The weather is a recurring theme in UK motorcycle sport, I suppose it is elsewhere in the world too just those who live outside Great Britain don’t seem to take discussing it to such great lengths as us.
Our winter this year – that’ll be 2015 and into 2016 – has so far been uncharacteristically mild, even warm, and there have been all sorts of extremes from really serious winds to the most awful flood devastation.
On a daily basis the news programmes on the telly have been showing images of streets becoming rivers, rivers becoming raging torrents and places never before flooded being submerged.
It is the way of virtually instant communications available to us these days that news of such conditions and their effect on our sport, when events are cancelled, can reach those likely to be heading off to wherever it was intended to be in very short order.
This is a good thing as it cuts down on the amount of traffic in affected areas, thus making it easier for essential traffic to get around.
A trawl through the back issues of weekly and monthly publications which make up the bulk of Mortons Archive shows disruption to motorcycle sport thanks to inclement weather conditions isn’t as uncommon as we might think.
We can all remember the scrambles series on the telly in the 1960s, created as a winter filler for when other sports were not happening. It seemed each event was muddier and wetter than the preceding one with riders turned into barely recognisable blobs of moving mud after half a lap and events being curtailed as scoring or even moving became impossible.
Actually, to sidetrack a little, I think most of the commentary to these scrambles was by Murray Walker, or at least his distinctive voice is the one I most remember confidently describing what went on in front of us.
It’s when the situation turns extreme that talent will out and I can’t think of many others who could have coped with commentating on blobs of mud slithering around a track to the thunderous roar of British four-strokes as well as Murray.
My living memory harks back to that winter of 1963 – The Big Freeze. I wasn’t riding then, well actually I was but what I was on was powered by pedal and didn’t go far in the snow.
While researching a feature a few days ago I needed to read through the back copies of MotorCycle and MotorCycling from the early 1960s, 1963 being one of them, and the images of events where it had been snowing were eye opening to say the least.
The descriptions of said events were full of praise for riders and organisers who actually managed to get to events, in some cases the official/rider balance was reversed and one club trial was described as having more observers than riders… which organiser these days wouldn’t like to make that claim? I personally don’t go back to the winter of 1947 but our archive images do, and further back too, all showing a similar theme.
Coming a little further forward and to illustrate the oddness of our weather, I have somewhere a picture of me riding a 247 Montesa.
In the picture it was clearly warm enough to wear a T-shirt, jeans and that all-time favourite trials footwear NCB wellies. The date on the slide is March 1979, a slide taken the day after shows me riding the same Montesa in full trials kit of TT Leathers riding suit and snow blowing horizontal past my dad’s camera lens.
During the first SSDT I rode, circa 1986, there was a lot of rain and the rivers were torrents. The old lads at the time nodded sagely and talked about 1964 when you apparently had to swim across rivers with your bike on your back… or some such thing anyway.
More recently the pre 65 Scottish had the misfortune to fall foul of the weather gods too, and amid fears of riders being washed away the trial was curtailed. There was the very real fear of someone potentially drowning after an innocuous fall in a stream.
One of the interesting things about weather and its effects is it isn’t always bad weather which causes problems. Good weather, or rather ‘too good weather’, can have just as disastrous an effect on our sport.
I was actually reminded of this a couple of months ago when another picture from the family album surfaced. It shows two young lads with their Ossa MAR trials bikes pausing in brilliant sunshine at a regular North East trials venue near Consett.
The date on the slide said August 1976, almost slap bang in the middle of ‘The Drought’. Do you remember that period? We had a minister for drought, Denis Howell, though apparently he’d no sooner been appointed than it started to rain.
Before that though we’d had weeks of bone dry weather, the countryside was tinder dry and setting fire to the heather and heathland was a major concern leading to trials being cancelled.
However, the weather in the early part of that year was much as we’ve been having recently… does that herald a long, hot summer?