In 2006 Sue Cooke interviewed retired Midland Group member Pat Braithwaite about his rediscovered obsession with motorcycles. Here is Sue’s article as a tribute to Pat, who died earlier this year.
Patrick Braithwaite is 68. He has had a passion for motorbikes since being a small boy in short trousers. In the early ’60s he worked at Motor Cycle News, which became the top biker publication, specialising in sport. He travelled all over the UK on his bike and also into the then-intriguing depths of Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany when they were Iron Curtain countries, in the grip of the Communist regime.
In 1964 Royal Enfield launched an advanced 250cc sports machine, the Continental GT, which set a new standard by having a five speed gearbox. The factory wanted to demonstrate its speed, agility and reliability and devised a promotional launch in which the bike would be ridden from John O’Groats to Land’s End within 24 hours.
Royal Enfield recruited a team of five riders, including Patrick, for the venture. His stint took him from Carlisle, Cumbria to Penkridge in the West Midlands, calling in at Oulton Park racing circuit where the legendary Geoff Duke was scheduled to take the bike to the limits of roadholding and performance on the track. That part of the proceedings was, quite literally put on ice, however, when the sinuous circuit was liberally coated with frost.
Of his epic journey, Patrick said: “I vividly remember the bitter cold striking through my waxed cotton riding suit as the rise and fall of the bike’s raucous exhaust note echoed from the rocky outcrops of Shap Fell on the way South.”
In 2004 the five riders held a reunion, which rekindled the passion and sense of freedom that comes with riding motorcycles and which prompted Patrick to return to two wheels.
He started a search for a desired ‘classic’ of the sort he used to own half a century ago. The Royal Enfield Bullet, a 1950’s style single cylinder machine which is now made in India.
Firstly though, his wife made it quite clear that she wasn’t pleased with his aim to return to motorcycling, reminding him that he had not ridden regularly for around 20 years.
Secondly, although there were plenty of Enfields advertised on e-Bay, they seemed to be in Aberdeen or Plymouth, far from Patrick’s home in the Midlands.
Thirdly, Patrick was on medication to treat angina as well as his daily box of pills to control aches and pains, cholesterol and blood pressure.
He realised that he could buy a used scooter for the price of the Enfield – £500/£600 and he says, have more freedom into the bargain.
Patrick Braithwaite is now the owner of a three year old Gilera Runner in brilliant condition and with fewer than 6,000 miles on the clock. He says: “As an ex-Rocker, I don’t have to hide my face in shame either. It isn’t a silly, little girlie machine with a step-through frame, powered by a low cc frenetic engine. It’s a real sporty job – and hi tech too. Unlike the scooters of the ’50s and ’60s which were tail heavy, the Gilera has a centrally mounted 125cc engine, giving excellent handling and balance, rather like a motorcycle.
“So from a desire to own and ride a machine with old style technology, I now have a bike with car-like features, such as liquid cooled engine, disc brakes, tubeless tyres, 12 volt electrics and a self starter to mention just the major ones. Don’t tell the wife, but it gives spirited performance too – as lively as bikes of twice the engine size of four decades ago.
“And you won’t see my machine decorated like a Christmas tree with a dozen sprouting mirrors or four or five extra lamps on the front of its apron. After all, I don’t want to be a laughing stock.”