My life in bikes: James Hewing

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‘Riding hislop’s norton white charger was a dream come true’

National Motorcycle Museum boss reveals his personal biking heritage 

How did you first get into bikes?

It was via my brother when I was about 12. He had a Triumph Trident T150 but also had a very horrible CZ 175 and said he would teach me to ride it in the car park behind our mum’s shop. He gave me practically no instruction – I just got on it, grabbed a handful of throttle, dumped the clutch, and ended up on my arse. I’ve been doing that ever since! 

What was the first bike you owned?

My brother had a 1948 Matchless G80 in the shed, all in bits, and as rotten as a pear. When I was about 15 he said if I could restore it and get it running I could keep it but if I didn’t finish the job he wanted it back. I restored it, very badly, on paper-round money in my bedroom. I got it running but was too young to ride it so I bought a very knackered Yamaha FS1-E. As soon as I turned 17 I hit the road on the Matchless and headed for the Isle of Man TT.

Early days
Yamaha FS1-E
‘I was too young for my Matchless’

Is that where your interest in classics started?

Yes. It was odd at the time because all my mates had Yamaha 350LCs and I was running around on a badly restored 1948 Matchless! I’d go and do trackdays at Darley Moor on it though. I eventually did a bit of production racing on a 350LC for a couple of seasons.

How many bikes have you owned?

Oh, it must be nearly 40. All the big British, Japanese and Italian bikes. I had a Ducati 851 that I wish I’d not sold – it was one of my favourite bikes.

What was your background before the NMM?

I used to be an instructor for the RAC/ACU training scheme, then I was involved in the retail automotive business at management level before I saw an advert for CEO of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club in the early 2000s and I did that job for about 10 years before moving to the museum in 2014.

What was the highlight of your job at the VMCC?

My proudest achievement was resurrecting the Festival of 1000 Bikes at Mallory Park. It had been dormant for years so I brought it back and it became one of the biggest classic bike trackdays in Europe. When I brought Kenny Roberts over to ride in 2011 we drew the biggest crowds at Mallory since the heyday of the Race of the Year in the 1970s.

How did you get involved at the Motorcycle Museum?

I knew the founder, Roy Richards, through the VMCC. He would always bring his Norton Rotaries to the Festival of 1000 Bikes as it was his favourite event. Sadly, Roy passed away in 2008 but I had a conversation with his son Simon some years later and it just seemed a natural progression for me to take over the running of the museum. 

What bikes do you own now?

I ride a lot of the bikes from the museum but I only have one of my own – a Triumph Speed Triple. I love the modern Hinckley Triumphs. 

What museum bikes have you ridden?

Most of the Norton rotaries, Slippery Sam, a couple of Brough Superior SS100s, Vincent Black Shadows – lots of things. I’m very lucky. My absolute favourite has to be the Norton White Charger that Steve Hislop won the 1992 Senior TT on. That was a huge privilege to ride, a dream come true. If I could take just one bike home from the museum, that would be the one.

Dream come true
1992 Norton White Charger
‘It’s the museum bike I’d love to own’

What would your life have been like without bikes?

Both as a hobby and a career, bikes have been my life since I was about 15 so I simply cannot imagine what my life would have been like without them.

Do you have the best job in biking?

A lot of the time, running the museum is like any other job. You’ve got staff to look after, budgets to work out, and targets to meet. Having said that, there is also a spectacular side to it that you couldn’t replicate in any other job so it has massive rewards and offers huge job satisfaction too.