My first practical introduction to driving on the road came when I was 16 when I acquired a second hand Gillera 50cc trail bike style moped from one of the older teenagers in my village mainly for visiting some friends of mine were into ” scrambling ” at Whalley 6 miles down the valley from me and where my granny lived and my dad was born. It replaced the 26 inch wheel three speed Sturmey Archer custom cycle I had built up using cheap second hand parts and a high gearing small sprocket from a small wheel bike, moderate ” cow horn ” handlebars and best quality Michelin tyres when I was around 15. My main school friend from Whalley had a Honda 125 trail bike and permission to ride it in fields around the sewage works by the river Calder so we all got to have a go until broke down with bent valves due to rocking back after stalling, then Unwin got given a Honda plastic 50 and we thrashed that until it broke down also. In any case it meant that I had some experience of riding ( and falling off ) motorcycles when I went on the road and on my 16th birthday ( half way through September ) I got up at the crack of dawn and went for a ride before school. I was all geared up but 100 yards up the road I realised that I’d forgot to put my helmet on and had to go back to get it, we never used helmets riding around the fields.
Anyway for the next month I zoomed as fast as possible around the local roads, 45 Mph flat out on the level but she would do 60 down Waddington Fell and I invested in a new full face helmet to replace the open face one I got with the bike which was slightly too big anyway. She was regularly losing power ( which with hindsight was probably due to dodgy crankshaft oil seals ) but was improved by stripping and cleaning out the carburettor. One sunny crisp October morning she played up when I was going to school so even though it meant being well late I cleaned the carb then set off for a test run up Pendle Hill through Downham as featured in the award winning children’s film Whistle Down The Wind and later in TV series the latest being Born and Bred. I still had some latent anxiety when I went down past the church and over the bridge then set left on the Barley road and was attacking the fairly steep hill up past the village hall when the visor of my helmet dropped shut and the refraction in the micro scratches meant the low sun facing me temporarily blinded me. It al happened pretty quick and by the time I realised what was happening my right arm had collided with the wing mirror of a by then stationary Ford D series coal merchant’s wagon driven by a west Indian coming down the hill in the opposite direction.
Almost immediately I picked myself up off the road and my right arm failed to respond when I tried to use it to remove my helmet it was just dangling by my side and I was escorted into the village hall ( open to make the school dinners ) and sat down to wait for the ambulance and it was not really until then that the pain started. I was taken to Accrington Victoria casualty department where a subsequent X-ray revealed a clean break in my upper arm two thirds the way up from my elbow and if it had happened today they would have operated and plated it. At that time the general technique was to simply put your arm in a sling and let gravity use your elbow to align the bone but they considered the injury bad enough top put a half plaster on to protect it held in place by sticking plaster pads on my shoulder and sent me home in good time for tea.
The traffic police guy came to interview me at home a couple of days after and I tried to explain what had happened but I was in agony with the bone knitting at the time, still in a daze and just glad when he had gone. They concluded that it was my fault because technically there was enough room on the road for me to get through safely and I was subsequently charged for driving without due care and attention then fined £30 by the local magistrates court. There must have been many similar accidents because that type of visor was banned later.
I was off school because the bulk of the half plaster meant that I couldn’t wear normal clothes and the sticking plaster on my shoulder kept coming unstuck so I had to keep going back to hospital to get it replaced in addition to official appointments, not much I could do but watched TV including William Hague’s famous Tory conference speech when he was 16. At least I could go round to the local garage and keep up with my friends there, the company was growing at that time new flat work job Burnley Paper to Watchet near Bridgewater in Somerset. We also took over the yard of the other once much bigger Chatburn haulage firm in the bottom of the village as it was impossible to get a 40ft trailer into the original garage yard. I was almost Christmas by the time I got the plaster off and I didn’t get back to school until new year, by which time I had bought a Suzuki AP 50 from an older mate at Whalley and despite my conviction and claim arranged a third party rider policy at reasonable cost via the father of a scrambling enthusiast school friend who ran an insurance broker business at Nelson. I was still having bother with my shoulder but that ended after one day at the garage I was fooling around with one of the drivers who had trained as a paint sprayer and was painting a brand new B-Series ERF RR 265L tractor unit, first new wagon since 1962. He pushed me backwards by my right shoulder with some force and I was in agony for a short time but I never had any bother with it after but if archeologists .ever dig me up in future they will observe that my upper arm bone has a five degree bend in it.
The AP 50 was more user friendly than the Gillera in that it had mechanical crankshaft lubrication from a tank and you didn’t have to buy fixed half gallon amounts of petrol and use the two stroke oil pump all garages had then, with its 5 speed gearbox it would do 50 on the flat even with my 16 stones bulk. A recurrent problem common to all two-strokes was that the spark plug would ” whisker ” with carbon and stop the engine and therefore it was advisable that you took spare cleaned spark plugs with you, and you were always having to buy new ones. You were regularly doing a de-coke, fitting a new piston or rings, then the big-end went and I had to get a new crankshaft assembly and fit it, then one the screws came out and cut the plastic lubrication pipes because I never bothered to use Loctite. The big-end went again before I was 17 and that time I decided to give the job to a young guy from another local village who had been in a wheelchair since he was injured in an accident on his bike when he was a kid as a kind of favour. He was alleged to be an expert on bikes and his brother worked at the main Honda dealers at Accrington, his dad was a driver at the cement works but within ten miles of me paying him when I collected it broke down fortunately within easy pushing distance of friends house at Whalley. It turned out that the flywheel nut had come off and it had sheared the woodruff key, on closer examination due to the fact that he had ” bluzzed up ” the threaded end of the crankshaft with a hammer and then bodged it with an imperial nut. My friends dad put the bike in his van and took it back to his garage at Clitheroe where 10 minutes with a thread file, the correct metric nut and a new key and the job was sorted.
Almost as soon as I was 17 I got the chance to buy a written off 120cc Suzuki B100P ( Bloop ) from John the small Clitheroe motorbike shop man who I was good friends with for £60 and fixed the relatively minor damage whist getting my rider policy upgraded to 200cc and used that for my by then regular runs to tech and friends. Your average teenager bike enthusiast wouldn’t be seen dead on what was considered an old man’s bike but I didn’t care and she would pull 60 all the way up the by-pass but one night on the way home she set off uncontrollably revving and she was bad to start the morning after. I took her back to the shop and the problem was a mystery to both of us until we checked the gearbox oil level and topped it up, as soon as we started her again you could see the smoke and oil coming out of the exhaust and the problem was clear. We found that the crankshaft oil seal into the gearbox had disintegrated when we stripped her down so soon the problem was solved but by that time I had arranged to straight swap my AP 50 for an almost new written off Suzuki 185GT two stoke twin John had in his shed at the back. All it needed was new front fork legs so I went to the main dealers at Preston and got some, straightened the slightly buckled front wheel, filled the dent and re-sprayed the fuel tank but cheated on the glass missing from the speedo buy putting a clear bag over it secured by a rubber band. She did me sterling service and would pull 80 on the level and an almost new latest model Suzuki 200 I was lent for the day to got to tech at Accrington on the pretext of buying it was no better and in any case I could keep up with most of the other lads on their 250s anyway I sold the Bloop for more than it cost me to a local lad and the rider policy allowed me to have a spare bike and I owned a Suzuki TS125 for a time as well for off road expeditions.
I passed my car test first time soon after I was 17 and was covered to use our family corner shop 1400cc then brand new Mazda 323 estate for major expeditions, just used the bike for work at the new garage on the local industrial estate and leisure after that but I was getting pissed off getting cold and wet so I bought an old 1000cc Mini and used that when the Mazda was not available. I part exchanged the 185GT for an AP 50 with my cousin near Preston and sold it to one of the drivers to come to work on. But it wasn’t the end of my bike story as later I bought the GT185 back off my cousin when it had been rebuilt with a new frame on the insurance when he came off it on some cow shit to use for fun. I never had the inclination to take my bike test so I had to sell up to a local older guy I knew when the new 125 max on provisional licence rule came in. Right from the introduction of the 1977 S reg 30 Mph speed limiter for mopeds at 16 legislation the ” Speed Kills ” quasi-religion safety-fascist inspired politicians were falling into the ” There as an old woman who swallowed a fly ” scenario as it wasn’t really worth buying a moped to gain worthwhile road-craft experience anymore unless you were desperate and so the very same people who were likely to kill themselves at 16 then went straight in at the deep end with a 250 at 17, or killed themselves or passengers in a car shortly after they passed their quasi-religion inspired inadequate driving test anyway !