I was on a shoot in the back lanes of inner city Sydney with the threat of rain. We were in need of shelter when a bloke from a local business opened his roller door and invited us into his loading dock for shelter, that bloke’s name was Michael Weller.
Once inside I noticed an old time dirt bike, Scrambler as they were once known.
On close inspection, this wasn’t just any dirt bike this was a piece of art, the bike was a Rickman Motorcycle’s Matisse (Matisse is French for Bastard, thus the heading!).
Don and Derek Rickman (Rickman Motorcycles) built bikes between “1960-1974”. The Rickman’s originally built frames for Scramblers (like those shown) venturing into road bikes in 1966. The Rickman’s would supply frame kits because in the day none of the several `major British motorcycle manufacturers would sell engines to them, the kits were built to cradle the Triumph twin, BSA single and Matchless motors. The first street legal bike used a Triumph Bonneville engine. Best known for their beautiful Doug Mitchewall designs fibreglass work and nickel plated frames (the front guard is the same exact guard used on the Ducati 750/900 SS Supersport). Rickman’s were also the first to use disc brakes front and rear in a joint project with Lockheed, other innovations included the use of large diameter telescopic forks, ranging from 38-40mm and oil carried in the frame to help dissipate heat and save on weight. The brothers also came up with an eight valve cylinder conversion (700cc) for the Triumph 650cc twin in the late 60’s which increased power output to 60bhp or more depending on tuning. This resulted in showing up some weaknesses in the Triumph’s crankcase and conrods and they also used eccentric disc chain adjusters rather than draw bolts to avoid misalignment.
Next thing was to line up a shoot and as luck would have it Micheal and partner Matt run a graphic reproduction company (Digital colour crew) complete with studio. To my surprise there wasn’t just the one bike but three - all in traditional British colours. Michael’s being the traditional Black, Aussie motorcycling legend Gavin Martini Crème and Carl Bletcher (North Sydney Motorcycles) the traditional British Racing Green.
All three of our boys still race the bikes and are members of the Heaven Club competing in the Pre 1985 class. Unfortunately for the boys there is a Pre 1965 class but they would be lucky to field 14 competitors in a race so they find themselves competing in the more competitive class. Heaven club is for pre 1965 up to pre 1985 and has from 180 to 250 members a year with the majority of riders opting for the cheaper pre 1985 two stroke Jap bikes. A good meet for the club is a turn up of 90-100 clubbies turning up to a meet. Whilst this is a NSW competition, for you guys in Vic and Qld the competition is stronger but you guys on the West Coast have it sewn up with the competition attracting the likes of former world champion Vic Allen from Scotland and a couple of other world champions making the pilgrimage to compete for a couple of events in Perth.
Mike “Big Boy” Weller’s bike (Black) is a 1964 Triumph Matisse with a 650cc trophy motor. Originally owned by Pat French, Mike brought the bike about 10 years ago and used it as his main means of transport for about three years before deciding to put it on the track. At a meet last year the bike snapped a conrod and the motor blew up snapping it in two. Mike has since rebuilt the motor in the off-season and is racing again. Scrutinizing is still very strict in the classic categories, so much of the rebuild utilized stock parts excluding the replacement Billett Conrods from the USA and a set of cams by Tigue in QLD. The five speed gear box has a weak first gear, so after blowing the box on a separate occasion a self confessed frustrated engineer Mike decided to get rid of first gear and replace it in the second gear position making it a phantom gear and a four speed box with five speed workings. This makes all the gears ‘fatter’ as Mike would like to put it, it didn’t stop there the master of improvisation Mike replaced his ignition with a Swedish Unix ignition off a remote control aeroplane that takes five double AA batteries in which he proudly says he gets 15hrs of racing out of the batteries. Mike says “Riding in the pre 1970 class means you have to push that little more! It’s not about winning! They are just nice bikes to ride and they sound beautiful! All the time I’m just laughin’ my head off under my helmet and even though I’m completely fucked and drained, it’s just fun. People will beat you into the corner because they will out brake you because these are heavy bikes with no brakes, as soon as you get on the straight you’ve got them!
The Matisse Triumph weighs in at 300lb or 140kg with the Matchless being a touch lighter by comparison and is far lighter than the stock Triumph Bonneville which tips the scales at around 380lb.
Mike’s bike was the last bike built by the late Pat French and Carl’s (Brit Racing Green) the first and was actually made for good mate Gavin. Gavin spent many years travelling and competing around the world, particularly in Europe and fondly reminisces on his time in the Old Dart (England) saying “To ride around England and take all the A roads in summer is beautiful! The scenery, the little villages and the pubs are great! But the competition is fearsome, this is where Scrambling originated and with the sport brought into every home via BBC every Saturday many competitors have become household names and have a lot to live up to!
Scrambling originated before the war in England and were the roots of Moto X and trials riding in the 70’s. The main differences between the two being Scrambling took place in basically natural terrain and field start lines and there are none of the big stand up starts as in modern day Moto X. Basically back in the day people would putt around, going through the woods and hill climbs. After the war Scrambling took off and was adopted by the rest of Europe in particular the Belgium’s who have gone on to dominate Moto X and have made it their national sport. The sport also adopted by the French, Luxemburg and Italians.
Gavin gave us another insight into his time at the top saying “Go to Belgium any other day and you can see Moto X riders coming out of the forest covered in mud and clay then pull up and lean their bikes up against the pub wall and go in for a beer.” Even today riding in a Belgium National pre 1965 category race there is a shut off of 300 competitors. All have to be authentic pre seventies bikes, even after market shocks are not allowed and if caught the culprit is told to put the bike on the trailer and sent home!
At the time of Gavin’s tour he was Australian Champ and could only manage a best place of 11th. Several years later and campaigns around Australia, New Zealand and Britain he qualified for the world champion round in Prevale, France taking out the title on the British Racing Green bike of Carl’s which was once owned by Gavin (and was red at the time).
Before you go out and lash out on one of those highly desirable bikes and take yourself out to the track and do some scrambling you may want to heed this warning from the boys “People think scrambling is just old blokes on old bikes just putting around. You have to be pretty fit! You can’t be a 60 year old you’ll be takin’ out in the first corner. I (Gavin) have been riding my whole life, I work out three times a week and my routine at the gym is wholly motorcycle/moto x related and I don’t do weights to be big. You can be gym fit but you also need to be bike fit and practice on the bike”.
A special thanks to our pit girl the fiery and somewhat cheeky little Irish Lass “Scarlett” for doing all the dirty work!