The Classic MotorCycle (Digital)

The Classic MotorCycle (Digital)

1 Issue, January 2020



Born in 1916, Fred Rist had his first ride on a motorcycle aged seven, when he’d ride a ladies two-stroke, Royal Enfield, around his father’s poultry farm, near Stokesley in North Yorkshire. By 14, Fred had a driving license – his father was also the proprietor of the old-established motor business Fred Burr and Co. and Rist junior would ride around Middlesbrough on a 350cc Coventry-Eagle, as Rist senior had the franchise for the marque.

But Fred didn’t want to enter the family firm, not just yet anyway. So he served an engineering apprenticeship (between 16½ and 18 years old) with Teesside bridge-building specialists Dorman Long and Co. – responsible for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, around Fred’s time there – before realizing he wanted to see more, do more and be outdoors more, and to that end, he signed up for the army. In 1934 he was posted to Bovingdon in Dorset, where he was to meet T E Lawrence, just before the unfortunate demise of the legend of Arabia.

By this time, Rist had a 1921 350cc side-valve AJS that he used as transport, which was replaced by a 350cc Humber of mid-to-late 1920s vintage, before it was replaced by a 493cc ohv BSA Sloper, circa 1930. On leaving this was used to get home to Teesside, a round trip of 700miles.

He’d never taken part in any motorcycle sport but spotted a request for volunteers to train for motorcycle trials, the end goal being the 1938 International Six Days Trial (ISDT), and he put his name forward. By now, he was serving in the Royal Tank Corps and he represented them in the 1938 ISDT, having prepared with training and a series of army motorcycle trials.

Rist’s talent was apparent from the start, and BSA’s Bert Perrigo was quickly on to him. It was to be the start of a fruitful relationship for both parties. Rist had a distinctive style – described as a ‘straight arm riding stance, his handlebars were set so that both arms were almost fully extended from arm to shoulder.’ It seemed to work, mind.

At the 1938 ISDT, he proved himself far superior in terms of talent to the other army representatives and he was the only one to gain a gold medal. He followed that up by finishing runner-up on observation in the Scott Trial and earning three top awards just two months later. In that, he was against a top-class field and he’d have done even better had the chain not come off – three times – on his factory-loaned 350cc B25 BSA.

By 1939, he was really starting to make waves, winning several major trials, his technique honed on theWD land (he was still a serving soldier) at Bagshot, particularly good for practicing riding over sandy, rutted tracks. There was a tense run back from the 1939 ISDT in Greater Germany (Austria, formerly), after having to abandon the event on day five – when on course for a gold medal – and make haste for Switzerland, returning to the UK four days before war was declared.

During the war, Rist served with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) in France. When France fell, he escaped back through Cherbourg and six weeks later he was off to Egypt to fight against the Italians.

Later, he was posted to Mechanisation Experimental Establishment in Cairo and, ultimately, when in Italy, to the Mechanical Warfare Experimental Establishment (MEWEE). Italy also allowed some time for motorcycling, the country where he also met his wife Elvena, a nursing sister in Pompeii.

In 1947, Rist moved to Birmingham to work for BSA at the Small Heath competition department. He was successful as a rider immediately too, claiming notable wins in both trials and scrambling, as well as sand racing (where he was practically unbeatable), though it was the ISDT that was his real forte – he gained a gold medal in every ISDT he rode in, saving the abandoned 1939 effort, while he was also captain of the successful British teams in 1950 and 1951.

Arguably, 1952 was the year of his grandest achievement, when he led of three (Norman Vanhouse and BrianMartin were his accomplices) on standard BSA A7 Star Twins, to gold medals in the ISDT (ironically, in Austria), speed trials in Norway (having ridden through Germany, Denmark, and Sweden to get there, covering nearly 5000miles), all with no more serious bother than a split petrol tank on one of the 500cc twins. It was the first time the Maudes Trophy had been awarded since 1939.

The next chapter for Rist was to open his own motorcycle shop at 16Windsor Road, Neath, Glamorgan (incidentally, his Star Twin, MOL 301, was on display for the shop opening and it subsequently sold for £190; the building is still there, the shop long gone) which was announced in May, shortly after he informed of his decision to retire from full-time riding.Q

Writing in the January 10, 1952, edition of The Motor Cycle, on the occasion of Rist’s retirement, George Wilson noted: “He has been one of the greatest exponents of ISDT riding and machine preparation, and – besides that – one of the country’s greatest trials-rider humourists. No audience, privileged after a club dinner to hear – and see! – him recite, would dispute that.”

Fred Rist died in December 1995, aged 79.

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