cruachan Hotel in Achintore Road which is the main A82 trunk road. I had won the Scottish Championship three times, so I reckoned I had proved myself. It was a busy hotel, and I built the main extension, which doubled its size. I was also the breakfast chef, so I’ve been cooking full Scottish breakfasts for nearly 40 years! My Dad said I missed my vocation, I should have been a chef. I ran the Cruachan with my brothers for two years then I wanted out, so they bought my share in the hotel and I bought Myrtlebank to run it with Dora as a guest house. Then a few years later we bought the property next door, which had been hotel owner Ian Milton’s house and doubled the accommodation of the business. I was just too busy to ride trials. I had another go when I treated myself to a new 349 Montesa in 1979, but I had lost my edge and I don’t like coming anywhere other than first! I did the Scottish on it that year, but the gearbox broke and I was out due mechanical failure.”
Rodger and Dora have built up a successful guest house business which is regarded as one of the best in Lochaber, all done through sheer hard work and maintaining high standards.
Mount: “Quite a few of the people I rode in the Scottish with stay here at Six Days’ time; they have stayed here for years and so have their children, who now compete. We are usually fully booked for SSDT week and I start the breakfasts at 06.00am, so that the early riders have a good breakfast in them for the daily run – that is important! My oldest son Roger is a keen fisherman like myself and he also took a liking to the trials, so I bought him a machine and he was a natural at it. He became Scottish Youth Champion and then won the Scottish Trials Championship in 2004. He should have ridden for longer as he was particularly good, but then work and children came along.”
“Steven was also an exceptionally good rider, he also had a natural talent for trials, and he too should have ridden longer. They both fancy riding the SSDT together next year – if they get through the ballot, of course.”
On asking Rodger if he had ever been paid for riding or winning trials he smiled and replied: “Only once, Hugh McDonald told me that if I beat Kenny Fleming in the Scottish Championship to win it, he would give me 100 pounds. This was at the time when new Montesas were around 400 pounds to buy new. Well, guess what, I did beat Kenny and Hughie paid me the 100 pounds in cash.”
The time had flown by and it was now close to nine o’clock in the evening. True to form, Rodger took a yawn and said: “Right, it’s past my bedtime; see you in the morning!”
Alistair MacMillan & West Highland News Agency:
Whenever the 1970s SSDT photos are looked at when pulling together an article, photos emerge with the copyright of Alistair MacMillan or West Highland News Agency stamped on the back. Alistair, affectionately known in Lochaber as ‘Scoop’, was a journalist and photographer. He initially reported for the Highland News, covering news and pictures in the Lochaber area to the extent that the local newspaper: ‘The Lochaber News’ was born. He also covered articles for the Press & Journal, playing a significant role in increasing circulation locally from six copies to around three thousand, as well as national papers and radio stations.
The Express called him ‘Our man on the mountains’ due to the number of mountain rescue reports he covered! Alistair reported extensively on the Lochaber & District Motor Club and the Scottish Six Days Trial from the early 1960s, for both the Lochaber News and the Press & Journal. He also took footage of the events for Grampian TV, BBC and STV news as well as performing radio interviews for BBC Radio Scotland. A lot of skill and bulky equipment was required to do this back in the day! A trials magazine used his dark room to process their photographs and would take their prints, still wet, to the nearby telephone exchange for a wire-man to transmit them to make it for that week’s edition. Again, a far cry from everything being done from one device at the touch of a button and being instantly accessible. However, it was his forward thinking that meant he was the first to photograph all competitors of the Scottish Six Day Trials at a specific section, which gave riders the opportunity to purchase a copy at his office at 101 High Street, Fort William and later at the Milton Hotel, the Trial Headquarters. Alistair MacMillan’s images are now copyright of his son, Anthony MacMillan, who has given permission for Mr. MacMillan’s work to be exhibited on Trials Guru website.
With thanks to C.J. Publishing Ltd, this article on Rodger C. Mount was written specially by John Moffat for their Classic Trial Magazine in 2021 and first appeared in Issue 38.
Back issues of Classic Trial magazine available HERE
For more articles on Scottish trials riders, go to Great Scots on Trials Guru: HERE
Mount: “It was a tension-filled day, I can tell you! Ernie wanted to be Scottish Champion as he had won a Scottish Scrambles Championship a few years before and this would have made him the only Scotsman to win both Scrambles and Trials titles, but I was riding well and wasn’t going to give in.”
Read all about one of the finest Scottish trials riders to come from Fort William, here on Trials Guru – Dedicated To The Sport.
Toshiki Nishiyama, known in the trials world simply as ‘Toshi’ was the first Japanese trials rider to ever take part in the International Six Days Trial and Scottish Six Days Trials.
Trials Guru’s John Moffat spent some time in the company of Japan’s trial super-enthusiast, at the 2018 Telford Off Road show and they talked about Toshi’s first attempt at the Scottish Six Days in 1971 and later events.
Toshi made many friends in the UK during his visits. Toshi rode the SSDT 7 times and the ISDT 10 times during his riding career which spanned from 1971 until 1990, he also organised many trials and enduro events in his native Japan.
Here Toshi tells us about his Honda connections for the annual event held each May at Fort William.
Toshi: “I became the first Japanese rider to participate in the Scottish Six Days Trial with my Montesa Cota 247 in 1971, and on Honda’s four-stroke machine three times, including a TL125 in 1973, TL145 in 1974, and TL250 in 1975. In fact, it was the New Zealand rider, Tim Gibbs told me a lot about SSDT and ISDT when he came to Japan. When I first went to the UK in December 1970, Tim introduced me to MCN’s Peter Howdle.
When I arrived in London, Peter introduced me to Comerfords’ Derek Cranfield, and in turn, Derek introduced me to Bob Gollner again, and as a result I was able to join Bob and SSDT together. In 1971, I participated in UK trials for almost a year, learning about rules, techniques, sections, courses, machine, management, and so on. I returned to Japan in January 1972 to promote full-fledged trials in my country.
Honda then released the TL125, and three Japanese riders participated in the SSDT in 1973. The TL125 was still made with a parallel steering angle frame and front fork, and the steering was a little heavy. So I asked Whitehawk’s Mick Whitlock to move the footrests a little backwards, and then fitted a Girling rear shock for testing. The tyres were changed to Dunlop’s Trial Universal.
I changed only one rear tire every two days, but when I ran for a day, I changed the direction of the tyre. I said that I did not change the front tire for 6 days, or I could only service the bike for 15 minutes before the start every morning, so I could not afford time. The 5-speed transmission was a cross of 1 to 3 gears, and the 3rd to 5th speed was wide designed. I dropped one drive sprocket tooth for the SSDT, and the maximum speed was about 85 km/h.
According to Honda engineers, there is no problem even if it runs with full open throttle, so I was able to start Edinburgh and finish the entire process of Fort William safely. Frankly, the four-cycle 125cc engine was powerless and most sections I had to run in 1st gear. Even if I try to start with the 1st gear, the climb slope is tight, the bike will move forward even if the rear wheel rotates, but in the 2nd gear I stalled due to lack of torque. I had no choice but to get into the section.
From my experience so far, the Girling rear shocks for TL was not the best, so I obtained a custom-made set from KYB who produced rear shocks for TL and TY for sale. The rear shock absorber of Toshi Nishiyama Special and the engine’s maximum rpm dropped because the displacement was changed, and the maximum speed was 80 km/h. However, unlike the TL125, the 2nd gear could be used in the section and the performance of the rear shock has changed significantly, making running in the section much easier. The front and rear wheels were buried even if it rushed in with the 3rd with TL125 to pass through the swamp of the mountain stream, and it was a thing that drained remarkable physical strength to get out of each swamp.
In that respect, it was a little easier to lose the bogland using the 3rd gear as it turned out to be a TL145. Of course, the running in each section also reduced the worry of stalling, and I managed to run through the ‘pipeline’ section with the 2nd gear. I finished the event and won a First Class Award. I was so happy.
In 1975, Honda released their new TL250, so I participated in the machine. The engine was based on the Honda SL250 trail bike, and the engine was also quite bulky and heavy. I think that there was certainly about 108kg. The only problem was that the vehicle weight was remarkably heavy and the seat height was also rather high.
To be honest, the bike was too heavy for me who was small and had no physical strength. However, the torque became strong, and the stall due to the lack of power as before has been lost. The TL250, which was one size larger than the TL125 and 145, was a heavy, like a tank. I had a hard time picking the machine up when I fell off. And when you get over the staircase in the section, the engine spins for a moment. The cause seems to have been with the carburetor, and as a countermeasure, it was constantly overflowing to keep the fuel level, and petrol had to always be dripping from the overflow, and the fuel consumption was remarkably bad. I completed the trials and won the First Class Award again.
After Honda, I rode the Scottish on Bultaco and had a very good relationship with Comerfords and Reg May, but that is another story.”
Exciting news has been made available to Trials Guru that former World Trials Champion Bernie Schreiber will be returning to Montana USA on the 40th anniversary of his double US National Championship victories there in 1982 to conduct a two day trials school during an event of five consecutive days that includes the annual Whiskey Gulch Two-Day Trials in Butte, Montana, June 15-19, 2022.
Schreiber, America’s only World Trials Champion (1979) and Scottish Six Days Trial winner (1982) will be holding his signature “Master Class Experience” two day school to start off the festivities and will be the Guest of Honour for the ‘Champions Day’ celebration held on the third day. Schreiber will also take part in the finale, the Whiskey Gulch Two-Day Trials, an event that brought in over 100 riders from eight different states in 2020 as part of the Conquer The West Trials Series which began in 2017. This is a two day event series in the western USA where riders take part in at least four events to earn points towards their respective final positions and has expanded to include ten-two day events in 2022.
Montana is of particular interest to the 1979 World Champion ever since winning those two US Nationals on his way to securing the 1982 US National Championship title as the two events were a stark contrast of back to back days. The first National held in Bozeman on July 3 was very easy as Schreiber’s 7 mark winning score proved, yet the second one in Whitefish was anything but as Schreiber’s 144 mark score still stands as the highest winning score in the history of The US National Championship series.
Montana native Rich Hilbun organized that second record setting national in Whitefish and recently had the idea to contact Schreiber about returning on the anniversary to conduct a trials school. The five day format was the result of their following discussions along with Dan Larson of Mossy Rock Trials & Off-Road who organizes and sponsors The Whiskey Gulch Two- Day Trials which began in 2009 and has taken place annually without interruption since.
Schreiber, who has a very unique approach to instruction that combines elements of hands on riding together with a strong focus on the mental side of the sport said, “I’m proud to be Guest of Honor at the Whiskey Gulch Two Day Trials in the beautiful state of Montana. The gold and silver treasure state of America is every trials rider’s dream destination to discover the outdoors and off-road riding. In 1982, I remember taking home gold twice in Montana. Rich Hilbun and Dan Larson at Mossy Rock Trials & Off-Road are excellent organizers and together we came up with a plan to make this happen. It is very exciting returning in 2022 to teach, ride and celebrate in such a memorable place. Who knows, I might take gold again, but will be very happy with silver as well!”
Hilbun, who made first contact with Schreiber about his return said, “ That second 1982 national in Whitefish, we set the sections up to be difficult because the previous round in Bozeman was so easy. The weather didn’t cooperate and it poured down rain. I remember Bernie saying it was like a round of the world championship. That was a great compliment and with Bernie doing his trials schools all these years later we thought to have him come back on the 40th anniversary, and are honored to have the legend of US trials return. Bernie made such an impact on the sport then and still today. We are all excited to host him as the Guest of Honor for the 2022 Whiskey Gulch Two-Day Trials week!”
Larson, who has owned Mossy Rock Trials & Off Road since 2011 and is an authorized dealer for TRS and Beta motorcycles, began his shop repairing bikes for trials riders primarily providing a means for riders in the South Central Montana area to have support and also specializes in restoring used bikes said, “ As the organizer of the Whiskey Gulch Two Day Trials for the past 12 years and sponsor of the event with Mossy Rock Trials & Off Road since 2011, it is such a privilege to host America’s greatest of all time trials riders. We have such a beautiful trials area here near Butte and I am thrilled Bernie will be making history with us once again! We will have the following classes for the Whiskey Gulch Two-Day: Novice, Amateur, Intermediate, SR Intermediate, Advanced, SR Advanced, Expert Sportsman, Expert, Championship & Vintage/Classic.”
For information on the Schreiber Masterclass Experience Trials School and Champions Day, please contact: Rich Hilbun at firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on the Whiskey Gulch Two Day Trials and partnership opportunities, please contact:
Specially written for CLASSIC TRIAL MAGAZINE Issue 34:
TROPHIES, TIGERS, LEOPARDS AND JAGUARS– The RAY SAYER Story
For many months Richmond trials enthusiast Barry Watson nagged Trials Guru mercilessly to pen an article on an unassuming gentleman who is well known in the Yorkshire trials world. And so, eventually, we thought it only right and proper to oblige. This would not be a straightforward task as we had met the gentleman on quite a few occasions. We knew full well that this is a very modest, reserved individual who would much rather talk about his contemporaries than himself! Our first approach to write about his motorcycle riding career was met with the reply: “I wish you wouldn’t”. Perseverance is a useful attribute though, and finally we wore him down. This feature spotlights the most respected of trials riders, who has lived in the village of Bellerby, near Leyburn, North Yorkshire most of his life, even though he avoids spotlights like the plague! Son of a farmer, John Raymond ‘Ray’ Sayer was born in November 1935 and was to make a name for himself on the national trials scene in a riding career that spanned three decades, starting in the early 1950s.
Words: John Moffat – Bill Wilkinson – J.R. Sayer
Photos: Alan Vines – Malcolm Carling – Yoomee Archive
The eldest of three children, Ray Sayer effectively put the Richmond area on the trials map by his name regularly featuring in the motorcycle press, which followed his career in the sport of trials. Pick up an old copy of the ‘Motor Cycle’ yearbook and the name J.R. Sayer appears regularly. Sayer, who was a national trials winner and ISDT team rider, rode factory Triumph motorcycles for most of his riding career which spanned almost three decades. His many Triumph contemporaries of the era included John Giles, Roy Peplow, Gordon Blakeway, Gordon Farley, Ken Heanes, and Malcolm Rathmell. Giles, Heanes and Peplow were selected many times for the Great Britain International Six Days Trial World Trophy team, an event which Sayer would eventually compete in three times on Meriden-prepared factory Triumphs. Although his name will be forever linked with the Coventry marque, Ray Sayer was not always Triumph mounted, as we shall learn later.
A ‘local’ Yorkshire event:
Sayer’s first trial was the Scott, on a 197cc DOT which had been purchased from a local businessman called Sylvester ‘Syl’ Palmer from nearby Leyburn. Palmer had ridden the machine in previous Scott Trials, he had also been the event clerk of the course and received support from Francis Barnett.
“My first Scott Trial was on 14th November 1953. It was also my first ever trial, and there was a very good reason for that. At the time I worked for my father, who was a farmer and a Methodist. In those days Sundays were for attending church and definitely not for having fun on a motorcycle! As the Scott was run on a Saturday, this allowed me to enter and compete in my very first event. Needless to say, I did not do too well on the DOT. The course back then consisted of two laps plus one leg out and one back in, and I had to retire after the first lap. The following year was very wet and what had been a stream became a large torrent at ‘Dicky Edge’. This wasn’t a problem for the more experienced or factory supported riders but I tried to jump it, and ended up in the middle with a drowned machine!”
“The 1955 Scott was a much better year for me, having bought a 1951 500cc Triumph Trophy by trading the DOT in to Duplex in Darlington; this became my all-time favourite motorcycle. I was fortunate to secure some valuable help with spare parts from Allan Jefferies and this time I had a really good ride. The Trophy was eventually converted to swinging-arm rear suspension using a McCandless conversion, which increased the ground clearance to nine inches and steepened the steering. It became a beautifully handling machine after that. My best performance in the Scott was third place in 1964 but I did win the 200cc cup and Best Yorkshireman awards on quite a few occasions. In the years that I rode the Scott, when it was held in the November, it was invariably cold and wet; conditions which really suited me. There was always the possibility of some snow though, and the trial was eventually brought forward to the October. I also had support from Pete ‘Eddy’ Edmondson on the Puch engined Dalesman which was a 125cc six-speeder and was a quick machine on the rough. I rode the Dalesman in the 1970 Scott Trial.”
Sayer achieved his first Scott Trial finisher’s certificate in 1955 and amassed a total of 13 coveted ‘Scott Spoons’ from 1956 onwards which effectively placed him in the higher echelons of this famous event’s records.
Wedding Bells and Trials – 1960:
Ray married Carole in 1960, when they advanced their betrothal plans due to her father being a high-ranking officer in the Royal Air Force with an imminent posting to Hong Kong. They tied the knot a couple of years earlier than originally intended. Carole always refers to her husband as ‘Raymond’ and they will soon celebrate their Diamond wedding anniversary. She attended most of the events Ray took part in and has a good knowledge of the sport and the riders of the era. The Sayers had two children, daughter Alexandra and son Gavin. Alexandra has three children, making the Sayers grandparents. 1960 was a good year for Ray: Carole accompanied him to most events, he was Best Up To 250cc class winner in the Alan Trophy Trial and was a member of the Club Team Award for Ripon & District with Tom Ellis and Stan Holmes. A fortnight later he was second in the lightweight class and part of the Triumph manufacturers’ team award winners with Artie Ratcliffe and John Giles in the Belgian Lamborelle Trial.
The Travers Trial held in the April saw Ray again as part of the Triumph manufacturers’ team award winners, with Artie Ratcliffe and Roy Peplow, and club team for Bradford & District MCC with Stan Holmes and Ratcliffe. In the May Sayer collected a Special First Class and the Jimmy Beck Trophy at the SSDT, but the icing on the cake came in the July that year when Ray won the Allan Jefferies Trial outright, beating the legendary Sammy Miller (Ariel) by 13 marks. He rounded off the year by coming fifth in the British Experts on the 199cc Triumph Cub. Sayer was the 1964 winner of the national Victory Trial and he attended the Victory Trial reunion dinner organised by Tony Davis at the Manor Hotel, Meriden in 2007 as the Guest of Honour.
Sayer Talks Triumph:
“I rode as a works-supported rider for Triumphs for 11 years, and my final few seasons was as a privateer on a 250cc Ossa Mick Andrews Replica purchased from Norman Crooks at Northallerton for £270.00 in 1972, which I rode in that year’s Scott Trial and again in 1973. I had gone back to riding on my 500cc Triumph in 1969, registered GNR923, which I built myself and is now owned by Bill Hutchinson.
The registration number is now on his motor car and the Triumph has been restored to a high standard. I had first used this registration number on a 1961 Triumph Trophy and I transferred the registration number to my self-built Triumph. All my factory supplied Triumphs are still in circulation, which is nice to know. I enjoyed and appreciated the support that I received from Triumph, especially Henry Vale for having confidence in me.”
The Scottish Six Days has always been an important event for British trials riders and Ray Sayer was also keen to ride in Scotland.
“In 1957 I rode in my first Scottish; it was all new to me and we covered almost 1,000 miles during the week! It would be my most enjoyable as I had a really good time and a clean sheet on the Tuesday, losing no marks at all.”
This sparkling performance caught the attention of Triumph’s Henry Vale, the Competition Manager.
“Mr Vale offered me a factory machine after the SSDT, the Tiger Cub, which I rode for nine years. It was registered UNX51 and I believe it is still owned by the Crosswaite family. This was a competitive machine and one on which I rode in all the national events. But I have to say the Trophy would remain my favourite Triumph, I had a soft spot for that machine.”
Ray’s factory Triumph Cub UNX51 registered in May 1956 had been on loan from Henry Vale during the 1957 SSDT to 17-year-old Mike Hailwood, who went on to become a highly successful GP road racer and multiple TT winner, entering the Scottish as his first big competitive event. Factory Triumphs were regularly stripped down, checked, refurbished and rebuilt by the competition department at Meriden, under the watchful eye of Henry Vale, so this necessitated transport between Darlington and Coventry by train in the Guard’s van.
“I would get a phone call from either Dick Fiddler or Henry Vale at Triumph to say my machine was ready. Carole and I would go over to Darlington railway station to collect it in time for the next trial. I also rode the Highland Two-Day Trial at Inverness in Scotland a few times, and when I was on my own Triumph the secretary of the Highland club, Bob Mackenzie, was so impressed with my machine that he kept pestering me to sell it to him!”
History records that Ray was third in the 1963 ‘Scottish’ on the 199cc Tiger Cub, beaten only by Mick Andrews (AJS) and the eventual winner, Arthur Lampkin (BSA). This was to be Ray’s best performance in the annual Highland event. For the 1968 Scottish the British Suzuki concessionaires had entered Ray with his close friend Blackie Holden along with Peter Gaunt as a manufacturer’s team on the 128cc machines with Gaunt taking home the 150cc capacity class award. However, Ray’s little Suzuki did not stand up to the rigours of the SSDT that year and he was forced to retire from the event. The machine went back to Suzuki GB headquarters in the Midlands transported by Dennis Jones, who later worked for the company. The following year Ray was back on another two-stroke at the Scottish; this time it was the Villiers powered 37A-T model AJS for 1969. The AJS was courtesy of Norman Edgar of Edgar Brothers in Edinburgh who had close ties with the AJS factory, being Scottish agents for the marque.
“Mr Edgar contacted me after learning that I had entered on my 500cc Triumph and suggested that I might have an easier time riding the lighter two-stroke AJS. They seemed keen to push the AJS trials machine. However, the AJS did not have sufficient steering lock and to be honest I really was more a four-stroke man so unfortunately it didn’t suit me too well at all.”
These particular AJS machines were not built at the Andover factory but their components were transported to Edinburgh in early 1969 in crates, and they were assembled in the workshop of Edgar Brothers under the supervision of Frank Edgar and further developed by Norman’s son, Derek Edgar. The batch of the 246cc bikes were consecutively registered OWS 11–14G, Edinburgh registration marks which are dated to May 1969, just prior to the SSDT. Derek rode OWS11G with his elder brother Norman Edgar Jnr on OWS13G. Ray was issued with OWS12G for the SSDT, riding under number 93. Having been supplied with an early model production 37A-T machine (NFS21G), Norman Edgar Jnr decided to improve the batch of Edgar-built machines for the SSDT by fitting the motocross AJS Y4 ‘Stormer’ front forks and alloy conical hub, and also the conical alloy rear hub from the motocross machine. These were lighter than the British Hub Company components that the production models had been fitted with. This was a radical departure from both the production 37A-T AJS and those supplied by Peter Inchley to the other supported riders, Malcolm and Tony Davis. Ray now thinks the fork assembly from the motocross model could have explained the restricted steering lock on his machine. It was not plain sailing for Sayer however, the gearchange pawl broke on his AJS on the Wednesday resulting in a mid-week DNF for 1969. So it was back to the old love, his own 500cc Triumph Twin for the 1970 Scottish, finishing in 58th position. His last Scottish was in 1972 on the outdated GNR923, which had been treated to a more modern set of MP telescopic front forks and an alloy conical front wheel. Unfortunately, history records that he did not finish his SSDT swansong but he switched to the Ossa later that year and continued to ride trials for a few more seasons, which included two more Scott Trials.
In a plan to make some more money, Ray sat and passed his PSV driver test and started earning more income by driving a bus in Wensleydale for a local coach hirer. When the coach operator decided to retire, Ray formed a partnership with his younger brother Ken to operate ‘Sayers Coaches’ in their hometown of Bellerby, utilising a variety of purpose-built coaches. This included popular models such as a Leyland Leopard and Bedford YMT, retaining local school runs as part of their business.
Sayer rode in three International Six Days Trials. His first was the 1964 event at Erfurt, East Germany on the factory 490cc Triumph ‘Tiger 100’ (106CWD) and of course the movie actor, Steve McQueen, also rode a Triumph at the same event. Being English spoken, McQueen socialised with the British teamsters attending that year.
“Steve McQueen was quite taken by our factory Triumphs as they were much lighter and sported alloy fuel tanks, whereas McQueen’s was a fairly standard road model conversion, much of it undertaken by Reg May at Comerfords. I think he would have finished on gold medal standard if he had not spent so much time playing to the gallery, he was a typical show-off! He would keep pulling wheelies all over the place and crashed out quite a few times. He was very much an American style of rider, but quite a pleasant individual and very enthusiastic.”
Ray gained the first of his three gold medals at the Erfurt ISDT with 609 awarded points and ninth place in the 500cc class. The following year he rode the works 350cc ‘Tiger 90’ model Triumph (105CWD) in the Isle of Man in the GB Silver Vase team, having a clean sheet and gaining another gold medal as part of the best British manufacturers’ team – Triumph (Great Britain) with Ken Heanes and Roy Peplow. This was a difficult event held in atrocious conditions, and Ray’s experience of harsh North Yorkshire going gave him a distinct advantage, securing a gold – one of the few awarded that year. A truly gritty performance. In 1966 the event took place in Sweden at Villingsberg, managed by Jack Stocker. Ray was back on a factory 350cc Triumph, this time the ‘Tiger 90’ registered HUE252D in the GB Trophy team consisting of Ken Heanes, Roy Peplow, Sammy Miller and John Giles all on Triumphs, and Arthur Lampkin on a TriBSA. The team lost no marks and were credited with second place in the World Trophy competition, with East Germany taking top honours. Ray gained his third gold medal, having attained 600.04 bonus points. All the ex-factory ISDT Triumphs Ray rode are now in the custodianship of Triumph super-enthusiast Dick Shepherd in Essex.
Bill Wilkinson on Sayer:
“Ray Sayer must be one of Britain’s most underrated trials riders. I travelled many thousands of miles with him over the years when we rode in trials and the ISDT, so I got to know him very well. He never pushed himself forward, he is not that type of bloke; but make no mistake, he was a determined competitor and earned the respect of all the top riders of his era. My nickname for him is ‘Swing’ – not a lot of people know that! Ray was a very capable rider and was capable of much more. When you look back at results of national and international trials, you do not have to look far to see the name of J.R. Sayer. He won the Victory, the Allan Jefferies nationals at a time when any 20 of the top riders of the day could have won. His rivals were all very capable riders in their day. Ray was simply brilliant, I think we hooked up around 1961 and we hit it off really well. I have a lot of time for him.”
Having owned a succession of Austin and Wolseley motor vehicles Ray had a soft spot for Jaguar cars. He claims never to have bought a brand new one but he has owned several XJ series ‘Big Cats’ over the years. Ray Sayer never lost his interest in trials and has been a regular spectator at many Richmond Motor Club events over the years, his dark blue Jaguar XJ6 being noticeable parked at Reeth for the Three Day and at Richmond for the Scott. For the uninitiated, the slim, Barbour jacketed, silver-haired gentleman quietly watching the performances of riders usually goes un-noticed. Only those who know their British trials history can spot Ray Sayer in a crowd. And only those who know their history would have the thought, “…now there is a man who can ride a trials motorcycle!”
This article on J. Ray Sayer was written for publication in Classic Trial Magazine, which appeared in Issue 34.
To subscribe to the magazine, follow this link: HERE