Most people count sheep when they are having trouble sleeping. Last night I counted motorbikes I have owned and ridden – that kept me awake till about 2.00am!
OK – I started my list from 1958 although I had been riding things like an ex-army Norton 16H – a 350cc Douglas Dragonfly and a 1937 Ariel in fields and on farm roads from the age of twelve.
Velocette 350 MAC — bought from my friend Jimmie Stewart in 1958 to help pay for his wedding – price paid £50. My first road bike – she took me on many teenage adventures. I got my licence on my 17th birthday 21st March and passed my test on the Velo soon after.
My limited mechanical knowledge was barely enough to keep us in one piece but somehow both bike and I survived at least one major mishap during our time together at the cost of a pair of secondhand forks from Pride &Clarke and a new bike jaikit 😄
BSA 650 Gold Flash — this was the Show bike from Earls Court in 1954.
The first Gold Flash to have swinging arm rear suspension. Bought from the show by Ronnie Sutherland of Dollar – she was treated to an alloy head and a single Amal TT carb plus alloy rims – twin leading shoe front brake and open megaphone exhausts with Matchless type ‘silencers’ available for the road.
Ridden by Ewen Haldane she finished third to Alistair King and the great Bob Mac at Charterhall circuit and was reputed to have been timed at 130mph on the long bumpy straight there.
I bought her from Ronnie for £65 and used her for road work. She handled well with sidecar springs and 30 grade engine oil in the ‘race tuned’ front forks. The bike could also show a clean pair of heels to the much vaunted Rocket Gold Star which came out at that time. The Gold Flash was the bike I was riding when I broke my neck at nineteen years of age.
BSA 650 Lightning — bought for £365 from Robertson’s of Alloa at their new shop out Clackmannan road in 1966 – it was a toss-up between her and the Velocette Thruxton 500 sat along side her. I made the wrong choice and bought the shiny red unit construction Beezer.
She vibrated – did 35mpg – topped out at 110mph and I didn’t keep her long as baby daughter arrived having survived a hump back bridge at full speed in her mum’s tum.
Work took me to England and overseas for the next twelve years so none of the bikes in this list are from that period.
Yamaha XT500 — no sooner was I back from overseas work with a few quid in my pocket than I was along to Granby’s in Nottingham for the stunning new Yamaha XT500.
We moved back to Scotland and I rode her through the snow over the Pennines on the A66 to our new home. Having no proper biking gear there were times on that trip when going back to work in Africa even with its problems didn’t seem such a bad idea after all!
Once settled back in Scotland I quickly realised that my ambition to ride the infant Dakar Rally wasn’t going to happen and joined my older brother who was competing off road in the Scottish Trials Championships.
Bultaco Sherpa 325 Trials — bought new from fellow Aberdonian Jimmie Allan at his bike shop in Bathgate – with the benefit of hindsight this was the right bike for me.
I had practised with Kenny Fleming – sometime Scottish Champion at his gravel quarry on the banks of the River Allan by Dunblane as a teenager. Using his spare BSA C15 I thought I was doing ok back then – 20 years and a serious illness later I was doing it for real and struggling.
The Sherpa was a rugged brute – I had wanted a 250cc version but with none available in Scotland I settled for the 325. She pulled me through thick and thin – all I had to do was hang on and paddle! One day even paddling in a deeper river wasn’t enough – with the water lapping over the tank she drowned!
Ossa 250 Trials — I spotted the green Ossa on Jimmie Morton’s stand at Robbie Allan’s Scottish Bike Show in the Kelvin Hall and thought ‘that’s for me’ – he wouldn’t sell it off the stand so I arranged to visit his Sorn shop in darkest Ayrshire and do the deed.
Down that way for work – I was on his doorstep at nine – Jimmie surfaced about noon – after a very late breakfast and a bit of haggling – most of it going his way as my limited patience was running thin – the bike was in the back of my van and I was offski!
Disappointment didn’t come into it! She wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding! I met Jimmie at a trial some weeks later and he didn’t want to know. Competition bikes were sold without warranty apparently – which was probably why he travelled around with big Andy Alexander.
Bumped into Keith Horseman at the Scottish and spilled out my woes. At the finish of the Six Days on the Saturday my Ossa was loaded onto a none-too-pleased Rob Shepherds pickup alongside his works Honda and Martin Lampkin’s works Bultaco. With Keith, Martin and Rob squeezed into the tight front seat and three bikes aboard – the Yorkshire Armada set sail from Fort William for Skipton.
Keith fitted a reed valve to the green Ossa in his workshop upstairs in an old woollen mill – a machine transformed! She had gone from no power to moto-cross mode! Didn’t make my results much better but she did make the big Two Day Trials over the Scottish mountains much more fun 😄
Yamaha TY80 — I bought this one for my schoolboy son. We would race up in the woods near our house and if it was tight amongst the trees he would invariably beat me. He also came wiith me to trials with wee bike in the van until he outgrew it.
Seeley Honda 197 Trials — Always a four-stroke man at heart I swapped the Ossa for the Seeley. A work of art – she was a lovely little bike and a pleasure to ride in most situations. i even rode an International Trial in southern Germany on her.
Honda 197 Trials — another tidy little Honda – not officially available in the UK – I brought her in from Belgium. Much the same problems as with the Seeley – remember this was before trials riders lived on the clutch. All was down to throttle control and from trickling round and over rocks in a stream bed at low revs it was a lottery as to whether she would cough and splutter to a halt or come on strong when something extra was wanted to lift the front wheel up a nadgery river bank.
Yamaha 250 Trials — The Mick Andrews Replica – she was another beauty. I was older and trail riding mostly in Wales by the time I had this bike. I kept her a while and when the right offer came – passed her on – as you do 🙄
Honda 175 Trail — bought on a whim – my daughter rode the bike ok in a straight line in the fields but went through a hedge when she treated the surprised little Honda like a horse – that bike had to go too – 🥺
Fantic 200 Trials — a very useful trials bike – this one was bought for my son to ride but didn’t stay long either. I had hoped he would muck in with the regular cleaning and everything that goes with running a bike off-road but he had other ideas. With an active business to run I didn’t have time to care for two bikes so it had to go 🥺🙃
BMW RT1000R — Not sure about the model numbers on this ‘V’ reg Beemer. Very low mileage and bought cheap from a liquidation sale she had a barn door of a fairing and cruised comfortably at 100mph. Wasn’t really into road riding at the time and soon sold her on for a profit.
Honda Revere 600 — Had a notion to turn to road riding – didn’t know much about then current road bikes but this shaft drive V twin seemed a sensible option. I bought her new from Bill Head – the Honda dealer in Preston.
Soon I was thrashing her around the Scottish roads. Early models were built in Japan and beautiful little bikes that never lost their lustre.
I did my first trip to the Isle of Man on the Revere and quickly realised how under-powered she was. I was hooked on racing by this time and wanted to get a race licence and do the TT. She had to go 🧐
Yamaha FZR 600R — Bought with racing in mind – a ‘red mist’ moment after being chopped up by two Ducati’s at Knockhill circuit saw her go skittering across the infield with expensive parts flying off in all directions as I picked myself up from the tarmac!
I rebuilt the 600 and swapped her for a Classic Racing Championship winning 860 Norton.
Yamaha TDM 850 (2) — Ahh – the TDM – my first was definitely one of the first in the country. I thrashed her around the hielands for the first year as you do before you start to worry about the polis and the chances of losing your licence. The BoTT series was due a visit to Knockhill for the Scottish round which meant the two Ducatis that chopped me up on my FZR600R in practise would be there from the south.
That was all I needed – the grindette came out – every part of the frame that wasn’t required on a race bike got the chop. My friend Howard machined off half the flywheel to help her to rev up quicker and also allowed me to chamfer and plate the flywheel cover for added ground clearance. Lightweight Ceriani wheels were sourced and a cush drive was mackled up to fit. This let us to dump the heavyweight final drive chain and sprockets and fit proper race stuff.
The TDM was beginning to look like a racer – especially when I chopped the bulbous fuel tank – bashed it about then welded it up to fit under the shallow fibreglass tank cover from the FZR600R race kit. There was no stopping me now – the FZR race seat unit was fitted to a cutdown rearend and a spare Honda NC30 nose fairing from my ex Jim Moodie VFR400 had her looking the part.
Rearset footrests were machined on nightshift at a local engineering works – a one mil drill was pushed through the carb main jets to give her extra juice and I fashioned a forced air induction system to help balance the fuel/air ratio. I almost forgot – the exhaust was put together and welded up for me by a chap in Stirling and he also made me a ‘silencer’. With most of this work taking place the week before the race it’s a wonder the bike ran at all – let alone perform admirably as it did.
First time she ran was on the Friday before Race weekend. The early TDM had only five gears in the box which meant that I was tempted to hang on to third on the run up to Clark’s – disaster! My Scitsui tacho hadn’t arrived in time and all this extra ‘tuning’ allowed the motor to spin up real quick and a valve tipped a piston. Nothing daunted – Howard carted her back to his shop and worked through the night on repairs to the motor so that I could race her on the Sat and Sunday. What a Star!
It would be nice if I could say I actually won something on her but I raced my home-built TDM all over and as well as taking part in an International BoTT race at Donington between the Brits and the French she had another day when all her stars fell into line and we had a third place – magic!
BMW GS 1000 (2)
BMW R850 — I had been running a couple of the early BMW GS thou’s before I started my Rider Training operation which were fine for battering around UK and Europe but tall and heavy old brutes to be riding out with learners.
BMW R100GS —
So-o – along came the new R850 which was initially one of my hire bikes. That came to an end when a couple rode it to Paris and back in a weekend and somehow managed to take the centre out of a new rear Dunlop. That was in the early days of bike hire and soon bike hire companies were measuring tread depth and charging extra for wear.
I found the naked 850 to be hard work after the free-flowing GS models and it wasn’t long before I fell out of love with it. Being tipped upside down into a ditch when riding pillion behind a lady rider on it one day didn’t help matters – but I will admit that with the big HO barrels sticking out either side that bike crashes well —
Honda RC600 (2) — I bought two in a job lot that came over in a container from the States. A red un and a white one .. history unknown but condition Great.
I sold the white one straightaway and rode the red bike .. she was a cracker off-road. Unfortunately she was kickstart only and after a real struggle to get her started after a stall on a difficult Welsh hillside one day she had to go. My 600E with it’s leccie foot was back in favour.
Ducati 860GTE — bought on a whim – nice enough bike but a rattly motor made me anticipate problems with the bevel drive top end.
A chap from Arbroath was keen to take the bonnie Ducati off my hands so away she went. I did hear a while later that it had ‘blown up’ – his words – c’est la vie —
Suzuki DR350 — thought it might be a good bike for green laning with my mates in mid-Wales. I found it heavy for a 350 after running a 250 Gas Gas Enduro but the lack of a leccie foot was the main reason it went —
Yamaha XT600 — This one – from Italy – had a kick start plus a leccie boot and it wasn’t long before someone made me an offer for it I couldn’t refuse —
Yamaha XT600E — A wonderful bike – good on the road and able off-road – I loved that bike. Trouble was that after a few years of riding Welsh trails I had my heart set on a big red Yamaha XJR1300 road bike so the 600E had to go.
Honda VFR400 NC30 (2)
Norton 860 Classic Racer
Matchless 350 Trials
Yamaha 125 (4) — After I retired for the first time and decided I’d had enough of travelling the world – I trained as a rider trainer and set up a business to do just that.
The four little Yams were bought for the job in hand and I quite enjoyed training would be motorcyclists. But – turning a hobby into a business isn’t always a clever thing to do and after a few years of working mostly evenings and weekends I went back to treating motorcycling as a hobby. The lovely wee Yamaha’s were easily sold off.
Yamaha Virago 325 — they were popular in the early nineties and this one I bought near Telford was a particular beauty. It was ok to ride apart from whitelining badly on overbanding and road markings. It wasn’t long before some old geezer wanted her and off she went.
That Virago contributed to the demise of my Rider Training enterprise – the ‘old geezer’ was a customer of the big bike shop next door who I rented my premises from. It wasn’t long before I received a stiff warning letter as it appeared that I was selling more bikes than they were around that time.
Honda CB500 — bought new for Direct Access training – she was a very much underated bike. A young James Toseland who would go on to win World Championships was winning a One Make British Championship aboard the 500cc twin at that time.
Kawasaki 600GP — another bike bought for the rider training venture. This mechanically sound machine was a shaftie unless my memory is playing tricks and was used for Direct Access training. But not for long – she may have been good mechanically but on further examination was found to be a real ‘swamp donkey’. The lower frame was rotten and under the paint rusted through – bye bye 600GP —
Honda Dominator 600 — The motorcycling press kept saying it was the best of the big singles around at that time. I quickly found I preferred my Yamaha XT600E but the Dommie soon found a good home —
Suzuki Bandit 600
Gas Gas Enduro 250
Suzuki Bandit 1200
Yamaha Serow 225
Honda 50 Scooter
Ducati Corsa 936
Yamaha XJR1300 (4)
Yamaha XJR 400
Aprillia Mille RSV1000
Yamaha Tenere 660Z
Honda Pan European 1100
Honda MSX 125
Honda X-ADV 750 (2)
I make that sixty in total covering a fair spread of motorcycling – plus quite a few more that I was lent by friends – family and dealers. Most notable amongst those were a 500 BSA Gold Star and the Norton Rotary F1 – two bikes poles apart in every respect but I’m so glad to have had the chance to ride them.
I’ve been saying ‘this will be my last bike’ since the mid-nineties – but to no avail. They just keep on coming 😄