There have been times when Richard Gordon had good reason to sell his treasured Rickman Metisse cafe racer.
Maybe when he and wife Tina were seriously strapped for the cash they needed to buy a house and feed three young children.
Or when, in 2002, Richard feared he may never ride again after a serious accident at work left him in hospital with crushed vertebrae.
Or maybe when, in 2018, he bought a brand new Triumph Thruxton, followed by a second, higher specification one the following year.
Love it to bits
But no. The bike Richard bought new in 1975 as a carefree 18-year-old, and rode with Tina on the back of its tiny seat to the Isle of Man TT the following year, has remained for one simple reason – they both love it to bits.
“We struggled over the years, really struggled at times, but it was bought and paid for and it just meant too much to us,” says Richard, now 63. “It’s been part of our lives – a big part.
“It still puts a smile on my face every time I get on it.”
Tina, far from a bike widow, adds: “The money would have really helped a couple of times, but we managed, and if he’d suggested selling it I’d have made him keep it.”
We’re chatting in the couple’s garden in rural west Norfolk, where the twisty country lanes are tailor-made to showcase the Triumph-engined Rickman’s sporting prowess.
Like many youngsters brought up in the wide open spaces of the countryside, Richard was on two wheels long before he could venture out onto the roads.
“I was probably about 11 or 12 when I got my first bike, a BSA Bantam,” he says, with other Bantams, a Vespa and a Dot scrambler all ridden off-road in his teens.
“We lived near fields and river banks just the other side of Downham Market. We had to push the bikes over the bridge to get somewhere we could ride. I just loved it. As we got older we’d go further afield – there are tracks you can get on to the old airfield in Downham and we spent many hours up there with bikes and cars, about 10 to 15 of us.”
At 16, Richard hit the road on a Honda SS50, replaced a year later by a Honda CB250, on which he took his test, while more Bantams, a Yamaha 250 and Suzuki TS90 came and went.
It was on the CB250, riding back through Ely from a day out in Cambridge in 1975, that Richard stumbled upon the Rickman, under construction at Ken Covell’s bike shop.
Ken used to race scramblers with Derek and Don Rickman, and had subsequently teamed up with the brothers to build road bikes.
When Richard popped in, he was immediately struck by a light blue bike that was in the final stages of its build.
Love at first sight
“I called in there just to have a look and as soon as I saw it, that was it,” he says. “It wasn’t completely built, but it was enough to persuade me so I said I’d have it there and then.
“It was virtually complete, just a matter of a few brake levers and things to connect up, get it ready and make sure it was roadworthy.
“When it was finished I took the Honda in and part-exchanged it for that one, and I’ve had it ever since. I can’t remember what I got for the Honda, but the Rickman cost £1,230.”
Scrambles champions Derek and Don started building competition frames in 1959, which were given the name “Metisse” – French for mongrel, reflecting the bikes’ varied makeup.
Within a few years, they were wildly popular in national-level competitions, and by the mid-60s the brothers added road racing frames to their growing business, with street-legal cafe racer frame kits following a few years later, built to fit the common British heavyweight engines.
Steve McQueen a devotee
Screen legend Steve McQueen was a devotee, describing his desert racer as a “revolutionary piece of equipment” in a 1966 Popular Science magazine article.
His racer had a Triumph 650 engine installed, the same as that fitted to Richard’s bike.
“Someone had a brand new Triumph T120 Bonneville and smashed it up straight away, so the engine was put into the Rickman,” says Richard, a builder and carpenter.
On March 20, 1975, he rode the Honda back to Ely, left it there and rode home on the Rickman. Did it live up to expectations?
“More so,” he smiles. “I just fell in love with it straight away. It’s a completely different bike to the Honda, and an unusual bike, and it really did exceed my hopes for it.”
Just three months later, Richard and Tina, who had met a year earlier, loaded the Rickman – not a natural touring bike – with a tent and camping gear and set off for the Isle of Man for the TT.
“We had stuff strapped all down the side and on the back,” he says, the pair pushing the bike, which had been drained of petrol, off the ferry to the neary filling station at about 4am.
“Then off we went. We didn’t have a clue where we were going, we hadn’t booked anything and ended up on a hill somewhere, camped in a field.”
Freak June snowstorms
What they didn’t expect was the freak June weather that saw snowstorms hit the British Isles.
“It was unheard of,” says Richard. “When the weather started to turn we got into a hotel, stayed in there for a night and thought ‘this is all right, we’ll book up and stay here’.
“But because the weather forecast didn’t look good, everybody else had the same idea, and it was all booked up.
“So we had to come out and we ended up camped beside the start / finish line, imagine that first thing in the morning! We stuck it out, but did come home earlier than planned, and it snowed all the way home too.
“We stopped under a motorway bridge for a break, because you could do that sort of thing then.”
For years, the Metisse was Richard’s daily road bike, getting him to and from work, as well as weekly trips to Snetterton and blasts around the countryside.
“All about the corners”
“There are some lovely corners around here, and riding is all about the corners for me,” he says. “Going fast on straight roads is boring.”
The bike’s use dropped a little when Richard got a job close enough to walk to work, while between 1976 and 1991 three children came along – Joanna, Jeremy and Amy.
“I’d still get it out, clean it up and go for a ride with friends, but as time went on, and with family commitments, I didn’t use it quite so much,” he adds.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that the bike is no longer blue, Richard changing the colour to Ferrari red “many years ago”, repainted again in the same colour more recently.
It may soon be in line for yet another respray because of some barely noticeable blistering on the tank, but there’s one part of the bike that will never be painted over.
“We took it to Sammy Miller’s museum on the south coast in 2019, where they have a Rickman day every year,” says Richard.
Signed by the brothers
“The Rickman brothers were both there and they signed the bike for us. I can’t paint over that – it’s got to stay.”
Mechanically, the bike has never let Richard down, and it’s always been kept in such good condition that it’s never needed a proper restoration – just the usual general maintenance and replacement tyres.
Apart from the paintwork, the only other non-original part is the tailpipe.
The Rickman is also a show winner, taking best in class at a large local classic bike show, while Richard also goes on runs with a classic bike club, and charity runs for children with mental health problems.
For as long as he can ride it, Richard will keep the bike he’s owned for his entire adult life, and “tries not to think about” a future when he can’t throw it round the lanes.
But Tina says that son Jeremy, who used to have a road bike but now just does track days, “would definitely have it and would definitely ride it”.
“He just has to learn to start it,” adds Richard.
He’s not the only member of the family who has followed Richard into biking; daughter Amy previously competed in trials and grass-track racing, and grandson Rory, 18, learning to ride in the fields like his grandad had before him.
“He took to it like a duck to water,” says Richard. “We got him an old Aprilia to do up between us. I think you appreciate things more that way. He just loves bikes now.”
Growing bike collection
The Metisse was Richard’s only bike until 2018, when he bought the first of his two Triumph Thruxtons, and he’s since added a Honda 750/4, an American spec Triumph Bonneville T120, and a Honda CB175 for Tina to ride.
“I started to buy other bikes because I finally had the money to do it,” he says, the extra bikes doing nothing to dilute the feelings he has for his one true biking love.
What does it mean to him after all these years?
“Our life really,” says Richard. “We’ve been through so much and kept the thing, and it’s just a part of us. No other material thing has meant anything compared to this, because it’s got so many memories.
“It doesn’t owe me anything, and I’ve no intention of selling it.”
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