Down and dirty with Guppy
It's wonderful to have a passion that sustains you from your teenage years through to middle age.
It's wonderful to have a passion that sustains you from your teenage years through to middle age. Adie Copping's is noisy and dirty. Steven Russell breathes in the dust . . .
THE bug bit Adie Copping during an art lesson. Two classmates were jabbering on about Montesas, Bultacos and Ossas. It sounded a bit double-Dutch, but also exotic. “What were they going on about?” he wondered. “With my curiosity aroused by these peculiar names, I sat for a moment watching Vince cutting up an old Motor Cycle News, removing photos and the like for his artwork, before I leant over and took hold of another MCN to peruse for myself. I was instantly drawn into this totally different world of men and machines that I hadn't seen before. All the many forms of racing, ranging from scrambling, speedway, trials, road racing and grass-tracking, with photos of the spills and flying mud - it was great!”
Life would never be the same again.
Inevitably, he got himself a motorbike and started scrambling. (It's called motocross these days.) He didn't become a star, but he had a wonderful time, made some great friends, and laid down some terrific memories. And he hasn't finished yet.
Adie rode a couple of enduros in 2001 - longer runs - and admits “I'm thinking about having a little spin now . . .” He's restoring a 1980 KTM motorbike, thwarted a bit by difficulties getting hold of the right parts, and will take that for a spin once it fires up in earnest.
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The bug never leaves you, then?
“No,” he laughs. “You get the urge to get out there with the lads. A lot of old friends are still racing. There are some blokes still riding in their 70s - and pretty quick, too! It's in their blood and they just love it.”
What's the appeal? What makes him want to pull on helmet and gloves and blip the throttle?
“There's nothing like it, really - to be in control of that machine and make it do what you want it to do. When you're beginning, the bike is in control of you, really, 'cos you're learning. But once you master the machine, to rip round corners and fly off jumps, even now, is still a great feeling.”
Adie's self-published a book covering the spell from that art-lesson revelation to the day of his first scramble at Blaxhall, near Wickham Market. He acknowledges that in places it might be a bit rough and ready in the grammar and proof-reading departments - he's “an ol' Suff'cl boy”, he pleads in defence - but it captures the colour and spirit of an age when innocent fun could be had perhaps more easily than today.
It's an account of how an ordinary boy without a family background in motorbikes - a quiet, skinny lad with a passion for sitting patiently beside some tranquil water, hoping to catch that elusive Big One with rod and hook - found his heart captured by a rough, noisy, dangerous and adrenalin-pumped sport.
Adie was born in Ipswich in the early autumn of 1958. His mum was a country girl-cum-housewife and dad a country boy-cum-carpenter.
He was brought up in Stowmarket on bird-watching, nature and football on the local green. “From seven years old onwards I went with my Dad here, there and everywhere, watching birds,” he remembers.
By 13 or 14 he was a lad who shied from confrontation, scrapping and rugby. Instead, he was a fishing nutcase. Of course, a joker at school took the mickey and was wont to shout “Here come Guppy. Have you been fed yet?” And, of course, the nickname stuck. Guppy Copping it was.
Then came that moment of enlightenment in art class.
After Adie had devoured that copy of Motor Cycle News, friend Skrunt plucked a leaflet from his back pocket. It showed the range of Italian-made Malaguti mopeds and he pointed to a bright yellow trail-bike version he reckoned he was having when he left school. It looked great. “From then on, this motorbike world had pulled me in just like a fish on a line - only without the struggle!”
Another guy, Vince, had a Bantam 175 track bike he rode on rough ground near the station. Adie and Skrunt arranged to go and have a look - and Adie promptly burned his hand by touching the exhaust pipe!
It wasn't long before quite a few lads were getting old bikes on which to mess about. They used an empty plot of land opposite the ICI works at Combs Ford, haring around until they figured the cylinder was getting too hot. The spit test showed if the engine needed a rest: if saliva fizzed and started evaporating, it was time for a break.
A bloke called Ash would frequently offer Adie a go on his NSU, but courage deserted him. Then he took up the offer of a spin on a Bantam - reaching 8-10mph while crouched like a downhill skier. His mates laughed their heads off.
Eventually he found the confidence to go faster and was soon banging in laps of the home-made track. Motorcycling was in his blood and he wanted more.
Adie's mum was very anti-motorbikes, but dad got a job as caretaker at Combs Middle School and they moved into a bungalow in the grounds. It happened to be only yards from the edge of the “Top Field” where the teenagers honed their skills. Mum, closer to the action, was gradually won over, albeit reluctantly.
Her son's first motorbike came courtesy of Granddad, who had an old James 100 (probably) in his shed and made a gift of it. Adie pushed his new treasure the four miles home.
Only one problem: it was missing the carburettor slide assembly and parts were 20 years past their sell-by date. So that came and went quite quickly, as did a Raleigh Runabout.
Then, at Easter 1975, he left school and got a job at Stowmarket's lawnmower factory. It wasn't long before he put down a deposit on a bike, and in May took delivery of new Puch 50 Sport, costing �185. It was a deep metallic blue with three-speed, foot-operated, gear-changing. Top speed was 48mph.
“Seems funny to think that in those days we could go straight onto the road with no experience or tuition at all - pure madness!” he muses. In fact, on his first day out, he was ticked off by a policewoman for giving the wrong hand-signal! That didn't stop him and his mates spending hours riding around town or on the back roads.
When he'd got the cash, Adie went to Dave Bickers Motorcycles in Ipswich and bought a �330 Suzuki TS 125, the Puch going in part-exchange. Three lads had a race one day in the lower field and Adie discovered his competitive streak.
Then a friend's dad took them to a scramble meeting at Blaxhall pits.
Adie got his first real glimpse . . . “the next minute was to be a magical moment as I watched a bevy of gladiators on bikes pass by, making so much noise and ripping up the dirt as they accelerated away to my left. It was simply brilliant . . .”
By the spring of 1977 he just knew he had to get his first proper scramble bike and found a second-hand CZ 250 advertised in the EADT for �250. Friend Harry also got a CZ, and they extended the Top Field circuit to make it more challenging.
It was a noisy place at evenings and weekends, but there were never official warnings from the police. However, one sprightly pensioner politely but sternly said he didn't want to spoil their fun, but it simply couldn't go on like this. He came back another day with an official carrying with a decibel meter. Luckily, the noise came within the limits when measured from the man's house.
“We couldn't help ourselves from laughing at it all at the time, but now that I'm older I realise that it must have been pretty frustrating for the old boy,” Adie reflects. “If I had been in that same situation, I think I would have done my nut as well; after all, in reality, droning MX bikes in the distance and relaxing summer evenings in the garden just don't go well together at all.”
Meanwhile, some of the lads were talking about events they wanted to enter. There was a scramble coming up at Blaxhall pits in July, for instance. So it was that Adie was lined up for his first competitive ride - thanks to a lift involving someone else's car and trailer.
On the Monday he went to Stowmarket Motorcycle Club's meeting at the Railway Tavern and by the end of the evening was a fully-paid-up member, with an application form for a motocross licence ready to be posted.
The next couple of weeks saw trips to Dave Bickers's shop in Ipswich to buy essential wear: an approved race shirt, an open-faced Stadium helmet, a chin and mouth protector, a pair of Carrera goggles, gloves, body-belt, knee-high boots. Then a letter came: his entry had been accepted and his race number was 178.
It triggered a moment of panic. “Once I had got over the initial shock of it all and got my head thinking straight, I was dead keen again and couldn't wait for that day to arrive.”
Race day was July 10, 1977. He was a couple of months shy of his 19th birthday, stood 6ft 3ins tall (and would eventually grow another inch) and at 10 stone had the build of a stick insect.
That morning, he had difficulty downing his bowl of Frosties.
When his transport arrived, he felt like a seven-year-old being taken out for the day by granddad and grandma . . . “as soon as we reached the entrance to the circuit another big surge of butterflies ran through my body, with the slight feeling of nausea”.
His first race is so dusty that he can't see much and probably goes too fast for the conditions. For most of the race he doesn't overtake anyone, but isn't overtaken himself, either - “relieved for making the full three laps without coming to grief”. His mates said he'd come 12th - great for a novice.
Adie's 10th in his second heat, and 14th in the Allcomers race, “to cap a very memorable first-ever race-day. The results may not have been outstanding, but for a long streak of nothing that I was, I think I had done rather well for a first-timer”.
Chatter on the journey home dissected the day's events - the group on a high despite hair stringy with sweat and dust.
Some good times lay ahead. In 1978 and 1981, for instance, he and some mates went to the Cornish scrambles week. “That was really good. I met a lot of new faces and a real good bunch of people.”
Adie tells eaman: “I never made expert status in scrambling, only in enduros. I had numerous thirds and fourths, which wasn't enough to get me to the top of the ladder. I think I had found my limit . . .
“While scrambling, I won my first race at Marks Tey in 1979 and won my last at Wakes Colne in 1985. I may have won only half a dozen races out of hundreds, but I'm proud to say 'I've been a winner!'”
Scrambled Guppy: Angler to Scrambler, Who Would Have Thought It! costs �7.95 and can be ordered from 66 Edgecomb Road, Stowmarket, IP14 2DW (sum includes postage). It can also be bought from Stowmarket Bookshop, Needham Market Post Office and Combs Ford newsagents.
ADIE Copping's book ends with his first outing. So, what happened next?
“I did scrambling right up to 1982, but at the end of 1982 I got into enduro - the cross-country stuff, when you're on the bike a lot longer,” explains Adie, who lives in Stowmarket and works in Bury St Edmunds for a photographic equipment and supplies company.
“Through 1983 I was in the East Anglian enduro championship. At the end of the year I finished runner-up, so I moved into the expert class then.” He raced enduro into 1986.
Adie married in 1988. Lynn had never seen him riding a motorbike in anger, “so I bought one and had a go in a few scrambles in '89 and '90, just so the wife could see me in action”.
What did she think?
“I suppose she was a bit shocked, to think that a tall, skinny bloke like me used to do this thing!” In a race at Wattisfield he led for a lap and a half. “She was well shocked then!
“I had another go in '95 and did the over-25 championship. I suppose there were about 40-odd riders and I finished about midway in the championship, having missed a few rounds. So I didn't do too bad.
Then I had a break again until 2000, when I did a couple of enduros . . . 2001 a couple of enduros . . . and I'm thinking about having a little spin again this year.”
He hopes to ride that bike he's restoring. (If anyone knows where to lay his hands on engine parts for a 1980 420 KTM, he'd be grateful to hear. Email suggestions to email@example.com and we'll pass them on.)
“I can't say I've ever broken a bone in my body, though I've had some mighty prangs. Lots of friends have damaged their collarbones or broken a wrist or something. I suppose I've always erred on the side of being careful; but, then again, you've just got to land lucky when you somersault over the handlebars!”
What do his children think?
“My son Brad is 16, but he's really into computers. My daughter is 13 - Amy - and she's quite keen. I've got a little bike I'm doing up in the shed for her, to teach the basics. Whether she'll want to go beyond that I don't know. There are quite a few women doing it now.”