Tuesday, 4 November 2014

AUTHOR PROFILE No.16: ANDY WESTLAKE

Andy Westlake is the author of three Veloce books. His latest, Off-Road Giants (volume 3), is published in December.


Since beginning his riding career in 1969 on a humble 125cc Vespa, Andy has owned over 70 machines and covered hundreds of thousands of miles over four continents. He began his working life as a photo lithographer in the print industry, but, after taking voluntary redundancy in 2000, took a bold leap into the unknown to pursue his literary talents, and is now regarded as one of the UK’s leading classic motorcycle journalists. Like his previous two volumes, Off-Road Giants Volume 3 is a compilation of profiles on former scrambles and trials stars, many of whom Andy saw in action as a small boy in the 1960s. It was a truly golden era for off-road sport, and fondly remembered by the lad, who still recalls some of those carefree summer days of his childhood …


“Twelve years my senior, my brother, Rod, took me to watch my first scramble at Bulbarrow Hill in Dorset in March 1961. At the time, little could I have realised that over 50 years later I would be reliving those magical days with some of the stars who were flying past on their bellowing four-strokes and screaming two-strokes, not more than a few yards from where we were standing.

“Living where we did on the borders of the Wessex and Southern centres meant that virtually every Sunday we went off in Rod's old ex-GPO Morris Eight van to see some of the UK’s top riders, like the Rickman and Sharp brothers, Jerry Scott, Ivor England, and Badger Goss in action. As a spectator sport in the UK, scrambling in the ’60s was probably only second to football, and thousands used to line the tracks cheering on their favourite riders, my own personal hero being Triss Sharp. Triss, who raced both a superbly-finished, Triumph-engined special and a lightweight Greeves, always rode as number 71, and I recall going back home after the first event and making a replica race plate to put on my pushbike, which rather aptly was also a Triumph.

“My dad never owned a car or a motorcycle, so, prior to Rod taking me to watch the scrambles, my vision of the big outside world had been limited to the occasional family trip to the seaside on one of the local Crown Tours coaches. Suddenly, my horizons were broadened, and early on I made up my mind that, once I was grown up, I would travel to all of these far away places on two wheels. With the racing over we used to return home with the transistor radio playing Pick of the Pops, and I vividly recall the day I first heard the Rolling Stones playing Route 66. The line 'It runs from Chicago to LA, more than two thousand miles all the way,' really landed on me, and back home I went to my bedroom to check out the start and finish of this famous road: one which, in 1998, I would be travelling along on my Moto Guzzi vee twin.

“I had to wait until 1969 before I got my own two-wheeler – a 1959 125cc Douglas Vespa from one of my dad’s workmates – but, by the end of that first summer, I'd progressed to a 1961 250cc Honda Dream, and by April the following year had passed my test and had begun to expand my riding horizons. In the winter of ’72, Rod and I started riding in trials – he on a 250cc Cheetah, and me on an elderly Greeves Scottish – and, although I soon realised I was not going to be a future works star, we had a lot of fun. By the time I'd progressed through a Cheetah and a Minarelli-engined Cotton to a MAR Ossa in 1974, I was managing to pick up the odd award or two.


“I continued to ride in trials on a Beamish Suzuki and a TL Honda for several more seasons, but it was the travelling that really lit me up, and, in 1975, I made my first trip across the channel with three friends, to the motorcycle Grand Prix at Spa in Belgium. This was on a GT 750cc Suzuki, which kickstarted a love for touring. In the last 40 years I've been lucky enough to cover thousands of miles across much of Europe, North America, North Africa and New Zealand on my faithful Guzzis.

“Working in a well-paid job gave me the money to pursue my love of bikes and travel, but the new digital age saw a major downturn in the UK’s print trade, and in 2000 I was given the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy and start a new life. Marriage to Jill saw me move to Devon, and it was thanks to her encouragement that I decided to become a full-time motorcycle journalist and author. It was one of the best decisions of my life, and today I go around with a permanent smile on my face. It’s a dream job.”


Andy Westlake
October 2014




Check out Andy's interview with BBC Radio Devon in 2008 ...