AFTER 40 years, Eric Londesbrough waved off his last evening excursion of vintage motorbikes on Tuesday.

At his command, more than 20 bikes from the South Durham branch of the Vintage Motorcycle Club set off for a rural ride through the North Yorkshire countryside.

The oldest bike taking part in the last of Eric’s Evening Excursions was probably an 85-year-old Scott Flying Squirrel, and the oldest rider was 90-year-old Dennis Smallwood, from Darlington.

Eric, 85, said: “I started 41 years ago. We missed last year because of coronavirus so this is my 40th and it will be my last.”

Eric gave up taking to the tarmac in the ride five years ago – “you don’t recover so easily when you are over 80” – but his love of vintage motorbikes dates back to the early 1970s when his wife, Denise, bought him a 1948 BSA 350.

The oldest bike he has owned was a 1914 New Hudson. “It climbed every hill in the North-East and never let me down once,” said the retired teacher who lives in Dalton-on-Tees.

Tuesday’s ride started at Dalton village hall and featured five checkpoints as the riders headed around the Rountons.

Leading them off was Howard Masters, of Darlington, on his 600cc 1936 Flying Squirrel. Referring to the newer bikes all around, he said: “It’ll show them the back legs any day of the week.”

One of the most unusual bikes in the pack was a 1960 Triumph Speed Twin ridden by David Porteous, of Darlington. “People said it looked like a bathtub because it has closed mudguards, and so it doesn’t look very racy or sporty.

“A lot of people took them off because of the way they looked and also because they are made of tin which rusts, so they are not that easy to find.”

But the veteran of the vintage bike gathering was 90-year-old Dennis, who was on the 1965 Trifield that he has spent the last year rebuilding.

“My first bike was a 150 New Imperial, which was new in 1936, which I got in 1947 off my brother when I was 16, and I’ve always just liked bikes,” he said.

After the blue petrol smoke had cleared and the riders had safely returned, Eric declared Paul Feldon, riding a 1960 350cc Triumph, to be the winner, with Sarah Norman on a 1967 250cc Panther the best female.

The club, which holds lots of rallies and meetings over a summer, hopes that someone will follow in Eric’s tyreprints and organise an evening excursion, and Eric and Denise can themselves still be seen on the roads in their red Morgan three-wheeler, which will appear in Saturday’s Memories supplement.