To get to the recent British Championship round in the Lake District at the exposed Tow Tops venue, I decided to depart early from home for the twohour journey as parking is at a premium in the field which, with the recent wet weather, I knew would be sodden. I arrived at around eight o’clock for the nine-thirty start. The food wagon had struggled to get to the top of the hill to its location and got stuck! The first guy I noticed helping was Mick Wren, with brute force and a shovel; he wielded the shovel until it was in place. Mick Wren is dedicated to our sport of trials and an all-round motorcycle enthusiast. Out-spoken and with a constructive opinion always at hand he is one of a small band of enthusiasts who works on the ACU Trials and Enduro committee. He also holds a 2018 FIM Super Licence which qualifies him to be a Trial World Championship Clerk of the Course, and an FIM Officials Licence until 2020. I come across Mick on many occasions in trials locations not just around the UK but also in Europe. Always working, including in a full-time self-employed job, he still has time for some lively ‘banter’ in between doing just about everything that needs doing at a trial — Mick is one of life’s true ‘Grafters’.
My dad was into motorcycles but not as a competitor. To be honest, by the time I came along they needed every penny to raise my sister and me. I think for my part, motorcycles was just something that was in me, like genetics, but not in a Lampkin way because I didn’t have the ability. It was just what gave me the ‘buzz’. Even now when we go skiing, which we do a lot, I love it, but it doesn’t give me that need to push beyond my capabilities, but with motorcycles, I would try anything.
When did you first compete in trials?
I had no idea what trials were. I used to think that they were something invented by MCN to fill the pages in the winter when there was no road racing.
I started going to school on the bus and met Sid Ormerod and Richard Wall. Sid knew somebody who took part in this strange sport. It was Wym Harrison, who was to feature quite a bit in my early career. He was the foster father of two talented youth trials riders, Kevin Bleasdale and Andy Bell, in the eighties — who remembers them? Sid sold me a
98cc James, which I spent hours trying to start. We then found a guy who had a Suzuki 80 in a garage just up the road which we got for £12.50. It had been converted to trials specification but needed an engine, so we got a spare machine for £10 out of one of Eddie Crooks’ many backstreet houses that were used as stores.
The first event was a Westmorland Scramble, which was a disaster, but they announced that their next trial would have a ‘Schoolboy’ class. The trial was in June or July, and it was red hot and bone dry. It was held on a piece of scrubland and was mostly climbs through gorse bushes, and I spent most of the next two weeks pulling thorns out of my body. It was in the very early days of schoolboy trials and lead by a character called Kefty Watson. The Westmorland club then announced that they would hold a series of these events, and I was hooked.
Were you an academic at school?
Without being too cocky, I can say I am reasonably intelligent but back then I was just a daft lad; they couldn’t make anything of me.
I remember one physics lesson where we learnt about the internal combustion engine, and we were offered a Polo mint for every correct answer. Glen Wilson and I had the entire packet! I did a year in the sixth form, basically re-sitting what I had failed, but spent most of it in the common room playing darts. In the end, I got five O Levels including getting Biology twice.
Where did life after school take you?
I had a job lined up with a local garage. It was quite small, but it had a special reputation. People used to bring Rolls Royces and other luxury cars to get them serviced. Then, at the last minute, they said I would have to go to Bolton one day a week to Technical College. “No sorry”, I replied “I’ve left school and don’t want any of
that.” I told my dad that I wanted to work at home and, although we never made a big thing of it, I knew he was delighted.
By a strange quirk, I then started going to Barrow Technical College to study joinery and woodwork. We did day and night school on the same day, so we had a one-and-a-half hour’s break at lunch and one hour before night school. This time was happily filled in at the workshop at Eddie Crooks Motorcycles, which is where Nigel Birkett and John Wren worked.
I’ve been an undertaker all my life. On the day of my christening the police came, and my dad had to go and collect a body out of a local town, so it started from there, and I love it.
Who else influenced you in your early motorcycling days?
Wym (William) Harrison worked for the water board and looked after the reservoir up the road, so he had access to the land round about. He and his wife Doreen were foster parents, and they raised and eventually adopted Kevin Bleasdale, who had one of the first three monoshock Yamaha machines along with Nigel Birkett and Tony Scarlett. They also fostered twins Andy and Donna Bell who were both too pretty useful trials riders.
My first recollection of you was in the late seventies on a Bultaco in Northern Centre events.
We swapped the 80cc Suzuki for a Gaunt Suzuki which we fitted some REH Forks too. It was exchanged for a 250cc Bultaco from a mate. The big highlight was when we went with Wym to Jim Sandifords and came back with two boxes of Bultacos: a 250cc for me and one of the first 325cc models for Wym. I loved his 325cc, but despite being well over six feet tall he had also once had a 170cc Cotton Minarelli — and I loved that too.
The first trial of the year was always at Low Newton, near where the recent British Championship Trial was held. On my 16th birthday, I won, but they told me I wasn’t allowed to be the overall winner and I got the best youth award.
Same trial, the following year, I had helped mark it out so was at the back of the entry. With four sections to go had lost 25 marks and suffered a rear puncture. In a hurry to let the observers go home, I managed to ‘five’ the remaining four sections and still only lost four more marks than the winner. That seemed to set the tone for my career.
I developed a knack of having early models of machines that weren’t quite ready. The first SWM, the first JCM in between several Bultaco, Montesa and Suzuki models. The most amazing machine I ever rode was Nigel Birkett’s ‘works’ 325cc Suzuki, it was pure magic. I rode the Scottish, entered by Eddie Crooks in 1976. Eddie had an entrants licence due to his involvement with road racing, so that was probably my one and only ‘works’ ride. Peter Quinn was the source of the JCM, and of much amusement. I rode a 350 Montesa for the absolute legend Bill Brown. For my 60th birthday, Judith bought me an air-cooled Yamaha, and I recently treated myself to a 300RR Montesa.
How did you first become attracted to the clerical side of motorcycle trials?
Wym taught me that trials didn’t grow on trees; somebody had to make them happen. I was a member of the Barrow club at 14-years-old. All members got a letter from John Pratt stating that a new club was being formed and we all had to attend the next meeting as the future of our club depended on it. The room was packed, and my dad and I started to attend regularly. Over the years, I have been Club Trials Secretary, Club Secretary, Club Chairman, Centre Trials Recorder and Centre Secretary — and I’m currently getting grief because I don’t attend Centre meetings!
When did you become part of the Trials and Enduro Committee?
The way the ACU system works is you serve a three-year term. After this, you can seek re-election along with others. At this time the Trials and Enduro Committee was very stable and settled so the only time you had a chance of election was if somebody created a vacancy. I had a few attempts at the election and eventually made it when Derek Clampin reached the age of 70 and had to step down; that’s a long time ago now!
What is your current status with the ACU?
I was recently elected as Vice Chairman of the Trials and Enduro Committee. Under the 70-year rule, John Collins will step down at the end of this year. It’s a privilege working with John even though, as, in any group of eight people, we often have differences of opinion, but we always respect each other.
I became Vice Chairman on the understanding that I wouldn’t automatically become Chairman next year. Being Chairman of a committee also means you become a Director of the ACU and I need to be sure whether I feel I can give the extra time to this, especially as the political/business side doesn’t interest me that much.
Does the ACU do a good job?
Having been an ACU man for over 50 years, I believe we do. We don’t get everything right, but we do the job for the right reasons. We have many people who are very quick to tell us we should have done this, that, or the other, but quite often they only see their point of view, or they personally have something to gain. We try to make decisions for the good of the majority and the sport as a whole.
How much are you involved with the riders?
I get a lot of banter about VIP travel and accommodation etc., but I know that they appreciate what I do and they know they can contact me whenever and I will do what I can for them. I think this comes from the Undertaking career: I am available 24/7/365, and that’s how I live my life.
Right from my first time as Jury Delegate in Belgium, I knew I was there for the riders and not to have a jolly weekend away. I always made a point of treating our younger riders and top lads the same as I travelled the paddock, hungry, late at night, telling them their start times or any changes.
One of the best changes with Sport7 has been the information and the App. The mobile noticeboard gets the information out there, and this side of things excites me greatly.
Being on the Trials and Enduro Committee I also went to several World Enduros and. even though I knew nothing about it, I learnt the sport and managed to gain respect from the Enduro lads too.
One weekend in France getting Graham Jarvis through administration at a World Enduro could fill a full article on its own. I try not to inflict myself on them but instead take half-a-step back and let them come to me.
I coordinate the ACU under-23 Trials squad. It started out as a training squad, but now we financially assist riders who contest the European Championship. Despite the many claims that ‘the ACU do nothing for our riders’ or ‘why don’t the ACU support our riders like the Spanish and Italians do’, well, since the inception of this squad, riders have received close to £1million from the ACU with Enduro riders receiving a similar amount.
Tell us about your involvement with the FIM.
Being a Jury Delegate was part of what was expected as a Trials and Enduro Committee member. My first time was a strange trip to Bilstain in Belgium. Despite this, I loved being part of this side of the sport. Again, from the Undertaking business, I have a natural interest in communicating with people, and this has led to an ability to speak and communicate in several languages.
I have been quite outspoken about the no-stop rule issue, which was wrong, not just on a rules basis, but in the way it was done. It ended up as a political decision by the FIM management after
pressure from the manufacturers. From my side, I saw many good devoted Trials people who became demoralised or were cast aside, and one that we lost was Dave Willoughby. Dave and I have shared opinions on the sport and its governance for many years. Dave left the FIM Europe (UEM as it was then) and the ACU needed a representative on the UEM Commission, so I was nominated and appointed in 2011 at the Congress in Treviso Italy. I absolutely love this. I now have the possibility to work with some more amazingly dedicated people. Anders Minken was one of the initial people who pushed for women’s involvement at this level, and I find him inspirational.
To know that I can work with former SWM works rider Danilo Galeazzi on equal terms and that he respects my opinion is very humbling. It has also given me a chance to meet some of the younger riders from other countries, and at the recent European round in Spain, it was gratifying how many of them were happy to see me and share opinions.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the sport, both in the UK and at the European and world championship?
In the UK the number of registered trials riders continues to grow. Despite this, there is a massive range of abilities and requirements. For a large majority of people, trials is a leisure activity rather than a sport. We have recently heard of events with no observers and no awards, where the course is set out, and riders go off in small groups and have a great day out; bums on seats and happy people.
The job of the Trials and Enduro committee is to try to provide a framework for all to take part and enjoy and, most importantly, to listen. Many innovations come from clubs and work their way up rather than the other way round, which is a good thing.
I love the European Championship as it provides the chance for riders to push themselves but the atmosphere is still relaxed and enjoyable. World Trials is going through a transition with the introduction of a promoter. Much of what is happening is good; I particularly like the technology and communications. This year I have spent two days attending a Superlicence Seminar in Geneva and a weekend in Rugby obtaining a normal FIM Licence, and then the FIM, Sport7 and the manufacturers have a meeting to decide what the rules are going to be — sometimes it makes me feel a bit irrelevant!
Are you a stop or no-stop man?
How long have you got? Basically, I’m not a nostop man; partly for the political reasons I already mentioned but mainly because it doesn’t work.
As stated, rider participation in the UK is on the increase, and many believe this is because no-stop has made events easier and more accessible, but I would like to know how many of them would be happy if the rules were actually enforced and they were always given five marks for a stop as they should be.
At world level, the standard is so high and the margins so small that these rules are unworkable. It is a very emotive subject, and even within the Trials and Enduro Committee, we have had some heated debates, up to a point where I believe that some of the other members came to doubt my intentions. I do however believe that ‘going back’ to stop permitted is not the answer. The problem is we never get time to sit down and really think about a solution.
Do you enjoy all motorcycle sports?
Sure do. I would love to go to more but Trials, and Enduro commitments restrict what I can do. I try to get to Oulton Park when BSB is in town, but the first one clashed with the Scottish. I also try to get to Manchester to watch Belle Vue speedway. The meetings are now on a Monday which is better for me, but the crowds are smaller, and it’s not good for the club.
If I were involved in Moto GP, Marc Marquez would be spending some time at home pondering the error of his ways!
Can you tell us about the other success story in your life?
Anyone involved in motorcycling as much as I am spends a lot of time ‘playing out’, and the only way you can do this is to be a multi-millionaire or have a solid base at home.
Judith, my wife since 1982, is a phenomenon. She has drive, ambition, brains, inspiration and is the perfect antidote to me, so we balance out really well — even though she is also very capable of some extreme ‘muppetry’!
Her brand, Kin Vodka, is a brilliant example. We had something similar in a bar in Tignes on holiday. She decided she could make it, so she played about with the blending and came up with something we both agreed was pretty damned tasty. She spent a couple of years giving it to the family for birthday presents and local events for raffle prizes.
In Judith’s world, things don’t stop there. She got a business start-up help from Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, and we were underway. We started by mixing in a five-gallon barrel, bottling, labelling and selling, sometimes working 14- to 16-hour days. The problem was that she was in full-time employment and I was making it all day. She would come home from work full of enthusiasm, and we would start again all evening. We now do several hundred events in the year including Car Fest North and Manchester Christmas Markets, and I don’t have to do joinery any more!
Have we got a future world trials champion in Great Britain?
In short, yes, we do…the brilliant Emma Bristow. Unfortunately, in the near future, the answer is no. James Dabill is currently riding at a different level to most of the others, and he could easily finish higher in the Trial World Championship than previously, but I can’t see him winning it. We have some brilliant riders, as the Trial2 class has demonstrated in recent years, but the next level is so much higher.
I don’t say this easily as I know how hard these lads work and how committed they are. Nobody could ask more of Jack Price who works his bits off. The Peace lads are driven and vastly talented, as is Toby Martyn, and I feel so sorry for Iwan Roberts that he has been struck with this illness at this stage in his career.
Sometimes it seems strange that we have riders who can compete to the top level in the European and Trial2 Championships then really struggle with the next step, unlike Jaime Busto and Miquel Gelabert, for example, who continue to rise up the ranks. As I have implied, this level of competition is what floats my boat and why I do what I do, and I hope that all of these riders will get the rewards they deserve. Harry Hemingway: now there’s a thought!
The next few years are going to be busy!
Looking as young as ever in 1974 on the Bultaco.
Mick rates the Nigel Birkett works prepared Suzuki 325TheRLnextas fewthebestyearsmachinearegoinghetohasbeeverbusy! ridden.
Proud to wear the ‘Team ACU GBR’ trial shirt.
A normal Sunday for Mr Wren. Over the years he has been a Club Trials Secretary, Club Secretary, Club Chairman, Centre Trials Recorder and Centre Secretary.
In 2003 at an early Nostalgia Trial, we are not sure about the green Bultaco, now there’s a story!
Promoting the ACU at the International Dirt Bike Show is all in a day’s work.
World Trials is going through a transition with the introduction of a promoter. Much of what is happening is good, and I particularly like the technology and communications.
2016: Section inspection in Great Britain for the World Championship round.
Checking the ‘Punch cards’ at the 2009 Lakes Two Day Trial.
Emma Bristow is an exceptional lady and has opened the door for so many other female trials riders.
Enjoying good times with the wife, Judith. Mick has one word to describe her: ‘phenomenon’.
Time for a pint with Judith, Mrs Wren since 1982. Mick: “She has the drive, ambition, brains, inspiration and is the perfect antidote to me, so we balance out really well”.
Yes Mick is quite rightly so very proud of his wife’s Kin Vodka success story.
Sometimes he has a day off!