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GREAT BRITAIN AND THE FIRST ENDURO

4 min read

Historical ISDE

They call it “The Olympics of Motorcycling”. The International Six Day Trial is an endurance race that lasts six days. FIM decides to rename it ISDE in 1981.

After the first experiment in Carlisle in 1913 and an interruption caused by the First World War, the ISDT becomes a matter of national pride in Britain. The International Trophy, a competition for teams of three who can only ride nationally produced bikes, is launched. From 1924, the Silver Vase sees teams of four racing each other on freely chosen – and therefore also foreign – bikes.

British legends like G.S. Arter and Graham Walker dominate the International Trophy. The latter is the father of Graeme Murray Walker, the Formula 1 voice first for the BBC and then for ITV between 1976 and 2001. Graham competes on a modified bike because of a war injury he suffered when he was transporting despatches for the “Royal Corps of Signals”, a regiment of the British army specialised in radio communication on battlefields. He races for both Rudge and Norton, but, at the ISDTs in Buxton in 1926 and in Ambleside in 1927, he is victorious on a bike produced by Sunbeam, a company bought by the BSA in 1943.

Albert “Bert” Perrigo, one of the most iconic riders of British racing in the 1920s, is later hired by the BSA as race director. He wins his first gold medal during the 1912 24 Hours London-Edinburgh: he competes for Bordesley Engineering Co. from Birmingham, a company which he also works for. Racing for the BSA from 1926, he convinces the managers to develop the Gold Star (350 and 500 cc), which remains their most sold model until 1963. Perrigo wins the first British Experts Trial in 1929 and the gold medal in Merano in 1931. He also leads the legendary team that completes a 7200 km ISDT without a single mechanical problem on three models randomly chosen from the production line: lucky charms that also very much increase sales.

Figures like George Rowley, F.W. Neill, and Gordon Wolsey emerge during the interwar years and Great Britain is increasingly enthralled with regularity racing. In 1928, the Six Days (ISDT) of Harrogate are given a lot of attention by the regional and national press. This interest is also fed by the presence of Louise McLeane and Marjorie Cottle, who, in 1927, were part of the only team composed of solely women ever to have won the Silver Vase. The News of the World publishes a photo of the team which also includes Edith Foley and two other female riders. According to the newspaper, they are “the English women who triumphed in the International Trials.”

At the time Cottle is described as “the most famous female motorcyclist in the world”. She reaches stardom a bit like Hellé Nice, who leaves for a marketing tour of the United States in the summer of 1930 after becoming the fastest woman in the world at the wheel of her Bugatti in 1929. Cottle drives a Raleigh on several occasions, not only during races like the 24 Hours Birkenhead-Aberystwyth trial in 1924, but also during promotional events like a 1400 km tour in July 1926 which has the aim of encouraging women to ride motorbikes. Later on, Cottle is also supported by the BSA and Triumph receiving not only direct financing but also discounts on replacement parts.

Great Britain remains the leading nation in the International Trophy until the early 1950s when the young Johnny Brittain establishes himself. He is the son of Vic, the winner of the British Experts Trial in 1936 and 1938. Brittain starts successfully riding a 350 cc Enfield Bullett at the age of 18 and goes on to win over fifty races. He takes part in ISDTs for fifteen consecutive years, wining 13 gold medals. In Czechoslovakia in 1953, he is part of the last British team to win the trophy.

It’s a transitional moment: a new era is starting in the history of Enduro.

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