Richard Sunter

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS -

The name Sunter in the world of mo­tor­cy­cle tri­als cov­ers five decades of com­pe­ti­tion, which started with Richard and car­ries on into the present era with his two sons Mark, John and daugh­ter Katy. Re­sid­ing in what many term the home of tri­als, North York­shire, the farm at Healaugh is sit­u­ated close to Reeth and is in the heart of Scott Trial coun­try. It was at this event back in 1968 that we first wit­nessed Richard’s name in the awards of this world-fa­mous event. Mar­ried to the sis­ter of for­mer Scott Trial win­ner Philip Alder­son, and with daugh­ter Katy mar­ried to Dan Thorpe, it’s cer­tainly cre­ated a York­shire tri­als dy­nasty which con­tin­ues to grow. Words: John Mof­fat, Tri­als Guru, Richard J. Sunter and Yoomee Pic­tures: Eric Kitchen, Barry Robin­son, Mal­colm Car­ling, The Nick Ni­cholls Col­lec­tion at Mor­tons Ar­chive and Yoomee

Born in 1951 into a farm­ing fam­ily which had no real in­ter­est in the sport Richard J. Sunter, who later came to be known to all as ei­ther ‘Ritchie’ or ‘Sunt’, was to break the fam­ily mould at age twelve when his fa­ther bought him a 150cc James three-speeder for four pounds. With a re­place­ment tyre fit­ted it more than dou­bled the value of the mo­tor­cy­cle overnight as it cost eight pounds. Richard was the first of his fam­ily to have a tri­als ma­chine and has lived his whole life in the North York­shire vil­lage of Healaugh, mov­ing only a few hun­dred yards, “from one end to the other”. Liv­ing on the back doorstep of the Scott Trial, this leg­endary event grabbed his at­ten­tion as a young boy and he had to have a tri­als ma­chine.

The Real Deal

His first real tri­als mo­tor­cy­cle came to him in 1968 in the shape of an Ot­ley-built Dales­man with the Aus­trian Puch 125cc four-speed mo­tor, which was supplied by The Kart House Shop at nearby Dar­ling­ton.

Richard: “I didn’t re­ally like it that much as my Dales­man had those spindly frag­ile front forks from a Puch moped. Ray Sayer, another lo­cal rider, had a six-speed ver­sion and to be hon­est, it went much bet­ter than my model. I even­tu­ally bought the 250cc Cot­ton with the Vil­liers mo­tor and got on much bet­ter with that, rid­ing my first Scott in 1968”.

The Cot­ton was re­placed by the 170cc Minarelli pow­ered model which was de­vel­oped for the fac­tory by Rob Ed­wards, who would be­come good friends with ‘Sunt’.

With Mon­tesa mak­ing in-roads to the UK tri­als mar­ket in the late 1960s as the Span­ish ma­chines started to dom­i­nate and be the ones to have, it was in­evitable that Sunter would sam­ple the 247 Cota model and he re­ally liked it. The well-known rider, come dealer and mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­ast, Norman Crooks at Northaller­ton supplied such a model, and Richard was happy to re­main on the mar­que for two years. He started to get no­ticed in the re­sults on the Mon­tesa be­fore ob­tain­ing sup­port from Len Th­waites of TT Leathers on a 250cc Ossa MAR in 1972. Richard rode the 1972 Scot­tish Six Days Trial on the Ossa and fin­ished in a very cred­itable fif­teenth po­si­tion, tak­ing the Best New­comer award los­ing 115 marks, and took home the Al­bert Me­mo­rial Tro­phy for his ef­forts. Richard: “That was when the Scot­tish started and fin­ished in Ed­in­burgh. It was a long haul on the road back then on the first and last days, but the award meant so much, and I re­turned home a very happy man”. ‘Sunt’ be­came friends with Michael Alder­son from Wood­hall near Askrigg.

Richard: “Michael was a handy tri­als rider and keen to do the na­tion­als to gain more ex­pe­ri­ence. We were good friends, and I got to know his younger sis­ter An­gela. We started court­ing in 1976, and we got mar­ried in 1978. We all knew each other through tri­als, farm­ing, and the Alder­sons be­ing agri­cul­tural en­gi­neers”.

Richard and An­gela Sunter now have three chil­dren: John Richard who was born in 1980, Mark born the year later, and Katy who ar­rived in 1984. All three fol­lowed in their fa­ther’s foot­steps by be­com­ing tri­als rid­ers in their own right. Katy, of course, mar­ried Dan Thorpe in 2015 which would ef­fec­tively cre­ate a tri­als dy­nasty in North York­shire with An­gela’s younger brother Philip Alder­son part of the ex­tended fam­ily of well-known tri­als rid­ers.

Richard Sunter hasn’t changed much over the years and still sports an all-year-round tanned face due to his con­tin­ued work­ing on the farm which takes him out in all weath­ers!


He is a very mod­est in­di­vid­ual, who points out that he never ac­tu­ally won a na­tional trial. How­ever, the reader needs to ap­pre­ci­ate that ‘Ritchie’ has rid­den against the very best rid­ers in the world at the top of their game, and any num­ber of twenty rid­ers were ca­pa­ble of win­ning a na­tional trial week in, week out.

Sunter: “I was ap­proached by the Team Kawasaki Tri­als man­ager, the late Don Smith who was also their de­vel­op­ment rider. The first ma­chine I had off Kawasaki was the 450 model, which was quite hon­estly a beast of a thing to ride. When I signed to ride for Kawasaki, they had no mo­tor­cy­cles avail­able for me to ride, so I rode my Ossa in the mean­time, and Kawasaki paid my ex­penses. I was never paid a salary, and I was still earn­ing a liv­ing from farm­ing, but they cov­ered my travel ex­penses to na­tion­als and Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship rounds”.

The lime-green coloured Kawasaki KT pro­to­types ar­rived three days be­fore the 1973 Scot­tish Six Days Trial, and like most ex­per­i­men­tal ma­chines they re­quired care­ful prepa­ra­tion for what was the tough­est trial in the world. The trou­ble was that Kawasaki had no ex­pe­ri­ence of the ‘Scot­tish’ and re­lied on Smith to guide them. None of the three pro­to­type ma­chines would start! In a fran­tic few hours in the work­shop with Smith, all the ma­jor com­po­nents were changed, but they would still not run. Many phone calls were made to Kawasaki in Ja­pan, who could not un­der­stand the prob­lem. Event­fully some­one sug­gested a dif­fer­ent type of spark plug and the ma­chines started! The team were still fet­tling them at the Gorgie Mar­ket on the Sun­day weigh-in in Ed­in­burgh, on the cob­bled road­ways that in­ter­sected the mar­ket. His team-mates were Mark Kemp and ex-para­trooper Jack Gal­loway. ‘Sunt’ posted a twen­ti­eth place over­all in the 1973 Scot­tish, los­ing 137 marks and tak­ing home the Best Over 350cc award for his ef­forts, hav­ing wres­tled all week with the big-bore ma­chine, and was the best per­former of the Kawasaki team that year.

With pro­duc­tion planned for the KT ‘Kawasaki Tri­als’ model, Richard re­ceived his pre-pro­duc­tion 250cc ma­chine from the fac­tory in Au­gust 1973. Two months later on Oc­to­ber 2nd, he came home in sec­ond place in the Scott Trial. This was to be his best Scott re­sult, fin­ish­ing be­hind Bul­taco’s Mal­colm Rath­mell. In truth, the Kawasaki KT 250cc model was not in the same league as the pro­duc­tion ma­chines avail­able from the Span­ish man­u­fac­tur­ers, and it was time for a move.

San­di­ford Mon­tesa

Richard en­joyed rid­ing the Mon­tesa Ulf Karl­son Replica 247 model, which ap­peared in 1975 af­ter he left the Kawasaki fac­tory team hav­ing en­joyed two sea­sons on the ‘green-meanie’. The Mon­tesa was pro­vided by Jim San­di­ford the Mon­tesa im­porter, and this re­la­tion­ship lasted up un­til 1977. By then Richard was rid­ing the newly in­tro­duced Cota 348 model for San­di­ford’s. This was the year of the inau­gu­ral World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship, and Sunter took part. At the early sea­son Hurst Cup in Ire­land he posted a sev­en­teenth place and a nine­teenth place in that year’s Scot­tish.

Richard Sunter is listed for pos­ter­ity as win­ning fif­teen Scott Sil­ver spoons, and is clas­si­fied as a top spoon win­ner with many other fa­mous names in the tri­als world.

With farm­ing be­ing an all-con­sum­ing oc­cu­pa­tion time came at a pre­mium for the Sun­ters and tri­als rid­ing had to take a back seat from 1977 on­wards, such were the pres­sures of be­ing self-em­ployed. Sunter: “I didn’t give up mo­tor­cy­cles com­pletely. Back in 1971, I had done a bit of scram­bling on a 1969 ‘side-pipe’ CZ that I traded for a tri­als ma­chine for a bit of the fast stuff which I en­joyed when time al­lowed. I still have the CZ and Mark has rid­den it a few times in clas­sic scram­bling. I re­call rac­ing it at Pick­er­ing, and one of the North East events near Dod­ding­ton but tri­als were my true love re­ally, I still like to do my bit as it were”.

Still Rid­ing

Richard has in­deed main­tained a strong in­ter­est in the sport by help­ing the Rich­mond Mo­tor Club, in par­tic­u­lar, their Scott and Reeth Three Day events. His favourite piece of ground for mark­ing out is be­yond ‘By-Pass’ and its haz­ards, and for many years was in charge of route-mark­ing the Scott onto the moors there.

Sunter: “I usu­ally in­herit Katy’s cast-off Gas Gas ma­chines, which al­lows me to get some mo­tor­cy­cle time in which I still en­joy”. Richard Sunter was one of those rid­ers who com­peted with the very best of that era, which in­cluded the Lamp­kins, Rath­mell, Hem­ing­way, Ed­wards, An­drews, Shep­herd…just about any­one else who made up the who’s who of tri­als in the days when Bri­tish rid­ers were the force to be reck­oned with in the Euro­pean and then world-class events. His place in the his­tory of tri­als is as­sured.

1974 Scott Trial: Deep wa­ter at ‘Or­gate Splash’.

1978 Scott Trial: The no gloves ap­proach was still in use.

1977 SSDT: Part of the Jim San­di­ford Mon­tesa team.

1975 GBR: A move to Mon­tesa was made in 1975, with sup­port from Jim San­di­ford the UK im­porter. This pic­ture is from the World round in Devon.

1976 SSDT: On the new Mon­tesa Cota 348.

1977 GBR: His last ride in the FIM World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship was re­warded with 11th po­si­tion.

1970 Scott: All eyes are on Sunter at Wash­fold rid­ing the Mon­tesa supplied by Norman Crooks.

1972 Scott: Sup­port came from Len Th­waites of TT Leathers, on a 250cc Ossa MAR in 1972.

1972 Scott: A su­perb pe­riod Scott Trial pic­ture taken with the cam­era of The Nick Ni­cholls Col­lec­tion at Mor­tons Ar­chive.

1971 North­ern Ex­perts: Around this time he had started to ride in more na­tion­als with Michael Alder­son, the brother of his fu­ture wife An­gela.

1969 Scott: Us­ing ‘Body Lean’ on the Cot­ton 170cc Minarelli pow­ered model which was de­vel­oped for the fac­tory by Rob Ed­wards, who would be­come good friends with ‘Sunt’.

Mark Sunter has rid­den many ma­chines at the Scott, in­clud­ing this Bul­taco in more re­cent times.

The Tri­als Guru John Mof­fat, who gen­er­ated this ar­ti­cle, talks to Richard’s el­dest son John who in a long Scott ca­reer has set the stan­dard time and won a hand­ful of the much sought-af­ter Scott Spoons.

Richard and his wife An­gela (left) were very in­stru­men­tal in sup­port­ing the growth of the Ladies’ com­pe­ti­tion in the sport with their daugh­ter Katy (right).

In the thick of the ac­tion at a Scott Trial petrol stop.

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