An Englishman who moved to America and was instrumental in the creation of the Transatlantic Trophy as well as other world-famous race series
Remembering the man behind the Match Races
The name of Gavin Trippe – who sadly died in a California car accident on July 2 – may not be that familiar to UK motorcycle racing fans at first hearing. However, link it with the words Transatlantic Trophy and the lights of recognition will surely switch on.
For a more than a dozen years between 1971-83, Gavin (although an Englishman) was the man who brought the American team to England for what is still one of the best-remembered race series in both UK and USA motorcycling history. He was also my business partner for 15 years, joining me in 1969 in my start-up venture for the California newspaper Motorcycle Weekly. I will always remember him with respect and affection as the man who gave up his hitherto ‘dream job’ as the motocross editor at MCN and moved halfway across the world simply because he had faith in my idea. Thankfully, it was an idea that worked out well for both of us. Backed up by the success of MCW, we also started a linked business that became one of the top race promotions companies in America during the 1970s. Throughout that decade and into the next, Trippe, Cox Inc staged the World Championship USGP of Motocross at Carlsbad, California and both National and World F750 Championship road races at Laguna Seca (which included the very first races in what later became the Superbike class).
Then there was a special event for the ABC-TV network that we called The Superbikers. This was essentially a rallycross for motorcycles that matched the top riders from all disciplines of the sport and became the blueprint for supermoto racing in later years.
In 2005, Gavin had the honour of election to the American Motorcycle Association’s Hall of Fame for what he had achieved at the helm of our promotions company. By then, our paths had diverged in the mid-1980s when I moved back to Europe to pursue other publishing and TV production opportunities while Gavin moved out of the race promotions business.
We remained friends, however, and only two days before his death he wished me all the best for my birthday and we arranged to meet again on my next trip to California. Which is something that now means so much to me and sums up our forty years of friendship.
‘GAVIN WAS ELECTED INTO THE AMA HALL OF FAME’
My first bike, 1964
1 HMW ‘Conny’ 50cc Scooter (1958) An obscure Austrian scooter bought (very) secondhand from a dealer in Kilburn, West London, for £20. I was 17 and living at home in Chelsea. I rode to my boarding school (posh family) in Oxford at a stately 35mph (it seemed fast to me then), and kept it in the bike sheds. No one in authority realised it wasn’t actually a bicycle. Not much ‘biking’ pleasure, but it gave me freedom – from what I am still not quite sure, but that seemed very important at 17.
University Rides: the 1960s
2 Excelsior Talisman Twin 250cc (1958) I needed something to get to university, so bought it for £22 in Horsham, Sussex and rode it all the way to UEA in Norwich. It seized solid on the A11 near Snetterton, and I had to hitch the rest of the way. A horrible ‘grey porridge’ bike in every respect: ugly, gutless, two-stroke smoky and very unreliable. Basic transport at its worst. Ended up leaving it in a Norwich pub car park with the key left in it. (They sell for £4k-5k these days...)
3 BSA A10 650cc combination (1954)
The early plunger rear suspension variety. Cost me £15 and I was overcharged. Ugly, filthy, unmaintained, but hideously effective. The oil tank looked like it was full of dirty black treacle. I said “Ugghh” and put the cap back on, and decided never to check it again. Too depressing. The sidecar’s steering geometry was so bad you had to rest your left foot on the handlebar on a long run, to ease your aching arm! I once collided with (actually demolished)a blue disability vehicle while I had three friends in the sidecar, firing water pistols at a bus queue. Amazingly reliable, despite being abused horribly. Fond memories.
4 Vespa 125cc (1960) 5 Lambretta 150cc (1959) Back-to-back scooters in my ‘Mod Italia’ period, with a Beatles haircut, Chelsea boots and black polo-neck. They cost me £20 each. The pretty blue Vespa’s gearbox exploded all over the Norwich Ring Road when I changed into first by mistake while flat out in third. The silver Lambretta was not as pretty as the Vespa it replaced, but more reliable. I regularly used to do the 220-mile return trip to London on it. It met its death when I skidded on an icy road in Hammersmith one wintry morning.
6 BSA C10 250cc side-valve (1946)
I was given this essentially pre-war bike by my friend, Christian. The exhaust valve
was chipped and on cold night rides the exhaust pipe glowed bright cherry red. I left it in a pub car park near the university residences, after being over-refreshed one night, and forgot it. I remembered it three months later, but it was gone. (Excelsior Talisman Twin was still there, though!) 7 BSA C11G 250cc (1955) 8 BSA C15 250cc (1962) Two utterly boring BSA 250s used only for cheap transport. I rode to Cornwall on the C15 in the rain, and hated it so much I tried to set fire to it at a garage on Bodmin Moor. But the rain made the matches damp, so I reluctantly finished the journey to St Ives, then gave it away and hitched home.
9 Ducati Elite 204cc (1959)
My last university bike. At £45 quite an expensive bike for me! A revelation – as fast as a British 500cc of the time and a complete jewel. Its brakes and suspension were sublime, and it looked and sounded gorgeous. Not that reliable, it broke down returning from an Easter motorcycle race meeting at Brands Hatch. Standing by the roadside – in the falling snow – the works Ducati team van approached and I thought: ‘Thank god, they will help me’. But they hooted their horn and flicked V-signs at me and roared past, laughing!
Early Career: the 1970s
10 Royal Enfield Constellation (1962) Leaked Castrol R from every engine seam. Smelled great, looked awful. Mothers shielded their children as I thundered by, smoke pouring off, me hanging crucified by stupid ‘ape-hanger’ handlebars. Accelerating down the Cromwell Road one day the ape-hangers slowly rotated back so I was hanging off the back of the bike, doing a wheelie, unable to crawl back up to dump the throttle. Terrifying. 11 BSA A10 Golden Flash (1959) A lovely, unremarkable but reliable bike and my main form of transport for years. Awful front brake which I replaced with an aftermarket twin leading-shoe which had the effect of twisting the feeble forks under heavy breaking. I travelled throughout the UK, France, Belgium and Holland on this bike, and it never let me down. I remember thundering through the Scheldt Tunnel, Antwerp on it at 2am on the way to Amsterdam. I sold it through Exchange & Mart, having discovered terminal big-end wear in the engine.
12 BMW R50 500cc (1960)
After the BSA I wanted to find out what all the fuss about BMWS was about. This was the Earles fork model. Quirky, quiet, turbine smooth and utterly gutless. Not really my style, you could cruise at 85mph on motorways for hours on end, so no real challenge. I sold it on quite quickly...
13 Norton Commando 750cc Roadster (new, 1972) Much more my style. Bought brand new in 1972, from Comerford’s, Thames Ditton for £512 (inc purchase tax). Magnificent bike to ride, powerful and smooth, and very good looking, but staggeringly unreliable. Even in warranty I discovered it had porous barrels – the oil just poured through the metal! I finally lost confidence in it when the glassfibre petrol tank split in half riding at 100mph on Salisbury Plain, dousing the engine with petrol. Mercifully, it was stolen shortly afterwards.
14 Honda 50cc step-thru (1962)
I used this to get to work on, then one day I lent it to university friend Hilary to take her husband out for dinner. On the return, extremely drunk, she clipped a kerb and somersaulted the bike at Hyde Park Corner. Even with her front teeth knocked out, fractured cheekbone and two square wheels, she (impressively) managed to complete the journey to Battersea! The Honda was a write off. It was such a reliable little thing, I was a bit irritated. 15 Harley-davison WLA side-valve 750cc (1944) After the Norton was stolen, I decide to buy something quirky (big mistake) and nothing is as quirky as a WLA, with its foot clutch, hand gearchange, manual/ advance retard on the left handlebar, and buddy seat. Slow, ponderous and crashed into London potholes. I remember taking the carb to (not many) bits and marvelling at its utter crudeness. So unreliable, I sold it at auction for double what I paid for it.
16 Ducati 750 GT (new 1975)
The last round-case bevel Ducati imported into the UK in 1974. I bought it brand new from Tony Rutter Motorcycles in Halesowen, in September 1975 for £999. My best bike of all time. I even took it to New York and brought it back with me. I quickly sorted out the bad bits and still ride it today. Thank god I never sold it.
Middle Career: ’80s & ’90s
The Ducati was my only bike until 1989 when I semi-retired it and bought modern.
17 Honda VFR750 (new, 1989)
Fast, busy, fragile, nervous – the screen directed the gale onto your helmet, so your head bobbed about at 70mph-plus. It had absolutely no character, and I just didn’t like riding it, so I sold it quite quickly. 18 Harley-davidson 1200 Sportster (new, 1992) I don’t know why I bought this. Ponderous, slow, awful brakes, no range, hideous handling and ghastly vibration (which my then wife actually liked and was always offering to pillion). I part exchanged it on very fast, and lost about a third of the £6500 purchase price in a three-month ownership. Ouch! I would call a Harley a ‘non-motorbike’, really. You are buying an exhaust note.
‘EVEN IN WARRANTY I DISCOVERED THE COMMANDO HAD POROUS BARRELS’
19 Vespa 125 PX (new, 1993)
After the demise of the Honda, I bought this as a ‘get you to work’ machine. It didn’t last long. I hated its horribly quick steering, and planned to sell it to my work colleague Lisa, who rather fancied herself in a black leather jacket on a cool black Vespa. So I took her to a Chelsea multistorey car park to learn how to ride it. On the first attempt, she yanked the throttle wide open and, doing an impressive wheelie, slammed into a wall. Horrible noises, prone colleague... I asked her: “Pub for a drink, then the doctors – or the other way round?” She chose the ‘drink first’ option. On the way to the pub, bleeding colleague on the back, I noticed the scooter didn’t turn right. Turned out the
Vespa’s frame was bent to the left and was a write-off. The £800 stayed in my colleague’s pocket. I was underinsured. Her bloodied knees recovered before my bank balance did.
20 BMW K75 750cc triple (new, 1993)
Everything the Harley wasn’t – a wellmade, reliable hack, but not a lot of joy. A bit anodyne really, and I can’t remember it much. A good example of a bike that ticks every box but doesn’t make you fall in love with it.
21 Triumph Trident 900 (new, 1993)
I part-exchanged the BMW for this Hinckley Triumph. My step-daughter (aged 12 in the photo, below left, now 33) loved it. After the Ducati, this was my second-best bike of all time. Fabulous power with 100bhp – it would pull a wheelie by just twisting the throttle. And completely reliable – a revelation for a British bike. I can only fault its topheaviness at parking speeds. It once fell on me when parking, and I was like a crushed beetle underneath it, arms and legs pathetically waving, till a bunch of tourist French schoolgirls pulled it off me. I kept this bike for 12 years, which says a lot.
Late Career: early 2000s
22 Peugeot 100cc scooter 23 Vespa GT 200cc scooter After I sold the Triumph, I bought two brand new boring scooters – one after the other – in 2003 just to get around London. For proper biking I relied on the old Ducati. Not a great success; because you sit virtually over the rear wheel on scooters and they have crappy suspension, the London potholes really did my back in. The four-stroke Vespa was surprisingly powerful and quite a user-friendly thing. A useful shopping bag hook by your knees. But my aching back put a stop to that.
24 Montesa Cota 350 (circa 1978)
Bought as a local ride for my holiday flat in Ibiza old town. Cheap as chips, as all the local kids wanted Japanese dirt bikes and the dealers were giving away the old part-ex’d Bultacos and Montesas. Actually, gutless, no brakes and unreliable. So not a great road bike. I remember being pursued by a pack of howling dogs riding down a hill in rural Ibiza, on one of the few times I actually took it off-road, thinking: ‘For god’s sake don’t fall off!” Not wanting to die so ingloriously – by either dogs or other means – I gave it to my Spanish neighbour. He was astonished and delighted.
My dotage: mid-2000s on
25 Aprilia Pegaso 650 (new, 2007) My last new bike, given to myself for my 60th birthday in 2007. This is the Factory model, covered in carbon-fibre. Good looks, reliable (apart from the fuel pump), powerful enough, great suspension and brakes. An ideal ride for the twisty lanes round my farmhouse in the hills of north Ibiza – and ideal for the one-kilometre dirt road to the property. When I collected the bike, the Ibiza town dealer started to explain it to me; I said, in my terrible Spanish, that having owned over 20 bikes I didn’t really need the explanation. He asked my age and I said 60. He murmured: “Jesus Christus...” So I just had to do a wheelie away from the forecourt. My glee didn’t last long – he’d only put in a teacup full of petrol in a £6k sale! So, aged 70, I now ride the vintage Ducati in London and the Aprilia in Ibiza. I have ended up with two high-maintenance ageing Italian beauties. More polishing than riding now, but quite a biking life to reflect on.
Cal Rayborn heads Peter Williams in the Transatlantic Trophy, 1972
ABOVE: Gavin Trippe in the days of the Transatlantic Trophy
 Ducati Elite: a gem, sold for £60, they now go for £12,000
 BMW R50 guaranteed conversations with pipe-smoking owners, but virtually a thrill-free zone
 BSA Golden Flash took Paul abroad on European adventures
 A10 combination: ‘ugly, unmaintained, but hideously effective’
 Just the gear for riding a 750GT Ducati...
 Crude Harley WLA proved a nightmare to ride in London – or even to just get started
 Commando 750 looked cool in Chrome Yellow, but a black mark for reliability
 Paul works up a sweat trying to start his Montesa
 Paul’s beloved Triumph Trident and step-daughter
 BMW K75 was efficient but totally forgettable
 Vespa PX: unfortunate incident with a brick wall
 Harley Sportster: ‘a non-motorbike’ says Paul
 Honda VFR750 proved too dull to keep for very long