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28th January 2004


Moto-Cross: The Golden Era by Paul Stephens

Moto-Cross: The Golden Era by Paul StephensIt is arguable that the term 'moto-cross' wasn't imported (from the US of A of course) until towards the end of the period described by this book. Nonetheless those of us brought up in the days when British bikes ruled the off-road world, and when the sport was called scrambling, will find in this book plenty of nostalgia in which to wallow.

To quote from the flyleaf: 'No period in the history of motocross is held in such affection by enthusiasts as the period which followed the end of the second world war and the terminal collapse of the British motorcycle industry at the close of the 1960s. During those 25 eventful years English riders achieved enormous success as the sport blossomed and vast crowds attended the principal meetings. It was truly a golden era.'

Check out the size of the car park. Then take a moment to work out how steep that hill must be...

With the exception of the years 1945 to 51, each chapter is devoted to a single year, and there is a comprehensive results section at the back.

What makes the book more than just a history book, though, are the photographs; all in black and white, but nonetheless evocative for all that. Each page has at least two and sometimes three or even four. There are the obligatory action pics, the portraits, the posed line-ups and the informal candids. As ever, the interest is often in the unintentional detail, revealing the way we were: a rider in his army battledress complete with lance-corporal's stripes; another racing in his wellingtons; the Dalek of a BBC Grandstand TV camera.

The book is of course a complete who's who of scrambling: Smith, Bickers, the Rickman Brothers, Clough, Wade, Goss, Curtis, Horsefield, Archer, Stonebridge, Ward, Lampkin, Eastwood, Draper to mention just some of the Brits in no particular order. And then there were the Europeans and the Russians: Hallman, Robert, Tibblin, Nilsson, Persson, Friedrichs, Lundin, Arbekov, Mikkola - the list goes on. Even Geoff Duke and would you believe, Murray Walker get a mention and a pic. (They were both competent scramblers in their early years).

It's interesting to realise how long some of the tracks have been in use. Matchams, Hawkstone Park, Canada Heights, will be familiar to today's motocross fans, though sadly my personal favourite, Shrubland Park, is no more. All the bikes are here, naturally, and some of the photos will be of great value to the restorers who want to 'get it right'. Among the specials and works bikes are gems such as the BSA Goldie with leading link forks and a home-made Velocette-based scrambler.

Dave Bickers wins the British Grand Prix at Shrublands Park.

I mentioned the results section, which appears at the back of the book. British, European and World Championship placings, as well as the Motocross Des Nations results, are all here from 1951 to 1969. Not exactly bed-time reading, this section, but full of snippets - did you know that Bud Ekins, who doubled for Clint Eastwood in the motorbike sequence in 'The Great Escape', came sixth in the first ever British 500cc GP in September 1952?

To finish with another quote from the flyleaf: 'this is a fascinating story, never before told in any depth'. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Phil Cragg

Moto-Cross: The Golden Era by Paul Stephens

  • Osprey, ISBN 1 85532 705 8

    Amazon may be able to find a used copy for you.

    Amazon also has stacks of books on other old Brit Bikes; click "GO!" to seach through their stocks:
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    When I put this page together, clicking on the search box above brought up "A Bike for Big Ears" (part of the Make Way for Noddy series) as the first choice, with Frank's "British Classic Bike Guide" next on the list. I have no further comment to add...

    The fastest qualifier not only took pole position for the start, he also got first choice from the shirt rack.

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