Graham Watson follows his father’s tire tracks at the 2023 Helsington Scramble!
Back in 2021, we featured the unique Cheney / Triumph “Cantilever Cub” of Graham Watson. In the 1970s, Graham’s father wanted to build his (then) 12-year-old son a four-stroke British race bike to rival the foreign machinery quickly rising to motocross supremacy:
“In the back of my dad’s mind, he was still convinced he could build a British bike to compete with the growing input of Japanese and European bikes.” –Graham Watson
When the elder Watson picked up a frame for the project, he quickly realized it was one of the first three prototypes that Eric Cheney and his team designed and fabricated back in 1973.
“I then raced it for 1.5 seasons in the 125cc expert ACU class, finishing mid-field, annoying a few dads who’d bought their sons brand-new Japanese machines. After finishing in the schoolboys class, I did a couple of grass tracks and senior 250 meetings. Then drink and girls came along, then wife and kids, so the bike was covered up in the garage.”
Fast forward to 1994, and the Watsons were invited to the Westmorland Motor Club’s nostalgia meeting, and the Cheney came out of retirement — and stayed out!
“Over the last 27 years, we fitted a new gearbox, new rings, converted it to methanol, broken down a couple of times, spent far too much money on it, and probably used about 30 liters of polish.”
Currently, the bike has a 1964 Triumph Tiger Cub engine (199cc with a 9:1 piston), close-ratio gearbox, Greaves cush drive rear hub, Betor forks, an electronic ignition (STK-202 Electrex), 13mm carb (Amal 626 L301), and runs on methanol.
Unfortunately, Graham lost his father in 2020, but he still tries to get over to the UK from his home in Southern Spain for a couple of race meetings each year. Earlier this summer, Graham told us that he’d be headed back to the race the Cub for the first time since the we published the piece:
“Since the article was posted, I haven’t been able to compete on her due to injuries and costs to travel. However, on July 9th at the Westmorland Motor Club Classic Motorcycle Scramble at Helsington Kendal, I will be following my father’s tyre tracks 71 years later, as Dad raced at the very first meeting at Helsington back in 1952. Hopefully man and bike will do dad proud.”
Graham asked if we’d be interested in a photographs and a race report from the meeting, and we said, “Absolutely!” If you don’t know, Helsington is a very famous track that fell out of use for more than 50 years, but was brought back in 2022:
“Whilst the venue has been out of use for over half a century, it went into disuse due to the construction of the Kendal by-pass which forced the club to move their meetings to another venue at Foulshaw. Since then, meetings have been held at various venues, but it’s Helsington that remains the most famous of the venues the club has used, the first being back in the ‘forties. Many famous scrambling names raced the undulating track which featured a stream crossing…” –Northern Centre ACU
Below is Graham’s firsthand account of coming back from injuries to follow in his father’s footsteps on the Cheney Cub, along with some video coverage from Classic Dirt Bike TV — we’re sure Graham’s old man would be proud!
Helsington Scramble 2023: In the Racer’s Words…
My journey to the Helsington scramble 2023. The traveling was as expected: Nerja, Southern Spain, to Helsington, Kendal, Cumbria, UK ????.
The meeting was fantastic. Family and friends’ support was unbelievable and made my weekend. A very large thank you to all those who came to the scramble to support me ♥️♥️♥️.
Now for the racing (riding)…let’s get the excuses out first, lol. I should have left the bigger rear sprocket on; it was a little bit too high geared, but we know for next time. The chain snapped in the first race on the last lap. My race fitness level and race speed was ???? let’s say a little under par.
I hadn’t raced since 2019, and that was just once ????♂️ (The obvious dreaded virus was one reason, and I had a little mishap on my KTM in the Spanish mountains. I damaged my hip and broke four ribs in seven places. But I’m back and still riding both the KTM and the Cub.) Just goes to say you have to be bike-fit more than physically fit; unfortunately, I was neither, lol.
Thanks to the fantastic pit crew, especially Guy Sutton, who managed to locate a new chain and help fit it, and a well-known energy drink to help me. We managed to get the Cub ready for my second race, the Taylor Trophy Classic.
Full lineup: 500cc, 250cc, and me. I got a good start but the big bikes soon flew by. This was an 8+ lapper — I lost count, my bike fitness or lack of it started to kick in. As I’ve said, not competing since 2019 started to show; I was knackered but finished not last.
Out again for my third race. By this time the track was ripped up and you had to find new racing lines. I had a couple of moments ????, but finished the race in one piece. The little Cub had done me proud. Dad was definitely looking down on me ♥️.
I decided not to go out for my last race. My sensible head said: no, I was knackered, and had a long journey back home. I finished 11th in class and 17th in the combined, so I should have maybe done the last race; I could have made it into the top 10 (not that there were that many riders behind me lol). The pre-74 up to 250cc and over 250cc classes all went out together.
I had a fantastic day. It couldn’t have been better, just maybe my bike fitness and the chain snapping. To top the weekend off Chris Montignani of Classic Dirt Bike TV did a full article on the bike.
Back home now boring my friends with my weekend adventure. With maybe a little exaggeration ????. Massive thanks to the Westmorland Motor Club for a brilliant, well organised event — see you next year.???? Thanks again to everyone that supported me and helped to make it happen.
(On the plane home I foolishly started to add up the cost per lap won’t be publishing those figures lol.)
Cheers, Graham #514 Cheney Cub.