Like all bike lifers, there was a moment in my childhood when the stars aligned, the imagination was sparked and the dream of wheels entered my life. Something beyond the ‘saw kids’ bike, rode kids’ bike, flew,’ feeling that came a few years earlier, I’m talking about a cycling revelation, a ‘through the looking glass’ moment in which a whole galaxy of shiny metal wonder was presented to me. I have a feeling we’ve all been there, which is why we’re all here now.
I have my dad to thank for all of this. He passed away in May 2022 just as the Spring was breaking into Summer. It was a hard time, but also a time of reflection and memories, and in the months that followed I thought a lot about my childhood and my dad’s place in it. Old photos were found and shared with family, and although he was gone there was actually great happiness to be found in the memories, a bookend to a life well lived. A couple of photos resurfaced that I remembered vividly from my childhood – one of my dad and his mates racing on a makeshift Speedway track, and another, taken in the early 1950s, of him on his Tracker bike. I distinctly recall how excited he was to show me those pics and talk about his exploits scrambling in the woods with his buddies. There were only two photos, but they never left my consciounce in all the years between then and now.
Massive reverse into deep childhood and I’d just grown out of my 20″ wheeled kids bike. In fact, I grew out of it an age before but the seatpost was long enough that I had to keep on riding it. I rode the damn thing every day, skidding holes into the whitewall tyres until they blew. Cycling was already in my blood. But anyway, this was when my old man suggested I get a Tracker. A what? A Tracker! And this was when the photos came out and he told me all about the bikes they used to ride when he was a kid, variously known as Trackers, Dirt Trackers and Scramblers. Kinked top tubes with a saddle that pointed down to the rear wheel, knobby tyres, cowhorn handlebars and fork braces. They’d build dirt tracks in the woods and race, and then there was cycle speedway too, which was massive at the time. Of course, you couldn’t just walk into a bikeshop and buy a Dirt Tracker, they were a subculture that had remained completely under the radar of most manufacturers for over 30 years. No, you had to build your Tracker bike yourself, from parts sourced in another universe or the skip, but definitely not the local bike shop in Wales in the age of the 5 speed Racer.
We went to visit my grandparents in Southend-on-Sea later that year. I bloody loved that place, it was where my folks grew up and I always found it kind of exotic. The pavements were a little bit wider, some of the roads were called boulevards, and there were Hot Rods and American cars everywhere. Damn, who didn’t want a Pontiac Firebird Trans-am back in the day (the lure of Smokey and the Bandit) and in Southend they were ten a penny, you could reach out and touch one. Southend also had bikes shops the likes of which you will never see in this country again, but the spirit of which lives on in places like Blue Lug and various Radavist shop visits in the USA. I remember my old man being genuinely excited as we drove to a small backsteet (and my memory is vague here, but also strangely vivid) parked up, walked down an alleyway by the side of house and into a hidden bikeshop in what seemed like a huge, converted greenhouse. It had already been there for many decades at this point, and there were frames hanging from the ceiling, wheels and forks, hubs, handlebars, but alas, no Tracker parts. So on we went to shop number two, and that’s when it happened. I can’t remember the name of the place but I remember squinting through the window and it was an absolute Alladin’s cave, almost visually impenetrable due to the sheer volume of stock. The door chimed loudly as we entered – an old wooden counter with a glass top buried by parts and invoices, the smell of rubber tyres and chain oil, a ceiling fully loaded with bicycle frames from all around the world, Brooks and Dunlop saddles, just too much to take in all at once. All these years later and it’s still imprinted on my mind. The old guy in the shop remembered my dad and before long they’d pulled down this beautiful tracker frame with a kinked top tube (just like on the Dirtbomb). They had about 10 different sets of massive cowhorn handlebars, knobbly tyres, shorty mudguards and wide sprung saddles specially designed to take your weight as you flat-tracked a corner at incredible speed. Grips, cotterless alloy cranks, fork braces and straight speedway forks and everything in between. It was truly a place of wonder and magic. I’m not lying when I say i’ve spent my life chasing that feeling, and when i started Stooge that sense of wonder was exactly the vibe that i hoped to capture and bottle all these years later.
So we spent a good hour in that shop, checking out and choosing parts, imagining the perfect build, and then the final price came and my old man realized it could never happen, and he felt bad about that but such was life, so although I left empty handed my mind was alive with the possibilites of The Bike and what it could be. Fast forward a few years and yes, we’re all riding them in Wales – bikes rescued from the tip and rebuilt with the biggest handlebars and straightened forks, dinged rims from hurtling down staircases, old workshops down alleyways and back gardens where someone’s dad would weld your frame back together and add a steel gusset. And briefly, oh so briefly, you could walk into Halfords and buy the Halfords Trackster, a bona fide track bike that was almost too nice to be thrashed and which would last about a week if you did.
So there’s the backstory, and in many ways its the story of how Stooge was born. The idea of the tracker bike has never left me, it was such a huge part of British youth culture, spanning from the 1940s all the way to the 1980s only to be replaced by BMX and MTBs in what, genuinely, was a cycling revolution.
Try and find any mention of Trackers now and you’ll draw a complete blank, all that history pretty much wiped out, didn’t even make the switch to Google it had become that irrelevant by the time the internet happened. And that’s a real damn shame! These bikes shaped lives, my dad’s generation in particular. They ruled from the dawn of post war Britain all the way through. America had the Cruisers and us Brits had the Dirt Trackers, which predated the American klunkers by a good 3 decades. Think about that for a moment!
My interest in trackers has never died, and its informed a lot of what Stooge has become. Heck, the Scrambler even was named after them! Back then you’d call on a pal and ask if they fancied coming scrambling. The answer was always a yes. My dad’s passing resparked so many old memories about these amazing bikes and it felt important to write about them. I’m sure there’s a Tracker appreciation society out there somewhere, but the sad fact is that most of the people who originally invented and rode this forgotten breed of bike are long gone, just like the machines themselves.
So really, at some point there needs to be a tracker revival, and i think i know just the person to make it happen. A modern version with fat tyres and skids built in. In loving memory of all the old boys, my dad included, who played their part in this lifelong love of dirt bikes and dust.