Words: Trials Guru & Chris Griffin
Photos: Barry Robinson; Bob Gollner Ltd.
At fourteen years of age a second-hand 125cc Dalesman Puch 125T gave Chris Griffin his first taste of trials riding, a popular choice at the time in Yorkshire as the machines were produced in Otley by Pete Edmondson.
Passing his driving test in February 1974 helped immensely as his father worked through weekends and Chris could only get to events if his friend rode, so that he could cadge a lift to trials.
Joining the Wetherby Motor Club introduced him to John Reynolds who was to become a lifelong friend. Griffin was at college as an apprentice motor engineer, discovered that on a Wednesday, Malcolm Rathmell and Martin Lampkin with some other riders assembled at Rob Shepherd’s farm at Pately Bridge for practice. He enquired if he could tag along to watch with his bike. When they had moved on to another section, Chris would try and emulate the established stars.
Chris: “Watching Malc and Mart really brought my riding on, it was like a crash course in trials, watching them carefully and doing what they did really helped my own riding skills. I was amazed how quickly I improved.”
Moving swiftly from a Novice through the ranks of Intermediate and then onto expert status, Griffin started to catch the eye of other established riders. In 1978, Chris finished fourth in the Lakes Two day and was a regular top twenty performer at national trials. Four days before the 1978 Scottish, John Reynolds appeared at OSSA UK to collect his new SWM for the SSDT and telephoned Griffin to ask if he would like to take over Geoff Guy’s entry in the OSSA team as Guy had broken his wrist. ‘JR’ had named dropped Chris to importer Cliff Holden who at that time had two importerships, the Spanish OSSA and Italian SWM. Holden agreed that Griffin would ride Reynold’s old cantilever Ossa, so the machine was despatched up along with Reynold’s new SWM for Griffin to ride as a full team member of OSSA UK.
After a quick check over, Chris collected the OSSA on the Friday before setting off for Fort William and came home a very creditable twenty-second place in the event. Not bad for a first attempt at the toughest trial in the world! He also picked up the best 250cc cup and Best Newcomer award for his efforts.
Chris continued with the OSSA until the September that year, when he was approached by Beamish Suzuki to join their team.
Chris: “My results just got better and better, in 1979, I finished fourth in the Lakes Two-Day, fourth in the Colmore, the first round British championship, nineteenth in the Irish world round, twenty-second at the English world round, thirty-forth at the Belgian round where I had a problem with engine when I cracked the crankcase which was drawing in air. I managed a fifteenth in the Netherlands, a twenty-second in France and twenty-eighth in the SSDT.”
On the 325cc Beamish Suzuki, Griffin made some changes.
Griffin: “Everyone struggled with the 325 Beamish Suzuki until I had them fit the 250 model swinging arm to my bike before the Christmas in 1978. It transformed the bike into a winner. ‘JR’ and Chris Sutton could not believe the difference it made. If only Malcolm Rathmell had tried one on his bike before he left, things might have been different for him with the Suzuki. The 250 swingarm was longer with a different shock angle and that made such an improvement to the handling characteristics.”
Griffin’s involvement with the development of the Gollner-Griffin TLR250 Mono-shock:
Honda produced its TLR series which comprised of both 200 and 250cc versions. The 200cc machine would be produced in quite large quantities as a trial/trail machine over a period of years. The 250cc TLR was produced in smaller quantities making them more desirable than their smaller sibling.
In 1985, Honda Racing Corporation, the competition division of the mighty Honda Motor Company would take charge of producing the mono-shock RTL or ‘Racing’ TL version which were developed by Eddy Lejeune and latterly Steve Saunders. Saunders would ride the TLR 250 until his new RTL250 had been built in Belgium at the HRC Europe headquarters. The machines of Saunders and Lejeune were actually 270cc motors coded as ‘RTL270SW’ with an offset exhaust port which allowed for a single downtube frame as opposed to the centralised exhaust of the production RTL250 which had a twin spar downtube frame. Their campaign was sponsored by Rothmans, the tobacco company and their machines were in Rothmans livery for the 1987 season.
In Knaresborough Yorkshire, Chris Griffin needed a machine for the 1986 SSDT and a Honda TLR250 would fit the bill, or so he thought. Little did he know that it would create the ‘Gollner-Griffin’ machine.
Chris Griffin takes up the story: “I had sent away an entry for the 1986 Scottish Six Days Trial, which was accepted, but did not have a suitable machine or much spare cash. I scoured the Motor Cycle News classified adverts and spotted a TLR250 Honda, which was road registered for sale. I went to see it and bought it in late February and rode my first trial on it in March. I decided it had too much power at the bottom end, the rear suspension kicked off everything, so that was it, time to modify it! Mono-shock suspension was definitely the way to go.
I bought a new Beta TR33 rear damper and mounted it horizontally like the RTL Honda, but with no linkage. I had to remove the middle silencer and air box to fit it, so I was forced to mount the front pipe straight to the rear silencer and fabricate a new smaller air box. By a miracle it all worked perfectly by having to alter the exhaust and air box, it lost its aggressive bottom end and was super smooth. I forced on and rode it in 1986 SSDT, finishing in nineteenth place.
I rode in the company of Steve Moore that week, he was sponsored by Bob Gollner on a Honda RTL250S.
A few weeks later Bob Gollner phoned me up and said Steve Moore had told him about my TLR and he asked if he could put it in to production? I agreed and took my bike down to his shop Bob Gollner Ltd at Denmead, Hants leaving it with him for a couple of months. He let me have one of his special 200 twin-shocks to use until I got my 250 back.
I rode the modified Honda TLR for about a year. winning quite a few trials. My last ride on the Gollner-Griffin Honda was the 1987 SSDT. I finished twenty-ninth, by then the big factories had developed their versions on mono-shocked machines, with all the factory riders on them.”
Bob Gollner was no stranger to modified trials machines, he had prepared the Gollner BSA Bantam, been instrumental in the creation of the Cheetah with frames made by Mick Whitlock and his variant of Kawasaki’s KT250 into his ‘Yellow Peril’ version.
Cost was a contributing factor and the RTL250S was a comparatively expensive machine to purchase at £4,500, being almost double the retail price of a mono-shock TY250R Yamaha of the same year.
The Honda TLR250 was a good economic starting point as the Honda RTL250S was a very expensive machine to buy and only imported in small numbers enabling Honda franchise dealers control the allocation to higher calibre riders who had a good chance at posting some top podium results.
Gollner enlisted the help of Robin Packham of Falcon Shocks to produce an adjustable single alloy bodied damper. He also tidied up Griffin’s design and adopted the horizontally mounted damper position that Griffin had experimented with and developed in competition.
Dick Walker of Walker Exhaust Systems (WES) built the alloy exhaust systems which ran down the offside of the machines, whereas Honda’s production steel system had run down the nearside. The important centre expansion box was incorporated by Walker who had built up a reputation in the trials performance exhaust game. He later sold his business to Jose Franquera in Madrid, Spain who manufactures WES to this day.
The mono-shock machines were topped off with a smart one-piece tank/seat unit and a special decal proclaiming ‘Gollner-Griffin’ was attached to the front fork legs.
Bob Gollner produced two mono-shock versions, using both TLR200 and 250 Honda platforms for the modified machines. The 200cc version retailed for £1,987 and the 250 at £2,200 both inclusive of VAT. He also marketed the modified 200 twin-shock Honda-Gollner TLR at £1,585 inclusive of VAT, aimed at the clubman market sector.
Griffin, a multi-national trials winner, debuted the little Gollner-Griffin 200 at the Richmond club’s Noel Peacock Trial in late July 1986 taking the win on 17 marks, a clear 4 marks ahead of Simon Sharp on a Yamaha mono. Later at an early season 1987 Wetherby Trial on Rob Shepherd’s farm at Pately Bridge, Griffin trounced Glen Scholey on his Colin Appleyard RTL and Yamaha’s Gerald Richardson on his over-bored 330 Yamaha.