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.
Just a small selection of the highlights of the 2018 Scottish Six Days Trial!
With special thanks to:
Nevis Radio, Fort William; Iain Lawrie; John Hulme/Trial Magazine UK; John Hird & Matt Betts for their pictures, videos and imagery.
The live Bernie Schreiber Interview – Courtesy of Nevis Radio, Fort William (Trials Guru’s John Moffat chats live on air to 1982 SSDT winner and 1979 World Trials Champion, Bernie Schrieber in Zurich.)
The live Dave Burroughs Interview – Courtesy of Nevis Radio, Fort William (Trials Guru’s John Moffat talks with ‘Man in a Van’ from the Dave Channel production of ‘Ross Noble Off Road’ series).
The live Liberty British Aluminium Interview – Courtesy of Nevis Radio, Fort William (Trials Guru’s John Moffat talks to Mr Duncan Mackison of the Liberty British Aluminium group, major landowner and employers in the Lochaber area).
The Guru heard that:
Dougie Lampkin’s new book ‘Trials and Error’ was available at the weigh in, but the supply was sold out within an hour. A second box of books was despatched to Fort William and that too was sold out almost immediately!
County Durham SSDT veteran Colin Ward brought a TY250R ‘Pinkie’ to ride the trial that had been extensively rebuilt, to have the indignity of having the kick-start shaft snap rendering the machine unuseable.
Ward said: “I tried hiring a bike, but all the available machines had been issued, so I sent my son Travis back home to collect my Beta”. This was a very long round trip of many hours from Fort William to Stanley County Durham. Unfortunately Ward sprained his leg and had to retire from the trial.
Scotsman, Robbie Allan lost his false teeth at Fersit on the Thursday and frantically searched for them in the whote water to no avail. Fortunately he had packed a spare pair which he pressed into service for the Friday Road Trip run and finished the event without any further drama!
Trials Guru commissioned a limited edition one-off comemorative decal for the SSDT in 2018. These were given primarily to the riders and observers at the event registration in the rider packs.
Rider 131, George Gage from Oban was raising money for Cancer Research, George is a regular competitor in Scottish trials events and is a cancer survivor, having had lung and testicular cancer.
SSDT Secretary, Mieke de Vos announced her retirement from the post and Kirstin Pennycook will take over the job for the 2019 event. Kirstin effectively ‘shadowed’ Mieke at this years’ trial.
Northern Ireland rider Johnny Hagen fractured the T6 vertibrae in his back on Trotter’s Burn on the Tuesday. After scans and medical attention at Fort William’s Belford hospital resulted in Hagan being released and was spectating at Town Hall Brae section on the Saturday.
Special Guest, Eric Kitchen was presented with a photographer’s waist-coat by Clerk of the Course, Jeff Horne to mark his 40 years of taking photos at the SSDT for Trials & Motocross News.
News at the SSDT 2018 was that the event secretary, Mieke de Vos had announced that this would be her last year as the Scottish Six Days Trial Secretary after a four year stint.
Mieke is from the Netherlands and a retired school teacher who became involved in the event through her partner, James Ried who is Deputy SSDT Chairman and a former Assistant Clerk of the Course.
The new SSDT Secretary who will be appointed later this year is Kirstin Pennycook, the current secretary of the Dunfermline & District Motorcycle Club and wife of trials and motocross rider, Martin Pennycook.
We at Trials Guru wish Mieke a well-earned retirement, but she wont be too far away as she has offfered her services to support the 107 year old event. We also take this opportunity in welcoming Kirstin into her new post for 2019.
The SSDT weigh-in Sunday is usually a hive of activity, but for the crowds of on-lookers and spectators there will be a trials cycle-bike demonstration at 13.30 in the town centre, with another demostration right after the parade of riders.
The rider is Aaron Duke, who was 2016 European champion, ranked seventh in the world in his age catagory. Aaron is an eight times Scottish champion and a previous British champion.
It is described as a one man demo showing extreme stunts performed on a bike that only a handful of people in Britain can perform.
Worth putting into your diary, Sunday 6th May at 13.30 before and after the riders’ parade.
The SSDT have just released details of their daily routes for the 2018 event.
This allows spectators to plan where to go and watch the event and a link is provided to them on the official website below.
The committee ask that anyone making use of these online maps respect landowners wishes that strictly no following of the riders on private land is permitted under any circumstances by vehicles of any kind.
Also the online maps are not a substitute to buying the official programme which went on sale in Lochaber and surrounding area on Monday 23rd in good time for the event which starts on May 7th.
Early reports indicate that sales are very brisk, so make sure you grab a copy (price £4.00) whenever you arrive before they are sold out!
The trials photographic ‘Maestro’ Eric Kitchen will be the special guest at this years’ Scottish Six Days Trial next month (7-12 May).
Eric who has taken photographs at the SSDT for forty-seven years and was the first photographer engaged to cover the annual event for the Trials & Motocross News in 1978 will present the prizes at the Nevis Centre, An Aird on Saturday 12 May at 21.00.
Kitchen who is probably the best known trials photographer of all time, has photographed all over the world and the octogenarian shows no signs of giving up. His images are highly sought after in the world of trials and he is held in high regard within the sport and by fellow sporting photographers.
He has set plans already to attend the Highland Classic 2 Day Trial (9-10 June) at Alvie Estate, an event that has grown in stature over the past few years. He will accompany Mike Rapley for the trip north.
Eric will of course be covering the SSDT with his brace of Nikon cameras and has even penned an article for the recently released SSDT Official programme which is now on sale at £4.00 from stockists in the Fort William and surrounding areas. Postal copies are available from secretary Mieke de Vos through the official website ssdt.org – contact SSDT.
The Premier Trial Sport Website for articles, photos, news and the history of motorcycle trials