MEET­ING JOHN REYNOLDS

Classic Trial - - FRONT PAGE - Words: John Reynolds with John Hulme • Pic­tures: Erik Kitchen, Barry Robinson, Malcolm Car­ling, The Nick Ni­cholls Col­lec­tion at Mor­tons Archive and Nor­man Eyre

Yes, that was the ques­tion on ev­ery­one’s lips at the end of 1980, but at that time another ‘JR’ was the talk­ing point in the world of mo­tor­cy­cle tri­als – John Reynolds. Based in North York­shire he was in the mid­dle of a three-year con­tract rid­ing the Beamish Suzuki. He was rid­ing a full cal­en­dar of events as a pro­fes­sional tri­als rider, hav­ing started on the adventure with Ossa back in 1976 and tak­ing plenty of win­nings along the way. Now re­tired from work and en­joy­ing life at a slower pace, we got the op­por­tu­nity to talk with John at his home in Tad­caster about his life in mo­tor­cy­cle tri­als

Did ev­ery­one start on a BSA Ban­tam in your day?

Many did; I wasn’t re­ally both­ered what it was as long as it had an en­gine. My dad Ernie got it for me; he had rid­den tri­als af­ter the war on a BSA Gold Star.

You ob­vi­ously got the tri­als ‘bug’ and pur­chased an early Dales­man

My par­ents didn’t have much money but they man­aged to get it for me when I was around 11 years old. It was a few years old but was so much bet­ter than my BSA Ban­tam. We man­aged to get it kept at a lo­cal farm seven miles away. I used to get home from school, get changed and ride there ev­ery night, and then cy­cle home in the dark. The first trial I rode in I re­tired, we didn’t have the air­box sealed and it took in lots of muddy wa­ter! Later on I can re­mem­ber com­pet­ing in the Wetherby Satur­day Night Novice and In­ter­me­di­ate Cham­pi­onship. I was well in the chase and the forks came com­pletely apart, only held to­gether by the front brake ca­ble. I can re­mem­ber Boyd Web­ster Snr leant me his Bul­taco to fin­ish on. I was com­pet­ing against him and he hardly knew me. I will al­ways re­mem­ber that.

Then you started your as­so­ci­a­tion with rid­ing the Ossa

Yes it was quite a big jump from an old 125cc to a new 250cc! One of my first he­roes, Mick Andrews, was rid­ing for them and I was very happy with it. My mem­ory is a bit faded but around that time school­boy tri­als started to hap­pen. No A B or C class just an un­der-16 class. It is hard for me to re­mem­ber but I think the first year just one event at Shep­herds farm at Pate­ley Bridge de­cided it and I won. The year af­ter there were six rounds. I don’t re­call if it was called a Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship but I think I won five of the six events.

In 1973, Har­ro­gate Ossa dealer Gor­don John­son started to spon­sor you on the MK 11 250 Ossa

I am not sure how this came about but my dad was drink­ing buddy of Gor­don John­son, and I pre­sume Gor­don was push­ing my name to Cliff. I was still about 15 and I think I won ev­ery school­boy na­tional that year.

Did you win the Youth Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship?

They were still just called the Un­der-16 Na­tion­als, but I don’t think it was ever called a Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship. Look­ing back they were re­ally en­joy­able times. I used to travel with my long-term friend Alan John­son and Chris Frank, and we used to com­pete against Chris Sut­ton, Colin Boni­face, Len Hutty, Mike Skin­ner and a guy called Steve Palmer who was good in the mud.

You passed your mo­tor­cy­cle test on a Honda 50cc and was then of­fered a full-time con­tract with Ossa UK

Yes I did pass my test on the Honda, un­der the pres­sure of know­ing if I did not I would not be able to ride in the ‘Scot­tish’! Cliff Holden of­fered me a con­tract but it was not a full time one as I was still do­ing my me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing course. I don’t re­ally think the ma­chine was all that ‘works’ ei­ther. It had a few spe­cial parts on it but it was just re­ally well pre­pared by Triss Sharpe and Cliff’s son Roger. I had some good rides lo­cally on it and got close to beat­ing both Martin Lampkin and Malcolm Rath­mell at Shep­herds Farm. I had been close to them in lo­cal events so when my first na­tional trial, the Lo­max, came around I was pretty con­fi­dent but got one hell of a shock. I think Mick Andrews, Martin Lampkin and Malcolm Rath­mell all lost less than a dozen and I lost 77. I got cramp so badly on the way home that I couldn’t move!

Was there any talk of the new prototype sin­gle shock ‘Can­tilever’ Ossa at this time?

Yes it was talked about and hyped up by them for a long time be­fore it ar­rived.

In your first ‘Scot­tish’ you fin­ished 32nd; did you en­joy it?

My first Scot­tish was the last one to start in Ed­in­burgh’s cat­tle mar­ket. You had to ride for about 300 miles up to Fort Wil­liam; it was a long way any­way, and it was snow­ing for a lot of it. But at 17 noth­ing fazes you! I can re­mem­ber the Edra­mucky haz­ards as be­ing an awe­some sec­tion in its day. I also re­call get­ting a punc­ture on the road sec­tion on the last day. Mon­tesa rider Clive Smith was laugh­ing as I couldn’t get the rear wheel spin­dle out. He then helped me and we did it in no time at all.

You then won your first Na­tional trial, the Clay­ton

Back in those days all the top rid­ers used to ride al­most all the na­tion­als. I have to ad­mit they weren’t all there then, but Malcolm Rath­mell and a few oth­ers were there; you al­ways re­mem­ber your first big win.

Did the reg­u­lar top rid­ers ac­cept you okay?

I guess it de­pends on what you mean by ac­cept. What I can re­mem­ber is both Bill and Mick Wilkin­son help­ing me a lot and with­out re­ally be­ing asked. In par­tic­u­lar, when my dad couldn’t take me to events they were a big help. I learned a lot from them — and not all tri­als re­lated ei­ther…

In July 1975 you rode the ‘Can­tilever’ Ossa for the first time at the Allen Jef­feries trial, was it any good?

The can­tilever sus­pen­sion was a fair bit bet­ter, par­tic­u­larly with me be­ing quite light as it stopped me fly­ing so high on big steps. It also had a reed valve en­gi­neered into the in­let by the late Keith Horsman. I think it had dif­fer­ent electrics and ex­haust too .I think I was about 5th in that trial but my strong­est mem­ory is of rid­ing round with my team-mate

Ge­off Chan­dler, who died far too young. He had a bril­liant ride and I can re­mem­ber the huge grin he had on his face all day as he knew he was rid­ing well.

In 1976 you made your de­but in the World Trails Cham­pi­onship in Ire­land at the Hurst Cup Trial

World tri­als are a step up in all de­part­ments. I can’t re­mem­ber where I fin­ished, but it was a strug­gle. I do re­mem­ber how friendly the Irish were though.

In 1977 the tri­als world was shocked as you fin­ished just a 10th of a mark off the win in Ire­land, do you re­mem­ber much of that day?

Now that I cer­tainly can re­mem­ber, as it was kind of strange re­ally. I think I was an early num­ber due to not be­ing ranked, hav­ing not scored any WTC points the year be­fore, which is nor­mally a dis­ad­van­tage. I just set off and rode on my own and had no idea how any­one else was do­ing. I felt I was do­ing okay but noth­ing too spe­cial. We had re­cently moved to the new 310cc mo­tor and it worked well in the mud. I didn’t even know how I was rid­ing un­til I bumped into John Met­calf on the 3rd lap and he told me I was in with a shout for the win! I then tried to make a big ef­fort on the last lap and got so, so close to the win but Malcolm Rath­mell took his time, us­ing al­most the en­tire limit to beat me by a frac­tion. It was still a great re­sult for me though and Cliff Holden was over the moon!

Hav­ing passed your City and Guilds in Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing, hav­ing stud­ied at Bath­gate in Scot­land, did this leave you to fo­cus on a tri­als ca­reer?

Yes I was on block re­lease up there. It was quite tir­ing as some Sun­day nights I had to drive from South Wales to mid Scot­land, of­ten with the last two hours in snow. A cou­ple of times I ar­rived just in time for the first class and another cou­ple of times I was late. I wanted to quit a few times but was told I needed some­thing to fall back on — which turned out to be cor­rect as I have just re­tired from the RAC af­ter 27 years!

At the back end of 1977 the Hold­ens started to im­port the Ital­ian SWM ma­chines. When did you de­cide to move from the Ossa?

Well, my con­tract was jointly fi­nanced with the Ossa fac­tory and Cliff Holden, and I think he thought the fac­tory were in breach of their con­tract due to the fi­nan­cial is­sues so he was ob­vi­ously look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive. He had just been to the Mi­lan show in Italy and he came back rav­ing about these beau­ti­ful look­ing ma­chines called SWM. I didn’t re­ally pay too much at­ten­tion to con­tract de­tails, Cliff had been my boss for a while and I trusted what he said and moved across when he asked me to. It was the right time to move, as no de­vel­op­ment was go­ing on at Ossa in Spain only in the UK.

Did any­one else of­fer you a deal?

Al­most ev­ery year around Oc­to­ber peo­ple used to start talk­ing, and if they weren’t the pa­pers used to make it up any­way. I had been talk­ing to Brian Fowler — Beamish Suzuki and Jim San­di­ford — Mon­tesa for years but did any­one put a con­tract in front of me? No.

You had to wait for the SWM ma­chines to ar­rive, but when they did you took a 3rd place in the Col­more, how good was the SWM?

Well, it cer­tainly looked nice and I thought the en­gine was re­ally quite good from the start. For the Col­more my only test­ing was on the way to the first sec­tion; I hadn’t even seen one in the flesh be­fore.

With a 4th place in the ST David’s and a 12th in the Irish WTC round you were then promised a new ma­chine for the SSDT

Yes; by then Sammy Miller was on board help­ing with de­vel­op­ment, but at that Irish round I can clearly re­mem­ber hav­ing a big crash. It was at the same venue as my good ride the year be­fore but it was frozen solid. I can re­mem­ber hit­ting a flat in a 4th gear climb and ex­pect­ing it to grip, but it spun and stopped dead — and I didn’t! Mick Andrews picked me up af­ter about a ten-minute lie down…

You had an ex­cel­lent 3rd place at the ‘Scot­tish’ and I re­mem­ber rid­ing around with you

At the SSDT the SWM had a slightly changed frame, fuel tank and electrics. The en­gine was al­ready good, but I think the disc valve had been al­tered and it was very smooth. It still had the ‘cush’ drive in the rear wheel though and the de­lay of that re­ally took some get­ting used to. It had a de­lay af­ter throt­tle open­ing and I used to load it with the back brake, which mostly worked okay un­til you hit some­thing by sur­prise. I think this was another time when my test­ing was on the way to the first sec­tion as the bike ar­rived late from the fac­tory. The first day I was still get­ting used to the changes and with a late num­ber I was dis­ap­pointed to be 18th. As the week went on I was feel­ing con­fi­dent and con­sis­tent, mov­ing up the re­sults, but my arms were get­ting tired due to hav­ing to pull or push a rider called John Hulme out of ev­ery other sec­tion — only jok­ing! So on the last day, de­spite the per­ceived wis­dom be­ing that we would drop down the re­sults due to an early start­ing num­ber, I caught up with Mick Andrews. We rode round to­gether and I man­aged my best day, and moved up to fin­ish 3rd.

With a good 5th po­si­tion at the WTC round in Eng­land did you con­tinue with a full year in the WTC?

I think we stopped at about round five, as I wasn’t ex­actly set­ting the world on fire and with be­ing in Scot­land un­til five o’clock on Fri­days at col­lege I was hav­ing to fly to the for­eign events in­stead of trav­el­ling in the team van, which we all did back then .This was cost­ing a lot, so when we ran out of money and I had to stay in the UK.

At the year-end you were an­nounced as the Pin­hard Tro­phy win­ner, and moved away from the Hold­ens to ride a Beamish Suzuki in 1979 on a three-year deal

That was a huge priv­i­lege to win, es­pe­cially look­ing at the names that have won both be­fore and af­ter. I had been talk­ing to Brian Fowler and Gra­ham Beamish for a while, in fact we did part of the deal in the back of the Suzuki van af­ter I ran out of fuel at the Hoad and he picked me up in the dark af­ter the last sec­tion. The ma­chine I started on was the ac­tual one that Malcolm Rath­mell couldn’t get on with. I picked it up from him and it still had his pre­ferred right-hand gear change. I went prac­tis­ing in some mud and just couldn’t get any grip. I can re­mem­ber think­ing ‘oh shit, I have a three-year con­tract, have I made a huge mis­take?’. Any­way I stuck at it and learned a way to ride it, and even­tu­ally mud tri­als be­came a strong point. I think I tied for 1st place with Rob Shep­herd in the first trial, still with the right-hand gearshift, which caused a few pan­ics. It was gen­er­ally happy times at Suzuki though; Brian looked af­ter me well, and Gra­ham Beamish was a su­per-nice, straight-talk­ing guy who never failed to de­liver on his word.

Did Suzuki in Ja­pan have any in­volve­ment?

Not as much as we would have liked. How­ever they did make a whole new en­gine, very light and full of ex­otic ma­te­ri­als. I was booked to go to the fac­tory to test it for two weeks, but a new event ap­peared from nowhere. I think it was Kick­start, and Suzuki UK wanted me to do it so the trip got can­celled and the en­gine came later. It had even more power and was re­ally light­weight.

Much suc­cess came the way of ‘JR’ at the start of the school­boy tri­als era

Early days on the Dales­man

In 1973 in Har­ro­gate, Ossa dealer Gor­don John­son spon­sored his son Alan and ‘JR’

1976: It’s a case of ‘foot­ing’ on the Can­tilever Ossa

1976: Win­ning the Colo­nial Trial in Jan­uary

1977: Us­ing ‘body lean’ at the Bri­tish Ex­perts on the Ossa be­fore the move to SWM

1978: Rid­ing Hawk’s Nest in the Bem­rose Na­tional

1978: The ‘Scot­tish’ on the SWM re­sulted in a su­perb 3rd po­si­tion

1979: At the Bri­tish round of the WTC in the snow and ice on the Beamish Suzuki

1979: Another cold pic­ture, with snow on the ground at the SSDT

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