The “WAY” it was

Interestingly there is a lot of talk about “what is/was the best trials bike” and the discussion
rages one way and another without any final conclusions. It is also true to say that the era of
bikes that this topic covers are predominately those bikes of the 70’s in their standard form and
the later twinshocks until the end of the era circa 84/85.

Suffice to say that during the 60’s nobody really thought much of the invasion of other countries
producing a Trials bike to rival the might of the British machine. “Proper ” trials bikes were the big
Aj’s, Matchlesses, Nortons, Ariels, Velos, Enfields and BSAs. Big Triumphs were a bit of a joke as
a “muck spreader” and the only other 4 strokes on the circuit were the Tiger Cub and the C15.

IT had to be BIG!

On the 2-stroke side there were the old faithfuls of Dot, Francis Barnett, Cotton, BSA Bantams,
James and  Mister Greeves………. and then comes the Bultaco?

Now where I grew up in Kent, The Garden of England, it was all mud, and more mud and during
the trials season of September to March it rained a lot making more mud. Sometimes it froze but
when the sun came out it very soon became mud! Old sages would say you needed a bike to be
heavy to get to the bottom and find some grip and these new fangled smoking 2T things just
weren’t man enough to get the job done. Smokey? yes, as it was 20:1 then, a far cry from our
current 100:1 thimble of oil and get every drip.

Sammy continued to win on his Bultaco’s and Greeves were also winning with Don Smith and the
likes of Malcolm and Tony Davies. The Bultaco is getting more popular and as British bikes went
from bad to worse private firms started making trials bikes with Sprite and Saracen using either
Villiers engines or variations on the Sachs motor.

By the end of the 60’s Montesas and Bultacos were at every trial and big bikes were getting to be
a rarity and even Greeves were using proper forks and moving away from Villiers engines.

So now we start the era of what is currently known as “Twinshock” and basically these are the
machines from 65 onwards that can’t compete in the Scottish  Pre 65. As each newcomer came on
the scene they all had their good and bad points and during the 70’s they were all “Flavor of the
Month” at some stage in their development. I of course can only speak from personal experiences
and watching others perform in competition.

The MKI Montesa with the “one position” levers

After my 3 year enforced layoff in Cyprus I rejoin the fray on the Mark 1 Montesa and this was a
good machine with it’s neat one piece tank and seat unit, pre set levers in the bars and forks that
worked! Generally a good bike that handled well and was very reliable until you take it to Scotland
and find the weaknesses! A lack of chain tensioner throwing the chain on Pipeline and individual
short reach swinging arm bolts that came undone on Blackwater.

So Montesa is established as a good machine, does nothing different from it’s competitors but is
reliable and wins events at all levels.

The 1972 OSSA MAR, that grips everywhere!

Mick Andrews has his run at winning the Scottish 70-72 with the Ossa and the marque went on
to be very popular at clubman level through the mid 70’s as it was an easy bike to ride and had an
amazing ability to find grip when everyone else was spinning. The wide set up of the betor forks
also made it ideal for rocks as it steered particularly well. Also a difficult bike to stall whatever you
did. To be critical the back end was a little weak and rear spindles could often bend causing a lot
of problems. Biggest weakness seemed to be the brakes or lack of!

One of my favorites that slimline Bult. The UK one didn’t have the rear box

Bultaco continued to develop and the 72 model with the slimline tank and seat unit was a real joy
to ride. For my money one of the best bikes ever produced. When set up correctly the handling
and performance was impeccable. The 325 was a big “clanky” lump by comparison but of course
was further developed into a fantastic machine by the end of the decade.

A replica of my 1974 (first in the UK) Yamaha

1974 saw the start of the Jap invasion and the outstanding machine just had to be the Yamaha
TY250A. Very powerful motor, totally reliable, well built and different with oil injection. Mine went
round Scotland like it was a regular Sunday event and required virtually no maintenance. At the
time the reed valve induction was difficult to come to grips with as the classic “down the hill, turn
at the bottom, up the hill and round the tree section” often resulted with rocket like response and
arriving with too much speed at the top of the bank. Not what we were used to and met with
different attitudes as to whether this was going to catch on or not. Of course later models went on
to become the Majesty’s and all of the 70’s Yams are very popular today and make up the majority
of entries in the Modern Classic Class due to their performance, reliability and parts availability.
The 74 model had a very “snappy” motor but from 75/76 this became much softer and more
manageable off the bottom end.

The other Jap entries were of course Suzuki, Kawasaki and the perhaps the already outdated
Honda. The Suzuki never really achieved very much and was a bit “tin and tinsel” although Gordon
Farley had some good rides on it and the later Beamish models looked good and performed well in
Southern England in the hands of Graham Fowler but never achieved much in Scotland or on the

The 1975/76 Kawasaki

Equally disappointing was the Kawasaki even though Don Smith developed it. Another marque
that never saw any major victories…… and if it doesn’t win it doesn’t sell. Simple as that.

Oooooh! now we are talking….. the MAJESTY!

From about 1976 it has become a 2 horse race between Montesa and Bultaco with the Majesty’s
and Ossas settling for the minor placings. The 2 major companies have it nearly all their own way
until Honda come back with the improved TLR series which other frame builders jump on and make
improved versions. Fraser, Seeley, Gollner are all names associated with the model. CCM produced
a cracking “BSA” lookalike with a modern twist, and then Italy joined in with SWM, Gori, Italjet and

The BIG BANGER from CCM circa 1978

My revamped 1980 350 CAGIVA

SWM was just about invincible for a period even though in my opinion it was an ugly replica of the
already excellent Bultaco. But, if you steal all the Bultaco factory riders what do you expect?

Maybe the overall best? I’ve just got to ride one! Fantaaaaaassssssstic

The Best from Bultaco

……. and then came the Fantic. So here we are at the end of the era, Montesa has some good
models the 330 being a great bike. The big Bultaco is excellent with all it’s development. Ossa
has just about given up after some weird models. The Italians have stopped most of their interest
in twinshocks and Suzuki and Kawasaki have withdrawn from the contest. Only Honda persist and
the last of the TLRs are superb pieces of engineering.

As a bike these take some beating, and of course I’m sold as it’s in Rothman’s colors

Of course any marque or model will have it’s devotees but as I see it the winners by time frame
are as follows;

1969-71      Montesa Cota 247
1972-73      Bultaco
1974-76      Bultaco/Ossa MAR/Yamaha
1977-78      Montesa 348/Majesty/Bultaco
1979           Bultaco
1980           SWM
1981-85      Fantic/Bultaco/Montesa 330/Honda TLR

So overall, if all these machines were to compete head to head, which of course they don’t, which
one would the Experts ride?

On reflection, as a stock bike from the 70’s my choice, the TY250A

Tony Down…… undecided?

You must have a view let’s hear it

What did you think of this article?

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  • 6/7/2008 9:53 AM Doug Hunter wrote:
    Good article Tony.

    However, like chosing best sports figure or best fighter plane or anything else that has a legacy of many generations…you are not going to get a concensus here! It might come down to the age of the enthusiast you ask on whether that “greatest” bike is a Norton 500T, Ariel HT, Bultaco Sherpa T or Montesa 4RT!

    I’m guessing there’s a good chance there will be a “T” in it’s name though!

    Regards, Doug
    Reply to this

  • 6/7/2008 9:47 PM TooFastTim wrote:
    Ooh, Downs now you’ve opened a can of worms. First you tackle, err, legality in pre-65’s now this!

    Lets understand that I’m not of your “advanced” years and so will have a slightly different slant on things, mostly that I have no affection for any motorcycle manufactured prior to 1976. I also saw things from a very skewed perspective being in the colonies where not all bikes were present. So here we go:

    M159 Sherpa, a huge improvement over the previous models. Lovely motor. I could do things on it I could only dream of on the previous model.

    Cota 348: When released it stunned me with its attention to detail. It was also a real looker. Looked great from any angle.

    199A Sherpa: Another quantum leap in quality (the Spaniards were getting worried). That crisp sounding exhaust note was special.

    SWM: Sorry I disagree here. Another leap in quality. Brilliant motor, great chassis. Let down by the clutch.

    Fantic 240: Possibly the most important bike in trials history. Proved you didn’t need quarter of a ton of flywheel to make a good trials bike.

    Then I disappeared into enduros for 15 years and I won’t deliver comment on the modern bikes because I’m too subjective.

    Hope you’re well.

    Reply to this

  • 6/8/2008 9:55 PM Mark C wrote:
    Hey Tony,
    well, coming from your neck of the woods we always judged bikes on their ability to grip in the mud, started with Ossas, late 70’s, great mud bikes, then one day I tried a 1980 250 Beamish suzuki and I was sold, whisper quiet, docile and yet revved out nicely, fantastic in the mud. I later tried the 325 version but just could’t get on with it, so having been mightily impressed by the big blue Bults of the day I drove all the way to Wales to buy one, again I didn’t really get on with it where others seemed to. My last twinshock was an Armstrong/CCM 320 (Hiro motor) that was good but never as good all round as the 250 Beamish. As you know there are no rocks down that way so it might have been different had I lived elsewhere! I think there are so many variables that determine ones suitability to a particular bike… But that’s what makes it so much fun.

    Great site by the way, always look foreward to the next episode!

    Mark – Perth Australia
    Reply to this

  • 6/11/2008 2:25 PM Jack Knoops wrote:
    Hi Tony, Blast from the past!! Dick Clears told me about your web site so I have just had a look. “Rotten Cottons” brings back memories, not good. I dont ride any more competively, knee & back joints have called time. I take photos now and have a Beta Alp to get out to the sections. I moved up to Yorkshire when I came out of the RAF in 78 to work in Motor Transport then meet up with George Webb ex Army & we formed a Motorcycle Clothing Company, Sportex suppling the Trade. We sold up in 1998 and retired. George and I both live in Ripon so we still hang around and go to trials, shows ect. I think it’s in the blood.
    Well its good to hear of you we have been talking about a reunion sometime but whether it comes off or not remains to be seen.
    All the best,
    Reply to this
  • 6/19/2008 8:51 AM Brian wrote:
    Oh how I wish we were riding trials instead of motocross back in those days!
    Reply to this
  • 6/19/2008 8:56 AM Brian wrote:
    I wish we were riding trials back then instead of MX.
    Reply to this
  • 7/25/2008 10:43 PM Jose Alvarez wrote:
    Thanks for the history lesson, Tony. In my opinion, we all owe a lot to Mr Francisco Xavier Bulto, because he was the equivalent of Mr. Honda in the area of Trials. And let’s remember, they (Bultaco) were also offering streetbikes, roadracers, trail rider bikes, the mighty Pursangs, Astros and on and on. In terms of a broad offering, they were in a class of their own. Best regards, Jose.
    Reply to this
  • 7/26/2008 4:15 PM Glenn Swanson wrote:
    Hi Tony !I have to say , being a 240 fantic owner and having restored 2 swm 240’s for a freind , I really don’t know how Bernie did what he did on one !But I’ve yet to play on a jumbo …
    And thanks again for the ride on your Bullet , it’s a experience I’ll never forget ! My middle son wants a trials bike now too , and I’ve got a line on 3 mountain cubs to build him one out of !
    And next time we meet you must ride my old fantic , as (IMHO)she’s about as good as one can get at this point …
    Reply to this
  • 5/15/2009 4:12 AM David Lahey wrote:
    Hello Tony and other twinshock era bike lovers.
    That is an enjoyable history lesson and I hope you keep adding to it.
    I didn’t ride trials between 1981 and 1988 so have no affection at all for the Fantics, SWMs or TLRs, as good as I’m sure they are to ride.
    I can’t pick a single favourite. It’s like asking which is your favourite child. By process of elimenation I have listed my favourite few in no particular order:
    OSSA MAR 250
    Cota 348
    Majesty 250
    Sherpa T M198
    Reply to this
  • 2/8/2010 9:17 AM Dave Jones wrote:
    Dear Tony,
    I was actually surfin the net in the hope of finding something related to Tony Davis and his Late brother Malcolm, and somehow discovered this site. in the index of the Ask search engine your site mention the two boys, but i couldnt see any reference to them in the articles. Perhaps i missed it, or its not there. Sorry to be dim but could you explain where the link is? Cheers, Dave Jones Gloucester. Ps if you come back ill tell you why im interested in them.
    Reply to this
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