True Biker: Jean Lane – The girl in the pits
With the controversy over pit lane girls, there’s no better time to meet someone who has spent her life around bikes, much of it in the pit lane.
Jean Lane’s love affair with biking began in the heyday of the cafe racer. A Teddy Boy boyfriend had acquired a bike and took her for a ride; in an instant, she was hooked. Before long most of her spare time was spent around the bikers hanging out at Ted’s Cafe, by Woodford’s Charlie Brown roundabout in Essex and at the famous Ace Cafe, at the other end of the North Circular.
Ted’s was a haunt for racers, the legitimate kind, and soon she found herself invited to watch one of the guys racing at Brand Hatch. She had found her spiritual home, and for the next 3-4 years before children came along, she spent as much time as she could hitch-hiking around all of the circuits and road races, including the Isle of Man, for the TT.
Once kids arrived, bike racing had to play second fiddle, and It was another 20 years or so before a chance encounter with an old flame led to an invitation to join his race team for a weekend.
At home again in the pit garages, Jean mothered the team, running tyres, making sure tea was constantly on tap and soothing hungover brows as the mechanics worked on sidecar outfits. The team took her all over Europe and as far as we can tell, not once was she asked to hold an umbrella, wearing a skimpy outfit.
Let’s get the important stuff done first. What’s your bike history?
“My first bike was a Triumph sidecar, Maroon in colour, which I used to take my friend Charlie around in. I bought an MTX at 40 years old and used to take my poodle dog to the dog parlour in a rucksack slung on my front. Its ears would flap around in the wind and this was before doggles were around.
“My girls grew up with my New Imperial in the front room….often eating dinner while having to look round the bike at the TV.
“A Honda dominator 650 single came next and I rode this to the Isle of Man via Liverpool. My 1985 Montessa cost €800 from a race meeting in Germany where I spotted it for sale, it came home to my summerhouse in the garden where it sat as an ornament for a good few years…”
You were there for the heyday of the cafe-racer. What was the cafe scene like back then?
“If you go to the Ace Cafe now on a classic bike weekend that’s exactly what it was like back then. Lots of typical old bikers with leather jackets, studs, long hair, boots that were a hundred years old with a fag in their mouths and grubby beard. The atmosphere was tingling, a different world…you’d walk through the door, and it was full of special people. I’ll never forget it.
“The racing scene these days is still full of old school people with battered old t-shirts and playing 60’s music, and even now I still wonder how the hell they seem to be in a t-shirt from 1967 that isn’t hanging off them in bits.”
Which racing team/s did you run with?
“Our team didn’t have a name as such but I was part of the support team for Dick Hawes Racing, he was predominantly side cars based. I think I was about 40 when I started travelling the globe with the team. Dick was a friend from my teenage years, and when I bumped into him one day as an old fart he asked me if I wanted to watch the racing with him, and of course, I jumped at the chance. The rest is history as they say and I spent years trailing around with the team doing whatever needed to be done as a support member. My main job was to prop up the bar when not running tyres or cooking breakfast. I love me a good Belgium beer.”
The beer was nearly as free-flowing as the racing fuel, so we hear?
“There was a lot of visiting other peoples tents in the wee small hours with copious amounts of alcohol involved and a lot of hangovers. Instead of tea, I used to dish out packets of a jelly-type food/drink that was a really good product to cope with dehydration while they were racing. I got them from the medics.”
“I remember sitting in a van with about ten people having a beer. A guy named Ian, who was renowned for being drunk, was really knocking them back one evening and I said to him “You’re not going to be riding in the morning are you?” He said “I am,” and he did but managed to misjudge a corner in the Southern 100 and took out a farm gate, but no sheep luckily. He totalled the bike and of course couldn’t continue with any other races. To be honest, they’re all a little nuts, and I think you have to be to ride anywhere on the Isle Of Man as it’s so dangerous.”
You did more than just make a brew and hand out the beers though?
“Lets put it this way; I was the driving force behind Richard and Eddie. They used to race and get 10th to 13th place. I remember I had a very forceful conversation with them both.
“I said, “You guys come all this way every year and spend at least £5,000-£7,000 to try and win. You have a great Mechanic in Trevor Ireson, but you both are negative. You, Richard, are a fabulous rider and we’re up in the world-class best. Now stop gripeing and bloody well get out there and give me a top place. Go and get some sleep. No beer, no whopping great dinner – go to bed and sleep and tomorrow go and win and stop moaning.” The next day Ed and Richard got a 3rd and the next race a 4th. The Isle of Man Times said this was the pair to watch next year. Most of the races abroad they came back having finished the race with a 1st.”
What’s the most memorable moment you’ve witnessed in racing?
“We knew a guy called Dieter Busch who was a bit of a legend in building race bikes. He used to build for a lot of racers in the 60s onwards although don’t quote me on the dates. Dick, Dieter and I were hanging out one day when Dick asked Dieter to build him a bike. It took about seven months and needed to be something really special for racing at multiple locations. We got a call to go over and pick it up from Germany and it was soooo beautiful that it made me tingle all over. When I opened the garage door I just stood there dumbfounded, it was just stunning! I actually couldn’t stop looking at it… It was mesmerising! He used to make a lot of the parts by hand in his garage. It was a piece of history in the making built with pure love on Dieter’s behalf.”
I know you don’t ride anymore, so how do you stay in touch with the scene?
“I read a lot about what’s happening in magazines. My daughter and son in law regularly pull up and make a racket outside with their 600cc sports bikes and even take me for rides with them. We’ve starred in a short video for women bikers in London for a lady organising a women’s biking exhibition. I’m planning on buying another bike at some point but have a few health issues to deal with at the moment….but nothing will stop me owning another bike in the future!”
Help get Jean Sorted:
Unfortunately, Jean was recently diagnosed with cancer. Her daughter Emma has set up a very emotional Go Fund Me page that tells the other, non-biking side of Jean’s life. You can read that story and if you can help, donate to the fund that Emma is trying to raise to put the smile back on Jean’s face.