Keeping Up With Tim Gibbes

The world was incredibly different in 1957. There were no cellphones, no personal computers and definitely no Internet. Not only that, the world was divided in to two sides, with both on the brink of starting a “hot” war that would see the end of our planet. But that didn’t stop Tim Gibbes from racing all over the world, as not only was technology different, but so were the men that raced motorcycles. Here is another chapter from the diary of Tim Gibbes… 

Nov 5, 1959
MY FIRST TRIP TO THE USA

Arriving to a warm welcome from the Indian Motor Company in Springfield, Massachusetts, I learned that AMC UK had just taken over the Indian Dealer network, which had been selling Royal Enfield’s from Brockhouse Engineering UK.  This was probably due to financial problems. So, now, the bikes are called “Matchless Indian”, with this location listed as the head office. The people are great, with the mechanic in the service department, Cliff Sias, loaning me his own bike for a scramble* that is taking place the next day.

*Note, at this time, the word “motocross” was not known in the United States.

The scramble took place in Berlin, near Worcester, Massachusetts. Riding the borrowed Royal Enfield Indian 500 single-cylinder “drag” bike, which had knobbly tyres fitted for the day, I still managed a first in the amatuer heat and final, despite the wet and muddy grass course.

That’s right, I was riding in the amatuer class, as my appearance at the track was not welcomed by everyone. On arrival, I was told to ride this class, which I won easily, so then my mates from Indian asked if I could ride expert.

“Sure thing…”

After a long discussion, the AMA referee and expert riders agreed that I could, but I would have to start 20 metres behind them so I didn’t get in their way.

“That’s fine,” I said, before heading back to start well behind them.

I got to the first corner to find all the “experts” sliding out and floundering, so I went up the inside and took the lead, which I kept increasing until I was able to lap most of the field.

Little did they know that riding in mud was my forte.

After the race, there was a heated discussion between the riders and organisers – for and against me – that my helpers kept me away from. See, it seems a few egos had been bruised by this foreigner, so they decided I couldn’t have the trophy, as I wasn’t a local!

“No problem,” I said. “I can’t carry those around, anyway!”

It was also my first experience with folding footpegs, as the English bikes had very rigid footrests. The rigid pegs were so solid that, if one caught a foot under it, the riders foot or ankle would come off second best. But the early folding footrests had no return spring, meaning that the rider had to kick them back in place as he rode. But with the amount of mud at this event, I couldn’t get them to fold back flat again, so I rode most of each race with my feet on the crankcase and primary case.

ALL A BIT ALIEN

En route to Los Angeles, I called at AMA head office at Columbus, Ohio to introduce myself as a foreign rider, since the AMA was not affiliated with the FIM at the time. I needed to get an AMA race licence that would allow me to compete in races that had prize money. Having been riding as a professional in the UK and Europe for more than a few years, I didn’t think I would run into any problems, but I was wrong – the answer came back as a resounding no!

“We don’t care who you are, even if you’re Geoff Duke!”

(Geoff was a Brit road racer who was the current world champion.)

“When you come to the USA,” they said, “you’re just an amateur and you’ll have to join a club some place and earn your way in the next  few years to get a pro licence.”

Needless to say I left them and carried on my way to Southern California.

But it wasn’t only the Yanks that treated foreigners that way, as I was treated with a certain disdain from a few people, even in England.

That didn’t matter, though, as it was the riding that I loved – especially when I got to ride with friends! As soon as I got to Southern California, Bud Ekins and I went riding in Death Valley. It is the hottest place in the States, even during the winter months, which says a lot!

It was a lot of fun riding down the very steep rock shale slides from about 5,000 feet up in the snow line into the heat of Death Valley, as you don’t get to do that very often!

After racing each other along sand washes for a few hours, Bud stopped and said, “You know, Gibbes, riding these sand washes is better than being with any woman!”

It had been a memorable trip, with plenty of more adventures to come, and I now had some diverse racing under my belt.

A SMALL WORLD 

Many years later, during the late Eighties, I was team manager of three New Zealand riders – Darryll King, Shayne King and Darryl Atkins – who were to compete in the Motocross des Nations at Unadilla. I phoned a Honda dealer, who appeared to be close to the venue, and told him my name and that I wanted to rent three motocross bikes for the event.

He said, “What did you say your name was?”

I repeated my name and he replied, “You are the bloody Limey* that beat me back in 1959 on my own home track in Berlin!”

What a coincidence!

He was very good to us, letting us stay in his home and loaning us a vehicle until we got a camper van organised, along with some helpers.

*Limey is an American term for an Englishman (obviously, they didn’t know I was from Down Under)

THE GREAT ESCAPE

Check out Bud Ekins performing the jump of jumps in this lobbycard for The Great Escape, which is one of the few clear images of the stunt.

Hmm… we’ve got to say, though, that looks a lot like Tim!

WHO IS TIM GIBBES?

Despite being born in Australia, Tim Gibbes is as Kiwi as the rest of us, but that isn’t all that makes him cool. No, it was the time he spent traveling the world as a professional motorcycle racer, racing almost every machine you could imagine, just ‘cause, which makes it so. From Continental Europe, to the States and even behind the Iron Curtain, Tim would ride the wheels off whatever he was asked to race. Not only that, but he’d school almost anyone while doing it, no matter if it was on a road bike, trials bike or moto. And while doing so, Mr. Gibbes spread the his love of motocross. In short, Tim Gibbes helped make off-road motorcycling what it is, just by doing what he wanted to do.

Above all else, Tim Gibbes is the man who brought motocross to New Zealand, which we’ll never forget!

WHO IS BUD EKINS?

Bud Ekins was born in Hollywood, along with making his living in Hollywood, but there was nothing Hollywood ‘bout this motorcycling legend. Bud was legit man’s man. Even if you’re not familiar with his name, or his motorcycling exploits, there’s no doubt that you’re familiar with his body of work. From driving one of the most iconic cars in Bullitt, to the most famous motorcycle stunt in cinema history in The Great Escape, there’s no doubt that you’re familiar with his body of work. Well, kinda…

See, as three people actually performed the stunt – McQueen, Ekins and Gibbes – it is a mystery who is actually the person seen in the movie, something Tim is not willing to divulge, either.

Besides the stunt work, Ekins was also a keen and talented racer, competing in the International Six Days Trials throughout the 1960s and earning gold medals. Just like his good friend, Tim, Ekins also owned a successful motorcycle dealership.

Bud Ekins, a stalwart of the motorcycle and film industries, died in 2007 at the age of 77.