Style is something you have or don’t have. Ian Berry ponders how journalists can explain it.
Someone else being brave is Ian Berry who champions the riding style of one rider over another and says who’s most stylish.
‘Can someone explain what style is?’ This was a question posed recently on a social media page following a post I had made of Don Rickman majestically leaping his Matchless Métisse at Farleigh Castle, in October 1963.
I suggested that Don was widely considered to be the ‘most stylish’ rider back in the Sixties and in that context it’s a good question. One member sought an answer in a dictionary: a particular procedure by which something is done; a manner or way.
Another defined it in relation to motocross: “Style is the ability to ride fast while giving the impression there is still 5% in reserve!” and legendary photographer and commentator Jack Burnicle, commented: “Going quick and making it look easy = smooth! Top exponents over the years, besides (Sten) Lundin, Don Rickman and (Jean-michel) Bayle, include Dave Nicoll, Bill Gwynne, Jim Aim, Neil Hudson and 10-time world champ Stefan Everts!”
Some days later, I found myself mulling over the question again. How do you define style? Below is my attempt at an answer which may not be too convincing but it’s the only one you’re getting!
My first point of reference has to be the two riders who dominated our sport for a good decade – Jeff Smith and Dave Bickers. Their riding styles contrasted wildly, Bickers was impulsive, often riding on the ragged edge, whilst Jeff was always super composed, apparently not trying too hard or even going that fast. Were they stylish? Yes, they both were in their own way.
Bickers was so distinctive, when he had the bit between his teeth, crouched that bit lower, the Dan Dare chin thrust out a bit further, the elbows raised slightly higher, the ‘style’ was unmistakable. There’s a video clip of him racing his CZ at Hawkstone Park, where the hill is virtually unrideable. He is seen weaving his way through fallen riders, slewing wildly across the track, but remaining feet up, urging the bike on towards the summit. Was it pretty? No, but it sure as hell was effective.
Smith has told me that as a young man he wanted to combine the neatness of John Draper, with the laid-back riding style of Brian Stonebridge. Did his riding style closely resemble either of these two greats? Probably not. Did he achieve his goal? Almost certainly. My favourite photo of Jeff is one taken by Ray Daniel, at Naish Hill, Wilts, in 1967 – Jeff is taking a jump and everything so neat and tidy, rider and machine in perfect unison.
Bryan Wade was tagged ‘Wild’ Wade by Murray Walker, in reference to his over-zealous approach to racing, especially during the early years on Greeves. But by the early 1970s, when he was racing Husqvarnas, he had evolved into a showman, whose antics on the bike – frequently crossing up over jumps and pulling massive wheelies – thrilled motocross crowds of the day. Bryan certainly had a style of his own and in his white helmet, with crisscrossing black tape, he always stood out.
Two of Wade’s closest rivals were Malcolm Davis and John Banks, who both had distinct riding styles. Malcolm, who in addition to being British motocross champion was a top trials rider, and was very smooth. Tall and slim, he was great to watch and I remember getting so much enjoyment watching him and Wadie pushing hard in their battles for 250 supremacy.
Banks was a powerfully-built, aggressive rider with a bullish approach; renowned for being hard on his bikes he arguably pushed too hard at times. His style was anything but text book, but it got results. He rarely got out of the saddle, putting his weight to good use and finding traction on his BSA where others floundered. Wade and Banks had some great races, especially in 1973 when Wade on his 460 Husqvarna battled Banks, on his Cheney BSA, for the British championship.
In the mid-1970s we were privileged enough to witness the appearance of two outstanding riders on the motocross scene. Graham Noyce and Neil Hudson rose from the schoolboy ranks to be both national and world champions.
Hudson was unbelievably smooth, cornering like he was on rails and was deceptively fast. By the time he won his world title, he had added tremendous stamina to his game and, like Jeff Smith, developed a metronomic-like quality which allowed him to finish a race at the same pace as he had started it.
Noyce had a style reminiscent of young Dave Bickers. He always started very quickly and raced to the limit and frequently beyond, in fact he only appeared to have one mode; ‘full on’. Graham Noyce was, hands down, the most exciting rider I have ever watched, partly, in the early days, because of his youth and naivety, but also for his passion, his energy and his spectacular riding style.
Have I managed to definitively define the word ‘style’ when referring to a motocross rider here? I don’t believe I have. But if a stylish dresser stands out from the crowd for being different, daring, elegant and passionate then to that end I guess a stylish motocross rider does the same, be it a daring Dave Bickers, an elegant Don Rickman, or a passionate Graham Noyce.