‘Rick Parkington is a motorcycle journalist for Classic Bike magazine and has a shedful of ongoing projects.’
Yes, that’s me and I live with my partner Judy, who is also bike daft, and Finbar the Irish Terrier; this is him…
That’ll do for the National Census but if you want to know more about what leads a man into a life of motorcycle depravity read on for a potted autobiography…
I was born in Margate in 1964, around one of the weekends that Mods and Rockers were making their presence felt. Dad was a policeman and got leave from beach duty to attend my birth. He attempted to maintain impartiality but being the owner of a Triumph Trophy at the time, I like to think he was more on the side of the leather boys than the ‘peanuts’, as the Rockers referred to their enemy.
Dad was eager to involve his son in motorcycling and built me a bike when I was four, using an old Corgi fold up bike chassis and a Norman Nippy moped engine. With the seat lowered and the high handlebar cut down and welded on top of the fork it was long and low but a bit makeshift, with an oil can for a tank. Dad says he took me to the local Tivoli Park where I hurtled round at incredible speed but just as he was congratulating himself on having sired a future TT winner I fell off, burst into tears and refused to get back on again.
I was a bit of a wimp really because I still remember booing when he used to fire up his Tribsa scrambler (the one I restored in Classic Bike magazine a couple of years back). I also remember being very scared when he used to plonk me on the tank and ride about Monkton Chalkpit but it was only recently that he admitted that once on a steep climb he lost control and had to abandon ship, grabbing me under his arm… No wonder I used to grizzle.
Fortunately I wasn’t deterred for long and when I outgrew the Corgi a couple of years later, Dad obtained a Raleigh Roma scooter and cut it up to make a small motorcycle. Looking back I was incredibly lucky to have the chance to start motorcycling at that age. In the ‘sixties nobody manufactured bikes for kids – mind you even if they had, mine would have been home-made. Dad had left the Police to study Law, supporting his family on a tight student grant. To supplement his income he was doing up cars and bikes and had invested in an arc welder. We called him ‘The Wild Welder’ and every night the lights indoors would flicker as he conducted his experiments. The welder opened up huge possibilities. He cut the Raleigh’s spine frame in half to remove a chunk, reducing the wheelbase and shortened the headstock to accept a pair of Demm moped telescopic forks. Brackets were attached for a Suzuki K10 petrol tank – no more oil cans – and an upswept exhaust pipe fabricated from gas pipe led to a stylishly hi-level Villiers silencer. Today it might be viewed as irresponsible to learn welding by making a motorcycle frame for your six-year old but people were more relaxed in those days…
The Raleigh was incredibly heavy for a kid’s bike and I still recall the smell of bacon when it fell on top of me and that stylish silencer attempted to brand the Villiers motif into my bare calf. Never mind, I used to love riding around on it pretending to be an Army despatch rider or a motorcycle cop.
Now, above is the crash helmet Dad bought for taking me on the back as the helmet law loomed. It was a funny thing, French, with a steel shell. I asked him recently how he had found me such an unusual helmet. “Dunno,” he said, ” It was just the cheapest one in the shop.” Charming.
By the time I was 12 the Raleigh was way too small and with finances more secure, Dad got me a second hand Honda TL125 K2, a lovely trials bike for a novice rider. Dad had a 250 Montesa Cota and we used to do a lot of fun trials riding in local woods. The Raleigh wasn’t completely redundant though; Dad welded up an angle iron chassis with a scooter wheel and we used to hammer it round as a miniature sidecar outfi. It was a good way to learn about sidecar driving as it tipped up at the slightest provocation and as well as losing control and driving it into a hawthorn hedge, I rolled it end over end on a couple of occasions. Better still I got to ride the Tribsa scrambler round the field at the back of our house. I reckon having the chance to ride an unsilenced 650 Triumph at 14, imagining myself alternately as the Fonz or Steve McQueen about to leap the barbed wire, goes a long way to explain my subsequent obsession with old bikes.
At sixteen I had a BSA Beaver moped with a Minarelli engine. Despite the name on the tank it had little to do with BSA of old – but it did have a quality monoshock frame, which I recall reading was designed by one of the Goodman (Velocette) family. Having a good relationship with my folks I spent more time working on bikes with Dad than going out and so I saved all my money for bikes. I was looking for a BSA C15 for when I was 17 but ended up buying an ex- army B40 for £250. It became dad and my first restoration project and proved to be an excellent bike. After that came a tatty 500cc Norton Dominator cafe racer – that was Dad’s idea if the truth be known, he’d always fancied a Triton. The next bike was definitely my choice though, a 1962 M120 Panther, 650cc single.
Champing at the bit to ride my bikes on the road I took my test a couple of weeks after my 17th Birthday on the Honda. Much to father’s disgust I failed. A lazy student, I hadn’t spent much time revising the highway code – surely I’d remember it from my Cycling Proficiency four years before? Oh well, I didn’t do very well in my ‘O’ levels either…
Anyway it was well known that the testers hated trials bikes – especially with no indicators fitted – so I convinced myself it wasn’t entirely my fault. I reapplied and bought a proper bike – a Yamaha XS250. It seemed very posh with its dash lights, rev counter, indicators and electric start but it was a terrible starter. We evolved a system where Dad used to go out while I was eating my breakfast to get thing started for me. It usually took three or four long goes on the button followed by about two dozen kicks; and everybody told me British bikes were rubbish…
The Yamaha got me through my test and better still, afterwards I swapped it with a schoolmate for a dismantled Triumph 5TA.
Well, that’s part one. I’ll see what more pictures I can find.