Ally Clift, in his words.


Where the “Otter” story began"!



Phil Ive’s did a story about the "Otter", and interviewed Scott, Harry, Colin, and me.

So it would make sense for you to publish this account of what happened, rather than me repeat it to you.

 Charlie.:> Yes thank's Ally, Yes I agree.


Cornishman Tom Seward a life long four-stroke enthusiast wanted a copy of the Scott Ellis BSA bike, along with many other guy’s that I knew, so this spurred us on into doing something about it.


This was to be the start of the

BSA “Otter” story!


Doug Theabold did his National Service with me, and asked if he could try one of the "Otter" bikes, so I took one up for him. He liked it and bought it.

Then others in the area wanted one too.


 Ian Ballard might have thought his bike was one of the first built?

It was not though, it was number eighteen, and not one of the very first, but out of the first batch.


 Harry Foster suggested to me that he would like to name all of the products he made with the name “Otter”, after discussion with a few of us, has his workshop was near Ottery St Mary.

 The River Otter flowed past the workshop where Harry worked.

So the Fosters then had some "Otter headstock badges" made, with a drawing of an “Otter” on it.





Foster Otter Frame Badge ©...


I said to him the bikes were a lot like the real animal, as they were always wet, and covered in mud, just like trials riders, and their bikes.



Mark Braybrook owned the Scott Ellis Bike BOK 228C before Colin Dommett bought it, and I went to pick the bike up for him.

It was then that we asked Colin if Harry and I could copy the bikes frame...

We knew that there must be a market for a replacement frame kit, for the very heavy BSA frames, both Swan-necked, and the long steering later type heavy Mk 2 C15T frames.

We were right and the batch of frames sold well.


Charlie:> Were the frames Advertised?


Word of mouth mostly, with a bike firstly built in a certain area, others looked at it, or took a ride on that machine, and then wanted one for themselves.


 Harry would have loved the fact that there was now so much new interest in the "Otter frame kit"and bikes that used his "Otter"frame.

 And he was a true craftsman, you know.

 A few people thought he was slightly gruff, and unwelcoming when first meeting him, but this was because like a lot of people with talent, he was shy and introvert, and loved what he was doing, more than people that surrounded him...





One comment I remember was, when being asked why his bikes were so immaculate, and always turned out at there very best, Harry’s reply in a brusk voice was, “Well we haven’t got a television, have we"!


 The guy just loved what he did, in all aspects of his motor sport.



This is Harry in his hill-climb Joe Pott's 500 JAP engined car.

   Photo The Mike Hayward Collection.



 And has I say, He would have been so proud today of what he had achieved, and the recognition the"Otter" frame  was now getting today, such a shame he is not here with us.


 Charlie:> I have so much interest all around the world with this site; it amazes me with all the interest in the "Otter" frames that is shown.


Ally:> Well if I remember we did sell one bike to America, but I don’t know where it is today, it would be nice to know if it still exists?


Charlie.:>Well Ally, It sort of does still exist, and will again when Duncan eventually gets is New Foster "Otter" Frame.


eMail from The USA...




My name is Duncan Wright and I've read with great interest your re-manufacturing of the Foster Otter Trials frame.  I would like to inquire about securing one and having it shipped to the USA.


I know that the original frames were GREAT trials mounts because I purchased and imported Allan Clift's WD B40 Otter back in the early 1990's.  Unfortunately I broke the frame on it's 2nd outing (after handily winning it's first Trial in Maryland, during a rather snowy trial in March of 1991).

  I took the broken frame (head stock) to the local drag bike frame builder and he managed to ruin the temper of the frame. 

I rode two seasons on it and secured the AHRMA Premier Light Weight championship both years. 

It was only at the first trial of it's third season that I noticed the back frame section was out of alignment and put it away, and left it unused. 


There is currently a resurgence in vintage trials here in the States and I'd really like to build a replica of my original bike.  


Please advise on price and shipping if you can.




Charlie~Oo> Duncan you can have one of the first batch off of the Harry Foster Jig...


Back to the conversation...with Ally...

Charlie:> Can you remember the first "Otter" frame that was built by Harry?


Ally:> Yes, Frame Number '01' was built to take a 500 Triumph twin unit engine, and was sold to Tony Harris of St Day near Redruth Cornwall.


Charlie:> Thank you so much Ally for giving us this account of how the BSA “Otter” frame and name was first born, and I will keep in touch with you for any other information that is asked of me and I know there will be a lot.

Thank's again for the time you have given us, and the much needed information, we could chat for ages...

Ally:> It is just good to know that there is still so much interest in the "Otter" frame created all that time ago, and that they are still being used and enjoyed today...


2016 Update.


One person that has totally been forgotten about in any of the Harry Foster stories, (and I totally hold my hands up, for this), and I don't know why I forgot about including the splendid lady.  

 Carol Foster.

Carol was very much a part of the cogs in the machinery that ran the Harry Foster "Otter" empire, and without her doing all the ordering of parts, tubes, Badges, ETC, and also keeping the books, being a buyer, and sales person, helping in the workshop, and doing a million jobs that wives do, to keep the boat afloat in a small business.

We would not have had one of the Harry Foster "Otter" frames, that started us on our journey.

Carol is also a very proud lady to what the "Otter" name has become, in the Classic Trials World.

Thank you Carol.  (Sadly now left us)...


Photo Courtesy Ally Clift.


This a photograph of one of the "First" "Foster BSA B40 framed "Otter's".

of Tom Seward's...



Photo Courtesy Ally Clift.

Here's the other side of Tom's Bike.

The Seward name is kept flying today, with Mark (M.R.S Motorsport) still building trials machine amongst other things.

And he prepared the two frames for the Paxton boys Andy and Nick.

Both have just finished the Pre 65 Scottish 2016 on these Andrew finishing  in 19th place and  twin brother Nick finishing 29th.


Tom Seward riding his BSA B40 engined "Otter".


Tom was one of the first to use the BSA engined "Otter".


Jim Susans has just told me that he had two of the "Foster" "Otter" frames from Ally Clift, on the recommendation from Don Morley**.

This is before Jim started the "BikecrafT" company.

The first frame Jim built into a bike for himself to use, and later sold it on. The second frame he built into a bike, for the Late Tony Rossie from the Barnet Club in London...

If you see we are gradually finding more and more about the builders, who originally built these "Foster Otters" into machines, and a lot are still used today, like the bike below.(Green Tank).


I’ve been reading your article on the Otter frames, Ive got a complete bike that I bought some years ago. I believe it’s one of the early frames, it was used in the Pre 65 Scottish when it first started. 
Let me know if you’ve got any frame details to identify it a little more.
Regards Peter.

Charlie:> I replied... Now Peter again...

Thank's for the reply, bikes do seem to turn up I think it’s something to do with not wanting to sell something you’ve used in competitive events, they rekindle a memory of people and places. 
The bike came from Stan Robinson who as I mentioned used it in the Pre65 Scottish at least twice, he started by using a pre-unit which may of been his rigid Matchless.

He said it was far too heavy, and got the Otter, which may of been 1985-87.

He was quite a pal of Don Morley and used to stay with him when riding in the Talmag Trial on his Norton, he had a few bikes from Don, I think it’s possible this is where the Otter came from, as I first saw it in the winter before the Scottish
Not much in distinguishing features, it’s an early frame with the rather prominent front down tube with four bolt forks and yokes, Bantam hubs, a turned down B44 barrel, the engine is a CD number which he said was a works unit.

As Stan could be rather creative with frame and reg numbers, they may not help.

He did say it was the ideal bike for the event, I did once see a photo of him riding it in Scotland but haven’t got a copy. 
Is Don Morley still around to ask if he has any recollections of the bike.

Charlie:> I will try and find out, I think so... Peter.

I now have a photo with the bike in a collection of Stan's below ,

You can see the Foster Otter in the middle at the back.



Photo scanned from magazine.



Photo Courtesy Mary Wylde , and "Offroad Archives".


The Late Wilf Cauldwell on what Deryk thinks is a Foster BSA "Otter" in  1993 March Hare trial.

Sadly Wilf left us before I could get the information.



I Hope you enjoyed this story as much as I did. We must try and find more of the Foster "Otters" Now we know how many were made, 43 in total.



Story published  2010.

with some inset updates 2018.


More later and an update, and more pictures.



I thought what better page to put the Photos below onto but the guy's page that sold most of the bikes and frames, Ally Clift....


These Photos were taken by our Ian Ballard at the Talmag trial earlier this year January 2016.

This "Foster Otter" now lives in Belgium.

But you can see from these photos that the bike has lasted well, and proves how good a job the Harry Foster built "Otter" frames were.

 And this machine gets used on a regular basis has you can see.


Photo Courtesy Ian Ballard.

You get a good idea of the wheel base and fork angle from this shot, and it very much mirrors the image of the original "Scott Ellis" frame.


Photo Courtesy Ian Ballard.

You can just see the flattened seat tube on the chain side of the frame, which makes it easy to recognise the Foster frame, also the brass oil filler cap on the frame top tube.


Photo Courtesy Ian Ballard.

I will try and get the story about this machine and find out where it has been since Ally Clift sold it way back then.



Well we now know this machine is now oned by J Castiaux.


Talked to J Castiaux and he has been on the BSA Otter website and knows all about it, but I did find out the bike he rides was from Mick and John Dismore, so originally a southern/ south east machine.


More Photos later. Tom  Seward from Trethurgy Cornwall riding the first BSA "Otter"...


I have tried to enhance the photo from the magazine not good but better, can't believe how bad a photo it was, as were all of them in that magazine.


Update to this page later.

Well there now will be a New batch of Five Foster BSA Otters built.

These will very much follow the same design,as they are to be built on the "Original Foster Otter" Frame Jig.

Page at the top of the listings.



One of the New Foster Otter Frames...



More From Ally Clift Later...

And check out the "Foster Otter Register" page, with more from Ally Clift...