100% Biker 195

100% Biker 195
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Last month we lost two men who, although it might not seem immediately apparent, had a wide ranging and lasting influence on the motorcycle scene. So please, pause a moment, for Geoff Duke and BB King.

On the face of it, Messrs Duke and King appear to have little in course (aside from their aristocratic surnames). But they were each working class boys who rose to the very top of their chosen fields and were known by all as gentlemen.

Even in the golden age of British motorsport, Geoff was a superstar, and the first motorcyclist to become a household name. Born the son of a baker in Lancashire in 1923, his first bike was a 1923 Raleigh. During the Second World War he served as a dispatch rider and when he was demobbed, continued what would become a lifelong association with motorcycles by joining BSA and then Norton, riding for the latter in the factory trials team. In 1950, he won his first TT (which would be followed by another five TT titles) and went on to win the 350cc World Champion in 1951 and 1952; he also won the 500cc title in 1951, and three times more, riding first for Norton and, from 1953, for Gilera.

With his quiff and good manners, Geoff Duke won not only races, but the hearts of the public. In an era when the newspapers began to paint an enduring pictures of motorcyclists as dangerous thugs, he was seen as a gentleman. And he was passionate about his sport; in 1956, he was banned for six months for leading a riders’ strike over privateers’ pay. At this time, he was one of the highest paid sportsmen in the country, but he was prepared to take a stand for his colleagues who struggled financially to race. In later years, he moved to the Isle of Man, where he made it considerably easier for bikers to visit the island, setting up the first roll-on, roll-off ferry service from Douglas to the mainland, while his son, Peter, was responsible for Duke Video, which has become the world’s largest distributor of motorcycle films and videos.

Riley B King was born two years later than Geoff Duke, and thousands of miles away in Mississippi. He would escape the sharecropping fields of the Deep South for Memphis, where he busked on the streets, worked as a radio DJ and played guitar in the Beale Street blues clubs (his nickname was a shortened version of ‘The Beale Street Blues Boy’). Although he didn’t start playing truly segregated gigs until the end of the 1960s, by then he had become a huge influence on the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton and countless others to this day. Without BB King, the live music scene which is such an integral part of the bike world would be a poorer and probably much different place.

Geoff Duke and BB King: we shall not see their like again.