MEETING JOHN REYNOLDS
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