An empty field and a beaten-up moped. It's how most of us first began our love affair with biking and a rite of passage we will never forget. TWO celebrates the cult of the fieldbike
Okay, so it may not have been a motorcycle as such - in fact, it was much more likely to have been a borrowed Honda C90 - but the thrill of turning the throttle on a powered two-wheeled vehicle for the first time is something none of us will ever forget. From those humble beginnings in a muddy field or round a council housing estate, great things have been achieved. Some stolen scooter riders have gone on to become world champions and made millions from their riding skills, others have found a life-enriching hobby that has provided more fun and freedom than anything else they do in life. Whatever the case, every one of us who rides a motorcycle had to start somewhere and, for the vast majority, that meant having a quick blast on a bike that they probably weren't supposed to be on. Underage, un-taxed, uninsured, pissed up on cheap cider, no protective riding gear, churning up common grounds which were not intended for illicit use by budding Evel Knievels; it doesn't matter how you started out on bikes, it only matters that you did.
There's no strict criterion for a fieldbike - anything that could be stripped down, crashed with impunity and ridden to destruction qualifies for membership of the cult that led us all into biking. And the methods of acquiring a bike were equally liberal; beg, steal or borrow being the general rule of thumb. Whether you chipped in with your mates until there was enough pocket money to buy a knackered Raleigh Wisp or your big brother had a Honda CG125 which you could 'liberate' while he was on a date, anything went. You might even have known someone smart enough to fix the battered wreck that you pulled from the scrapheap, got yourself a paper round to save enough cash to buy a bike or, driven to desperation, you might even have found yourself resorting to riding the baddest-ass fieldbike of them all - a stolen one, which could usually be identified by the broken off screwdriver sticking out of the ignition barrel.
Naturally, once the bike was acquired modifications would have to be made. Fieldbike mods differed from bike to bike but there were few would-be racers who didn't remove the exhaust for that full-on Grand Prix sound, and even fewer who didn't remove the girlie leg shields - a modification which transformed the C90 from granny's shopper into supreme stunt bike. Naturally, any residual shopping baskets were removed.
Lights came off, tax discs likewise (what were they all about anyway?), chicken wire or string was used to hold any errant parts together, number plates were out, mirrors unnecessary. Tyres were invariably punctured but that only made the ride more of a laugh.Fuel supply could be a problem but thankfully one that the juvenile mind could easily get around. Who can ever forget that taste of petrol when you first sucked through a plastic hose to siphon it from the family car? If that wasn't an option, for fear of being caught and facing 50 whacks of the slipper, you could always brass-neck it and walk into a petrol station with a suitable receptacle and ask for 50 pence worth of four star.
The undisputed king of fieldbikes was/is Honda's C90 - a bike which is probably responsible for turning more people onto biking than any other ever built, if only because Honda built 27 million of them over the past 40-odd years. With its step-through frame, automatic clutch and four-stroke engine, the C90 was so easy to ride and so bullet-proof that it made an ideal fieldbike.
The original 1958 machine (C100 Super Cub) had a 49cc engine which made just 4.5bhp, but 40mph over a bumpy, muddy field was enough to inspire terror and howling laughter in any kid as he booted down through the three-speed automatic box. Today's model runs off an 85cc engine which produces a giddy 7.5bhp and is good for an indicated 65mph. But you wouldn't really want a new one would you?
The Raleigh Wisp - another first time bike for many - actually started life as a pushbike. Dubbed the RSW16 before Raleigh had the genius idea in 1967 of installing an engine, it only had 1.4bhp on tap and a top speed of 30mph. However, it was not uncommon for Wisp owners to be overtaken by pushbikes from the same parent stable.
More powerful by far was Suzuki's AP50, widely regarded as the best 'Sixteener' moped of all time. An icon of the 1970s, the AP was unrestricted and capable of 55mph (on the clock) before the Government spoiled everyone's fun by restricting mopeds. The little 49cc two-stroke wheezed out 8bhp and was available in fetching Candy Red or Maui Blue. Which was nice.
Other favourite fieldbikes included Honda's CG125, Yamaha's DT125 and even old BSA Bantams. It doesn't matter what you rode because it was all a means to an end; riding a shitter got you turned onto bikes and, if you're reading this, then the passion has obviously stayed with you.
With so much more cash available for leisure pursuits in recent times, kids have more chance of dad buying them a pukka little dirt bike, a mini moto or even a trendy scooter for the road. And fair play to them; anything that gets them turned onto motorcycling can only be good. But you can't help wondering if they're missing out just a little bit. Proper protective clothing instead of duffle coats, welly boots and Marigolds; expensive bikes that have to be washed after every outing; organised riding schools where they can be supervised instead of being chased by the local farmer. Nah. Good luck to 'em, but I for one can't help thinking that a muddy field, a knackered C90 and a pocketful of dreams is better for the soul...
A FIELD OF DREAMS IS WHERE IT ALL STARTED FOR THIS LOT
NIALL MACKENZIE RACING HERO AND TWO'S ROAD TEST EDITOR
Me and my mates found an abandoned Raleigh Wisp so we poured some lawnmower fuel into it and got it going along an old railway track. It only just had the power to carry a human and we had to push each other to get it moving, but I couldn't believe the feeling. It was awesome being able to move without having to peddle. We rode that thing all through the school summer holidays of 1974 in nothing more than our Bay City Rollers gear.
GARY ROTHWELL STUNT RIDER AND MULTIPLE WORLD RECORD HOLDER
There was a piece of ground in the Sefton area of Liverpool called the Piggeries. It was mental. I rode my Yamaha DT125 there when I was 13 and that's where I learned to wheelie and control a bike - superb training!
JAMIE WHITHAM EX-BSB CHAMPION AND WORLD SUPERSPORT RACER
I really wanted a bike when I was six and my dad said he'd get me a Wisp. I was dead excited thinking it'd be proper but it were a woman's fucking shopper - basket and all. My mate had a 50cc Puch Magnum - a proper dirt bike - and we rode it all day long chasing chickens. I was so jealous I thought about killing him and burying his body in the woods so I could have it.
PHILLIP MCCALLEN ELEVEN TIME TT WINNER
I bought a Suzuki AP50 when I was 15. I was making six pounds a week from a milk round and spent every penny on petrol. I went on the roads too, even though I was too young, and had lots of chases with the police until I got caught... My little AP50 didn't have the legs to get up a hill and the police just pulled alongside and knocked me into a ditch. I had to go to court and ended up selling the bike.'
JIM MOODIE EIGHT TIME TT WINNER, THREE TIME SUPERSPORT CHAMP
My dad got me a Honda C70 and riding it round fields in a piss-pot lid and old wellies was all I lived for. One day my mate bet I wouldn't jump over a river on his Raleigh Chopper so I did - and broke the headstock clean off. I was so terrified of getting a whipping that I said I'd give my mate the C70 if he didn't tell.
STEVE PLATER TOP BSB CONTENDER
My first fieldbike was a BSA Bantam, which I got when I was about seven. It was stripped and had big fuck-off cowhorn bars! Learning to ride was trial and error and I fell off loads but didn't care - my orange open face helmet saved me!
CUSTOMIZE YOUR CUB
THE SHITTER: The perfect fieldbike? Anything that runs. The Honda C90 (right) is the connoisseur's choice, but anything will do as long as it is cheap. Some may cheat and use bikes designed for off-road. These people are lightweights. Real men use road tyres.
REAR END: Note the indicator hanging off by the wires. Perfect. This particular bike is a rare example, it has a licence plate. Most fieldbikes are devoid of these so irate owners don't try and claim them back or the police trace them. The rack makes a good grip for towing a mate behind or for extra entertainment add a short length of rope, an old sled and it's winter sport all year around.
ENGINE: Power figures are irrelevant. All it needs do is run, and be capable of propelling you over a field as fast as possible. Your mate once told you it would run faster without exhausts so they are for the chop. Fuel is whatever dad's lawn mower runs on, oil is the grade that was on the shelf in the garage and the only lubrication on the chain is mud.
IGNITION: Key, who needs a key? You'll only lose it in a puddle (although this bike still has one, oddly). The best key is a screwdriver, flat blade, and if possible short handle so you don't impale yourself when you crash. Lights are a bonus, useful for avoiding trees at night, but the glass in the lens is long gone. A speedo is essential for boasting about flat-out runs.
A FIELD OF DREAMS STARTED THIS LOT OFF, TOO
JOHN REYNOLDS CURRENT BSB CHAMPIONMe and my mates 'borrowed' a mint 50cc NSU Quickly from my dad's mate. Eventually the throttle cable snapped so we'd tie it to our legs and pull on it. Once my mate launched himself down a hill but the throttle jammed wide open - he went flying through some nettles and was thrown off the bike. His leg was still tied to the cable so he was dragged alongside through all sorts.
KARL HARRIS CURRENT BRITISH SUPERSPORT CHAMPIONI got my first real bike when I was three. It was a 50cc Garelli Barry Sheene Replica. I remember knocking my mum over while she was doing the gardening and she nearly had a fit. She didn't (and still doesn't) like me on bikes.
TOMMY HILL 2003 R6 CUP CHAMPION, YAMAHA BSB RACERI got a Yamaha PW50 - that's a Pee Wee if you were wondering- when I was about six and used to go to this piece of spare ground near Caterham to ride with my dad and brother. People used to fly tip there so once I started learning to spin the rear up I uncovered all sorts of crap like fridges and ovens which had got buried in the mud. It was basically a case of navigating my way between buried household objects.
MARTIN FINNEGAN TOP IRISH ROAD RACERMy mate gave me his YZ80 after it scared him. I was only eight years old but I learned how to strip it down from watching the other lads. Riding that bike got me into schoolboy MX and from there I moved to road racing. And it all started in that little field.
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