This article was written by the late Peter C. Valente in March 2020. It first appeared in the newsletter of the Lothians & Borders Classic Motor Cycle Club and is reproduced with the club’s permission and that of Peter’s younger brother, Simon C. Valente, himself also a trials rider from Edinburgh, Scotland. Trials Guru wish to publish Peter’s article to a much wider audience, as a tribute to his life as a trials rider for fifty years.
‘50 Years of Trying Not to Dab’ –
Words: the late Peter C. Valente – March 2020
Photos: Supplied by Simon C. Valente
Main Photo: Graham Smith; John Moffat; Peter Valente & Roy Kerr – Photo: Eric Kitchen.
I’ve been asked to write about my trials career, but where to start? A bit of context – I’ve always had road bikes, the first being, of course, an ex-GPO Bantam, but at age fourteen (don’t ask). This was followed by the Super Cub (Cub engine in Bantam cycle parts), then a CD 175. I was fortunate enough to get my first trials bike alongside the Cub; a four speed Bultaco bought from a classmate.
Most of my friends started on some sort of Villiers- engined machine but I decided to skip that as they weren’t the most reliable with the self-extracting flywheel doing so on the way to a trial being typical. We used the bikes on the road as well; having collected the hard to find Motor Cycle News from the paper stall at the Waverley then hearing the Bultaco echo round the station when acceleratting up the ramp being a favourite.
I’ll try not to let this be a list of personal achievements, such as they might have been, but instead try to relate to the changes in and history of the sport as I see them. I started competing in early 1971 so, if my arithmetic is correct, I am now in my forty-ninth consecutive season; I keep going in the hope that one day I’ll get the hang of it.
That first trial was the Campbell Trophy Trial run by the Dunfermline MCC in April 1971.
A group of us set off from Edinburgh to cross the Forth with the old GTX can full of petroil hanging from the trials jacket belt. I’m not sure how the police would view that nowadays.
The Bultaco had a u-bolt clamp arrangement for the handlebars and it didn’t work too well, the Spanish metal being prone to break if overtightened. The bars rotated forward on a sharp drop in to a burn and the concomitant opening of the throtlle shot me in to the
opposite banking. It took a while for this novice mechanic and his pals to straighten out the twisted fork yokes and resume action; I rigged up a proper clamping arrangement for the next event.
Looking at the results again I see I don’t appear as a finisher and can only think that the time spent sorting the bike put me over the time limit, though I did do all the sections. Still, I wouldn’t be the only one not to have finished his first event.
I count myself lucky that I started riding when I did; I’m sure history will recall the Seveties as being a golden age of trials (many of us see it as such). Not only did we have what we saw as proper trials bikes, as opposed to the preceding British stuff, but we stoll had real trials to ride with good sectoons connected by roadwork, other events with real moor crossings – a full day out on the bike unlike today’s run round a field events.
Looking back with the benefit of experience those early Spanish bikes were, in comparison with today’s bikes, lightly modified road machines, but better was to come. As to the events themselves we still had everyone riding the same route (today’s events can have three sets
of markers in each section to cater for varying abilities – in those days you just got on with it) and it was possible to ride events of different status.
The north east of England was a favourite Centre of mine for riding but I also rode in Yorkshire and Cumbria. Anything in the southern half of England was ridden as part of a summer holiday trip with a couple of pals.
Lucky White Heather!
The trip up to Rogart for the White Heather run by the Sutherland and District club was a bit of an adventure in the days before the A9 was
modernised and we took a day off work to travel on the Friday. That part of the country really did seem like a different world then. The terrain was majestic and we enjoyed what I recall was an eighty mile lap, each section done once but meeting the same observer at two different sections. The trial took place on the Saturday because the Kirk wouldn’t permit a Sunday event, something of a novelty for a big city guy like me. The Lochaber club ran an event the following day so there was always some “spirited driving” to get the trailer down to Fort William before the ten o’clock closing.
Anyway, events being as they were, it was possible for someone with my level of abilities to ride in a National in England and I even recall riding a British Championship trial, probably the Allan Trophy or the Travers. Sure, it was a hard day out but we were riding the same sections alongside such names as Rathmell, Lampkin and Edwards. If I was that age now and at the same relative level of ability this just would not be possible. Sections are now so technical that unless you have the technique to be able to clean them then you won’t get very far in to them. Where we rode round rocks nowadays they ride over the points which makes dabbing a bit difficult. That’s not to mention the vertical faces used today.
I moved on to one of the early slimline casing five speed Bultaco after a year or so for £200 according to the receipt I still have (I wonder if it’s still about in a shed somewhere, I hand painted it grey in Tekaloid with a white Dulux gloss frame). While I know where the four speeder went I sold the five speeder to my brother and can’t recall who subsequently got it.
It was possible to know where bikes went in those days as they were all registered, but as few are these days they tend to disappear without trace. Sadly this also means there are few famous bikes about, unlike the works bikes of yore.
Trials bikes had the front number plate across the forks for practical reasons but one day I got hauled over by a Panda car for having no lights. When the cop spotted the front plate as a second offence we came to an arrangement whereby if the reinforcements he called up
agreed with me that lights were not required he’d let me off with the number plate offence.
They did so I proceeded on my way unpunished.
I tended to float about in the “finishers” part of the result sheet, which came below the top ten percent who received first class awards, but that Bultaco must have been the bike that eventually got me the necessary best novice award to rise to non-expert status. I never did reach expert status; that needed a certain number of first class awards or an outright win in a National. Back then most trials in Scotland had National status so there was plenty opportunity for promotion.
After a couple of years my first new bike arrived (I think I’ve only ever had two new trials bikes) in the shape of an Ossa MAR MarkII, purchased from Quinn Scooters in Gateshead, at that time Peter Quinn sold a lot of these in Scotland. I debuted that in a Perth event in the September but it didn’t push me up the results any and I see that I was listed among the
many retirals in the November at the Colonial Trial which the Edinburgh St George club ran on a time and observation basis. I’ve no idea why I was classed as a retiral but I see there were some prominent, and fast, riders so listed. On reflection that could have been the time I cut my hand when I rode through a barbed wire fence, brakes not really being a feature on the Ossa.
Mention of the St George reminds me that we had a good number of trials run in the area by the three local clubs which, in addition to the St George were the Edinburgh Southern and the Melville Motor Club. None of these clubs currently are involved in organising trials as far as I am aware but the Melville is active in other fields. The Edinburgh and District “only” ran the Scottish Six Days.
Somewhere along the line I found myself with the post of trials secretary for the Melville, a post I held for about three years from recollection. Laying out the Peebles trial which ran over the hills to the Douglas valley was good fun and I remember a couple of January the firsts spent laying out the following day’s fancy dress trial at Standburn brickworks where
were allowed use of one of the emptied kilns as a nice warm office; I can’t see that happening nowadays, nor the free can of beer for each competitor.
I always thought the Ossa to be my favourite bike of that early period of my career and I see it took me to a best non-expert award at the 1975 Fancy Dress trial (no fiddling, honest). I even occasionally managed to beat my brother Simon riding the Ossa and in so doing managed a first class award at the 1975 Evening News trial, which was for riders below
expert status so the award did not count toward promotion to expert.
Here come the Japanese:
Well, things have changed a bit since the first episode: by now I had hoped to be in my fitiieth consecutive season but the last trial I managed to do was in March this year so I’ve fallen short by a month. I can’t see us being allowed to travel and assemble in numbers this year, and quite likely not next year so maybe my trials career has come to a halt. One lives in hope so I will be taking the chance to spruce the Montesa up a bit.
Last time I wrote I was riding the Ossa, which I kept a couple of years then, in mid-1976, my brother Simon and I both bought Suzukis from Heron Rossleigh (HR sponsored the UK works trials team) at Bathgate. As a sidenote the salesman there was John Wilson, who I knew
from day release classes in a previous existence; he went on to run his own shop in Uphall as you will know. Though both bikes were ostensibly identical, Simon’s was softer than mine with a smoother power delivery. Strangely enough when we both had identical Ossas the same had been the case.
The first batch of Suzukis were from Japan direct but ours were
equipped with the chromed Beamish frames made by Mick Whitlock, who went on to build the Whitehawk Yamahas (I’ve a tank/seat unit for one of those if anybody happens to be looking). Yamaha were the first Japanese company to produce a competitive trials bike for production I think and Suzuki followed. Honda, as I recall, beat them both to the punch with the TL 125 but, whilst quite popular, I wouldn’t have called it a serious contender though they’ve apparently been commanding big prices in recent years as a bike to be used rather than collected. Somewhere along the way, not sure when, I had a Kawasaki 250 but that was a very brief period of ownership as I could not get on with the lack of flywheel but the suspension was excellent.
On paper the Kawasaki was good but it was not the bike it should have been and did not sell well.
Japanese trials bikes came as something of a revelation. Some found the suspension lacking but that was easily sorted with a set of gas Girlings once the originals had been bent anyway; the main novelty was that the brakes pretty much worked, even when wet, and electronic ignition obviated frequent adjustment of the timing, but the real boon was being
able to start in gear with no fishing about for neutral.
Though the results seem to have mysteriously disappeared from my files, I recall that the Suzuki gave me my best result to that point (and possibly ever) when, from memory, my team (Melville Motor Club) won the first SACU Inter Club Team Trial and I think I finished third.
Something definitely went wrong that day as I even beat the current Scottish Champion. I had my first go at the SSDT with the Suzuki but on the third day a rock dented the fork slider meaning I had no front suspension and, whilst I carried on, I retired later in the day as I couldn’t really go fast enough on the rough let alone ride the sections.
Just looking at results for that period it can be seen that trials generally in Scotland were much tougher than the average event now, indeed some sections routinely used then seem to be regarded as rather difficult by people at the same riding level now. The major trials use sections of much greater severity and technicality these days, way beyond what we did in the day, but in terms of what the average clubman
riding is, I feel justified in saying what I do. It was not unusual for the bulk of finishers to have scores over 100 (even over 200 in some cases) then, whereas nowadays even I can finish in single figures occasionally. We often used to ride in the north east centre of England and most of the entry managed round in mid double figures there.
I mention scoring systems as, somewhere about this time, there was a fundamental change which had large effects on the nature of the sport and I’ll probably expand on that next time.
Traditionally the requirement was to ride a section without stopping, if you stopped then a five mark penalty was incurred. The change meant that you could come to a halt and, provided you remained feet up, then no penalty was incurred for that, in line with continental practice. Unfortunately for me the old system was too ingrained in my riding
style and, as I never really went practicing, never got the hang of the new way; if I got in to trouble my instinct was to somehow keep going rather than pause, collect myself, then carry on.
I tend to keep road bikes for ten to twenty years but in my twenties I seemed to change trials bikes fairly frequently. Good as the Suzuki was, things move on and in the autumn of 1977 I traded it in with Jack Gow for his personal 348 Montesa. This, the Malcolm Rathmell Replica, was a massive leap in both design and quality for a Spanish bike as it had folding alloy foot controls and pegs, a well-designed air filter and the chain ran in plastic tubes.
Mine was from the later production run which had the lower third gear and concomitant lower sixth which perhaps reduced the 80 mph capability on the road but at least it had the gusseted headstock so the frame did not part at that point, which fate even befell Rob Shepherd’s works bike in the middle of nowhere in the hills at the Scottish Six Days – I think the Army might have been involved in recovering that one.
The only tale of note I recollect with the 348 was when the front brake linings came off at Rogart and, for some reason, I refused the offer of the spare “works” set from Rob Edwards for the next day’s Lochaber event – a bad decision as I ended up retiring due to the cross-country work really needing a front brake. I mentioned last time the journey from
Sutherland to Fort William could be “interesting” and I’m sure this was the same year that, descending to the sharp right hander at Spean Bridge, we were overtaken by Rogart’s John Moodie in his tweaked Fiat with a speed and sound resembling a low flying aircraft, three
bikes flailing behind. Just before the right hander there was a sudden bright red glow of brake lights and the Fiat went left, John having decided the slightly less tight left turning was a safer bet, so we got past him again. But he might have beaten us to the bar nonetheless.
The Montesa did, though, get me round the Lakes Two Day in January 1978; that was some trial, with a foot of snow on the moor in places and the rock sections having been salted to remove the ice. I’ll not go in to the tale and laughs of the absolutely freezing overnight farmhouse accommodation where six of us, me, Simon, Jock McComisky, Jimmy Morton, Ralph Bryans and Andy Alexander shared one room and three beds. Suffice to say it was cold enough for me to wear a woolly hat in bed.
It was back to Suzuki in early 1978, the black engined model that pulled well but was rather flat. I see my first event on that, at Buckholm, Galashiels cost me 190 marks but I was far from last. Things perked up in April when I finished midfield at Lanarkshire MCC’s Valente Trophy trial, won by John Reynolds on the works Suzuki. Also in April, I bought a TL250 Honda, rather rare and sought after by some, being a fourstroke, but as a trials bike it made a good boat anchor so it was not in the garage for long. Neither was the Suzuki really as I sold it after a year and moved on to a Fantic 200. Now, this was an extremely popular machine with the clubman but was up to World Championship trials as well, being lighter
than the bigger Spanish stuff with excellent power characteristics and was probably the first of what might be called the modern twinshocks.
Three of us had a holiday at the Bath Two Day in both 1981 and 1982 but I couldn’t get the hang of the different going down there, but did, having seen the locals using the technique in the trial, manage to master the ‘stoppie’ in the carpark of the Clandown Rangers football club, where the trial was based, after a few samples of the local ale in the clubhouse.
1983 saw my second go at the SSDT, as a member of the Hawick team, and the Fantic survived taking me to a finish with no trouble except a gear lever bent against the casing at the final group in Glen Nevis but I managed to get back to the finish with a bit of jiggling. The results were issued in start number order so I don’t know exactly where I finished but it was toward the back of the field as I had lost quite a few marks on time. I’m not sure why I sold the 200, but it went to Richard Thomson whose son is the man responsible for filming the exploits of Danny Macaskill – trials is a small world. Fantic had dropped the 200 and I ended up buying a new 125 in early 1984 as the 240 which replaced the 200 did not appeal (a lot of folk couldn’t get on with it really).
It was while I had the 125 that I also had a few seasons of enduro riding on an IT 250 Yamaha – nothing spectacular but I did get a second place in the Clubman class at an event in the north east of England. My first enduro was a multi-lap event in Nottinghamshire and I well
recall one part of the lap where there was a jump, complete with photographer.
I hadn’t had a chance to practice on the bike beforehand so was not aware of the tendency for the Monocross suspension to pitch the bike on to the front wheel. First time round I had a front wheel landing and decided I obviously had not gone hard enough to get the front up
so corrected that on the second lap; this resulted not only in a worse front end landing but my whole body being kicked forward such that my knees were above the crossbar on the handlebars. I managed to recover and keep moving , but it’s funny what you notice at times like that, I don’t think the photographer got the shot as I remember seeing him with his
mouth agape. Next time I slowed down for a look and saw there was a lip on the edge of the jump which is what had caused the problem by kicking the back end up.
My period with the 125 was fairly uneventful but it was never the bike the 200 was. While the steering and suspension was better it did not have the flywheel weight of the 200.
Anyway, I went back to college for a couple of years in the late Eighties so decided to sell the Fantic to avoid being distracted. This did not mean an end to trials as, due to the generosity of friends, I did get the loan of a bike from time to time. By now I had the Guzzi Monza for the road so still enjoyed frequent riding on that.
As my return involved the monshock era this is probably a good point to bring this chapter to a close!
Peter C. Valente’s Obituary on Trials Guru in 2021 – HERE