Asked why he was relinquishing the post after six years and still a comparatively young man aged 63, Higgins told Trial Magazine: “Six years in this position is enough for anyone. I saw right from the beginning that many aspects of the business needed to change. And it is a business, not just a sporting body. The finances needed reviewing, insurance methods needed improving and the general business acumen could be improved. I hope that the ACU now is much stronger in all respects than it was, which will definitely benefit the sport, our riders and member clubs as a whole.”
Higgins cited several aspects of the ACU where he felt he has been able to exert significant changes. “I’ve been able to suggest many different ways to improve the financial standing of the company, and that will undoubtedly flow through to the grass roots as I know that my successor (John Collins) has plans which will assist organisers and indeed riders both directly and indirectly.
“I’m particularly pleased to have been able to include thirdparty road insurance to all competitors and officials in events that use the public roads in an easy to use format, all at no cost to the clubs or riders, the extra premium being met by Rugby (the ACU’s head office location).
“We have also been able to financially assist individual riders and national teams to compete in major events overseas, and we are confident this will continue. We try to help the upand-coming riders rather than the more established stars, and without quoting names, several have won major championships and we are pleased to have helped them in a small way whenever it has been possible.”
The use of Forestry Commission land by the sport was once relatively easy to organise, but these days, following some major accidents during car events and also the partial break up of the Commission by government, there are now many more requirements to observe; whilst these may well seem onerous to outsiders, without these having been negotiated by the ACU forestry land would not be available to bike sport. “Together with ACU colleagues, who have travelled many miles up and down the country negotiating new requirements to keep the sport in forests, I believe we are now secure for future enduros, rallies and trials that use such terrain.” When Brian Higgins voluntarily stood down from his position as Chairman of the Auto Cycle Union, the governing body of UK motorcycle sport, he left behind a legacy that has seen the business go from strength to strength with more competition licence holders than ever before, a strong financial structure in place and a group of sport committees that have raised the profile of motorcycle sport throughout the UK and, indeed, around the world. Higgins, the ACU’s Chairman for the past six years, has not been one to look for fame and glory, preferring instead to work quietly behind the scenes, using his personal business intuition to improve the ACU and its complicated structure for the benefit of the sport and the officials that run the various disciplines, to a point where the ACU in 2016 is a very different animal to what it was in 2011 when he was voted Chairman. Mike Rapley caught up with Brian recently to talk past and present about his motorcycling years both in the saddle and behind the desk.
With a relatively low profile, many people both riders and organisers may well ask the simple question: Who is Brian Higgins? They know he has been Chairman of the ACU, but may well be unaware of his background. In a nutshell he has been both a top-class trials and enduro rider; a pretty fair motocross rider and a brilliant organiser of British Championship motocross and British Championship enduros as well as local trials and scramble meetings.
It was a 197cc Excelsior that brought Higgins into off-road motorcycle sport as a youngster not yet into his teens, which was soon wrecked bombing around the fields near his family home at Littory Down in Devon. After that came a sprung hub Triumph that his father Ron had been fixing.
“That was a great motorcycle”, said Higgins; “I could start it OK, but when I fell off I couldn’t pick it up and had to wait for somebody to help me lift it!”
Eventually a real trials model came into the Higgins household, a 197 Greeves purchased for a mere £45 which was followed by a four-speed Bultaco Sherpa from the then retiring Roger Wooldridge, and the sport of trials in the South West pricked up its ears when Higgins quickly became one of the local aces, winning trials held by the Torridge, Dartmouth and Devonport clubs as well as those organised by clubs further afield.
Higgins dominated trials in the South West for a long time, winning the South West Centre Trials Championship for nine consecutive years before Martin Strang took it off him for a year. Higgins then regained it the following year, so there were ten in total. Organising was an interest and the infamous South West Experts was his father Ron’s brainchild for a number of years where the entry was limited to the 30 best local riders and the trial was intentionally very hard.
By this time Higgins’ talent had been spotted and he was riding Bultacos with support from the importer Comerfords, before joining Sammy Miller on the early factory Hondas, and when Miller dropped the Honda connection in 1976 Higgins was headhunted by Suzuki aboard the amazing 325 Suzukis that were a revelation at the time, which in turn led to Higgins showcasing the pre-production 250 PE Suzuki as a member of the British Trophy Team which finished fourth in the 1975 ISDT in Austria. At that time Higgins had four Suzuki machines from Graham Beamish: the 325 trials, the PE 250, a 250 trials machine for rider training days and a year old ex-Steven Beamish RM420 for local motocross events. His final fully sponsored trials ride was on factory Goris, which led to him riding a 500cc Rotax engine Gori in British Championship enduros, before he retired from trials at the age of 29 and concentrated on major enduros for three years on a Bryan Goss Maico.
Trials was always his main sporting occupation, during which time he won several nationals: “I think I won five; the Lyn Traders twice and the Victory, but I can’t remember what the others were”. The Scottish Six Days was also the scene of some excellent performances, he had seven top 30 places with a best result of 12th in 1976. “I was on the Honda that year and rode round with Martin Lampkin who was really fun to ride with. He won that year and I watched him ride every section then tried to do the same.”
Inevitably business, a young family and commitments took its toll as a rider and whilst Higgins never retired, he enjoyed scrambles, local trials and organising events for his local Torridge Club, introducing national events to the Torrington circuit before starting his own West Devon MC with plans to organise much bigger meetings at various venues. The Torrington circuit was not really up to the level required for British Championship events and over the years Landrake, Little Silver, Brampton, Duns and Foxhill were all used by West Devon, even though the organising club was anything but local to the actual venue.
As the years as a motocross organiser (and as a British Championship enduro organiser twice) progressed, Higgins was asked in 2001 by Frank Dixon to join the ACU’s motocross committee and it’s from his motocross organiser’s background that he progressed to the ACU Chairmanship.
“I was carrying out track inspections of circuits for the motocross committee as well as organising many meetings and was asked to take over the Maxxis Championship around 2007 which I ran for a good number of years, standing down only recently.”
Trial Magazine asked how was it that he became Chairman. “Quite simply really. All the sport committee chairmen are automatically Directors of the company and after I had been elected Vice Chairman, there came a time when a new Chairman was required. It’s a position that takes up an inordinate amount of time and travelling. Fortunately my vehicle rental business in Tavistock was running well, so I had the time and indeed enthusiasm, but I said right at the start I would only serve two terms. Those two terms are now up, which is the reason I have chosen to stand down and allow a fresh pair of hands into the job.”
So, in answer to the question posed earlier, ‘who is Brian Higgins?’, the answer is clear. He’s a multiple national trial winner, a ten times Centre Trial Champion, a works rider for five different manufacturers, twice a member of the British ISDT squad, a handy motocross rider, an organiser of many successful events at all levels for the past 45 years, and a successful local businessman.
WHAT BETTER CV CAN A CHAIRMAN OF THE ACU HAVE?
However, Higgins is not yet finished. Let him explain; “I still want to ride a few trials. I did the Manx Two Day Trial in 2015 which I admit, being rusty, I found a bit hard, but there are plenty of easier events from which I can pick and choose. I recently sold my vehicle rental business so now I have more time to visit events purely as a spectator, some of which I have ridden in the past but have not yet found time to visit due to other commitments.”
So the ACU may well have had a new Chairman from the start of 2017, but there is no doubt that the legacy Higgins has left will stand the company in good stead for many years to come.
1978 SSDT: It’s all eyes on Brian Higgins on the 325cc Suzuki as he plots his way up Grey Mare’s Ridge.
1978: Seen here at the early season St David’s National Trial near Neath in Wales, Brian continued competing in the British Trials Championship.
1980: The move to the Moto Gori machines was more for enduro than trials but Brian still enjoyed much success on the Rotax powered machinery. TRIAL MAGAZINE
1978: On the new 325cc Beamish Suzuki at the Yeo Vale Crown Trial.
1976 SSDT: With the Honda looking a little battered Brian remains in control as he rides up the stream at Callart Falls.
1976: Watched by an interested gallery at Gefrees in Germany, Brian was a regular in the FIM World Trials Championship on the development four-stroke Honda.
1977: The move to the Suzuki team took Higgins back to twostroke machines. TRIAL MAGAZINE
1976 Superstars Trial: This was one of the last outings for Higgins in the Honda trials team.
TRIAL MAGAZINE 1973 The Kickham Trial: Sammy Miller soon spotted the potential in Higgins and mounted him on the Hi-Boy Bultaco. 1974: The need for speed soon became evident for Higgins as he is seen here in the Scott Time and Observation Trial.
1975: When Sammy Miller moved to Honda, Higgins found himself four-stroke mounted. This is an early Hi-Boy framed Honda with Higgins in control at ‘Robinson’s Rocks’ in the Buxton based Inter Centre Team Trial. 75
74 Brian made a return to trials at the 2015 Manx Two Day Trial. TRIAL MAGAZINE
1982: Well wrapped up at the wet Southern Experts on the Moto Gori. 1981: Competing in the South West Experts Trial at Brentor in Devon.
1981: Seen here in the Camel Vale Time and Observation Trial at Tregullon Chase, Higgins is in flight on the Moto Gori. He used trials to ‘hone’ his enduro skills.