The early years

Any of us who have been around motorcycles for any period of time will have some tales to tell of our fellow riders, and Ralph Ridley is certainly no exception…

One of the benefits of owning a motorcycle is the way it can open a door to friendships and social activity.

An interest in an aspect of motorcycle competition invariably leads to joining a club and an informal gathering for a Sunday breakfast or a casual conversation with a fellow rider in a parking lot can be the beginning of a friendship started, often lasting a lifetime.


A case in point, for me, started at the very beginning of my working years, in my case as an engineering apprentice and it didn’t take too long in the confines of the apprentice training school for motorcycling kindred spirits to link up.

Like most other walks of life, motorcycling has its share of oddballs and one of my early kindred spirits turned out to be just such a character: one Dave ‘Dog’ Barrett.

Initially he drew attention to himself by announcing that he was 24 hours late for his motorcycle driving test that he thought was scheduled for that morning.

Taken in 1967/68 in the service road of the company that I was apprenticed at. ‘Dog’ Barrett is on the driver’s seat of the Flash, yours truly is in the centre with the hair. Taken at the assembly point for that year’s Coventry Carnival, the theme was ‘The Thief of Baghdad’, and I’m not sure what parts we were supposed to play, but it was a lot of fun – no helmets in them days!

And later, presumably after he’d passed his test, he decided to ‘tune up’ his bike – a 2-stroke BSA Bantam – and brought the barrel into the fitting shop for some serious port work armed with magazine articles, a rotary grinder and lots of optimism.

A couple of days later I asked the budding Walter Kaaden how he’d made out and found that he’d never heard of the phrase ‘make haste slowly’ and in his enthusiasm had ground right through the side of the barrel. “But I think I can weld it up,” he said.

Hmm… And maybe it was the after effects of his travails with the Bantam, but other eccentricities overcame the lad.


He’d taken a liking to Dixieland jazz and enjoyed a pint or two (!) at Friday night jazz sessions held at a local hostelry, and from time to time was detained by Her Majesty’s finest for being drunk and incapable, much to the chagrin of the apprentice supervisor who continually lamented Dog’s ‘social record’.

Read more in the August 2019 issue of OBM – on sale now!


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