IPSWICH RIDERS IN THE 1952 SCOTTISH SIX DAY TRIAL.
The Scottish Six Days reliability trial is regarded as one of the roughest and toughest endurance tests known to the motorcyling fraternity. Year after year the men who seek the thrills of this sport write anxiously to the organisers - The Edinburgh and District Motorcycle Club hoping to be included amongst the restricted entry of 180 to take part.
This year, for the first time Ipswich will be represented. Two members of the Ipswich Motorcycle and Car Club have been accepted, and early tomorrow morning will set out Northwards by car with their machines on a trailer behind. Geoff Revett will be riding his 350-cc Gold Star B.S.A and Peter Davey a 122-cc James. Both are highly exited at the prospect of attempting the 881 miles of moors and mountains, and have been over three months preparing and tuning their machines for the event. The trial starts from Edinburgh on Monday morning, and the riders have a strict time schedule to keep over each leg - the first of 182 miles to Fort William they must average 30-mph. During the following four days they will cover varying courses of a 100 miles out from Fort William and back, returning to Edinburgh in the final leg on Saturday. Among the tricky sections they will encounter are 'Stoney Brae' 'Allans Bridge' 'Camushurich''Mamore' and if they survive, the aptly named 'Devils Staircase'! several miles of narrow mountain track with rocks on one side, and a sheer drop of 200 feet on
the other. A mark is lost for every minute a rider is late or early at the end of each days leg, points may also be lost during machine inspections by officials who look for broken spokes, loose bearings, fractured crank cases, and many other defects. The machines are locked away each night, and any repairs have to be done during 15 minutes before each start, or during running time. Spares are strapped to the machines with insulation tape so as to be easily accessible.
The best performance over the course was put up by B.H.Viney A.J.S Ltd who completed it having lost only two marks, an incredible display! Geoff Revett told the Evening Star, I shall not mind if I lose 150 marks, I shall consider I have done well, in fact I shall be very happy if I finish! Forty four of the entries are works riders, eighty agent supported, and the remainder are from the Services and English and foreign clubs.
Geoff stopped in Bury St Edmunds, and made two trips from the car carrying heavy boxes into Bowers motorcycle shop, delivering parts he said; we found afterwards that the boxes had contained ball bearing races that he had acquired somehow! Now it appeared he had plans to sell them to George Bowers to raise pocket money for the trip. We watched Geoff through the showroom window in serious conversation with his friend George Bowers the shop owner. I don't think that there was anyway that George wanted to increase his stock with three large boxes of bearings! George was hard, but Geoff had a very persuasive personality, and after about 30 minutes he returned to the car minus the boxes, and a wallet that was a little thicker.
We had given ourselves time to spare for the journey as the little car with its engine still running in could not be pushed to hard, so we 'trundled'. I think that describes our progress up the A.1. It was dark when we arrived in Newcastle. We drove straight to the nearest hotel, and although it looked expensive decided to have a look, the car park was reached through an archway in the centre of the building, and was enclosed and secure, ideal for parking our valuable bikes overnight, so being also tired after a long day, we stayed. When after a welcome dinner, sitting in the bar, we couldn't understand all the attention directed our way. As we paid our bill in the morning all was revealed. The receptionist asked if it was true that we were big football pool winners?. - I wonder how that rumour started - and did Geoff’s mischief have anything to do with it ?. By midday on the Friday we were almost there, I remember seeing a road sign, saying, Edinburgh 9 miles, when a noise came from the Riley's engine department as if we had picked up a tin can; we lifted the bonnet and listened in dismay to the sound of a melted white metal big end journal!. The engine was allowed to cool, and we put in a little fresh oil; as if that would have changed anything!! So with serious faces we limped into Edinburgh and stopped at the first garage. Geoff went to find the workshop manager, with the realisation that his 'bearing money' was about to be taken care of - there's no justice or is there?. And wonder of wonders; it transpired that the manager knew George Bristowe of the Riley's recent engine rebuild and had served in the army with him "what a small world indeed", we had found a friend, he arranged to move all our gear to the hotel in Princes Street. We shook hands all round, our benefactor said enjoy your week, don't worry, I'll have the car ready by next Saturday.
We settled into the hotel, had a couple of drinks, and discussed plans for the next day, finding the Edinburgh Clubs headquarters and sign on came top of the list. The hotel, that I can't remember the name of, was full of a charged atmosphere; every one staying there seemed to be connected with the trial in one way or another. Geoff soon forgot the car problems! We went out to find somewhere to eat and on the way back we saw 'Laurel and Hardy' arrive at a theatre entrance and stopped to watch them go inside. Back at the hotel the bar was packed with competitors, we elbowed in to join them, Geoff was enjoying himself, and had that smile on his face that usually meant mischief for some unfortunate.
Back in the shared room altogether; the room was large and we each had a single bed, Arthur and I were quite ready for a nights sleep, it had been a long day. Geoff however seemed to have got a second wind and was full of himself and when we were all in bed he began to tease Arthur about his cap. I had never seen Arthur without that cap, he apparently kept it on even in bed, he wore it for work days and holidays, it was part of his anatomy!.The banter continued, ending with Geoff snatching the cap from Arthurs head. Arthur tried in vain to retrieve it and he had Geoff cornered by the window and as his hand was about to retrieve his treasure Geoff hurled it from the window. We watched it spiral down into Princes Street below like a frisbee, to disappear under the wheels of a late night Tram-Car. Arthur pulled on a jacket and trousers over his pyjamas and went out into the night to search for it; returning to the room twenty minutes later glum faced and hatless. He was so upset that Geoff seemed full of genuine remorse, and promised first thing to purchase Arthur a new one. Arthur was up again at first light and went out to look for his cap; however he didn't find it. I cant think what the hotel reception made of it all! Things couldn't have been improved by the sight of Arthur insisting on walking about with a knotted handkerchief on his head at breakfast, disregarding the stares he kept it on, claiming that he felt naked without his cap.
The nights rain had cleared to leave a fresh bright morning and we went out into Princes Street and joined the Saturday shoppers, our first task was to find a new cap for Arthur! That aggrieved person still wearing his handkerchief, a handkerchief that in the light of day, looked a little worse for wear. In the shop, Arthur took ages choosing his new cap. He was definitely giving Geoff a hard time. I brought a Stewart Tartan Tam whilst waiting. At last we regained the street with Arthur wearing his new cap with some reluctance; the old one had, he claimed was moulded to the shape of his head this new one was stiff and uncomfortable! Geoff was beginning to regret the episode of the previous night.
On the Saturday afternoon we checked in at the headquarters of the Edinburgh and District Motorcycle Club to sign on. I remember being impressed by the stately granite building; from the inscribed brass plate at the entrance to the carpeted interior it reminded me of a solicitors office, rather than a Motorcycle club; I wonder are they still in that building today?.
After signing on we left to walk out in the spring sunshine clutching our route cards, itinerary and instructions, we had something to study before bedtime. I didn't sleep well that night, the mileages to be covered running through my mind. The machines were handed over to the scrutineers on the Sunday morning and hive of activity met us in the large walled car park, this would be the last chance to go over the bikes before they were impounded for the night. We waited in a queue for our turn to present ourselves and our machine to the scrutineers. Bikes are pushed up a ramp onto a raised stand, the scrutineer checks the machine and spare parts to be carried, yellow paint is daubed on the parts of the machine that cannot be changed during the trial, a mark scratched into this paint completes the seal; if any of the marked parts fail, then you retire. I didn't plan to carry many spares, just some back up control cables taped onto the fixed ones, an inner tube. a couple of wheel spindles and some spark plugs together with a small tool roll, the biggest item was a tire pump.The scrutineer remarked on the small inventory, hinting that maybe I didn't understand how hard the trial was on machines. I had to agree, but the James had been prepared with meticulous care, I had to trust that it would hold out; as it happened no spares were used, one day I changed a chain link just to be on the safe side.
Memories of the trial itself are a little misty, after all it was over fifty years ago. The fantastic atmosphere of the start I do remember well, the noise of the engines being warmed up, smoke from the two strokes, and the thud of big four stroke singles. Works and agent sponsored, foreign and private entries like ourselves all with bikes in pristine and perfect condition raring to go.
We were flagged off at one minute intervals and at last I was underway in a light drizzle of rain but this was the only rain of the whole wonderful week and the only time that I got wet, except for the damp mist on the mountains. What can I recall of that first stage from Edinburgh to Fort William, it was a long ride, and for me a lonely one. I didn't see many riders after the first hour, or for that matter any persons at all, there were lots of black faced sheep on the hillside tracks, they were not a bit afraid of our motorcycles, as I slid around one rock strewn bend I came face to face with a big one with huge curved horns. I couldn't stop and he didn't move, I missed him by a hairs, or a wool's breath. My progress seemed slow, and I soon realised that to average 28-mph was going to be impossible for me.125cc machines were originally supposed to run at 25-mph but as you will remember the James was running in the 200cc time schedule. I had to push the little bike as hard as I dared without breaking it, a lot of marks would be lost on time keeping, one mark for every minute late at the check points.
The Scottish Six Days is a combination, of sporting trial, scramble, time trial and road race and everything was included in that first long exhausting day; keep your head down, keep the speed up, Follow the blue dye marking, scream into your pit stops. I had a Castrol sponsored support team and they did a great job for me, they were always ready on my arrival at the pit stops with the fuel oil mix just as I had requested, too much or too little oil in the petrol would have spelt disaster. Toward the end of that first day I was lost on Ben Nevis in thickening mist, then I heard the sound of another bike away to the right of my position, I followed the sound, found a course marker and came down into Fort-William and the finishing check point.
After 180 miles the hardest ride of my life was over. I was the last competitor in, the marshals had been waiting, I arrived just as they were packing up and the James was quickly whipped away for the nights impounding. It was dusk as I checked in at the hotel, Geoff was already there; I didn't expect to see you again! he grinned, I was almost too tired to answer. We had a large portion of grilled fresh salmon for supper and after a couple of whiskeys I went happy to my bed.
Day 2. After a good Scottish breakfast I left the hotel carrying my riding gear at 8-30 am and I am waiting for the marshals to release the James from the compound. At 8-45 I take charge of the bike and there is just fifteen minutes to check the James over before my off time at 9 o'clock. Some of the riders have gone already and the others around are lining up. I check for loose bits and adjust the chain. The chain oiler that I had fashioned using a round Harpic tin had worked well and the chain was in good condition. As we began to tackle the hard observed sections, I realised that I had made a mistake with height of my handle bars, the setting was fine for our Eastern Anglian 'Mud Plugs' however this setting was a disadvantage on the steep rocky climbs that we were attempting now, as I stood up on the footrests, leaning forward to get my weight over the front wheel to keep it on the track, the bars were pressing into my stomach restricting the steering lock.
Day 3. After successfully completing the first two days I began to think that I might get to the finish, but the trial didn't let up, we struggled on through day three. On this day I made a mistake that had nothing to do with the trial, I decided to wear the Tam purchased in Edinburgh, having no idea that the Scots who had been so friendly to us would be put out by a Sassenach wearing a tartan to which he was not entitled! It was not my practice to stop and walk through the sections as the time lost so doing could not be made up, as the observed sections came up I just steadied myself and then rode straight on through. On this day I became aware of voices calling to me and thought that they were just shouts of encouragement; In one section the James became wedged on a large rock, I stopped to loose five marks and fell off and as I got up, a voice in my ear put me right, and the offending Tam was stuffed into my bag.
Day 4. Can't remember very much, except the lunch stop. We came down into a valley, there was a hamlet and a little pub and the area seemed almost tropical with palm trees growing at the roadside. We rode the Devils Staircase, it seemed to me never ending, observed section leading into observed section. Making a tight right hand, with a rock face on my right hand and a drop of 200 feet on the left, my front wheel aviated over a rock and the bike started to go over the edge, I was off in a second holding onto the handle bars and digging the right one into the bank to stop the fall before the James plunged down the mountain side, three helpers arrived to rescue bike and rider.
Day 5. Crouched over the handle bars searching for a little more speed on one of the metalled roads, a B.S.A came up alongside, it was Johnny Draper on the works 350 Gold Star; I'll give you a push he offered, and with his hand in my back he worked the James's speed up in excess of 55-mph; for this I paid a penalty! for just as he took off with a wave, a huge explosion from the engine department blew my leg off the footrest. The heavy riding boot protected me, and apart from a bruised ankle I was OK. I believe that due to the engines high revs unburned fuel had passed the main bearing seal into the flywheel magneto, then the spark at the contact points had ignited it, causing the explosion to blow off the alloy generator cover, this cover had hit my right ankle on it's way to the outside world. A search back along the roadside found the cover looking like a saucepan that had been stood on by an elephant. Some work with a pair of pliers and a rock got it in good enough shape to refit the motor, however it would never be water proof again, in the end any time gained by Drapers push was lost many times over. Geof also had a problem that day, putting a large rock into the B.S.A,s clutch case, a roadside repair cost him about an hour. This was to be the day that things went wrong as after the mag explosion I clumped a rock really hard with the left hand footrest peg and a little further on into the section the footrest parted company with the bike. It would not be possible to repair it and I continued using the clutch casing as a rest for my left foot.
Day 6. Collect the bike for the last day at Fort-William, no penalty mark for the broken footrest and just the one observed section today -'Town Hall Brae' in Fort-William town. Riding the section without the foot rest was very difficult but this was the last of the rocks, now followed the long ride back to the finish on metalled roads to Edinburgh. I remember passing a school with all the children sitting on the wall waving and cheering. I waved back, the trial was almost finished. From memory 180 riders took part and we covered 860 miles, I had tackled observed sections only read about in magazines, Stony Brae, Allan’s Bridge, and the Devils Staircase.
Johnny Brattain won the trial that year on his works Royal Enfield Bullet, I was so impressed with Enfield, that when the company produced a replica I ordered one from Boltons. Unfortunately I never did do any good with this bike, it looked better than it was. At the Colchester clubs scramble at Friday Woods the engine blew up in a big way and it cost a small fortune to rebuild.
The trial finished in a park and Geoff and I had our pictures taken together sitting on our bikes. Late in the afternoon we went to the Town Hall for the prize giving ceremony, we had both lost a lot of marks, but had done well enough to receive second class awards. That night we joined a farewell party in the hotel, a great time was had by all, my head spun and the bed was on the move during that night. Next morning as the little Riley made its way out of Edinburgh on the way home, its occupants were very quiet, in my case it was a hangover.
Unfortunately I am the only surviving member of the adventure Geoff and Arthur have gone now, both died a few years since. There was a small column in the Evening Star saying how we had finished in the trial, Mr Bolton seemed pleased as far as anyone could tell. The “Famous James" retired from competition, my brother Brian took if over and it became a commuter bike. It seemed shamed at its retirement, and began to break its mainframe; it transpired that the metal tubing had taken on a crystallised state caused by all the stress of the previous three years.
Written from memory and surviving relics of the time, newspaper cuttings etc.
Peter J Davey. 2005.