Interview: We catch up with former trials champ Steve Colley
Ahead of attending this year's Carole Nash MCN Festival 2018 we caught up stunt rider and former trials champ, Steve Colley, to talk about irritating car drivers, stunts and riding the Isle of Man TT race course in a T-shirt!
What got you started on bikes?
I started riding when I was seven years old and used to go with my dad when he was doing trials for fun on the Isle of Man. In 1979, he bought me a cheap old Yamaha TY80. I was lucky as I got older and better because there was no pressure on me to be as good as my dad, like there was with Dougie Lampkin. His dad had been a world champion but I knew I couldn’t possibly be as sh*t as my dad!
When did things get serious?
My big break was when I was about nine or 10, I came over to England and rode on the TV programme Junior Kick Start. At the time I needed a new bike. Dad had a Honda 185 which was our only family bike, so he sold that and my Yamaha TY80 so he could afford to buy me a new Fantic 75. We didn’t have any money so it was a big deal. I’ve been desperately trying to find that bike because it went on to enduro racing legend David Knight and his brother so it’s got a bit of history to it. It could still be on the Isle of Man somewhere, rotting in a farmer’s shed.
And you ended up winning…
I obviously wanted to win Junior Kick Start but after the first few rounds I had accepted I wasn’t going to because I was riding rubbish and basically fell off everything. Somehow I managed to fluke my way into the final and then fluked everything to win it. No-one was more surprised than me.
1994 Best of the best
‘I signed for Beta and became champ’
Have you kept all your bikes?
No, I was terrible at that. I know lots of other riders have but all I ever kept were my riding suits, helmets and trophies. The bikes were changed so often it was hard to keep track of what was what. Someone offered me my 1992 Beta a few years back for £50 but I looked at it and it was a wreck. I ended up saying no and then later saw it sold at auction in the same state for about £5000!
What bikes followed the Fantic 75?
Well after winning Junior Kick Star I got sponsored by the Fantic UK importer so I never had to buy another bike but progressed up through 125cc, 200cc to 300cc. All of them were two-strokes and even today I have never competed on a four-stroke trials bike. I tested one once but I hated it. At 18 I ended-up signing for Beta and became British champion in 1994. In 1995 Dougie arrived and I had to make way for him because of his family connections with Beta, so I signed for GasGas and I’ve been with them ever since.
I have done 20 years of championships altogether. I finished that 10 years ago and then went into doing shows like this year’s Carole Nash MCN London Motorcycle Show and the Carole Nash MCN Festival.
Make way for dougie
1995 A new era
‘I’ve been with GasGas ever since’
Were there any negatives to trials?
I was thinking about doing motocross or enduro after the trials but hip problems meant that wasn’t possible. I had my right hip replaced in 2013, at the age of 42 and the left one done in December 2015. The trials riding position of being constantly stood up means your knees and hips get problems. We were doing 20 or 30ft jumps before the current trials guidelines were introduced, and not all that energy is absorbed by the bike because there is only so much suspension travel. In TT week on the Isle of Man one year I rode off the top of a double-decker bus. I didn’t plan to but the crowd were cheering and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I broke the swingarm mount, the shock smashed up through the airbox and the rear wheel collapsed. I was OK...
Do you have a road licence?
I have but I’m too dangerous to use it. I’ve done loads of laps of the TT course on things like a Honda RC30, Ducati 916 and a Honda NC400, which I loved. But I used to go out in jeans and a T-shirt and race my mates. It was insane. At one point I was on the course in a T-shirt, jeans and trainers and the wind had pulled my top up near my shoulders. I had no gloves on and I just realised it was all too dangerous. Now I spend my time doing my trials stunt show – it’s much safer, even if it doesn’t look it!
What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone on a bike?
Not that fast, 130mph. This was when I borrowed a Fireblade from a bike shop in the Isle of Man with no riding gear. I just had a helmet and gloves. This was 25 years ago when Blades first came out and I was about 23 years old. I’ve also done a few track days and a few race bikes and I don’t know how fast I’ve gone. I was on a big Kawasaki one day at Donington and I don’t know as there’s no speedo on it.
In general, I’m not very good on a road bike, I’m inexperienced. On an off road bike you’re 90% on the back brake and the way you do things in comparison to a road bike is very different. I don’t push the front brake at all, you just don’t trust the front. I’m all on the back. On a road bike it’s the other way round. So I jump on a road bike and tread on the back brake first, then I go on the front brake, which is completely wrong. It’s hard to switch between those mentalities and because of that I’ve nearly died on a sportsbike on a track day. I go in, sit up, tread on the back brake, lock the back wheel and was nearly out of my seat. Touch wood, I’ve never crashed. The bottom line is, I’m not respectful enough so I’ve never bought a road bike. I push things too much and too far, which you can do on an off road bike, but on a road bike I try to stay away.
What are you currently riding?
Gas Gas trials bike. Out of 52 weekends a year, I probably ride it 48 weekends of the year. I love the winter and wet conditions and trials is a great sport for that, because a lot of times you’re riding through rivers. On a filthy day when there’s nothing better to do, I like to go out with my friends and ride over through mountains and over rocks. Or then on the summer, on the Isle of Man on the beaches, which is beautiful as well.
My favourite spot in the UK to ride is on the beach in Onchan, Isle of Man. There’s a place there called Port Jack with a cliff going down into the sea and we ride all around there. It’s just spectacular. There’s also a famous fish and chip shop there, Port Jack Chippy.
Which living motorcyclist do you most admire?
In my sport there are two; Jordi Tarres and Dougie Lampkin. Outside of that, in the road race world, I had massive respect for Mike Hailwood and Steve Hislop. After that, it’s anyone who’s ever raced the TT.
If you could have one riding super skill, what would it be?
Backflip. I’m a little bit old to do this now, but I’ve been wanting to do it for many years. Sadly I never found the time to learn this and I’ve also been a little scared. Just stunts in general, because I’d also like to drive a car on two wheels.
When were you last scared on a bike?
I had quite a big accident on the Isle of Man. I fell down that cliff edge at Port Jack and landed on my head. I was really badly concussed. I lost the front wheel on the grass, I set off down the cliff and I opened the throttle, I couldn’t get off it. Then I went in head first into the beach. Luckily I was with one friend, who picked me up after the crash and he thought I’d lost my face because my helmet had spun around. That scared me, I thought I’d buggered my face for life.
Three weeks after I was still driving feeling slightly dizzy and have to pullover and be sick on the side of the road. I’ve never really drunk alcohol since because the accident wrecked my head that bad that I was being sick in the night and I felt drunk all the time. Just out of nowhere the concussion would come and get me and I’d fall out of my chair.
How many miles have you done in the last year?
I’m out on the endure bike two or three times a week on the Isle of Man, so probably 2,000 miles a year because it’s all off road.
What’s the highest mileage you’ve covered in one day?
The Scottish Six Days trial is the longest motorbike trials event. You’ll do 120 miles a day on a trials bike which can get up to 45mph.
What irritates you most on a bike?
I think every biker will say this…car drivers. They don’t realise how vulnerable you are.
You’ve got two weeks off: where are you going?
Maldives with my wife and little girl.
Got one pearl of wisdom for new riders?
Work ethic, work harder, work much, much harder. The old school, Dougie Lampkin, myself worked very hard. The youngsters don’t put in the hours, but if you put in the time it will come back to you. If you put enough in, you’ll get enough out.
Ever fallen off in a car park (or somewhere equally embarrassing)?
I used to fly out to Italy each year and do the launch of the new Gas Gas in Rome. In 2007 or 2008, I was outside this massive supermarket complex, where all obstacles were set up. I was introduced and then wheelied into the arena. Whoever put the throttle cable into the bike had wired it wrong so I wheelied in 4th gear and as I turned the handlebars it revved flat out. The clutch burnt out and I was going 35 mph. Back then I wore lycra, I crashed and ripped a big hole in my arse. The bike cartwheeled and got stuck in the fence and that was the end of it. The brand-new bike was in pieces. They introduced me as a super star and I felt like a super idiot.
Do you have one indispensable item of kit?
I keep a helmet from every year of my world championship. Now, I also have one complete riding set from every year and helmet and I want to auction everything I have and use that money for poorly children and people who need it. I lost my son last year and the Rebecca House Hospice in the Isle of Man were really good to me so I want to donate to them. I don’t want to keep my gear hung up in my loft gathering dust.
Which four people would you invite on a Sunday blast?
I’d invite two motorbike and two car guys. I love my cars also. So I’d invite Elfyn Evans, Kris Meeke, James Whitham and John McGuinness.
Do you have a tool you couldn’t live without?
A hammer. I’m notoriously angry with my tool box, so if it doesn’t work and I can’t get it out I hammer it. People turn away when I’m in the garage.
Do you adjust your suspension?
Yes, I do everything myself.
If you could have one of your old bikes back, which would it be?
Any of my championship winning bikes!
What bike would you never buy?
A road bike, because I’d kill myself. Not because it would be a bad bike, I just could not be trusted.
Which road (or track) would you have built on your desert island?
The Isle of Man TT course. I’ve done every road in Europe all the tracks in the UK, but nothing compares.
If you ruled the world, what new law would you pass?
Get all the numpties off the road.
And finally...our quick fire round
Fast, intermediate or novice group? Fast
Mud or tarmac? Mud
Four-stroke or two-stroke? Two-stroke
Dark visor or clear? Dark
Gloves in or gloves out? Gloves in
GPS or map? Both
Filter or queue? Filter
Dealer service or do it yourself? Do it myself