By Darren Lum
Published Aug. 10 2017
It’s been a long time since Kinmount’s Ted Wilkins rode around on his homemade motorcycle powered by a chainsaw in a bicycle frame.
He never knew it would be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with motorcycling and the start to a respectable competitive hill climbing career in the 1990s highlighted with a 1999 hill climbing overall title on the American Motorcyclist Association pro circuit and his induction to the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Wilkins married father of two grown children is in disbelief about joining the 100 of the greatest of all time. Inductees have been named since 2006.
The retired Fleming College instructor appreciated the recognition.
“It’s an honour for sure” he said.
He will be inducted with 10 other riders and industry representatives at the 12th annual Hall of Fame Banquet and Reunion on Nov. 4 at the Sheraton Toronto Airport Hotel. Although his mother Mary is proud of her son she won’t be making the trip. Wilkins is making sure there are places for his wife Bonnie his son Aaron and daughter Kayla and their spouses at the table.
The induction ceremony isn’t without work for Wilkins who is responsible for collecting photos videos writing an acceptance speech and transporting his hill climbing motorcycle to Toronto as part of an exhibit about his career. He heard at the last ceremony there were close to 300. Although he is fine with competing in front of thousands the idea of giving a speech in front of a large crowd makes him nervous.
He’s finding it difficult to write a speech for the ceremony. However when asked to describe himself Wilkins said laughing he is an “Ontario backwoods guy.”
He first became enamoured with motorcycles as a boy when he saw the mini-bike advertisements on the back page of his comics. What his family lacked in money he more than made up for with his resourcefulness and determination. He taught himself how to ride referencing Dirt Bike Magazine.
The idea to build his own motorcycle came from a visit with his cousin when he was 13.
While at a parking lot Wilkins saw a boy with his dad who used a lawn mower engine to build a motorcycle.
“I thought ‘oh I could do that too.’ So I went home and did it” he said. “But I didn’t have any brakes on mine. It was a secondary thought. We’ll get it going first and then we’ll worry about brakes. I think it went for three years. We never did have brakes.”
He and his brother saved their allowance to buy a wheelbarrow wheel and wedged it into the frame.
They spent hours every day riding it. He cannot imagine that happening now. That motorcycle could be heard for miles away.
Wilkins loves the freedom of riding and how he can make a connection with the motorcycle.
“You’re controlling the mechanical thing but it’s like a part of you … in a way you’re in total control but you’ve got to be part of the bike. It’s also like part of you” he said adding it doesn’t matter where or what particular type of bike.
Driving was something he always did growing up. He started when he could barely reach the pedals. It was something he did around the family farm in Nestleton near Port Perry to help with the harvest of hay.
When it comes to his bike he made he didn’t do it alone. He credits Steve Harrison of Harrison Powersports in Peterborough with his engine work Mark Newman (now of Florida) for his help in competing in the early years his brother Bill who helped the last two years including the overall title winning season.
His interest in competing started with motocross racing during the 1970s which translated to hill climbing competing at the now defunct Bill’s Hills event in Wilberforce in the early-1980s at 30. The short distance made it convenient to compete.
He ended up competing with the pro riders in 1989. The start in pro was challenging and sobering those first few years. It took a new engine to break free from the back of the pack.
In his first competition with his newly built motorcycle and engine which still needed to break-in prior to competing he finished third at York Pennsylvania at the White Rose Motorcycle Club competition.
“I got third place and I probably got a couple hundred bucks or more. I got a case of beer and trophy. I went ‘wow that’s wicked’” he said.
That bike was ridden from 1990 to 2000 and earned him event wins and the 1999 hill climbing overall title which demanded tireless effort with his brother Bill.
“We were working on it every week in between races to make sure it was ready. I don’t know. It all worked that year. Luck and everything. It came right down to the last and I got it by one point” he said.
He said if he had more money for the bike the results would have been even better. However this never took away the enjoyment he experienced competing.
Having your name included in the rules of a racing series is one way to get noticed.
When the American Motorcyclist Association custom-made hill climbing motorcycle grandfathered along with his name it pretty much cemented his legacy.
Wilkins said it’s nice to be included with an induction group in the hall of fame that includes engine builder Nick Kemp who was in the same class for motorcycle mechanics training at Centennial College decades before.
Wilkins was nominated by friend and motorcyclist Allan Robertson of Carnarvon who submitted the paperwork and photos to the hall of fame. The highlight of his package is how the 1995 AMA official rulebook for equipment standards includes Wilkins and his engine.
It states in part: Engines used in Professional Hill climb meets with utilize only production based Motorcycle engines. Motorcycles using engines from sources other than motorcycles will not be allowed with the exception of one 540cc snowmobile engine and clutch owned and ridden by Ted Wilkins of Kinmount Ont. Canada that has been used prior to the rule change. This engine and clutch will be permitted to be used in Hill climbs as long as owned and ridden by Wilkins.”
Wilkins taught computers and mathematics after working for IBM in the late-1970s. He later grew tired of the city and moved to Kinmount where he returned to his first love and worked as a bike mechanic at Lindsay Cycle.
The one constant in his life has been motorcycling.
“I’ve always been a motorcyclist. You know I worked in bike shops and raced. I did the hill climbing for 15 years and probably 11 of those years was on the bike I built. I built bikes restored bikes. To get accepted is like holy. I got a No. 1 plate once. There are lots of guys out there that won lots of No. 1 plates … I guess I got it because I did it on a bike I built and a bike they tried to ban” he said.
He’s been retired for 11 years. Despite retirement he’s as busy as ever with repair work he said. He jokes that he may have to “subcontract” some of his retirement.
“One person can’t have all this fun” he said.