Rich dynasty on wheels

Trials riding is in the blood for Dougie Lampkin, risk taker and world beater
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The Independent Online

The closest Dougie Lampkin has come to fame was being touched up by Gary Lineker. When they struggle to guess the identify of Britain's most prolific world champion in the feel-the-celebrity spot on They Think It's All Over you know this is not someone who has stepped from between the pages of Hello! magazine. Famous he may not be - at least, not in this country - but rich? Well, that's another matter.

Lampkin lives mostly in the millionaire's retreat of the Isle of Man and he laughs and shakes his head unconvincingly when you suggest he might be a tax exile. "It's just convenient," he says. Convenient, that is, for what he does for his lucrative living. In the end it was the motorbike that gave it away on the quiz show, a snazzy, lightweight machine custom-built to bounce up hill and down dales, over sheer rock faces and stubby tree roots, and splash through muddy streams. The owner is the world's greatest exponent of the art of motor cycle trials riding, not the Isle of Man's road-racing TT version but the cross-country sport that captivates much of continental Europe and the United States but leaves the great British public cold, unless you happen to be an oil-soaked aficionado.

Yet, at just 24, Lampkin is internationally recognised as the outstanding trials rider not only of his generation but perhaps of all time. Seven times a world champion (four indoors and three outdoors, and currently leading in this season's competition of 10 two-day events which conclude in Andorra), he hails from a Yorkshire family that has produced a dynasty of top motorcyclists.

Young Dougie was pictured being dangled on dad's knee as a newborn babe when his father Martin was the world scrambling champion back in 1975, before that facet of the sport became moto-cross. "I suppose it all started with my uncle Arthur, really," says Lampkin. "He's the one they remember best because he was on Grandstand virtually every weekend. Then there was his younger brother Alan, who was better known as Sid. In fact, every male member of the family was involved at some time."

Nine in total, all but two of whom competed professionally, and now there are grandsons - and granddaughters - taking part in junior events. "It's just something that's in the family blood, I suppose," said Lampkin, who twisted his first throttle at nine. The Lampkin bond is a strong one, based at Silsden in the heartlands of West Yorkshire on the edge of Ilkley Moor where the terrain is perfect for practising the bucking-bronco style of riding that has filled the family farmhouse with trophies from all over the world.

Young Dougie is tall, dark and Heathcliffe-handsome, not short, slim and jockey-like as you would expect a trials rider to be. At 6ft 2in he is reckoned to be the biggest rider on the circuit. As the Harvey Smith of his sport, you might think he'd be a tad taciturn, but not a bit of it. He's outgoing, engaging and obviously enjoying his bachelor lifestyle on the Isle of Man, where he moved two years ago. He's bought a house there because, outside his family's immediate Yorkshire locality, he finds it almost impossible to find decent trials runs. "The Greens are stopping us riding where we want. On the islands you can go all over the place. No one minds. They're a different breed of people. They've been reared on motor bikes."

Not that Lampkin spends too much time there, either. Mostly he's traversing the continent in a huge mobile home which sleeps six. "A bit like a travelling circus." Martin, 49, acts as his manager, mentor and manager, never far from his son's side, whispering advice and checking tyres, suspension and engine. Lampkin Jnr runs his own three-man team, Radson Montesa. Last weekend he was in Milan, then Scotland and last night he was riding at an indoors event at La Coruña before a crowd of 14,000, and live on Spain's main TV channel. Indoors, at the big meets in Spain, France and in this country, Sheffield, there is five-figure prize money for conquering specially built hazards which make the Wall of Death seem like a kiddies' slide. Many are built in the form of the sponsor's products, like giant cigarette packets, washing machines or computers. Outdoors, the cash comes from sponsorship, and there's plenty of it, notably from Honda and other bike manufacturers, in a sport where it is a case of standing room only - off the machines and on.

Riders can't sit down because there's no saddle, just an elongated mudguard over the rear wheel and they daren't touch down. Points are awarded against you if you put a foot on the ground, stop, or fall off. The aim is to get a clear round, as in show jumping. A zero for the hero. And some of the obstacles are just as intimidating. Much more so when the rock face is sheer. It's a high-risk sport but Lampkin's only visible scar, over his right eye, stems, he says, "from a scrap with me kid brother when I wer a nipper".

He's not one for climbing on pedestals, or falling off bikes. He can be on his machine for up to five hours in a single event. "But I suppose it beats working for a living." Lampkin says he did "work" briefly, after he left school. "I did some labouring on the Knaresborough by-pass, seven in the morning till seven at night. I soon made up my mind I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life."

So he got on his bike, and that's where he's been ever since, part of a small but elite band of touring professionals, 20 or so in the world and half a dozen in this country, plus hundreds of part-timers and thousands of amateurs. Trials riding for fun is a bit of an in-thing thing among sporting celebrities, too.

He's never been in Hello! himself but, he says, he opened a copy the other day and there, third page in, was Eddie Irvine astride his trials bike. The rally driver Colin McRae has one, too. The sport may have slipped off the Beeb's screens from the days of Uncle Arthur (though it has become a mainstay of Eurosport) but it is doubling its number of participants annually, and the big breakthrough could come in Sydney where Lampkin and some of his fellow practitioners have been asked to demonstrate its skills to Olympic bigwigs for possible inclusion later as the Games' first motorised sport. Trials on trial.

"If we can get it in, it would be a right kick-start forward," says Lampkin. He's young enough to have a decade of riding ahead of him, so who knows how many more world championships, or Olympic medals, that might bring. It's not all over yet, not by a long way, Gary.

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