Photos courtesy: Gas Gas Motorcycles & John Shirt Motorcycles Ltd
For many years the UK importer for the Gas Gas brand of trials motorcycles, John R. Shirt has formed John Shirt Motorcycles Ltd to become an authorised Gas Gas UK dealer.
Previously Shirt supplied trials dealers the length and breadth of the British isles with Gas Gas trials machines, but following the take-over of the Spanish brand by the Austrian based KTM organisation, matters have now changed dramatically.
KTM tested the trials market back in 1975, when they built a small number of prototype KTM trials machines and engaged Austrian Walther Luft and German Felix Krahnstover as development riders. Shortly after, the company decided to end the project and concentrate on development and production of both motocross and enduro machines.
John Shirt told Trials Guru: “I am excited by my new venture, Gas Gas had real financial problems since 2015, but now that the KTM organisation is fully in charge, matters have been resolved and now I am trading as an authorised Gas Gas dealer, selling bikes direct to the trials buying public at large. As an authorised dealer, we at John Shirt Motorcycles Ltd interface direct with the manufacturer, there is no official UK concessionaire any longer. I was very keen to continue with the brand which I have been loyal to for 30 years. I am looking forward to engaging with direct customers, many of whom I know are similarly loyal to the Gas Gas brand. I have already a team of great people at JSM raring to go.”
For more information, have a look at John Shirt’s official website: HERE
We are always on the lookout for something different on Trials Guru and French Bultaco enthusiast Gilles Escuyer never fails to produce something special.
This time it is a monoshock 125 ‘Bultaco’ as he has a brand affinity that goes back to his father Pierre’s age.
It is in effect a rare Gas Gas model with a 125cc Cagiva motor from a Merlin DG7 model that was produced in very low numbers around 1985. The fuel tank/seat unit is custom made. Front suspension are the well tested Marzocchi M1 items including yokes.
Carburation is taken care of by an Italian Dellorto unit. Swinging arm is in aluminium alloy.
Gilles told Trials Guru: “It is a bike that the Bultaco factory could have and should have made if it had not suffered financial ruin in the 1980s. I think most will find it an interesting air-cooled monoshock trials machine, with the Bultaco spirit.
We have called it the 197E because the 250 Sherpa was 198 and this is a smaller capacity. The Sherpa range ceased production with 198/199B and it would have been acceptable to continue with 198/199C then D and so on.”
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.
In my early teens in Hampshire, friends and I would cycle out to watch off-road events at Weavers Down, and also the Greybeards Trial that would come by our house annually. Although I never got the opportunity to ride off-road properly (that seemed to be reserved to farming families), the bikes fascinated me. However that was all put behind when the magic age of 16 approached and we all began to get road bikes. My first biking was dirt tracks on a road BSA C15 250cc belonging to a friend but by the time my birthday in 1970 came I had my own (at the princely cost of £10), and had already notched up a lot of road miles when parents weren’t looking. Roll on the years and one awful Brit bike after another, but they had to go in favour of a car for work and family. In my early thirties I was able to get an old bike again and my passion for tinkering with, “restoring” and researching the, by now, ageing British marques, revived and gradually gained pace. Off-road interest got as far as owning a nice 1951 AJS 18CS but that was used very much for road riding, taking me as far as Poland for a rally on one occasion. A CCM came and went and that of course had lots of off-road associations, but again, I never really had the opportunity so never tried…
After forty years of fairly heavy duty and demanding work, and with kids now grown up and away, retirement at the age of 61 meant I suddenly had time on my hands. I had written a lot of stuff, including two books, in relation to work matters, so writing came easy. I also habitually read up on anything that tickled my fancy – often following up on tasters from the classic bike magazines: makes, bikes and personalities. That was where I came across Olga Kevelos, but, to my surprise there was no book. Further research also revealed that her story was a good one and that a book was overdue if not too late as she had died in 2009. At that point I knew not a single person who had been acquainted with her in any way – not being part of the Trials fraternity didn’t help in that respect. What I turned up in those initial stages back in 2016 was fascinating, not least because it revealed a complex personality whose own spin about herself had led to a certain amount of myth – the biggest one being that she won two ISDT Gold Medals (she actually won one but thought she should have won another – you’ll have to read the book to find out more!). She was also a “looker”, and had clearly used her feminine charms to the utmost to lead an unusual and very full life.
The project of writing a book about Olga would probably have got no further than a magazine piece had researches not turned up a hoard of memorabilia on Ebay; this had been found, long abandoned, by builders renovating the Kevelos family home in Birmingham. Using up some of my hard earned savings I managed to get quite a lot of this – several boxes full of old programmes, results sheets, letters, photographs and odds and ends. This included one or two tasty items but the valuable stuff – her trophies and medals – had long ago been “collected” after her death in Kings Sutton, Oxfordshire. I also made an appeal through the magazines for information and memories, and this turned up some fantastic results, putting me in touch with individuals like Michael Martin, whose well known motorcycling family were from the same neighbourhood as Olga and knew her very well. Gradually the information came together although gaps and mysteries remained. Sensitivities also emerged – Olga had, shall we say, an interesting sex life, and many of the personalities of the day fell victim to her charms although few seemed able to remember for one reason or another! Her vibrant personality clearly made its mark on the Trials scene in her day, especially the Scottish, and the Midlands district – which she helped organise for several years after her retirement from the sport as a rider.
Researches over a year long period turned up enough information to describe Olga’s unusual background and childhood (her father was from a wealthy Greek family), and wartime experiences including the Birmingham Blitz and service on the canals (which never quite lived up to her childhood passion to become a seagoing buccaneer and marry Errol Flynn). Her motorcycle sporting career started soon after the war through men she met at her father’s restaurant in the city centre of Birmingham, and it was soon clear that she had a talent even though she had never ridden prior to the age of 23. Trials was her forte and favourite, and of course it was open to women unlike other areas of motorcycle sport at that time. During her years of activity she was associated with numerous makes but in particular the James and CZ factories. She tried her hand at road racing, scrambles and car racing – showing pluck and determination in all that she did.
Olga ended up running a pub in Oxfordshire along with her brother Raymond. Those years too were eventful and enlivened by her character. She was a TV “Mastermind” contestant and a pub quiz aficionado until the end of her life. I called the book “Playing with the Boys” because that quote of her sums up exactly what she liked doing: she didn’t see herself as a feminist or pioneering woman even though her exploits offer example of both. I feel fortunate, even though I never met Olga, to have had the opportunity to provide an account of her life.
The book was self-published and like many such enterprises (I now know!) suffered from layout issues and marketing difficulties despite efforts to widen exposure. I had two-hundred and fifty copies printed and they are nearly all sold. Having had some errors pointed out (thanks to Olivier Barjon!) and with new information to hand, a further edition might be worthwhile. However this time it would have to involve a publisher and one (who produced a more recent motorcycle book by me) has already said no, so this may or may not go anywhere – maybe a case of watch this space!
Colin Turbett, Isle of Arran, Scotland
Colin Turbett is a “Sometime social worker and trade unionist – continuing socialist activist and author – and biker!”
Trials Guru is always searching worldwide for interesting facts, figures, articles and photos from the world of trial, past and present for your enjoyment of our sport. That is why we say that Trials Guru is ‘Dedicated To The Sport’.
Words: Trials Guru
Photos: Iain Lawrie; John Honeyman; Grant Family; Peter Bremner; Wullie John Gillespie; Willie Gillespie.
‘The bike Willie built’ is no exception, it’s a domestic story pertinent to Scotland and features a man called Willie Pitblado, a mildly eccentric, but very interesting character from Fife and specifically the historic town of Dunfermline. This article is by way of a tribute to ‘Willie Pit’ as he was known, a true enthusiast.
Pitblado was a time served painter/decorator who was also a keen trials rider and a motorcycle enthusiast of note. He was born into a family of ten children.
He was a former rider, then official at the Scottish Six Days Trial, a life-long member of the Dunfermline & District MCC and a lover of the highland village of Rogart in Sutherland, where he found his bride Ann.
Willie set up the breaker firm of ‘Motorcycle Spares Scotland in Golf Drum Street in Dunfermline, initially with friends Alec Smith and John Davies, themselves trials riders.
Pitblado rode a variety of machines including a Greeves which he acquired in January 1961, registered WWS415 which had factory connections. He rode this Greeves in the SSDT.
Willie had an idea to build a special machine of his own, using a Triumph 3TA twin cylinder four-stroke motor that he prized from a road machine and his plan was to fit it in a Sprite frame. The Sprite was a fairly new brand, sold in kit form.
Pitblado thought for a name and using his own surname and that of the Sprite brand, he came up with The PITRITE.
The PITRITE was registered in Fife with the number DSP47D in April 1966. It was destined to be ridden on loan by a variety of riders, but its ownership was not to stray further than Pitblado’s extended family base, namely that of his nephew, Willie Gillespie.
Trials Guru’s John Moffat on Willie Pitblado: “I met Willie Pitblado when I was in my early teens when my father was collecting some parts to help with the restoration of his ex-factory Matchless around 1973.
We visited Willie Pit’s shop in Dunfermline and it was in an old house on three levels. It was an old property and was literally filled with bike parts from all makes and ages. I was surprised that Willie said to my father to go rake around until he found what he was looking for, we literally got the run of the place, but I learned that that was not how Willie usually did his business, far from it. Apparently Dad and Willie had known each other for many years and had a respect for each other, hence the freedom afforded to us.
“Years later, I was restoring a 1954 Matchless G3LS road bike and I needed the correct tank, wheels and a few more odds and sods. I drove over to Dunfermline from my parents home in Whitburn, West Lothian and again I went to Willie’s emporium. He was at his counter with his old Alsatian dog and greeted me with ‘Hello Mr. AJS what can I sell ye today?” I explained that I needed parts for a Matchless to which he quipped: ‘They are both the same, just badge engineering’. Of course Willie was right.
I was about to be told to go look myself, but ‘watch the dog disna bite ye’ – when a man arrived behind me in the shop. He wanted a camshaft for a Triumph Bonneville, to which Willie asked what year? The man gave the year and Willie turned around and pulled one from the shelf behind him. ‘That will be £25’. The man said, ‘Would you take £20?’ Willie replied, ‘no, I’ll take £30’. The man looked astonished and said: ‘Hey, you are increasing the price!’ Willie replied ‘Aye, and you are trying to reduce it, now do you want this camshaft or no, because I have one and you dinna! Now either pay me what I want or get oot of my shop!’
The man paid Willie the £30 and left without another word.”
Willie Pitblado was instantly recognisable on the public highway as his vehicle was either blue with the white cross of St. Andrew across it depicting the Scottish Saltire or he had a white vehicle with blue doubled ‘go faster stripes’ up the bonnet. If you waved at Willie on the road he would always give you the ‘peace’ sign, symbolic of American bikers of the era!
The Premier Trial Sport Website for articles, photos, news and the history of motorcycle trials