Over 70s scramble for top trophies

THE national Pre 65 Motocross Club pulls in competitors and spectators from across Suffolk to watch 50-year-old bikes battle it out. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a sport where new isn't always best - and meets the scramblers in their 70s.

By Tracey Sparling

THE national Pre 65 Motocross Club pulls in competitors and spectators from across Suffolk to watch 50-year-old bikes battle it out. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING reports on a sport where new isn't always best - and meets the scramblers in their 70s.

BENEATH the mud which splatters Jim Holt's face and shirt, his eyes hold a twinkle.

73-year-old Jim is quite at home astride his classic bike from 1965 in a saddle he's sat in for many years - but he has a secret to admit.

“I had to take my front teeth out, just in case I swallowed them!” he laughed, revealing the gap.

He's one of a host of famous riders from Suffolk, who competed in motorcycle scrambles and trials in the 1950s, 60s and 70s - and are still winning races on the same bikes today.

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Wheel-to-wheel with bigger bikes ridden by younger men, the scramblers-in-their-70s roar round the track. They launch themselves in to the air at the jumps, and lean the bikes right over on the sharp corners. They don't hesitate to overtake if possible, and Jim joked: “We might be on oxygen by the end of the day!”

As members of the national Pre 65 Motocross Club, the over 70s rode as many races as possible at April's Marks Tey meeting. Alongside Jim from Maylandsea in Essex, were Ray Edmans, 72 from Hutton in Essex, Peter Pilbeam, 70 from Sandhurst in Berkshire, Geoff Calver, 72 from Acton in Suffolk, Jim Aim, 70 from Sible Hedingham in Essex, and Poy Patten, 74 from Camberley in Hampshire.

All their bikes were manufactured before 1965, and they have never been tempted to replace them with modern models. Instead they stick to the originals, fixing and improving their beloved steeds time after time, with new parts when necessary.

Jim Aim was a household name in Suffolk, as a top racer of the 60s when scrambling used to be as popular a spectator sport as football. Crowds of up to 26,000 used to attend Shrubland Park near Ipswich to watch Jim and his contemporaries including Dave Bickers.

Rival riders reveal that Jim's got a house full of trophies from his half century in the sport, but he modestly said: “They're all in the roof these days. I don't need any more because it would be too much polishing! I just do it for fun now.”

Racing has taken him all over Europe and he's due to be in Holland in June for the European Championship, but he added: “I haven't decided whether to do that yet, or Ireland.”

The journeys don't daunt him, and neither does the risk of injury. He said: “I broke my collarbone a couple of years ago, and was fetched off a couple of times last year which wasn't very good. But I'm usually all right!

“I still enjoy it so I'll keep doing it while I can. I'd love to still be riding when I'm 80 - but don't tell my wife! She worries more as we get older. I think you might as well enjoy life.”

Jim owned a motorcycle shop in Sible Hedingham which his two sons and son-in-law now run, so racing runs in the family. He was running a Triumph Metisse from 1965, and a 1959 TriBSA at the April event.

Meanwhile Peter Pilbeam on a 1964 Victor Metisse retired from his race, saying: “I was in the lead on the first bend and it was all pretty good until the ignition started misfiring. I charged the battery but it doesn't seem to be holding its charge.”

The oldest bike on the track was a 1956 TriBSA.

At the age of 57, Dave Godley from Holbrook has a few more years to reach the over 70s league of the club, but he's a crucial member who transports miles of rope and hundred of posts to construct the track at events.

He said: “There's a lot of respect out there on the track for other people. You don't want to get hurt - we're not quite as fearless as these younger riders who are not worried about tomorrow.

“Most of us have families and we need to be fit to go to work, so it's competitive but not to the point where you want to hurt somebody.

He started riding at the age of 17, had about 15 years off and started again at the age of 40.

He said: “I ride a Matchless (type of engine) BSA bike from 1958 which I built over last Christmas. You can build your own bike virtually from replica parts these days.

“We were at Gloucester last weekend and we're off to Cumbria next weekend then Reading. Last year I went to 24 meets -including Wales in December! - so it's most weekends.”

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To see the riders in action, the next event is May 27 at Stisted in Essex.

See www.pre65.com for directions.

Ipswich racer Michael Eustace is one of the youngest to be riding the pre-1965 bikes, at the age of 22.

He also helps run the meetings and publicise the club.

He rode ten races at the April meeting, called to the starting line by his girlfriend Rachel Marsh who kept an eye on the hectic programme.

Michael said: "There's no doubt in my mind that classic bikes have a lot more character than their modern equivalents. All of the bikes would have been hand-made - without the use of the technologies available to today's motorcycle manufacturers - you really feel like you are racing a piece of British history. The engines are very simple compared to modern machines too and you can pick up a lot of information from people who raced the bikes during their hay-day. The main thing about scrambling though is the atmosphere and the comaraderie between the riders, and the fact that it is a form of motorcycle racing that appeals to people and families to have little or no knowledge of the sport, which makes for a very enjoyable days' racing.

“We all make a weekend of it, with family and friends turning up to watch. There's a great social side to this sport which you don't get so much with modern bikes.”

He endured a fall in one race, and a temperamental engine in another.

As I watched, he came in third after two riders on more powerful, newer bikes, but he won't know until the end of the season whether he's won or not because titles are awarded on a points basis.

However Michael and all the others will get bonus points for sticking with their beloved pre 65s.

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