At the ripe old age of 41, a full 15 years since he won his 12th and final FIM Trial World Championship, Dougie Lampkin is still winning hearts and minds plus the odd major event – and he’s showing no signs of stopping…
Dougie Lampkin MBE has no mementoes from his glittering career on display in his family home – the only clue is an immaculate 1957 Norton 500T that occupies a corner of what he jokingly refers to as his ‘posh’ room. I’ve been privileged to visit a few top riders in their homes and without exception there is always at the very least an indication of their occupation – the odd helmet here and there, maybe a framed FIM certificate or even a separate trophy room. It’s perfectly natural to want to commemorate your achievements but Dougie is resolute.
“I’ve got a motorcycle in my posh room – which my wife absolutely loves as you can imagine – but if you walked into my home you’d have absolutely no idea of what I do,” he says. “There’s not a picture, not a single trophy. I have a couple of photos of my dad and a few of myself in my office and apart from that if Through the Keyhole came no-one would have a clue. “I have a great family. I don’t need to walk around and see my world championship-winning bike sat in my front room. In fact, I’m quite glad to get away from it. I certainly don’t take my work home with me.
“In my first house in the Isle of Man I had a trophy on the mantelpiece. It stayed there for a few weeks and then I put it in the garage. I think there are two [versions] of me and the family man is nothing to do with riding bikes. I have to switch off from bikes and I always have done – if someone wants to phone me at seven at night and talk about bikes they can forget it.”
This desire to separate his twin roles as global trials superstar and devoted family man could possibly be the key to his incredible longevity. I’m no psychologist but I’ve been around the block enough times to see the long-term effects of the relentless pursuit of a sport. Sure, if you’ve got a day job to go to then all well and good but when your lifestyle is also your living it can be very different.
And for his whole life he has been intrinsically linked to the sport – initially through his famous family connection and later through his incredible achievements – but at 41 the 12-time FIM Trial World Champion and father of two is showing no sign of burnout.
Instead, he’s still firmly in the media spotlight through a regular series of innovative Red Bull flicks and his role as a development rider and UK importer for the Vertigo factory. He’s also still racking up the wins and last year did the double, taking his 11th SSDT – with the loss of just one mark – and fifth Scott Trial victories.
“Red Bull have been massive for me. I’m going into my 19th year [as a Red Bull athlete] and already we’re starting to talk about projects in 2019 so the longevity is still there and I would credit Red Bull with so much of that.
“They’ve given me opportunities to ride in odd locations and go to countries that I never visited with trials to make a video or do a photoshoot. It’s absolutely brilliant. I’m a lucky boy – there’s no two ways about it – but I do think that I’ve put a hell of a lot of effort in along the way.”
Coming from a pragmatic Yorkshireman like Dougie, ‘hell of a lot’ is a huge understatement. He’s obviously naturally gifted – his late father Martin was the inaugural world champion back in 1975, cousin John was also a world title contender in the early ’80s and uncles Arthur and Sid have both won the Scott and the SSDT so it runs in the family – but during his glory years from 1997 to 2003 when he won seven consecutive outdoor titles and five indoor crowns his work ethic was unparalleled.
“I’ve always worked hard. People say you only get out what you put in. I think there were times I could’ve put a little bit more in when even I thought I was giving 110 per cent but in reality I don’t think you ever are. It’s about how far you can push yourself and through those early years I pushed myself really hard.” Despite the weight of the Lampkin lineage on his broad shoulders, Dougie says he was entirely self-motivated with little or no pressure coming from his family.
“It was for myself. It’s only ever been about myself. It wasn’t because I was riding for someone else or because my dad was world champion or because my family name’s Lampkin. It was more. People say they hate losing – it was always much more than that for me. I knew that if I was the best then people couldn’t beat me and that’s what I pushed towards.
“I genuinely don’t think there was any pressure from anyone else. Dad stopped riding, they then bought the pub. We were young – that’s when we started to ride our club trials but my dad was busy golfing, he had the darts team at the pub, the doms team. Mum would take us to the trials when she could or a friend would. It wasn’t like everything was being loaded up and we were being dragged off – we were asking to go to the trials.
“Dad was absolutely not a schoolboy dad. He loved it when we got to a national that had a bit of a lap to it because it meant the parents couldn’t chase round.”
Naturally, he was introduced to bikes at an early age although Dougie was a relatively late starter when it came to competing.
“I had my first competition when I was nine but I started riding when I was about three. When my mum was pregnant with me, dad was riding for Bultaco and my mum got gifted a Bultaco Chispa which was a bit big for me at that age so I actually teethed on the seat of that but my first bike to ride was a little Italjet 50 Bambino.
“I rode my first trial on a Whitehawk 80 behind mum and dad’s pub, The Miners Arms at Greenhow. It was the first trial for myself, my brother Harry, my cousins Dan and Ben Hemingway and Malcolm Rathmell’s son Martin. I won on three!
“We always had to clean and mechanic our own bikes and when we’d taken a lot of stuff off and couldn’t put it back together dad would come and help us but that’s how you learned to do it. It wasn’t handed out. But it’s never been about being pushed to ride anything and I simply think that doesn’t work at all. It was just down to me really and that turning point at 14, 15, 16 when I was thinking that I’d quite like to be a trials rider.
“Previously to that I’d played a lot of golf as well and I remember dad saying to me – I must have been about 12 – ‘you’ll have to decide which one you’re doing, it’s either golf or bikes’ and the bikes took over.”
Throughout his youth career he played second fiddle to Graham Jarvis. The current king of extreme enduros is a year older than Dougie – more often than not a big advantage at an early age – and he had to wait until they were both involved in adult competition before gaining the upper hand.
“It was all about Graham. I never beat him in the schoolboys. I never beat him in nationals, I never beat him in Junior Kickstart – I had to wait until he cleared off into the adults. Literally, as soon as he went out I won the A Class British title.
“We then went to the first round [of the European championship] in Belgium in ’93. I’d trained pretty hard for it and ended up finishing sixth in the first round so we decided to go to the next one and I ended up being European champion. It all sort of happened in ’92 and the beginning of ’93 – I made a big step forward with putting more effort in and more training and passed Graham then.”
Dougie won two rounds on his way to the 1993 European title and the same year also made his full world championship debut. After an inauspicious start – he was 24th at the opening round in Luxembourg on a total of 120 marks, 106 behind winner Marc Colomer – he finally picked up a point in Andorra at round seven with 15th and then scored two more a fortnight later in Spain.
After missing events in Sweden and Finland he returned for the final round at Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire where he broke the top 10 for the first time.
Throughout the season Dougie had been watching Spanish great Jordi Tarres who was on his way to his fifth world crown and it’s fair to say he liked what he saw.
“I absolutely looked up to Jordi. What Jordi did for our sport – you didn’t realise then but it was massive and that was just the beginning really. In ’93 he had a big truck – I travelled in a van with Graham Jarvis and a friend and we sort of threw everything out when we got there and jumped on our bikes. There was Jordi in his fancy motorhome and there was another truck from the Gas Gas factory at that time and he had mechanics in there.
“He stepped off his bike and everyone did everything. I used to look up into the truck and watch everything and think ‘he doesn’t even have to wash his own bike, that is ace – I’m having a bit of that sometime’!
“I do think back about things like that sometimes. It was definitely a motivating factor. He’d get to a section and someone would hold his bike! How cool is that? He’d probably never touched a tyre pressure gauge for 10 years. Brilliant!”
Dougie turned pro towards the end of the year but only after Martin had made sure he’d taught his son some valuable life lessons.
“In ’93 while I was still doing my exams my dad had a newspaper shop in Silsden and there was a man in there who had workers on the Knaresborough Bypass who was complaining that some hadn’t turned up. So dad put myself forward and at a quarter to seven the following morning I was picked up at the paper shop and taken to work.
“We were doing the kerbing – a nice little lightweight job! That was from half seven to half six or something like that, five-and-a-half days a week for £3 an hour. I earned £2,700 to throw into the pot to go to the trials. I was working a little bit too hard really – I was absolutely destroyed.
“Another friend was a roofer so I left and did a bit of roofing but one day my dad saw how high up I was doing a flat roof in Ilkley and decided that he didn’t quite like it anymore so I got taken off that job and fitted a few plastic windows instead.
“Looking back it was absolutely the right thing to do – at the time I thought it was slavery but it was to learn the value of a pound as dad put it and you quickly realise that if you can make a few quid doing something easy you should probably have a go at it.”
Dougie didn’t have long to wait for his next major milestone. After picking up eighth at the opening round of the 1994 championship in Ireland, he headed to Hoghton Tower in Lancashire where he scored a sensational six-mark victory over Colomer.
“I remember the whole day. It was a bit of a strange one because there were a lot of hillclimbs and off-cambers and it was quite soft with a lot of ruts. I remember flying through these ruts like I could walk on water – my balance was fine and I was absolutely cruising everywhere. It was amazing, I absolutely loved it. I didn’t think I was that close but someone – who probably shouldn’t have – told me and then I fived the last section and thought I’d blown it.
“I just had one of those days when everything clicked and probably others didn’t get on that well with the terrain. Jordi had an absolute nightmare for example. My first world round win bolted out sooner than anyone expected.”
Although he’d tasted victory at the highest level, Dougie still hadn’t developed the mindset of a champion and wouldn’t beat Tarres at a world round for another year.
“I was still looking up to Jordi as being an absolute legend. I didn’t think I could ever get anywhere near him. I was putting in massive amounts of effort but I would have been dreaming if I thought I could just waltz in and start beating everybody.
“After that year I started getting quite a bit better bikes and spent more time practising in Spain and learning the job a little bit more. I rode for Beta Spain quite a bit and did a couple of Spanish championships, staying in one of the owner’s apartments, mainly with dad. We were having a proper go at it and that’s when the difference came.”
Finishing sixth in ’94 with further podiums in France and Italy, Dougie advanced to fourth in the standings the following year but he had to wait until 1996 for his next victories when he took back-to-back wins at Hawkstone Park and then Red Hall in Ireland.
After a second-placed finish at the following round in the USA he found himself leading the championship before Colomer came on strong with a run of three wins that helped carry him to a 17-point championship victory over Dougie.
Then came that momentous 1997 championship when, with the format changing to two-day events, Dougie claimed 13 wins from a possible 19 to end the season 53 points clear of Colomer.
“I think the first world title will always stand out. While I’d always dreamed of it, dreaming is just dreaming but then during ’96 I led the championship for a couple of weeks after America. I wouldn’t say that was a little bit of a surprise but I don’t think I was prepared to win the championship then.
“I do think it gave me a kick up the backside to put a fair bit more effort in. I could just sort of touch Colomer then and I wanted to stand on him a bit. I was mad with myself and I think that helped to get me more prepared. So ’97 was massive for me. Dreams come true and at the time my dream was to be world champion, not a multi-time world champion. Then, when you get there, there’s only one place to go – the big slide down which is inevitable at some stage so you’ve just got to hold on.”
Despite what Dougie says, his star continued to rise and in 1998 he won 15 out of 18 rounds – finishing second on the other three occasions – to crush Colomer and win by 87 points. The following year his record was 18 wins from 20 rounds with his margin of victory – this time over Takahisa Fujinami – a whopping 115 points.
“I think ’98 and ’99 I was cruising. There was a fairly big gap really but I was training massively, just trying to make the gap bigger. I wasn’t thinking about someone beating me – even if I rode pretty average I wanted to be winning.”
Up until then Dougie had been riding for Beta – imported into the UK by his cousin John – but after finally breaking Gas Gas’ stranglehold with Colomer in ’96 through its European subsidiary Montesa, the mighty HRC wanted the crown back.
“All the [Beta] team was great and then the big fax came through from Honda so I did a test in August back in England. Moving to them was a big, big thing and to win the championship straight away with them I think was massive.
“Obviously I knew the deal was going to be great. I was on a good deal at Beta – I was very happy there – but also I’d won for three years and dad was saying it was another motivation to ride on something else. But the bike wasn’t good, it was as simple as that. It needed work. You can’t say it was crap or anything like that but to win that championship for Honda was massive.”
The switch of machinery didn’t do Dougie any harm and he ended the season 85 points clear with 17 out of a possible 20 wins and in 2001 he made it five consecutive world crowns, although this time around he wasn’t as dominant with 11 wins from 18 starts. He still took the title by 73 points but in 2002, after finishing runner-up every year since 1999, Fujinami had reduced the deficit to 32 points.
Dougie’s final world crown came in 2003 when he defeated his Japanese rival by 18 points to make it seven championships in a row before Fujinami finally beat him to the title in 2004.
“My last championship went down to the last round but I only had to finish in the top seven or eight so it wasn’t like who wins, wins – but the last few races of that year took it out of me. When I saw how upset Fuji was at the end, looking back he decided he wasn’t going to be second the following year! I think he stepped his game up and, to be fair, he had a massive first half of the season and took the title off me.”
It was a close-run thing – Fujinami won by 16 points after Dougie staged a strong finish to the season – but there was a new project under way at Honda that would impact on both riders’ hopes of further titles.
“I was so mad when I lost to Fuji that I thought I could snatch him back because he’d had a right flurry in sort of the beginning to middle but towards the end of the season I just walked all over him. So everything was great and then our Japanese friends brought the four-stroke Honda over and that pretty much signed and sealed both of us for the following year.”
It was obvious from the get-go that the four-stroke was going to require a lot of work to make it competitive.
“The first time we tested it towards the end of ’04 we were in trouble. I remember Fuji shedding tears at the end of that first test – I think he realised that if it stayed like that we weren’t winning. That was top and bottom of it really. The effort we put in for the first six months of the first year with the four-stroke was absolute madness. HRC were going backwards and forwards [from Japan] with engines as hand-luggage – we literally tested every day.
“We were flying home from indoor trials on a Sunday morning and going straight out riding and parts were coming every week from Japan. I won the first round [in 2005] which wasn’t down to anyone else apart from me. Simple as that really. The second round the bike stopped on section two and it took us about an hour-and-a-half to get it going and I never looked at a section for the rest of the trial and finished fifth or sixth and the rest of the season seemed to feel like that.
“It wasn’t anybody’s fault – the effort that went in was far beyond what you could expect from any factory or any individual mechanic – but it just wasn’t there to be. We didn’t have the goods coupled with Adam Raga absolutely flying at that moment.
“I think if we’d stayed on a two-stroke one of us would’ve won. Both of us lost so much ground when we stepped on that bike, mentally and in reality of the machinery.”
Dougie still finished third that year with three wins but he slipped to fourth in 2006 and for 2007 the final nail was hammered into the coffin…
“The first sort of 12 to 18 months, together with our test rider Amos Bilbao, I learned so much and we made a fantastic bike. The factory Honda is an absolutely amazing bike and then just as me and Fuji had got it to its sort of pinnacle somebody signed Toni Bou onto our team!
“I remember him coming to the test and he just rode my spare bike and me and Fuji were looking at each other going ‘crikey, he’s pretty handy’! We already knew he was handy – we saw him when he was 16 riding our sections and we were like ‘don’t like him much’!”
The rest is history. In 2007 Bou began his run of world titles which continues to this day while Dougie slipped down the rankings before his last full season in 2010 when he finished seventh.
“What ruins you when you’re riding and what makes you drop off is when you have to go training again on a Monday because you’ve had enough. Then you sort of start thinking that you’re making the numbers up a little bit and then you don’t want to go practising and you’re thinking ‘why’s he better?’ because my level was still going up but it wasn’t going up fast enough by a long way.
“I was riding well but they were riding much better and I couldn’t compete anymore. I wasn’t doing as much training and wasn’t living the dream as much.”
Not many champions go out at the top. The competitive drive needed to win in the first place makes sure of that but his 12 world titles, 99 outdoor wins, 36 indoor wins and four Trial des Nations victories coupled with the honourable way he’s always conducted himself have left Dougie with few, if any, regrets.
“There’s not much I’d change about where I rode and what I rode. Sponsorship wise I don’t think I really sickened anybody off too much along the way. Obviously, I left people for other people for deals but that’s life – my hobby turned into a job. I’ve had a few people that didn’t pay me but that’s the way of the world.
“And I still love riding my motorbike but now if I don’t ride it for a week or two that’s great. I still love doing the testing, I love getting prepared for events like the Scottish or the Scott or a few of the classic ones abroad that I try and do every year.
“The one thing I miss is race day, literally from waking up in the morning to actually when you set off with your punch card. After that I’m not bothered about riding the sections but there’s no substitute for that preparation bit, mentally getting myself ready.
“People do have a lot of problems with nerves and everyone gets nervous but you have to just turn that into a positive. I loved that moment of not being able to eat your breakfast and everybody panicking and dancing around you trying to get stuff ready. I always had my little team and we always had our little way of doing things. That regimented regime, I’ll always miss that. That part’s forever missing.”