This Trials Guru ‘section’ is devoted to Honda. With the help of Honda enthusiast and author, – Tommy Sandham; super-enthusiast, – Joan Forrellad of The Honda Trials History website and the assistance of – John Hulme of Trial Magazine, we bring you articles, photos and information about the Honda trials enterprises over the years.
Honda is the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. It came as no surprise when they decided to focus their competition efforts in the sport. They had the ability through massive research and development facilities to produce the ultimate machine.
We commence with an article from the archives of Trial Magazine:
Honda – IT’S OVER
Words: John Hulme
In 1977, trials was in a ‘boom’ period with high machine sales in the UK and the country was the ‘hub’ of the sport with the whole world watching. Here we ‘flashback’ to that headline that Honda had ‘pulled the plug’ on their trials team which had just won the British Trials Championship with Yorkshire-man Rob Shepherd.
The Honda trials project came to life in April 1974 when ten times British Trials Champion, Sammy Miller, signed a contract with the Japanese. They not only wanted Miller to develop a new trials machine but globally wanted him to establish the Honda brand in the trials world.
The initial tests were carried out with the Honda TL 125cc and the XL 250cc engines. He focussed first on the engine as these were ‘too wide and long’ and the overall machine was far too heavy. The project started off with Miller riding the production TL250cc four-valve single cylinder machine which weighed over 230lbs (104Kgs). The ground clearance was far too low at around the nine inch mark and so he applied one of his modified Hi-Boy frames to the project, similar to the ones he had successfully used on the Bultaco. Using a new vastly modified TL engine which featured an alloy cylinder and chromed bore with a displacement of 248.6cc (74mm x 57.8mm), four valves per cylinder, a separate oil reservoir and five-speed gearbox, it was now a ‘real’ trials machine.
Bristling with the use of magnesium and titanium the overall weight had come down to 198lb (90kg), impressive to say the least. It was titled the RTL 250cc – The R standing for Research. In January 1975 the production TL125cc machines arrived and priced at £320.00 they sold like hot cakes. They not only attracted new riders to the sport but the Japanese quality of components put the dominant Spanish machines to shame.
A team was entered in the Scottish Six Days Trial in the May consisting of Brian Higgins, who gained a Special First Class award, with his teammates Geoff Parken and Peter Gaunt winning First Class awards.
In the June the engine was enlarged to 306cc and a new version was ridden by new team rider, Nick Jefferies. The project had now picked up the pace and in April 1976 the short-stroke version with a bore of 82mm and a stroke of 58mm was announced. At the SSDT, Jefferies took an inspiring Special First Class award but on the long-stroke model. His first major win was at the Manx Two Day that year but in December big changes were made. Nick Jefferies suggested to friend and Montesa rider Rob Shepherd that he try the Honda he had been helping to develop.
Miller took one of the machines which had been ridden by Brian Higgins (Miller did not renew Higgins’ contract with him for 1977) to Shepherd’s Pateley Bridge farm for him to try. After the ride on the Honda his mind was set and he signed to ride the Honda in the Miller team.
He instantly came to grips with the unfamiliar four-stroke’s characteristics right from the start and was amazed at the Honda’s tractability, cleaning hazards he could never manage on the two-stroke Montesa. He took his first Honda win at an Eboracum Club trial early in January 1977 and to prove to the optimistic pundits that he had mastered the four-stroke technique he won the season-opening national Vic Brittain Trial, the first four-stroke national trials win for twelve years; Miller was over the moon. The machine Rob was riding was the ex-Brian Higgins long-stroke, the one he had tested, he loved it!
Nick Jefferies continued with Honda as the number two rider supporting Shepherd in the team. In February ‘Shep’ won the Cotswold and Colmore cup trials in one weekend and took the lead in the British Championship still using the old Brian Higgins long-stroke motor. A new short-stroke version was delivered to Shepherd but he had a disappointing ride in the British round of the World Championship in Wales finishing sixteenth. Reverting back to the long-stroke model he returned to form in the World Trials Championship by riding to fourth place in Belgium, eighth in Spain and third in Germany. Still on the two year old machine he gained a Special First Class in the SSDT with a fifth place. Mounted on the short-stroke versions American, Marland Whaley, and Nick Jefferies also took Special First Class awards in thirteenth and sixteenth places respectively. In the World Championship series, Shepherd posted a sixth place in Sweden, a magnificent first place in Finland (the first ever for a four-stroke in a World Championship event), second in Czechoslovakia and third in Switzerland for an overall fifth place in the World Series. In the British Championship, Rob Shepherd had taken it by storm in his first year on the Honda. He had followed up the wins in the Cotswold and Colmore Cup trials with more wins in the Wye Valley and Alan Trophy which had left him needing just two points from the final round, the Hoad, to clinch the Championship. This was achieved when he beat Martin Lampkin on the Bultaco by six marks to finish equal on points at the top of the table. Shepherd won the Championship as he had taken the most wins.
Won and Lost
Sammy Miller let the champagne taste settle in Shepherd’s mouth at the finish of the Hoad before explaining to him that the dream was over, Honda were to pull out of trials leaving both himself and Shepherd redundant. The headline in the weekly Motor Cycle News dated 12th November 1977 read, “Honda pull-out chokes Miller”. His world was shattered to say the least, Honda’s decision had left the Ulster trials legend lost for words. His beloved dream of a return to four-stroke machine’s he had helped to develop for trials was over. At the time Miller commented: “I would not like to tell you how I feel at this time. After a three year programme of development I feel as though we have won and lost. The machine has been developed to a state of perfection but I am now picking myself up off the floor after a hard right to the jaw. With results like these and an enthusiastic following for the four-stroke machines, how can Honda pull out now? ” he concluded.
Shepherd could not believe it after delivering Honda the British Championship. The factories were soon after the much sought-after signature of Shepherd on a works contract to ride their machines. He flew out to Italy to test the new SWM and Montesa offered him the number one team berth as Malcolm Rathmell signed for Suzuki. Shepherd would not sign any contracts though as he had an ace card up his sleeve he was not ready to play. Montesa importer, Jim Sandiford, wrote to him with an improved offer but he wrote back to once again turn the offer down, saying he had been made a better offer elsewhere; Sandiford was bemused. In early 1978 Rob had no contract and all the works Honda engines had been collected from the Sammy Miller Empire.
Shepherd then dropped his own unexpected bombshell; he would still be riding for Honda in trials! Eight weeks after Honda had made the decision to pull out of trials they were back. The boss of Honda UK, Gerald Davison, would use some of his race budget to support Shepherd with two machines and three engines, as well as covering other expenses to ride in the British Championship, World Series and other selected events such as the Scottish Six Days and Scott Trials on a one-year deal. He would also supply a mechanic, Mike Ember Davies, from the Racing Department who would keep the Shepherd machines in good running order.
Trial Magazine would like to acknowledge the help of Sammy Miller – www.sammymiller.co.uk in collating the information for this article.
© – All text copyright: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing, John Moffat – 2016
© – Article: ‘It’s Over’ – text copyright: John Hulme / Trial Magazine – 2016
© – Images: World-wide Copyright Rainer Heise, Germany (All Rights Reserved) – 2016
© – Images: World-wide Copyright John Hulme/Trials Media (All Rights Reserved) – 2016
© – Images: World-wide Copyright Colin Bullock/CJB Photographic (All Rights Reserved) – 2016
© – Image: World-wide Copyright Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven (All Rights Reserved) – 2016
Click Links for back issues of Trial Magazine or Classic Trial UK
Honda Factory Trials – RTL – ‘Racing Trial’
During the ninteen-seventies, Honda Motor Company decided to create a purely ‘Racing’ division, separate from their normal motorcycle production activities and core businesses. This saw the advent of Racing Service Center Corporation or ‘RSC‘ for short. Later, in September 1982, they developed from RSC, Honda Racing Corporation or HRC for short, which exists to this day and controls the racing activites of Honda. HRC produce and sell racing/competition motorcycles and spare parts. The parts, although well made and of high specification, are by their nature, not warranted for street use as they are for ‘racing applications only’. HRC European headquarters are based in Aalst in Belgium. The world HQ is at Asaka, Saitama, Japan. Below we can see some of RSC & HRC’s creations over the years.
When Honda really took an interest in the sport of motorcycle trials, they mobilised a hefty resource, powering their trials enterprise, pushing the boundaries outwards. Their machines were what has become a buzz word in the sport that of ‘factory’. They looked and sounded like factory machines should. Let us look at some of these fantastic creations from RSC and HRC over the years.
1987 RTL 270SW:
The RTL270SW was for factory Honda riders only, not available for general sale and had the single down tube frame with offset exhaust port.
John Shirt Jnr & RTL270SW:
John Shirt Junior recalls his stint on the ex-factory Honda RTL270SW:
“I had two bikes, both ex Eddy Lejeune. The first one was the drum braked version, the second was disc-braked. Steve Saunders only had drum braked models.
Both machines were going back to Honda in Belgium to be crushed.
Derrick Edmondson who was involved at the time, managed to get them to loan to me, a promising young UK prospect.
The bikes were amazing but I struggled, mainly in finding grip because they were so different to the Yamaha two-stroke I had been riding in A Class youth class.
My advice to anyone going from their last year of A Class youth into the adults is not to change bikes! There is a lot to get used to without getting used to a new bike.
I had only really one good result and that was 1988 Scottish Six Days finishing tenth and best newcomer, when Tarres and Chiaberto both rode.
The bikes were used to a world class rider and I wasn’t one!
My first WTC was Spain 1988, the same first WTC round for Amos Bilbao and Tommi Ahvala. John Hulme was my minder, ask him about our ‘great escape’ moment!
Lack of my commitment and lack of father’s money kept me from scoring WTC points.
I honestly can’t remember my British Championship results for that first year; obviously not great!
I didn’t ride it in my first Scott, I started to ride Gas Gas at the end of summer 1988 and finished 9th in Scott.
A great honour to ride that Honda at that time, only now can I appreciate the chance I had”.
– John Shirt Jnr
Martin Lampkin on Honda RTL250S:
The 1982 Honda/HRC RTL360 shown above was once the factory machine of World Champion, Belgian, Eddy Lejeune.
Jean Caillou, a French trials enthusiast who has a passion for the Honda brand was fortunate enough to meet with Lejeune at his home in Belgium. It was during this meeting that Eddy revealed that he still had the 1982 ex-factory machine in his possession. The RTL360 was disassembled, but all the parts were there at Eddy’s house.
Jean Caillou: “I met with Eddy Lejuene at his home and he explained that he had just bought his daughter a horse. So he presented me with the invoice for the horse and said that if I paid him the same figure that he had just recently paid for the horse, then I could have the Honda. I did not hesitate further and the deal was agreed. I had effectively paid for Eddy’s daughter’s horse, but I now owned the Eddy Lejeune 360!”
Eddy Lejeune from Verviers, Belgium was three times FIM World Trials Champion (1982-1984) and seven times Belgian National Champion (1980-1986). He rode Honda for the majority of his trials career, switching to the Spanish Merlin in 1988 and then to the Honda owned Montesa for 1989/90 when he retired from top flight trials.
Gloucester’s Steve Saunders had made his mark on the trials scene in Britain by taking British youth A honours in 1980 and 1981 on the Comerfords Bultaco, then taking the adult trials world by storm. He switched to the British Armstrong trials effort and the ultimate contract first with Honda Britain, then with HRC/Honda to ride the RTL.
Saunders told Trials Guru: “The RTL was way ahead of its time in performance and of course HRC were also on a different level professionally. I can honestly say I had more fun and learned more with Honda than anywhere else. The RTL is the only bike I look back on and really wish I still had one, my friend has one I borrow and it brings a big smile to me every time.”
Saunders tells of when it all started with HRC: “They approached me end of the 1984 season, but they had a very small budget so Silkolene Lubricants and Honda Britain came together to help finance the 1985 season.”
For 1986, the factory trial team was supported by finance provided by tobacco giants, Rothmans. Saunders: “Rothmans were Honda/HRC sponsors, I didn’t benefit from their direct sponsorship although I did wear the Ellgren clothing with their logos on. There was one good thing about the Rothmans deal, I used to get free cigarettes for my Mum!”
© – ‘Honda Factory Trials – RTL’ Article: Trials Guru/Moffat Racing, John Moffat – 2016 (All Rights reserved)
© – Images/Photographers:
- Heath Brindley, Bristol
- Andy Barefield, Gloucester
- Sarah Turner
- John E. Shirt Snr
- Jimmy Young, Armadale
- Rob Edwards, Middlesborough
- Colin Bullock/CJB Photographic
- Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven
- Patrick Pissis, France
- Mark Lamplough, Coventry, England
- Trials Guru/Moffat Racing/John Moffat
For current HRC information see their website: Click … HRC
Tommy Sandham – How it began!
The story behind the writing of the book ‘Four-Stroke Finale? – The Honda Trials Story’
Words: Tommy Sandham
At last it can be told! – the amazing story of how ‘Four Stroke Finale? The Honda Trials Story’ came to be written.
‘Four Stroke Finale?’ actually pre-dates all my other books by many years. It began in 1974 when I started a scrapbook about Sammy Miller and the Honda trials project. I ended up with some 10 scrapbooks covering eight years and they formed the research of the book.
Maybe we should start at the beginning! In 1974 I was riding in Scottish trials (the eternal novice) and was very interested to discover that Sammy Miller had signed to develop a trials bike for Honda. So on an impulse I cut out the story from Motorcycle News and stuck it into a scrapbook. Then T+MX came along in 1977 and any stories from that paper were stuck in the book. Nowadays a scrapbook probably means something totally different but then you bought a blank, empty book, known as a ‘scrapbook’, and you stuck into it anything of interest such as newspaper cuttings etc. Yes, you stuck them in with glue, I think it was called Pritt Stick. So the scrapbooks continued to grow. I became obsessed with getting a Honda trials bike like Sammy Miller’s.
Somewhere along the line I bought an American import TL250 (LFS 4P) which was heavy, had low ground clearance but was the most fun you could have with your trousers still on.
I remember I wrote a report on the bike, I think there were only two in the UK at that point and took a couple of very poor ‘snaps’ and sent it to T+MX. In return they sent me £25 which just about blew me away as that was a lot of money in those days. I had discovered journalism!
Later I had a TL125 Honda which got bored out to 150cc and had various Sammy Miller bits on it. I also fitted a Hi-Boy frame to the TL, but at first it handled appallingly. It took a minute or two to figure it out but it seems the headstock had been out of alignment from new. Duly sorted by Sammy Miller, it was a delightful little bike that I wish I had kept – that and my 350 trials AJS but that’s another story!
I entered the 1978 Scottish on a TY250 Yamaha. I was forced out on Wednesday and the idea for my Scottish Six Days history book was born as described elsewhere. So for the next couple of years I typed away on a typewriter and produced the ‘Castrol Book of The Scottish Six Days Trial’ which was finally published in April 1982.
I had left Scotland at the end of 1978 and joined Trials and Motocross News in Morecambe. Not a happy time. I used to marvel at my colleagues and wonder how they could all ride better than me but also how they kept their enthusiasm seven days a week. I could only manage five days. The 125 Fantic I was riding was sold to help buy a house so I stopped riding. Then the Castrol book was published. But I do remember going to a printer in Morecambe shortly afterwards and asking how much it would cost to produce the Castrol book which sold at £4.99. I think the answer was £1 but I would have to pay for 1,000… far too much money for me at that time, but the ideas were forming.
I built myself a Volvo pick-up from a damaged 144 saloon to carry two trials bikes and it took me nearly nine months. Some time later I asked Sammy how long it took him to produce a pickup from a saloon. Sammy said, “Oh we wheeled it into the workshop on Friday night and on Monday morning it was ready for painting.” Do you ever get that ‘shot down’ feeling?
Yet again fate intervened and I got the chance to ride the Rob Shepherd RTL360 on a very wet and muddy Thursday near Lancaster. T+MX were testing Honda motocross bikes or scrambles bikes as they are more correctly known – and the trials Honda happened to be in the van. The driver didn’t have any instructions either way so Mike Rapley and I spent a wet but pleasant few hours riding the big 360.
I also chased Rob Shepherd round a muddy British Experts trial with a small tape recorder! I’ve still got those great sounds somewhere but you can’t let anyone have a copy nowadays, as it will either end up on eBay or be spread throughout the globe.
In 1982 I left T+MX. It is best if we draw a veil over the next few years but I ended up in South Wales as a Technical Author with what I thought at the time was the best job in the world!
I wanted to start a publishing business (Willow Publishing Magor – the Magor bit had to be added as there were already two Willow Publishing imprints, the Willow came from the name of the house we bought) so needed new titles to produce and sell. So I started to write Panel Craft, a 160-page book about car body restoration which did quite well.
I was also writing ‘Four Stroke Finale’ along with several other projects that sadly never saw the light of day, but by this time I was using an Amstrad Word Processor (an 8512 I think it was called). One of the things we did was to employ a consultant for a day to tell us what we were doing right or wrong. This was author Jeff Clew, who at that point had just left Haynes Publishing Group. One of the things he told me was to forget about a Honda trials book as firstly books about Japanese bikes didn’t sell at all, and secondly books about Japanese trials bikes wouldn’t sell at all at all!
But by this time the book was sort of three-quarters written and no-one likes to be told your project is about to become a disaster, so I continued. I asked John Dickinson from T+MX to bring the final chapter up to date as I was out of trials circles by this time. I am eternally grateful to him for doing that.
I also had a wish-list of photos and memory is a bit rusty after twenty-seven years but I think I ended up with something like eight out of the ten important photos I wanted. A lot of thanks are due to Eric Kitchen.
Along the way came a chance to buy the Bruce Main-Smith publishing business. However two things stopped that, one was the bank flatly refused to lend the huge sum I asked for and secondly there were some grey areas as to what was actually being offered for sale. So that all fell through – probably for the best!
In those days the ‘words’ for a book were re-typed into a typesetting machine and they came out the other end on a huge long strip of special paper. This was then cut and pasted (yes, that’s where the phrase came from) onto backing sheets to form the page layouts. Photos had to be black and white then and they had to be re-photographed in a large machine which either enlarged them or reduced them according to instructions you wrote or stuck on the back. Every single photo had to have instructions with it. The photos were all then stuck into position and any captions were typeset, then stuck down. The pasting material was wax, which was kept heated in a small desktop machine and the typesetting or photo was rolled through the machine and the rear of it got wax coated. I couldn’t do this ‘origination’ work so it had to be paid for in addition to the printers bill. This work for ‘Four Stroke Finale?’ was done by the Transport Publishing Group in Glossop. I then received ‘proofs’ which are read, re-read, checked and re-checked and then the final OK is given.
Normally you have the book title in your head before you start typing, but this title didn’t and took weeks of deliberation, then like most things it comes to you in a flash in the bath. I remember Sammy Miller didn’t like the book title but in that ‘high’ that you get when publishing a book it went to press and we went straight into the first disaster.
I had asked for 1,000 copies which was the minimum print run anyone would do in 1989. But the machine-minder or printer, or whatever his title was, must have gone for a fag or a pee or something and we ended up with 1,250, which we had to pay for!
For sound economic reasons, publishers rely on pre-orders – people who order and pay for the book before it is even printed – and Four Stroke Finale? produced just about the lowest number of pre-orders of any book we ever did – a miserly 70 copies. Then, due to a misunderstanding with the local Sorting Office I took the seventy books, each in a jiffy bag and neatly addressed, to the Sorting Office only to be told they had to go through the Post Office counter – which had just closed! The pre-orders were supposed to pay, or help to pay, the printer’s bill but in this case, didn’t. I owed the printer big money and couldn’t pay. We came to an arrangement and he got paid about six to eight weeks later.
(There’s an interesting side story there. The printer did a job for someone else who couldn’t pay either, and to clear the debt the author/publisher signed the Rights of his book over to the printer. That book then became the world-wide standard work for that subject so every six months the printer runs off another batch and carries the cash away in a wheelbarrow!)
‘Four Stroke Finale?’ just went from bad to worse after that. The book trickled along and I think it took us more than five years to sell the 1,250 copies. We couldn’t give them away at one point. We took a big hit and had to re-finance the house, not ideal, but necessary. For me it was the biggest flop of all time! Jeff Clew was right! I should really never have done it.
In the meantime I wrote some car books, one of which did quite well and then I ‘dismantled’ the ‘Castrol Book of The Scottish Six Days Trial’ to produce two separate books on the Scottish.
After two children came along the publishing went into sort of hibernation, but computers had by this time produced publishing programmes known as ‘desktop publishing’, No more typesetting, no more waxing, no more cut and paste. I did keep my hand in!
The next thing to happen was around the late 1990s – the book started to appear on ‘eBay’ and the prices were eye-watering! The highest we ever found a copy was £127 for a book we couldn’t sell for £4.95 some 10 years before. What happened? – I will never know. And whether those bids were genuine I will never know.
In 2000 I seriously started to look at re-printing the book but with the original printers’ plates long gone we had the stark choice of photocopying with quality not good enough, or somehow recreating the book on computer and printing it afresh. I concluded that the time was not right.
However, in 2008 all the ingredients fell into place. I re-created the book exactly on computer using an Adobe programme called ‘Indesign’. The text was scanned from an original book, I had most of the original photographs stored away in a box so I scanned them. There were a few which proved difficult to scan and a couple I had to scan from the original book but after a lot of effort I got the quality I was happy with. In 2008 I had 100 copies printed to see how they would sell. They sold well and since my sights were set much lower I wasn’t disappointed. We did a lot of ‘blind tasting’ testing, offering people an original and a reprinted book and 100% of them couldn’t tell the difference. I still have a few left but I don’t expect to re-print them again.
I never got my successful publishing business, but we had some fun, albeit costly fun along the way. Before I started I asked for advice from someone who had published their own book and he said, “It is not so difficult. Lots of people do it – but they only ever do it once!”
I actually did eleven, I think the total was, with two in full colour. I won’t be doing any more. I did however want to do ‘The History of AJS in Trials’ in full colour – but all the photos would have been black and white, but that wouldn’t have sold at all!
I’ve still got those original Honda scrapbooks and they are probably one of those things that will be binned or burned a couple of weeks after I’m deceased – so I’m not sure what to do with them now? – Perhaps Trials Guru can suggest something?
With best wishes to Honda enthusiasts around the globe …
© – Copyright: ‘Four Stroke Finale?’ – How it began – Article written for Trials Guru: Tommy Sandham/Willow Publishing Magor – 2016 (All Rights reserved)
Honda enthusiasts from France
Lost in translation by Google as: ‘Amateurs de Honda de France’
However there is nothing ‘amateur’ about this trio, but they are enthusiasts!
There cannot be a small group so dedicated to the preservation and use of Honda trials machines than those of the exclusive club ‘RTLR Club – Europe’. The main people behind this organisation are based in France and all of them are Honda trials crazy!
The machines celebrated are all Honda trials production models from the humble TL125 of 1974 through to the last of the line, the HRC developed 1989 RTL250S mono-shock disc-braked model made famous by the factory 270cc machines of Eddy Lejeune and Steve Saunders.
These are interspersed with ‘Honda Trial Exotica’ – ex-factory machines from the late seventies through to the mid-1980s.But there is more, ex-Sammy Miller Honda development machines and parts have found their way over the English Channel to France over the years, along with SM memorabilia.
The only exclusions from the RTLR club are the two-stroke TLM models, as this is a four-stroke only association. RTL, TL and TLR are welcome but not their TLM cousins.
The RTLR club has over one hundred members and the average ownership is three Hondas per member. The lead members are three great friends, Patrick Pissis; Olivier Barjon and Jean Caillou who have travelled all over Europe to ride with other like-minded individuals in events, mainly but not exclusively, on Hondas.
Jean Caillou is no stranger to the UK, having competed in the Pre’65 Scottish Trial many times, known to all as the ‘French guy on the Ariel with the waistcoat and bow tie’.
Club president is Patrick Pissis from Gentilley he is a dentist by profession and has also competed in Scotland on a Triumph Tiger Cub.
Olivier Barjon is a fanatical collector of all things Honda, his trade being the marketing of champagne world-wide.
The French trio have organised a lovely display stand to show their own machines at the annual Telford Off-Road show in Shropshire for many years now; purely to bring pleasure to those who are interested in the Honda brand and trials machines in particular.
The French trio eat, drink, talk and sleep Honda Trials, so it should come as no surprise that they are featured on Trials Guru’s Honda Trials section.
© – ‘Honda Enthusiasts from France’ – Article: Trials Guru/Moffat Racing, John Moffat – 2016 (All Rights reserved)
© – Image: Trial Magazine UK
Sammy Miller sponsored at least two sidecar teams in trials in the middle to late 1970s. Bob Colein and Adrian Clarke.
The Honda Trials History
Joan Forrellad, Owner ‘The Honda Trials History’ website: – When I decided to create ‘The Honda Trials History’ website, I could never have imagined the avalanche of positive comments that after such a short time, started to arrive on the website. A large number of enthusiastic collaborators followed soon after that.
I was merely a fan since I was a kid; I was passionate about trials machines. In my parents’ village, it was very usual for all boys to ride, after a bicycle, a trials motorcycle. In all the houses in our region, to have a Montesa, Bultaco or Ossa machine, was as normal to have a bicycle or a ball to play football and we were very interested to see in our territories machines such as the rare 4-stroke of the likes of Eddy Lejeune.
I remember the great sound of the four-stroke, but we could only see them when we follow the championship events. At our neighbouring village was the legendary ‘3 dies dels Cingles’ – The Cingles 3 Day Trial, one of the nicest world trial events in my opinion.
As an amateur and in love with the history of the rare Honda trials machines, years ago and with no other intention, I started my page in honour of them. Over time, the webpage and I quickly grew our knowledge and information, thanks to the collaboration of hundreds of like-minded Honda fans and followers, which in turn encouraged me to continue my work.
Prior to my Honda website, there was not much information on the web or in books for people to research and enjoy the Honda Trials Story.
Many are those who have helped and are still helping, such as the RTLR-Club Europe, members who are the most experienced in the world in my opinion, to individual fans; the friend site from Jim Evans or the thousands of supporters who are not a household name; but with the similar or even more passion than me for the Honda trials machines and their riders.
It was early on when John Moffat commented on my site; he was very complimentary and began sending me documents, photos and comments to help my quest.
When I found out who John was in the sport of trial, it was with great pride to have him as a collaborator, supporter and friend.
For fans of motorcycle trials, and especially in my country, where we developed the motorcycles as mythical and competitive as the Bultaco Sherpa, Montesa Cota, Ossa MAR and many, many others, we are still following with magnificent projects such as the recent VERTIGO trials machines which I have been fortunate to be a part of its design.
Scotland and the SSDT are legendary and the beginning of our passion and John Moffat is part of this story. John Moffat, his family history, his family, his friends and connections, for me is the pure essence of the sport of trial!
John asked me for advice, he asked me for my opinion about the ‘section’ of his amazing website known as ‘Trials Guru’, dedicated to Honda Trials.
For me it’s not just a compliment, also a great honour and pleasure to help him on this chapter and very nice to being able to share it with all my site followers.
Thank you John – Thank you my friend.
Joan Forrellad – The Honda Trials History
Back to Back – Four versus Two Stroke:
An article, reproduced with the permission of Trial Magazine UK.
The early eighties would witness the current breed of twin-shock machines coming to the end of their development with all the factories having achieved what they considered was the ultimate machine. Bultaco, Montesa, Fantic and numerous other manufacturers had superb machinery but big developments were in the offing with the arrival of the single, or mono-shock machines. Here we compare two of the most successful twinshock machines which incredibly still rule the ‘roost’ today in the Classic twinshock events. One is the Majesty, which belongs to Trial Magazine resident test rider Nick Shield, and the other to four-stroke Honda enthusiast, Graham Atkinson.
Words: John Hulme – Nick Shield – Graham Atkinson
Pictures: Mike Rapley
HONDA: Winning three consecutive World Championships from 1982 – 1984 with Belgium, Eddy Lejeune, on board the potent 360cc RTL Honda resisted the temptation to put this machine into production despite much public pressure. In 1983 Japanese Honda development test rider, Kiyoteru Hattori, rode a pre-production twinshock TLR 250cc in the World championship rounds before debuting a production version, but with an engine capacity of 200cc, at the Scottish Six Days Trial. The machines, both the 250cc and 200 TLR models, sold well but were launched at the time of the mono-shock revolution which had come into trials in the mid-eighties.
My machine – Honda Four-Stroke RS 250cc TE – Graham Atkinson: “The machine tested here came about following an internet search of Honda trials machines. I spotted a 250 Honda twinshock that had been photographed in the Honda museum in Japan, a machine that in my opinion looked gorgeous! Following some research I learned that this particular model had been produced in very small numbers and had been sold exclusively in Japan, having been developed as a machine for Japanese sponsored riders. The machine came from Honda’s Racing Service Centre, the forerunner to HRC and was produced in the very early eighties, probably around 1983. Keen to own such a trials machine I placed an order with Ellastones (a specialist off road breakers company) who regularly imported unusual machines and spares from Japan and fortunately they were able to locate a machine that was to all intents and purposes complete and in reasonable condition. The original picture I saw has the name M Yamamoto on the fuel tank and with some good quality pictures to work from I was able, thanks to my engineering background, to reproduce the Yamamoto model from the machine that Ellastones had located. It was just about 100% original as per the RS 250 production run and I set about stripping it down and rebuilding it. The only significant change forced on me was the wheels as the original Honda fitments had rotted from the inside out and it was not possible to recover them so a pair of modern tubeless rims was laced to the original hubs”.
Graham Atkinson is keen to point out that his machine, as tested here, is just about as original as it can be and is definitely not a collection of bits assembled to look the part; rims apart, it’s original and is certainly a testament to his engineering and refurbishment ability.
MAJESTY: The Majesty was in fact a stop gap for Yamaha and they encouraged talented engineer, John Shirt (who at the time was big into speedway products) and trials legend, Mick Andrews, to develop a machine based on the TY range, which had never been a big hit in the sales room due to quite a higher price than its rivals. The Majesty was the end result of an exhaustive development process with the name coming from the initials of Mick Andrews, John Edward Shirt and Trials Yamaha. The 320 version was an instant hit and took Andrews to a World Round win at the West of England club organised British round in 1980 following the first introduction of the machine in 1978.
My machine – Majesty Two-Stroke 250cc – Nick Shield: “I purchased my machine in 2004 from Phil Granby, who was passenger to Sheffield based British Sidecar champion, Alan Morewood, many years ago. I was originally riding a Bultaco in the Normandale British Championship series and realised I could not compete with the tricked up Fantic’s and Honda’s at the time! This was before the rules were changed to stop disc brakes etc! To stay competitive I purchased the Majesty and since then I have been 1st, 2nd & 3rd in the Normandale series. I have tried to modify the motor within the ‘spirit’ of the twinshock rules and have resisted putting a TY mono engine in, but have fitted an electronic ignition for reliability and the cylinder barrel has been re-bored and ported by Nigel Birkett and I fitted a WES exhaust system to further improve performance. At the moment I have an OKO flat slide carburettor fitted off my Fantic 240 but I don’t think it is any better than the Mikuni I took off! Of the other components I have fitted a tubeless rear wheel rim for convenience rather than performance. Modifications to the frame include relocating the footrest position lower and further back. The last item fitted was the front fork yokes. These are bored parallel to steepen the fork angle slightly and allow you to fit modern handlebars such as the Renthal ‘Fat Bars’ which I have. Craig Mawlam is always good to talk to when thinking of modifying any Majesty and there’s also John Macdonald from the Twinshock Shop and of course John Cane who has just taken delivery of a large stock of genuine TY spares. Once again, trying to keep in the spirit of the machine, I have fitted a mono-shock front end but I will change that back somewhere along the line as these were fitted as a stop gap until I locate a pair of original forks at a reasonable cost”.
We all agreed that the machines have their own individual strong points, the Majesty is a good performer and the Honda gives you the feel good factor that a four-stroke sound brings. In competition, the Majesty is without a doubt the winner but we would all love something as gorgeous as Graham’s Honda in our own collections I think you will agree.
Honda – Graham Atkinson: “Despite the fact I own and ride two-strokes my first love is a four-stroke. The Honda has been kept in the spirit of the rebuild and I am sure it could be made so much more competitive but for me it was all about building the replica machine to the original pictures I had. It’s good to see Nick and John trying it out on some difficult hazards and for me the smiles on their faces said it all”.
Honda – Nick Shield: “The machine looks and sounds fantastic and it’s a credit to Graham and his engineering ability to produce this replica machine from just pictures. Riding it I felt too big for the machine and found the riding position very crowded until I had settled down on it. As with all Honda trials machines the suspension was first class at the front and rear and once you master the art of four-stroke throttle control and riding technique, I agree with John it’s a pleasure to ride. To be competitive on this machine I would need much practice as it’s so different in all areas than the Majesty, but I do understand the attraction and why riders want to ride four-stroke machines. It’s all about slowing things down and riding with precise throttle control and body position as the handling is so precise but much more effort is required to hold the line in hazards. The performance surprised me as it runs like clockwork but rev’s really high, and, as with all Honda products, the quality of the Japanese components is first class. I really enjoyed riding it and I must admit it set my mind off about purchasing a competitive four-stroke twinshock machine, purely for the feel good factor these machines give. The exhaust note really is like music to your ears”.
Honda – John Hulme: “I agree with Nick one hundred percent that this machine looks the business. Kitted out in my new Jitsie Eddy Lejeune replica riding kit I was that man for the day. I always enjoy riding four-stroke machines simply for the feel good factor you seem to take in when you hear the exhaust note. A quick blip on the throttle and I was at the World rounds, yes it felt that good! On our test sections we all agreed on one thing and that was that you need to put more effort into the riding to achieve results. The engine is so smooth and forgiving once you learn to leave the clutch lever alone. I did not like the clutch action as it was too on or off for me and very sharp when it was released. Riding without the clutch is an art and one I quickly learned and the desired feet-up rides could be achieved. Opening the throttle at low revs encourages the engine to respond incredibly quickly and when riding the machines up a river bed it’s best to feel your way around the obstacles rather than go over them. This is encouraged as the machine’s wheelbase feels quite short. The front and rear suspension was very good, as expected, but for me the highlight of the machine has to be the engine. If anyone from HRC in Japan reads this article, trust me, a phone call to Graham would not go amiss!”
Majesty – Graham Atkinson: “I have never really had a ride on a decent 250cc Majesty such as this one of Nicks and I was very surprised to say the least. It’s so smooth at the bottom whilst the torque from the machine as you open the throttle more is incredible. This is definitely a very forgiving motor and you can use this to its full potential in any of the lower gears. One thing that is quite evident with both machines is that you can ride them better if you do not use the clutch. Jumping off modern machines sometimes makes this difficult to adapt to but they are definitely better ridden this way. The Majesty is so agile and light it acts more like an extension of its rider’s intentions and there’s no doubt that it is the easier machine of the two to ride. The riding position felt quite tall, even though Nick has changed the footrest position it did feel quite comfortable with the overall feel. The mono-shock front end fitted to the Majesty felt very smooth and you could pick your line with ease as it tracked so well. On the cosmetic side of things there is something about the Majesty which attracts you to it with its yellow frame and contrasting white fuel tank. I own a variety of trials machines, both two and four-stroke, including a 200cc Majesty, and this test has made me realise it might be just worth adding the 250cc model to the stable such was my enjoyment of riding it”.
Majesty – John Hulme: “I purchased my first Majesty with the converted frame in 1980 and rode one in John Shirt’s Majesty Team for a few years after. I took a Special First Class award at the SSDT that year, which was rewarded with a free sponsored machine from John for the next few seasons. Yes I am biased, but having ridden many twinshock machines over the years I still consider the Majesty one of the best, purely and simply because it’s so easy to ride. I agree with Graham that the footrest position on this purpose built Godden framed model feels quite high, but then again you get nearly 12” of ground clearance and its ability to hold a good position and give a good feel in difficult hazards has always been its strong point. Despite riding the model in different engine sizes of 350cc and 320cc I always preferred the 250cc. The power delivery as on this example of Nicks just reminded me how good it was, so smooth at the bottom but with incredible torque. The points ignition worked well on the production models in the eighties but I always think the conversion to full electronic is always a good move and it performs just as well due to modern developments in ignition systems. I personally do not like the mono-shock front end with the leading axle position that was fitted and Nick pointed out he will put the original front forks back when he can find a new set. These feature the axle under the fork and for me this set up works better. John Shirt Snr spent hours playing with front forks including fitting leading axle Marzocchi, which at the time were all the fashion, but always ended up back with the original ones which were fitted as standard”.
Majesty – Nick Shield: “I have two other very competitive twinshock machines, a Bultaco 340 six speed which was one of the last production ones and a 240cc Fantic, but I always prefer the Majesty as it’s so agile and easy to ride which in turn makes it very competitive in the events I ride in. The Bultaco has its strong points, such as when aggression is needed in a straight rocky hazard, and it likes to go up and over hazards whereas the Majesty likes to be ridden smoothly and it’s best to feel your way around the obstacles as opposed to the ‘Bulto’ method. The Fantic’s engine is quite ‘buzzy’ and once again totally different to the other two and requires to be ridden in its own way. What else is good with the Majesty is that specialist companies are still producing and developing new parts so it’s quite easy to keep it in tip top condition. As with John, I feel the 250cc version is the best compared to the 320cc. I feel that the engine is so much smoother and offers more than enough power. Just remember, in the late seventies and early eighties the manufactures had this thing about power, hence the 340cc Bultaco”.
With special thanks to Trial Magazine UK for the use of their article and to Mike Rapley for the use of his photographs.
Honda Two-Stroke Trials:
Honda is famous for their four-stroke powered trials machines, however they also developed a range of two-stroke motors, including those supplied to their Spanish based Montesa subsidiary company under the HRC brand. Thanks to the archive at Trial Magazine UK, we can bring you even more information.
The Honda TLM series:
Riding as a works Honda pilot Japan’s Takumi Narita came to Europe in 1990 as reigning Japanese trials champion. He is pictured here a year later having finished the World Series in 12th in 1990.
This shot taken in practice for the opening 1991 world round at Ettelbruck in Luxembourg would see him making a big push which moved him up into 8th place at the end of the year. In 1992 he was mounted on a works Beta as Honda withdrew from trials. He achieved 5th place in the world rankings in 1994 before returning to Japan to compete in the domestic championship. He is still to the present day competing in trials and is a regular competitor returning to the Scottish Six Days Trial in the nineties and in the Ihatove trials in New Zealand and Japan.
Special Honda Trials of Hiroshi Kondo:
Hiroshi Kondo was a four time Japanese Trials National Champion on Yamaha in 1974 and 1977 and also with Honda in 1978 and 1979. He rode the SSDT in 1976 and again in 1984 on this special machine. (Information supplied by Honda Trials History/Joan Forrellad).
Honda Museum – Celebration of Honda’s achievements worldwide
Six Days Honda – Article on LFS5P TL250 Honda ridden by Derek Edgar in the 1977 SSDT : HERE
Toshi Nishiyama’s connections with Honda 1973-1975: HERE
Honda Trials on Trials Guru is brought to you with the collaboration of:
Joan Forrellad of The Honda Trials History
Claudio Trial Pictures, France
John Shirt Jnr
John Shirt Snr
Sammy Miller MBE
Toshi Nishiyama, Japan
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