Dave Ekins, 1954 class win at Catalina Grand National Race, on a 250cc NSU Renn Sport Max. Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection. “Blister goop, castor oil, and blood were soaked into what had been a new pair of gloves. I never rode that motorcycle again. They sent it back to Neckersolm, Germany.” 

The anniversary of Steve McQueen’s passing is on my mind, as well as the Ekins brothers and the incredible motorcycling history that they forged separately and together. May their tales and achievements be retold and marveled-over by many generations to come. It’s that rich. Stories like this one (via from the lips of Dave Ekins himself, unpacking in firsthand detail what it was like to be on the first American ISDT racing team with Steve McQueen, Cliff Coleman, John Steen, and his brother Bud Ekins as they traveled, prepped, and raced together are utterly priceless.

“When the Erfurt trials was over and the British had finished second to the all conquering East Germans because some ‘Yanks’ had outdone the Limeys in a few of the special tests, an English journalist aired his views of the U.S. Vase team: ‘Those Yanks just came to have fun and were not a bit serious about winning. They were a bloody nuisance to our boys.’ But from Sid Chilton, public relations manager of Triumph of Coventry, came the reply: ‘I think the Yanks had the right idea. After all, nobody paid them to ride the International so why not make a holiday out of it? Even so, two of them won Gold Medals and one a Silver. The only objection I have is that they are all so bloody handsome!’ –Dave Ekins

THE HOUSE ON CANAL ROAD by Dave Ekins — October 2011

There was the Six Day Team, Steve McQueen, Cliff Coleman, John Steen, Bud and I and three more persons who were Steve’s personal travel buddies. One was Elmer Valentine who owned the popular “Whiskey a Go Go” nightclub on the Sunset Strip. Also traveling with us was Steve’s stand-in double and a third person who lurked in the shadows. (Forty seven years later I can’t remember their names.)

Our airplane landed at London’s Heathrow Airport that summer day in 1964. Five of us Team members stepped out of customs onto the street and found a crowd of people, cameras, and many questions. There were two limos and an elegant 1930s-era Rolls Royce waiting. We took the Rolls and our luggage followed in the limos. All three cars left in different directions in an effort to shake the gang of cameras and news people. Steve McQueen was a very popular actor and public figure in Great Britain and all of Europe in the mid 1960s.

PICCADILLY CIRCUS- LONDON 1964 Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

The Studio’s London office had made arrangements for the four of us to stay in a three story home owned by the Ogilvy family on Canal Road. Mrs. Ogilvy was vacationing in Spain at the time and arranged for her housekeeper to stay with us. She would take our grocery requests pass them on to the postman who would then pass the list on to the grocery store. A few hours later someone from the store would appear with bags of food. After a day or two the housekeeper smiled at me and commented that “This is a happy house” referring to the constant partying and the sound of noisy diesel London taxis cabs coming and going at all hours. Steve once said to me “You only go around once in life and I’m going to grab a handful of it”.

Steve took the master suite, Bud took another bedroom, and Cliff, John and I stayed upstairs in one of the children’s rooms. We discovered the place had a basement; four flights of stairs, no elevator. Bud liked it because we could start in the basement and run to the top before breakfast and get in a little workout.

HEATHROW AIRPORT Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Steve managed to borrow a late model Ford wagon from the studio then Bud drove us to the Matchless Factory near Wolverhampton. Despite the length of the drive Bud didn’t miss a turn; remarkable considering he hadn’t made that trip in the last ten years. At the Matchless factory, we were given the royal tour. We peeked into the future, and then left the windowless old factory; a veteran of World War II that unfortunately went out of business during the next twenty years.

That same day we had an appointment with Triumph Motorcycles in Coventry. Triumph took great pride in showing us their “next generation” three cylinder 750s. Next we were escorted in to Mister Edward Turner’s office. The introductions, handshaking and a round of Britain’s famous Scotch Whiskey followed. The conversation got around to the Japanese motorcycle industry and how the British were going to defeat them “the way they did in Burma”. Steve said “Don’t change a thing. Keep it simple”. We, the Six Day Team, agreed we liked things the way they were. Triumph thought otherwise.

HOUSE ON CANAL ROAD Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

From Coventry we drove to BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) in Birmingham and were briefed on international relationships and our care of the British Pound while in East Germany. Then we were walked onto a manicured lawn to inspect our Six Day Triumphs, two 650 TR6s and two TR5s. These were East Coast bikes with QD (quick detachable) rear wheels and wide ratio gearboxes; extras the West Coast never knew about.

Upon closer examination I reasoned the high mounted exhaust pipe and muffler would bend the rear shock when the bike was laid on its left side. Closer examination would reveal the latest front fork they were excited about had only 4.5 inches of travel. One year earlier Triumphs had 6.5 inches of travel, they went backwards! Also that eight inch, forty pound cast iron front brake hub would only make matters worse.

DAVE - QUIET TIME IN THE HOUSE Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

I was in shock. Any old desert sled would be better than that thing. Bud made arrangements to have the bikes shipped to a shop in London called Comerfords. The good people there made room for us to do the final preparations prior to taking them to East Germany. There were no number plates, just some brackets to fit them with. They did manage to drill holes in the proper places for official seals required in the rulebook. But no number plates! Got to have number plates, how do you get number plates? Make them?

We were very lucky to have Bud’s friend Ted Wassell on our team acting as the official U.S Team Juryman. Now Ted had a manufacturing plant near Birmingham, and Bud asked him to find some number plates. Simple, it only took three days. Our individual numbers would be painted on by the East Germans who were sponsoring the Six Days. (They had hired several local sign painters to do the job.) All entrants will accompany their bikes through the “scrutinizers” who will mark important individual pieces with a special paint and each race number. The cylinder head was sealed to the cylinder and cylinder to the crankcase. Pretty damn thorough, I thought.

BLUE VAN TRAVELING IN FRANCE Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Five of us stood around looking at the area Comerfords allowed us to work in: Generous for British standards, not much for us Americans. But you take what you can get; then get to work. Bud and Steve had a different plan. They went to Eric Cheney’s house/shop, outlined what needed to be done; and stayed in the area; about an hour’s travel from London. Eric did the final preparations including rerouting the exhaust pipes placing the muffler just ahead of the rear axle. Whereas Eric Cheney made up some beautiful carburetor/air filter covers; we did the best we could using “‘elephant snot” rubber glue to glue custom cut inner tubes on the frame in order to avoid water damage to the air filter and carburetor. They looked funky, but proved to be effective. Cliff, John, and I rode our Triumphs to the house from Comerfords and back again for three days, without hearing a word from Bud or Steve.

Bud called the house one night and asked if we were ready. They would meet us at Comerfords, load the bikes, get our stuff and be on our way. Ted Wassell would also meet us there with his Mark10 Jaguar sedan. Two fuel tanks and British Racing Green, of course. Seated next to Ted was another Six Day official and a French journalist who worked for Paris Match magazine was alone in the back seat.

CLIFF SUPERVISING THE GAS FILL-UP IN FRANCE Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

“Paris Match” was huge like Life Magazine was in the ’60s. Steve’s “Wanted Series” was the most viewed TV series in France. Paris Match was to take care of us while in Paris for the premiere of “Love With The Proper Stranger” starring Steve and Natalie Wood. It just happened the cast of the movie “The Great Race” starring Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, and Keenan Wynn would pull into the same hotel we were in prior to the premiere (So that was the timing; London, prepare the bikes, drive to Erfurt, East Germany, ride the ISDT, drive to Paris, then do the premiere and body guard thing with Steve. Then take a flight home for me. The other guys went back to London, except for Steve and friends; they went to Majorca for a week or two.)

For now our six Triumph motorcycles were arranged in a blue box van with a large American Flag painted on both sides, the five team motorcycles plus Lynn Wineland’s TR6. Lynn was a photo journalist who joined the party and was to report about the team. So we had six guys in a box van with two seats and enough room to make “nests” from our luggage and riding gear for the others. I climbed into the Jag’s left side back seat and sat down next to a French legend.

RACE HEADQUARTERS Photo credit - Roger Ganner

Photo credit – Roger Ganner

Marcel Descamps was about my age, he had a wife and two small girls; and employed by Paris Match Magazine. He had just returned from a long assignment in Viet Nam and was given this prize of writing and photographing Steve and his adventures in East Germany. His next assignment was back in ‘Nam from which he didn’t return. I grieved as did many others. His words to me were “Don’t let your country get into this fight”. A moment please while I think about this.

We disembarked on the coast of France then drove to Erfurt, East Germany during the height of the Cold War. Darkness set in before we crossed the border between France and Germany and my thoughts turned back to the drive from Birmingham to London. We were in the Ford Wagon and Steve was in the back seat alone. All of a sudden he hung over the second seat and told Bud to “Stop! Pull over!” A slick little car pulled in behind us and Steve jumped out of our car and into the one following us. They pulled out ahead of us and our jaws dropped as this gorgeous young woman motored by. How did he pull that one off? I reasoned she had to be someone Steve knew when he was in England making the film “War Lover” with Robert Wagner.


Photo credit – Roger Ganner

I woke from my slumber as the Jag rumbled over what seemed to be an all-metal bridge; we were crossing the Rhine River still in darkness and I could see orange colored flames rising into the early morning mist. “Must be Frankfurt” I muttered. Our Jag swerved to a side road and parked; the four of us jumped out, sprinted to some growth and stood there in the flash of car lights as we relieved ourselves from too long a time since our last rest stop. By now the blue box van we were following had gained a few miles on us.

It was still early morning, we were in a line of non-moving cars and vans and the blue one with the American flags was at the front of the line. We must be near the border between East and West Germany. Bud walked back to us and said, “The border guards were getting permission from Berlin to allow Steve McQueen to enter East Germany”. It seemed a reasonable statement, but I found out later that there was more to the story. The East Germans did make that call to Berlin, but it was more about some suspicious cargo not just a famous movie star in their midst.

HOW TO TRANSPORT 14 MOTORCYCLES Photo credit - Roger Ganner

Photo credit – Roger Ganner

While we were all waiting at the border Bud made his way back a few more cars and heard two young men speaking French. Still teenagers, Roger DeCoster and Joel Robert were wondering about the delay. Bud, who spoke some French, jumped into the conversation. Joel Robert had just won his first World Championship, the youngest ever to do that. He and Roger were going to ride this Six Days and wondered about the holdup. Bud invited them to stay with him if they came to race in the U.S. Three years later they did just that! This was the beginning of professional motocross in the U.S. Edison Dye was promoting the first motocross races held in the United States.

The line of cars and trucks started moving. We continued on our way to Erfurt, East Germany; a university town where we were to stay in the dormitory.

We were told a “special feature” of riding roads and trails in East Germany are the many scattered horse shoe nails that find their way into your tires. Everyone knew this was a problem, and a flat can put you out of the running. Our Triumphs carried compressed air bottles, tire irons, and each rider carried new tubes on his person. Experienced Six Day riders can replace an inner tube in less than four minutes. Cliff Coleman did this at least twice during the six days and did not lose a mark.


Photo credit – Roger Ganner

Sunday we pushed our bikes through Tech inspection according to their schedule. Lower numbers first while larger displacement bikes carried bigger numbers. Bud was 250; I was 261, John Steen was 266, Cliff 276 and Steve 278. We would start several hours after the 50cc bikes carrying single digit numbers and usually ahead of them before the end of a long day because the speed schedules were set according to motor displacement. About two-thirds of the entries were less than 350cc because of the popularity stemming from mopeds and lightweight motorcycles found all over Europe at that time.

John Steen took a wrong turn on the first day, didn’t see any course markers, stopped, turned around then hurried back to find the trail and clocked in late. He was now on a Silver Medal if he did everything else right with five days to go. The U.S. Vase team was still all on Gold at the end of the second day. They say if you get through the third day clean then you have a good chance of winning Gold. Why? Well, they make a much tougher course early in the game and your body is nearly exhausted. This day the 50cc bikes woke us up when they came by in the dark of morning. We got up, had breakfast, and got started at our scheduled departure time in the daylight.

SAMMY MILLER WATCHING DAVE Photo credit - Roger Ganner

Photo credit – Roger Ganner

First thing a few miles out on the wet cobblestones Bud fell off! The ensuing slide down the road spun his air bottle open and lost its emergency air supply. Bud waved down a car and asked for a pump; he knew cars in Europe carried working tire pumps. Bud pulled the rear wheel, found the nail and removed it, then slipped in a new tube, inflated the tire and going again sliding into the first time control without losing a point. Riding a normal pace you can get into the Control four minutes early; then wait for your time before clocking through. Bud’s two Gold Medals and one Silver Medal had given him the confidence to make good.

Coleman, John Giles, and McQueen were the next to last riders to start; Englishman Ken Heanes was on the last minute, riding alone. This is conjecture; I think Heanes caught Steve in one of the tough sections late in the day and Steve crashed trying to keep up. (The British Works bikes were light years better than what we were riding even though they were all Triumphs.) Now Steve was last on the trail and falling back. Spectators were everywhere in sections near a village or road. There became a time gap between the last riders and Steve who fell behind. So, according to Bud, Steve swerved into some trees avoiding the spectators who were walking the trail. This crash bent the forks and closed up the exhaust pipe. Steve was done. Bud meanwhile swerved wide on the cobblestones and caught his ankle against a stone wall. This mishap broke Bud’s ankle. Bud made the final control without losing a point and was still on Gold. We all had to push our bikes a few yards on gravel to our marked parking spot, about twenty yards. Bud did this and was going to ride the rest of the Six Days. That evening, after a few more Scotches, Steve escorted Bud to the local hospital, an X-ray and plaster cast finished the American Champion’s ride.

STARTING LINE Photo credit - Roger Ganner

Photo credit – Roger Ganner

The DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) officials still had a trick or two left. The special test on Day 4 was two miles of paved mountain road in dense fog. They had made large campfires at each turn. Riders would start at 20 second intervals, so I was 20 seconds behind Sammy Miller. Usually I could not catch Sammy on special tests, just follow. But this time I got to the end of the Special Test about ten yards behind the ‘Millerman”. I was used to going fast without seeing much in the dust filled desert, a talent I picked up racing cross-country in the Mojave Desert.

Each morning the daily special test results were posted near the “Parc Ferme”. I stopped and looked at my score for the previous day. Sammy walked over, pointed to my score, then his, and smiled. I had beaten the ”Millerman’ by a few seconds on Day Four.

Morning of Day 5 I was chasing Sammy’s Ariel up a short hill with about a meter vertical step at the top. The Ariel went into a wheelie; Sammy caught the skid plate on the lip and body “Englished” the bike over, and then disappeared. My TR5 didn’t wheelie, hit the cliff and bounced back to the bottom. That didn’t work so I headed towards the wall’s corner and threw the bike over the top, then scrambled after it and rode away. I later asked Paul Hunt how the other guys made that step. He said “They went around it, you dummy”. Nobody ever told me!


Photo credit – Roger Ganner

Day 6 was a short ride to an airfield and last Special Test; a road race on a flat chunk of concrete. They would bunch bikes together. In my race we had 350s, 500s, and open class, over twenty riders bunched up on the start line. The flag dropped and I sped into the left-hander first, down the long straight then rear-braked it into the next left-hand turn. They had a ‘kink’ at the entrance and exit of the long front straight so tight I had to use second gear. Going into the back straight Cliff Coleman passed by me all tucked in while East German ace Fred Williamowski and his MZ went around both me and Cliff at the same time. Cliff put on a show sliding his TR6 in an effort to hang onto Fred and his 100mph MZ. I ended up fifth or sixth or something, the fight went out of me when the rear brake got hot. But it was a great day, Cliff and I won Gold Medals and John Steen had his Silver Medal. Steve and Bud, with his right ankle wearing a white cast, watched the race seated near the slow turn. I felt sorry for them; as Brando said; “We coulda’ been somethin”. Fred and his flying 352cc MZ won the overall Trials. From here it was “off to Paris” as Steve’s body guards for the premiere.

CHECK POINT Photo credit - Roger Ganner

Photo credit – Roger Ganner

Paris Match Magazine had our visit all planned, reserved, and locked in. The film crew for “The Great Race” got into the Hotel several hours behind us. Later I found Keenan Wynn in the bar with John Steen and Bud. Keenan seemed to be happy hanging out with his old friends from Bud’s shop back in Sherman Oaks, California.

Our hotel, Hotel de Crillon, was close to everything including the U.S. Counsel next door, and the U.S. flagged blue van was parked there. (With two uniformed U.S. Marines standing at the gate, we didn’t need to worry about the van or its contents.)

We were invited to have dinner at the Ritz; in a private banquet room. Our host was Paris Match Magazine. I am sure they thought this out; they had name cards placed at each chair. I was sitting next to the Foreign Affairs Editor; Steve was sitting on the other side. A couple of French speaking countesses, and the French actress, Capucine, were also invited to rub shoulders with ‘these Americans’. We spoke about the American film she had done with John Wayne and Red Buttons on location in Africa. She was a charming lady who circulated around the elegant hall. At one point she wanted to dance. Her eyes went to Bud first and then she noticed the cast on his ankle. I was her second choice but happy for the opportunity to join this classy woman on the dance floor. The live band played 60’s music. It was all familiar and I felt pretty special in her company until I headed back to the table to join the others.

BUD CHECKING IN Photo credit - Roger Ganner

Photo credit – Roger Ganner

Just then the French Foreign Affairs Editor asked me my thoughts about the J.F.K. assassination. He thought it was a conspiracy. Steve, sitting close by said it was not and he was convinced from conversations he had with people closely connected with the Kennedy family. It almost became an argument and I excused myself and went back to my room.

Steve had arranged for all of the U.S. Team members to be dressed in grey flannel slacks and navy blue blazers. I was fortunate that Steve and I wore the same 32″ inch waist size and could use a pair of his slacks from Paramount Studios. The pants were lengthened and I was good to go. The name “Steve McQueen Love With The Proper Stranger” was sewn in at the waist band. I wore them to the party and the premiere. It wasn’t until we were ready to leave the hotel that I noticed the pants had disappeared. Most likely a hotel staffer saw an opportunity for a great souvenir; maybe on “eBay” one day!

The following morning Marcel invited Bud and me to his Paris Match office to look at some photos. He gave us a few B&W 8x10s included in our stories. That was the last time I would see him.

That evening Bud, Cliff and I escorted Steve and his beautiful wife, Neile, through the crowd and into the theater, just like Hollywood only without the red carpet. The following day Steve and his flock flew to Majorca. I flew home to California while Cliff, John, and Bud drove back to Birmingham in the blue van with the American flags painted on it.

I rode four more Six Days and sadly there was never one that came even close to 1964.

From the pen of Daring Dave Ekins comes the true tale of the biggest, the toughest and the bone-breakingest motorcycle race in the world–the International Six Day’s Trial. A first hand account of riding and cheating next to Europe’s best…with due note of team and movie hero, Steve McQueen!

ISDT by Dave Ekins

Here we have observed trials which demand taut precision in manipulating a series of obstacles expressly designed to drop you into the muddy and here we have enduros that last for a day or two or twenty-four hours straight; enduros that lead through sand and mud, swamps and streams swift enough to tow you under, enduros that require calculation, concentration to stay where you should be at a given time and at a given speed. But imagine riding at a given very high speed for six days over twelve hundred miles, each mile superbly calculated to break both your motorcycle and every bone in your body. Add to that a grueling series of observed-trial type speed tests at the end of each day. If that sounds like your kind of game, then you’re up for the International Six Days Trials.

The ISDT has been held annually since 1913 (except for the war years) and has become a real international competition with most of the bike people in Europe making an all-out effort to win the trophy–a trophy that really does bring them and their country some fame and fortune but does a heck of a lot more to promote sales. (Even the Russians go for an ISDT wearing their long brown rubberized rain suits, riding those clumsy green and yellow ISHes.) Add to the honor, the fact that the winning team has the chance to organize the next year’s event–an advantage quite worth the effort (as we shall see).


Dave Ekins, John Steen, Steve Mc Queen, Cliff Coleman and Bud Ekins
Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

The actual riding of the International is a hurry up and wait game. You spurt along from one time control to the next and then wait for your time to catch up; you clock through the check and hurry on to the next time control. The speed tests each day award bonus points to the individual in accordance with his performance. It takes five hundred bonus points and no penalty points to earn a Gold Medal. Penalty points are given for being late into a time control. A Silver Medal is the accumulation of three hundred bonus points and not more than fifty penalty points. The Bronze is given to anyone who just finishes without being excluded. Any outside assistance means immediate disqualification and if your bike breaks and you cannot fix it with what you have in your pockets in less than an hour’s time, you’re out.

We were on the Autobahn driving through what is known as the five-kilometer section–the bare, no-man’s land between East and West Germany. The forests had been cut away as far as the eye could see and guard towers stood tall, spaced out in a staggered pattern where trees should have been. We were leaving the land of the free. Our three-car motorcade had passed into East Germany and before long we were in the picturesque countryside of Erfurt. The American vase team: Steve McQueen, John Steen, Cliff Coleman, my brother Bud Ekins, and me. The noted English manufacturer Ted Wassell acted as our manager. It was more than helpful that he was on the Jury too. (But this was the year of Steve McQueen and there were a group of French journalists with us to report every move the actor made–the TV series “Wanted” was a favorite in France).

Colorful banners and flags of the participating countries were hung on both sides of the road for a mile before we got to the town hall, headquarters of the Trials. Although Bud had ridden the Trials before (three times before) the rest of us were virgins and this was the first official Vase team to represent the U.S. in an International. We came with our necessary receipts and licenses and were told we still owed two hundred and eighty dollars. It took a lot of convincing to assure our hosts that not all Americans are millionaires and that we really had paid all the fees. At last, all was stamped “in order” and we left for our assigned quarters.

Dave and John waiting for the flag to drop Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Dave and John waiting for the flag to drop
Photo courtesy of
Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

All of the competitors were housed in a newly completed college dormitory a couple of miles south of the staging area. The drive from one place to the other took us through town and Germans marked the way so we wouldn’t get lost. Nice of them I thought, until I found they didn’t want us driving through their slums.

That evening before Day One, nearly 300 contestants were seated in a giant dining hall looking down at the plate of food just served; whole eel with cold cuts! I will not eat something that is still looking at me! There were about ten Americans assigned to our table. Steve McQueen had the insight to ask our waiter where the jury members ate. The American Team, the British Team and the Swedish Team left the dining hall and proceeded to the Erfurt Hof for a more palatable dinner. The East German sponsors were at least sportsmanlike enough to change the menu for the remainder of the Trials.

Early the next day, I found Coleman and McQueen in an all-out power slide contest on the gravel road in the Park Ferme. Some of the ISDTers joined in with enthusiasm and before long the bailiwick turned into a dust bowl–this new Yankee game was fun! And when the champ emerged, it was no one other than motocross ace Joel Robert.

THE AMERICAN ISDT TEAM Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

THE AMERICAN ISDT TEAM Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

The trials got under way on schedule and right away John Steen got pointed in the wrong direction by some shady character in a uniform. By the time he found his way back to the right trial and into the next time control he was running thirty minutes late and already on a Silver Medal. Later, still trying to make up for lost time, Steen crashed on a very tricky paved turn that also claimed among its victims Bud Ekins and Cliff Coleman, both of whom survived with little precious time lost. To hear Bud tell it, he had his Triumph down dragging the handlebar in the pavement trying to avoid the inevitable but he still slid of the road just missing two concrete abutments. Looking back, I think it might have been nice if the organizers had slowed us down a bit for this turn; but then the East German team knew the road and might have lost some advantage.

Third morning out, a Czech rider walked into the Park Ferme with a peculiar bulge in his coat, pushed his broken Jawa into the working area, and began to install a curious brace that (it appeared) had been made the night before. The front down-tube on his Jawa had parted and this new piece was to do the job of the broken part. Well, the two officials said nothing as they watched the sneaky one make his repair. They waited until he had sweated and cursed the thing on and even let him push the bike to the starting gate before strong-arming him out of the Trials.

There is a saying among the ISDT set that if you can complete the third day clean then your chances of finishing the contest are better than ever. I didn’t realize what they meant until I rolled my tired body out of the sack that third morning and began moving stiff and tired muscles in an effort to get dressed. I had managed to make it through the first two days clean but the pace was beginning to show. I had begun the Six Days mostly concerned about blistering my hands, now I had a new worry: battle fatigue.

Dave and Steve - Broken Dreams Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Dave and Steve – Broken Dreams
Photo courtesy of
Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Well I made it to the day’s end, but my favorite actor didn’t and neither did my big brother. McQueen, whose reflexes were showing signs of fatigue parted company with his Triumph in a pile of rocks. He scrambled back on his bike in an attempt to continue, but found he was down about twenty horsepower. The bash through the rocks had closed his exhaust pipe. Now luckily there were some woodcutters nearby and Steve, being a resourceful chap, borrowed an ax and vented his exhaust pipe.

But this untimely detour put the Matinee Idol well behind the last rider, and while he was making an honest effort to continue, the bystanders and the kids who had been quite good about staying off the trials naturally joined the game when all seemed clear. So here was Steve traveling South at a high speed on a narrow twisting trail in the woods and there was an unsuspecting lad riding North on the same path. The meeting was inevitable, but rather than crunch a kid and his moped, Steve pointed his bike off the path. A firmly planted tree did not give way to the forces of the high speed Coventry projectile that tried to uproot it. It was a straight-on crash that put the front wheel squarely between the exhaust pipes and left not a few scratches on Mr. McQueen’s valuable face.

Now Bud had won three medals in previous ISDTs and pretty well knew what to expect. The morning sun was high as I rounded a bend and saw my brother feverishly working over his rear wheel with tire irons. I knew his air bottle was empty from the first day crash and I stopped to give assistance. But he told me to get the hell going for this was a fast section and the time control wasn’t far ahead.

Bud borrowed one of those big double cylinder pumps from a nearby car and had the new tube inflated in less than ten strokes. I had made the time control and waited until bud came sliding in, directing him into the check and putting him to the head of the line. He punched through with only seconds to spare. Now you are supposed to get gas and oil before you clock through, and although the senior Ekins was in on time he had no gas for the next sixty mile leg. Our ever alert Ted Wassell saved the day, slipping down the road a piece with a full petrol can in hand. The refueling job was done undetected by the enemy and though Bud and his Triumph entered the course from a thicket, no one was the wiser.

1964 Final Classment/Results ISDT Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

1964 Final Classment/Results ISDT
Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

The afternoon’s course took us along a rocky path and then turned ninety degrees under a railroad trestle and out again on the other side of the tracks. The dampness in the tunnel and on the round slippery rocks made the navigating a bit squirrely. Bud turned into the tunnel a little hot and though his mind told him to change gears, his body reacted a bit too late and he glanced sharply off the wall. A sickening crack was heard; the small bone above his ankle had broken-but Bud wasn’t telling anybody. He rode the last fifty miles feet up as only he can, and then following the rules, pushed that Triumph a hundred feet in the gravel and put it on the centerstand to rest. With no points lost!

John Steen, Cliff Coleman and I were the remaining Americans, and with the pressure of doing well for the Team removed, we settled down to enjoy the last three days of riding. Coleman and I were still in the running for our first Gold Medals.

According to plan I slipped on a new rear chain just before we started the fourth day, but in doing so I lost the masterlink in the dirt. Ted Wassell noticed me scratching around for it and happened to drop a new one right beside me. It’s nice to have a pit juryman on your side.

But being the host country is having a real advantage. According to legend, the MZed and Simpson banners that were hung along most of the course were put there in code. A Simpson banner meant a right turn and an MZed one meant a fast turn. Pretty sneaky those Germans. But the real kicker is when they quietly let the news out and then reversed the code for the rest of the Trials. This sent more than one guy who thought he had the secret into some very hairy turns at some very wrong and hairy speeds.

Along with the MZed and Simpson banners along the course were numerous East German bikes complete with a mechanic. It’s nice to have a parts house every half mile or so just in case.

Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

Photo courtesy of Bud and Dave Ekins Collection

At the end of it all is held a speed test–usually on a road race course. It is so designed that if a motorcycle is ailing at all after five and a half days, it will surely blow when the rider tries to do those fiendish laps at an average of forty six miles an hour for forty five minutes.

Steen, Coleman, and I were in the same race with all the three fifty and larger displacement machines. At the drop of the banner we shot down the short straight and I grabbed the inside of the turn and polished the knobs on the rear tire and got into the next straight out front. Then Coleman came by me on his six fifty and just as that happened an East German zonked by both of us on a three sixty two-stroke! My five hundred would turn an honest eighty five, but that five-speed MZed was capable of the century mark—and he was doing it too! Equipment means a lot.

When the Erfurt trials was over and the British had finished second to the all conquering East Germans because some “Yanks” had outdone the Limeys in a few of the special tests, an English journalist aired his views of the U.S. Vase team: “Those Yanks just came to have fun and were not a bit serious about winning. They were a bloody nuisance to our boys”. But from Sid Chilton, public relations manager of Triumph of Coventry, came the reply: “I think the Yanks had the right idea. After all, nobody paid them to ride the International so why not make a holiday out of it? Even so, two of them won Gold Medals and one a Silver. The only objection I have is that they are all so bloody handsome!”

–Dave Ekins
















  1. I’ve got to tell you: the reason these men are all “so bloody handsome” is because they are ALL clean shaven with nice clean cut haircuts! I abhor this current shaggy hipster beard thing. I wish it would finally GO AWAY! Oh, men, please shave for the love of GOD!

  2. This is great stuff. Cycle World magazine was very dutiful about covering the ISDT, and I’ve kept the very first issue I ever bought — December 1963, with a report plus photos from the Czech running of the ISDT. I bought this issue, I think, the morning after I saw “The Great Escape.” I pored over those pictures of the trials runners. It all connected to the movie in my young mind.

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