|Being a Born-Again Biker in Brum|
1952 ~ 2002: The End of an Era?
My first experience of motor cycling came around 1952, when I was about 16.
I used to visit a friend in Great Barr (the other side of town from Bournville,
where I then lived), Michael Guest, whom I had met at the Midlands Branch of
the British Interplanetary Society, which I had just joined. He had built a
telescope, through which I was able to obtain my first glimpses of the Moons
craters and Saturns rings ~ magic! But I had to travel over there
by bus; not an easy journey. However, on one occasion Walter Harris was there.
Walter also had a telescope, and lived about half a mile from me, in Mulberry
Road, and he had a motorbike: at first just a moped, but then he got,
I think, a BSA 250 (maybe 500 ~ it seemed big, and black of course), and
one night he offered me a lift home on his pillion.
Anything was better than that bus journey, so I accepted, with some trepidation.
It was scary, but I quickly found that I enjoyed it ~ loved it, in fact!
So I made sure that in future I got a lift from Michaels whenever I could.
In 1954, at 18, I joined the RAF for National Service, and after basic training
was sent to train in the Medical Branch (this came as a result of the fact that
my lab job was in the Pharmacy Department ~ I never wanted to be
a nurse!). But after training I was posted back to my square-bashing camp, RAF
Hednesford, up on Cannock Chase. After some months a new Dispenser was posted
into my billet, Alan Ainsley, and he had permission to keep his motor cycle
on camp. We became friends, and he quite often took me into the local towns,
Cannock or Rugeley, on the back of his bike. Of course, I never had a helmet
or anything; I just rode in my uniform or civvies.
MY FIRST BIKES
The feeling of being on the road for the first time, on your own and under
power, is indescribable! There was just room to garage it in the lean-to veranda
of our house. (Today, I wonder how it, and later, bigger machines, ever went
through the door, but they did.) Of course, I was soon going to work on it;
there was a large motor cycle shed on Cadburys car park, and I met other
bikers there, with machines of all sizes and shapes. I passed my test at the
second attempt. The first time it was raining and I was too slow with my emergency
stop, on that slippery road. Well. . .
I went out for rides on the local roads, and generally enjoyed my new freedom. My friend Barry Soden got an old BSA 250, and we went out on our bikes together. His kept breaking down. But it did inspire me to get a bigger machine myself, and I traded in mine for another Francis Barnett, but a 225cc. While still a two-stroke, its exhaust had an impressive, staccato blat. On this I went down to Seaton in Devon for a holiday, while my parents went down on the train. On the beach there I met a very nice girl called Wendy, who taught in a local school and rode a scooter with L plates, and gave her lessons!
Another year I went to stay in Colwyn Bay, alone, and it was here that, unknown
to me until later, an inexperienced young garage attendant put Red-X into my
fuel tank instead of two-stroke oil when I asked him for "two gallons and
two shots". The result was that I was roaring along the nice straight
road alongside the estuary when, with a nasty screech, my engine seized up
I was able to de-clutch, get out of gear and coast to a halt, and asked a passing
motorist to call the AA, which I had wisely joined. (Back then, AA men rode
yellow motorbikes with a sidecar, and saluted you as they passed if you had
an AA badge. Ah, those were the days!) He said I should be OK to get home,
to take it carefully, as it would need a re-bore.
It was never the same after that, seeming to lack power, and around that time
(1959) John Richards, who lived just around the corner in Old Barn Road but
was away, I think, at university, came home on a gleaming Triumph 21. I fell
in love with that at once; the only 350cc twin four-stroke on the road, it was
a metallic silver-blue, and he had a full Avon fairing of the same colour. I
couldnt afford it, but I wanted one, and started looking around, only
to find that this model was like gold-dust. Eventually a friend of Dads,
who seemed to have contacts, told me to go to Shovelbottoms
on Ladypool Road, who were due to have one delivered.
THE TRIUMPH 21
The engine had a muted but powerful note, and I used to delight in coasting
down New Street to where pedestrians would always be crossing against
the lights on the corner of Corporation Street, then pressing my horn
button and watching them scatter (expecting at least a Rolls Royce) as I opened
the throttle to roar around the corner. What a tearaway! I also got one of the
new semi-dome helmets, which, also in silver-blue, looked much more
cool than the old bullet shape. They still didnt have visors,
but I got prescription lenses put into some aviator-style goggles.
Around this time a number of school-leavers joined Cadburys General Office.
They were all six or seven years younger than me, and by this time I had been
promoted to Head Office, where I got to be in charge of, and design,
stationery, among other things. But Ian Elliott (who had gone to my school,
Kings Norton Grammar ~ his older brother Graham was briefly in my class)
had a Lambretta scooter, and Roger Parkes had a 350cc Ariel Red Hunter.
I dont think Bob Palser had a vehicle at that time, and Brian Grainger
never had a bike while I knew him, as he had a car (wow); an Austin A30. But
we all hit it off, and used to go out to the Fleur de Lys at Lowsonford, which
at that time was the only place you could get the steak-and kidney (and chicken-and-mushroom)
pies of that famous name (1s 6d), calling ourselves the Kidney Klub. I still
had the 225cc when they first appeared on the scene, but on the day I arrived
at the car park on my new Triumph 21 they all gathered around in admiration.
We talked of all having identical Triumph 21s ~ perhaps persuading Triumph
to fund us to tour the USA to promote them. Fat chance. . .
After a while Ian and Bob (traitors!) each bought an Ariel Leader, which was the new 250cc two-stroke twin, with a completely enclosed engine and unique buzzing engine note. They also left behind them a blue smoke-screen from the two-stroke oil. Roger, on the other hand, bought a Triumph 500cc Speed Twin, which was a twin of mine except for its bigger engine and maroon colour. So we never had those identical machines, but we did ride out together, to places like Stratford-upon-Avon and Stourbridge or Bridgenorth. And, of course, to the Fleur de Lys; we never thought anything of having a pie and a few pints and then riding home. I used to go to scrambles at Feckenham or Rollswood with Howard Dorrell (from the office at Cadburys), where we acted as marshals for Kings Norton Motor Cycle Club, keeping spectators off the track, picking up fallen riders, and so on.
In December 1959 Ian and I got tickets to see a recording of the Goon Show in London. We set off in late afternoon, Ian on my pillion, to go on that new-fangled M1 (which we actually loved, in those days), but while still on the A45 we saw frost sparkling on the road. Not fancying the journey back on an icy motorway and roads, we stopped instead at a roadside café, had a coffee and listened to Fats Domino singing Be My Guest on the jukebox before going home. The funny thing was that when Bluebottle (Peter Sellers) appeared on that show, he said sadly: "Hello everybody. Ooh ~ one, two, three, four. . . not many in tonight, are there?"
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