Trials Guru talked with Derek Cranfield, a trials rider who recently rode his sixtieth anniversary trial with the Witley MCC and who began his life in motor cycling when called up to do two-years national service. Here is his story:
“I was called up for my National Service, I went eight miles from home to learn to drive lorries and tanks, when I passed I was sent to Germany and when I got there, usual army thinking, no position, but would I like to ride a motor cycle?”
“I had never been on one, so I became a police rider and then company dispatch rider, doing thousands of miles throughout Germany. When I was demobbed, I bought a little James 125 and joined the local motorcycle club, the famous Witley MCC which I have now been a member for the last sixty-four years. After a couple of years observing, I decided I could ride better than some of the riders, so I sold the James and bought a trials 197 OEC”.
“One of my first events being a complete novice going down a steep slippery slope, both brakes full on I tried to turn left the front wheel wanted to go straight on, off I came, when up-right the handle bars where straight the front wheel forty-five degrees to the right.
The stanchions were still bent when I exchanged the bike for a James Commando, rigid rear end. I used this machine for a few years in trials and scrambles, my next bike was a 250 BSA with the outside distributor. This was a terrible starter when hot until I put a separate earth-wire from distributor to the frame.
“Next came the DOT 250, I bought this in December 1961 and in January probably had one of best wins when I won the 3 Musketeers trial near Reading. It was then a regional restricted trial and in the entry list were people like Peter Stirland; Mick Dismore; Gordon Farley; Bill Faulkner and the great Johnnie Giles. The following week I won the 250 cup in the Dunlop Trophy trial in Kent followed by a group trial win”.
“These wins got me a bit of support from DOTs for the Scottish Six Days. I rode the Scottish eight times, getting a Special first and seven First class awards. Not too bad for a south-east sand and ‘mud-plugger’!
I then started working for Comerfords, the biggest sporting dealer in the world. At one time, we had twenty-two of the staff all riding trials, scrambles, road racing or speedway. On the staff we had people like Bert Thorn; Don Howlett; Jock Wilson; Dave Thorpe snr and of course my great traveling friend Reg May. We traveled together all over the country to all the nationals”.
“At Comerfords, I had my Bultaco and Greeves machines and it was at Comerfords that I met some wonderful people from all over the world like Bud Ekins and Steve McQueen, when the USA ISDT team came down to part prepare their machines.
I left Comerfords to join Len Savage motorcycles in Farnborough as a director, the first day Len had a heart attack and so the firm became my sole responsibility. The bikes I had there were Fantic, Yamaha, SWM and Gas Gas, or what was in the shop. After I sold the firm I have had Yamahas, Gas Gas and now Beta. My current machine is a Beta 200, a little beauty. My favourite trial was the Scottish Six Days, when I stopped riding it in 1978, I have been up to spectate every year since until three years ago”.
“Another great trial down here is the ‘Greybeards Trial’ started by the great Ralph ‘Rafe’ Venables. I started when I was about forty-seven I have won this trial five times, the last being in 2001. This trial is on a Sunday and the Bognor club started up the ‘Bluebeards Trial’ on the Saturday to make a weekend of it. I won this trial, five or six times and up to about 2001, I was the only person to have won both on the same weekend”.
Text: Trials Guru/ Moffat Racing, John Moffat 2015
Photos: Supplied by the Derek Cranfield Archive.
Photo: Dave Renham, Bultaco UK/InMotion 2015