‘The article in the August issue about a Velo MSS reminds me of an incident that still brings me out in a cold sweat when recalled,’ says RC reader Phil Rich. More than half a century ago he cheekily borrowed a bike, and never said ‘thank you’ properly. Ted, if you’re still out there…
My motorcycle timeline began in 1965 when I became old enough to officially have a paper round and therefore begin saving for a desired road-burner. In truth anything that didn’t need pedalling would have sufficed.
The paper-shop that employed me had a twice-daily customer, Ted, whose all year round transport consisted of either a 750 Norton-engined Matchless (possibly a G15) or an MSS Velo with a registration that contained the letters ‘RAT’. Ted was to me obviously an aged senior enthusiast, complete with shiny Belstaff jacket, silver pudding basin helmet, white cloth face scarf and wellies. In retrospect I doubt if he was even 50 years old. At five feet nothing tall, when the Matchless was ‘developed’ with rear-sets, clip-ons and full Dunstall decibel exhaust system, he could hardly be seen when on board, laying so low on its tank, reminiscent of his idol Bill Ivy.
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Ted’s life seemed to totally revolve round motorcycles. When he had an accident at work that severed the tendons in his left little and ring finger, leaving them useless, he later requested that they be amputated. They kept getting in the way of his clutch lever and causing him to grate his bike’s gears !
He advised me which magazines to read and assisted me fitting my first Dunlop K81, later TT100 tyre. This was the first of the ‘modern’ tyres which were substantially stiffer than the former John Bull or Universal variety.
A few years later, when the income from my paper-round also had to cater for weekly underage drinking at the cost of 1s 10d for a pint of bitter, I achieved my transport goal. After an enforced three month sabbatical courtesy of the local magistrates, I even managed to become a 16 year old on a 650 assisted by Norwich Union’s ‘up to 350cc / 350cc and above’ simple insurance.
Our immediate bunch of friends had become fairly regular visitors to the relatively local Mallory Park circuit. On the eve of one planned visit, possibly even the famed Ago v Cooper contest for which I still have the programme, the magneto on my TR6R Trophy was found to be dead so I was without bike. Hurriedly thinking who could assist, I shamelessly visited Ted who I hadn’t seen for a while. I didn’t really know him that well but still asked if I could borrow his second bike, the MSS.
I cringe even now at my audacity. I would not even consider such an act today, approaching 50 years later, when I would be in a position to finance any possible disaster. To loan a bike to a teenage paper-boy is almost unthinkable. I’m sure Ted’s son, who was ten-plus years my senior must have felt the same judging by the look on his face. Ted silenced him by the comment ‘he’ll be OK, he has a big bike himself’.
I therefore borrowed RAT for the weekend. I had never ridden a Velo before but had no problem apart from once touching the tip of the fishtail down by spirited cornering. I also remember an emergency stop, coming to a complete halt still in top gear after which RAT just sat there slowly ticking over, most impressive.
I thankfully returned the bike intact and undamaged the next day. Shamefully I can’t even remember any money changing hands, although I did fully brim the tank.
I don’t know if Ted is still with us, if so he would surely be in his nineties. A short time after his generous gesture as I started my full-time working career. If anyone does know him then he would be easy to recognise with a three-fingered left hand. A true motorcycle spirited individual, who influenced my life. Belated thanks again, Ted, and the MSS.
Words by Phil Rich