Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Riders I admire - Brian Stonebridge

The second rider I have included in the ‘riders I admire’ series is Brian Stonebridge. Brian was born in Cambridgeshire and went on to become one of the top Scramblers on the 1950’s.
Brian started scrambling in 1948 on a 350cc BSA Goldstar. It didn’t take long for him to be recognised as a talent by one of the factory teams. From 1950-1954 Brian became a Works Matchless rider. In 1950 Brian won a gold medal for Matchless at the International Six Day Trials (ISDT).
In 1955 Stonebridge moved to BSA and was awarded the ACU Scrambles Drivers’ Star. At BSA Brian undertook development work in the competition shop, and it was here that he met two-stroke tuning expert Herman Meier. Brian with Herman realised that the lightweight 150cc BSA Bantam could be developed into a successful Scrambling machine.
With BSA investing less in their competition shop, Brian moved to Greeves in 1957 to be a Works rider, competitions manager and development engineer. It was at Greeves that Stonebridge really started to shine as both a rider and more significantly in the development of off-road machines.
Greeves were a small factory when Brian arrived, but within a few years he had turned them into one of the most important players in the world scene of off-road competition. Brian developed the Greeves trails machine into the highly successful TA – the first of the Scottish trials line. Brian took his second gold ISDT medal on a modified version of this machine – the first ever for a Greeves rider.
Brian had also spent much time tuning the 197cc Villiers 9E engine. He had nearly doubled the power output from it, and when fitted into the Greeves Scramblers it became a highly successful machine. The little Greeves in the capable hands of Stonebridge was able to humble machines of much bigger capacities. It was Brian’s pioneering work on the Greeves that showed that a nimble light machine was the tool to have for off-road competition.
In 1959 Brian and Greeves entered the F.I.M. 250cc European Motocross Championship (effectively the World Championship) and finished a superb 2nd. In fact without injury Brian might have won easily.
When Brian first moved to Greeves in 1957 they were selling 500 machines in a year. Such was the impact of Stonebridge that in 1958 they sold 2,500 and by 1960 sales reached 10,500!
On the 21st of October 1959 Brian Stonebridge died in a road traffic accident. Brian was the passenger in Bert Greeves’s Austin on the way back from a trip to the Hepolite factory when the car was involved in a crash with a lorry. Brian died within two hours of the crash, but thankfully Bert Greeves recovered after spending over a week in hospital.
Such was the high esteem that other competitors and the general public held Stonebridge in, for the Brian Stonebridge memorial Scramble held at Hawkstone Park in 1960 a record 84,000 spectators attended.
Even with Stonebridge gone, his development work and influence was still apparent. For 1960 the European Motocross Championship was won by Dave Bickers on a Greeves and the feat was repeated in 1961. Greeves were a company that competed ‘well above their weight’ and won in the field of off-road motorcycle competitions, and much of their success is owed to the great riding and development skills of the great Brian Stonebridge.

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