Always held in late November, the Sheffield & Hallamshire Motor Club Limited Peak Trial in the north, along with the December Knut Trial in the south, usually signalled the close of the national trials calendar for the year. Here we focus on the 1977 Peak Trial, which traditionally started at the Kennings Car Garage at Bamford in Derbyshire on the crossroads near the Marquis of Granby Hotel at Hope. This was a very traditional start area with fuel available, and with the refreshments provided by the very able 1st Bamford Air Scouts. For the riders travelling from afar the Marquis of Granby Hotel was available for accommodation.
The British Championship had been dominated by Spanish machinery since 1965 when Sammy Miller moved from Ariel to Bultaco, and it was the Irishman who would help to once again break the trend. When he moved from Bultaco to Honda in late 1973 he moved back to four-stroke machinery to develop a winning trials motorcycle for the Japanese manufacturer. Rob Shepherd won the 1977 British Trials Championship on the Sammy Miller developed Honda, giving them their first taste of trials success. The day after celebrating the victory Miller announced that Honda was pulling out of trials and that he was out of a job.
Rob Shepherd did not know in late November at the Peak Trial what machinery he would be competing on in 1978 but he knew the four-stroke Honda was the best machine for him to ride. He arrived at the event very focussed, as unknown to himself and the trials world at the time he would be staying with Honda for the following year. Not knowing this he was out to impress the other manufacturers as he thought he needed a job!
The Peak Trial was known to have a tight time limit and had an early start time of nine o’clock for the sidecars and nine-thirty for the solos. Daylight was limited at this time of the year and the organisers issued an allowance of four-and-a-half hours to the last group of hazards to keep the riders on the move. In very cold, overcast conditions the solo riders left the start area to cover a single-lap course including forty-three hazards scattered around the area.
Early hazards were in the river on route to Tideslow Rake and the very exposed steep climbs and descents. Shepherd showed winning form through these early hazards, matched by Dave Thorpe who considered the Peak as one of his local national events. Rob’s other brother Norman was also putting in some very spirited rides on the Bultaco. On the short-stroke version of the four-stroke Honda was Nick Jefferies, who was also looking good with some excellent attempts at the unforgiving hazards. Nigel Birkett was about to move to Montesa in 1978 and was out on a standard 250cc Suzuki as he had been requested to return his ‘works’ 325cc model. With the power disadvantage he struggled on the steep climbs found so often in this event. On the other hand young Chris Sutton had a super lightweight 250cc at his disposal in his first year of adult road-based events.
With an entry of just over the one-hundred mark the time limit soon went as the entry rode out to such hazards as Oxlow Rake and Pindale, and unfortunately many riders lost marks as they exceeded the time allowance to the last group of hazards. Not Rob Shepherd though on the superb sounding four-stroke Honda, as he finished clear of fellow Yorkshireman John Hemingway who kept a single mark in front of a three-way tie for third position.
The limestone rockery and muddy banks found in the hazards had the riders fighting for every mark — and how crucial this would turn out to be. Three riders all finished on sixty-four marks each but the tie decider put Dave Thorpe (Bultaco) in third, with Norman Shepherd (Bultaco) fourth and Nick Jefferies fifth. Local rider Chris Milner (Bultaco) was sixth in front of Irishman Colin Bell, who was having one of his last rides on the Bultaco before moving to SWM, and Nigel Birkett in eighth on the 250cc Suzuki. For John Metcalfe the trial had got off to a bad start when he dropped the single-shock cantilever Ossa into the river at the first group, filling the engine with water. Even so he battled on to ninth position as Tony Calvert (Bultaco) rounded off the top ten.
Super Tough Sidecar
As it was, the sidecar competitors had a super-tough day of competition. The time limit affected the threewheel brigade badly, as the expected challengers for the overall win such as Colin Dommett (Suzuki), Barry Watson (Suzuki) and George Greenland (Kawasaki) were amongst the excluded riders who missed the cutoff for the time allowance at the final group of hazards.
The solo Japanese two-stroke trials machines have never really had much success, if you put aside the Yamaha and Honda machines with Mick Andrews and Rob Shepherd holding the handlebars.
In the sidecar world though it was a totally different story, as the Japanese machines filled the top placings headed by the shock winner Martin Ratcliffe, with Alan Hudson by his side, on the Suzuki outfit. The Kawasaki KT model as a solo machine had been a failure, and its main success was once again with a ‘chair’ at its side as Jim Reilly and Colin Bilney (Kawasaki) came home second.
Dave Thorpe (Bultaco). John Hemingway (Bultaco) – Tideslow Rake. John made his name in trials riding many of the ‘Micro’ machinery including Sprite, Suzuki and Montesa. Rob Shepherd (Honda).
Norman Shepherd (Bultaco). Nick Jefferies (Honda) – Nick holds a unique record of being the only ever rider for the mighty Japanese Honda manufacturer to hold both trials and road racing factory contracts. Chris Milner (Bultaco). Nigel Birkett (Suzuki) – More used to a 325cc Suzuki than the 250cc he is seen on here, he struggled on the steep climbs in the Pindale hazards. Colin Bell (Bultaco) – This Irish rider had shown much promise and moved across to England to ride a Comerfords Bultaco. In 1978 he moved to the new Italian SWM brand, but after a poor run of results returned home to Ireland and away from the world trials scene for ever.
Chris Clarke (Bultaco) – For many years Chris enjoyed the support of Sheffield based dealer Jeff Hall.
Chris Sutton (Suzuki) – Off the back of a very successful schoolboy career ‘Sooty’ was finding his way around the adult national circuit in his first year of road based events.
Tony Calvert (Bultaco).
John Metcalfe (Ossa) – Riding the only singleshock machine in the event he ‘drowned’ his engine in the river at first group of hazards.
Jim Reilly & Colin Bilney (250cc Kawasaki) – Tideslow Rake.
A Fothergill & J Lewis (250cc Kawasaki).
Walter Bullock & Brian Pearce (250cc Yamaha) – Mick Andrews supported many riders with his ex-works machines in both solo and sidecars.
Martin Ratcliffe & Alan Hudson (Suzuki) – Shock winners of the 1977 Peak trial.