Every five years, former riders, organisers, officials and enthusiasts of the famous Scott Trial decend upon the Yorkshire town of Ripon to celebrate the Greatest of All Trials with a celebratory dinner at the Ripon Spa Hotel.
2019 was the year once again with Master of Ceremonies, Alan Lampkin at the helm which saw many riders of yesteryear attend the gathering to celebrate the Scott Trial.
The quinquennial dinner was open to anyone who has had an association with the event, male or female and it was well supported by young and not so young Scott enthusiasts.
The number one table consisted of Alan & Arthur Lampkin, Ray Sayer, Arthur Browning and partner Gail, Nigel Birkett, Gordon McLaughlan, Peter & Derrick Edmondson and Mick Wilkinson.
Alan ‘Sid’ Lampkin has organised four of these wonderful events, taking over the task from the Late T.U. Ellis, the former BSA supported rider/dealer of Ripon.
The toast to the trial was proposed by former racing star, Nick Jefferies, a man who was quite capable of winning a Manx GP and then jumping on a trials bike to take honours in the Manx Two Day trial.
Jefferies is an excellent after dinner speaker and covered a lot of ground in his toast, touching on quite a few riders who are no longer with us and added a slice of humour in for good measure as well as giving a short history on the event itself. Nick’s father, Allan Jefferies was the last man to win the Scott Trial on a Scott machine in 1932.
The toast was responded to by Trials Guru’s John Moffat who wasn’t a Scott competitor, but has attended many Scott Trials since his first as a schoolboy to spectate in 1974. Moffat made a point of thanking not only the main speaker, N.W. Jefferies, but also Sid Lampkin for all the effort and hard work he put into organising the dinner. Lampkin of course being a former winner of the trial as were his two brothers, Arthur and the late Martin Lampkin who featured in the many photographs that adorned the dining room.
Alan Lampkin skillfully arranged a display of every Scott Trial programme since 1909, a collection that will be sold off for charity shortly. many of the items were supplied by David Wood, the son of former Scott Trial clerk of course, C.H. Wood.
The doyen of trials photographers, Eric Kitchen attended and brought with him many photos of Martin Lampkin in action that he had taken since 1970 when Lampkin rode the Suzuki 80 in trials.
The assembled diners stayed on after the most excellent dinner to look at the photos, programmes, old route maps and time cards and converse and enjoy the company of like-minded individuals. It was a true celebration of the Scott Trial and motorcycle comradeship which no doubt had been built up over many years.
Former Scott Trial winners present at the dinner were: Ian Austermuhle (2015); Nigel Birkett (1984); Alan Lampkin (1966); Arthur Lampkin (1960;61 &65); Rob Shepherd (1972) and Gerald Richardson (1983 & 85).
There were a good collection of younger riders attending and this bodes well for the future of this wonderful and unique five annual event.
* New marking system named “ACU Trial GB” (British Trials Championship) which will include a one-minute time allowance for each section to be traversed.
* Competitors may stop, go sideways or reverse without penalty. Going backwards whilst footing will incur a five-mark penalty.
* The ACU Trial 125 Class will be open to any rider over the age of 14, but riders between the age of 14 to 16 will require permission from the ACU to compete.
* Assistants will be allowed in the ACU Trial GB Class only.
* Competitors for the ACU Trial GB and ACU Trial 2 Classes will be asked to Register at the start of the year to be allocated a permanent number.
* The top six from the 2019 ACU Trial 2 Class will not be permitted to move down a class for 2020.
* An additional one Championship Point will be awarded to the best performance on observation on each lap of the Trial to all four classes.
* There will be the option for a third route for the ACU Trial 2 Class, with separate coloured markers.
* The Series Manager will visit each Organiser in advance of each round and discuss section layout with each Clerk of the Course and advise that protocol for section layout be much the same as 2019, with emphasis that the Expert route cater for the majority of the entry.
* Riders need to carefully consider which class they will compete in during the season as moving down a class during the season will mean the rider will not score points in the new class. It is recognised that the ACU Trial GB Class is likely to be smaller than in 2019.
Series Manager, Brian Higgins commented, “We actually had more organisers wanting to run a round of the championship this year and some were disappointed. However, the aim is to introduce some new venues into the series, and I am sure the ones left out will be offered a round in future years.
Dates and venues released are:
Saturday March 7th Hookwood, Surrey; Sunday April 5th Neath, South Wales; Sunday June 14th Harrogate, Yorkshire; Saturday June 27th Bovey Tracey, Devon; Sunday June 28th Tavistock, Devon; Sunday 26th July Scarborough, Yorkshire; Saturday August 15th Llanbedr, Wales; Sunday August 16th Llandiloes. Wales; Sunday 27th September (Reserve Date).
This article first appeared in Classic Trial Magazine.
The name Dennis Jones may not be significant to the modern day trials rider, but if you grew up in the 1960s, then that was a totally different matter.
A national trials winner of the Manx Two Day and Greensmith trials, Dennis Jones was not born into a motorcycling family, but he was a self-motivated individual who was both confident and knew his abilities as a competitor.
‘Jonah’ as he was to become universally known in the trials world, was born in 1945 in Smethwick, Staffordshire as it was then. There is the three shires Oak Road, one half mile away where Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire all met, but in more modern times it all was absorbed into the massive Birmingham conurbation.
The Smethwick connection spawned a friendship with Sprite creator, Frank Hipkin who was a keen scrambler and multiple 250cc AMCA champion in the Midlands and formed the dealership of Hipkin and Evans in Cross Street, Smethwick prior to venturing into production of the Sprite brand motocross machines. The Sprite would be offered in kit form to avoid the dreaded ‘Purchase Tax’ which was the fore-runner of the later ‘Value Added Tax’ in the UK. There were no immediate plans to build trials machines, but that would change in late 1964.
Jones: “I started riding on a 250cc DMW, then a Greeves in some AMCA trials events which were strong in the Midlands. Then I thought I would move to ride in the ACU Midlands centre and I bought a Cotton from Frank Hipkin and from that machine I made the Sprite. The Cotton’s 246cc 37A Villiers motor was used as the power-plant, the frame was fabricated by Frank and the forks and front wheel came from Roy Bevis. It was the very first Sprite trials bike in fact. It was registered as a Cotton, with registration number 830RHA and I rode it in the 1965 Scottish Six Days. I finished in sixteenth position, but would have been higher up but I lost some time penalties, how exactly I don’t know to this day. Perhaps it was because I spent too much time chatting up a girl at one of the sections to ask her on a date that night.”
Riding number 190, Jonah took home a Special First Class award from the 1965 SSDT finishing up on 75 marks, whereas the winner, Sammy Miller (244cc Bultaco) lost 29 to win the event. Dennis Jones’ machine was entered as a ‘254cc Cotton’, because it was registered as such, but it was in effect the first Sprite to enter the Scottish. Rob Edwards, riding in the official works AJS team took the 350cc cup on 63 marks, with Gordon Blakeway (AJS) second on 74 and Jonah third place in that capacity class.
Jones: “I prepared my bike for the 1965 Scottish in the outside yard by the light of the outside loo. The Birmingham Motor Cycle Club paid the entry fee for me as I was skint. Mind you I did go equipped with a pair of pumps and a t-shirt for the nights out in Fort William.”
Jones: “At the 65 Scottish on my now pretty knackered Sprite, Sammy recommended I speak with Ralph Venables the journalist who interviewed me. He was an unofficial scout for the factory competition shops and he arranged with Henry Vale of Triumphs for me to try Scott Ellis’s Tiger Cub. It was registered VWD6, but I still can’t remember the number of my Spanish registered car! When I had the Cub I won local Midland trials, then at the Red Rose the chain kept coming off, so I only kept it six months and I gave it back. I reverted to my normal life with a Sprite. I used to carry a set of mole grips and a small chopper; I wanted a hammer but couldn’t afford one! I remember having a try on John Giles’ works 650cc Triumph and was told to slow down, because I was taking away Ken Heanes bonus points.
I remember once Roy Peplow and John Harris chucking my bed out of a hotel window. I did ride a Greeves at the 1968 ISDT at San Pellegrino in Italy, which was another failure. Everyone booked their drinks to my hotel room number, so I promptly did a midnight runner with Peter Gaunt.”
“For the 1968 Scott I stayed overnight with Mick Wilkinson at Kettlewell and told him I was going to run up and inspect the sections. During the event, I was about halfway round when Mick caught me, he said: ‘Jonah how many you lost?’ I said ‘still clean’ and promptly fell off and then I just went to pieces after that.” Jones still came home a creditable sixth place none-the-less.
He lists his favourite all time trials bikes as “… my 1965 Sprite or the 1967 third placed factory supplied Greeves or even my Gaunt Suzuki 128 on which I rode the 1969 SSDT.”
There is no doubt that Dennis Jones was suited to the rocks of the Scottish Six Days, given his third place in the 1967 event, it put him in the top bracket of UK trials riders of that era. Having stayed off the beer all week, Jonah pulled back the marks to secure that third place by the Thursday and was ahead of the other factory Greeves riders, holding the position to the very end of the trial.
The eventual winner was Sammy Miller (252cc Bultaco) on 18 marks, runner up Dave Rowland (175cc BSA) on 34 marks with Dennis (246cc Greeves) on 40 marks in third spot on the podium.
He also took home the coveted 250cc capacity class award. However later that same year, Jones was asked to return the Greeves to Thundersley after an altercation at the Manx Two Day and he went back to riding for Sprite once again.
In the 1968 SSDT, riding number 58, Dennis retired on the Friday on the Sprite and, with Yorkshireman Ray Sayer from Leyburn suffering the same fate, Jones took Sayers’ stricken Suzuki back to the Suzuki (Great Britain) Ltd headquarters in the Midlands. It was this very sporting gesture which brought Dennis in contact with Suzuki (GB) boss Alan Kimber who rated Jones’s ability highly and inevitably a 128cc Gaunt/Suzuki was despatched to Smethwick and Dennis began working for Suzuki in Birmingham.
That same year the British Suzuki concessionaires had entered Deepdale’s Blackie Holden, Sayer and Peter Gaunt as a manufacturers’ team on the 128cc machines, with Gaunt taking home the 150cc capacity class award. The Cannock Suzuki Centre entered Jim Taylor, John Taylor and J. Statham on 125cc versions. These were modified road machines undertaken by the Taylors, all riding under the Stafford Auto Club banner, but strangely not entered as a club team.
The 1969 season saw Jonah undertake the European Championship, the fore-runner to the current World Series. His six foot two frame dwarfing the little Gaunt/Suzuki, he claimed the win at the Alpen Trial at Oberberg in Switzerland, beating the 1967 Euro-champion, Don Smith by eleven marks. Suzuki (GB) capitalised on this victory by featuring Dennis in all their adverts in the motorcycle press. Montesa mounted Smith was declared the 1969 European Champion on 51 points, with Jonah finishing runner-up on 48 points and Sammy Miller (Bultaco) on 27 points.
For the 1969 SSDT, Jones would ride the 128cc Suzuki, but the rot was beginning to set in when Suzuki GB was bought over by Trojan/Lambretta, the business would move south to Croyden in South London. Hard riding Jones failed to finish the trial having been excluded for replacing a rear damper, one of the marked components which were not permitted to be changed during the event. Jonah was out of work and without a machine when Suzuki GB moved their location.
Jones: “I enjoyed the little Suzuki, they were nick-named the ‘clockwork mice’ by the press. Laugh?, when I last rode the Scottish on the little Suzuki I got back to the Birmingham Suzuki stores, the franchise owners British East West Africa Company had just sold Suzuki (GB) to Peter Agg who owned Trojan cars and Lambretta scooters. He said ‘You can sling your hook. I want a proper rider, H M Lampkin’.
In truth nobody bettered my record on the Suzuki mini. Mind you I got my own back, I told them all the trials tyres and stuff belonged to me. It was nice working there at Suzuki with around ten ‘twenty-something’ girls who worked in the office!
They were doing some promotional rally jackets and the male model didn’t turn up, so Alan Kimber said ‘you will have to do’. So they took a heap of photos of me in Suzuki clothing. All the office girls used to wind me up mercilessly. They said that Alan’s fifty-something secretary kept pictures of me in her desk drawer.”
After the split with Suzuki, the press reported a possible contract for Jonah with the Andover based AJS concern, but the factory was not keen on taking on a full-time contracted trials rider, instead they concentrated their efforts on the works motocross team headed up by Welshman Andy Roberton, supported by Scotsman Jimmy Aird and Sweden’s Bengt-Arne Bonn.
Jones returned to riding Frank Hipkin’s Sprite in Midlands events including the 405cc Husqvarna based model, which was regarded as a bit over the top for a two-stroke trials machine at the time and wasn’t a popular choice with the trials buying public.
Jones: “I stopped riding around 1972, to build up my transport business. I initially started delivering to schools all over Scotland for a school furniture manufacturing company in Oldbury near Birmingham. I am now an ex-patriate living in sunny Spain.”
Jones: “I left the UK in 2005 and ran my business transporting from the UK to Spain and Morocco, selling some of my twenty trucks in Birmingham in 2003.
I only ever had ERF trucks and all did about seven hundred thousand miles and every one was knackered when I sold them.
I must be the only trials rider you’ll ever know who has no trophies whatsoever, just a few mouldy photos and some press cuttings pasted into a photo album. Mick Wilk (Wilkinson) will confirm I was an odd-ball. He used to call me the ‘Human Drain’ for my beer consumption on the night before big events and usually all through the Scottish week.”
Jones wasn’t really so much an ‘odd-ball’, but he was an accomplished ‘leg-puller’ and was always up for a bit of fun. He was a rider who enjoyed his trials riding, he was a bottom gear man for most sections and was used to underpowered machines of which he got the very best out of.
Jones: “I started up with Olga Kevelos, the well-known Midlands trials rider, the ‘MAD’ fund which meant the Motorcyclist Agricultural Distress fund for farmers whose land we used in the Midlands Centre for trials when there was the Foot and Mouth outbreak.
I was described as the ‘Enfant Terrible’ of the trials world. When I worked at the Ariel Motors competition shop in Selly Oak with Sammy (Miller) he used to send me to get milk, sugar and tea, but wouldn’t pay half for the sugar because he didn’t use it. So next time I didn’t bring any milk. Sammy said ‘where’s the milk Jonah?’ I said: ‘if you don’t pay for sugar, we will go without milk’, that was the end of the problem! By that stage I was drinking tea, no sugar!”
Greeves no more:
Dennis had a particular phrase that he used when he beat many of his peers, who happened to be the best riders in the land.
Jones: “I used to say that I podged them!”
“I think that phrase came about at the 1966 Manx Two Day trial when the whole trial couldn’t get up the Z bend hill, because they all were at the begins card and couldn’t get traction, so I rode round the lot of them and overtook every-body and shot into the section. That was the year I won the event. Next year I would have won again on the Greeves, but they docked me ten marks for doing the same as the previous year. The result was Sammy (Miller) won, I was second and the clerk of the course, Geoff Duke called me a disgrace because I told him to stick the second place up where the sun didn’t shine! Greeves took their bike back and that was the end of that!”
Still living in Spain at Puerto de Cabopino, Malaga where the BBC filmed the TV series ‘Eldorado’, Jonah has in more recent times discovered facebook social media and has managed to hook up with a number of old friends in the sport and is surprised that trials enthusiasts remember him as a very skilled trials competitor of his era.
The only American to win a world trials championship, with his pivot turns and bunny-hops California’s flamboyant Bernie Schreiber was a god-like figure to a whole generation of young riders, changing the face of the sport…
Words by Sean Lawless
Photos by: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven; John Honeyman; Chris Sharp Photography; Stephen Postlethwaite; Blackburn Holden III; Alain Sauquet; Eric Kitchen; Fin Yeaman; Len Weed; Claudio Pictures (Jean-Claude Comeat); Jean Caillou.
Main photo: Eric Kitchen copyright
This article first appeared in Dirt Bike Rider Magazine, March 2018.
I was a spoilt brat when I was a kid. When your old man’s the Editor of Trials and Motocross News you get all the best machinery and all the best kit – bikes that are still in a developmental stage, the latest line in Ellgrens – but the one thing I wanted more than anything else was a pair of Bernie Schreiber-signature Alpinestars.
I was nine years old when Bernie won the FIM World Trials Championship and to me – and most of my trials buddies – he was the man. Tall, handsome and with style for miles, he had the same aura of California coolness that the likes of Bob Hannah and Broc Glover exuded. Sure, I had lots of role models from much closer to home to choose from but mighty Martin Lampkin – who lived less than sixty miles away – or Finnish iceman Yrjo Vesterinen didn’t capture my imagination in the same way as the alluring American did back in 1979.
Sadly, I never did get those boots – I’d never have been able to fill them anyway – but by way of consolation I did get to spend a couple of very enjoyable hours on a Skype call with him back in January after he responded to my friend request on Facebook.
Now living in Zurich with his wife – a tax lawyer with a consulting powerhouse company – and their young son, Bernie may have moved away from his home state the best part of forty years but he still possesses that laidback, easy-going SoCal cool.
“I grew up in Los Angeles and I had a paper route after school for quite a few years,” he says. “I was riding a Stingray bicycle and we had a lot of hills and I always enjoyed trying to do wheelies down them. I only had a brake on the back so I’d just balance. My father noticed that I liked bicycles a lot – besides for just delivering papers. There were some hills behind the house and I’d build a little ramp to make a jump. I just liked being on two wheels.”
When I think of SoCal in the ’70s I automatically think of motocross although, to be honest, if I think of SoCal in the ’80s, ’90s and beyond the last thing I would think of is trials. So how did Bernie – the greatest trials rider America has ever produced and a genuine icon of the sport – get involved in the first place?
“My first motorcycle was actually a Kawasaki 90 and we used to go riding in a place out in the desert called Little Rock. A friend of my father’s told us about it so we went there and one day this friend came out and his son was riding around in a circle standing up and I didn’t know what that was! We asked what he was doing and were told that he was practising for a trial at Saddleback Park.
“So I went down to Saddleback and there were quite a few kids – one of them was Jeff Ward whose father was out there riding trials as well in the adult class. I rode the Kawasaki – I had footpegs on the back so I tried to stand up on those to see if I could lean forward riding up the hills and I kinda liked it.”
It’s no surprise to discover that Bernie was a natural and he quickly progressed. Moving up to a 125cc Bultaco, he was soon competing against adult competitors despite being barely into his teens.
“I got a little deal on a bike – the first Sherpa T250 – and I started doing much better. I was in the Amateur class, then the Expert class and at that time they had the Master class – that was the first time we went to the El Trial de Espana where I got to see Sammy Miller for the first time. That was a big deal – I think it was back in 1972 or ’73.”
El Trial de Espana, an annual event started by US Montesa importer Fred Belair, doubled up as a fund-raiser to send young riders across to Europe and to this day remains a major event on the SoCal trials calendar.
“About a year later there was a trials school with Mick Andrews in California. Sammy and Mick were the two riders who impressed me most – especially Mick. They were the role models for me at the time. Then they had the world round in the US at Saddleback Park in 1974 – it was really muddy and I got to ride with an X on my bib because I was under eighteen.
“There was Alan Lampkin and Martin Lampkin – not too many riders came from Europe, I think there was maybe ten of them – and I actually did quite well and finished it better than any other American rider.”
At the time only a rider’s best seven results from the thirteen-round series counted which explains the poor turn-out of European riders. Bizarrely, it was also actually a round of the FIM European Trials Championship which had crossed the Atlantic for the first time in preparation for the inaugural full world championship the following year.
Because of his age Bernie doesn’t feature in the results from Saddleback but his finish would have put him at least in the top eight – not bad, even given the limited European presence, for a fifteen-year-old.
“El Trial de Espana sent a delegation to Europe to watch the world rounds and when they came back there were a couple of people who also set up trials events and they made them a lot harder for the Master class. They tried to make sections similar to what they saw in Europe.
“I won the trip to go there once and then I won it a second time when I was under eighteen – I went one time to Barcelona and saw the world round and visited the Bultaco factory. Then I went back again for the Scottish in, I think, 1976 which was when I rode Charles Coutard’s bike. I took it as a spectator because he’d broken his wrist so I changed into his clothes and rode the Ben Nevis sections.”
At the time, Southern California was the epicentre of US trials and the Schreiber household played host to a four-time Spanish champion who was keen to mix business with pleasure.
“I was riding the national championship and Bultaco came to visit me. Manuel Soler came and stayed with us for a while and we rode together. I think he came for the experience to visit Los Angeles but also to see how I was and to report back to Bultaco. I was kinda scouted out.”
Then came the game-changer that would alter the course of Bernie’s life…
“I was sponsored by a local dealer – Steve’s Bultaco – who were just providing a bike and then the importer at that time, John Grace, flew out from West Virginia to visit me and my father and asked if I’d like to compete in the world championship. They wanted to give me the chance to go out to Europe and ride with the rest of the Bultaco team in 1977 to see how it went and I finished in the top ten almost every event.
“If my results had have been bad I’d have probably never seen them again. To be honest I didn’t think I was going to stay. It was quite tough for me – we didn’t have all the fancy stuff that these riders have today – and travelling was a different thing back then.”
He initially moved to Belgium and then Spain but the factory figured its American hotshot would feel more at home speaking a language he understood so Bernie relocated to England where he spent two years living with Pete Hudson – the Competition Manager for UK Bultaco importer Comerfords – and his family at West Byfleet in Surrey.
“I was working in the shop a little bit, helping to set up bikes and doing things like that in between the season otherwise it would have been quite difficult so they really supported me but it wasn’t so easy times for the brand because Bultaco had already started to have difficulties by 1978.
“Still, it was really an adventure. A lot of fun but always wet, always raining – I used to joke that I had a lot of friends in the UK and told them to call me when the sun came out but I never heard from them again!”
Vesterinen took his second title in 1977 but Bernie’s eventual seventh-placed finish with podiums in first Spain and then Germany showed huge potential. Vesty then clinched his hat-trick of titles in 1978 but Bernie matched him win-for-win and finished just twelve points behind in third place. The scene was set for his historic 1979 campaign…
Bernie celebrated his twentieth birthday three weeks before the opening round in Northern Ireland where his championship got off to a bad start when a big crash and subsequent bent forks handed him a DNF and no points. A seventh second time out in Rhayader at the British round – twenty marks behind winner Malcolm Rathmell – wasn’t a lot more promising, nor was sixth at round three in Belgium.
A week later in Holland, Bernie claimed a fourth before winning in Spain. It was the start of a run of six consecutive podiums – including further wins in the USA and Sweden – while his rivals struggled with consistency. With two rounds to go it was a two-horse race with Bernie leading the defending champion by nine points but, at the penultimate round in Finland, Vesty slashed the deficit to just three points as he came home third while Bernie slumped to seventh.
The title was decided at Ricany, around fifteen miles south east of Prague in the Czech Republic. With the pressure on, Bernie rode out of his skin to drop just thirteen marks – the lowest score of the season and also the biggest winning margin – with Ulf Karlson nineteen marks further back in second.
“I was excited to win. I was excited for Comerfords who had supported me, I was excited for my parents and of course for the Hudson family who had also supported me when I was living there. That win was important for me – not as an American or a non-European, I was just happy to feel like I was the best rider.
“The reason I say that is because I was competing against Martin Lampkin who had been world champion in 1975 who was on Bultaco, then I had Vesterinen who was a three-time world champion on Bultaco, Manuel [Soler] was on Bultaco – we were on the same bike so in the end it was kinda the best rider won.
“There were no question marks and I was happy about that, even if it was just one time.”
With his first world title in the bag, what Bernie did next seems crazy – he jumped ship and signed to ride for Italjet. Although the Italian manufacturer had been around for over twenty years and had enjoyed success in small-capacity road racing, its trials project was still in the fledgling stages but pressing financial concerns – along with the wave of confidence he was riding – persuaded Bernie to make the move.
“Signing for Italjet is always a question mark that comes up in my career. Why did I go there? There are reasons for that. Leopoldo Tartarini at the time was the importer for Bultaco in Italy – he saw the situation coming and he thought he could take over.
“At the time I left Bultaco I didn’t get paid for three months – I never got my championship bonus because they were insolvent and I was a rider, an external consultant – so I had no financial means. He made an offer and I took that risk. I didn’t have so many financial offers and he made a lot of promises – what they were going to do, bring the team and bring the mechanics. They were going to try and bring Bultaco back in another way so I took that risk and went to Italjet.
“You think ‘okay, you’re the best in the world’ so the bike doesn’t really matter, the equipment doesn’t matter. I moved to Bologna, I started to learn Italian – it was an experience. The problem was that I was a rider, I wasn’t an R&D person. I could test ride things but I was interested in riding, I was interested in winning – I wasn’t interested in going out and giving feedback on how to develop the best bike in the world. They thought they could just develop whatever they wanted. They thought ‘Bernie can win on anything’.”
Tartarini is a famous figure in Italian motorcycling. The son of a road racer, he also raced professionally and – despite once turning down a factory ride with MV Agusta because his mother wanted him to manage the family motorcycle dealership – achieved considerable success. When he became disillusioned with selling bikes for other manufacturers, the family started Italjet in 1959.
“He was a nice man but it just didn’t work out. His expectations were ‘I can make whatever I want and you do whatever I tell you to do’. He was very supportive but at the end of the day it didn’t work. In the beginning we called it a Greentaco – a Bultaco painted green – and during that first year there was a prototype stage of making some modifications and at one point that bike really was one of the best bikes in the world but it was a one-off model.
“I said ‘let’s just keep that, look at Honda they have one prototype’ but then they tried to make a production bike which was totally different and that’s when we started to have some problems.”
Bernie had to wait until the fourth round of the 1980 championship before he took his first win of the season and was back on top of the podium at round six. He then suffered no-scores in Switzerland and Germany due to mechanical problems before sweeping the final four rounds but ended the year second, ten points behind Karlson.
For 1981 Bernie was mounted on the production bike and struggled to sixth with both inferior machinery and a lack of motivation.
“It was a really tough bike to ride – it was very stiff, it was heavy, it had Pirelli tyres instead of Michelin and it was just not a good year for me. I was not motivated anymore. I think I had a few podiums but my only dream was to have again a proven, winning bike.”
After winning the 1981 title, Burgat left SWM for Fantic. Bernie picked up his ride and stayed there for three successful years, finishing runner-up in 1982 and ’83 and third in ’84.
“It was a good bike and I really enjoyed my time at SWM. We had Martin Lampkin on SWM in ’82 and at the time they were developing the Jumbo especially for Martin because he was aggressive and he was strong and the 320 just didn’t have the power for him. I think if I would’ve worked more on that 320 rotary Rotax engine instead of moving to the Jumbo…
“Instead I had to change to a completely new product and that was difficult. Eddy Lejeune was coming strong and he had a lot of support from Honda and his family and it was tough for me – I was isolated in Italy and I never had that kind of support. He had his younger brother, his older brother, his father – he had money, Honda had money, he had a training programme.
“I don’t want to give a lot of excuses but the sport had started to change. It became more of a team sport than an individual sport and that was a complete change.”
Bernie won two rounds in 1984 – in Great Britain and Germany – to take his victory total up to twenty but his win in Osnabruck was the last time he’d top a world championship podium.
“At the end of ’84 SWM sold everything to Garelli – the team, the people – and at the time everyone was going to monoshock and we were still making twin-shock trials bikes. I rode two events, they told me I wasn’t focussed, I told them the bike was shit and we got into a dispute about that.
“I told them ‘no problem, we can just rip up the contract and stop right now or I can continue and try and finish in the top fifteen and you can keep paying me for shitty results which I think is not good for you’. I also told them I wasn’t going to rip up the contract and then sit at home and couldn’t guarantee that within a couple of months I wouldn’t be riding some other brand and then we would see if it was the rider or the bike.
“They said ‘no, we don’t want that, we’ll just pay you and you do nothing for the rest of the year – go on vacation until the contract terminates’. I said ‘that’s fine with me, have a nice day’ and that was the end of the story.”
In 1986 Bernie joined Gilles Burgat on Yamaha, ending the season seventh with a best finish of fifth in Sweden, before a switch to Fantic for 1987 netted him his fourth and final US title. He also scored points in the two world championship appearances he made but Bernie’s priorities lay elsewhere…
“I really enjoyed riding the Yamaha. It was a good bike – a lot of fun – and I got some pretty good results. I won some events – not world championship rounds – and really enjoyed riding. I also really liked the Fantic but that was kinda the end. I was teaching trials and doing some other things.”
It’s perhaps fitting that Bernie, a rider who did so much to stamp his own flamboyant style on world trials, called time on his career just as Jordi Tarres – who won the first of his seven world titles in 1987 – was spearheading a new era in the sport.
While many top professionals continue to ride at a lower level after retirement, Bernie really did quit the sport – although he staged a one-off comeback ride on a Bultaco at the 2008 Robregordo and in 2011 in a two-day classic trial in France, competing against old foes including Vesty, Coutard, Bernard Cordonnier and Soler.
“I hadn’t ridden a trials bike for years and they threw me an SWM Jumbo – I think they’d even cut the flywheel down so as soon as you turned the throttle the thing hit you in the head! It was a little bit difficult at first but it was fun and after one or two laps I started to get the feeling back.”
Living with Bernie…
Thank you to www.retrotrials.com for allowing us to publish this excerpt from a piece written for the website by Pete Hudson, Bernie’s former Competition Manager at Comerfords.
“I remember this young lad of 17 came over to Comerfords from America. He didn’t have anywhere to go and didn’t have anywhere to stay. He had come over with Marland Whaley and Len Weed to do the world rounds. He was a bit upside down and didn’t know where he was going so I took him home.
“My two boys just idolised him. He was like an older brother to them. Of course, Bernie would go off to the factory and then come back and we would go off in the van here there and everywhere. I would take Colin Boniface and Peter Cartwright as well to some of the rounds.
“I really just tried to keep Bernie’s head on. Although he was a quiet boy off the bike, on the bike Bernie was flamboyant and would play to the crowd. He could do all of the tricks and he liked to show people that he could do them. Bernie was the first one to do the pivot turns – riding on the balls of his feet instead of the insteps – and bunny-hopping.
“When I saw him doing this I remember thinking ‘trials is on the change, this is really different’. He got a lot of basic coaching from a bloke called Norm Sailer at a ski lodge in Donner Pass in North California. He got a lot of influence from this guy.”
“Bernie lived with us for two years and, of course, became part of the family. Bernie just wanted to progress and progress – he’s a world champion, that’s what world champions do.”
US of nay!
America’s trials tribulations…
In 1979 Bernie was the youngest ever motorcycling world champion in the FIM’s history but while he got lots of coverage in the European specialist press, back home – then as now – trials didn’t command the headlines.
“Those were good days for the Americans. We had Kenny Roberts, we had Brad Lackey, we had the speedway rider Bruce Penhall – there were a lot of great riders and champions coming out of the United States in those days so the American press had plenty to talk about besides a trials rider.”
This disinterest certainly contributes to why Bernie remains the only world trials champion to be produced by such a great motorcycling nation but he feels there are other factors involved.
“I’m disappointed there’s no other US riders but I’m not surprised. I just don’t think they have the system or any desire. Trials in the US is very small. You have the NATC [North American Trials Council] and then you have the AMA [American Motorcyclist Association] and the AMA never really supported trials ever in the history of the sport in the United States. They never did anything for me.
“The NATC (AMA) were trying to grow the sport but based on their philosophy that Americans are different and we have to do the sport in our own way and it’s about having fun and we don’t want to make sections too difficult and maybe that was best for the sport.”
But it’s not just the US that’s taken a back seat in trials – the record books tell a tale of almost complete European domination with only Japan’s Takahisa Fujinami able to break the stranglehold on one other occasion.
“Until 2004 in the history of the sport I was the only non-European world champion. Nobody really talks about it from that perspective – I don’t think anyone has probably thought about it.”
Don’t forget the SSDT!
While the 1979 world title was undoubtedly the highlight of his career, Bernie’s list of accolades is long and illustrious and includes four AMA titles (in 1978, ’82, ’83 and ’87) plus a string of indoor wins and victories in other high-profile events.
“Winning the Scottish Six Days [in 1982 and the only non-European to do so] was very important – people used to tell me that if you hadn’t won the Scottish then you hadn’t won anything, especially in the UK. Then you had to win a British world round [he won twice, in 1982 and ’84] because that had meaning. There was quite a bit of stuff like Kickstart and I won lots of indoor rounds but they didn’t have it as a championship back then.”
Bernie was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2000 and in 2004 was one of the first five inductees in the NATC Hall of Fame.
Life after trials
What Bernie did next…
“I’ve been an ex-pat for forty years. My wife’s from Lithuania – we’re both ex-pats – and we decided Zurich was a good place for our family. My two daughters are in Europe so I’m not going back to the US and, besides, I like Switzerland.” [Bernie has dual US/Swiss nationality]
Since retiring from trials his professional life has remained every bit as colourful as his sporting career and he’s moved from one role to the next, always looking for something that is challenging, stimulating and entertaining.
“I worked for a lot of manufacturers – I did some project development stuff whether it was for Alpinestars or Yamaha or Michelin. I did a lot of different things. I wrote a book with Len Weed so I kinda became almost an author.
“Then I had to do a transition into business so I started those trial schools and then I got involved with Malcolm Smith.”
Alpinestars was importing Malcolm Smith products into Italy and through that connection Bernie started working for the Italian company before starting his own company in France – Schreiber Group Europe – which he ran for six years making, among other projects, his own mountain bikes, Kamikaze.
“I was doing all kinds of stuff. Helping US companies – Answer products, Manitou forks, all these products – set up distribution. So from 1992 to 1997 I was basically running my own company and doing all kinds of services with bicycle companies and some motorcycle stuff and then I got involved with Tissot and they asked me to come and work full-time internally. My company was small, I didn’t have a lot of experience so I thought going to work for a big multi-brand, multi-national group was a great opportunity.”
Bernie moved to Switzerland and spent the next ten years working for Tissot watches which, along with around twenty other watch brands including Omega, is owned by the Swatch Group.
“During that time it grew from a 100 million turnover into a billion dollar company and the sponsorship didn’t exist so everything that was built there that you see today basically I was involved in – everything from ice hockey to cycling.
“When I first got there they were involved with the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] – they’d signed a timekeeping agreement but that was the only contract they had at the time. We went from there and took MotoGP, got involved in supercross, motocross, ice hockey, fencing, NASCAR, we had athletes like Michael Owen. I personally signed Nicky Hayden two weeks before he won the world championship.
“After ten years I had a career break – that was enough for me. I met my future wife and decided to move on. Then my son was born and that changed everything. I took a break for almost a year-and-a-half – then I had a call from the CEO of the whole Swatch Group who sent me to the US for three years on this golf project.
“It was a fabulous opportunity – I got to work in a huge industry with Omega – and I had a great time and met a lot of great, very interesting people.
“When I came back to Europe the president of Omega left the company, the management completely changed, I was commuting an hour-and-a-half each way to work each day and decided that it was time for me to move on so I left Omega at the end of 2016.”
“In 2017 I was involved in some projects with e-mobility bikes and 2018 working with Ryan Pyle an outdoor TV adventure. In 2019, I celebrated the fortieth anniversary since my world title and was my comeback year riding Classic events and executing Trials schools.”
“2020 will be a surprise with new and interesting developments on the horizon. Promoting the sport for all is my focus.”
Meet the author – Sean Lawless:
49 year old Sean Lawless rode his first trial in March 1978 at Back Cowm Quarry on a TY80 Yamaha. His father Bill Lawless started Trials & Motocross News (TMX) in May 1977 which is how Sean became involved in trials. Sean rode pretty much every weekend until the age of 17 when he “discovered public houses and the ladies that frequented them!” He has been a journalist specialising in off-road sport for 30 years and was editor of Dirt Bike Rider for 12 years. He now works as a freelance journalist and edits the Motocross Diary for TMX.
With the planning well underway, entries for the 2020 Scottish Six Days Trial (May 4 – 9) are now open!
The annual Highland event is expected to be oversubscribed once again and no doubt the annual ballot will take place around the festive period with hopeful entrants sitting biting their finger nails until then.
The online entry facility opened on Friday, 25th October on the event’s revamped website which is now powered by SportsmediaGB, a web hosting and online services company based in Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland.
The existing web address is continued as https://www.ssdt.org and all the information required on the SSDT should be sourced from the trials’ official website.
The Scottish Ballot for entries is not a new phenomenon, it has been on the go since the early 1970s when trials were booming and the leading factories were all Spanish based, lead by Bultaco (first to win the SSDT in 1965), Montesa and Ossa. There were over 500 trials machines sold in the UK alone per year in that period and the SSDT was ‘THE’ event to ride. Remember, the World championships did not take place until 1975, prior to that there were the European Championships. Winning the Scottish meant everything to the factories and also the Manufacturers team prize, as it promoted sales of their products in the UK and overseas.
The first post-war Scottish was held in 1946 amidst petrol rationing and the entry field was limited, but the events popularity increased year on year.
The event hit a depression in the early 1990s and the field was depleted down to around 180 competitors, threatening the viability of the trial. Much of this was down to the Stop Permitted rule being adopted. This changed back to No-Stop in 1995 at the suggestion of Peter Stewart of sponsors, Hamilton Yamaha who convinced the then Clerk of Course, Willie Dalling, that this was the way to go. The following year, the event was back up to its maximum and the ballot used once again.
It has been announced that the Scottish Six Days Trial is to build a new website to promote the annual Highland event for 2020.
In a statement issued on Trials Central today (Saturday 19th October), website owner Andy Grieg issued this statement:
“Many will be aware that Trials Central has provided and operated the official website for the Scottish Six Days Trial since 2015. By mutual agreement with the organising Club, that arrangement has now come to an end. The Club were keen to take the site back in-house and, for me it was an awful lot of work with SSDT week itself being a non-stop run of 16-hour minimum days. I don’t even do that kind of hours for the job that pays the mortgage! It had become an obligation more than something I enjoyed doing and when you stop enjoying something, it’s time to move on and do something else.
This is a totally amicable agreement and the Club have full access to everything on the current website to port over to the new one they are having built so none of the extensive historical information that’s been added over the past five years should be lost. I don’t know when this new site will be up and running, but the current one will remain in place till then, it just won’t be updated any more.”
The SSDT will take place in the Fort William area from Monday 4th to Saturday 9th May 2020 and with the entry arrangements probably released during November, it is anticipated that the new website will be operational very soon.
The new website is accessed via http://www.ssdt.org and the service will continue as normal. The new website will be hosted by SportsmediaGB based in Livingston, Scotland.