’cross words

Style is some­thing you have or don’t have. Ian Berry pon­ders how jour­nal­ists can ex­plain it.

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents -

Some­one else be­ing brave is Ian Berry who cham­pi­ons the rid­ing style of one rider over an­other and says who’s most stylish.

‘Can some­one ex­plain what style is?’ This was a ques­tion posed re­cently on a so­cial me­dia page fol­low­ing a post I had made of Don Rick­man ma­jes­ti­cally leap­ing his Match­less Métisse at Far­leigh Cas­tle, in Oc­to­ber 1963.

I sug­gested that Don was widely con­sid­ered to be the ‘most stylish’ rider back in the Six­ties and in that con­text it’s a good ques­tion. One mem­ber sought an an­swer in a dic­tionary: a par­tic­u­lar pro­ce­dure by which some­thing is done; a man­ner or way.

An­other de­fined it in re­la­tion to mo­tocross: “Style is the abil­ity to ride fast while giv­ing the im­pres­sion there is still 5% in re­serve!” and leg­endary pho­tog­ra­pher and com­men­ta­tor Jack Bur­ni­cle, com­mented: “Go­ing quick and mak­ing it look easy = smooth! Top ex­po­nents over the years, be­sides (Sten) Lundin, Don Rick­man and (Jean-michel) Bayle, in­clude Dave Ni­coll, Bill Gwynne, Jim Aim, Neil Hud­son and 10-time world champ Ste­fan Everts!”

Some days later, I found my­self mulling over the ques­tion again. How do you de­fine style? Be­low is my at­tempt at an an­swer which may not be too con­vinc­ing but it’s the only one you’re get­ting!

My first point of ref­er­ence has to be the two riders who dom­i­nated our sport for a good decade – Jeff Smith and Dave Bick­ers. Their rid­ing styles con­trasted wildly, Bick­ers was im­pul­sive, of­ten rid­ing on the ragged edge, whilst Jeff was al­ways su­per com­posed, ap­par­ently not try­ing too hard or even go­ing that fast. Were they stylish? Yes, they both were in their own way.

Bick­ers was so dis­tinc­tive, when he had the bit be­tween his teeth, crouched that bit lower, the Dan Dare chin thrust out a bit fur­ther, the el­bows raised slightly higher, the ‘style’ was un­mis­tak­able. There’s a video clip of him rac­ing his CZ at Hawk­stone Park, where the hill is vir­tu­ally un­ride­able. He is seen weav­ing his way through fallen riders, slew­ing wildly across the track, but re­main­ing feet up, urg­ing the bike on to­wards the sum­mit. Was it pretty? No, but it sure as hell was ef­fec­tive.

Smith has told me that as a young man he wanted to com­bine the neat­ness of John Draper, with the laid-back rid­ing style of Brian Stone­bridge. Did his rid­ing style closely re­sem­ble ei­ther of these two greats? Prob­a­bly not. Did he achieve his goal? Al­most cer­tainly. My favourite photo of Jeff is one taken by Ray Daniel, at Naish Hill, Wilts, in 1967 – Jeff is tak­ing a jump and ev­ery­thing so neat and tidy, rider and ma­chine in per­fect uni­son.

Bryan Wade was tagged ‘Wild’ Wade by Murray Walker, in ref­er­ence to his over-zeal­ous ap­proach to rac­ing, es­pe­cially dur­ing the early years on Greeves. But by the early 1970s, when he was rac­ing Husq­var­nas, he had evolved into a show­man, whose an­tics on the bike – fre­quently cross­ing up over jumps and pulling mas­sive wheel­ies – thrilled mo­tocross crowds of the day. Bryan cer­tainly had a style of his own and in his white hel­met, with criss­cross­ing black tape, he al­ways stood out.

Two of Wade’s clos­est ri­vals were Mal­colm Davis and John Banks, who both had dis­tinct rid­ing styles. Mal­colm, who in ad­di­tion to be­ing Bri­tish mo­tocross cham­pion was a top tri­als rider, and was very smooth. Tall and slim, he was great to watch and I re­mem­ber get­ting so much en­joy­ment watch­ing him and Wadie push­ing hard in their bat­tles for 250 supremacy.

Banks was a pow­er­fully-built, ag­gres­sive rider with a bullish ap­proach; renowned for be­ing hard on his bikes he ar­guably pushed too hard at times. His style was any­thing but text book, but it got re­sults. He rarely got out of the sad­dle, putting his weight to good use and finding trac­tion on his BSA where oth­ers floun­dered. Wade and Banks had some great races, es­pe­cially in 1973 when Wade on his 460 Husq­varna bat­tled Banks, on his Cheney BSA, for the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship.

In the mid-1970s we were priv­i­leged enough to wit­ness the ap­pear­ance of two out­stand­ing riders on the mo­tocross scene. Gra­ham Noyce and Neil Hud­son rose from the school­boy ranks to be both na­tional and world cham­pi­ons.

Hud­son was un­be­liev­ably smooth, cor­ner­ing like he was on rails and was de­cep­tively fast. By the time he won his world ti­tle, he had added tremen­dous stam­ina to his game and, like Jeff Smith, de­vel­oped a metro­nomic-like qual­ity which al­lowed him to fin­ish a race at the same pace as he had started it.

Noyce had a style rem­i­nis­cent of young Dave Bick­ers. He al­ways started very quickly and raced to the limit and fre­quently beyond, in fact he only ap­peared to have one mode; ‘full on’. Gra­ham Noyce was, hands down, the most ex­cit­ing rider I have ever watched, partly, in the early days, be­cause of his youth and naivety, but also for his pas­sion, his en­ergy and his spec­tac­u­lar rid­ing style.

Have I man­aged to defini­tively de­fine the word ‘style’ when re­fer­ring to a mo­tocross rider here? I don’t be­lieve I have. But if a stylish dresser stands out from the crowd for be­ing dif­fer­ent, dar­ing, el­e­gant and pas­sion­ate then to that end I guess a stylish mo­tocross rider does the same, be it a dar­ing Dave Bick­ers, an el­e­gant Don Rick­man, or a pas­sion­ate Gra­ham Noyce. 

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