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 in 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 at 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 which continues to grow. Words: John Moffat, Trials Guru, Richard J. Sunter and Yoomee Pictures: Eric Kitchen, Barry Robinson, Malcolm Carling, The Nick Nicholls Collection at Mortons Archive and Yoomee
Born in 1951 into a farming family which had no real interest in the sport Richard J. Sunter, who later came to be known to all as either ‘Ritchie’ or ‘Sunt’, was to break the family mould at age twelve when his father bought him a 150cc James three-speeder for four pounds. With a replacement tyre fitted it more than doubled the value of the motorcycle overnight as it cost eight pounds. 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 doorstep of the Scott Trial, this legendary event grabbed his attention as a young boy and he had to have a trials machine.
The Real Deal
His first real trials motorcycle came to him in 1968 in the shape of an Otley-built Dalesman with the Austrian Puch 125cc four-speed motor, which was supplied by The Kart House Shop at nearby Darlington.
Richard: “I didn’t really like it that much as my Dalesman had those spindly fragile front forks from a Puch moped. Ray Sayer, another local rider, had a six-speed version and to be honest, 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, who would become good friends with ‘Sunt’.
With Montesa making in-roads to the UK trials market in the late 1960s as the Spanish machines started to dominate and be the ones to have, it was inevitable that Sunter would sample the 247 Cota model and he really liked it. The well-known rider, come dealer and motorcycle enthusiast, Norman Crooks at Northallerton supplied such a model, and Richard was happy to remain on the marque for two years. He started to get noticed in the results on the Montesa before obtaining support from Len Thwaites of TT Leathers on a 250cc Ossa MAR in 1972. Richard rode the 1972 Scottish Six Days Trial on the Ossa and finished in a very creditable fifteenth position, taking the Best Newcomer award losing 115 marks, and took home the Albert Memorial Trophy for his efforts. Richard: “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, but the award meant so much, and I returned home a very happy man”. ‘Sunt’ became friends with Michael Alderson from Woodhall near Askrigg.
Richard: “Michael was a handy trials rider and keen to do the nationals to gain more experience. We were good friends, and 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 now 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 which would effectively create 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 which takes him out in all weathers!
He is a very modest individual, who points out that he never actually won a national trial. However, the reader needs to appreciate that ‘Ritchie’ has ridden 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 the 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 to ride for Kawasaki, they had no motorcycles available for me to ride, so I rode my Ossa in the meantime, and Kawasaki paid my expenses. I was never paid a salary, and I was still earning a living from farming, but 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 Trial, and like most experimental machines they required careful preparation for what was the toughest trial in the world. The trouble was that Kawasaki had no experience of the ‘Scottish’ and relied on Smith to guide them. None of the three prototype machines would start! In a frantic few hours in the workshop with Smith, all the major components were changed, but they would still not run. Many phone calls were made to Kawasaki in Japan, who could not understand the problem. Eventfully someone suggested a different type of spark plug and the machines started! 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 ex-paratrooper Jack Galloway. ‘Sunt’ posted a twentieth place overall in the 1973 Scottish, losing 137 marks and taking home the Best Over 350cc award for his efforts, having wrestled all week with the big-bore machine, and was the best performer of the Kawasaki team that year.
With production planned for 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 behind Bultaco’s Malcolm Rathmell. In truth, the Kawasaki KT 250cc model was not in the same league as the production machines available from the Spanish manufacturers, and it was time for a move.
Richard enjoyed riding the Montesa Ulf Karlson Replica 247 model, which appeared in 1975 after 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 newly introduced Cota 348 model for Sandiford’s. This was the year of the inaugural World Trials Championship, and Sunter took part. At the early season Hurst Cup in Ireland he posted a seventeenth place and a nineteenth place in that year’s Scottish.
Richard Sunter is listed for posterity as winning fifteen Scott Silver spoons, and is classified as a top spoon winner with many 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 motorcycles completely. Back in 1971, I had done 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, in particular, their Scott and Reeth Three Day events. His favourite piece of ground for marking out is beyond ‘By-Pass’ and its hazards, 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 allows me to get some motorcycle 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…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 the European and then world-class events. His place in the history of trials is assured.
1974 Scott Trial: Deep water at ‘Orgate Splash’.
1978 Scott Trial: The no gloves approach was still in use.
1977 SSDT: Part of the Jim Sandiford Montesa team.
1975 GBR: A move to Montesa was made in 1975, with support from Jim Sandiford the UK importer. This picture is from the World round in Devon.
1976 SSDT: On the new Montesa Cota 348.
1977 GBR: His last ride in the FIM World Trials Championship was rewarded with 11th position.
1970 Scott: All eyes are on Sunter at Washfold riding the Montesa supplied by Norman Crooks.
1972 Scott: Support came from Len Thwaites of TT Leathers, on a 250cc Ossa MAR in 1972.
1972 Scott: A superb period Scott Trial picture taken with the camera of The Nick Nicholls Collection at Mortons Archive.
1971 Northern Experts: Around this time he had started to ride in more nationals with Michael Alderson, the brother of his future wife Angela.
1969 Scott: Using ‘Body Lean’ on the Cotton 170cc Minarelli powered model which was developed for the factory by Rob Edwards, who would become good friends with ‘Sunt’.
Mark Sunter has ridden many machines at the Scott, including this Bultaco in more recent times.
The Trials Guru John Moffat, who generated this article, talks to Richard’s eldest son John who in a long Scott career has set the standard time and won a handful of the much sought-after Scott Spoons.
Richard and his wife Angela (left) were very instrumental in supporting the growth of the Ladies’ competition in the sport with their daughter Katy (right).
In the thick of the action at a Scott Trial petrol stop.