16 year old Alan Clews buys his first bike, a Douglas 90 Plus flat-twin
Alan purchased his very first bike, the Douglas 90 Plus flat-twin, back in 1950 for £21. He enjoyed riding on the road but his real motorcycling passion was only just getting going. Back then the village of Tottington didn't offer much in the way of entertainment, but one of the favourite past times of many was turning out to watch the motorcycle skills of Derek Brooks. Derek was a brilliant trials rider, and being only a few years older than Alan, it didn't take long for Clews to start having a go at those tricks on his Douglas.
Alan marries local lass Gail & Starts a family
Around the start of his racing career, young Alan still managed to have a life outside of work, and soon after meeting local lass Gail got married. He left his job with Steens and went to work with Gails family who ran newsagents around Bolton and a stall in Atherton's market. Together he and his new wife expanded the business and began a family. Raine was their first child, followed by Austin in 1964.
First Time Riding on the continent
Clews finished second at his first Continental race at Rheims. "The track was very slippery, and people were falling off all over the place" he says. "Then the French champion came up behind me, shouting at me. They'd do that to put you off and make you think there was something wrong with your bike, then he passed me". A few days late Gail and Austin drove to another meeting on the west coast where the conditions were very dry and dusty. Alan commented "the other riders dragged their feet to kick up dust so I couldn't see which way to go. By the time I finished the lap, the leader was behind me again". Still, second place in his first French race wasnt a bad beginning, especially when it brought £50 start money and £80 in prize money, complete with a large crate of champagne (drank before return, to avoid customs issues).
BSA struggles to survive & Clews Competition Machines is born
By the early 1970's BSA was on its last legs. Its trumpeted new road bike range for 1971 had been a total flop and the company was now in serious debt. Within a few years the giant Small Heath plant would be no more, and being desperate to save money, BSA announced the closure of its competition department. Recognising an opportunity, Clews immediately got on the phone to manager Brian Martin and the pair drove down to Small Heath. They returned with around a dozen frames and other motorcycle parts for the tidy sum of £750. Now Alan had the means to build a full batch of bikes, mostly for sale, but he always had the idea that he would keep at least one for himself. Still working full time in the family business, Clews realised he was going to need help building the first batch of seven motorcycles, and took on his first employee, Martin Hemingway. Martin was a civil engineering student that had a summer job working at one of the Clews' shops, and turning out to be very good at wheel building, Hemingway would become one of CCM's longest-serving employees.
Opening the first factory at Shiffnall street in Bolton
Alan and Gail sold one of their shops and rented out a two-storey factory on Shiffnall Street in Bolton. It wasn't in the most illustrious part of town (it was actually known for being in the red-light district), but the rent was a mere £11 a week. Martin Hemingway soon joined the pair, moving from shop work to the new factory, which was converted in the first few months of 1972. At the same time the company was registered as Clews Competition Machines, and the Clews Stroka name was eventually dropped. Clews maintains that he chose 'Machines' and not 'Motorcycles' in case they ever decided to build a different type of vehicle one day. Either way, he soon heard from an indignant Canadian bicycle maker named CCM. The Clews company became CCM Britain Ltd and everyone was happy.
The First Factory Racing Team
There were some revolutionary changes to the CCM motocrossers during 1973, most notably to the suspension. The forks (still very much based on B50 components) went up to 7.5 inches of movement thanks to another inch added to the dampener road. At the back, the Girling shocks now delivered 7 inches. In the same year Fred Stoneham started his own business as an ignition expert and he visited Shiffnall Street promising to make an electric egnition that would alleviate issues with ignition reliability. He delivered on his promise according to Clews' exact specifications and creating a much more reliable system. Other radical changes would have to wait since Clews was determined to run a factory team in motocross events. It was a brave and expensive move for such a young company, however would provide the perfect platform with which to demonstrate what these bikes were capable of.
Vic Eastwood Competes in Trans Am series in the United States
Vic Eastwood signs back up as a works rider and heads off to follow in the footsteps of of Bob Wright, competing in the Trans Am series in the United States. Partly funded by the factory, and their new U.S. importer Martin Horn, Vic unfortunately didn't get the race results they wanted. Regardless, the CCM bikes fired interest in the States, and Martin Horn came up with a order for 26 bikes, paid for in advance.
New Year, New Bikes
The new year started well with the racing a sporting show in London. The latest production CCM was closer than ever before to the works machines, and new forks were prominent among the changes. The standard 500cc engine was changed too. The short-stroke 88 x 82mm unit has served well but was prone to small-end wear when ridden hard. Clews' solution was to revert to the original B50 dimensions of 84 x 90mm, with a smaller, lighter piston. This also ensured the bike retained the same capacity, had a smoother mid-range and ultimately was more reliable. With further changes such as new suspension, modified frame, and a reworked engine, the 1975 CCM was radically different to the 1974 model, and orders to produce at least 170 bikes a year for two years were taken.
CCM Team Britain & Moving to Vale Street
1976 was off to a busy start, with Vic Allen (the man to beat the year before), approaching Clews and asking for a factory ride, although he did come with a high price tag. To pay for it, CCM Team Britain was formed. The idea was proposed by journalist Martin Christie who suggested that CCM, with proper sponsorship could mount a major campaign in national and international events. It says a lot about the company reputation when they attract such big names to sponsor them such as Castrol, Camel Cigarettes, and LPS Lubricants.
After the glory days of CCM Team Britain, and the presence of riders like Vic Allen and John Banks, the competition story was much quieter in 1979. Big John and Vic Eastwood left to develop other motocrossers, leaving Bob Wright as CCM's sole works rider. Jimmy Aird was still a supported rider, but the consistent Norman Barrow had moved to a Maico. It wasn't a great season for CCM and until the last British Championship round Wright's best place was a fourth. But it all came good at the final British Championship meeting, with Wright scoring third in the first leg. He led the second leg for five laps before he fell off and stalled, though he remounted and gained another third. He was eighth overall, but that didn't seem to matter to the CCM buying public and Wright's replica bikes sold very quickly.