A Thread of Cotton

Regular readers of my column when it appeared in the weekly press will know that I have a very soft spot for the South Western Centre Gazette, the local ACU magazine that is distributed on subscription to around 700 riders down in the UK’s South West (naturally!!)

In the February issue and completed in the March issue there was a lovely letter that formed part of a much larger article by Mike Naish about John Luckett, a North Devon based trials enthusiast who has been around the sport longer than most folks.I feel this letter deserves a much wider audience, hence the reason it’s published here. John is a contemporary of mine and we rode together many times when I lived in Devon

The letter (slightly shortened) to suit this column is from Cotton Motorcycles to John who was supported by them at the time on a 220 Minarelli engined Cotton, and was received following John’s decision to give up his sponsored ride.

“….it seems a great pity that you should want to go at this stage, just when your efforts on the 220 have attracted so much notice.

Many riders and dealers have commented on your performance in the British Experts and British Championship, even Gordon Farley mentioned your riding and how much you were achieving on the Cotton. He said that you have come to be associated strongly with Cotton, it would be a sad day if that association were to end.

By today’s post I have had a letter from our West Coast importer asking for your private address. Your trialing exploits on the Cotton have been creating a lot of interest out there and a few months ago he asked if it would be possible for you to go out to California during 1973 to take part in trials demonstrations, just as Rob Edwards has done. I didn’t say anything to you at the time, I am telling you now simply so that you will appreciate what an impact you have made as a factory rider on the Cotton.

There are two other points I should like to make. The first is a personal one……I value highly your efforts for Cotton, which means much to me personally to have you riding for us, and I should hate to see you leave.

But there is a second, more important point. You know what has been happening to the manufacturers of British trials bikes over the last couple of years. Dot, Sprite, Saracen and Greeves have all stopped production except for a handful of machines and in that time Cotton has increased its sales dramatically. We are now virtually the sole representatives of the British industry left at this time. You know how much effort we have put into development during the past two years or so…..this is a crucial stage for us and the British industry in general.

We are right on the point of making a substantial impact on the American market as well as continuing our growth in this country. The results achieved by you have played an important part in convincing people what the Cotton can achieve. To lose you at this important stage could have a big impact on the British industry…….you have only to look at the fact that four of the top British manufacturers have virtually disappeared in the space of two years to realise the truth of what I am saying.

The letter ends with a paragraph on the factory’s 50 year history and personal good wishes to John and his wife for Christmas and the New Year from Reg Buttery the Managing Director.

Now you are probably asking what this letter has to do with the current era. Well, to be honest, absolutely nothing. But first of all it is a most delightful letter for John to have received in the first place, and very, very few riders will have been priviliged to have received such a letter.

Secondly of course, the letter is sent with such enthusiasm and conviction that Cotton Motorcycles would survive and even thrive should John continue to ride for them. With the benefit of hindsight, such enthusiasm has proven to be totally misplaced, because at that time Bultaco, Montesa and Ossa trials bikes were common place and whilst they didn’t quite have a stranglehold on the trials market, their supremacy was obvious.

I well remember John riding the Minarelli Cotton, which was only a 220 when everybody else was on 250s, and he achieved some remarkable results, and when I spoke to John recently to ask his permission to use this letter, he told me that it was because the Cotton was comparatively uncompetitive he wished to move on.

John did move on and much of his later success was on Ossas, a bike that was less popular than the other Spanish marques and had a peculiar tendency to chuck riders over the front wheel on steep drops due to the steep fork angle they used compared to other bikes. However, because they were also slightly shorter, they also gripped very well in other situations. Swings and roundabouts I guess.

When John left Cotton, his supported ride was taken by Martin Strang, a rider of comparable ability, and I seem to recall that he did actually go out to America (apologies if my memory deserts me here) as their representative.

Eventually, despite the determination to succeed, Cotton joined the other makes that are mentioned above and very soon the Spanish Armada was totally dominant, just as European made machines have been for much of the intervening 34 years.