Dicko’s view

Leg­endary works bikes are… well… leg­endary, but how do they stack up?

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents - JOHN DICK­IN­SON

More from the all en­com­pass­ing eye of one of the off-road world’s most se­nior jour­nal­ists, al­ways thought pro­vok­ing, al­ways in­ter­est­ing… what say you?

De­spite be­ing a bit of a Lud­dite I do oc­ca­sion­ally take a break from etch­ing type on wood blocks in or­der to check out two-wheel stuff on that there in­ter­web. And amongst the reams of to­tal tosh there is ac­tu­ally the oc­ca­sional snip­pet that makes you think or puts a grin on your face.

All in­ter­web fo­rums start off promis­ingly but then rapidly de­gen­er­ate into same old, same old. The point­less “What’s the best bike?” fol­lowed pre­dictably by own­ers shout­ing, “Grind­lay Peer­less (in­sert your favourite make) is best!” giv­ing no rea­son, apart from the fact that they own one. Point­less.

And in any case, it isn’t about the bike! Much fun as it is and sat­is­fy­ing as it can be to fet­tle and tweak (and throw money at) your comp bike, at the end of the day it is re­ally all down to the rider. As I’ve said be­fore, it was the great sage Martin Lamp­kin who drily com­mented to se­rial com­pul­sive fet­tler Nigel Bir­kett: “All this tweak­ing is all very well Birky, but even­tu­ally you just have to get on and ride it!”

And many years ago it was a chance ride on Martin’s bike that proved to me it was in­deed ‘all about the rider’.

Back in 1977 and we had just fin­ished the West­mor­land club’s Mil­nthorpe Cup, a crack­ing sin­gle-lap, 40-sec­tion event that drew York­shire aces across the bor­der – Martin and Sid Lamp­kin, Mal­colm Rath­mell, Blackie Holden, Ray Sayer and many more.

Younger read­ers may be sur­prised to learn that back then ev­ery­one rode the same sec­tions, na­tional win­ners and novices alike, which was how rid­ers like Martin lost around six marks and rid­ers like me around 10 times that – if we were lucky!

To be hon­est, to me, that was the whole point of rid­ing those events – you got to ride the very same trial as a world and Bri­tish cham­pion. What did it mat­ter how many marks you lost? It cer­tainly wasn’t about pot-hunt­ing!

Any­way, af­ter the trial Martin wanted a go on Birks’ fac­tory 325 Suzuki and his Bultaco was lean­ing against a dry­s­tone wall. I hardly dare ask but man­aged to say: “Could I pos­si­bly have a go?” “Help your­self!” said Martin. This was it, clearly be­ing held back by my bog stan­dard 250 Beamish Suzuki, my tal­ent de­served much bet­ter ma­chin­ery and now, armed with a works Bultaco, I’d clean that tricky, slick, rocky climb through the trees.

Oh dear. The short ver­sion of the story is that I fared even worse on the Lamp­kin Bult than on the Beamish. I couldn't un­der­stand it. Sorry to say, but the truth is, there was no magic what­so­ever in that bike – and my ad­mi­ra­tion for Martin soared. It was a sober­ing les­son, rapidly learned. Hav­ing said that, I’ll tell you an­other in­ci­dent that was about the bike! I think. Bir­kett was out one day prac­tis­ing on the fac­tory Suzuki, at­tempt­ing a slip­pery, nadgery, rocky lit­tle climb. Try as he might he couldn’t boss it. In frus­tra­tion he got on his dad’s 175 Yamaha, which Bill oc­ca­sion­ally used for mark­ing out tri­als like The Lakes Two Day. It had prob­a­bly stood for months, been dragged out, kicked a few times and off he went. It still had the orig­i­nal ny­lon Ja­panese tyres on, prob­a­bly on road pres­sures. And guess what, Birks cleaned that sec­tion three times in a row!

Still on the bike theme, when the leg­end that is Mick An­drews was busy win­ning every Pre-65 event go­ing on his James, there were all kinds of ru­mours fly­ing round and more than one (clearly en­vi­ous) rider told me: “Well of course An­drews won, that en­gine’s more TY Yamaha than Vil­liers!”

Well, one day not long af­ter this, af­ter Mick had won a round of the old SEBAC Twin­shock Champs at Back Cowm, Rochdale, (which I rode on a 240 SWM owned by su­per pho­tog­ra­pher Eric Kitchen) I got chance of a ride on the James. Sorry chaps, but I found no magic, just a very well sorted bike that went, steered, han­dled, sus­pended and stopped ex­actly how it should. No bet­ter or worse than other well set-up bikes I’ve rid­den. The mo­tor was smooth and strong – and that was it. The Mag­i­cal bit was Mick! Aware of all the ru­mours about the en­gine do­ing the never end­ing rounds, Mick in­vited me down to Hol­loway as he was strip­ping the mo­tor to re­place the main bear­ings. So off I went – and guess what, in­side it was all pretty much stan­dard Vil­liers, just as I sus­pected af­ter hav­ing rid­den it just af­ter a win­ning ride. No Yam crank, no six-speed gear­box...sorry chaps.

The James was of course just a re­ally well prepped bike, rid­den by a mas­ter.

Hav­ing said all that, there have been plenty of clever, trick, bikes down the years but un­less they hap­pen to have a suit­ably ta­lented rider be­hind the tiller it is all ul­ti­mately a waste. And I should know, hav­ing been the first per­son in the world – the whole world – not to win a trial when mounted on the ground-break­ing TY250 Yam mono... but that’s an­other story....

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