Irish trials riders have for many years competed in the annual Scottish Six Days Trial, but 2018 was the year that the first Irish female undertook the challenge of the Scottish Highlands by entering and finishing the SSDT.
Mike McCabe was the first American competitor to enter the Scottish Six Days Trial in 1972.
Here is his recount, in his own words, of his Highland Adventure, riding a Sammy Miller supplied Bultaco Sherpa T.
“The most fun, but maybe the most scary thing I’ve ever done” – Mike McCabe
The road to Scotland
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, the Spanish factories that made trials bikes were sending their sponsored riders to the United States to put on trials schools and promote trials as well as their bikes. In 1968 the first trials school I knew about was Sammy Miller’s, for Bultaco, in St. Louis. I managed to get an entry, and went with one of my riding friends, ‘Doober’ Dotson. I rode a Greeves and ‘Doober’ rode a Penton.
The school was on Saturday, and then there was a trials event on Sunday. For some reason, we had to be back in Tulsa on the Sunday and couldn’t stay for the trial. After the school, I asked Sammy Miller what I could do to improve my riding – “Get a Bultaco” he said. So, just as soon as I could, I bought my first Sherpa T.
In 1969, I heard about another school and trial being put on by Mick Andrews for Ossa in Columbia, Missouri. So off we went – same deal, school Saturday, trial Sunday. I lucked out and won the trial, and got a trophy from Mick, which I still have. Fast forward to the year 1970 and Mick is back for another school. Again, I won the trial, and also became better acquainted with him. We started communicating by mail and the occasional phone call.
In 1971, the North Eastern Oklahoma Trials Team (NEOTT) decided to have Mick do a school here in Tulsa. Everything got arranged and while Mick was in New England getting ready to compete in the SSDT when he broke his shoulder. They called to say he couldn’t do our school, as he was looking for someone to operate on his shoulder. Well, I had just had my first knee surgery and suggested my doctor. After talking to Doctor Myra Peters, she agreed to see Mick. The Ossa factory rep, Roy Weaver, drove Mick and his wife, Jill, down to Tulsa where his shoulder was repaired. He couldn’t travel for a few weeks, so he stayed with us in Tulsa and it was during this stay that he first suggested that I might like to ride the SSDT – see, all that long winded story did lead to my going to the 1972 SSDT.
My wife, Carroll, as usual, was super supportive and we began to try to figure how to do it. I had to get an entry and an International competition license, both which were difficult to do – another story there. Then, how to pay for the trip, how to get a bike and so on. Sammy Miller agreed to rent me a Bultaco for about $90.00 for the week, and it turned out to be the bike he had just won the British National Championship on, with registration number COT 6K.
At that time, you had to arrange for your own fuel and support for the event. At the time, one of my riding buddies was Kirk Mayfield and I talked his Dad into letting Kirk go with me to Scotland. The plan was for Kirk to chase the trial in a car with gas and supplies for me. Nowadays the entry fee includes all your fuel, and the fuel stops are manned by the British Army.
So off we went to London where my friend, Tony Bentley who was also the subscription manager for the English motorcycle newspaper I subscribed to, met us at the airport and kindly put us up for a couple of nights. Tony also arranged for a rental car – a Hillman Hunter estate car. The first couple of days in London, Tony took us around to all the motorcycle shops we’d heard of and read about.
One of the shops was the official Bultaco importer for England, Comerfords at Thames Ditton, Surrey. This is where I really got lucky. We met Peter ‘Jock’ Wilson, their Bultaco UK manager, who was also going to manage their SSDT team. Their team was sponsored by Castrol Oils, who were doing all their gas stops and support. So Jock got me sponsored by Castrol, which enabled me to get fuel etc. at all their stops. So that let Kirk Mayfield skip every other fueling stop, and made it way easier for us to stay on time. (Note: You are allowed to be one hour late/per day – more than an hour late and you are excluded, so staying on the route, and assigned time is a big deal.)
We then went down to the South coast of England to Sammy Miller’s shop to prepare the bike. We took it apart, stuffed it in the back of the little station wagon, and drove ten hours up to Scotland. Considering that we were driving on the wrong side of the road, completely lost most of the time, it was fairly uneventful except for the time in the middle of the night when Kirk fell asleep while driving – I was asleep in the back, with the motorcycle, when things started flying around – we both woke up in the center median going the right way, so we just went on – how do we survive our youth?
In 1972 the trial started in Edinburgh at Gorgie Market and then was centered for the rest of the week in Fort William. So we got to Edinburgh, went through tech inspection and found the hotel Mick Andrews had arranged for us and got ready for the big adventure!
Monday morning, and off I go, riding through the huge city of Edinburgh, in traffic, on the wrong side of the road, over The Forth Road Bridge and out into the country side, finally getting to ride some sections.
The weather was dry and lucky for me, the trial that week was mostly good weather. The first days’ route was 160 miles and 24 sections, mostly road riding and fairly easy sections.
But that didn’t last very long – the rest of the week was much harder and the whole trial comprised of 749 miles and 161 sections.
By Thursday morning when I got ready to go out my clothes and boots were soaking wet and I was tired and sore and I thought “What have I gotten myself into?” But, knowing that I was also the first American to compete in the SSDT, I was determined NOT to be the first American to DNF. Thursday evening the town of Fort William puts on a street party for the riders and fans – really great fun and a break from the almost constant riding and working on the bike.
Finally, the last day and the long ride back to Edinburgh, with sections all along the way – and to the finish: probably the most anti-climactic part of the whole trial. Just ride in to the finish, they check your bike to see if all the marked parts are still there, and it’s over.
Kirk and I drove back down the whole length of England, returned the bike to Sammy’s shop, Tony took us to the airport and we flew home. A few weeks later my finishers’ award came in the mail.
1973 – Do it again – bring some friends
After a year of rest and lots of fun memories, I decided to do it again in 1973.
This time Kirk was old enough to get an International license, another friend, Rodger Bickham from Kansas wanted to ride, so off we went – we were actually officially listed in the program as the North Eastern Oklahoma Trials Team, so we finally got to live up to our name as a ‘Trials Team’. Also, in 1973 there were seven Americans entered – but that’s another story …
Special thanks to Mike Wm. McCabe for allowing Trials Guru to use his article which first appeared on the NEOTT website in the USA.
Trials Guru is always looking for something of interest in the world of motorcycle trials and we think this article will be just that.
Photos: John Hulme/Trial Magazine UK; Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven; Kim Ferguson/Kimages; Gary Macdonald personal collection; Barry Robinson, Ilkley; Iain Ferguson/The Write Image, Fort William.
Words: Trials Guru
For many years Gary Macdonald, from Kinlochleven, Argyll, Scotland dominated the Scottish Trials scene, winning eleven Scottish Premier Trials titles, this in itself makes him the most successful Scottish-born trials rider of all time.
But he had gone that one step further, by winning the British Expert A Trials championship in 2010 riding a 300 Gas Gas, this made Macdonald the first Scotsman to take a British trials title.
Born on the fifteenth day of November 1983, son of a trials riding joinery contractor, Arthur H. Macdonald a local to Kinlochleven. Younger brother of David Macdonald who also rode trials in his younger years.
Gary began riding at nine years of age on a TY80 Yamaha, many noticed that he had a natural ability. He had other interests such as shinty, in which he played for the Kinlochleven High School team, taking the Highland cup. The TY80 Yamaha was his first trials motorcycle, but it was given as a ‘shared’ Christmas present by his parents, Arthur and Sandra to both Gary and his older brother, David.
The Scottish ACU Trials Championship began officially in 1955; the first winner of the ‘Trials Trophy’ was the late A.M. ‘Laurie’ MacLean from Haddington, East Lothian who won it three times on the trot. Macdonald would lift this trophy eleven times, the first occassion being 2001 followed by ten times in succession, 2006 – 2015.
Other multi-winners include Leslie Winthrop from Humbie, Midlothian (nine times) and Gavin Johnston, Inverness (eight times), Macdonald aspired to win and he did so, rarely surrendering even a round to his rivals, such was his dominance of the Scottish scene.
Inspired by his Dad and his Uncle James, a motor engineer from nearby Ballachulish, both trials riders in the Lochaber & District club, young Macdonald used to stick a coke can between the frame and rear tyre to make his push-bike sound like a motorised trials bike.
When Gary left Kinlochleven High School, he started work at his Uncle James’s Lochside Garage at Ballachulish as a mechanic, he attended college at Kilmarnock for two years. However during this time it occured to him that he was unable to hone his trials riding skills, so he quit and went to work for his father as a joiner which he does to this day. This gave Macdonald the opportunity to ride more often and practise his skills. He was also able to take a month off and travelled with Graham Jarvis, minding for him at the World Trials Championships.
Macdonald: “Graham actually carried out minding duties for me at a European round in 2002.”
As a young boy, Gary used to watch many trials videos before and during when he first started out competing; his favourite being Steve Colley’s training videos. Later he studied Steve Saunders, ten times British Champion and Wayne Braybrook’s trials videos. Macdonald was also studying world round and Scottish Six Days videos to see how the professional and experts riders cleaned the hazards.
Gary had the ability to then go out and imagine himself riding like the superstars of the day and that is how he learned his craft, almost self-taught. He effectively emulated his heroes and copied them.
Gary: “I watched the SSDT and Pre’65 trials when their routes were around my home in Kinlochleven, I would be about six or seven years old and that most definately inspired me to take up the sport. My favourite riders back then were Steve Colley and Rob Crawford at that time. I broke my leg when I fell off my TY80 near my house and Rob signed the cast, which I still have.”
Young Macdonald, tried hard and with it came the pain of the broken leg which was put in plaster, but he was also very fortunate to have areas of ground where he could legally practise within walking distance of his home.
Gary’s first ever event was an overnight success, he completed the event with a clean sheet on the Youth C-class route to take the win.
Macdonald: “It was a Dunfermline Trial, I was ten years old, it is my most treasured win of all!” said Gary who has never lost his schoolboy enthusiasm for the sport.
Being brought up in Kinlochleven, it was many miles to travel to compete in the Scottish national events and to this day Gary is eternally grateful for the time, effort, encouragement and financial help given by his parents, Arthur and Sandra.
Gary continued: “Many people provided help and support over the years, Malcolm and Rhoda Rathmell at Malcolm Rathmell Sport from 1999; John Lampkin of Beta UK, who signed me for the BETA GP team in 1999. John Shirt of GasGas UK supported me in the 2010-2011 seasons. It was an amazing time which saw me become ACU British Expert champion.”
He continued: “I had an enormous boost when Adrian and Mandy Lewis who ran the local trials business ‘Lewisport’ at Strontian. They supported me as a youth on a Gas Gas 125 and a Beta 125, they’ve since moved to the USA where they still run Lewisport to this day.”
Gary also obtained support from local tree-surgeon Ken Oliver. “Ken has been brilliant, he is a true gentleman and has been a massive help to me over a period of years. He did nice things like getting my helmets customised, one of which was the tiger skin Shoei. Also Mark McComisky helped me, he is the funny-man of trials, who also supported my efforts in the last few years”.
Macdonald was also fortunate to have the services of local men, Ally Morrice and Peter Davidson to call upon as minder at British Championship and World rounds.
Gary also commented: “One man who is sadly no longer with us, John Davies from Dunfermline, himself a former Scottish Scrambles Champion, he believed in me and was a fan from day one and did the best for me and guided me whenever he could. John was chairman of the Scottish ACU trials committee and made sure that I went to Rugby to be trained at the ACU. This allowed me to coach riders for a few years. The SACU covered my travelling and accommodation costs for the course, but it was John that made it all happen.”
Gary hasn’t stopped trials riding completely, but his main sport now is cross country cycling at which he excels. Macdonald has applied his experience gained in trials sport to that of the push-bike. He trains physically even harder than he did when riding motorcycles.
In 2017 Gary decided to enter the Pre’65 Scottish Trial, he won at his first attempt and is the very first Scotsman ever to have won the Pre’65 event.
Gary: “I am indebted to Martin Murphy of Leven Homes Ltd in Kinlochleven for his support during the 2017 and 2018 seasons by supplying me with a BSA Bantam on which I won the Pre’65 Scottish and the Drayton Triumph twin, both specially built by Drayton’s Jim Pickering. He also lent me a Honda TLR200 on which I won my class at the Highland Classic Two-Day at Alvie Estate”.
There is one piece of unfinished business that is always at the back of Macdonald’s mind, that of the Scottish Six Days Trial.
The last Scotsman to win the SSDT was Bob MacGregor of Killin who won it twice, first in 1932 when the event became a one winner event and then again in 1935, Rudge mounted both times.
Macdonald’s aim was of course to take the win and he came very, very close to achieving his goal, not just once but three times. A third place in 2003, when Joan Pons took the win, another third place in 2013 with Dougie Lampkin in first position and a runner-up spot in 2015, again Lampkin taking the win. This in itself makes Gary Macdonald the highest placed Scotsman ever in the history of the event, other than MacGregor’s two wins of course. The only Scotsman to be on the podium of the Scottish Six Days Trial other than Bob MacGregor is some achievement.
Gary: “The Scottish Six Days is worth more to me than the world championships, it’s the one thing I wanted to have and I was so close in getting what I wanted, that North British Rubber Company trophy in my hands. The first time I lost my grip on it was in 2003 on Pipers Burn, that will haunt me for life.”
Macdonald has competed against the best riders of his time, but who did he admire?
Macdonald: “Thinking about it I was really impressed by the achievements of a Scots rider, the late David Page from Edinburgh, although I never met him, I did hear about his achievements. David Page was the best we had in Scotland back in the late 1980s, he was an amazing rider who mixed it with the best of his time. He dominated the youth scene in Scotland and was unbeatable. The sad thing was he died of leukaemia at aged 18 and never got to realise his true potential. I am sure he could have been a British champion or even higher than that”.
And what does Gary Macdonald do now, after all he has achieved more than any other Scottish born trials rider?
Gary has more recently taken up cycle sport, particularly Cyclocross, like a steeplechase with road push bikes.
But the story doesn’t end there – to be continued … !
Fifteen minutes with former Scottish trials rider – Donald Buchan.
Interviewed by Grandson, Callum Buchan
Photos: Buchan Family; Ian Robertson
Special thanks to the Classic Racing 50cc Club UK for link to their article on Heldun.
Where and when were you born?:
I was born on the 1st of February 1940 in Perth, Scotland.
What is the family history in relation to motorcycles and can you tell us about Jimmy Buchan’s achievements in racing?:
My father, Jack, rode in the TT, the Scottish Six Days and the International Six Days. My brother Jimmy was in my father’s sidecar for the International Six Days at sixteen years of age in 1951 in Italy!
Jimmy rode the Isle of Man for the first time in 1954 and won the Clubmans TT in 1955 riding a BSA Gold Star. Then in 1956 he won the Manx Grand Prix double riding a Manx Norton.
Tell us about the retail motorcycle business you owned in Perth?:
‘Buchan Motorcycles’ was opened in 1960 by my father on Rannoch Road, Perth. In 1972 I took over the business, not because my father had decided to pack it in, retire and play golf all day, but because he felt you’re never too old to travel and got on his bike.
He planned on going from the foot of Argentina to the tip of Alaska. Off he went on his bike with insufficient cash banking on his charisma to be his currency and his iconic tam o’ shanter to explore the other side of the world.
Unfortunately, having reached as far as Mexico, he took ill before making it to the U.S and couldn’t complete his journey.
By the mid 1970s I opened a branch of the business in Forfar and in the next decade another in Perth Town Centre.
As you sold Bultaco and Montesa, did you deal directly with Comerfords and Montala Motors/Jim Sandiford?:
Yes, I dealt with all them directly and also dealt with Greeves Motorcycles, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki directly.
You rode a 50cc Heldun (mistake in SSDT programme saying 60cc Heldun) in 1968. Tell us about the Heldun and how did the SSDT ride come to pass?:
Having spoken to the Heldun representative at the 1967 Motorcycle Show, chatting about trials, they suggested I visit the factory at Birmingham for a test ride. This lead to me being offered a bike for the SSDT for the following year. The Heldun was powered by a Sachs engine.
You rode the ISDT in 1969. Tell us about the bike you rode on? None of the Scots finished in 1969, not even Ernie Page, what put you out of the event?:
I rode on a Greeves, it was a Comerfords International Six Days model, 250cc, part of the British Vase B team. I was hit by an Italian rider, I think on day two and fractured my ribs causing my premature departure from the event.
How many times did you ride in the SSDT?:
I think it was five or six times.
Any favourite events in trials in Scotland?:
Any Scottish champion trial, none in particular. I competed in the length and breadth of Scotland, from Rogart to Ayrshire. Riding various bikes from the aforementioned Heldun to Triumph 500cc.
Were you a member of Scotland’s oldest motorcycle club the Perth and District Motor Club?:
Yes, I was a member from the late 1950s until the late 70s.
Did you organise any events?:
Yes, I was the trials convenor for a few years of the Perth & District MC.
Did you scramble or road race at any time?:
Yes, I road raced on a 50cc in Errol 1958 and at Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy in the early 60s. I took part in various organised scrambles and hill climbs.
Many thanks to Donald and his family for putting this interview together.
The article on Heldun, linked to in this article is the copyright of the Classic Racing 50cc Club UK.
Coming on to the bookshelves in February 2018 is a new biography written by Ian Berry on Jeff Smith, a man who really should have no introductions, he was of course not only World Motocross champion but also was a very good trials rider, who won the SSDT (1955) and Scott Trial (1954 & 1959).
The book, which is hardback and has 450 pages will be published by Motorsport Publications LLC and Ian hopes to have copies available for the Telford Off Road Show on the weekend of 17/18 February. Price to be announced shortly.