British Experts 1975
Motorcycle trials started to emerge at the turn of the century and many believe the first events such as the Scottish Six Days and the Scott trial were the earliest form of the sport. Competitors have been presented with many challenging hazards over the years and none more so than at the prestigious British Experts trial. This event, which used to take place at the year-end after all the major events and championships had been decided, was set out to determine who was the British Expert - the best rider? The course was marked out with very demanding hazards to test the rider’s abilities to the limit. In November 1975 the Birmingham MCC, in the rider’s opinions, pushed the limits of the solo men and machines too far as they staged a mass walkout and went on strike. This is the only recorded trials event that this has ever happened at.
The event has not gone without controversy over the years after the mass exclusion of riders in the 1969 and 1974 events after they exceeded their time limits and were accused by the club of wasting time waiting for the difficult hazards to improve. They promised that the 1975 event would be so much better, but after Mick Andrews and some fellow riders had viewed the hazards on the Friday before Saturday’s event, they were not convinced.
You must remember that this was a real prestigious event in the eye of the manufacturers who considered the event as something special to win and Bultaco, Honda, Montesa, Ossa, Suzuki and Yamaha had all their works riders entered. It was rumoured that some of the very top riders could scoop a £2000 bonus payment for the win!
Considered by many to be the ‘Blue Riband’ of trials, the 40th running of the event started in very wet conditions from Rhayader in Wales with twenty nine solo starters and twelve sidecars. Each rider was officially started by the Mayor of Rhayader who wished them all a good days sport as they set off into the wonderful countryside you can find around the Elan Valley and the Caban Dam areas.
The opening hazards were at Caban Dam Base just outside the village of Elan where Suzuki works rider, John Metcalfe, on one of the Japanese special 325cc machines became the first official retirement. He fived the first six sections in succession when an abscess on his arm proved too painful for him to continue.
The third section in the opening group was eventually abandoned as every rider’s attempt ended in failure which started to create a hold-up which threatened to bring the trial to a stop.
Eventual winner, Mick Wilkinson, had described the hazard as suicidal and was concerned someone was going to get hurt. Riding the prototype 360cc Yamaha using a conventional rear suspension set-up with two rear shockers he had earlier in the year used to win the SSDT on, Mick Andrews took on the role of ‘pathfinder’ at the second group at Cwm Coel containing six sections. On the toughest of the hazards Andrews showed his skill with a single mark attempt which defeated both eventual third place finisher Nick Jefferies on the 306cc Honda and Sheffield based Chris Clarke.
Martin Lampkin was the next rider and he entered the section in his usual determined mood as he was looking to take the first clean attempt, when the Bultaco skidded across the rocks scattering the watching spectators and cameraman as his machine clattered down the rocks without the rider bending a rear shock absorber in the process, he was not best impressed!
Malcolm Rathmell on the prototype 310cc Montesa had studied his fellow competitors for a while before deciding to make his attempt. He treated the crowd to a superb acrobatic demonstration of his ability as he first took a steadying ‘dab’ before storming the final climb much to the appreciation of the on-lookers who needed something to warm them up in the pouring rain. The British Champion was now leading the event.
The rain continued to come out of the sky at a considerable rate of knots as the riders moved onto the Garreg Ddu group which were situated on the banks of the waterless Caban Dam. The planned eight sections had been reduced to six and the severity had also been eased to make them easier.
John Hemingway on the little 125cc Montesa was not having a good day and volunteered to be the first rider to attempt the six part terror. He may as well have not bothered as he only got three feet into the section before it defeated him. He was not happy, having lost a total of fifty marks from a possible eighty five so far, it was not a good day for the Yorkshireman. He was well aware time was running out for the entry to complete the course on time.
The next attempt was made by Mick Andrews who was at his brilliant best cleaning everything in front of him apart from a wellplaced double dab on the sheer waterfall step which formed part of the hazard. By now though he was an hour behind schedule and was getting increasingly concerned about the time limit along with Hemingway.
Nigel Birkett parted with five marks when he stalled the engine of the 325cc Suzuki but Clive Smith and John Reynolds, on the single rear shock cantilever 250cc Ossa, both footed hard to part with three marks each but both John Luckett and Stuart Oughton on the third works 325cc Suzuki failed miserably.
The next group of sections was at Caban Slot where the hazard looked almost impossible to the riders. Clerk of the course, Bob Collier, was on hand as the riders expressed their disgust to him at the severity of the hazards. They decided enough was enough and en masse quit the event and set off in the rain to ride back to Rhayader. Honda pilot, Brian Higgins, wanted to continue if his rivals would return. He knew the importance of the event to the manufacturers and wanted to see a result. He spoke with Midlander Steve Wilson but they both eventually agreed to join their fellow striking riders.
Apart from seven other competitors, the rest of the entry walked out on the event to go on strike. Back at the start area in Rhayader tensions were running pretty high as the riders confronted clerk of the course, Bob Collier, and the club officials. He explained that he knew the area very well and had plotted out the sections accordingly but pointed out that this was the British Experts not a National event and so you should expect it to be of a higher level of difficulty.
The walking wounded were Malcolm Davies and Alan ‘Sid’ Lampkin who had both clouted their legs and ankles in the rocky gullies. World Champion, Martin Lampkin, was totally bemused by it all as it was not in his nature to complain but he was very disappointed with the clerk of the course for plotting out hazards which would prove virtually impossible. Montesa’s number one rider, Malcolm Rathmell, described the whole event as a shambles and was well aware that many spectators had travelled to see the best riders in the country compete over a tougher than average event, but along with the other striking riders could see no option but to walk out before someone got injured.
Mick Andrews had been out looking at the course on the previous day when he had witnessed the clerk of the course and his helpers change three groups of hazards to make them more rideable. The ACU steward, Edward Damadian, expressed views on how he saw both parties. From the organiser’s side he pointed out that they were not blameless but in his opinion he thought the riders had behaved badly as when they entered an event they should ride to the best of their ability.
In 1969 and 1974 ‘shock’ winners had taken the honours at the event due to the bulk of the entry not making the time limit. The first of these in 1969 was John Harrison who was a thirty three year old accountant from Dublin on his 250cc Bultaco who had raced around to catch his ferry home and in 1974 Mick Wilkinson had watched his clock all day just to make sure he finished in time and he won for that reason only. Was Wilkinson thinking of the bonus when he took win number two in 1975?
Seven riders completed the full course who were termed ‘blacklegs’ at the time. This produced a result much to the delight of the club officials. They completed the full group of sections at Caban Slot where the other riders had staged their walk out.
Mick Wilkinson was leading along with Nick Jefferies and they were both in front of the elder Wilkinson brother, Bill, who was eight marks behind. At the difficult sections titled Craig y Mynach, the younger Wilkinson brother pulled out a slight advantage with a superb single mark effort and he continued to pull away getting the better once again over his rivals at Sawmills. Jefferies dropped to third when he stalled the four-stroke Honda engine at the same group jumping down a steep incline. In the eyes of the public there was no winner but the history books recorded that Mick Wilkinson on the 250cc Ossa was the winner.
As his brother Bill had won the event way back in 1960 on a Greeves, they joined the Lampkin brothers as only the second family pair to win the event and the only two brothers to finish in first and second position.
The British Experts would survive until 1997 as a prestigious event but it never recaptured its glory days in the heyday of British machine manufacturers. What is quite fitting is that the event did make a one-off return at Penrith near Carlisle in 2008 when Dougie Lampkin would join his father’s name on the trophy as the only father and son to win the event making it quite a nice finale to this once great event.
This hand drawn map shows the course around the Elan Valley area
Malcolm Rathmell on the prototype 310 cc Montesa
Yamaha mounted Mick Andrews stays feet-up
About to part company with the Bultaco is Martin Lampkin
Elder brother ‘Sid’ Lampkin rescues young Martin’s Bultaco complete with a bent rear shock absorber
Sid Lampkin straightens the bent rear shock from Martin’s Bultaco on a tree Alan ‘Sid’ Lampkin studies the line on the Bultaco
1973 Winner Clive Smith ‘loops out’ on the Montesa
Stuart Oughton drops the precious works 325cc Suzuki
John Hemingway 125cc Montesa
John Reynolds 250cc Ossa
It’s official we are on strike It’s a case of ‘what shall we do’ as the riders walk out at Caban Slot Back at the start the riders express their views to the club officials
1975 British Experts winner Mick Wilkinson (250cc Ossa)