‘BIKES IN THE GARAGE BEAT KEEPING MONEY IN THE BANK’
Former Grand Prix and TT racer, and supplier of Pirelli tyres to the British Superbike grid, talks about his accidental life in bikes
How did bikes come into your life?
I was born in New Brighton on Merseyside, near Leasowe where they had sand racing on the beach. When we were kids we used to run across the golf course to go and watch. I was about 15 when I thought to myself, ‘I could do a bit of this’ so I bought myself a BSA and went sand racing. Then I was straight into road bikes, and I must’ve got through about 30 in those first few years, all sorts of British bikes. But my first experience with a Japanese bike was when I was 17 and working for Bill Smith Motors. This guy brought in a Honda CB450 Black Bomber and I took it for a test ride and it blew me away.
How did you get into racing?
I never intended to race, it all came about just by chance. One Saturday in 1969 I was working in a car shop and this lad came in looking for parts for his Mini. I had the parts he was looking for at home, and he said ‘when I sell my race bike I’ll have them off you.’ And I said, ‘race bike?’ And that was that. We swapped the Mini parts for the race bike, a Honda CB72, and I went racing. Then it all just snowballed from there.
How far did you go with racing?
I did British championship stuff then I went to GPS – the ‘continental circus’, as they called it. My best result was a fourth at the 1977 British GP – the 350cc class, against people like Herron, Ekerold and Ballington. Then in 1978 I got a factory Jawa 250, but that year at the Spanish GP at Jarama I got hit from behind by Virgino Ferrari on my 500 and broke my shoulder badly, and that put my career on hold. It was at that point that I realised I wasn’t going to reach that goal of being a factory Grand Prix rider, so the TT became more my thing. I had lots of podiums and I won the 1975 production TT with Charlie Williams on the Honda 500. I also rode factory Hondas at the Bol d’or with Ron Chandler – two riders for a 24-hour race! I also rode and crashed Mike Hailwood’s 1978 Tt-winning Ducati – I was his team-mate at Sports Motorcycles, but I crashed the bike on oil later that year!
What do you ride on the road now?
I’ve got an MT-09 which I take touring. Whitham, Mackenzie, Moody and me usually go for a ride around Scotland every summer, where we just terrorise the countryside and have a good laugh but I couldn’t make it this year.
What else is in your garage?
I’m an avid collector of Yamaha TZS and I’ve got a TR2, TZ350A, a TZ250E, a TZ250G, a pair of Maxton TZ350S, a TZ250U, TZ250W, a TZ250 4PD, a TZ750A, TZ750E, and a 1989 Honda RS250. I’ve built a new TZ350 with a Bill Simpson frame, and Superstock rider Leon Jeacock is riding it for me. They’re my pension – literally, because when I finished racing I walked straight into a job with Pirelli, and then after 20 years or so they asked me whether I wanted to take my pension as a lump sum or regular payments, so I thought ooh I’ll take the money thanks, and went out and bought some motorbikes!
Is there a bike that you haven’t got that you’d really like?
That thing that Bruce Anstey rides, the Yamaha YZR500 V4. If you watch how Bruce rides it, he rides it like it’s a road bike, and he always has this massive smile on his face when he gets off.
Roberts back in the day. These days he has a couple of Maxton TZ350S in the garage
1978 Sports Motorcycles Ducati ‘I was Hailwood’s team-mate’
Spencer’s NSR ‘Best bike I’ve ever ridden’