CAPTION: Manawatu man Tim Gibbes, a firebrand, a pioneer, a legend and an inspirational champion of all things motorcycling. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
OCTOBER 16, 2023: It is with much sadness that the New Zealand motorcycling community reports the passing of one of its greatest legends, Manawatu man Tim Gibbes.
And while modesty meant the Kiwi motorcycling icon had always refused to accept the “legend” moniker, virtually all the tributes that have flowed since his passing on Saturday night (October 14) – just two days after he’d celebrated his 90th birthday – lovingly describe him in this way.
Actually Australian-born (at Longueville, near Sydney), Gibbes married his Kiwi sweetheart Joan (Cleghorn) and they settled together in the Manawatu to raise a family and for Tim to run a successful motorcycle dealership in Palmerston North.
Sadly, Joan passed away exactly one month ago, on September 14, and several family friends remarked this week that Tim had now “gone to join her in Heaven”.
Tim Gibbes contributed so much to the New Zealand motorcycling community over the years and his efforts as an inspirational leader, advisor, event organiser, team manager and mentor cannot be understated.
As a young man in his early 20s, Gibbes raced motocross and enduro world championship events in Europe, providing inspiration to many New Zealand and Australian riders who latter followed on to also race in Grand Prix competitions overseas.
When Hollywood came calling in 1962, Gibbes was on the spot in southern Germany to help out with stunt riding duties during filming of the World War II movie classic “The Great Escape”.
The marathon 2-hour and 48-minute movie included only about five minutes of motorcycle action in it, but what great action it was. Gibbes was hired as a stand-in for several of the thrilling action scenes, including some played by a famous young American actor called Steve McQueen.
The iconic war film, loosely based on true events (apart from the motorcycle chase scenes, which were actually fictional), also starred Hollywood A-list actors Donald Pleasance, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.
Gibbes also worked in England in the 1950s as a motorcycle tester and works rider on English-made Matchless, AJS, Greeves, DOT and Ariel bikes.
Gibbes stopped competing at the age of 60 and was honoured with a John Britten Innovation and Service to the Industry Award, a Motorsport NZ Distinguished Service Award and, in 2016, he was inducted into the Motorcycling New Zealand Hall of Fame.
With his wife Joan working tirelessly alongside him, Gibbes later on devoted much of his energy into working as a time-keeper and collator of results at so many major events in New Zealand, including the annual New Zealand Superbike Championships, the now-discontinued Battle of the Streets around Paeroa, the innovative multi-discipline Golden Handlebars event in 1992 and the country’s largest and most famous annual motocross event, the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville.
The Woodville GP could perhaps be listed as one of Gibbes’ greatest legacies.
Gibbes – alongside his bother-in-law and fellow former GP racer Ken Cleghorn – co-founded the Woodville event in 1961, the two men determined to bring GP-level competition to this part of the world.
It’s worth noting that the Woodville event marked its 60th anniversary in January 2021, although, sadly, the iconic two-day competition has not been run the past two seasons, with the pandemic (in 2022) and then horrendous flooding in January this year preventing any on-track activity.
Tim Gibbes will be greatly missed and there is no doubt that when his Woodville Motocross Grand Prix next runs in January 2024, he will be watching over proceedings.
Tim Gibbes: 12.10.1933 – 14.10.2023.
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com