How do you define the indefinable?
The elder statesman of trials journalism broaches the ‘what’s the best bike’ subject... that’s brave!
Checking out the classic bike stuff on t’ tinterweb one dark, wet, cold night over Christmas, (the laptop in the lounge seemed a much better option to hiding in the shed and of course there was nothing on the telly), my first point of note was how minutely specialised the sport has become. I swear there was a page dedicated purely to ‘yellow trials bikes 1978/79’ – far too restricted for me. (I had a quick look all the same!)
A few random clicks later though, on another site, up popped a familiar question allegedly from a ‘newbie’: “What’s the best Twinshock trials bike?”
Groan! Do these people not ever think? There is no more a ‘best’ Twinshock trials bike any more than there is a perfect road bike, car or vacuum cleaner – doesn’t stop the question though does it?
Doesn’t stop people rushing in to answer it either. Cue the first shout of: “Gotta be a Fantic, I’ve got one!” Repeat many times citing half a dozen different brands until I got bored and went in search of a stiff drink.
Of course the perfect Twinshock bike doesn’t exist. But that’s part of the attraction isn’t it? There are so many possible variations. Small capacity engines, both two-stroke and four-stroke, ditto for larger motors. Light flywheel zippy motors or a slogger of a big bore diesel power plant, heavyweights, lightweights. Short wheelbase, tight steering head angle, or a long, lazy gap between the wheels and a near chopper head angle.
One man’s ‘best’ Twinshock is another man’s nightmare. If you are a 349 Montesa aficionado then a tweaked 175 Yam isn’t going to float your boat is it?
Just shouting FANTIC is not an answer in itself anyway. As any hardcore Twinshocker will tell you, there’s a whole world of difference between the 200 model, which proved immensely popular when first introduced, and the much later heavier, vastly more powerful 300 – with the 240 sitting in the middle – and not everyone knows that the actual capacities are 156cc, 212cc and 249cc!
The little 156cc 200, less cc than a Bantam, was certainly a gem and still is, especially if you weigh a svelte nine stone and not the 14-16 stone that some of us have morphed into! What Fantic fans desperately wanted back in the day was a 200 – but with a bit more oomph. Problem was that when they/we actually got it, the Italians had provided far too much oomph. And in order to control this huge power boost, Fantic had stretched the chassis every which way – so the whole bike was physically much bigger. In short, compared to the docile 200 it was a real lively little beast!
The 300 was the final Twinshock model from the Milan factory. Incidentally, I did visit the factory in 1981 when it was in full swing with Sig Agrati as the boss. He sat in a smoked glass office with swarthy, sharp suited guys outside wearing sunglasses. I was with Nigel Birkett who was a factory rider at the time and after keeping us waiting forever Birks was eventually greeted with a grim: “Ah, Mr Birkett, so you are the one who costs us all the money...”
The 300 was a different kettle of fish again, with everything sort of slowed down compared to the 240. The motor was more flywheely, the chassis more planted and the whole thing needed to be ridden more deliberately. John Lampkin liked it – in fact he still does!
All of which helps to show how many different ways you can come up with a ‘best’ trials bike. But only if you believe such a thing exists!
On a similar note I find it somewhat strange that Post-65 Twinshocks have never had the same intensive development that their forebears, the Pre-65 British bikes, have enjoyed. About 20 years ago I asked Malcolm Rathmell, a former Triumph factory rider on a Cub, if he ever fancied a go at Pre-65 trials. Said Malc in his usual no-nonsense way: “No. They were rubbish in the day and won’t have improved any with time.”
He was right then – but I think even Malc would be amazed if he tried some of them today.
But regarding Spanish Twinshocks – it’s not as if they couldn’t do with some help, is it? I particularly appreciated their lovely drum brakes, after being sent over the bars at Kenmore Corner in the Aberfeldy Two Day, when the linings fell off the front brake shoes on my Montesa MK4B...