Obituary: Robbie Allan, motorcycle racer

Robbie Allan
Robbie Allan
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Born: 21 June, 1941, in Garlochie, Aberdeenshire. Died: 14 August, 2013, in Boghead, Lanarkshire, aged 72

Robbie Allan, accomplished motorcycle racer and ambassador for motorcycle sport in Scotland, has died at the age of 72, at his home in Lanarkshire. One of three brothers, each of whom went on to make their mark in motorcycle racing, he had the ability to adapt to various forms of racing, seamlessly switching from scrambles to road racing while also competing successfully in grass track racing, hill-climbs and trials and riding in the Scottish Six Days Trial.

He was one of the foremost administrators in the sport’s governing body who worked to improve training facilities for competition riders and is the man responsible for bringing an annual motor cycle show to Scotland.

Born in the Aberdeenshire village of Garlogie, where his father was a competitive horse ploughman, Robert Carnie Allan often recalled how his interest in motorbikes began. “As a boy, I was cycling when a car towing a racing motorcycle passed me. I followed it and found the owner practicing on a main road and the sight, sound and smell thrilled me.”

On leaving school he worked as a bus mechanic before becoming a forestry ploughman, the day job now supporting his racing, which began in 1957 when he entered a local scramble close to his home.

Unable to understand why none of the championship rounds were held north of Perth, he involved himself in the sport’s governing body – the Scottish Auto Cycle Union (SACU) – and “got it all changed”, bringing the first northerly round to an event in Aberdeenshire on ground he had secured.

He continued in scrambles, taking runner-up spot or third place in the Scottish Championships on 12 occasions, before concentrating on road racing.

His road racing career took him all over the UK and for more than 20 years he competed in the TT and Manx GP on the Isle of Man. In 1992, at the invitation of a sponsor, he raced in Australia and New Zealand excelling at the fast circuit at Bathurst NSW.

He was equally at home on purpose-built courses or on closed public roads circuits.

Over a 50-year period, he acted in a number of roles in the SACU and when Scotland hosted its only International Motocross Grand Prix at Kilmartin, Argyllshire in 1978, Robbie, now the holder of a Federation Certificate, was the clerk of the course.

It was a family affair, the name Allan appearing four times in the official programme, with younger brother Vic representing Scotland in the GP races, older brother Jim featuring in the supporting races and Robbie’s wife Margaret the secretary of the meeting.

It was while juggling racing commitments, administrative duties and working at his day job with the Forestry Commission that he decided to promote the Scottish Motor Cycle Show, stating that he did so for two reasons: he needed extra money to continue competing and he reckoned that Scotland could support its own show. The first Scottish Motor Cycle Show was held in 1977 at Glasgow’s McLellan Galleries and was such a success that it soon required larger premises.

Having established that the east of the country had a greater number of new motorbike registrations than the west, Allan moved the show to Musselburgh.

When it outgrew that venue, it was taken to the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston and was attracting 24,000 visitors and 200 exhibitors when in 2001 he sold the ownership of the show to concentrate on competing in long-distance endurance racing.

He teamed up with brother Vic and they raced in the UK Endurance Championship, winning the title in 2003 and taking runner-up spot in the two years that followed.

In 2006, aged 65, Robbie embarked on another challenge, the Dakar Rally. He was the first Scot to ride in the motorcycle class and, in his own words, “by far the oldest in the event”.

Having devoted a year to training, he had the stamina to race 450 miles each day over rough, hostile terrain but in Mauritania on the eighth day, riding through deep sand, mechanical failure forced him to retire. He intended returning the following year but his entry was refused on the grounds that at 66 he was too old, even although he’d passed the physical tests and was one of Eurosport TV’s “Legends of the Dakar”.

For a while, he’d been conscious that a number of novice motocross riders in Scotland were sustaining injuries due to crashing while practicing without supervision. Tackling the problem head-on, he opened Tinto Park Moto, a large park area near Biggar, given over to training riders wishing to develop their skills under the supervision of certified motocross trainers.

Robbie acknowledged that he couldn’t have achieved what he did without the unstinting help of his childhood sweetheart Margaret. They first met when they were youngsters at Skene School in Aberdeenshire and married in 1965.

“Margaret has supported me in everything I’ve done throughout the years,” he said, “including doing all the paperwork for the 25 Scottish Motor Cycle Shows.”

As current president of the SACU, Allan was active in this year’s 100th anniversary of the organisation, working tirelessly and attending celebrations to mark the occasion despite being diagnosed with lung cancer at the beginning of the year.

He was completing a commemorative DVD covering the history of the SACU when he died at his home in Boghead, Lanarkshire.

He leaves his wife Margaret, their children Robbie, Jennifer and Olive, his mother, Annie, seven grandchildren, and his brothers Jim and Vic.