Wheel Dealers

Martin Sentance suggested a topic worthy of its own page and sent the following.

There were many different (and indifferent) dealers throughout Leicester and the county, we all had to use them at sometime. To me they were the "good, the bad, and the ugly!"

My first road bike was a 250 AJS purchased from Grays on Melton Rd Leicester for 119 guineas. Grays didn't do any service or repairs themselves but sent the bikes down the road to Arbour Motor Cycles, a small shop run by three brothers who you definitely wouldn't argue with or wish to meet on a dark night!

In spite of my best efforts the AJS lasted well for over a year and got me to and from our first TT week (1970). But within a month of returning from the IOM, the crankpin broke, fortunately near to home. The repairs brought me into contact with Russell's of Loughborough. Both Roger and his brother Peter were sidecar racers, Roger on a Triumph powered outfit and Peter with a fire and brimstone breathing Vincent 1000. Peter went on to create Dolphin Motors Tyre and Exhaust Centres at Birstall and Hinckley, whilst Roger stayed with the British bike shop in Loughborough. Roger, like many dealers in the Midlands used to collect his spares from the Triumph factory, usually on his half-day closing, Tuesday, I think.

Consequently, any part ordered at any time was always met with the standard reply "It'll be in on Wednesday mate!"

Roger employed an amiable and rather oversize mechanic "Clive" who when I called in one Saturday could be heard in the back of the shop hammering something into submission or oblivion. The well spoken gent in front of me was inquiring if his BSA Bantam crankshaft was ready for collection was met with the reply "Be five minutes mate, Clive's just finishing it off now!!"

As the AJS was by now becoming unreliable, I was asked by Roger (persuaded?) to buy a new bike from him, as he had just taken on the franchise for Kawasaki. I parted with £357 for WUT 607J a 250cc disc valve twin. We both went to London Docks to collect it in it's crate, and rushed back to Loughborough to build it up and put it on the road.

A year of completely trouble free riding and the 250 was exchanged for a new 350 triple, which as you have read elsewhere, the running costs were too much, and this was part-exchanged for a 750 Honda 4 at Ken Ives.

The Honda was to prove reliable and trouble free over a high mileage, and during that time Ken Ives gave splendid service in their workshops.

Other dealers in the area that we visited were AE Milnes at the top of Belgrave Gate, who had some very clever people working there, Stuart Howe, who raced a Norton framed Vincent with quite some success and Rex Caunt, who understood 2 stroke engines like no other. Rex is now producing some very clever solid-state ignition systems, which are a direct replacement for a magneto.

Just a little further up Belgrave Gate was, and still is, Motor Cycle Accessories. Never much, if any, discount, but from my earliest days of motor cycling to the present day, if you walk in with an idea of what you want, you will only come out with what you need. When both senior Pete and Pete Vines were on duty there was always a healthy banter in the shop.

Legend has it that Pete Vines used to test new oversuits by wearing them in the bath to see if they leaked, was this some kind of bizarre ritual, or did he have a strange fetish?!!

At the top end of London Rd was Leicester's own Velocette dealer- Messr's Petty's. Here was a place where time stood still. The cut and thrust of business in the 1970's was not really for them. Customers were addressed as "sir" and the whole manner was more akin to a gents outfitters than a busy motor-cycle shop. Many of us called in on a Saturday afternoon, not to part with money, but to listen to "young" Harold recall the halcyon days of motor cycling. If anyone wished to buy something, Saturday Geoff was summoned, and the part required described in detail. In a scene reminiscent of Grace Brothers "are you being served" he would enquire if Hilda (who had an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Velocette) was "free". She would then fetch the part, place it in a bag for you, issue a till receipt and amend the stock records.

Meanwhile outside Petty's the entertainment continued, with us teenagers gathering around to watch various motor cyclists following the starting procedure, or ritual, to bring a hot engined Velo into life. It seemed to us that the number of kicks to start a Velo was directly proportional to the number of people watching!!

Sometime in the 70's Petty's closed, and the names, faces, and genteel procedures passed into motor-cycling folk-lore.

Further away in South London were the big UK dealers, where volume and turnover were the name of the game.The best deals were to be had at the likes of Comerfords, Elite Motors, Coburn and Hughes etc.

Mike Parry bought his Norton Commando Fastback from Elite's and I went down there with him to collect it. It was a fabulous machine. Elite's no quibble warranty was quite unique in those days. I remember them changing the Norton's cylinder barrels and exhaust pipes while Mike waited one Saturday morning.

After about 12,000 hard ridden miles Mikes Commando main bearings gave up and he decided to part exchange the Commando for a GT550 Suzuki

This he did at a new style, all singing all dancing dealer in Long Eaton - Davick Motique. Helpful and friendly they were quite forward thinking for the time. They organised test days of their range of motor cycles, which in the interests of research we felt duty bound to attend. I think in one afternoon myself and Dave Stocker did more mechanical damage to their test fleet than they would have ever thought possible!! The 550 Suzuki was certainly a good road bike for Mike as it had amazing mid-range pulling power, considering it was a 2 stroke.

Mike Volans, proprietor of Davick Motique, is keen to hear your recollections of his business:

Start of quotation Do any of you guys and gals have any memories of my dealerships in the 70's? Appreciate any photos or memories. End of quotation

- Mike Volans

Send your memories and photos via the website.

Start of quotation Message for Mike Volans, Davick Motique. Photos taken 12 January 2019 and it still goes. Bought new circa 1975! End of quotation

- Derek Foot

Meanwhile over in Melton Mowbray, two motor cycle dealers were probably doing quite well out of certain Phoenix members. I think Len Manchester's were on first name terms with Dave Stocker or more particularly Jane. Dave used to have the odd mishap on his Yamaha and it was usually Jane who went in to Len Manchester's on a Saturday morning to buy brake levers, clutch levers, L/H indicators, R/H indicators, footrests, you know the sort of thing!

Just down the road was Melton Motor Cycles who used to help club racer Derek Foot. He raced a T500 Suzuki and gave me lots of advice, as I also started off racing on one of these. One should always beware of advice given by other racers, as a set of used barrels and pistons I bought from him actually made my bike go slower!

Another customer of Melton M/C's was that superb engineer and Vintage Club racer Roger Moss. He became a good friend and advisor.

I also thought it very smart of him to choose to live opposite the Golden Fleece at South Croxton!

A motor cycle dealer and importer I have had a very long association with is Richard Slater and his brother Roger. The two brothers, with their dry wit and Droitwich accents and infectious enthusiasm for all things Laverda made ownership over the years of a variety of models a pleasure.

It wasn't all plain sailing though, and several times I recall going to Bromyard and begging for special parts and tuning hints and tips to help keep my racing bikes in top condition. Most hard up club racers had scuffed knees through begging and borrowing in those days I think!!

The Jota is usually the preferred machine for a visit to my beloved IOM.

In the 1980's Roger Slater emigrated to the USA, leaving Richard to run the business in Bromyard.

On a recent visit, I asked for some carb parts, Richard blew the dust off his stock record cards, went to the appropriate shelf and produced the parts I required. He then informed me that according to his records the last time he had sold one of these was 1987! And yes he did charge me 1987 price. As I am sure Phil Freestone will agree, Laverda ownership is a good thing as any of the bikes they produced in the 70's and 80's are a joy to ride and own.

- Martin Sentance

Thanks to Martin for the above treasury of good memories. Steve Brown continues.

I worked at Gray's in the mid '70s for a short while as a "mechanic". Well that's what I called myself, they didn't need anything so fancy as that though. If you could get the old clunkers running long enough to see out the warranty, (sometimes as much as 2hrs) that was enough. I remember the first time I asked for spark plugs they pointed me to a big box of used plugs. The plan was find some in there better than the ones you've got, use them,after tuning with the wire brush, and put the old ones in the same box. Now that's what I call recycling! How far ahead of their time! Mind you Bert, their main mechanic could fix anything it seemed. I did learn a lot there but I can't tell you most of it in case you ex-customers decide to sue!

The period Martin refers to must have been quite a bit earlier, as the hovel we called the workshop looked to me like it had been there for decades. The stuff piled up on the completely hidden worktops would see most present day autojumblers through to retirement. I believe that Bert is still in the trade as a partner in Eros motorcycles on Nedham Street.

I agree entirely about Rex Caunt, I'm still in touch with him and in fact have got one of his electronic magnetos on my Matchless.

Another dealer I worked for was Derek Hulbert, on Green Lane Road in Leicester. That was an altogether different place, an old school dealer who was keeping up with the times, to a degree. I was happy to work for him on decent modern Yamahas and Hondas. They did believe in proper service. I was regularly told off by Len the foreman mechanic there for my sloppy timekeeping. I had difficulties even starting at 9am! Len by the way is still married to Hilda.......the same Hilda that Martin mentioned working at Petty's. Small world eh? Well it was then. I saw a photo not long ago on the wall at Sosbe's, the ace welders in Highfields. It was a fairly recent pic of the same Len, with one of his bikes that Sosbe's had done some welding work on! It was nice to know he's still around and active. I think the bike was even a Velo still!

There was also Apple motorcycles who started in Hinckley and later opened in Leicester. The proprietor, Twig, was sadly killed about that time.

Then there was Smith & Parkers on Narborough Road. I really fancied the 125cc Puch they had in the window about 1971, but I was only a nipper still and didn't know any better!

Then there was Eddy Black in Syston, another small olde worlde shoppe on Narboro' Rd nearer the town end and the little shop on Belgrave Rd opposite BU, can't remember the name.

- Steve Brown

Well remembered, Steve. Perhaps someone will remember those other dealers

Mitchell's on Green Lane Road was taken over by Derek Hulberts. Steve replaced Roger Winterburn at Hulbert's and Brian Porter also worked there awhile.

Meanwhile, Roger Winterburn had moved to the Trinity Motors motorcycle showroom on Blackbird Road which soon became Moto Prince. Roger now runs Windy Corner in Barwell and will supply new Triumphs from the nearby factory.

Mario's was the dealer in the triangle between Humberstone Road, Vulcan Road and the railway line at the time when going 'up Charny' meant a trip to the bargain shops. Mario was the first dealer in the area to sell the 'big' Honda 250cc Dream machines. I seem to recall they also sold one arm bandits. Or was it juke boxes? The place looked like a transport cafe and must have been a Rocker's paradise.

Closer to town than Marios on the same side of Humberstone Road was Newtons Cycles. They branched out into Mobylette and Puch mopeds and also the Honda 50 range. That is where I bought my first motorcycle in 1962 (a Honda 125cc Benly). Without the slightest idea how to ride it I set off across Humberstone Road from Kent Street, up the pavement and cleaned up all the vegetables on trestles outside a greengrocers opposite.

Norman Hunter

Norman Hunter was a rider for the Leicester Lions speedway team and opened a small shop on Woodgate. He managed to get delivery of some of the Triumph Trident T160s returned from Saudi Arabia. Kevin Brewin and I negotiated for two and they had consecutive numbers. John Ashworth had the third in the series. I no longer have mine but Derek Jordan has John Ashworth's.

Start of quotation Found this site looking for Petty’s name on Highfield St off London Rd. Came up in conversation yesterday, and couldn't for the life of me remember the name, but remembered well the RE5 they had in the window, unsold, for years. Used to look in the window in awe on the way home from Wyggeston Boys in the mid 70s.

Saw later the mention of Norman Hunter- he's still alive and well living in Desford and still has bikes. I repaired his central heating recently. End of quotation

- Simon Odom

I suppose you had to clean the cinders out of Norman's boiler.

Twig Forest was a leading member of the Hinckley and District MCC. Just after buying a Norton Commando his exhuberent riding style resulted in a driving ban. Twig went back to the bank and suggested they lend him more money (on the surity of the Commando that they paid for!) so he could start a motorcycle shop and secure a Suzuki dealership. That is how Apple Motorcycles started. Twig never looked back - which is probably how he lost his licence in the first place.

When the Hinckley and District were in the process of starting up an RAC/ACU training scheme Twig volunteered to give the maintenance lectures. We thought that telling the riders how to fix their own bikes might be bad business but Twig replied. "As soon as one of those kids picks up a spanner it's money in my pocket!"

Start of quotation Twig Forest, Apple Motorcycles, gone but not forgotten.

Bond Street Hinckley then Druid Street Hinckley.

What a great guy Twig was. Got my first new bike from him in Bond Street, Suzuki TS100L. One year later sold that and got it's bigger brother Suzuki TS250K from Twig, still in Bond Street at that time, which I still have to this day.

Every time I see it I think of Twig and Apple Motorcycles.

Have one of their summer jackets with Apple on the back in my wardrobe as well, and spare Apple Motorcycle stickers.

Gone but not forgotten. End of quotation

- Steve Crane

About the time I started to be Harborough based Dave Toogood took over at Harborough Bike Centre. At one time there was a motorcycle clothing manufacturer over the top of the premises but they moved out to an industrial estate. Dave Toogood was a competitive MX rider but he brought an easy-going style to the Yamaha franchise. His large showroom also displayed motorcycles for private sellers and was a busy meeting place for local riders.

The place burnt down a few years ago and he can now be found dealing in commercial vehicles behind Crouches Garage on the A6 south of Kibworth.

Tony Wilkins was a good friend to the Leicester Phoenix. When we took part in the Granby Halls Motorcycle Show Tony was manager at Ken Ives and supported us with discounts on items. When he opened his own Honda shop on Northampton Road, Market Harborough he gave generous assistance to the local training scheme instructors. Last I heard he was running a dispatch business.

I took my 1952 AJS 16s to Petty's for its MOT test sure that they could be flanneled. Harold sauntered out to where it stood at the kerb and eulogised over the quality of old motorcycles while gripping his pipe firmly between his teeth. I engaged him in as much distracting conversation as I could while he languidly used the AJS as a bookmark to years past. After about ten minutes of indifferent poking he shuffled back into the shop to make me out a list of the dozen areas the bearings were out of tolerance, the tyres wrongly inflated, the wheels untrue, the oil the wrong grade, the bulbs the wrong wattage etc. He didn't miss a damn thing and even said the registration plate only just met the character width requirement.(3/8")

- Ben Crossley

One dealer nobody has mentioned was Bruce Lewin on Narborough Road. He was a BSA & Villiers spares stockist. I bought all of my engine parts for the Greeves there. He ran a taxi business to supplement income, so finding the shop open was a bit of a lottery.

Rob Winnett

When I was a Bike Cop in the 70s/80s Mick Barr was one of two mechanics at the Workshops at Headquarters and when we took our Beemers in for service you could always tell when Mick had worked on your bike as it always felt better set up and ran sweeter. Mick was a genuine gentleman and truthfully I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.

An indicator of how well he was liked and respected was that when he left the Police to set up his own shop in Welford Road at Bob Gunnel's old place. It needed a lot of work internally. Well the police, like a lot of other occupations, had lots of ex-tradesmen in its ranks, so we all gave our time to help him set up. I remember I plumbed in a new sink unit I think.

The last time I saw Mick was at a steam rally and, as usual, he was his friendly affable self even though he was very ill even then.

Truly he will be sadly missed.

- Richard Taylor

There was also Supreme Motorcycles. Originally in Wharf St, then to Braunstone Gate followed by a move to Belgrave Gate opposite Central Motors.

In their time they sold used bikes but also had Guzzi & Ducati dealerships. At the time of the move to the Belgrave Gate premises partners Tony Cooper & Dave Hallam decided to go their seperate ways. Tony opened a bike shop somewhere in Nottingham. Dave then made a final move to Hill Top in Earl Shilton where he still trades almost totally British Spares via the post man.

Dave was a successful sidecar racer, high points being 3rd in the '84 TT with me in the chair followed by a win the next year, unfortunately without me due to my broken limbs sustained in a big crash at Donington's Craner Curves during practice for the European round at Easter. Dave finished 3rd in that one too.

Barry Dunn

Ted Trett noticed the difference between a Main Agent and Rainbow Motorcycles in Sheffield in his report on his K100RS.

- Ted Trett

Open quote It's nice to hear the old names, especially Apple Motorcycles on Halford St. I bought a new Simpson 50 there, remember those? Bought a new Kawasaki KR1 off Mick Barr at his Evington showroom in the late 80s, nice chap. Close quote