My Diary� Mike Rapley
As a welder by trade, setting off into the world of motorcycle magazines was just a dream — or so I thought. In January 2007, the first issue of Trial Magazine was published, its success speaks for itself. Issue number one was a five out of ten, by my admission. It was quite obviously missing someone to hold my hand. The Benhamou family in France, my adopted family, had planted the seed. Barry Robinson had also been very supportive, for which I am eternally grateful. I needed to speak with more people for their opinion after the first issue, and it was the name Mike Rapley that came to mind. He had worked at Trials and Motocross News in its very early days and was still very much a motorcycle enthusiast. He was critical, but in a very constructive way, which was appreciated. Since the early days, we have now a mainstream magazine on the sport along with
Classic Trial Magazine. Mike has remained very instrumental in both publications over the years, and so I decided to ask him about his lifetime of motorcycling. What you are about to read is Mike's diary in his own words. Words: Mike Rapley with John Hulme • Pictures: John Hulme and Yoomee Archive
Can I remember the very first trial that I ever went to? I can't, except that I guess I must have been very young, maybe around nine or 10, and that it was a bitterly cold winter's day I cried my eyes out. It meant my dad had to take me home early. That experience obviously didn't deter me as in the intervening years between, the ages of 9/10 and 16, I went to many trials, scrambles, grass tracks and road races before I rode my first trial.
Dad and I not only spectated, but we also observed at many trials, with the Wycombe Club's Common Hill Wood and Great Wood my favourite locations as they were generally muddy sections which I enjoyed watching. This is perhaps why my trialling pals consider me a much better mud rider than a rock rider. But it wasn't just trials that interested me from a young age, there was also photography, and some of those South Midland Centre riders still alive will recall that I used to take many pictures with my Baldamatic camera and tried to sell them for 2/6d (12½p).
So it is obvious that now, some 61 years after that first tentative venture into the world of bike sport, the question is how and why did it all come about; read on…
Pretty easy really, as for the first 16 years of my life I lived at 1 Wexham Road, Slough, and immediately opposite Sid Moram Motorcycles where Sid's son Colin (now a Vice President of the ACU) was the star off-road competitor in the business. Colin regularly rode trials, scrambles and even did some road racing, and it was watching him riding that got the Rapley family into motorcycle sport.
My dad was never a competitor but back in the late fifties and early sixties there was little to do on a Sunday apart from attending a motorcycle meeting, so that's what we did. I don't know how old I was, but I can recall my first ever ride on a trials machine. I had 'push-biked' to a green lane that the local Farnham Royal Club used in trials, for no better reason than to ride it on my cycle. There was a lad there, who I didn't know, with his 350cc AJS and he let me 'have a go'. I ended up in a ditch after only a few yards and couldn't get it out! With no such things as youth trials in existence, it wasn't until I was 16 that I could have a motorcycle, the first of what has proven to be a good many, a 199 Triumph Cub purchased from Bill Faulkner Motorcycles of Oxford for £60.
My first ever trial, while wearing a light blue and dark blue striped bobble cap – the things one remembers – was the Farnham Royal Club's Home Guard Cup Trial held on December 15th, 1963 at Littlewick Green. I have no idea of my result and no obvious means of finding out some 54 years later. All I can say is that I rode the same trial 50 years later to the December date – and the result was little better!
Eight trials after my debut event the Triumph 'Tiger' Cub expired, as they frequently did in those days, and my dad decided it had to go, so it was sold and an 18-month gap elapsed before I bought my next trials machine. This is most definitely the longest ever gap in my motorcycling career without riding regularly. I say 'regularly' as Colin Moram took pity on me and let me have a one-off ride on his beautiful 500cc Matchless in a Hillingdon and Uxbridge Club trial. All I can say is that it was returned clean and undamaged. I used to attend Slough Technical High School, and the way home took me past Bob Wilkerson's motorcycle shop where he had a fourstroke 250cc Royal Enfield Crusader trials model in stock. It was obviously a poor seller as he had it for several years until 'muggins' here purchased it. In the days when Villiers engined two-strokes ruled the roost, it was totally uncompetitive, but I owned it for 18 months or so, and even now I have a grudging appreciation for it.
This six-year period proved to be a major turning point in many respects, though at the time I never realised it.
In June 1966, I was transferred in my job working for Dixons Cameras from the shop in my home town of Slough to Exeter where the company opened a concession in Walton's, a general store in Exeter. That I failed miserably in that position isn't the point of this story, but what is far more relevant is that I had moved to a great area for trials and was able to mix with a great group of trials riders and fellow enthusiasts.
I made friends with Ian Haydon and Brian Higgins, both Centre champions, Ian Mackie, Mervyn Lavercombe, Ivan Pridham, Pete Thompson, Peter Keen, Anthony Rew, Jim Finlay, Colin Somers, Ian and Peter Blackmore, Mike Sexton, Alan and Colin Dommett – the list could go on and on. Some are no longer with us while others still have some tenuous connection with the sport.
All those riders from the South West and many others instilled in me a life-long love of trials that exists as strongly today as it did then. Motorcycles came and went; I had a 250cc Cotton to follow the Enfield, then as a 21st birthday present a used 250cc Bultaco bought from Cornish Champion Roger Wooldridge, and then with competitive machinery my ability improved, bringing some respectable local results.
One of the reasons for this article, according to Editor ,John Hulme, is that he wants to document the background to those who, in his opinion, have contributed significantly to trials as a whole. While I have always been a trials rider I've also been a journalist for the same length of time, and I'm often asked how I came to be a writer.
I have no memory whatsoever of being taught English, except that my English teacher Mr Bishop had the annoying trait of knocking out his pipe on the heads of unruly pupils as they lined up for class. Such behaviour was tolerated in those days, but I guess he managed to teach me how to write as I have made both a full- and part-time living from the ability ever since! It was the local South Western Centre correspondent for Motor Cycle News who encouraged me to write about motorcycles.
Fred Browning from Plymouth had read my monthly reviews about the Otter Vale Club in the
South West Centre Gazette, and he suggested I should write local trials reports for the weekly Motor
Cycling, and then when Fred retired for MCN, which I continued to do for a further nine years.
Journalism was only ever a side-line to help pay for my sport as not only did I ride local trials between 1966 and 1972 but many of the nearer nationals like the Hoad, Perce Simon, Kickham, Knut, Mitchell, St David's, Presidents and even the West of England were ridden in. In fact, I rode the West of England 18 consecutive times, with the first being the most notable. I was on the Royal Enfield for that trial in 1966. I fell off on the very first section, breaking the kick-start shaft and knocking the end off the gear lever. I rode the entire trial without a kick-start and never stalled it throughout the event. Not only that, I stopped at Freddie Hawken's shop in Newton Abbott on the way home, bought a new shaft, changed it overnight with absolutely no knowledge of how to do it and rode the Crediton trial the following day!
1972 - 1978
If 1966 had been a turning point in my life, then 1972 was an even bigger one. A year earlier at the West of England Knill Trial, I met the girl who was to become my wife. Jenny was supporting her brother David who was also riding in the trial, and from that day to this; she has been most supportive of my passion with trials.
In January of 1972, I decided that I wanted to ride the Scottish Six Days. Despite being just about broke, what with living in lodgings and spending every spare 'copper' on my sport, the entry was made and the three of us: me, my girlfriend and eventual brother-in-law, made the trip north. I finished 62nd on 234 marks lost, one position lower and on the same number of marks to my friend and eventual best man Ian Mackie. I've ridden four times in the Scottish but that first was by far and away my best result, and I'm the first to admit that the last six days in the mid-eighties was definitely one too many.
The Scottish of 1972 was not only my coming of age as far as trials went as also we got engaged in Fort William and in December of that year we married, bought a house in Crediton and lived a comfortable existence until I received a phone call while at work that was to change our lives dramatically.