Both Derek and brother Don Rickman were also inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame.
British motocross legend, renowned chassis builder, AMA Hall of Famer, and all-around motorcycling legend Derek Rickman died on July 3, 2021. After a brief battle with cancer, he left this life at the age of 88.
Older brother Derek and younger brother Don Rickman first got into off-road riding pursuits in England in the 1940s. Trials, scrambles, motocross—you name it, they tried it. They rose up through the ranks of competition as both their skills and their confidence grew. By the 1960s, they were well-known and respected in British motocross competition.
Of course, the more familiar they grew with their machines, the more they realized that those same bikes desperately needed to shed some weight. In the ‘60s, both brothers represented Britain in the Motocross des Nations international competition. That turned out to be a pivotal moment for another great Rickman contribution to motorcycle history: chassis building.
The reasoning, Derek said, was simple. “We realized if we were going to get anywhere in the international sport, we were going to have to have lighter machines,” Derek told the AMA. “We built our own frames and they turned out to be very successful.”
That’s an enormous understatement if there ever was one, but it’s certainly no lie. The Rickmans started out lightening up motocross machines, which then proceeded to sell like hotcakes. Americans, in particular, were especially keen to get their hands on a Rickman motocross machine. While the rest of the British motorcycle industry was having a tough time, the Rickmans managed to thrive because they were sending almost all their bikes to America.
After Japanese manufacturers started sandwiching stellar engines inside scary chassis in the early ‘70s, the Rickmans knew what they had to do next. They branched out, turning their attention to building road racing frames to fit Honda, Kawasaki, and Triumph engines. Apart from the gorgeous fiberglass Rickman fairings, these designs also featured disc brakes in the 1970s.
No matter how talented someone is, though, bike builders don’t exist in a vacuum. Soon, the scrappy, upstart Rickman brothers found themselves competing against much bigger OEMs that were clearly taking notes on the improvements the Rickmans had made. When you’re a big OEM, you also have big OEM resources—and you can operate with economies of scale that smaller outfits can’t begin to touch. Eventually, the Rickmans diversified, making a range of products that included garden furniture, hospital beds, and even Ford-engined kit cars prior to selling their business in the mid-1980s.
Both Derek and Don Rickman were inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2007. Motorcycle history surely wouldn’t be the same without them. We at RideApart send our deepest condolences to Derek’s family, friends, and all who loved him.