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The long goodbye

His retirement now just around the corner, well-known industry veteran Dave Dalton reflects on 58 years in the bike business.

In 1964, I left school at the age of 17 to work for the DVLA, then based in Lincoln. I was also working as a “Saturday boy” for Wests of Lincoln, a Reliant, Mobylette, Lambretta and Suzuki dealer. It was here that I first met a very young John Featherstone, who at that time was the Suzuki area rep.

I was soon offered a permanent position in the stores, and I just loved it. It was also when my love of racing began, and I competed on scooters and later scooter sidecars at many different circuits around the UK. I made a lot of friends, including Norrie Kerr, who eventually became MD of VE UK. I also connected with Larry Riches, who was running the stores in Lincoln’s FK Sharpe Motorcycles.

Some 13 years later, Larry Riches asked me to join him as stores manager at his own company Lintek, overseeing ordering and stock control. Larry was ably supported by his mother Sybil, who was known to me as “mum”. I still think of her as “mum” today with great fondness. She did the accounts and invoicing of customers.

At that time there were no computers, internet or fax machines, of course. She spent hours every day typing everything on an Imperial typewriter that had to be renewed every couple of years, because she had worn it out. We worked long hours to build the business, but “mum” would always be nipping down to the kitchen to provide us with a home-cooked evening meal. They were exciting times and I felt happy to be so involved and valued by the family.

Our only way to contact foreign suppliers was by telex. Larry had to send me all over the world to visit them, so we could source products. I’ve remained friends with many of these people all these years later. Lintek grew rapidly and we became distributor for Lazer helmets, Dainese clothing, and Micron and Gianelli exhausts.

As we became more successful, our product lines just grew and grew. We had a fibreglass division run by Bob, Larry’s dad. He produced the moulds and made anything to order from the famous Lintek top boxes that we exported all over the world – all 100,000 plus of them – to fairings and screens. We also manufactured carriers and crash bars under the EME brand.

Larry sold Lintek to a big company with a very different ethos, and I wasn’t happy about it. So in 1989, when I met Mark Collins of M&P at the NEC show, I asked him whether he would consider using my knowledge and overseas contacts to establish an import and distribution company to run alongside M&P. He did, and in January 1990 I moved to Swansea, family in tow.

I was given the task of setting up a new supply-to trade-division called On 2 Wheels Distribution. Initially there was only me and Simon Williams, who had been working in the warehouse for Mark. I introduced Mark to my many contacts from the Lintek days and we soon were importing their goods. Subsequently, we became distributors for Guiliari Seats, National Cycle screens, Corbin seats, Repsol oils and a diverse selection of spares and accessories.

M&P was extremely successful and eventually Mark sold it to a large automotive firm. I didn’t want to travel the same route with this company as I had at Lintek so Mark Thomas and I started a small retail business, Busters Motorcycles, and Lem Distribution, which became the importer for Lem motorcycles, Puig screens and Powerbronze products. Eventually, Mark Collins came out of retirement and headed up our new operation.

Then the company that owned M&P became insolvent and Mark Collins bought it back. With On 2 Wheels and M&P growing fast again, we added Nuvo helmets and Tuzo clothing to the myriad of other products, and employed a team of reps to sell directly to dealers.

But, in June 2011, disaster struck. M&P’s warehouse burnt to the ground, owing to an electrical fault. Staffing had to be drastically reduced, because we had to trade from several lock-up units while rebuilding and replenishing stock. Our suppliers were very supportive during this difficult period until, in July 2012, we moved back into brand-new premises. Up to the present day, both companies have continued to grow.

So here I am, 75 years old in June with a long career behind me. There have been many highs and just as many lows, but it’s always been interesting. I’m looking forward to my retirement. But I want to send my best wishes to all the friends I have made in this wonderful industry.

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