December 2021 Vol. 21 No. 12

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Small Talk – Why we are who we are!

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Why we are who we are!

In a detour from the usual blog theme it’s time to find out what tragic series of misfortunes

of life choices led the members of RetroMoto Racing to the world of motorcycling and road

racing. Small Talk asks the questions that nobody else would.

Hi Richard.

Hi Small Talk.

We are talking to you first as there is no fool like an old fool, what’s it like to be 20

years older than your nearest teammate and twice the age of the others? Shouldn’t

you be in an old folks home with a pipe and slippers?

I just hope they are doing this at my age, I have no intention of retiring just yet and am still

more than competitive. I am most definitely not the oldest competitor on track by a decade

or so. It would be nice to think I could still be doing this in 20 years.

Why Historics?

By definition Historic Motorcycle Racing is for older machines, whose natural appeal would

tend towards older riders. As with music, we often relate more to the bikes that were

around in our formative years better than some of contemporary offerings. This does not

preclude younger riders from enjoying older machinery, however in the main there is a

correlation between age and choice of race period. Regardless of their age riders would

probably object to being termed as “historic”! It is always great to see younger riders

coming into the sport and challenging in the P6 Classes which now seem to be attracting

the largest number of bikes and the fiercest competition.

The RetroMoto race team members age range encompass 30 years and whilst we are all

getting older, we have all been getting faster.

The quick and the dead!

Something like that.

A quick look at your bio:

Age: 62

Weight: 73kg

Height: Whatever 5ft 10inches is in Metric

Marital statues: Divorced

No children

Currently no dogs

Eye colour: Green

What would you say was your greatest asset as a rider?

I guess we are the sum of our experiences – I have a lot of hours on motorcycles, I have

always taken an interest in improving my riding and I am competitive. I think not having

family responsibilities up plays a large part in it too.

Wow, love me love my bike eh? What was your entry to the world of motorcycles?

I grew up in the UK. There was no family history of motorcycles, but my father was heavily

into sports cars and had had an XK120 Jaguar in his youth. He had been trained as a pilot

towards the end of WW2 and continued to feed his need for speed by driving Jags at no

less than 80MPH out of town in the halcyon 1960s when speed limit enforcement was a

copper on a bicycle or in a Morris Minor. He was a very good driver but had no interest in

motorcycles.

So your Dad was a speed freak!

He was, but he was never anti motorcycle. I can remember seeing a couple of bikes from

my local town, a blue Triumph T100 and a red BSA with high bars and a sissy bar that was

ridden with particular brio. I was into soccer, but then one day I made friends with a

schoolmate with a NSU moped with a spray-can metal flake paint job. My memory says we

fanged around the local beaches, however I suspect we spent most of the time pushing it.

The ice had been broken, I was aware of 2 wheels. Then in 1973 a friend, Mark, lent me a

motorcycle magazine, “Bike”. After years of studying the English classics and

Shakespeare its style of writing captured my imagination, speed, freedom, rebellion and all

those other key concepts that are catnip to a susceptible teen were there, it changed my

life.

From then on I was reading every article I could about motorcycles. The writers at “Bike”

were an informative and anarchic lot – the editor, Mark Williams, wrote of the merits of

speed and Laverdas, Royce Creasy suggested alternatives to the norm, LJK Setright

penned learned articles on riding and machinery set up and the likes of John Watson, Bill

Haylock and Matt Oxley inspired me. I still have some of the original magazines and they

read as well today as they did then – the word-smithing was of extraordinary quality, even

if the world has thankfully moved on from some of the morse sexist prose that young men

full of adrenalin and other substances penned at that time.

Was there a particular motorcycle that inspired you?

I suppose if there was one article that pushed me over the edge it was Barnaby Williams

road test of the 750S MotoGuzzi. A week later I saw one in the flesh, that was it – nothing

was more beautiful. Then a couple of years later when Bill Haylock wrote about the Le

Mans Mk1 in effusive terms I was hooked.

Lusting after exotic machinery comes within every teenagers job description,

acquiring the objects of said lust is of course a more difficult matter for

impecunious youngsters. What did you do?

I got my drivers licence, fanged around flat out in a Mini Clubman at my father’s approved

minimum speed of 80MPH for a year and then got a second hand Suzuki GT250A, the

fastest thing I could legally lay my hands on. History relates that I survived, a lot of the lore

I learned through “Bike” proved invaluable. I rode as much as I could, as far as I could as

often as I could. I passed my test and moved to another Suzuki 2 stroke, a GT500A. I tried

going to engineering college – no-one in my family had ever picked up a spanner, and it

soon became apparent that I shouldn’t either.

On my 21 st birthday I rode the 960 miles from my town to LandsEnd and back in a day. The

GT500A shat its gearbox – as they did – and got replaced by a first 4 stroke, a GS550. It

was heavier, didn’t handle as well but was more comfortable and sophisticatedly modern. I

had it for a year and then felt I was ready.

So you are a mechanical numptie?

Not exactly, I know when things aren’t right. I am still learning how to fix things… I was

fortunate enough to be, ”helping out” at a local independent motorcycle shop, Darryn’s in

Sandwich. My duties on Saturdays were to make sure the bikes started and the tyres were

pumped up. I was allowed to take them out for as I termed it, “exercise”. The owner had

been a war time despatch rider and had a fantastic range of machinery on the floor

including the Ducati 900SS and Laverda Jotas and Montjuics. Geoff was a patient man

and always asked me for feedback on the bikes I had ridden, he very subtly educated me

as to what was quality and got me to think about my riding. The GS550 had been flogged

within an inch of its life, I had it for a year and then felt I was ready. I got a job with

Barclay’s Bank as a cashier, got a loan at staff rates and traded the GS for a second hand

Le Mans Mk1 with Geoff.

They say you should never meet your heroes, how was it?.

I took the Le Mans for a test ride on a wet, dark November evening. When I got on it I

inadvertently flipped up the left footpeg. It made gear changing almost impossible but that

wasn’t the point. I was overwhelmed by the pulses of the V twin – it felt as though there

was a giant in the distance who was hauling me towards them hand over hand on a

hawser – it was challenging, intoxicating, I it was the realisation of a dream that was worth

the wait.

The Guzzi taught me about smooth wide lines, corner entry and mid-corner speed and

acceleration points. It woke up at a speed my father approved of – he was now a regular

pillion – and I was doing as much riding as I could outside bank hours.

What happened next?

Life changes direction for the most unforeseen reasons. I had met Ted Simon, the author

of “Jupiters Travels” at the Earl’s Court bike show and wanted to go travelling. Another

bored mate in the bank wanted to come too, I sold the Le Mans and bought one of the first

R80G/S BMWs, an ex-press demo. Then the bored mate got his girlfriend pregnant, I did

Brands Hatch race school and came 4 th in their annual finale. I didn’t have the resources to

go racing but all I wanted to do was ride. Logical outcome, I became a courier and part

time riding instructor.

The world was a different place in the early 80s – engineering blue prints, advertising copy,

everything you wanted taken from one place to another, was physically transported. I got a

job doing long distance work. That is probably an understatement. On average I was riding

between 3 to 5000 km a week, every week of the year in all weathers. I was in my

element. I expanded my horizons by touring widely in France as well as doing the annual

Beaujolais Run 3 times carrying about 60 bottles of wine a time. I was happy to be moving

on a bike, racing was not important at that time, I wanted to see far horizons, not dash

around a track in circles.

You must have had some interesting experiences and jobs.

It was never boring – in one day I carried 75kg of mineshaft lift door handles, the next a

pair of slippers an American millionaire had left at his London hotel to a shooting lodge in

the Cotswolds.

Couriers are recognised psychos – any big offs?

I was very lucky, the most serious crash I had was at 90MPH when the bike’s wheels

aquaplaned and washed out on some tar strips. It and I slid in a straight line down the road

and we both came to a halt undamaged.

Lucky!

Yes, a colleague nearly died when a driver coming the other way had a medical incident

and blacked out. Fortunately he was riding a flat twin BMW and whilst the force snapped

the fork and took off the right side cylinder head. There was enough reduction of impact

that his leg wasn’t torn off. He survived and his right leg ended up 10cm shorter. We were

all a bit shaken at the time.

How did you get to Oz?

By plane – Olympic Airlines. I arrived on 31 st December 1986 and everyone in Australia

celebrated my arrival!

Further horizons had beckoned when I got engaged to an Australian girl who had been

working as a rider at the same despatch company I had. I emigrated to Oz at the end of

1986 and got a variety of jobs in Sydney before ending up as a salesman at Tom Byrne

Motorcycles in Wentworth Avenue. I was there for a couple of years and also worked at

Sydney Motorcycle Wreckers. The NSW RTA had a pilot motorcycle rider training scheme

and I volunteered time there as well as writing articles for Bike Australia. One thing led to

another and I ended up being assistant editor at Bike Australia and was then offered a job

as a journo at Two Wheels.

That’s almost every riders dream job! Free new motorcycles to ride and all day to

do it.

The reality was slightly different. The difference between the Australian and British style of

road testing and motorcycle magazine articles became apparent very quickly, here the

market is very small and far less editorially anarchic, so my days were numbered. I

continued to write for Two Wheels and other publications on an ad hoc basis but got

involved with the new NSW Rider Training scheme on a full time basis.

Poacher turned gamekeeper? How did that work out?

I’ve always been committed to trying to ride as well as possible (if not always as legally as

possible). When my mother used to tell me to ride safely I’d always say,”No. I will ride

well.” I still believe in that principle. Life in Oz saw me take up dirt bikes and dirt touring. I

got a Husqvarna 390 and turned it into a motard and took it road racing. It was a dumb

experiment, “Snert” – named after the Hagar the Horrible’s Scandanavian mongrel –

vibrated enough to give me white fingers after a lap but was forever plagued by electrical

problems. I sold it, bought a 3CL Laverda and thought I had gone to heaven – that was

until I rode a VeeTwo Ducati Alchemy. I found possibly the worst Ducati Hailwood Replica

in the world and parted it out to build a 75HP wonderbike. I also got into the weird world of

trials for a year or two and then discovered a GS1100G and sidecar.

Let me guess, Wallace and Gromit?

There are too many sidecar stories to tell. The sidecar got me and my cattledog to WA on

a lap of Oz in 1995. I met a girl in Fremantle and have been here ever since. There were

other bikes, overseas riding in Asia and the years passed until I felt that I was now old and

sensible enough at 55 to take up Production Racing on a GSXR600. The results were

encouraging, including a top 4 finish, but a problem with my retinas saw me stop racing

after half a season. The bike was sold and I assumed that my sight would prevent me

racing ever again. After a few operations over a year or so surgery restored 98% of my

sight. I didn’t feel confident that I could race at the same speeds as on the GSXR600, but

the hunger remained.

Unfinished business?

Paul Smith at RetroMoto suggested I race with Historics. A CBR250R was sourced via

Scott and RetroMoto wielded the spanners. I did well enough in my first season, then

doubled my race time by putting my highly modified DR650 Suzuki onto the track. In 790cc

guise it was quick enough to gain me second place in the club Thunderbike

Championship in 2018.

As a quick and smooth rider I like racing in damp and wet conditions and I really enjoy the

challenges of racing single cylinder bikes – a MuZ660 Skorpion joined the stable and has

been developed over the last 2 seasons. It won the PreModern Championship in 2019 and

is continuing to evolve – so far it has gone from 42 to 65HP. I also have a raced a KZ500

Period 5 bike for the last 2 seasons. I may be the grey hair in the team but so long as my

lap times keep coming down, I’m happy. I am not ready to give up yet, someone has to

keep the youngsters in line

Why do you race?

That’s both a hard and easy question. Logically I have no reason to other than it is what

gives me the greatest pleasure. The race calendar brings structure to my year, keeps me

active and fit and allows me to work on my riding skills in a competitive environment with

people whose company I enjoy. Racing requires passion. You have to want to be there

with total presence and commitment and focus. The word “total” in the previous sentence

still applies – I am trying as hard as I can, and I haven’t yet come in from a race this year

not bubbling with excitement and adrenalin from pushing the envelope, testing myself and

chasing down others.

Are you slowing down?

I am certainly not ready to hang up my leathers, maybe I should race in a different class

with more competition to continue to learn. Certainly the challenges of aging will inevitably

become apparent at some stage and whilst I will chafe and fight against accepting

changing limitations I will only stop racing when it ceases to feed fun to my soul. The

dilemma of when to let go of racing will be solved by when my definition of joy changes.

Until that time eventuates it has my full attention and commitment. The MuZ needs

development and I want to see how far we can go with it.

But eventually?

We are exceptionally lucky in WA, Covid19 hasn’t really impinged on our lifestyle. My other

great love is riding bikes in different countries. If\when that becomes an option I will revert

back to the Ted Simon model and go travelling as far and wide as possible.

A question, which would win in a fight, a lion or a tiger?

I don’t know, maybe a tiger, I think they are bigger.

Last thing, can you tell me a joke?

I hate telling set jokes, my humour tends to be reactive or reflexive.. Ok, two fish in a tank.

One says, “I’ll drive”, the other says, “Ok, I’ll do the gun”

That is appalling. Thank you very much for your time and good luck for the future.

Thank you Small Talk, nice chatting.

Story by Retro Moto Co

Published 14/10/2020


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