‘I WAS TERRIBLE – I DIDN’T WIN A SAUSAGE FOR YEARS’
Mick Grant talks dodgy tuning, ice cream vans, and his worst bike ever
How and did you first get into bikes?
It was round about the time of the Suez Crisis (1956) so there was petrol rationing. A pal of mine’s father was an engineer and needed some petrol coupons so he bought a Triumph Tiger 80 – which was a 350cc, pre-war single – because it came with some petrol coupons! We rode that thing round and round the fields for hours. I was about nine or 10 at the time.
What your first bike?
I rode my dad’s BSA Bantam for a while but the first bike I actually owned was a 250 AJS Sapphire. It looked gorgeous but it used to break a crankshaft every 6000 miles. I wanted to buy a 500 Velocette but my dad wouldn’t let me.
Do you recall your first crash?
My first crash was on that Tiger 80. I was on a little back road and Mr Lumb was coming straight towards me in his ice cream van. I panicked and fell off into the hedge. Mr Lumb just kept on driving so I didn’t even get an ice cream out of it.
Did you have many road bikes before you started racing?
I eventually got a 500 Velocette and that’s what I started racing on. I really wanted to compete in trials or scrambling but I didn’t have the bike and I didn’t have the money so I turned the Velocette into a race bike. I was terrible at it though – didn’t win a sausage for three years. I was doing all my own tuning but didn’t know what I was doing so I kept making the bike go slower. After about three years I put it back to standard trim and won a race! Everyone was asking me what I’d done to the bike to make it go so fast and wouldn’t believe me when I told them.
Did you still ride bikes on the road during your racing career?
I’ve always had a road bike but never been too fanatical about it. When I was riding for Kawasaki and Honda I could pick whatever road bikes I wanted. I had a Kawasaki Z1 but like an idiot I opted for a Honda CX500 in 1979. You don’t need the fastest bike when it’s not racing but that bike was bad.
What bikes do you have now?
Until recently I had a very nice collection of vintage motorbikes, mainly 500cc singles. I like mechanical things, but I sold them all because it got to a point where it was like painting the Forth Bridge – they just needed permanent work and I wasn’t prepared to dedicate my whole life to keeping them running.
So you don’t have any bikes now?
I’ve still got two of my factory racing bikes – the 1977/ 78 Kawasaki KR750 that I won the TT and set a new outright lap record on, and my 1982 Suzuki XR69. My passion is trials riding and I ride every weekend on my classic trials bikes. I enjoy working on them as much as riding them. I developed a 500 Ariel for 30 years and couldn’t do any more with it so sold it and now I’m working on a BSA Bantam.
What’s the one that got away?
It’s every rider from my era’s dream to own a Honda-6, but that’s not going to happen! I rode a proper Honda-4 though – it was amazing.
What would your life have been like without motorbikes?
It would have been f**kin’ awful! I’d have been pushing a broom up the street with a wheelbarrow.