Classic archive: Long standing trick rider, 1952


It went on. “He tips the scales at over 14 stone. Until recently (unless secret practice has been the pleasure of his declining years) he had not ridden a motor cycle for two decades. But that he can still cut a pretty figure is evident from the accompanying illustration.”

The accompanying words went on to further explain that, now, Albert Milner was the sales manager for Watsonian sidecars. In his younger days he was a trick cyclist on stage, touring with the Olympian Troupe which appeared at music halls, before progressing to powered two-wheelers, competing in trials and, later, road racing. His successes included winning the 1920 Victory Cup Trial on a Levis, and also enjoying success at Brooklands, normally aboard 500cc Diamonds, while he also appeared in TTs, including riding for the works team in 1921. When he took over the injured Eric Williams’ model, he finished 24th despite never having ridden it before the start and the machine suffering a puncture at Creg-ny-Baa, which necessitated changing the tyre and tube at the pits. It was the only TT he finished; his two pre First World War appearances both ended in retirement, likewise his other three appearances postwar.

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In the 1912 feature Mr Milner was given something of a biography: “He commenced trick riding as a boy, when he often incurred his father’s anger by collecting crowds outside his place of business, and was deservedly corrected in the orthodox manner… Mr Milner’s first mount was a bone-shaker which once belonged to his father, his second a pneumatic-tyred safety. It was upon the latter that, stirred to emulation by some trick riding he saw on the stage, he set about practising for himself.”

It continued: “Mr Milner has been the possessor of 33 motorcycles, and he speaks very highly of his present mount, a 3½hp James, fitted with the Armstrong three-speed hub. This machine will fire steadily while Mr Milner… cuts figures of eight and circles while at the same time climbing over his machine. He has had one narrow escape of an accident. On this occasion he was trying to stand on his head, slipped, and caught his shoulder on the saddle. Just at that moment a runaway horse appeared and a collision was narrowly avoided…”

For his 1952 ‘comeback’ Mr Milner was on board a 122cc James Cadet. By the 1950s, the James company’s fortunes had changed from the pre First World War period of Mr Milner’s first association. In the Pioneer period, and into and through the 1920s, James (of Greet, Birmingham) was a company which prided itself on making the most of its motorcycles. The firm’s earlier machines were distinguishable by their unusual ‘Pineapple’ cylinder finning, with James also making a host of V-twins, particularly of 500cc, during the 1920s. Indeed, the firm even marketed a 500cc V-twin speedway racer on the cusp of the 1930s.

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But during the 1930s, James’ fortunes had declined and by decade’s end the firm was relying on proprietary Villiers engines. Post Second World War and the range was two-stroke only, often with nautical names (Cadet, Commodore, Captain etc.) with the firm now under the ownership and corporate umbrella of Associated Motor Cycles – by the 1950s James and ‘sister’ Francis-Barnett products were ever closer in detail, with James production eventually ending in 1966. But in 1952 James, like Mr Milner, was still able to do, to an extent, as it had in its glory days. bike

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