Eddie Lejeune- NR1
Anyone in the world of motorcycle trials will remember the exotic Honda RTL single-shock trials machines that appeared in late 1984. Steve Saunders was a works rider at the time for the British based Armstrong Company, contesting the world championship on its two-stroke Hiro powered machines. He had seen the prototype fourstroke machine at the end-of-season World rounds in 1984 and managed to ‘blag’ a test ride. From that moment on he knew it was the machine he wanted, to chase his dream of becoming the world trials champion.
We now move the clock forward to the early nineties, as Carlo Ramella himself takes up the story of his exotic find: “You can never put yourself in the right place at the right time but that is exactly what happened. I was travelling through Belgium on a business trip when by pure chance I called at a motorcycle dealership belonging to a famous Belgian motorcycle trials dealer named Delwiche. Whilst in the shop there was a notice board of advertisements for motorcycles and parts etc for sale and I was soon looking through it when I spotted an advert for a Honda, proclaiming it to be an ex-Lejeune Honda RTL! All of a sudden alarm bells began to ring in my head – could this be the Eddy Lejeune machine that had disappeared? I immediately contacted the advertiser, who was the son of a heavy-goodsvehicle driver whose father had just passed away. As he was not using the machine he had decided to sell it along with some parts and clothing from the Lejeune family such as a jacket, boots and some spare parts.
The man arranged to meet me at ten o’clock in the evening at a shop in a very small village. There I was stood, in the snow, with the clock ticking. As this man was returning from a delivery I watched ten o’clock come and go. Now I was getting cold and wondering was it all worth it when out of the blue he appeared. As we walked into his garage I must admit I was very excited. He turned the lights on and there stood the Honda RTL 250cc. My first sighting was of the fuel tank cover, which was white and blue and then the rear mudguard, which was not original. Then the rear silencer, which was a production one, and on closer inspection I noticed some detail on the front forks and yokes, the rear swinging arm, the monoshock spring and also the carburettor assembly and then finally I noted the engine number – NR1! It was the missing machine! The man explained that the machine was the one that Eddy had used whilst comparing it with his prototype RTL 360, and that his elder brother Jean Marie had ridden it.
We quickly agreed a price and the machine was mine. I loaded the Honda into my Renault Espace and started the long journey home feeling like a person who had just won the lottery. I never stopped to sleep at a hotel in case the machine was stolen, such was my joy at purchasing such a rare machine. Over the next few years I would start to return the machine to its original condition, and I was very fortunate because I managed to contact Eric Lejeune who supplied the correct ‘works’ silencer. What separates this machine from the other RTL Hondas is the fact that it came from a small batch produced in 1985, with some changes to the handling and the specification detail.”
Justyn has a love for all motorcycles but in particular a real love affair with four-strokes, and when Carlo suggested he should test the Honda for Classic Trial Magazine it was a 100% ‘yes’ with a big broad smile! He actually owns and rides a production Honda RTL 250cc as well as a modern Montesa Cota4RT; yes the fourstroke sound is music to his ears. “You mean I can actually test the Eddy Lejeune machine? – wow!” The location for the test would be Puy, which is a very small mountain village hidden in the Italian Alps close to Bardonecchia, which is where the 2006 winter Olympics were held.
Justyn: “We arrived early on a Sunday morning to meet up with both Carlo and Pippo Bartorilla. The talk was about the winning ways of Toni Bou and the new Vertigo project, but it soon changed to the Lejeune RTL. As we were talking the rain started to come down, and I did not hesitate to throw my leg over the Honda hoping it would soon stop. Despite the weather conditions I still decided to wear my new Classic Trial Magazine tee shirt I made specially for this test – yes, I was excited!
“One short sharp prod on the kick-start lever and the motor brings music to my ears through the large-volume rear aluminium silencer. I take a quick ride up and down the river to get a feel for the terrain as the rain becomes stronger, but I have the feeling that I am Eddy Lejeune! The water is now changing colour in the river as the level rises but the superb handling of the Honda becomes very clear as I place the machine between the submerged rocks. The balance is incredible which encourages me to try some modern-style riding.
“It feels probably lighter than it is, and manoeuvring the machine around is relatively easy. Holding the front brake on and hopping the rear wheel about is child’s play as you can also use the torque of the motor to smoothly pull away. With my confidence high I move to some larger rocks and still feel very much in control. The whole package encourages you to try more ambitious obstacles but I have to remember it’s quite a rare machine which I am sure the owner wants back in one piece. With a super smooth power delivery you always feel in control.
“My boots are now full of water and I am wet through, but the fun continues as I ride in and out of the river. Despite the fact that the brakes are the drum type they feel as powerful as disc brakes. What is noticeable is that you do not feel tired on the machine as everything falls into place, making it easy to control. Both Carlo and Pippo look across, as if to say that we should retire now; which we did to have some lunch. In front of a warm, open fire we ate some grilled meat and enjoyed a bottle of rare ‘Ruche’ wine, which maybe gave me the confidence to ask Carlo if he would sell the machine. Before I had finished he ended my question with the words ‘Shut up’. Maybe I had drunk to much wine but if you never ask you will never find out – Carlo, thank you for a superb experience!”
Even after all these years it still looks very special
Notice the high rise of the handlebars
The motor is a four-stroke but it’s very compact
Leading axle front forks aid stability
Despite the fact the machine has drumtype brakes they worked very well
The large-volume rear silencer came from Eric Lejeune
Once the fuel tank cover is removed it begins to look very much hand made
Maybe it’s the raw look that appeals to people
The carburettor sits behind the fuel tank
Notice how close the airbox sits to the exhaust system