Ralph Venables wrote in the programme notes in the early 1980s that The Talmag Trophy Trial was “the world’s most nostalgic get-together of real enthusiasts”. I’m a Talmag rookie of a few years but, from my experience, forty years on it still has that claim. My enthusiasm for this event is so great; I arrived too early forgetting it was still dark at 7.00am! However, while walking back from section 15 at 7.45am satisfied that I knew where all the sections were, I wasn't alone. From the bushes, a familiar figure strolled out in front of me, and I said ‘morning’ which frightened a friend, Neil Roberton, half to death! A warm handshake followed, and banter about ‘where is section 4’; Neil is not a rookie, and now in his seventies, he travels from mid-Wales observing, marshalling and spectating all over the country, but he doesn’t like to miss a Talmag. Great minds think alike; the aim was to have a good look at the sections and then have as much time as possible to socialise and photograph before the ‘off’ at 9.30am.
Atrial has been held on the sandy slopes of Hungry Hill near Aldershot since the early 1950s but the ‘Four-Stroke Only’ pure version began in 1977. It is always oversubscribed, with only 180 places available this year, so a few were disappointed. It is a big social event, usually on the last Sunday in January launching another fantastic season of classic biking, but it is much more. It brings together some of the most beautiful pristine trials machinery you will ever see, celebrating the golden era of British motorcycling with bikes from 1929 to 1964, a sprinkling of European machines and an occasional ‘Red Indian’. Riders come from all over the UK and Europe to cross the Talmag off their ‘bucket list’ or get hooked and come back year after year. It is a serious trial, with every rider begrudging any marks lost and racing against the time ticking away on the special test, wanting to follow in the footsteps of some of the trials greats including Gordon Jackson and Sammy Miller. Politics and trials Unfortunately, the Talmag Trophy Trial has turned into somewhat of a battleground! The Talmag MCC originates from the Territorial Army London
Magazine — a magazine for motorcyclists in the T.A. As you can imagine, the Army is used to taking on all comers, but staging this prestige event has become a complex balancing act between the club, its riders, the M.O.D. (Ministry of Defence) and Natural England, the public body protecting the natural environment.
In May 2017, Ian Allaway and the Talmag MCC team applied to the M.O.D. for permission to run the trial in January 2018. Nothing came back from the M.O.D. until they were chased up in October 2017. The response was the ‘land was not available,’ as part of the site is an S.S.S.I (Site of Significant Scientific Interest) designated by Natural England.
The club was disappointed at not being able to run at the traditional venue, but an alternative was offered. However, after investigation, it was found that the new land was not suitable. Fighting the case, the club wrote to the local MP and went back to Land Marc, the booking organisation for the M.O.D. They suggested contacting Natural England directly. Ian, Neil Buttery and Neil Sinclaire presented detailed maps and photographs to Natural England. The result from them was that provided the competitors and spectators stay within the boundaries of the map that is included in the Trophy Trial programme, the trial should be safe for the next five years. However, despite the persistence of the club, the M.O.D. still did not sign off the trial until the week before the event! It is hoped that next year’s permissions to run this superb event will be less troublesome.
Who was there? Multiple Talmag winner Sammy Miller, in his 84th year, came to spectate, and you could see riders trying to raise their game as they saw him looking on. With two new knees, taking part is not an option for Sammy, but his aura still impacts the action.
George Greenland, riding Sammy’s ‘weapon of choice’ a 500cc Ariel, took a dab after the climb on Section 12, paused in front of the master and said “sorry Sammy” before plunging down a steep gulley. George himself is motorcycling royalty, with five British Sidecar Enduro championships to his name and, at 85, is probably the oldest competitor, while daughter Karen finished with the Best Lady result and grandson Dean was taking on his first Talmag on a BSA C15 Wasp.
Before the start, George couldn’t resist a ‘test ride’ on Vic Allan’s 144cc MV Agusta which is mounted in a road frame. Ex-British Motocross Champion Vic has become a Talmag regular on the MV.
Thrills and Spills
The thrills: the premier Over 300cc Sprung class produced a tied finish on points for three Talmag specialists. 2017 winner, Phil Gray, and 2016 winner, Roger Higgs, both on 500cc Ariel HT5s, and Tim Hartshorne on his 500cc AJS 18CS, all going clean. It brought into play the times from the special test held between the two laps of fifteen sections. Higgs took the victory with the fastest time ahead of Gray and Hartshorne. Hartshorne has been clean for three years running but doesn’t seem to have the pace in the special test. Jason North also produced a clean in the Under 300cc class to win the class on his 200cc Triumph Tiger Cub.
The spills: the ‘Rigids’ and Girder Fork machines are personal favourites, and in the Rigid Over 300cc Clive Dopson has been a top rider on his 1951 500T Norton for over thirty years and remains so. However, this year he found too much grip on a challenging section 12 causing the machine to wheelie; he hung on thinking that gravity might prevail, but the bike became vertical with the front mudguard against a tree and Clive experienced the effects of gravity going backwards. The expression on his face seeing the Norton vertical was a sight to see! He cleaned the section on the next lap but lost out to Steve Scott on his 1952 500cc TRW Triumph overall by four.
The Girders bring out the oldest machinery, the 1929 250cc Ariel Colt of Paul Balmain taking that honour this year. However, it was the younger Levis 500D machines of Kieron and Andy Abraham that led the class. We say younger, but Kieron’s is from 1937 and Andy’s is from 1930. Seeing these machines with minimum brakes and suspension being used in anger is priceless. Rumour has it that Pete Pesterfield has contested all of the four-stroke Talmags in sidecars, and his 100% commitment still shows. In 2017, a stall in the last section cost him the victory. This year he provided a spectacular spill looping the outfit on Hungry Hill to dent his challenge.
This year’s first-time winners were Bernie and Charlie Chambers on a beautiful Ariel engined machine, engineered by Adrian Moss, with a mixture of power and superb balance. The father and son team held off the challenge of multiple winners Paul Fishlock and Debbie Merrell on their Ariel outfit, whose uncharacteristic five on the last lap cost them dear.
Five years seems secure with the very welcome cooperation from Natural England, and there is hope that with this new-found support the M.O.D. will give permission more readily for future events. Now is the time to put this on your ‘bucket list’ for the next five years and apply to ride next year. Next, to the Pre-65 Scottish this is THE classic trials event, and long may it continue.