Fitting tribute
The Classic MotorCycle|December 2020
This replica of the 1970 and 1971 British ISDT Trophy team machines is a testament to their creator, Eric Cheney.
ANDY WESTLAKE
By the late 1960s, the days when an unmodified road bike could be fitted with knobby tyres and be called an International Six Days Trials (ISDT) machine were long passed – it called for something specialised to match the Eastern bloc two-strokes.

The British squad bosses were keen to keep the Trophy team mounted on home machinery, but the choices were few and what remained of the British industry showed little interest in competing in the motorcycling Olympics. Apathy might have ruled in the boardrooms at Small Heath and Meriden, but, thanks to the determination of multiple six days gold medal winner Ken Heanes, the Trophy team did compete on British bikes in the 45th International in Spain, in 1970.

The team’s Cheney Triumphs were arguably some of the most beautiful machines ever to compete in the strength-sapping, bike-breaking marathon. The late Heanes explained how motorcycles were readied for the 1970 (and 1971) ISDTs:

“I was keen to keep the flag flying and I managed to persuade five other large dealerships in the form of Elite Motors, Comerfords, Bill Slocombe, Jack Williams and Allan Jefferies, plus myself, to fund our [Britain’s] efforts for the 1970 International.

“Each dealership would put up the money to sponsor one bike powered by overbored Triumph twins, which Eric Cheney would build into one of his tried and tested motocross frames. I got the motors straight from the production line at Meriden and stripped, balanced and rebuilt them, and, as with all of my Triumph engines for previous Internationals, I changed the gearing to include a low first and then a jump to the close ratio three other gears, which gave a top speed of around 100mph on the road.

“They weren’t quite as smooth as my previous factory bikes, but really came into their own on the motocross track which was used on a daily basis to decide evaluation points. The event, which was centred on the small Spanish town of El Escorial, didn’t start well for us, when on day one we lost 21 marks after John Pease was plagued by punctures and then John Giles suffered a split petrol tank – to counter this problem recurring, I gave instructions for the rest of the team to ride with their spare gloves stuffed under the tanks. This worked a treat and no more marks were lost, which meant that we all kept going and at the end the we finished sixth in the Trophy results, and managed to beat the much fancied West German BMW-mounted team in the over half litre class.”

For 1971, the ISDT returned to the Isle of Man and for Ken – who was selected as both rider and team manager it was his swansong; he signed off with the last of his gold medals. By then, he’d become a master at machine preparation and improvisation, which meant that a breakdown on a Heanes machine was a rarity.

“You needed to be reasonably fit to compete – and finish – in an International Six Days Trial but from my experience I would say 80% of winning a gold medal was down to machine preparation and the rest was down to the rider. Obviously, you needed to get a move on to keep to the time schedule, but the event was very much a marathon, not a sprint; most scramblers who competed were a bit too gung ho, and usually ended up crashing and retiring with a twisted bike.

“Time schedules for the Trophy riders were usually pretty tight, so it was imperative to be not only confident with your engine reliability but in the event of a puncture or a broken cable, you needed to have it repaired or replaced and be on your way again as soon as possible; the ability to change items quickly was the difference between winning and losing a gold medal. The QD wheels and tall centrestand on the Cheney meant that it only took about 15 seconds to remove the rear, and to keep the chain in place we had Eric fit a hook on top of the guard to secure it with the wheel removed.

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