More From The SSDT

More From The SSDT


     1970 was, as some of you will remember, my baptism of fire in the SSDT, and now the year is
1975. 2 years on the Montesa and then a switch to Bultaco for the 72 event, but 1973 was a
non-starter as it was massively oversubscribed and we, the Royal Air Force, did not get all our
team entered and therefore withdrew with much protesting!
In 1973 I had swapped from the 250 Bult to a Sammy Miller 350 version which I could not ride for
love nor money. 1974 was the Yamaha year and then on somebody’s suggestion we found
ourselves mounted on the MAR Ossa.
The Ossa is a very strange beast, the design and layout is similar to the Yamaha, but no
surprises here as they were designed by the same man who just happens to have finished in the
top 3 every time he rode the Scottish. The Ossa is very agricultural in both appearance and
function and could easily have been made by John Deere. A massive engine with a flywheel akin
to a road-roller and forks the size of tree trunks! No instability here my friend, you didn’t get to
loft the front end very often as it wasn’t necessary, you just rode at the rock, the engine would
hit it fair and square and you rode through the gap where the rock used to be. If you could stall
the engine then there must be something wrong with the bike as it was like the Energizer Bunny.
Easy starting was a forte but beware stopping on a steep muddy climb and trying to slide
backwards against the clutch as if the engine even sniffed a rotation, in any direction, it would
fire right up with some amusing consequences if you were an observer, and some less than
entertaining results if you were aboard when you suddenly found yourself rocketing down the
hill in REVERSE!
So the first week in May arrives and once again the Cattle Market in Edinburgh is full of trials
bikes and support vehicles. The Royal Air Force is fielding 2 teams, all Ossa mounted, and our
support vehicles are working as the official Ossa factory trucks and responsible for over 30 riders.
My number is 116 and the Monday is a glorious day with brilliant sunshine, and no wind or
clouds. The morning run presents no problems and then it’s “Edramucky” as the first stop in the
afternoon. Remembering this from last year, when it was new, the passing of time and about
400 riders has made the first 2 sections a little easier, 3and 4 are something else!
Another group comes and goes and a little more roadwork on the big comfy tractor seat, and
then waving at the official it’s onto Rannoch Moor for 30 miles of bottomless bog. Well surprise,
surprise, the snow is still in the mountains and this is relatively dry so the pace quickens and
as we are up for consideration for that ISDT place in September may as well get some practice in.

Faster and faster and this is real fun  and up ahead I can see the big black smear that indicates
where the path stops at the ravine edge and usually its so muddy you have to wend your way
down through the gorse, heather and rocks to the valley below before coming up the other side
and rejoining the path. By now, you, the reader, can see what’s coming……..  Boy I wish I had
all those years ago!

The decision is JUMP so as its dry and I’m motoring this is going to be easy, wait for it……. Here
it comes…….. Down 1.. Hold it…….. NOW! pull back on the bars and a big handful….
******** ****!#@ $%…… a screaming from the engine reveals cruel fate with an unexpected
NEUTRAL and with decreasing speed and NO upward trajectory  the Tractor and I hurtle into
space enjoying the effects of gravity and the impact to come!
The Ravine is crossed in zero time, but as the dilithium crystals are not providing WARP speed
the impact occurs about 3 feet below the edge and despite braced arms my Evil Knievel jump
ends in tears! I can remember seeing the rock wall and feeling the handlebars crack me just
above the knees. I can only assume I closed my eyes because from that point on all that is in
the memory banks is being flipped and tossed around like a rag doll until finally coming to a
rest flat on my back and feet first down the track. I lay there for what seemed an eternity until
I could think clearly. First impression was that it was very dark and therefore I had died and
gone to heaven, or at least as I couldn’t see anything or feel anything maybe I was in transit,
either up or down!
I believe I am still breathing so death is ruled out, but why can’t I see anything?? And after
all it was a brilliant sunny day just a moment ago. Maybe I’m paralyzed? Perhaps I broke my
back? Let’s check, well I can wiggle my toes, and yes the fingers move. So far so good but why
can’t I see? Try to move an arm, good! Check the head area. Right hand moves over face to
find the peak is no longer on the helmet and the lens is missing out of the new Uvex ski
goggles. There is also something warm and tacky!  But, why oh why can’t I see? Further
investigation reveals, and as memory returns, I am wearing my Aircrew Sunglasses, which
have been rammed so far back around my face that they are physically holding my eyelids shut!

Ripping the sunglasses out of the helmet brings a whole new light on the subject and a
welcome sense of relief that I can see England’s green and pleasant land once more.

However this is Scotland and right now things don’t look quite so pleasant. Feeling somewhat
stupid I trudge back to the edge of the ravine collecting bits from the yard sale en-route.
Cigarettes, pieces of helmet, plug spanner and other tools that had made the crossing.
Some 12 feet down and resting on its side the trusty Ossa is still in one piece. I gingerly
scramble down the cliff expecting the worst and trying to think how this is going to sound
to the rest of the team. First things to note are a massive dent in the rear of the front alloy
fender where it had struck the exhaust pipe Wow! Then there is a small problem with the front
wheel which now has a 6 inch flat in the rim and I can see the tube inside the tire, Ouch!
Returning the handlebars to a riding position everything else seems to work. The forks are not
bent and still go up and down. Oh well, let’s give it a go, it fires right up and I stumble down
the gorge to the valley below. The handling on the upward path leaves a lot to be desired but
allowing for the crash maybe I’m over sensitive.
Back on the high ground I gingerly set off, but no matter what I do I seem to find every hidden
rock in the heather that Scotland has to offer. The bucking, yes that’s BUCKING, bronco by
Ossa continues to pivot around the front wheel spindle and the big comfy seat keeps slapping
me so hard I’m beginning to wince. I know this may be some peoples “bag” but it certainly
isn’t mine! Down hills are frightening, as when the forks compress the exhaust jams in the front
fender and locks the steering. Up hills are OK, and tight turns are amazing!
Finally onto that track and now we know where we are, 3 miles down to the main Inverness to
Fort William road and the finish of day 1. A couple of nasty moments when too much braking
locks up the steering again and fences and perilous drops get too close for my liking.
Ah ha! The A9 Road, well what can go wrong here? Should be plain sailing now, so set an easy
45mph and reflect on how a seemingly intelligent RAF Officer who flies fighters can be so
******* stupid!   During the self disciplined Court Marshall there comes a rattling and grinding
noise and the smell of burning rubber. I am drawn from the court room to investigate and see
the front fender wobbling from side to side and before I can slow the invisible blur disappears
through 180 degrees and strikes the road before leaping into the air and nearly decapitating
yours truly.
Limp into Fort William once more, and with plenty of time to spare, go to the Ossa service
vehicle. When the laughing had subsided and the photographers had had their fill I managed
to wash the dried blood off and inspect the facial damage. Several large cuts on the beak
where I had used my nose as an industrial plough and some cuts around the eyes where the
glasses had been, apart from that fine! The bike however was another story and while I
refitted another new mudguard one of the Ossa mechanics who had been looking at the
wreck for some time, produced a tape measure and announced to all and sundry that this
was the shortest Ossa ever as I had knocked 2.0, something inches off the wheel base!
The rest of the week was a real challenge and as you can’t change the frame I was forced to
drag the beasty round the Scottish Highlands to less than spectacular rides. There were
moments of brilliance on the tight uphill turns of Ben Callich, Devil’s Staircase, and
Lieter Bo Fionn, other than that there was a lot of centipede threes and clanging fives as the
front wheel got stuck in rocks. However I made it to the end and this was the last Scottish
that started and finished in Edinburgh and the effort was worthwhile as the Royal Air Force
once again won the John Bull Trophy.
Tony Down

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One thought on “More From The SSDT”

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