In a tucked away corner of the UK there is a thriving trials community with a range of territory that some organisers would die for. Riders in this community sometimes venture out into the wider trials world to compete, do well, and then slide off back home to their ground again. They have formed into teams that have ventured up North to beat the Yorkies on their home territory in the Inter-Centre Team Trials, and have taken them on and beaten them when visitors have ventured into these nether lands. Within this community is a husband and wife team who have supported trials since the early sixties in the training of youth riders and novices to realise and extend their potential in the sport for nearly 25 years. The husband has been a works-supported rider who is still riding with success, and his wife, who has supported him and their family and been the organising and driving force in the trials school they have run for local riders and the wider trials community. I wish to introduce you to a very well-known duo in the South West of England, the Lucketts. A husband and wife team who on their land in North Devon ran a trials school and three or four trials a year. Brenda's Trials School was as well known as her husband's enthusiasm for trials, but some riders may not be so familiar with John's record of achievements.
Words: Mike Naish, Trials Guru – John Moffat and Dave Cole Pictures: Alan Vines, Mike Rapley - Brian Holder, Malcolm Carling and Mike Naish. We are not able to give credit to photographers due to the passing of time, but please feel free to contact Classic Trial Magazine if by mistake we have used an image without permission.
John, how did you become interested in motorcycle trials?
I was born 1946 at West Bucks in North Devon. My father was always interested in motorcycling although he was more into road racing. He gave me an interest in all motorbikes, which has lasted to this day. He had a Triumph Trophy, and he used to take me to see road races, which sometimes were quite a distance from North Devon like Oulton Park in Cheshire.
One day in the late 50s he took me to see a trial which was run quite locally. I remember watching this section with crowds of people on it. It was a climb up a steepish gully with a step in it, and simply nobody was getting up it at all. Then there
was a ripple of excitement, and I could hear this twin-cylinder machine coming up fast. The rider approached the step and was over it clean to great applause; it was Johnny Giles on his Triumph. I used to ride a push bike, like all the lads, but I kept on to my father to buy me a motorcycle. One day he said okay, and we went to look at a DMW locally, and I liked it, but by the time we went back with the money the bloke had sold it to someone else. The strange thing is — as we established years later — it was Brenda's father! Later on, my father bought me an Ambassador with the Villiers engine.
Who taught you to ride?
to a field to ride it around. One day the sergeant was on the road with a new police officer, and I could see that he was telling him to come and talk to me as part of his training on the beat. He told me that as I was underage, I couldn't push a motorcycle on the highway, so that was the end of that because we respected the law in those days! When I left school, I went to Barnstaple Technical College. My father was a one-man band at that time, running a business as an Agricultural Contractor, and as the business grew he asked me if I would like to come and join him to which I said yes. I initially went to Tech to learn that sort of trade. I used to ride there on a Monday and lodge there all week, then ride back on a Friday night. I taught myself, as most people did in those days. I used to go to a friend's house whose family had an old Excelsior with a hand change. We used to ride it up the green-lane by the side of his house. It got us used to the twisting the right hand and letting the clutch fingers in and out with the left-hand clutch/ throttle combination. Also, my father had an AJS road machine, and we used to push it down the road
What came next?
A 250 Royal Enfield Crusader Sports. A few of us local lads set up our sort of club, and we used to go racing on a Sunday afternoon — on the A39. We had a long straight and then a left-hand bend. We used to post somebody on the bend to make sure there was nothing coming the other way and then we could use the full width of the road. One day one of the lads went out without a lookout; he took the bend and hit an ice cream van. He went one way, and the machine ended up underneath the van. We had to jack it up off the machine to get it out. The strange thing was the driver took it very well, and after that, he used to come in every Sunday where we gathered and sold us ice creams!
When did you start in trials?
I used to go and watch the Lands End Trial on my bicycle. I'd be out to the section called Darracott at 8.00am and stay there all day, so then I thought I would give it a go. My first trial was the 1965 Lands End, and I rode a 500 Triumph to Lew Down to start. I had a few clutch problems, but I remember having a good go at 'Beggars Roost'. Unfortunately, I hit a rock halfway up the section, did a pivot turn and started powering down the section — a scary moment! I retired.
My second trial was the Lyn Traders. I rode the big Triumph to the start and wondered why all the riders were looking at me with a shake of their heads. I know what they were thinking now. When I saw those huge rocks and river beds and tried to ride them, it was a bridge too far. I retired after 40 miles. I had the bug though and swapped in my Royal Enfield locally at Bideford for a Cotton with a 32A Villiers motor with leading-link forks. I joined the Torridge Club, and I rode in an Exmoor trial. I finished 6th from last, but I finished. Dave Chick was another newcomer, and he and I made friends who have lasted to this day. My next event was a Moretonhampstead trial that Roger Wooldridge, the Centre Champion, won and then I won the best Novice at an Exmoor trial in the October. This was in 1965.
What did you think of the Cotton?
I liked it although it was better in straight lines; I never liked 'Up the bank and around the tree' nadgery sections — I still don't, it's my weak point. I was soon off to Collins of Truro where I swapped it in for an ex-works Cotton Starmaker. Melroy
Youlton used to work in the stores, I still see him from time to time.
I put lights on it and rode in the Exeter Trial. With a mate of mine, we started from Lewdown. He ran out of petrol near Exeter in the middle of the night, and I went off to get some. When I got back, my mate was fast asleep, sitting up on the machine! I remember great characters in those trials, like Jack Pouncy on his Pouncy DOT outfit. In local trials, I won a Non-Expert award on the Starmaker.
When did you start to get noticed?
I got an ex-Malcolm Eveley 250 Bultaco four-speed from Spencer's of Plymouth. It transformed my riding. It had a few faults, like the kick start-stop which would shear off. It was an internal item and used to fall into the gearbox, which could be unfortunate because it meant a strip down. Peter Keen did up the engine for me with a re-bore etc., and with Mum and Dad we went up to Scotland, leaving at four in the morning on the Saturday to get to Edinburgh for the signing on. Of course, there were no motorways to get us there quickly in those days.
There were four of us riding from the South West. Mervin Lavercombe, Mike Sexton, Ian Haydon and myself. It was very wet that year, and Merv and Mike went out on the Tuesday after the Rannoch Moor crossing. Merv, who used to change his machine and his riding suits seemingly every couple of months and who was always immaculate, came in from the moor absolutely plastered from head to toe with mud, he couldn't take anymore! I retired on the Wednesday when I fell off on some rocks and busted the gear shaft. I managed to get it into third gear but we were scheduled to go over the Corriarrack Pass, and I was a bit worried about everyone passing me. As it turned out the pass was closed due to the weather and we had to go the long way around. The machine seized up with holding it in third gear all the time. We found out when Peter stripped it that there was a hole in the piston. As in my entire competition career, I learnt through experience.
In 1969 I bought a brand new Bultaco and rode in a trouble-free Scottish, and I got a Special First Class award. In all I rode the Scottish nine times, retiring twice, and getting a Special First in the remaining seven events. I won my first premier at an Open to Centre Crediton trial. I tied with a rider called Dave Munt who was on a James, but I got it on the Special test. I started doing all the Nationals: Greensmith, St David's, etc. and I was runner-up to Sammy Miller in the Lyn National.
I know you were a 'Works' supported rider — how did this come about?
When Saracen Motorcycles started up, they advertised in Motor Cycle News for riders for their products. I wrote to them offering my services but they already had taken on Jack Galloway and Jon Bliss, so I wrote to Cotton Motorcycles at Gloucester and sent copies of my results. They responded by letting me have a Cotton at a cut-price and said they would support me with free spares if I needed them. I was to get £3 for an Open to Centre Win, £12 for a Regional Restricted and £25 for a National Win. After a while, they gave me the second machine free of charge. This was the 220 Minerelli engined Cotton. I rode for Cottons for two years and had some decent results. I came 2nd in the Victory Trial the year that Brian Higgins won it in the early seventies.
In the 1970 Scottish on the 220 Cotton I thought the engine was tightening up and was taking it easier but then looking down at the rear wheel I realised the frame was twisted, the back brake was mangled up, and the hub seemed to be breaking up! I was losing 59 marks on time when 60 minutes meant you were out. I got to Pipeline with one minute left. Back at the start/finish, we borrowed a wheel from a Northern dealer, and I used that for the remainder of the week. My wheel was rebuilt so it could be re-fitted, so that when I finished at Edinburgh, I had all the correct rim, paint intact. I still got a Special First that year.
In the 1971 Scottish I was ninth on the leader board; I only lost four marks on the Thursday. At the end of 1972, I wanted to finish at Cotton as I felt the machine was less competitive. The Managing Director at Cotton, Reg Buttery, wrote me a very nice letter asking me to stay and suggested I take the machine to California to demonstrate it. He was a smashing bloke, and I did not like to let him down, and so I had to make my mind up what to do? In the end, I returned it.
So why did you let that opportunity go, John?
I guess I did not believe them at Cotton although to be fair I had enough of the machine because it wasn't that competitive, I was also very tied up with the family business. We did estate groundworks and laying tarmac etc.; my mind was made up, and I gave the machine back to the Cotton works, and ultimately Martin Strang from Somerset went to the USA in my place.
Your next bike was an Ossa
There was an advert in Motor Cycle News; Bob Gollner was looking for a rider to support, so I telephoned him. I got the Ossa cheaper, but any replacement parts were free. It was the Gollner Ossa with the Whitlock frame. After that, I rode for Ossa UK run by Cliff and Roger Holden. From 1974 onwards I had a new machine every year.
How good was the Ossa?
Ossa UK was very supportive. The machine steered well in the straight and found grip in mud well. This was due in part to the rake of the forks, because it was not so good in nadgery. I was on 'Two-Ply' Pirelli tyres when most were still on the old 'FourPly' Dunlops, and I could find grip where most couldn't. Ossa came out with the 350 engine, but I couldn't get on with it and go back to the 250. Brian Higgins rode the 350 well though. In 1974 Brian and I were neck and neck in the South West Championship. We got to the last section of the
I rode for the South West Centre quite a few times in the Inter-Centre Team Trials, which were always fiercely competitive. The South West had won the event in Yorkshire in 1963, and we were determined to do it again. This we did in 1970 to break the dominance of the Yorkshire Centre which they had achieved over quite a few years. As well as myself the rest of the team was Ian Blackmore, Brian Higgins, Alan Dommett and Ian Haydon.
final trial, and I had to clean it to win the championship. I had a five, losing it, and Brian won it and I was second. Then there was the first Cantilever frame — Monoshock we call it now — but it was very heavy. I rode for Ossa until 1978 but I wasn't doing so well, so I gave the machine back and bought a 325 Bultaco from Alan Dommett. This was when I stopped doing all the Nationals. I had got married, and we had Nick in 1977, and I was very busy with work.
Did you ever ride in the Scott?
Yes, once on the Cotton where I had a finisher's award and then two years later on the Ossa. They used to run the course alternate ways round so by riding two years later I could remember most of where the course went. I was in the first ten on observation that year although I lost a load of time. I used to go training by running on the beach before the SSDT. Once I rode the machine from Bucks Mills where we lived to Clovelly on the beach. I was also organising the Woolsey Football team where Nick was playing. I gave up riding in 1980, just about the time that Charlotte was born. Our second son Martyn was born in 1986
When did you start riding Pre-65s?
It must have been in the middle to end of the 1980s. I bought three Triumph Tiger Cubs and made them into one good trials machine. For me, it was a way of relaxing, because when you are riding, you are thinking only of the route and the sections, and all other problems you have go to the back of your mind. I was by this time running the business with eighteen blokes employed.
In the early '90s, I won the Pre-65 Championship, and my son Nick won the Twinshock the same year. I did two Pre-65 Scottish on the Cub. The last time I was second to Dave Thorpe, and I had a good clean on Pipeline.
Tell me about Lower Wembsworthy Farm
We were looking for a piece of farmland with some woods and streams if possible, for keeping a few sheep and for trials practice, and someone advised us that Lower Wembsworthy was to be auctioned. We looked at the farm and thought it would be perfect for what we wanted, so we went along to bid at the auction. Well, the price went up to more than we could afford and we did not get it. We looked around at others, but nothing had land that could be used for trials practice in the same way. About a year later the auctioneer rang me and asked if we were still interested because the chap who had bought it had decided he could not make a go of it and make enough money. We went to see him, and the long and short of it was that we bought it from him for the amount we wanted to pay in the first place! We bought the farm in 1992.
So where do you go from here John?
I intend to carry on in the sport as long as I am breathing, but I am still working,
helping Nick in his business. I help Brenda to cater for the holiday visitors and manage the 20 acres of practice ground for trials, so I do not have too much time. I will ride from time to time I am sure. In 2011 I had a bad accident while seeing to a lorry backing out the yard onto the main A39 road. A car whose driver was blinded while driving into the sun did not see me on the road and hit me square on, breaking some bones. I recovered well and still come out to ride occasionally but can be seen more often marking out National and club events on the farm and acting as a centre Steward in South West Centre events.
How did you meet Brenda?
Well, it was because of the Foot and Mouth, and that was very lucky for Brenda — tongue in cheek — because there were no events on. I went out on a blind date to the cinema organised by a friend, and that's how I met Brenda.
In 1974 he moved to ride for Ossa UK run by Cliff and Roger Holden. From 1974 onwards he had a new machine every year. This picture is from the Scottish Six Days Trial where he won another Special First Class Award.
In 1973 Bob Gollner was looking for a rider to support so John telephoned him. He got the Ossa cheaper and any replacements parts were free. It was the Gollner Ossa with the Whitlock frame.
Ninth on the leader board at the 1971 SSDT. He only lost four marks on the Thursday.
He rode for Cotton for two years and had some decent results.
1971 SSDT: Fighting to stay feetup on the Cotton, he attacks the iconic ‘Pipeline’ hazards.
The move to Cotton resulted in a cut-price machine and free spares. He would also receive £3.00 for an Open to Centre win, £12.00 for a Regional Restricted win and £25.00 for a National win.
The 1970 Inter Centre Team Trial winners representing the South West Centre (from left): Ian Blackmore, Brian Higgins, John Luckett, Jim Courtney, Team Manager Alan Dommett and Ian Haydon.
After a while they gave him the second machine free of charge. This was the 220 Minerelli engined Cotton. This picture is from the 1972 European Championship round and the hazard is ‘Lamb’s Lair’.
Riding up Diamond Lane in the 1970 West of England National on the Bultaco.
At the 1969 Inter Centre Team Trial (from left): Ivan Pridham, Brian Higgins, John Luckett and Mike Naish.
On Grey Mare’s Ridge in the 1968 SSDT.
Shall we have a go? Brenda Luckett (left) with Jenny Haydon at the 1969 SSDT in Edinburgh.
Sammy Miller with two good-looking girls at the 1969 SSDT: Brenda Luckett on the Bultaco, left, and Jenny Haydon on the Cotton on the right.
Enjoying the sun at the 1969 SSDT Brenda was more than happy to watch John finish his first Six Day Trial. He had purchased a brand new Bultaco and rode in a trouble-free Scottish on the way to a Special First Class Award.
With the Bultaco locked in third gear due to a broken gear shaft John tried to continue, until it seized solid forcing him out of the 1968 Scottish.
In the Exeter Trial 1966 on the ex-works Cotton Starmaker.
On an early ‘Radial’ cylinder head four-speed gearbox Bultaco in the 1967 Lyn National trial.
In the early days.
Brenda Luckett in her younger days.
At the end of 1972 John wanted to finish at Cotton. The MD at Cotton, Reg Buttery, wrote him a very nice letter asking him to stay, but his mind was made up and he returned the Cotton. This picture is from the John Douglas national.
Riding number one was not the best to have at the rain-lashed British Experts Trial.
Having survived the big step at ‘Washfold’ John carries on his way to a finisher’s certificate on the Cotton at the 1971 Scott Trial.
John had a good season on the Ossa in 1974, which included qualifying once again for the South West Experts, seen here on the Ossa.