Roger Kimbell hands me a printed list of all the motorcycles he has ever owned, in order of purchase. It runs to four pages of A4.
Later, I count them, something Roger admits he has never actually done.
On hearing the tally of 150 (not out), topped and tailed by a Velocette KTS and a Jawa 640, he says: “Bloody hell. Terrifying.”
“I had not counted them,” he adds. “I had just sort of made a note years ago, before computers, in a diary. One or two must be missing…”
Aladdin’s cave of bikes
Of that 150, he still owns 17, most of them neatly lined up in a beautiful old barn adjacent to his home near Kettering, an Aladdin’s cave of bikes from veteran to modern.
A 1925 Triumph Model P rubs shoulders with a five-year-old BMW R1200RS, while a clutch of German MZs jostle with classic Nortons, a Sunbeam Model 9 and a Scott 2 Speed, both from the 1920s.
“I’m interested in all the eras, from veteran right through to modern day,” says Roger, who also owns a self-built Triking three-wheeler, plus a Robin aeroplane and a gyrocopter.
“It’s nice having a mixture of different things, and there is no one perfect bike – they’re all a compromise.”
Among his collection, though, there is one bike that means more than the rest, a 1960 Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport, jointly bought with his father Kenneth back in 1980.
For the most part, his collection is an ever-changing roster as he buys and sells as the mood takes him.
But the Moto Guzzi, instantly recognisable for its large external flywheel and bald nakedness, will be with him for life, a permanent reminder of rides out with his late father.
“I have kept it for sentimental reasons,” says Roger, 76. “It was part owned by my father and it’s a bike I love. It’s the last of my bikes I would get rid of.
“I seem to have, shall we say, fads on certain makes. I’ve had one Moto Guzzi after another, plus about 17 BMWs – at the moment it’s MZs. They’re cheap and cheerful, although prices are going up, which is good news. It’s whatever takes my fancy really, and they come and go.”
All apart from the Falcone Sport that is, powered by a 500cc horizontal single that can trace its heritage right back to Carlo Guzzi’s first prototype of 1919.
Introduced in 1950, the Falcone was closely styled on the beautiful racing Dondalino and, with breathing through a racing-type Dell’Orto SS 29A carburettor, produces 23hp at 4,500rpm, enough for speeds in excess of 80mph.
Vintage-style Moto Guzzi
It’s as Italian as La Dolce Vita, and perhaps the ultimate expression of the classic, vintage-style Moto Guzzi. One could take as much pleasure from simply looking at it as riding it.
Roger, then aged 36, travelled to see his Falcone in 1980 with a good friend.
“When we arrived, Terry Haines, who ran Moto Vecchia, had two fully restored bikes for sale.
“We did a deal and bought the two together, although I really could not, at that stage, afford it,” he remembers.
“It was about £3,500, a lot of money in those days. My father said ‘well, I will go halves with you’.
“He used to come out with me on it and enjoyed it, although he never had a motorcycle licence of his own.
“He was interested in them from a mechanical and historical point of view, but he was never a motorcyclist.”
Father and son enjoyed many biking days out together, with Kenneth either riding pillion or in a sidecar attached to, for example, a Sunbeam Model 7 the pair worked on together.
“Sometimes we’d go out on joyrides, sometimes down to the Banbury Run – when I was not competing we’d go down and spectate,” says Roger. “Sadly he died in 1984, but we had some great times.”
In his younger days, Roger’s parents were anything but keen for their son to take up motorcycling.
“Mother hated them because father’s brother had been badly injured on a motorcycle whilst he was sitting on it outside a shop and he was cleaned up by a lorry,” he says. “They weren’t popular things in our house.”
But, aged 10, Roger was given a ride round a friend’s garden on a BSA Bantam.
“And that was it, I was sitting on the tank, absolutely enthralled,” he recalls. “So at 13, I bought an old Velocette KTS 350 in bits, for £1 10s, put it together and hammered it round the local fields.
“The farmer was very generous, particularly after harvest, and it’s gone on from there really. I’ve been fascinated with anything mechanical or with an engine. I think my parents felt it was pointless to object.”
A Baker fitted with a Villiers 296cc twin port two stroke followed at the age of 15, before his father went halves with him on his first road bike at 16 – a Bond Minibyke with a 125cc JAP two stroke engine.
“He bought it for my 16th birthday without my knowledge, and demanded £15 from me as my half share,” he says, a full 20 years before going halves on the Moto Guzzi. “I had saved my half up from working on farms.
“It was a terrifying thing. It had a square rear tyre and heel-operated rear brake arm, connected directly to the cam. When the brake shoes wore down a bit you could get it so the cam jumped and locked the back wheel. On wet roads it was very exciting trying to judge where that point was.
“On my first ride out on the Bond I rounded a corner straight into a huge pig, which squealed off into the distance. A mass of filler fell out onto the road, so it had suffered similar abuse in its past.”
Much to his relief, Roger replaced the Bond with a Lambretta LDB150 when he was 17, followed by a Vespa GS150, as owned by the Ace Face (played by Sting) in The Who’s 1979 classic mod film Quadrophenia.
“I belonged to the Kettering and District Scooter Club, and went on runs to Skegness and Mablethorpe,” he recalls. “I was not really a mod – we didn’t really know the name in those days.”
Roger left the scooters behind aged 19, buying a Frances Barnett for £5 to get him to and from his first job in Northamptonshire’s famous boot and shoe trade, working initially for Barkers of Earls Barton.
There followed an eight-year break from bikes, as marriage to Judith, and children Lucy, Jo, and Charlie came along, before a 1959 Triumph 21, “a lovely little bike”, got him back in the groove in 1971.
He bought his first Scott, a 1957 Birmingham 600cc, which he sold, bought back and has recently sold again, and continued to buy and sell bikes as they took his fancy.
The Sreknaw club
In 1972, he was a founding member of the Sreknaw (read it backwards) motorcycle club, a group of like-minded bikers who would ride out to “somewhere of interest with a twisty road and have a good lunch”.
The group, which usually numbers 10 to 12 riders, continues today and, for the past dozen years has toured Europe, until Covid-19 called a halt to activities this year.
“We have done the battlefields of the first world war, plus quite a number of world war two sites, particularly those in northern France along the Normandy coast,” he says.
“For the past five to seven years we’ve ridden the Picos mountains in northern Spain, basing ourselves not too far from Santander and riding to different places.
“The roads and the scenery around there are absolutely fantastic. We also have three days in Wales, where we stay in a lovely pub in Painscastle, ride the twisty roads there and have a fantastic day’s riding, coming back on the country road.”
His ride of choice for long-distance treks is the BMW R1200RS, a far cry from the veteran machines in his barn.
“Modern bikes are so good at long hauls across country,” he says. “Probably the closest to the perfect bike I’ve had was another BMW, the R90S. It was such a revelation, a superbike of its day. It went as well as any of the Japanese, handled 10 times better and stopped better. I regret selling that.”
Roger’s career took him from the boot and shoe trade to working in his uncle’s construction and plant hire business, setting up on his own in 1981 as Mawsley Machinery, and selling to a management buyout in 1998.
Learning to fly
By then, Roger had added the Triking to his garage, as well as learning to fly.
“My uncle had an Auster aeroplane, and I used to sit in the back of this thing as a small boy, so I always loved it and always wanted to do it,” he says.
Having successfully built his own car, why not build his own plane? For the price of a new car, Roger could get his hands on an American Kitfox aircraft.
“After two-and-a-half years building it, as I watched it take off with the test pilot and his parachute on, there was a feeling of almost tears welling up: God, it can fly,” he says.
“Having flown it myself though, I really didn’t like the thing and was glad when it went! It was horrible to fly and felt less than safe.”
He later bought a flying school, running it until 2008, keeping on the maintenance company for five more years before finally retiring to spend more time with his planes, bikes and automobiles.
He retains a share in a Robin DR400 aircraft and an autogyro, “basically an aerial motorcycle”, which share a hangar with the Triking and a friend’s Tiger Moth biplane.
There is one very unusual bike that sits apart from Roger’s main collection, a Matchless built by Ernie Dorsett featuring an 8.5hp, air-cooled Robin diesel engine.
“One of my old companies, Redbreast Industrial Equipment, was the importer of Robin industrial engines and finished products for the UK and Eire,” he says.
“Ernie had this idea of putting diesel engines into motorcycles and built five units, of which mine was the second. It only has a top speed of 55mph, but does up to 200mpg. With a 21:1 compression ratio, there is a knack to starting it.
“We eventually went into production using Indian Enfield rolling chassis, and delivered about 130 – all with electric start – to customers from all over the world. We even sold several batches to a company in Japan. Unfortunately, the government rejected my application for an Industry Export award!”
Roger admits that he sometimes looks at his collection and asks himself “why?” before answering his own question.
“I can’t sit still and watch TV or read books, certainly during the day,” he says. “I like doing things with my hands, and it’s nice to buy something that needs work and put it right.
“Half the pleasure I get is being able to work on them and restore them. But they all get ridden. I was out on one yesterday which I had not ridden for a while, and now it probably won’t get used for another couple of weeks. It’s nice to keep them going.”
And the bike that will be kept going after all the others are gone is the one with that deep emotional connection, a flame red Moto Guzzi that’s infused with happy memories.
“There will come a time where I gradually get rid of them,” says Roger. “But I rather hope my son would keep the Guzzi.
“On the basis that it was his grandfather’s and his father’s, he really ought to have it, but he may not want it. He was born in a different era, and Japanese superbikes are more his cup of tea.”
For a good while yet, the old bike will continue to carry Roger on local runs whenever the mood takes him.
Here’s that list of Roger’s bikes in full, subject to constant change…
Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport (1960)
Norton Big 4 with sidecar (1950)
Cyclemaster 32cc (1952)
Triumph Model P (1925)
BMW R1200RS (2015)
Jawa Classic 350 t/s (2017)
Norton ES2 (1959)
MZ ETZ 301 Saxon (1990)
MZ TS 250/1 (1977)
MZ ES 250 Trophy (1977)
MZ TS 150 (1982)
Honda Monkey Bike (2019)
Yamaha DT175 MX (1984)
Sunbeam Model 9 (1929)
Puch SGS 250 (1965)
Scott 2 speed (1926)
Dorsett Matchless Robin diesel
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