Two-Wheel Passion

by John Mayhead
29 August 2017 2 min read
Two-Wheel Passion
Les Archer, 1948 Velocette KTT

Those of you who have read my articles over the last few years will know that classic cars are my passion, but the spark that ignited the motoring fire in my belly came from a very different source.

Between 1923 and the 1950s, Archer’s Garage, Aldershot was well-known in the motorcycle world. Les Archer had been a very successful motorcycle racer in the 1920s and ‘30s, riding for New Imperial and won the British Motor Cycle Racing Club’s Mellano Trophy at Brooklands in 1933 riding a Velocette KTT, a feat that was repeated by his son Les Junior in 1946.

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While the Archers collected laurels racing, the family business made a living buying ex-military Matchless and BSA despatch motorcycles, overhauling them on a production line, then selling them for a tidy profit. Between 1946 and 1948, some of this work was completed by a rather skinny, dark-haired lad called Dave Mayhead: my father. National Service followed, then an apprenticeship at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, but dad’s love of motorcycles continued: a hand-change Coventry Eagle was first, followed by a BSA, then when family life beckoned, a ‘more practical’ 1928 Norton 633cc Sidevalve complete with Watsonian sidecar.

Then just before I arrived in late 1971, the dangers of motorcycling became vividly apparent to my family. My cousin, the only son of my mum’s sister, was killed riding a motorbike, and when I was born a few weeks later she decided that no son of hers would ever go near one of those “deadly machines” as she called them.

Being a boy, as I grew up, I developed different ideas. Aged about 12, one day I proudly wheeled home a Honda 50 that I had bought at a garage sale for £7. Wrath followed, but then I think my parents decided I would get the two-wheel bug out of my system if I was allowed to keep it and ride it around our garden. It partially worked. Many years later, I had a year-long dalliance with a Yamaha TZR 125, but other than that it has been exclusively cars that have turned my eye.

However, in the last couple of years, things have changed a little. Suddenly, the idea of buying a classic bike has really started to take shape. I find myself idly browsing the small ads, and imagining having a nice old bike in the garage ready for those sunny days. Compared with classic cars, they are cheap and easy to store. Lots of my friends have already made the plunge and purchased classic bikes.

So, will I go back to my roots and purchase a bike, maybe an ex-Army Matchless G3 of the type my dad restored? Time will tell, but if I did, I wouldn’t be alone. The classic bike market is booming, and Hagerty is proud to insure thousands of them.

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  • Yarnton, Oxon says:

    John, You know what you really want. It’s the 350 Royal Enfield Model G in your Reception. As you know, it has been featured at Goodwood, so has the right provenance, and even passes as an RAF Dispatch Rider’s bike. I saw you looking at it enviously. Go on. You know you want it ;)),

  • Yarnton, Oxon says:

    Like you, it’s become part become part of Hagerty history!

  • Paulersbury says:

    Hello John, This is not so much a comment on the article, enjoyable as it was, bit rather about your father. I worked at the RAE and the name rings a bell. In what area did your dad work and when did he retire please? I remember Archers well being a local Hampshire lad, they certainly ran a very successful business as you rightly point out. I have a couple of classic motorcycles and will certainly talk to you at renewal time. We already have a couple of cars ensured with you. Best wishes, Paul

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