Geoff Duke on the sofa

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Geoff Duke was guest of honour at the 2005 National Courier Awards on Tuesday night and caught up with him on the MCN sofa to talk about his early days as a despatch rider that triggered his racing career.

What was your first bike?

“The first bike I ever owned was a 250 Grand Prix Imperial. It came to me as a box of bits and I had to spend a long time putting it together in a shed in my mum and dads garden.

“It taught me a lot that bike. Not long after I got it running I was doing about 90mph down one of the local roads and as I was coming up to a T-junction, faced with a statue and a plate glass window on the other side I rolled of the throttle and nothing happened at all, the bike kept on going. I panicked at first then I realised the only thing I could do to stop the bike was reach down and pull the plug leads off the plugs.

“I just managed to pull it to a stop in time and it turns out that I hadn’t set up the slides on the carburettors correctly so they just stuck open. After that I learnt that preparation of the bike to the nth degree is the only thing that will keep you riding.”

When did you know you wanted to ride professionally?

“I went in to the army with a reserved occupation because I worked at the Post Office, but as I rode already I really wanted to be a despatch rider but my sergeant, Hugh Viney, said I was mad because despatch riders were always falling off and getting injured. He set it up so I could become a despatch trainer instead so I could still carry on riding. I learnt so many things under him.

“He went on to become one of the best UK trials riders after the war and he taught me so much about throttle control and balance that really served me well later.”

What made you start racing?

After the war all the stuff I had learnt let me get a job with BSA in the experimental engines department and it wasn’t long before I went to Norton as a Trials rider, and that’s where it all took off.

“My first road race was the junior Manx in 1948 on a 350 Manx Norton with no mechanic and no spares.”

Did you still ride on the road?

To be honest pretty much as soon as I started racing I gave up riding on the road. Having done it for quite a few years I knew that there are so many things that go wrong and the tiniest scare on the road can have real implications for how you think when you’re racing and I didn’t want to be put off.

Geoff Duke went on to win the 500cc World Championship in 1951, 1953, 1954 and 1955 as well as the 350cc World Championship in 1951 and 1952

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff