My Di­ary� Mike Rapley

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS - MIKE R APLEY

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.

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