Guy Arnold hates to throw things away.
We’ve headed out into the Fens to talk to him about his Bultaco Sherpa, one of the greatest trials bikes of all time, which he bought in 1988.
But there’s so much more hidden away in the barn behind his self-built house, and it all brings back a host of memories.
There’s the Suzuki TS125 bought by his late father, Terry, in 1981; the restored 60-year-old concrete mixer he used in his early days as a builder; and the 1951 Elswick Tradesman’s push bike he rode to school as a teenager.
“I am a bit of a softy,” he admits. ”If it works well, it deserves to be restored to say thank you to it.”
Take the mixer, long out of active service but now back in full working order.
“You are the custodian of something made in 1961,” says Guy. “Should you take it down the scrapyard and have it melted down, or should you restore it? I decided to restore it.”
It’s been the same story with the Bultaco, the Suzuki and the Elswick, all of which were stored for varying lengths of time before being carefully brought back into use over the last few years.
Guy, now 65, relives his youth on them all, either round the village and surrounding countryside or, in the case of the off-road Bultaco, on the large paddock behind his home.
There’s also a succession plan to keep them in the family, even the old mixer.
“I’ve got a 13-year-old grandson, Harvey, who’s absolutely head over heels madly in love with motorbikes, and he can’t wait until he’s 16 to get his first bike,” he says. “He wants all my bikes – he’s got the same passion which I’ve got.
“He wants the mixer too. He said he’s going to buy a VW Caddy, get his trailer licence, put the mixer on the back and take it round the shows and show it off.”
Too much fun
Harvey will have to wait a while though, as Guy is having far too much fun on his old bikes to let go of them just yet.
Originally from Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, Guy grew up around motorbikes, his father and grandfather both keen bikers.
He was just 13 when he got his first bike, a BSA Bantam to ride around the local fields, using the old Elswick bicycle on the roads.
“I used to love messing around with push bikes,” he says. “I’d buy, repair and sell them, and from about 14 I’d ride the trades bike three miles to school to save the bus money.”
As well as helping his father in the building trade, Guy had a Saturday job working in a sausage skin factory.
“You could earn a quid on a Saturday morning, but it was smelly and awful, working with pig gut, blowing the skins,” he adds. “But a quid in 1969 was a lot of money, when a pint of beer was only 10p.”
By 16, he had enough cash to buy a 250cc Ariel Arrow, “one of the fastest British two-strokes around”, on which he passed his test, followed by a 650cc Tiger 110, a Matchless G12 and a Triumph Bonneville.
Marriage at 20, and the arrival of a son and a daughter, interrupted his biking life, and it wasn’t until his early 30s that he got back in the saddle on a Moto Guzzi 850 California.
During this hiatus, his father bought the two-stroke Suzuki TS125, a 1980 bike that spent much of its time laid up in a shed.
“He would go out on a Sunday morning for a spin, but mum didn’t really like it because the seat was a bit small, so she made him buy something else and he just put that in the shed,” says Guy, who had followed his father into the building trade.
“It was in and out of the shed because loads of people used to borrow it to take their test on. A friend of mine came up here to visit me a year ago, I showed him it and he said ‘I took my test on that’.
“I also borrowed it back in the day when mine had gone wrong or something.”
Eventually, the bike was permanently laid up in the shed under a cover, until it passed to Guy following his father’s death in 2007.
“When he died, all his bits and pieces were distributed between me and my brothers, and I ended up with the Suzuki,” he says.
“It’s survived really well – it’s always been looked after. The only things I’ve really done is spray the front mudguard and just give it a really, really good clean, just buff the aluminium and it brings it back to life.
“If you spend a bit of time looking after the chrome, put some elbow grease in, it’s the best thing to do, it raises it up.
“Some people don’t always spend the time buggering about polishing. It’s a lot of work polishing the rim, a lot of time and effort, but once you’ve done it really well once you don’t need to do it so much.”
These days, the bike is used for “a blatt round the village”, and is more adept at handling the undulations in the famously tricky Fenland roads than the Triumph Thunderbird that Guy bought in 2017.
“It’s nice to just go round these little bumpy lanes round here,” he says. “The Triumph’s awful on these lanes. Sometimes the road just falls away, it’s quite disconcerting and at night time it’s awful.
“The undulations are terrible, and the weather just changes it because it’s all built on bog land and the road just suddenly moves. You’ve got to be so careful.”
Guy was a little less careful on the Bultaco back in 1988…
He was working in Winslow in Buckinghamshire when he saw the 1971 bike for sale in a shop run by former top grasstrack racer Julian Wigg.
“I had a few hundred quid given to me from my grandmother, who had just died,” he remembers. “I said to my son ‘I don’t know what to do with that money’ and he said ‘buy something that makes you happy, because she used to make you happy’.
Fun in the woods
“I thought ‘yeah, I will’. I saw that bike and thought ‘that would be fun in the woods’.”
Guy parted with £350 for the bike, topping up the £280 his grandmother left him.
“I didn’t know a lot about Bultacos then but it just attracted me, the design, the lines,” he says. “I thought ‘yeah, it’s aggressive, big, and powerful enough for me to chuck around’.”
The Spanish-built Bultaco Sherpa revolutionised trials competition in the mid 1960s, the lightweight two-stroke rendering the big British four-strokes that had previously dominated the sport obsolete almost overnight.
Bultaco persuaded Irish trials master Sammy Miller to swap his Ariel 500 for the Spanish newcomer, and he swept to victory in the prestigious Scottish Six Days Trial on a Sherpa in 1965.
During the 1970s, Sherpa T’s would win the World Trials Championship an incredible eight times.
Guy never competed on the 325cc Sherpa but, with like-minded friends, he put it through its paces in the public woods at Chivery, near Chesham.
In the ‘bomb holes’
“We had a lot of fun,” he says. “We used to go in these what we called ‘bomb holes’, 30-40 ft deep. You didn’t need to use first gear, put it in second and it pulled like bilio.
“We’d go up these very steep slopes, and you had to get to the top and throw yourself over the handlebars, and I mean throw yourself, because if you didn’t you’d go backwards and hurt yourself.
“We used to race around – the walkers didn’t like you in there, and the coppers would come in and we’d sneak out and go down the pub afterwards and have a few beers. Great days. I was a bit of a bugger in my day!”
By 1993, construction work in the UK had dried up and Guy headed to Germany in search of work.
“I did my Auf Wiedersehen, Pet bit when we were hit with the bad recession when Maggie (Thatcher) cut everything, so I stopped using the bike,” he says.
On his return, his marriage broke down and he suddenly needed somewhere to store the Bultaco.
“I didn’t want to sell it,” he says. “I’m lucky really, because mum and dad were pig farmers, as well as building, and they had some old barns that you could put stuff in.
“If I hadn’t have had that I’d have been in queer street – I’d have had to sell it on.”
The Bultaco remained in storage for more than 20 years, during which time Guy remarried and moved around a lot, sometimes building his own houses, and finally ending up in Cambridgeshire around 2012.
“I’ve either built for myself or bought homes and renovated them,” he says. “I’ve lived in sheds and garages to get where I am. I pulled a house down in Chesham, built a garage, and lived in it with my wife for nine months. It was quite cosy!
“We had electricity and a telephone in the garage, and a portaloo outside. Nothing’s easy in life, you’ve got to make sacrifices.”
Thankfully, the only things living in his garage now are the bikes, and the Bultaco finally made it from his mother’s home to Fenland sometime in 2015.
After years without turning a wheel, it was in a sorry state.
“It just looked really awful,” says Guy. “But the engine hadn’t seized up. I took the plug out, poured diesel down it, left it a while, then poured oily petrol down it, and it did move.”
However, it clearly needed a lot of work to bring it back to its best, and Guy began looking for someone to restore the bike properly.
“I couldn’t find anybody local who would take the job on,” he says. “I wanted someone who would do the job from start to finish and not leave me with any odds and ends.
“I was getting very despondent because it sat in here for about a year. I’d asked various people and couldn’t find anybody that wanted to restore the whole thing.”
Then he saw a Bultaco for sale on eBay and contacted the seller, who pointed him in the direction of Twinshock, a trials specialist in Sidmouth, Devon, who quoted him £3,000 to £3,500 for a full restoration.
With some trepidation, he entrusted the bike to a man with a van from Liverpool, commissioned by Twinshock to deliver the bike to Devon.
“I did think ‘am I being royally stitched up? Will I ever see this bike again?’” he laughs. “You start making things up in your mind – they could have a little scam going. It could be in Ireland!
“About six months later I said ‘right, I’m going down there’. There were a lot of parts and bits and pieces in boxes, but he had been doing stuff.
“He was doing another Bultaco, and he had to get that one finished first, but I was getting a bit stressed. I wanted it back!”
After about a year away, the bike returned to Fenland, fully restored at a cost of £4,000, including a respray back to its original factory colours, an engine and gearbox rebuild, new cables, tyres and respoked wheels.
“He went through it really, really well, and did a cracking job,” says Guy. “I was over the moon, I was like a dog with two tails.”
After nearly 25 years, Guy says it felt “fantastic” to feel that familiar surge of power once more.
“It’s got a lovely sound, and it takes me back to those days in the bomb holes,” he adds.
Like the Bultaco, the Elswick was also rescued from his mum’s barn, where it had been stored high in the rafters for at least 45 years.
“I got it back out probably a year ago, and I was going to get The Repair Shop to have a go at it,” says Guy. “I filled in the forms, but they never got back to me, so I thought ‘I’ll do it myself’.”
He set about finding spares to replace, among other things, the rusty brake levers and assemblies.
Happily, Laura Wakefield, who races penny-farthings internationally and repairs and sells vintage bicycles, lives nearby.
“She’s amazing,” says Guy. “She’s got a load of Post Office stuff from when the postie rode a big old chunky bike, still in greaseproof brown paper bags – unused but more than 50-odd years old.
“She got me everything I wanted, the saddle, the brake levers, and I put it back together.”
Guy pauses for thought when asked which of his bikes means the most, but settles on the Bultaco.
“I suppose it’s the ultimate, but I’m quite passionate about all of them,” he says. “I will keep them forever, and pass them on.”
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