16 July 2012

Book Review: The ride of his life

Mick Walker’s autobiography is a fascinating look at the world of motorcycling, through the eyes of an especially astute and articulate observer

“The Ride of My Life,” by Mick Walker
 264 pages, 600 photographs
Redline Books, £30.00, ISBN 978 0 9555278 2 1
www.redlinebooks.co.uk

The slogan “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt” could have been written for Mick Walker, because he was there and he did it, as his autobiography demonstrates. In the world of motorcycling Walker was a competitor, sponsor, dealer, importer, historian, consultant, journalist and author of more than 130 books on the sport. But knowing Mick, as I did, he would have been reluctant to wear the T-shirt owing to his general modesty and good manners.

In the current climate when 20-somethings write autobiographies about their five minutes of fame, it is ironic that a fatal illness persuaded Mick to give into the calls write his own. It was finally finished to his satisfaction the day before he died at age 69, although he never saw the published work.

It’s fitting that his last book was with Redline, which published some of his best work. This was probably the most difficult for him to write. His many books covering different motorcycle marques and his racer biographies are considered definitive works, but he was naturally self-effacing and not comfortable in the spotlight.

Unlike most prolific and knowledgeable authors, Mick was not a trained journalist, and all of his books were written in longhand. He started writing when his motorcycle business struggled in the early 1980s, and as a result he became known to a broader audience than  just the Ducatisti.

This well-designed, high-quality hardback charts Micks life in the same style as he used writing about other greats from the world of two wheels. Born in Wretton, Norfolk, Mick left Downham Market secondary school at 15 to join the RAF, where his motorcycle career really started. During his 10 years in the air force he raced various bikes, and later, when he found ‘civvy’ jobs frustrating, he turned his hobby into a business.

Mick started by selling motorcycle spares from a garden shed. But 10 years later, he was a major player in the industry as a dealer and an importer of the Ducati brand, with which he was always closely associated. When the bike business was hit by recession in the 1980s, Mick was offered the job of assistant editor of Motorcycle Enthusiast magazine, and he took it.

He then wrote his first book — on classic Ducati single-cylinder models — in the clear readable style of all his subsequent works. He became known for his accuracy, spanning subjects like post-war motorcycles, restoration guides, modern bikes, marque histories and biographies.

Despite his writing career, he still kept one hand on the throttle and set up his own race team, which he ran from 1995 to 2007, after the death of his son Gary in a racing accident at Brands Hatch in 1994. Among those helped by Mick was James Toseland, who went onto become a double world superbike champion.

Through this book, the reader can see that Mick lived his life to the full and it’s cleverly constructed so that you can dip in and out of the various different facets of his career, or just start at the front and let him lead you through.

However you do it, it is worth savoring. I re-read several chapters to try and understand what made him tick. The obvious conclusion is that motorcycles and a respect for everyone involved with them was coupled with general good manners and the love of his family. When he passed under the chequered flag for the final time, he really had had the ride of his life. All motorcyclists owe Mick Walker a debt for the history that he saw and recorded. This is my top book of the year.

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