The Black Sheep
My indecision of whether I want to ride modern or classic trials, on either two- or four-stroke machines, has left my father calling me on many occasions a mixed-up kid — in a nice, sort of father-to-son way, as we share the same passion for motorcycle trials. If I am 100% honest, I truly have an affection for four-strokes, but it’s a love-hate relationship, as I consider them a little heavy be it a modern or classic model. The four-stroke Montesa Cota 4RT is so nice to ride, as is a big Ariel 500cc, but jump onto any of the modern two-strokes and you can win on a standard production model.
In the Pre-65 class, the two-strokes are always lighter and easier to ride. A two-stroke always feels very light, nimble and alive! It’s the same with events as I compete in many modern international trials, but once again, in truth, nothing compares to the social side of a good-old classic competition. Maybe I needed a mix of the two, a sort of a ‘Black Sheep’ of a motorcycle maybe, something a little different. I was looking to purchase a competitive classic British trials machine and advertised the fact on the internet. Soon my email inbox was ‘pinging’ away with an assortment of pictures and machines for sale, with many of them very attractive and, most importantly, competitive. I then spotted an advert for something which caught my eye — I can honestly tell you that my heart skipped a beat, a true four-stroke moment. It was a four-stroke Triumph Twin engine housed in a Greeves two-stroke aluminium frame. Was this the Black Sheep I was looking for?
What on earth was this Triumph/Greeves/ Triumph 350cc? I asked myself; I kept going over this vision in my mind. I have seen pictures of them in the past in Classic
Trial Magazine at the Pre-65 ‘Scottish’ and often wondered what they were like. Was it a real machine? “For sale” the words “a Greeves/Triumph 350cc” I could not remove the vision from my mind; yes I was very excited, to say the least. A powerful 350cc Triumph Twin engine, housed in a robust partly aluminium frame, bringing two iconic British motorcycle manufacturing names together for one wonderful motorcycle…really!
Is it still for Sale?
Honestly, my heart was pounding as I made the phone call, pressing the numbers on the phone key pad with a matter of urgency like never before. The phone rang for what seemed like forever until a very calm controlled voice answered: “Hello”. I spluttered out the words: “Do you still have the Triumph/ Greeves for sale?” The answer was yes, and I gave out a huge sigh of relief. My head and hands were sweating in an experience I have never experienced in my young life before. I had been sent many other emails with pictures and descriptions of machines for sale with a choice of Ariel HT5, BSA B40, AJS 500 and a really nice James. But, when the email arrived showing the Greeves/Triumph, all the others were hit with the delete button. I was in love with this machine like never before!
I made another phone call to arrange to see the machine and to have a test ride on it, and the very kind man who was selling it said he would save it for me. It was around 100 miles away, and I arranged the next day for my father and me to go and see the machine. I hardly slept that night as I had been looking on the internet and old magazines and papers for information on such a unique motorcycle. The dream of owning this machine dominated my brain as I drifted in and out of sleep.
The journey time soon passed, with the conversation centred on both the two-stroke Greeves and four-stroke Triumph, two totally diverse machines. We arrived at our destination to be met by a fellow trials rider in his sixties, a real gentleman with a huge heart for motorcycles and in particular trials. His main passion in trials motorcycles was Bultaco models as he spoke with great knowledge on the Spanish machines. Over a cup of coffee, we discovered that the machine we wanted to purchase is from the estate of the late great Italian trials rider and enthusiast Giulio Mauri. I am sure many of you
Classic Trial Magazine readers will be familiar with the photographs from Giulio’s collection provided by Valenti Fontsere, who is the good friend of the editor, John Hulme. Giulio was a trials rider, journalist and photographer and he was also, along with Valenti, the author of the excellent and most complete book about Italian trials motorcycles as well as the beautiful small book about the history of Fantic trials machines. Now, I really wanted to own this magnificent motorcycle!
Ear to Ear
As with any purchase of a trials motorcycle, you always need to have a test ride to make sure it all works as it should do and also see if you like it; especially when it’s an old Pre-65 machine. I have viewed pictures of machines and spoken to their owners over the phone as a potential purchaser in the past, and then been badly let down when I arrived to view the one they had for sale.
My first impression of this machine in the flesh was one of a very ‘beefy’ machine, and the owner had described it perfectly. Yes, I was very nervous as I turned the fuel tap on and gave the kick-start lever a few hefty kicks! With one strong action on the kick-start lever, the engine burst into life almost like a lion when it roars, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up like never before. The exhaust note was pure heaven, and my father commented that I had a grin on my face from ear to ear. In my mind, we had already purchased the machine! I warmed the four-stroke engine up for a few minutes and started to ride it slowly around, and the sensation was out of this world; full of confidence I started to pull a few celebratory wheelies. My father’s grin was bigger than mine!
Now it was time to negotiate the price, and with the seller sensing my enthusiasm we agreed to his asking price, and in return, he would let me pay in instalments — he wanted the machine going to a good home, which I appreciated; a true motorcycle enthusiast. We shook hands, and the ‘Black Sheep’ was mine and heading home with us.
This is a dream come true for my father and me, and we are so happy with the machine. I am now enjoying riding the machine in Italian Pre-65 trials. But the aim is to ride it in the 2018 Pre-65 Scottish. I am sure if I do get a ride that Giulio Mauri will be looking down on me with a grin far bigger than mine!
What is It?
John Hulme: “With the passing of Giulio Mauri, we could not find any reference as to what the machine is; all we know is it’s a Greeves trials model with a Triumph engine ‘shoe-horned’ into the chassis, an all British Hybrid.
“I spoke with Valenti Fontsere, who could not help as he explained that Giulio had owned many machines over the years. My next port of call was John Moffat who revealed some information but also suggested I call Don Morley. For those of you who do not know Don Morley, he has published some very excellent fact-based motorcycle trials books. The ones to find any reference to the Greeves/ Triumph mixture are titled: Classic British Trials Bikes, published in 1984, and Classic British Two
Stroke Trials Bikes published in 1987. Both books can be found on eBay, but beware they are very collectable and fetch very strong money, such is their value to the trials enthusiast.
“A call to Don Morley, whose knowledge on this particular subject is second to none, backed up some of the earlier thoughts from John Moffat as Don
explained, “The frame is from a Greeves TFS circa around 1964, and those front forks are Metal Profile’s product. The front wheel hub could be a Rickman or maybe an REH, I am not 100% sure, and I suspect the rear wheel hub could be Japanese or more likely to be an early Montesa one. On first impressions from the pictures, I was pretty sure the engine is a fairly late 500cc Unit Triumph 5TA, but Justyn says it’s a 350cc so it could be a 350cc 5TA as there is no outward physical difference between the two. The only internal difference was the hole up the middle. Backing up my 500cc theory is the larger carburettor, maybe this was fitted to the 350cc engine to increase its performance? Beyond that, the aluminium fuel tank is from a BSA C15T. So, all in all, a rather nice mongrel of a machine and one Justyn is obviously and quite rightly so very proud to own.””
The test area was around the region of the Old Trial ‘Prima Luna’ in Italy and one that offers a good variety of challenging rocky hazards consisting of big rocks, deep water streams with slippery and muddy climbs that would allow me to test the limits of both the machine and myself fully.
The machine always needs some gentle warming up, which I carried out before dropping into the slippery stream beds. What surprises me every time I ride this machine is how well its handling is in rough terrain. It seems perfectly stable over rocks and slippery loose stones, controlling it with goodold ‘English’ body lean, an attribute to my riding that I have learned from my father and a technique he learned from the master of Pre-65 riding, Sammy Miller on his Ariel, which can be seen in old photographs.
It’s a sheer pleasure to ride which must be due to the perfect combination of the robust and compact part-cast aluminium Greeves frame and the wonderful Triumph 350cc four-stroke twin cylinder engine, which always delivers the smooth power in any situation. This power makes pulling wheelies
and lifting the front wheel over obstacles so easy to carry out and in a very controlled way.
The engine’s torque is so nice that finding traction is just second nature. I now understand why the 500cc version of this Triumph engine was so popular when used in the motocross machines made so famous by both Eric Cheney and the Rickman brothers. Is it the perfect Pre-65 trials machine? Nothing is perfect, and the weight of 112kg makes it hard work to ride against the modern lightweight two-strokes. The engine width is also another problem, and you have to be aware of this when riding it in the rivers and on the rocks and ride over them as opposed to through them. The ground clearance is 290mm. Very tight corners also take some navigating with the wheelbase of 1330mm, but with some severe clutch abuse, this is possible. The clutch action is quite heavy, and the brakes could be better as the power is so strong. There is room to improve the suspension, which is an area I intend to spend some time and money on.
It’s a fantastic machine, and my next project is to try and find who built the machine. If any one sees this report and can provide any information, please email: email@example.com and speak with John.
For some unknown reason, I am pretty sure that this machine will have been built in the birth place of these two legendary manufacturers, Greeves and Triumph Great Britain!
I love this ‘Black Sheep’ of a machine, and when you look at the numbers it comes from a Pre-65 era, and I was born in 1990! I often wonder why the once great and proud British motorcycle industry never produced these machines, but I suppose you can discuss this for ever and a day. Maybe one day I will build my own Greeves/Triumph hybrid.
In the meantime I salute both Bert Greeves and Edward Turner. Thank you!
The documents confirm what the owner explained and that the machine was from the late great Italian trials rider and enthusiast Giulio Mauri’s estate. The registration document from the Italian federation.
Yes there is quite a lot going on under the fuel tank. Modern footrests are essential on the Pre-65 machines for both comfort and rider control. I suspect the rear wheel hub could be Japanese, or more likely to be from an early Montesa Cota. Around the rear wheel area is a mixture of small engineering jobs. Metal Profile front forks hold a Rickman or maybe a REH front wheel hub.
This ‘I mean business look’ sums up the machine’s performance even when it’s stood still. Valenti Fontsere on the right with his good friend Giulio Mauri in 2010 at the launch of the superb book they published titled: Trial Made in Italy 1975-1985 Standing this mighty machine on-end takes some controlled aggression.
Giulio Mauri at the 2007 Scott trial in Great Britain. The ‘Standing Proud’ impression.