Arm­strong mo­tor­cy­cles

Bri­tish man­u­fac­turer ruled tri­als and helped win the Falk­lands War

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week -

Arm­strong? One small step for man, one gi­ant leap for mankind… Not that Arm­strong, but the Amer­i­can link is rel­e­vant. We are ac­tu­ally talk­ing about Arm­strong-ccm. CCM were – and still are – a small, off-road­fo­cused, Bri­tish man­u­fac­turer with strong mil­i­tary con­nec­tions based in Bolton, Lan­cashire. Arm­strong In­dus­tries, mean­while, are a huge Amer­i­can in­dus­trial con­glom­er­ate, who owned a con­trol­ling stake in CCM be­tween 1981 and 1987.

So what was so spe­cial about it? The move cre­ated some­thing of a mini golden era for Bri­tish bike­sport. Arm­strong 250 and 350cc rac­ers, most fa­mously in the hands of Scots Don­nie Mcleod and a young Niall Macken­zie, in­tro­duced pi­o­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy, dom­i­nated the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship briefly and made an im­pres­sion in GPS. Arm­strong tri­als bikes, most fa­mously in the hands of a young Steve Saun­ders and John Lamp­kin, dom­i­nated the Bri­tish tri­als cham­pi­onship and made an im­pres­sion in world tri­als. Mean­while, Arm­strong mil­i­tary bikes were used in the Falk­lands War in 1983. Some CV.

So how did it all come about? In 1980/81, Arm­strong bought a con­trol­ling in­ter­est in a hand­ful of mostly Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cling con­cerns and amal­ga­mated them to form a se­ri­ous off-road and road race busi­ness. Which ones are we talk­ing about? Pri­mar­ily off-road spe­cial­ists CCM, which had been formed by Alan Clews in 1971 (CCM stands for Clews Com­pe­ti­tion Mo­tor­cy­cles) out of the re­mains of BSA’S off-road com­pe­ti­tion shop. But also, and just as sig­nif­i­cantly: Cot­ton, also in Bolton and which at that time had been de­vel­op­ing a Ro­tax tan­dem twin-pow­ered road racer, plus Bar­ton En­gi­neer­ing, another sig­nif­i­cant player in Bri­tish bike rac­ing. In ad­di­tion, the new con­cern also ac­quired the rights to a Ro­tax-en­gined en­duro bike, the XN Tor­nado, from Ital­ian firm SWM, which evolved into the MT500 mil­i­tary ma­chine. Then, in 1983, Cana­dian com­pany Bom­bardier li­censed the brand and out­sourced de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of Can-am off-road bikes to Arm­strong-ccm as well.

So where did the var­i­ous tri­als and rac­ing bikes come from? CCM had orig­i­nally de­vel­oped a pro­to­type tri­als bike with tri­als le­gend Sammy Miller in the late ’70s. Af­ter Arm­strong’s takeover, the idea was re­vived and the re­sult, us­ing a tubu­lar steel frame de­signed by Mike Ea­tough and the Miller-de­vel­oped Hiro 320cc two-stroke en­gine, was well re­ceived.

So it did well? Very. John Lamp­kin was signed for 1982, go­ing on to fin­ish well in world rounds as well as com­ing sixth in that year’s Scot­tish. Then, when Lamp­kin joined Fan­tic, Steve Saun­ders came in and on later ver­sions won the Bri­tish Tri­als Cham­pi­onship in 1984 and 1985 with the bike com­ing to be con­sid­ered to be one of the best twin-shock tri­als bikes ever made.

And the road racer? A de­vel­op­ment of Cot­ton’s 1980 EM34 which was pow­ered by the Ro­tax wa­ter-cooled, disc-valve, twostroke twin. When Cot­ton went bust,

Arm­strong took over pro­duc­ing first the EM35, which was es­sen­tially a re­badged Cot­ton, be­fore suc­ces­sively de­vel­op­ing the bike un­der de­sign chief Mike Ea­tough (yes, him again), win­ning the Bri­tish 250cc Cham­pi­onship in 1981 and 1982 with Steve Tomkin and re­peat­ing in 1985 and 1986 with Niall Macken­zie. Along the way it gained such pi­o­neer­ing fea­tures as a car­bon fi­bre frame and one-piece body­work.

So what went wrong? Lots. In tri­als, Hiro went bust in 1984 lead­ing to a switch to Ro­tax power. The tri­als Arm­strong was never again con­sid­ered quite as good. Then, in 1987, Arm­strong pulled out al­to­gether, sell­ing the mil­i­tary busi­ness to Har­ley-David­son, the road rac­ing depart­ment to CWH De­vel­op­ments in Lan­cashire and CCM back to Clews.

So that was it? Not quite. H-D con­tin­ued pro­duc­ing the Ro­tax-pow­ered mil­i­tary bikes for a few years while CWH pro­duced the 350cc CM36 en­gine for F2 side­car rac­ers. The most sig­nif­i­cant sur­vivor, though, is CCM, which con­tin­ues to pro­duce off-road, mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment-adapted mo­tor­cy­cles, no­tably its re­cently in­tro­duced GP450 ad­ven­ture mid­dleweight, at its Bolton base.

John Lamp­kin puts the Am­strong tri­als bike through its paces back in the 1980s

In­no­va­tions on the 250 in­cluded the use of car­bon fi­bre

Macken­zie scored top ten fin­ishes on the Arm­strongRo­tax in 250 GPS from 1984-86

Sim­ple and rugged con­struc­tion was ideal for the army

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