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Back In The Saddle

This is the first, but not the last, blog post from Sideburn's new art editor, Andy Garside. After a great five years and 20 issues, Kar Lee has left us to concentrate on new opportunities (you can follow his fantastic concept bike artwork, and day-to-day riding stuff, at @kardesignkoncepts).

I worked at the same company as Andy in my first job in magazines, at Streetfighters, in the mid-90s. He was the art ed on some of the company's other bike mags. We moved from that publisher to the rapidly expanding Future Publishing in Bath, with a couple of months of each other, me to launch Redline, him to the mountain bike mags. Neither of us stayed there very long, I moved to the east of England to work for EMAP, Andy moved back to North Wales, but we kept in touch over the following 20 years.

Andy joined Sideburn, the first mag he designed for us was SB44, the Photography Special. He lives in a Mercedes Sprinter with his partner, the poet and author, Sophie McKeand, and their two lurchers (yes, really, all four in a Sprinter, all year round). Read about Andy's return to the saddle, that's him above, as a youth in 1984...

You can follow his nomadic van life, on instagram, at @andyrgarside. Take it away, Andy...

It turns out that bikes are an addiction. An addiction that doesn’t just go away even if you ignore it.

I grew up with bikes. All the best stories of my parents’ youths were based around bikes. My dad used to ride trials in winter and race scrambles in summer, on the same bike he’d commute to work on, an AJS 500. When my parents started having kids, a sidecar was purchased. My first holiday experiences were to the Isle of Man TT races in ’71 and ’72… my parents on the bike, my sister and I, our collie dog and our luggage, squeezed into the sidecar. Ah, simpler times, before health and safety caught on.

My brother, Steve, and I ‘racing’ on chopped up Honda mopeds, in 1979. Showing our allegiance to ‘The Gunners’ with our Ellesmere Port speedway racing bibs. Also, it looks like my brother’s bike may have a Fairy Liquid bottle as a fuel tank on this photo. Probably an early prototype

At 12 years old I was given my first bike, a Honda SS50, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It had a 70cc barrel/piston kit on it, straight through pipe, and rear guard and race plates cut out from an old motorway traffic cone. My youngest brother had an even more adventurous custom build… a Honda 50 step-through chopped into a grass-track bike. We’d spend weekends racing each other at heady speeds of up to 20mph across any patch of wasteland my dad could find.

About the same time we started spending Friday evenings over the Welsh border in Ellesmere Port. To be fair, not the first choice of location for a fun family night out, I grant you that, until you remember that The Ellesmere Port Gunners were a pretty decent speedway team back in the late '70s, early '80s. The roar of the engines and the crowds, the smell of methanol and cheap hotdogs, the red dust - everywhere! We were hooked.

My two younger brothers thought that racing bikes without suspension and brakes, crooked handlebars and one footrest seemed like a bloody good idea. I, on the other hand, was always obsessed with trials. My dad had ridden it, and my grandad too. Gentlemen Joe they used to call him, on account of him always wearing a shirt and tie… even at trials meetings. The next thing you know we all have ACU competition licences and were enrolled at local trials and grasstrack youth clubs.

That was our life for quite a few years… every weekend was either a youth grasstrack race or a youth trials meeting. The entire family would go to every single one, the van packed with bikes, friends, dogs, and enough sandwiches to sink a ship. It was all encompassing. If we weren’t riding them, we were fixing them, cleaning them, talking about them, reading about them, desperately wishing that World Of Sport would have them on TV.

The brilliant, but damned, Sprite. Note that I’m not riding in this photo. It had probably broken down, again. Still smiling though. This was taken in 1980

My illustriously average youth trials career started out on a 1970 Sachs engined 125 Sprite. The forks flexed, the fibreglass tank leaked, the brakes wouldn’t work in anything other than bone dry conditions and it had more electrical problems than Dr Frankenstein. But, it was mine, and it was a ‘real’ bike, and I loved it. My dad loved it too, but not enough to want to spend most evenings trying to work out why we couldn’t get the thing to run long enough to (almost) finish an event. I was upgraded to a Yamaha TY175, then about a year later a Yamaha Majesty 200. What a beauty that was. Majesty (Mick Andrews / John Shirt / TY) were custom trials bikes based around the current Yamaha TY models. Higher ground clearance, lower seat height, tuned engines, uprated suspension etc… and that iconic coffin shaped tank.

The TY175. This one ran, and kept running to the end of each meeting. Ah, such luxury. Note the gloves… hand knitted by my mum

Then came art college. And with that came my opportunity to express myself through the medium of hair clippers, crimpers and homemade gel, like a low-rent Robert Smith. Trials rider by day, goth by night. I even bought a knackered old FS1E from a mate and rode that on the road for a while. It could barely do 30mph and was more trouble than it was worth, but, when it was running, it did stop me having to blag my parents for lifts.

Robert Smith? Never heard of him. Not very crash-helmet-friendly that haircut

This all sat alongside my other life of trials riding for a couple of years, culminating in a trip to the Isle of Man to compete in the Manx Youth Two-Day Trial. There I was, all skin and bones, mohican fringe peaking out from my crash helmet and a splash bleached shirt with the sleeves cut off. I came third, losing out on second place by a few points to my mate. The winner turned up on a mono-shock Yamaha with disc brakes! What was this witchcraft? It was the end of my trials career, that’s what it was. Well, to be fair, it’s a bit harsh blaming some young lad who could afford a brand new bike, but the Manx two-dayer turned out to be my final event. I was 17, had just moved into a house with some art college mates and my hair was becoming too big to fit under a crash helmet. And with that trials riding faded out of my life. Quit at the top, yeah?

The beautiful Majesty 200, and more of mum’s hand-knitted gloves. My dad is there on the left. He deserves a bloody medal for all the hard work he did getting us to those meetings every weekend

At this point, if you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with Sideburn Magazine. Well, jump forward a few years, I’ve finished art college, learnt to drive and started work as a designer at a magazine publishers in Manchester that specialised in motorbike mags. I found myself working on Classic Bike Guide and Motorcycle International. This is where I first met the esteemed Gary, Mr Sideburn to you.

Despite my history with bikes and now working on bike mags I never did get around to taking my bike test for a full road licence. There always seemed to be an excuse: money, becoming a parent, no time, blah blah blah… none of them worthy excuses. The itch was still there though, and instead of scratching it I ignored it. I got heavily into mountain biking and still am now, but it’s different to engine power movement… there’s a lot more wheezing on the ascents for one.

My final event, captured in the pages of Trials & Motocross News no less. No hand-knitted gloves this time, just my splash bleached shirt billowing around my skeletal frame

Leap forward a few (a lot) more years and I’m a self-employed graphic designer living a nomadic existence around the UK and Europe. Surfing in the Atlantic in winter, cycling and hiking in the Alps during summer. Listen, it’s a tough life, but someone has to do it. Stick with me, I’m nearly at the point of the whole reason for this article. At the ripe old age of 50-something I have eventually decided to take my bike test and get onto two wheels again. What made me do this now? A few things, but the key one was a phone call from Gary this winter asking if I’d like to join the Sideburn team as chief of colouring in. Working with an old mate again, on print magazines… and bikes! You can take that as a big fat yes. The itch was almost scratched, I just need a licence to do it.

I booked my Compulsory Basic Training, bought myself some suitably 60s scrambler styled bike gear, started swatting for my theory test and was raring to go. CBT day arrived and, slightly over enthusiastically, I joined a small group of similarly crisis’d mid-lifers.

Kawasaki Z125s were the company’s weapon of choice for their CBT days. Now, I’m used to lightweight, upright bikes with wide bars, but this ‘Z’, although still quite light, had a lot more a ‘road bike’ stance and position to it. I needn’t have bothered worrying though, it turns out the ‘basics’ are just like riding a bike and I soon got used to sitting differently. Slow speed control you say? Easy. What, I can’t stand up on the pegs? Damn you and your ‘rules’. Also, what’s with indicators, horns, lights, mirrors and speedometers? The only button I’ve ever had on a bike before was a cut-off switch for when you’ve fallen off backwards into a stream. In all seriousness, I had a great instructor who guided me through everything I needed to know. A full morning spent around cones in a car park then an afternoon spent on real roads, with real traffic. I didn’t want the day to end. But it had to, as unfortunately driving off alone into the sunset along the A55 wasn’t included in the price. Or legal.

I have a ‘bridge’ lesson booked in a few weeks’ time, then it’ll be onto the Direct Access course to (hopefully) get my full bike licence. That itch is finally getting scratched, and it feels great!

1 opmerking

Ted  Ellis
Ted Ellis
13 jul. 2021


Very cool story. And one that more than a few can relate to. 😉

It's going to get crowded in that Merc!

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