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Obituary: Derek Rickman – British motocross icon who founded Metisse

DEREK Rickman, an iconic figure in British motorcycling who founded the world renowned Metisse firm in New Milton, has died aged 88.

A consummate biking enthusiast, the Walkford resident was a champion motocross racer who developed trailblazing machines under the Rickman Metisse banner with brother Don.

Their bikes were so desired that legendary Hollywood actor Steve McQueen became one of their customers.

Derek and Don were champion motocross racers in their heyday
Derek and Don were champion motocross racers in their heyday

The Rickmans' love for bikes come from their father, a speedway racer in the 1930s who started the Ashley Garage. He bought a 350cc BSA bike for off-road racing but died before he could use it and the brothers persuaded their mother to keep it.

When old enough they began competing in motocross, sold the garage, and in 1960 used the proceeds to build a motorcycle shop and workshop in Gore Road and established Metisse – French for female Mongrel.

Frustrated at the standard of the motocross machines, Don and Derek set about designing their own frame, developing one 30-40 pounds lighter than the existing BSA bikes.

They used a Reynolds high quality tube for the frame and put oil in it – meaning no oil tank was needed. That and other enhancements helped them make a splash on the motocross scene in the early 1960s, with Derek winning the Motorcross des Nations five times with the British team and the 750cc Coupe d'europe series in 1966.

Soon they branched out into developing touring bikes – selling one to Isle of Man TT legend and multi-world champion Giacomo Agostini.

In the mid-60s movie star Steve McQueen was pointed to them by his stunt driver Bud Edkins, who did the famous bike wire leap in The Great Escape film and was the Rickman’s importer in California.

In an interview with the A&T, Derek later revealed how the star bought a Metisse in battleship grey after journeying to the New Forest and testing the bike around the streets of New Milton.

Derek (left) and Don Rickman with a replica version of the Metisse bike they sold to actor Steve McQueen
Derek (left) and Don Rickman with a replica version of the Metisse bike they sold to actor Steve McQueen

Derek and Don moved Metisse to a bigger factory in Stem Lane in 1969 after being approached by the American section of the BSA company to make 4,000 250cc and 125cc bikes a year.

Once they both retired from riding the Rickmans developed frames for Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki engines, motorcycle accessories and BMX bikes and branched out with a small four-wheel-drive Range Rover style vehicle – the Rickman Ranger – and a Metisse sports car.

Their success saw them win a Queen's Award for Industry in 1974.

After the British motorcycle industry went bust in the 1970s the Rickmans were the only motorcycle producer in England. At its height their factory employed around 130 people and they produced over 16,000 units.

In 1984 they passed the off-road business onto Rickman enthusiasts Adrian Moss and Pat French. More recently it was sold to Gerry Lisi and today still trades under the Metisse name today in Oxfordshire.

Derek and Don were both awarded a place in the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation's hall of fame in 2007 and Metisse’s 50th anniversary was honoured with a special show at the Goodwood Revival.

His wife, Eileen, and family said: "We will miss Derek very much for his guiding influence, his dry sense of humour and the mantra by which he lived: 'If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well'."

His funeral will take place on at 12.30 on 26th July at Hinton Park Woodland Burial Ground.

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